Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Pittsburgh Post Game -- Beast of the East

Post Game Pressers...
Seeing the Pittsburgh players, stunned from last second turn of events, have to field questions about "How it felt to..." was heartbreaking. Who could blame them for the blank stares, the mumbled, disconnected answers and a hint here and there of defiance in their voices. A determined drive had put them back within 2 as the clocked ticked under 30 seconds, an errant 94 foot pass had forced Cunningham to attempt a save that bounced high and within Jermaine Dixon's hands. Dixon alertly passed to Levance Fields at the sideline, who put the ball on the deck and dribbled to mid court, readying the Panthers for one more offensive set. Corey Fisher stepped in front, trying to take a charge, but the call went the other way, putting the senior guard on the line for 2 shots, his toss toward the basket a vain attempt to convince the referees he was really attempting a 3FGA. Calmly stepping to the line Fields hit both FTAs (a Nova timeout notwithstanding) to tie the game. 5.5 seconds left and a miracle comeback, surely the coming OT was divinely inspired, but ultimately not to be. Stunning. The Panthers played a tremendous game, one I am sure they will look back in the years to come, bitter, but proud of their effort. Coach Dixon's team did everything they were supposed to do; they just did not put enough points on the board. I doubt I will have time to post links to other wrap-ups, apologies to my fellow Nova bloggers.

The breakdown by halves...

 Offense Defense

Observations & Notes...
Unlike the Duke game, this one took on the bi-polar look of a number of other Big East games. Each team spent the 1st half taking the measure of their opponent (a defensive struggle), and then turned the 2nd half into a shooting match. The difference between this and earlier, similar Big East games is the pace remained largely consistent half-to-half.
1. Scottie Reynolds has established his place in the Villanova Pantheon with his half-court dribble drive to hit the winning basket. Though left with about 5 seconds to make a play, Scottie had the presence of mind to take it to the tin, rather than settle for a 12-15 jump shot. Terrific instinct on the young man's part -- not only did he increase tremendously the odds he could get the shot to drop, but he also took another 1 to 1.5 seconds off the clock, leaving the Panthers with 0.5 seconds to attempt another comeback. Unlike the first 2 rounds, Scottie looked quicker. His knee dings appear to have healed. Reggie Redding's inbound pass, coupled with Dante Cunningham's catch and pass to a streaking Reynolds was an excellent metaphore for the team work this squad has shown all season, Villanova's own trio of Tinker to Evers to Chance.
2. Anderson, Clark and Cunningham proved to be the most efficient scorers Saturday.

Cunningham and Anderson were work horses on offense, while Clark struck early in the game with a barrage of unexpected 3s. Cunningham has been a consistent force on offense this season. The output from these three was a little surprising given how good the Pittsburgh frontcourt has been this season.
3. Dwayne Anderson is going out with a bang. The forward has bumped up both his efficiency and production in the post season. Dwayne has improved his Big East eFG% & PPWS from 51.1/1.10 to 60.4/1.27, while increasing his shots & points per game from 7.6/9.4 to 8.8/12.7.
4. Scottie Reynolds has crossed over the 1600 point threshold with the Pittsburgh game. He has averaged over 530 points per season through his junior season, and with similar production his senior season (should he return for his senior season), will become the 8th Villanovan to score to score > 2,000 career points.
5. The Class of 2009 sets new records with each game they win.

Ref Notes
Patrick E. Driscoll, Randy McCall and Tom O'Neill ran the crew on Saturday night. The Wildcats gathered a higher number of whistles, the Panthers a higher number of free throws, but within the standard deviation for Nova games played on a neutral court this season. Shane and Dante had to sit for a few 2nd half minutes with 4 fouls, but were available at the end of the game.

Next Up
The fifth round of the NCAAs -- the National Semi-Final game to be played in Detroit, Michigan. The opponent will be ACC regular season champion, North Carolina, winners of the South Region. The game will be played Saturday at 8:47pm.

Guest Contributor Ray Floriani: Women's NCAA Report

by Ray Foriani

TRENTON. NJ - With the parity and upsets these days in women’s basketball (see Ball state -Tennessee) maybe UCONN might have started thinking a bit. There were just over 6 minutes remaining in the first half and they trailed California 31-23 in the Trenton Regional semifinal at Sovereign Bank Arena. The numbers and body of work were less than their standard.


The last six plus minutes saw the Huskies find the range and, most important, lock down defensively. The Cal numbers over those minutes...


The Huskies had a 35-33 halftime lead and , of greater significance, the momentum. They came out strong the second half. Cal did not have an answer and soon a very competitive game was shaping as a rout. The UCONN defensive numbers those final 26 plus minutes are quite an eye opener.


Offensively the Huskies turned in this performance over that juncture.


The final totals in the 77-54 decision.


Freshman guard Tiffany Hayes sparked UCONN hitting a few big shots when Cal had that lead ad threatened to get it to double digits. Hayes finished with a game high 28 points. Hayes was an uncanny 9 of 10 from the field, including 5 of 6 from beyond the arc. In fact the Huskies shot 56% (9 for 16) from three point range and 40% (19 for 47) from two. Ashley Walker led Cal with 21 points but only five following intermission.

In the nightcap both coaches expected a grind it out defensive battle. What they got was an entertaining offensive affair. Arizona State pulled the big upset stopping second seed Texas A & M 84-69. With 11 minutes left in the half it was an eleven possession game, the score was tied at 19 and both clubs had an astounding 1.73 PPP. At the half it ’settled’ to this.

Arizona St42321.312569
Texas A & M37341.092157

For most of the second half it was a two possession lead with Arizona State in front. In the stretch the Sun Devils pulled away as A & M gambled and in the latter minutes was in a fouling mode trying to extend the contest. The final numbers:

Arizona St84691.222666
Texas A & M69720.962449

That defense did show up the second half as Arizona State limited their opponents to 42% shooting from the field. ASU guard Briann January led all scorers with 22 points. Hot shooting carried to the charity stripe as ASU was 18 of 21 and Texas A & M perfect in ten tries. On Tuesday it’s UConn and Arizona State in what may be an interesting contest with a trip to St.Louis at stake.

Quotes: "Geno (Auriemma) is a hall of fame coach and this is one of his best teams for a number of reasons. It is an incredible opportunity to play them." - Arizona State coach Charli Turner Thorne

"We haven’t given it a lot of thought. At this time your entire focus is the next game. We were concerned about playing today. If you don’t win today you do not play on Tuesday." - UCONN coach Geno Auriemma on being top ranked and undefeated.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Pittsburgh Post Game -- Later

I am still recovering. Will post numbers later. For now...

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Nova - Pitt -- Post Season Efficiencies

Looking at the post season numbers only for both squads, and the picture for Pittsburgh is not pretty.

