Friday, January 23, 2009

Preview -- South Florida

The Wildcats and Bulls have their one game this season in Tampa on Saturday. In a made-by-conference series, Villanova leads 2-0. Hopefully the Wildcats can stay on their run...

Common Opponents, Good Wins, Bad Losses...
The 'Cats and Bulls faced two common opponents so far, Niagara was an OOC opponent, and Louisville was a conference opponent:

NiagaraW (H)+15L (H)-15
LouisvilleL (H)-1L (H)-14

South Florida (Big East, 7-11, RPI #150) has had few notably good wins or notably bad losses. Their best win was against Northeastern (CAA, 12-6, RPI #64). The most damaging loss to date would have to be the 26 point loss versus Oral Roberts (Summit, 8-11, RPI #155)...

Lineups, Rotations...
...Coach Stan Heath has brought in quite a few players in the past 20 or so monthes. Nowhere is the challenge of integrating these parts more obvious than in the starting lineup. For the 18 games played to date, the Bulls have used no less than 10 different starting lineups. That includes three different lineups in their first six Big East games.

In the front court Coach Heath has his choice of freshman transfer Gus Gilchrist (6-10, 235lbs) or junior Alex Rivas-Sanchez (6-10, 230lbs) to man the low blocks. Gilchrist has, since his appeal to play was granted in mid-December, conistently drawn minutes, whether or not he starts. Heath can draw from a pool of tweeners that includes seniors Mobolaji Ajayi (6-9, 225lbs) and Aris Williams (6-9, 235lbs) and freshmen Mitch Emory (6-6, 205lbs) and Eladio Espinosa (6-7, 220lbs) to man the #4/#5 spots. Lately (the Big East season...), Coach Heath has platooned Ajayi with Espinosa or Williams and Gilchrist. Gilchrist and Williams started the Bull's last game (the second DePaul game). Whether they start or come off the bench, Ajayi and Williams draw double digit minutes, even as Eladio's minutes seem to fluxuate in a range of 9 to 26 minutes (most often double digits). Gilchrist started as soon as he was eligible (the Niagara game), but despite being rotated in and out of the starting lineup, has managed to consistently draw minutes in the range of 15 to 32 minutes ever since. Sanchez's playing time by contrast, has fluxuated widely from game to game and Emory has played in a single game this season.

The back court is a bit easier, as Coach Heath will start sophomore Dominique Jones (6-4, 205lbs) and... two of senior transfer Jesus Verdejo (6-4, 205lbs), red shirt junior Chris Howard (6-3, 200lbs) and freshman Justin Leemow (6-1, 175lbs). Howard is an experienced point guard with a pass first mentality. He is ranked in Ken Pomeroy's Top 500 for assists and is second on the team (behind Jones) for assists. Leemow has appeared in all 18 of the Bull's games, but has logged only 25.3% of the playing time available for a guard position. Jones (91.4), Verdejo (86.3) and Howard (79.3) have logged large blocks of time. Freshmen guards BJ Daniels (6-1, 212lbs) and Gaby Belardio (6-2, 180lbs) are available when Coach Heath wants to dip deeper into his bench. Both have appeared in about 10 games this season.

Dante Cunningham, Antonio Pena, Dwayne Anderson and Scottie Reynolds will start for the Wildcats. The last spot will go to one of the Coreys (Fisher or Stokes) or Reggie Redding. Shane Clark, his wrist secured in a flexible cast for the Connecticut game, will see time as well. Cunningham had foul trouble against the Huskies, playing a total of 14 minutes, easily his season low. Anderson and Stokes had efficient scoring that night, the problem is they played relative small roles in the offense, taking only about 1 in 6 available shots when they were in the game. Pena logged a strong game on the boards versus the Huskies; the 'Cats will need him to do the same against the Bulls.

By the Numbers, Offense & Defense...
USF plays for about 63.1 possessions, ranking it among the lowest of the down tempo teams in D1. Their (adjusted) offensive/defensive rating, 106.2/97.5 suggests they play pretty good offense and pretty "average" defense. A look at the "numbers underneath" give us an idea of how they do it.

