Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Connecticut at Louisville -- What Happened?!

That Connecticut won at Louisville last night may not (John Gasaway, Louisville fans & a large contingent of the Nova Nation aside) have been a big surprise, after all the Huskies were just installed in the #1 spot in both polls earlier in the day. The margin of the win however, was shocking. Maybe breaking the game down into halves will show something interesting...

 Connecticut Louisville

Half Time Adjustments...
A few obvious observations first -- this was clearly a defensive struggle and Louisville was not in the game at all. The Huskies secured a 12 point lead by the half, and then tacked another 5 point cushion on that lead for the 2nd half re-enforces assertions that the Cardinals were not ready to play, at least on offense. Connecticut is the #2 ranked offense in the Big East; they demonstrated it in the 1st half by converting their FGAs efficiently (eFG% -- 53.8) and dominating on their boards (OR% -- 41.7). They undermined that offensive display by losing 3 in 10 of their possessions (without a corresponding FGA). Credit the Cardinals defense (ranked #1 in the Big East in conference play per John Gasaway's article over at the Basketball Prospectus. Credit the Cardinal defense for shutting down UConn's shooters in the second half. Though the Huskies cut into their turnover rate significantly half-over-half, their ORtg declined in the face of their inability to continue to convert FGAs into points (eFG% fell to 40.0). I was surprised by a few stats, which I have highlighted in green...
1. The 2nd half was sloooow. The teams played for 37.1 possessions in the 1st half -- that put them on track for a game of 74 possessions, a bit high, but not startling for two squads which usually play for 68 - 70 (or more) possessions. The 2nd half was played at a pace that only Georgetown (or DePaul) could like, something just south of 60 possessions. As an average, the game worked out to 66.7, about where Connecticut has played this season. Who took the air out of the ball? Probably Connecticut. Louisville as the underdog going into the last 20 minutes, would have looked for more not fewer possessions and scoring opportunities. Pushing the pace then slowing down without triggering a significant variation in their offensive is pretty impressive.
2. Rebounding Misses. Both teams did a good job of getting 2nd chance opportunities (though neither converted especially well). Defensive rebounding? As the other side of that coin, it is obvious that neither did well at all, though the Huskies were nominally better. The Cardinal's best defensive rebounders, Earl Clark and Terrence Williams, were well below season numbers. The Cardinals got better value from Andre McGee, Jared Swopshire and Terrence Jennings (with limited minutes).
3. Shots are Important to UConn. A good study in the relative importance of Oliver's four factors can be had by reviewing the half-over-half changes in eFG%, TO%, OR% and FTA/FGA & FTM/FGA relative to each team's efficiency rating. Connecticut's ORtg declined by 2% even though the team cut their turnover rate, and remained more or less steady in FTM/FGA (up @2.5 points) and offensive rebounding (down @1.5). Their decline in shooting pushed their ORtg down.
4. Louisville Values Rebounds. Check Lousiville's four factors. Note that FTM/FGA remained even half-over-half, while eFG% declined slightly. Yet their ORtg rose sharply, by >15.0. Credit a modest decline in their turnover rate (@6 points), and more importantly, the steep increase in offensive rebounding (@19 points). Going into the game Louisville was ranked #132 in eFG% with an eFG% of 49.9. When your shooting does not efficiently translate into points, you have to value 2nd chance opportunities.
5. The Blockers Got Blocked. Connecticut has the reputation as the shot blocking team in the Big East (indeed nationally), complements of a long tradition of dominant big men. Hasheem Thabeet, the latest in that line, was credited with 4 blocks versus the Cardinals. Yet the Huskies had over 1 in 6 of their FGAs blocked by the Cards. In the second half alone that number was nearly 1 in 4.
6. The Cards Need Williams. I have not been a big fan of "TWill", but he delivered last night. In a big way. He took 42% of the team's FGAs when he was on the floor, and converted at a very efficient 65.8%, well above his team's eFG% (an appaling 38.3%). Everywhere except on the boards Williams performed to his season averages.
7. Smith, Clark & Samuels Were MIA. I have no doubt the Cardinal postmortems will no doubt point to lack of point production from Jerry Smith, Earl Clark and Samuels as contributing factors for the Cardinal defeat. Those three took 20 FGAs between them, and converted twice. For Samuels and Smith, the numbers are even more curious, as those two took only 4 shots in their (combined) 39 minutes of play. Credit a Husky game plan that must have targeted both for lockdown. Credit Rick Pitino with finding Preston Knowles and Terrence Jennings, as those two went 6-9 and posted very impressive eFG% (75.0 & 67.7) and PPWS (1.50 & 1.33) numbers. Too bad Pitino did not play them earlier.

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