When Pitt has the ball...
Panther O47.720.439.938.5
Wildcat D45.718.922.142.7

Pittsburgh's offensive efficiency, 105.5, is so far below their Big East efficiency (117.7), that I have to wonder if it is the same team. This is one very bad case of the jitters. Through a single round of the Big East Tournament and 3 NCAA rounds, their overwhelming dominance on the offensive boards (with the dividend of getting that 2nd/3rd/4th FGA) has saved them from their terrible shooting. As for turnovers and getting to the line, those are about the same (more -- turnovers or less -- FTAs/FGAs) as their Big East regular season numbers. The Wildcats have improved their shot defense and presence on the defensive boards; the consistency on defensive boards suggest this is a cornerstone of their defensive presence in the post season. The contrasting numbers on rebounding percentages are a real point of contention for the two squads. Who dominates under Pitt's basket (with the physical struggle translating into fouls and FTAs?) may well be deciding factor. Nova's post season defensive efficiency, at 94.2 is below their Big East season efficiency (101.0), but the difference is not "some other team"-level different.

On the other side of the ball I found a similar regular season-post season disconnect for the Panthers...

When Villanova has the ball...
Wildcat O47.921.337.342.9
Panther D44.413.835.030.4

Pitt's defensive turnover rate and FTA/FGA scream passive defense. In sharp contrast to their offensive rebounding rate, 35.0 is below average for defensive rebounding percentages (subtract from 100 -- Pitt has rebounded about 65% of their opponent's misses). On offense in the post season (I include 2 rounds of the Big East Tournament in Nova's post season) Villanova has shot poorly and lost the ball, but has compensated by grabbing rebounds for 2nd/3rd chance opportunities, and getting to the line. If Villanova's offensive efficiency has suffered in the post season (110.0 in the Big East regular season down to 105.8 in the post season), the downturn is (unlike Pitt) not day and night different. Pitt's defensive efficiency has degraded over the transition from Big East regular-to-post season (101.6 to 102.7), but at the same level as their offense. The transition in pace is also interesting, as Pittsburgh's pace has declined over the course of the season, reaching 66.8 (about average for D1 ball) during the Big East season, but declining to 65.8 during the post season. While this is most likely a deliberate strategy (inferior opponents limit possessions to keep the point margin close, thereby enhancing their chances for an upset), that the Panthers have been unable to date to control and force the pace higher (assuming they want more possessions in the game) has to be troubling for their staff. 65.8 is hardly a grind it out pace however. Villanova's pace has remained pretty constant through the transition from Big East regular season (71.8) to the post season (71.2), another suggestion that the Wildcats are getting pretty much what they want during the game. I have noted several times, particularly in the past two games, how the Wildcats have significantly quickened the pace from the 1st half to the 2nd half. A similar development in this game would be a good sign for fans of the Nova Nation.

Comparing the Competition...
I used the raw efficiency stats from Ken Pomeroy's site (the stats are given in Villanova's and Pittsburgh's respective Game Plan pages -- many thanks to Ken Pomeroy for preparing and making these stats available) for this analysis. The data is for the games each squad played in the Big East Tournament and through the first three rounds of the NCAAs. For Villanova those opponents were Marquette and Louisville (BET), followed by American, UCLA and Duke (NCAA). Pitt's slate of opponents included West Virginia (BET), East Tennessee State, Oklahoma State and Xavier (NCAA). The margins of efficiency (Offensive ppp - Defensive ppp) again shows a decline for Pittsburgh (0.16 down to 0.03), more evidence of post season nerves I suppose. Villanova's margins (0.09 up to 0.12) again suggest the Wildcats are on a run.

Crunching the post season efficiencies and pace numbers in place of Pomeroy's adjusted efficiencies gives Villanova a 6 point win in a game to be played for about 70 possessions. If Villanova can score 75 or more points on Pitt, they will win this game.

Preview -- Pittsburgh #2...Not Here

The Wildcats and Panthers know each other pretty well by now, having played 9 times in the Wright-Dixon Era (2003-2009). Villanova's tally during that period -- 4-5. Everybody who follows either (or both) of the teams has a pretty good idea of what each must do in order to win. And make no mistake, either team can win this game, despite what the simulations and analysts might say. So how are the experts calling this one?

The ink media homies say...
The game has NCAA, Big East, but ultimately state-level rivalry implications that dig into the psychie of each of Pennsylvania's two largest cities...
Joe Juliani over at the Philadelphia Inquirer thinks the game will focus on defense -- consistent with the shared history and each staff's "defense first" philosophy. Juliano looks to Cunningham, Reynolds and Fisher to power the Wildcats, while Young, Blair and Fields will headline for the Panthers.
The Post-Gazette's Ray Fittipaldo believes the Panthers' rocky start in the tournament is behind them as their win over Xavier Thursday gets them over that Sweet Sixteen hump. The Panthers are looking to return to the Final Four for the first time since 1941. Fittipaldo's material is drawn mostly from yesterday's press conferences.
The PDN's Mike Kern believes the momentum gathered through Nova's 1st three tournament games will be essential if the Wildcats are to prevail today. Kern does a nice job of juxtaposing coaching records/backgrounds and records, paths to the Elite Eight and "To Do" Lists. He too foresees the basketball equivalent of a Sumo wrestling match.
The Tribune-Review's John Grupp puts his analysis on the sidebar and gives senior guard Levance Fields center stage. The Panther Nation looks at this as the biggest game in Pitt basketball history, and Fields wants to win it for Head Coach Jamie Dixon. Keys to the game according to Grupp include (for Villanova...) containing Young and distribute the scoring, and (for Pittsburgh) keeping Blair on the court and out of foul trouble, valuing the ball and hit their outside shots, so the 'Cats will not be able to collapse on Blair and shut down the passing lanes.

The national media say...
ESPN links to an anonymous preview from the AP, though Andy Katz does kick in two pieces, the first a close-up recap of Pitt's tight win over Xavier; the second a compare/contrast piece on Dixon & Wright, two coaches, Katz suggests, who will make up the new hierarchy in the Big East (assuming each stays put).
Over at CBS Sportsline, former assistant and current HC Joe Jones and Jason Horowitz do a video preview. Jones likes Villanova as Pitt has been inconsistent so far. Over at the regional coverage they posted a side-by-side comparison of the Panthers and Wildcats. Authored by "The Sports Xchange", it suggests Blair has to avoid foul trouble and Scottie is Nova's go-to guy. CBS stringer Mike Freeman, doing his best Gregg Doyel cover, finger wags at Pittsburgh for their string of close wins through the first three rounds of the tournament. He also does a pretty good side-by-side profiles of Blair and Cunningham, suggesting this is going to be a battle on the inside.

Alex Wolff over at Sports Illustrated starts out with a profile on DeJuan Blair, works in the improbability storyline (well mined) on Blair, before finishing up with a spoonful of interstate rivalry (Pittsburgh vs Philadelphia), topped with a large helping of class rivalry (Pittsburgh is working class with dirty air, the Main Line is toney...). Bring your Alka-Seltzer.

What the Bloggers say...
The NBE Blogger calls this one for Pitt, 73-67. That is a bit more than most others.
Over at the Bleacher Report a committee of writers favors Pitt, 3-2. A few basic stats to look at for those who are interested. Frequent Nova writer ? puts together a "...By the Numbers" breakdown of the two teams, on his way to teasing you into yet another click on the Bleacher Reports web site. Sorry I didn't go the extra click, so I don't know who he picked (but I'm gonna guess it might be Villanova).
The Nova Nation Blogosphere is unusually quiet this weekend. Everyone in Boston (I see Chris over at IBBW posted a quick note from Bean town, indicating that the VUAA reception is overbooked to the point where they have had to rent a second bar...some things never change)? Preparing "Regional Final/Off to the Final Four!" posts? It seems that only Let's Go Nova, VUhoops.com and the Villanovan Sports Blog have posted pregame reviews. VUHoops.com posted the latest in their pregame series, "Game 37 vs #1 Pittsburgh", which gives a run down on what has changed since their last meeting in January. Their second post, "Comparing Stats with Pitt", is more a Tale of the Tape post as they take a statistical look at the two teams. LGN's Pete posted that this might be the first of the four NCAA games so far where the Wildcats may be at a disadvantage on the interior. Meanwhile David over at the Villanovan Sports Blog seems to close the circle from the senior's freshman year, when the team ran to the Regional Finals in Minneapolis only to fall to Florida to this season, when these seniors want to take the next step.

What Pomeroy and Pythagoras Say...
Largely overlooked in the 1st few rounds of the tournament, the Wildcat's Offensive and Defensive adjusted ratings have "crossed over" into the elite territory associated with Final Four teams. The The game will be played for about 68 possessions, with the Panthers taking a 74-72 decision.

Duke Post Game -- Looking for a Shot

Post Game Pressers...
You could see it in G's eyes during Duke's post game interview. Coach K graciously credited Coach Wright's game plan and the Wildcat defense. His team missed their shots "...but Villanova had a lot to do with that...". They did not know what hit them. They knew their gameplan did not work, indeed during the game a strangely passive Coach Krzyzewski sat with a dour expression and stared into a spot on the court, as if day dreaming...or thinking. But he had no answer for the Wildcat defense. Nothing he could say that could get Clark out of Scheyer's face. Or Reggie Redding out of G's jersey. Only a referee could do that (and they did, at least for Scheyer, with 4:13 left to play, Clark was DQ'ed).

The breakdown by halves...

 Offense Defense

Observations & Notes...
The Wildcats put together 2 of the best halves of defense they have played in the month of March and February. Holding a 3 point shooting team like Duke to 18.5% is astounding, but also goes a long way to explain how Nova kept Duke to .728 points per possessions.
1. The pace differences between halves was striking, again. Like the UCLA game the Wildcats stepped up the tempo. Duke, like UCLA, could not keep up.
2. The Wildcats maintained a turnover rate below their season average, for both halves.
3. The offense went through Reynolds (29.3), Cunningham (24.6), Stokes (20.8) and Anderson (19.2). Though Reggie Redding scored in double digits, he (13.7), along with Fisher (15.6) and Clark (14.2) stepped back, though even without attention from Duke's defense, only Clark (1.28 PPWS) and Redding (1.38 PPWS) were especially efficient.
4. The 2nd half offensive blitz was keyed by more accurate field goal shooting, but the front court became far more efficient as they became stronger under their own basket. The Wildcat's offensive rebounding rate improved dramatically half-over-half, going from 26.3% to 40%. The front court players accounted for 17 of Nova's 27 rebounds (half of the offensive boards).
5. The point distribution for the game was a departure from Villanova's season-long norms, reflecting most likely a gameplan that emphasized an inside the arc attack on offense. While the 'Cats got their customary 25% (or so -- 24.7%) from the free throw line, they were well down on points from 3FGAs (15.6% vs 25%), the difference coming from front court scoring. The team did not fall into a jump shot contest with the Blue Devils.
6. Add Villanova's 1st 29 win season to the Class of 2009's accomplishments. The win total for this class is now 101.

Ref Notes
Most of the pregame speculation focused on 3 "Philly refs", with the primary object of speculation Bob Donato, a name familiar to many Nova fans. It turns out the crew was really J.D. Collins, Karl Hess, Michael Stuart. All three have refereed Villanova games this season. Combined, the Wildcats are 10-1 this season when one of them is in the crew. Duke won the battle of the refs, getting 24 FTAs on 23 Wildcat fouls. The numbers are well within the range (standard deviation) for fouls & free throws.

Next Up
The fourth round of the NCAAs (the Elite Eight). The opponent will be Big East conference mate, Pittsburgh, the East Regional Final game to be played in Boston at the TD Banknorth Garden, Saturday at 7:05pm.

Friday, March 27, 2009

More Sweet 16 Log5

From the log5 perspective, Thursday was the "tough" night. The probability that Louisville beats Arizona -- 77.1%. Probability that Syracuse beats Oklahoma -- 52.0% (! -- yes the Big East is that good). Probability that both win -- 40.1%. Better than last night.

I will post the by-half boxes later today. The Wildcat defense was as good as it seemed to be -- the offense was better than you might think.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

On PASE? The Conferences Through Two Rounds

Looking over at Dan Hanner's Just Another Basketball Blog late last week I read through his "PASE Expectations" post. PASE, developed by Peter Tiernan over at bracketscience.com can be used to compare performance versus expectation by seed. It seemed to be a promising method for analysis, so I decided to update the PASE stats for the seeds (thanks go out to the Bracketville blogger who maintains seed stats going back to 1985. I have relied on him for NCAA Tournament seed stats for years...). So how are the conferences doing this post season...

ConferencePASEto Dte%PASEIn
Sun Belt0.5012.000
Big 128.1891.103
Big Ten7.1360.842
Big East16.43110.675

Each conference's PASE is, as pointed out by Dan's PASE post, the sum of the anticipated wins by seed history. The Big East, Big Ten and ACC may all have received 7 bids (see table above), but their respective PASEs differ because their bids were for very different seeds. I have sorted the data by Wins %PASE, derived by dividing the number of wins so far ("Wins to Dte") by the conference's PASE. This puts a few tournament performances (by conference) in a different light.

Mids, Low & Surprises
I have left most of the mid/low major conferences off the list as they lost their first round games, thereby deriving a %PASE of 0. Given that among the mid/low major conferences only the A10 (Xavier), CUSA (Memphis), Mountain West Conference (MWC -- Utah & BYU) and West Coast Conferences (WCC -- Gonzaga), had teams seeded #8 or higher, losing in the first round was hardly a shock. I kept those four conferences along with the Sun Belt, MAAC and Horizon Conferences in the table. It appears the Sun Belt Conference is the biggest winner, as their representative, Western Kentucky, exceeded expectations by 200%. Well, the Hilltoppers actually won a single game. Seeded #12 (in the South Region) facing Illinois out of the Big Ten in a first round game and winning was no small feat. Siena out of the MAAC won it's first round game for the second consecutive tournament. The Saint's latest victim, #8 seed Ohio State, I suspect, would vouch for the idea the Saints should have been seeded a bit higher. It was the Saints' misfortune to run up against Louisville in the 2nd round, and though they gave the Cardinals a good game, they did not prevail. If Coach McCaffery and his team are disappointed they did not advance farther this season, they can take solace in the knowledge that they exceeded the PASE by 174%. The Horizon brought 2 squads to the Dance this season (Cleveland State & Butler), the improbable one, Cleveland State, turned out to be the one which advanced to the 2nd round, thus redeeming the conference's reputation for scrappy and surprising teams. The Vikings are coached by ex-Rutgeres head coach Gary Waters, so if the team members did not have NCAA experience, the coach has, having taken Kent State to the Dance in the late 1990s. The A10, with Xavier still in tournament, has an opportunity to advance a bit farther up the table, but the X-Men face a tough Pittsburgh team tonight. The MWC has to be the most disappointed among these conferences. The MWC had two teams, BYU and Utah, both with seeds #8 or higher representing the conference. The MWC's PASE was 1.83 wins, but both teams were eliminated in the 1st round.

Power Conferences
Having exceeded or met expectations, the Big 12 and Pac-10 are pretty much home free. Although the Pac-10 still has Arizona active, the Western Wildcats are up against the Louisville Cardinals in a #1/#12 game in the Midwest Region. Arizona became the conference's accidental standard bearer when #4 seed (West Region) Washington fell to #5 Purdue in the 2nd round. The Big 12 had 6 bids, all of whom survived the 1st round. Three from that conference -- Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma -- survived the 2nd round, so going forward, the Big 12 is playing with house money. The biggest disappointment so far is the SEC, whose prospects with 3 bids total, two of which were low seeds (#9 & #13), were very modest at the outset. The conference was "on PASE" for 1.5 wins, but only mustered a single win (from LSU, an #8 seed) before all representatives were eliminated by the 2nd round in the 1st weekend. Among the conferences with surviving representative, the Big Ten is close to meeting expectations, the conference from the Great Lakes needs only 2 more wins to exceed their expected total of 7.13 wins. If the Big East, with 11 wins so far, looks as if they have a lot of work still to do, remember they have 5 teams still in the tournament. Should all 5 advance, the conference is guaranteed to exceed it's PASE, since one of Pittsburgh and Villanova would advance to the Final Four. Should the confernce "play to seed" through this round, the prospects are still good -- at least 2 of the Elite Eight survivors would have to advance to the Final Four, with one advancing to the national championship game. Should all three #1 seeds advance to the Final Four the Big East is guaranteed to exceed their PASE (as at least 1 will advance to the National Championship game). The ACC, the conference with the 2nd highest PASE, is under the greatest pressure. The conference has only 2 representatives, North Carolina and Duke, left in the tournament. Both must advance through this round. And should either be eliminated in the next round, the other would have to win the National Championship. Should both advance to the Final Four they would have, between them, most likely eliminated 3 Big East teams. That would leave a mark.

Log5ing Around...

Some log5 calculations for Big East teams to contemplate...

Most probable Big East Sweet Sixteen winner -- Louisville 77.1% probability to beat Arizona and send the last Pac-10 team home.
Least probable Big East Sweet Sixteen winner -- Villanova 41.0% chance of beating Duke and reducing the ACC representation to North Carolina.
Most vulnerable Big East #1 seed -- Pittsburgh, with a 68.8% probability of beating Xavier. I still like those odds.
All Big East teams win their Sweet Sixteen games -- 8.2% 5-0 is tough, but not infinitesimal as some may think...
Probability that all Big East #1s advance -- 38.5%...very nice.
Probability that all Big East #1s and Syracuse advance -- 20.0%...still pretty good.

Philadelphia Media Gameday Links

The Villanova - Duke game has brought out another day of full coverage from Philadelphia's ink media sports section...

Mike Kern posts his game summary with keys to the game on his Philly Hoops Insider Blog. Kern penned a longer piece which focuses on both Duke and Villanova's growth in the past 3 weeks. Both squads are peaking it seems, at just the right time. Also from the PDN, Dick Jerardi gets Coach K's perspective on Villanova, even as the Duke Coach discusses the late season lineup changes that triggered the Blue Devil's late season surge (10-1). Moving freshman guard Elliot Williams into the starting lineup at the #2, shifting Jon Scheyer to the point and bringing in senior Greg Paulus off the bench gave Duke a 6th gear at the start of the game. Rich Hoffman uses the history of Coach Wright's hiring as the introduction for a piece on the money spent by the City 6 on men's basketball. While Hoffman only singled out Penn's expenditures (about 1/6 of that spent by Villanova) as lower because the Quakers do not give athletic scholarships, the side-by-side comparison suggests that the money gap may be reflected also with the on the court performance. Villanova has won 3 of the last 4 Big 5 titles. Publicity for Coach Wright is something of a mixed blessing at this point -- discussed on a number of fan boards this week as well...as the Coaching Carousal takes the first few turns this off season -- as he appears on a variety of short lists (mostly fans).

The Inky's Joe Juliano writes about the striking similarity between the teams -- the style of play (I guess he has not checked out pace stats lately), the height similarities between positions and the lack of a "true center". Sports columnist Bob Ford, working another variation on the familiarity theme used yesterday, suggests that neither squad will be intimidated by the other's reputation or history.

The turnaround for the city's ink media is truly surprising. They even dispatched a photographer to chronicle yesterday's practice in Boston. Enjoy.

A bit off topic, but definitely worth a mention -- Roman Catholic's point guard Maalik Wayns, slated to start his freshman year at Villanova next fall, was named Pennsylvania's Player of the Year by the Philadelphia Daily News. Congratulations Maalik!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Tale of the Tape -- Villanova & Duke

Common Opponents, Good Wins, Bad Losses...
The 'Cats and Blue Devils shared four common opponents -- two from the Big East and two from different conferences -- during the past season...
Rhode IslandW(N)+13W(H)+3
St. John'sW(H)+19W(A)+7

Both faced Rhode Island within 2 weeks of each other, but the games were played in November. Of the three remaining common opponents, the Texas score may be the least reliable as the Wildcats faced Texas early last December while the Blue Devils eliminated Texas from the NCAAs last weekend. The Georgetown and St. Johns games were played about a month apart, in January and February.

Offense, Defense, by the Numbers...
Duke and Villanova both play above the D1 average (66.5), but Villanova pushes the ball a bit more, looking for about 69 possessions per (40 minute) game, while Duke gets just over 67 possessions. Pomeroy's stats for Duke suggest the Blue Devils run an elite level offense (at 118.9 adjusted, ranked #5 in D1), while their defense is at the lower boundary for Top 20 in defensive efficiency (ranked #20 with a defensive rating of 90.9, adjusted). How do the Blue Devil's offense measure up with Villanova's defense? The numbers show a few places where it could get very competitive...

When Duke has the ball...
Blue Devil O51.017.438.241.4
Wildcat D47.621.930.137.6

Duke has one of the most efficient offenses in D1, but they are not especially inclined to shoot from the outside, nor are they especially efficient at scoring from inside the arc. The key to Duke's offensive efficiency is good (but not great...) shooting (2s -- 49.9, 3s -- 35.5, fts -- 72.8)combined with very few turnovers and a lot of trips to the line. Duke is in the same company as Villanova and Connecticut when it comes to scoring from the free throw line. Duke's point distribution (3FGM/2FGM/FTM) at 28/49/23 is comparable to Villanova's own 26/50/24 distribution (and at variance with the D1 average of 28/52/20). The Blue Devils are good at rebounding their misses, setting up a confrontation over who will control the Duke boards and whether the Blue Devil ball handlers can work through the Wildcat pressure. Duke's Kyle Singler, Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas will compete with Cunningham, Anderson, Stokes and Pena for those rebounds. Nova players tend to be more active on the boards (both ends), with Scottie, Fisher, Clark and Redding all grabbing boards at both ends of the court. An 8.1% steal rate on offense (ranked #27) suggests they can. There is a troubling match-up over fouls. Villanova tends to give them, and Duke tends to cash in on them. As noted earlier, The Blue Devils look for those points at the line as an important component of their scoring make-up.

Looking at Villanova's offense versus Duke's defense, we find a few of the same points of competition...

When Villanova has the ball...
Wildcat O51.518.936.343.0
Blue Devil D47.923.532.830.9

The two teams seem similar for shot and shot defense, possibly a small advantage to Villanova, given the 'Cats hit a slightly higher percentage of their 2s (50), 3s (36.5) and free throws (74.6). Duke forces turnovers and Nova is good, but not great, at valuing the ball. For rebounds however note that Nova is very good at squeezing out 2nd chance opportunities, while Duke is very average at limiting those opportunities. And again the fouling rates are troubling. Villanova needs them, but Duke is a reluctant "giver".

When I looked at just the post season games for both teams I found a suggestion there may be a different dynamic between the two squads. I looked at those games each team played in their respective conference post season tournaments and the first two rounds of the NCAAs. Many of Nova's numbers came in largely where they were during the regular season (especially in conference play), but a few of Duke's numbers changed rather significantly over these past 5 or so games. Nova's post season pace is 70.5, fairly close to their regular season (adjusted) pace -- 69.0. Duke's pace however, dropped to 62.6, well below their regular season (adjusted) pace of 67.2. It seems the strategy of slowing the pace has also yielded a higher number of 3FGAs. And a much greater accuracy -- 47.9, a much more efficient conversion rate. If Duke's offensive efficiency has improved (up to 117.7, raw), their defensive efficiency, 105.7, significantly off their regular season defensive efficiency (conference games only, 98.9, raw). Their defensive Four Factors...

Duke's Post Season Defense...
Blue Devil D51.

The significant changes are in eFG%, TO% (down slightly) and opponent's offensive rebounding rate (way off, and very close to Villanova's rate, suggesting the 'Cats should do very well). The one area of improvement is the FTRate -- allowing opponents on the line.

Pomeroy & Pythagoras...
The log5 probabilities show Villanova has a 41% chance of taking this game. The teams will probably play for about 69 possessions, above the D1 average, and well within the Wildcat's gameplan and offensive flow. The question is which Duke pace, the season long pace, 67.2, or their post season pace, 62.6, is the more accurate estimation of the number of possessions the Blue Devils will play for. Pomeroy's efficiency comparison projects a 3 point Blue Devil win. But again the question is which Duke defense shows up, the 2nd best defense in the ACC, or the "just enough" version the Blue Devils have been playing for the past 2+ weeks...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Guest Contributor Ray Floriani: Rutgers Women in the NCAA

by Ray Foriani

PISCATATWAY, NJ - The Big East was heard on the women’s side as seventh seed Rutgers trounced second seed Auburn, 80-58, in a second round contest. About a month ago the Scarlet Knights were a struggling bubble team. Now, C. Vivian Stringer & Co. have their ticket punched for the Oklahoma City Regional. Suddenly, Rutgers and Final Four are appearing in the same sentence.

Stats were distributed every media time out. Rather than break down every four minute stretch, I decided to highlight a few intervals to display the consistency of effort on the part of Rutgers.

7:30 remaining (1st Half) 
3:52 remaining
15:39 remaining (2nd half)
Final Game Totals

Auburn chipped away the first four minutes of the second half and almost got the deficit to single digits. The 15:39 totals reflect that. The Scarlet Knights quickly answered with a 5-0 run and the lead was soon over fifteen again. The points per possession at the selected junctures show how Rutgers dominated.

Final added Stats of note


Both teams valued the ball as low turnover rates attest. Auburn was successful on the offensive boards but one can point out they had a great deal more opportunities given 20 of 72 shooting from the floor. The effective field goal mark of Auburn attests to the superior defensive effort by the Scarlet Knights. Rutgers was on fire with a mark that included 5 of 14 from three point range. Epiphanny Prince led the way with 27 points while SEC player of the Year DeWanna Bonner paced Auburn with 17. Rutgers is playing their best ball at the most opportune time and is suddenly a team no one looks forward to facing.

"It doesn’t matter one bit where we came from it’s where we are going that counts." -- C. Vivian Stringer

"I fully expect Rutgers to get to the Final Four. I’m not putting pressure on them but they are god enough to get there. I wish them well." -- Auburn Coach Nell Fortner

Philadelphia Media -- the Reading List

Philadelphia coverage for the Wildcats has been spotty over the years. In the last NCAA most of the ink reporters hopped on planes West to cover the Temple Owls and St. Joseph's in their 1st round games, necessitating the editor of one of the city's papers to order their baseball beat writer to move down 75 from the Phillies spring training to cover the 1st weekend at Tampa.

What a difference a year makes. Looking through the city papers today, I find myself knee deep in articles...

Joe Jerardi over at the Philadelphia Daily News (PDN) looks at Episcopal Academy graduate and Duke wing Gerald Henderson, and relives his recruitment while at Episcopal, his decision to go to Duke ("G" was also recruited by Coach Wright) and thoughts on the game.

The PDN's Mike Kern who has had the Villanova beat off and on since Dana O'Neil moved on to ESPN (be sure to catch DPO's article on Saturday's game, Villanova roughs up UCLA), filed a retrospective that focused on how much progress sophomore guard Corey Fisher has made in the past season and what he has added as a spark plug off the bench.

Joe Juliano, the Inky's Nova beat writer interviews Coach Wright about his match up with Duke's HOF coach Mike Krzyzewski. In between complements to the Blue Devil coach's abilty to build and sustain an elite program and his contributions to the community, I learned that Coaches Wright and Krzyzewski worked together in USA Basketball. A good read, but the picture of Coach Wright sharing a laugh did him no favors. Juliano also penned a background piece on Taylor King, a 6-6 Duke forward who transferred to the Main Line in the off season. King, barred by NCAA rules from traveling with the team to away games, will make his way to Boston on his own to follow the team's progress.

If Taylor King has fans thinking about next season's edition of the Wildcats, Ted Silary, a frequent contributor on HS sports, filed an article that checked in with Roman Catholic's star guard and McDonad's All American Maalik Wayns, to see how the next in a growing line of Philly guards followed the first rounds of the tournament. Wayns has been watching the tournament with friends and family, and is very excited that his time is coming.

Sam Donnellon ponders the road ahead and wonders If Villanova beats Duke...can wider recognition and elite status be far off?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

NCAA First Round -- Conference Progress Report

Looking at the results from the first round games, I was curious to see how the power conferences did...

Seed Record
Big 12516601.000
Big East707610.857
Big Ten437430.571

The Big 12 looks like they fared best among the power conferences. Especially notable given they had one team seeded in the lower half of the field (Texas A&M, seeded #9 beat BYU out of the Mountain West Conference). A&M fell to Connecticut 92-66 in the 2nd round. The Big East did fairly well, though it was to be expected given all 7 bids were seeded #1 through #6. The conference's lone 1st round casualty was West Virginia, the Mountaineers running into a deceptively deliberate Dayton team and falling 60-68. The Pac10s two underseeds, Arizona (#12) and USC (#10) managed to pull upsets over their 1st round opponents (Utah & Boston College, respectively), even as favored California (#7) fell to their underseeded ACC opponent Maryland. For the Mountain West Conference losses for both BYU and Utah managed to close out the conference's tournament presence. The MWC finished 0-2 this season, especially given that Utah and BYU had both earned higher seeds (#5 & #8 respectively). Only two of the Big Ten's high seeds (Michigan State and Purdue) won, the conference's reputation salvaged by low seeds Michigan and Wisconsin. Neither of those winners should be shocking. Michigan coach John Beilein is well known to Big East fans as he did a turn at West Virginia, taking several underrated Mountaineer teams deeper into the tournament than most believed they could go. Wisconsin's Bo Ryan is noted for his defense, and true to form, the Badgers strangled their first round opponent, Florida State, in a 59-61 game. Most disappointing to date has to be the ACC, which looks more like a "North Carolina, Duke & the 10 Dwarves" conference. Despite having 6 high seeds, the conference pulled a dismal 3-4 in the 1st round, the third win coming in an upset engineered by veteran Maryland coach Gary Williams. High seeds Wake Forest (#4), Florida State (#5), Boston College (#7) and Clemson (#7) all fell.

Multi-bid and other Mids
Four mid-low major conferences received high seeds, with 3 conferences pulling down multiple bids. The highest seed in the group went to Memphis of CUSA, the Tigers getting a #2 seed in the West Region. Coming out of 1st round action, the A10 conference appears to be the most prosperous, having pulled in 3 bids (Xavier #4, Dayton #11 and conference tournament winner Temple #11), with two teams (Dayton and Xavier) advancing into the 2nd round. That gives the conference a 2-1 record so far. The Horizon Conference had a surprise turn, with Butler (#9) falling in the 1st round and overlooked Cleveland State (#13), the conference tournament champion, advancing, and so giving the conference a 1-1 record so far. Both team were low seeds (though at #9 it is arguable even with #8s), so the Horizon again made some unexpected noise. The Gonzaga Bulldogs, a #4 seed out of the West Coast Conference advanced as a high seed. Not a shock. Of the other low seed, mid majors who advanced Siena (#9) out of the MAAC should not surprise those who follow Northeastern basketball, and the Sun Belt representative Western Kentucky (#12) has made (counting this season) 22 NCAA appearances, compiling a 17-20 record.

UCLA Post Game -- Then and Now

Pre Game Warmups...
Ben Howland should have known better. He coached Pittsburgh in the Big East for 4 years before heading back out West to take the helm of the storied UCLA program. Howland's period of adjustment at Pittsburgh was maybe 3 games, largely because the bruising, physical style of play he developed at Northern Arizona fit so well with the tone and tenor of the Big East. This style, a boa constrictor-type defense with an efficient but athletic, front court-oriented offense, all run by premier guards is, one assumes, what the powers that be in Westwood wanted when they lured Howland to one of the 5 (or so...) best jobs in D1 ball back in 2004. So why did Darrin Collison, as quoted by Mike Freeman (in his UCLA mea culpa, "Villanova gives UCLA a dose of Philly justice") complain that "I was just talking to the official because I thought they was fouling a little bit too hard..."? Ben Howland played Villanova 4 times going into Saturday's 2nd round game and won 3 of those tilts. His Panthers faced Jay Wright-coached teams twice (2-0) and held a 127-113 scoring edge against those teams.

The breakdown by halves...