When South Florida has the ball...
Bull O46.220.537.039.5
Wildcat D45.122.229.637.0

Expect a battle under the Bull's basket. Nova is performing at a near elite (ranked according to Ken Pomeroy's Scouting Report (#53) level while rebounding their own misses is one of the several (according to the same Ken Pomeroy's Scouting Report) offensive skills (at which they excel - ranked #52) which the Bulls have employed to mask their shooting deficiencies this season. Bull shot making is very mediocre (I am being kind here), ranked at #257 by Ken Pomeroy. There is no special deficiency (unless you count free throws, which the Bulls have converted at a 60.2% rate), as South Florida is ranked in the mid 200s for FGM% in both 2s (45.6/#247) and 3s (31.8/#248). Offensive rebounding, combined with getting to the line, have helped the Bulls compensate for their inability to score consistently with their first FGA of their possession. Dominique Jones generates a good deal of the offense, with his shot% at 28.6 and offensive rating at 109.2, but as his eFG% (at 48.5) & PPWS (1.08) suggest, he has no consistent inside threat in the form of a Kentrall Gransberry to draw some defensive attention. He is taking a lot of the shots as he was last season, but this time they are not dropping because he is drawing a good deal of the defensive attention. Gus Gilchrist, eligible since mid-December, will be up to season. He and Jesus Verdejo nearly match Jones in shot% (28.0 & 27.7 respectively), but are no more efficient (eFG%s of 47.4 & 48.8 respectively) and considerably less accurate (PPWSs of 0.98 & 0.97 respectively) -- the monkey on their collective backs it seems, is the free throw line. Gilchrist hits at a 51.7% rate while Verdejo converts 64.4% of his FTAs. Turnovers should be interesting because the 'Cats are pretty good (not great) at forcing turnovers while the Bulls seem no better than average (ranked #) for valuing the ball. The weak link may well be Chris Howard, whose individual turnover rate 24.0 is just barely on the good side of his assist rate (25.1). Howard in fact is notably good at setting up his teammates, but his good work is undermined by the turnovers.
The "Four Factors" look at Villanova's offense versus USF's defense:
When Villanova has the ball...
Wildcat O50.718.136.341.0
Bull D45.618.835.841.4

Note the matchups when Villanova has the ball are mirror reverses -- where Villanova excels USF fails, and where Nova struggles, the Bulls excel. Such is the state of shooting, as the Wildcats slide towards the middle of D1 (ranked #105) while the Bulls hover at near-elite levels (ranked #57). The Wildcats would do well to take their chances on the inside against Gilchrist (or Williams...Verdejo...Ajayi), as USF seems particularly good at defending the 3. The Bulls struggle to rebound defensively, do not tend to force turnovers and do not keep opponents off the line. While their numbers suffer from having faced Pittsburgh, Louisville and Syracuse, three of the Big East's stronger offensive squads, the Wildcat's prospects clearly hang on their ability to score against the Bulls front line, or generate second and third chance opportunities...

Want to Beat the Bulls? Then...
Shooting dominates as a critical factor for both squads. But for USF, Nova's turnovers can affect the outcome. Villanova appears to be sensitive effectively limiting opponent's second chance points
1. Defend their shooting -- When the Bull's eFG% was 41.4 or less they went 1-7.
2. Hit your shots -- The conversion rate seems a bit low, but when USF's opponents have shot 44.0 or better (eFG%) the Bulls record has been 2-10. Nova's record when they have converted at 44.0 or better is 13-2.
3. Value the ball -- The Bull's are 2-8 when their opponents have a TO% of 20.5 or less. The Wildcats have had a TO% that high or higher in 7 games so far.
4. Limit their 2nd chances -- The Bulls rebound about 37.0% of their misses. When Nova allows an OR% that high they have gone 1-2. The Bulls are 2-7 when they have been held to that rebounding rate or lower.

...Coach Heath appears to be running a kind of extended team tryout for the #3, #4 and #5 spots. While he is asking Jones to do more (even distribute the ball in addition to score), he needs consistent second and third options on offense. The Bulls can defend, but shooting presents a challenge for them. Coach Wright has settled on a rotation that goes (foul trouble or blow out excepted) of between 8 and 9 players.

According to calculations, this game should go for about 61 possessions (South Florida's comfort zone), with the 'Cats taking a 5 point decision. If the possessions are that low, Nova should be able to win if they score at least 65 points.

No comments: