Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Preview -- Pittsburgh

The Wildcats host the Panthers of Pittsburgh in the last game to be played in the Philadelphia's Spectrum on Wednesday night. The Wildcats-Panthers first played in 1960 (Nova won 76-49), the series promoted to "state rivalry" status when both schools joined the Big East. Villanova holds a 30-27 edge in the series...

Common Opponents, Good Wins, Bad Losses...
The 'Cats and Panthers faced three common opponents so far. All three, St. John's, Louisville and South Florida, are conference mates:

St. John'sW (H)+19W (H)+23
South FloridaW (A)+9W (H)+13
LouisvilleL (H)-1L (A)-6

Pittsburgh (Big East, 17-1, 6-1, RPI #2) has had a slew of notably good wins. Their best win was on the road against Georgetown (Big East, 12-6, 3-4, RPI #13), but other notable conference wins include at home win over Syracuse (16-4, 5-3, RPI #16) and a road win against Backyard Brawl rival West Virginia (12-4, 3-3, RPI #18). Notable OOC wins include a home win over Siena (MAAC, 16-5 RPI #20) and a road win over Florida State (ACC, 16-4, RPI #17). Pittsburgh's only loss, the road game versus Louisville (above) is not, given Louisville's RPI #9 & the road venue, is not damaging. Except in the polls...

Lineups, Rotations...
...Coach Jamie Dixon will start, barring exigent circumstances, senior Levance Field (5-10, 190lbs) at the #1, junior transfer Jermaine Dixon (6-3, 190lbs) at the #2, senior Sam Young (6-6, 215lbs) at the #3, junior Tyrell Biggs (6-8, 240lbs) at the #4 and sophomore DeJuan Blair (6-7, 265lbs) at the #5. These five started the Panther's first game (an 86-63 win over Fairleigh Dickenson) and every game since. These five have typically received between 60% and 75% of the playing time during the Panther's OOC schedule, typically above 70% against the more competitive opponents on Pitt's schedule (Akron, Florida St, Texas Tech and Washington State. The average playing time of the five has risen to 72.1% for their Big East slate.

Blair was a co-ROY last season. Young was named to the preseason All Big East Team. Biggs was a well regarded HS prospect out of New Jersey's Don Bosco Prep. Young takes about 32% of the team's shots when he is on the court. Those FGAs can come from inside or outside, though he is a better 2 point shooter than a 3 point shooter. Blair takes 26% of the shots, so expect when the two play together that any shots hoisted will come from either. Biggs is valued for his rebounding, and, though an efficient scorer, functions as the 4th/5th option on offense. When Blair (of the 3 front court players he logs the least amount of time, most likely given his tenddency to foul) or any of the others sits, expect to see redshirt sophomore Gilbert Brown (6-6, 200lbs), senior transfer Gary McGhee (6-10, 255lbs) or freshman Nasir Robinson (6-5, 210lbs) to log some time. If it's Blair, then (unless McGhee comes in...) Biggs plays up a position while Brown or Robinson logs the time.

Fields and Dixon hold down the back court spots. But expect to see sophomore Bradley Wanamaker (6-4, 205lbs), or freshmen guards Travon Woodall (5-11, 190lbs) or Ashton Gibbs (6-2, 190lbs) on the court. Wanamaker, a graduate of Philadelphia's Roman Catholic HS has seen his PT rise to about 50% of the available time over the course of Big East play. Gibbs has appeared in nearly all of the Panther's games this season, providing very efficient (though very occasional) offense.

Dante Cunningham, Antonio Pena, Dwayne Anderson and Scottie Reynolds will start for the Wildcats. The last spot will likely go to junior Reggie Redding, the 5th starter for the South Florida last Saturday and had a pretty good outing. Redding posted a 1.01 PPWS with an eFG% of 55.6, hitting 5 of 9 FGAs. The two Coreys (Fisher or Stokes), along with senior Shane Clark, his wrist still secured in a flexible cast, will definitely see time as well. Cunningham, Pena and Redding all had foul trouble against the Bulls, a troubling trend for all three players, that has developed over the past two games. This game promises to be physical as well, so the staff may again call on senior reserve Frank Tchuisi to put in some time. . Pena logged a strong game on the boards versus the Huskies; the 'Cats will need him to do the same against the Panthers.