 Offense Defense

Observations & Notes...
The Executive Summary -- best given by LA Times columnist Bill Plaschke in the story he filed ("Shaken to its core...") -- "Villanova would have won if it had been played in Howland's driveway with Rick Neuheisel refereeing".
1. The 1st half pace, projected over the entire game would have been 68 -- about average for D1, and just below Nova's raw pace (69.0). The 2nd half pace, again projected over the entire game would have been 81.2 -- well above the adjusted pace for either school. The higher pace may also account for the declined in their defensive rating.
2. Good to see the Wildcats got their turnovers under control for the 2nd half. 9.9 might be one of the lowest registered for a half this season, and a bit unusual given the pace increased rather dramatically half-over-half.
3. The scoring as noted in many places, was evenly distributed, with 6 players (Anderson, Cunningham, Fisher, Redding, Reynolds and Stokes) in double figures. The offense however, went through Anderson (24.5), Clark (26.0), Cunningham (27.2) and Stokes (25.8) when they were on the floor. Each took approximately 25% (or more, see parenthesis) of the shots when they were playing. Fisher, Redding and Reynolds were all very efficient with their scoring, but stepped back to give the wings & front court their scoring opportunities. The shot distribution is typical for Cunningham, who has emerged as the offensive force this season, and Stoke's number is close to where he usually comes in, but Anderson's number is more typical of the late season, when Dwayne has stepped in to take more shots than he did earlier in the regular season. Shane's Shot% is a bit distorted given his limited playing time, but definitely unusual. I suspect the staff drew up a gameplan that had the wing/forward spots getting more shots.
4. Among the most efficient with their scoring opportunities -- Corey Fisher (eFG% 64.3/PPWS 1.46), Dante Cunningham (63.6/1.26), Corey Stokes (60.0/1.20), Shane Clark (57.1/1.14) and Reggie Redding (53.6/1.31 -- Reggie went 4-4 from the line).
5. Dante's numbers are amazing. Again. Though Fisher was more efficient, Dante took nearly 30% of the possessions, >27% of the shots, and still managed to convert nearly 2/3s of this opportunities. He is not sneaking up on anyone anymore this season. The Bruins knew he was coming, and they could not stop him.
6. The Class of 2009 became the first class in Villanova history to win 100 games during their run on the Main Line. They broke the Class of 2008's record 96 wins at the end of the regular season (vs Providence), and have since gone on to post a 100-35 (and counting...) record, good for a 74.1% winning percentage.

Ref Notes
John Cahill, D.J. Carstensen & Mike Wood manned the crew for this game. Even noting the "hard fouls", the game was not exceptional for fouls whistled nor free throws taken for Villanova on a neutral court this season. All three have refereed Villanova games, Cahill and Wood in this season. Combined, the Wildcats are 6-1 this season when one of them is in the crew.

Next Up
The third round of the NCAAs (the Sweet Sixteen). The opponent will be Duke, the game to be played in Boston at the TD Banknorth Garden, on Thursday. The NCAA will announce the time.

Friday, March 20, 2009

American U Post Game -- Hunter & Hunted

Home Game? Riiiight...
Dwayne Anderson took Cunningham's pass at the top of the key, just beyond the arc and promptly dropped a 3 on the American University Eagles. The next trip down the court again took a 3FGA, but missed. Cunningham however, grabbed the loose ball and put it back. 5-0 'Cats. Four more trips (2 turnovers, another 3 by Anderson and 2FTs by Cunningham, 5 more points and a score of 10-5, and only 3 minutes in. The Wildcats were on schedule for a 78 possession game with the 'Cats scoring 130 points. Too good to be true...a bit too easy maybe. The Eagles exhaled, shook the nerves out and took off on a 36-21 run to make the last 17 minutes of the first half seem like another game from another time. And the hometown favorites went into the break down 10. The breakdown by halves...

OpponentAmerican U 
 Offense Defense

Half Time Adjustments
The numbers seem vaguely familiar to me, so I leafed back through some half-time splits from earlier games. I did not have to go back far, about one game as a matter of fact: change "American U" to "Louisville", "Offense" to "Defense" and "Defense" to "Offense". And there it is, Villanova's 2 BET games...from the perspective of Louisville (or Marquette, only a little short at the end). I will again resist inking up the table, except to note the efficiency paradox in Nova's 1st half offense, and the role played by fouls in the second half. The Wildcats had a much better eFG% in the first half than the second (note the orange highlights under 1st half Offense & Defense), but were down at the break by 10. Turnovers (see red...) were the key. The 'Cats lost 1 in 3 possessions, effectively leaving 1/3 of their scoring opportunities on the table. Had they forced an equal number of Eagle turnovers they would have negated the deficiency, but the Eagle TORate (12.4) was more like 1/8, not 1/3. About 46% of the Wildcat turnovers were forced.

Villanova's 2nd half surge was not just on the offensive side, but (note the table) they effectively clamped down on American's offense too. The scoring gap, 49-26 was reminiscent of the gap in Nova's two BET games, and for much the same reasons -- significant improvements in rebounding (both ends of the court), turnovers (reduction in their own, increase in American's) and getting to the line (offensively). The Wildcats had 26 FTAs and 27 FGAs in the 2nd half, a 96.3 FTRate -- they hit at a 92.3% clip, yielding a FTMRate of 88.9, not only making their conversion rate very good (>90% as noted before),but also making a huge contribution (49%) to the Wildcat's 2nd half point total. Overall the additional free throws, combined with cutting back on the 3s in the 2nd half put the charity stripe contribution at nearly 1/3 of Villanova's points, possibly the highest of the season.

Ref Notes
Ed Edsall, Joe Lindsay, William McCarthy ran the crew for this game. While all three have run Villanova games in prior seasons, this was Edsall's first of the 2009 season. While the number of FTAs was consistent with Villanova's performance on a neutral court this season, 8 total free throws for American is not; it is well below the range set by the standard deviation. While American plays a fairly passive (POT...) style offense this Eagle's FTRate (8.1 for the game) was low even for them. Looking at secondary indicators (50% 3s/2s, 20% offensive rebound rate, 2% block rate, 11.5% steal rate), the total FTAs may not be inconsistent with the even more outside-oriented play. The 'Cats are 5-0 when a member of this this crew was refereeing.

Next Up
The second round of the NCAAs. The opponent will be UCLA and the game time Saturday scheduled for 1:05pm.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Beyond the Numbers...St. Joseph

Setting Down the Calculator...
The subject of St. Patrick's Day and how Villanova fares on that day has been the subject of more than a few discussions on the Nova Nation message boards (Bench Warmers & the subscriber-only Nova Nation board) over the years. Actually the discussions usually begin right around this time, as those saint days normally fall within the the window of the post season tournaments. Villanova's first post season, in the inaugural NCAA tournament, was played on St. Patrick's day of 1939 in the Palestra on the University of Pennsylvania campus. The Wildcats beat Brown 42-30 to advance to the national semi-final game against Ohio State. Little wonder then that Villanovans often believe there is a special connection between their Wildcats and the patron saint of Ireland, a notion encouraged no doubt by the fact that many immigrant families from the Emerald Isle sent their sons (and daughters) to be educated on the Main Line.

Less well known is the Feast of St. Joseph, celebrated on March 19th, two days after the Feast of St. Patrick. St. Joseph, spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary is especially honored in Sicily, having been credited with delivering the island from a famine in the Middle Ages.

