Friday, February 6, 2009

Preview Syracuse -- The First Game

The Wildcats and the Orange meet at the Wachovia Center for the first game of their 2009 home-n-away series for the Big East Conference. The series, begun in 1946 with a loss at Syracuse included 3 more rematches (all losses for the Wildcats) before Villanova joined the Big East Conference in 1981. Villanova and Syracuse played 4 times before Nova joined the Big East, with Syracuse taking all 4 decisions. Syracuse leads the series 34-28...

Common Opponents, Good Wins, Bad Losses...
The 'Cats and Orange have played 5 common opponents, all fellow member of the Big East, so far this season:
Seton HallW (A)OT +4W (H)+24
South FloridaW (A)+9W (A)+5
LouisvilleL (H)-1L (H)-10
PittsburghW (H)+10L (A)-12
ProvidenceW (A)+3L (A)-6

Counted among the Orange's good wins, Kansas (Big 12, 18-4, RPI #16), a road game against Memphis (CUSA, 19-3, RPI #11), Florida (SEC, 19-4, RPI #27), Cornell (Ivy, 12-6, RPI #94), and two notched during conference play, versus West Virginia (BE, 15-7, 4-5, RPI #19) and Notre Dame (BE, 11-9, 3-7, RPI #79). The Orange have no bad losses, the worst for their resume was their first, a 2 point home loss to Cleveland St (Horizon, 12-8, RPI #95), on a buzzer beater...

Lineups, Rotations...
...Coach Boeheim has a deeper bench to look to this season, and he has used it this season, setting a rotation as deep as 13 for several OOC games. For Big East play he has settled on 7 - 10 players, allocating 10 or more minutes to 7 (give or take 1) of them. Look for him to start sophomore Jonny Flynn (6-0, 186lbs) at the #1 with junior Eric Devendorf (6-4, 178lbs) alongside as the #2. Flynn shared ROY honors last season with South Florida's Dominique Jones, was tabbed for All Big East 1st Team preseason honors, and appears to be ontrack to land on the post season team as well. Devendorf was a red shirt last season, but has worked himself back into form. He started at the #2 through much of Syracuse's OOC, but was suspended for a non-team related infraction, served a short suspension, and came in, off the bench, after his return. Coach Boeheim inserted Devendorf into the starting line up for the West Virginia game earlier this week. When he is looking for another wing, Coach Boeheim will turn to junior Andy Rautins (6-5, 193lbs), another casualty from last season. Rautins was injured again earlier this season, but appears to have been cleared to play for the West Virginia game. Devendorf and Rautins, along with Flynn, provide virtually all of Syracuse's 3 point shooting, a weapon in the Orange's offensive arsenal missing last season. If Wildcat fans see senior Jake Presutti (6-3, 190lbs) or freshman Kevin Drew (6-2, 177lbs), they can take it as a sign that the Orange have the game well under control (and can most likely exit the Wach to beat the traffic). Before Presutti or Drew enter the game however, Coach Boeheim will most likely shift junior Paul Harris to the wing and insert another front court player.

The Orange have taken a twin tower approach to their paint players, starting for the most part, junior Arinze Onuaku (6-9, 258lbs) with sophomore Rick Jackson (6-9, 235lbs) and junior Paul Harris (6-5, 228lbs) alongside. Jackson will play the #4 as Harris, a 'tweener with the height of a #3 height and the skill set of a #4 looks to slash and score. Onuaku, like Rautins, has been working through an injury; while he most likely will start, he may not play his usual 70% or more of the game. Expect to see senior transfer Kristof Ongenaet (6-8, 215lbs), then freshman Kris Joseph (6-7, 220lbs) during the game (unless the score stays very close throughout & Rautins and Onuaku are 100%, then Joseph may not be used).

Villanova will start Scottie Reynolds, Reggie Redding, Dante Cunningham and Dwayne Anderson. Coach Wright has started senior Shane Clark in Nova's last two games (Cincinnati & Providence). In any case, expect to see the Coreys (Fisher & Stokes) draw double digit minutes, with Antonio Pena coming in during the 1st half. Scottie Reynolds broke out of a minor scoring slump against Providence, scoring a team-high 31 points in 35 minutes of play. Dwayne Anderson scored a season-high 19 points, leading the four teammates (Cunningham, Redding & Fisher) who made up the "second wave" of scoring. Pena's minutes were limited in the Providence game, though his size and strength may be needed against Syracuse.

By the Numbers, Offense & Defense...
Like Providence, Syracuse likes to play for a lot of possessions. They average about 71.5 (adjusted -- per Ken Pomeroy's Team Page) possessions per 40 minutes, 2nd in the Big East only to the Friars. They run a very efficient, elite offense (113.6, adjusted, ranked #27), and a better than average defense (93.4, adjusted, ranked #53), making the Orange a very even matchup for the Wildcats. Nova's ORtg is

When Syracuse has the ball...
Orange O55.221.035.543.3
Wildcat D44.822.230.537.0

Syracuse, ranked #9 overall in eFG%, will severely test Villanova's shot defense, the weak link in the defense of previous seassons. The Orange will go inside early and often, taking 70% of their FGAs from inside the arc. They convert a whopping 55.9% of those FGAs by the way. Leading the charge to the cup will be pg Jonny Flynn (who takes a lot of shots inside and outside), Paul Harris, Arinze Onuaku (who converts a crushing 70.6% of his FGAs) and Rick Jackson (who is only "slightly less" efficient at 60.2% of his FGAs). Nova defends the 2 very well, yielding a conversion rate of 42.5%, good for a #25 rank. Look for a good deal of competition under the Orange basket. Cuse's weakness is steals, which suggest some defenses may have success contesting the entry pass. The Orange are vulnerable/exploited enough to be ranked in the last quartile of D1 (#291) in thefts allowed. The rate, 11.4% of their possessions are lost through theft, that it drives up their turnover rate (to 21.0%, ranked at #199). Nova's defensive theft rate, about 11.3%, is good enough to suggest the 'Cats may be able to exploit this weakness. Their second weakness is free throw shooting. The Orange hit at a 64.1% rate, good for a #299 ranking (out of 341 D1 schools). The "Four Factors" look at Villanova's offense versus Syracuse's defense:

When Villanova has the ball...
Wildcat O50.718.836.743.5
Orange D45.817.434.322.5

Note the matchups on shooting (eFG%) -- while not quite a mirror image of Cuse offense/Nova defense, it is very close. Nova is a bit less efficient at converting FGAs to points, while the Cuse is a bit less efficient at defensing the FGA. The 'Cats should get the most out of their possessions, as they don't turn it over much (18.8, ranked #63) and the Orange oblige their opponents by not forcing many turnovers (17.4, ranked #322). Sloppy ball handling will be a bad sign for the 'Cats. Nova needs to get to the line, especially in a closely contested game, as they look for nearly 25% of their points from converted FTAs. By habit though, the Orange have not been cooperative with their opponents, putting them on the line a very paltry 22.5% rate of FGAs. That is a good thing (for them), as Coach Boeheim continues to run one of the shorter rotations in the Big East.

Want to Beat the Orange? Then...
Shooting and shot defense continue to be the leading indicators for winning or losing with both teams.
1. Defend their shots -- When Syracuse converts (eFG%) at less than 50.0, they have gone 3-2, but in all of those wins (West Virginia, Canisius & South Florida...), their opponent converted at rates of 41.0 or less. Which brings us to the second key...
2. Hit your shots -- When their opponents have converted at rates of (eFG%) 57.1 or better, the Orange are 3-3. In all 3 of those wins the Cuse converted at a rate better than the opponent, and better than 57.0. When Villanova converts at a (eFG%) rate of 50.7 or better they are 9-1.
3. Take Your Time -- Villanova, despite what game announcers say, does not appear to function well in higher possession games. Their defense in particular seems to suffer. Keep the pace under 70 and Nova will most likely win, as they have gone 15-1 in those lower paced games. By contrast, Syracuse does not seem comfortable in more deliberate games. In games where the pace has been 67 or lower (about Nova's speed), the Orange have gone 3-4.
4. Contest for Offensive Rebounds -- Syracuse has a pretty strong marker for opponent's offensive rebounding. In games where their opponent has been able to grab 36.8% or more of their missed shots, Syracuse has gone 3-5. Nova's offensive rebounding rate is 36.7%, right at the threshold. Nova has grabbed 36.7% or more of their misses in 9 games this season. When they grabbed 34.7% or less, they went 6-4.
5. Get to the Line -- Villanova has been held to an FTA/FGA rate of 22.5 or lower only once all season (it was Monmouth, and the 'Cats won anyway). That is Syracuse's number. The Oranges have never allowed an opponent to get to the line 43.5% or higher this season. When the opponent does get to the line 28.3% or higher, the Orange have gone 3-3.

...Both teams are coming off of strong wins. The Orange thumped the Mountaineers soundly at the Dome (after dropping a decision in Friartown), while the 'Cats are riding a 4 game winning streak that goes back to their 10 point victory over Pittsburgh. Syracuse has gone 1-3 in their last 4 games, and they know they face Connecticut (away), followed by Georgetown and Villanova (again) in a mini-home stand before heading down to NYC to face St. John's. This is a game they would like very much to take.

Pomeroy's calculations suggest the game will be played for 72 possessions (comfortable enough for the Orange), with the 'Cats taking a 7 point decision. If both team's efficiencies hold, the Wildcats should win if they score 80 or more points (or limit the Orange to fewer than 70 points).

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