By the Numbers, Offense & Defense...
Pitt plays for about 65.7 possessions, ranking it just abit below average (67.1) for D1 teams. Their (adjusted) offensive/defensive rating, 121.9/81.6 (per Ken Pomeroy's Team Page, ranks them among the D1 elites. Their offense is #1, making this a particularly difficult game for the Wildcats. A look at the "numbers underneath" give us an idea of how they do it.

When Pitt has the ball...
Panther O52.517.543.130.8
Wildcat D44.921.929.337.9

Pitt hits their shots (eFG% at 52.5 is ranked #57), limits their turnovers (ranked #20) and rebounds misses as nearly the best in D1 (ranked #2), which explains how they convert their possessions into points so efficiently. Their one point of vulnerablility appears to be getting to the charity stripe, with a 30.8% rate (they get to the line about 3 times for every 10 FGAs), ranks them a very low #285, but when everything else is hitting on all cylinders, points from the free throw line may not be necessary. About 29% of their FGAs are 3s, but only 1 in 4 of their points comes from made 3s. Their strategy is pretty straightforward, punch the ball inside to either Young or Blair, who will convert or kick out to a wing. Or have Fields penetrate and, depending on where the help comes from, pass it out to the wing or down to the low post. Simple. Stopping them however, is quite a bit trickier. Outside threats include Fields and Wanamaker (most likely by percentage) or Young (by virtue of the fact he is Pitt's 1st scoring option & takes about 1 in 3 of his FGAs from beyond the arc). Expect a battle under the Panther's basket. Nova is performing at a near elite (ranked according to Ken Pomeroy's Scouting Report (#48) level while rebounding their opponent's misses. The "Four Factors" look at Villanova's offense versus Pitt's defense:

When Villanova has the ball...
Wildcat O50.618.436.342.3
Panther D43.821.330.928.8

Like the Panthers, the Wildcats get their points inside the arc. They rely on the 3 for about 1 in 4 points (like Pitt), but look for points from the line for a bit more of their offensive production than do the Panthers. , ...

Want to Beat the Panthers? Then...
Shooting dominates as a critical factor for both squads. But for Pitt, their ability to limit their turnovers may also be critical. Villanova secondary factors appears to include effectively limiting opponent's second chance points
1. Defend their shooting -- The Panther's eFG% was 42.9 when they lost to Louisville (an ugly affair in which neither team shot particularly well). In 2 other games they shot less than 40%. Their winning margins in those games were +14 (Washington St.) and +8 (Florida St.).
2. Hit your shots -- Nova's record when they have converted at 44.0 or better is 14-2.
3. Force turnovers -- The Panthers worst game for turnovers was their loss to Louisville. When they turn the ball over on 22% or more they are 3-1. Their winning margins, +8 (Florida St.), +27 (Duquesne -- the Dukes had a terrible shooting night & lost over a third of their own possessions) and +14 (Belmont -- an even worse shooting night than Duquesne...).
4. Limit their 2nd chances -- The Panthers rebound about 43.1% of their misses. Nova has not allowed an OR% that high this season. They are 2-3 when they have allowed opponents offensive rebounding to go 34.5% or higher.

...The two teams are very similar, though Villanova's numbers suggest it is less proficient at converting possessions to points (and stopping opponents from doing the same). Limiting Blair's effectiveness, while simultaneously containing Young is probably the Wildcat's biggest challenge to date.

According to calculations, this game should go for about 65 possessions, with Pittsburgh taking a 3 point decision. The margin is interesting as it suggests the game may well come down to a single possession. And the Panther's FGM, at 64.8%, is among the worst in D1 (ranked #289). Villanova by contrast, converts at nearly a 75% (I know, that is a spotty performance...), a good contrast if it turns into a free throw shooting contest at the end.

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