And Picking up the Calendar...
The Wildcats and Eagles will tangle on March 19, the Feast of St. Joseph. Villanova will play the game in the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, the downtown pro arena they frequently use use to host the marquee opponents on their schedule. While it is well known that NCAA rules prohibit a team from playing a tournament game in a facility where they have played more than 3 "home" games during the season, a lesser known rule also requires a college (or conference) be named the "official host" for each facility used in the tournament. And that rule also prohibits a (men's) team from playing in the facility when they are the host school. Villanova had the foresight to cap at 3 the number of games they played in the Wachovia Center this season (a 4th downtown game was scheduled into the Spectrum, due to be demolished later this year) even though few thought the Wildcats would be seeded high enough to warrant deference when assigning pods and sites. As for the official host of the Wachovia Center? Fellow Big 5 member St. Joseph's University offered to be host when the bid was prepared. So Villanova will play American University in a downtown arena hosted by St. Joseph's University on...St. Joseph's Day.

The Feast of St. Joseph by the Numbers...
Villanova has played 6 post season games on St. Joseph's Day, going 5-1 (.833) on the Patron Saint of Sicily's feast day. The record...

1966ArmyMadison Sq76-65WNIT
1978DukeProvidence RI72-90LNCAA
1982MemphisRaliegh NC70-65WNCAA
1983LamarHouston TX60-58WNCAA
2002Louisiana TechPavilion67-64WNT

1966 was the first post season game played on St. Joseph's Day, a resounding win over a Bobby Knight coached Army team in the NIT semi-finals. The last was against Arizona in the Wachovia Center, the 2nd round game in the 2006 NCAA Tournament. The lone loss was at the hands of Duke in an NCAA regional final game played in Providence, RI in the 1978 NCAA Regional Finals. And St. Patrick? Despite the promising beginning, the Patron Saint of Irish has been a bit less benevolent over the years, as the Wildcats have a 6-6 record in games played on St. Patrick's Day.

Preview American University -- NCAA 1st Round

The Wildcats, #3 seed in the East Region, meet the #14 seeded Eagles of American University in the 7:30pm game, Wachovia Center in the Philadelphia pod of this season's NCAA Tournament. The Eagles, winners of the Patriot League Tournament last week come into the Wach riding a 13 game winning streak. This is only the second time in recent memory that the 'Cats have been seeded #3. The last time was 1995 when the 'Cats met the Monarchs of Old Dominion University in a 1st round game in Albany, NY. The Wildcats and Eagles have played 8 times in a series that dates back to 1932, with 3 games played between 1991 and 1993 (a 2-for-1 deal?). Villanova holds an 8-0 margin.

Common Opponents, Good Wins, Bad Losses...
The 'Cats and Eagles shared two common opponents -- a team from each other's conference -- during the past season...
NovaAm U
Navy  W(A)+1

American University (Patriot League, 24-7, 16-1, RPI #74) is 0-4 versus the RPI Top 50 with losses to Georgetown, Maryland, Oklahoma and Fairfield. Maryland (#10 seed, West Region) and Oklahoma (#2 seed, South Region) are in the NCAA Tournament. Best win for the Eagles was over the Dolphins of Jacksonville University (Atlantic Sun, 18-13, RPI #142), the Atlantic Sun Conference Champion who lost to East Tennessee State in their conference tournament and are a #8 seed in the NIT. Their worst loss came against George Washington University (A10, 10-18, RPI #203). The Eagles are riding a 13 game winning streak coming into Thursday's game.

Offense, Defense, by the Numbers...
American runs one of the lowest paced teams in D1 ball, going for about 61.2 possessions per game (adjusted), about 8% fewer than the D1 pace (66.5), and about 10.5% lower than Villanova. The 'Cats are not comfortable playing at the lower pace (think Georgetown, DePaul and Rutgers) lately; whether they will be able to push the Eagles to accellorate their play may well rest with transition points and defensive rebounding. The Eagles are better than average for offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency. Coming out of a conference whose efficiencies largely (but not universally) register below average in D1, gives the Eagles some separation between themselves and the rest of the conference, as the efficiency margins below suggest...

TeamPPPOp PPPMargin
Holy Cross1.030.910.12

American was the class of the Patriot League this season and it was not (from an efficiency perspective) very close. How does American's offense measure up with Villanova's defense? The numbers show a few places where it could get very competitive...

When American has the ball...
Eagle O53.820.932.032.8
Wildcat D47.421.930.637.9

Villanova's 3 point defense will tested yet again. The Eagle's low pace combined with high 3FGA-to-All FGAs percentage (about 37.6%, ranked #69 in D1) suggests the Wildcats will be in a Thompson or Beilein type game, with Eagles (most likely their guards Derrick Mercer and Garrison Carr -- especially Carr -- and Nick Hendra) running off screens and back cuts to see open looks on the perimeter. American hits a decent enough percentage of their 3s (37.7%, #40) to be dangerous. Brian Gilmore, a 6-8 senior forward/center plays a role much like Dante Cunningham, provide an inside threat good enough to prevent a 3 point line type defense. Gilmore, along with backups Brian Lumpkin (freshman, 6-8, 210lbs) and Frane Markusovic (senior transfer from USF, 6-10, 240lbs) are efficient from inside the arc, but tend to, either from PT or possessions, get few opportunities to score. A point of interest may well be turnovers. American is not especially careful with the ball, racking up a mediocre turnover rate of 20.9 to go with their average offensive rebounding rate of 32.0. These are not terrible numbers, just average/below average numbers. Nova will press them a bit in both areas. The Eagles don't get to the line often, a mixed blessing to be sure. While they won't rely on points from the stripe to feed their offensive production, lack of aggression also means Nova's best players will most likely be available throughout the game, something of a problem in the closer games the 'Cats have played this season.

Looking at Villanova's offense versus American's defense, we find a few of the same points of competition...

When Villanova has the ball...
Wildcat O51.418.936.042.7
Eagle D44.920.229.035.2

According to the numbers Villanova should find their shots contested rather vigorously by the American starting lineup. American has however, one of the shortest lineups in D1 ball; Pomeroys computes their average height at 74.9 inches (#335) with an effective height of -1.1 (#240) low to very low for D1 ball. While Pomeroy does cite mitigating circumstances when considering height, the conclusion is long enshrined among the truisms -- height powers defenses. In American's case the height deficit has been mitigated by experience, the squad is ranked #2 in D1 for experience (Villanova by contrast is ranked #65). Villanova is more than a little familiar with that combination. Will the 'Cats exploit the height advantage while negating American's experience? This may be one of the few times when the fans will be able to see both Scottie and Fish put in extended time together in the back court.

Keating, Pomeroy, Pythagoras, Tiernan...
The log5 probabilities show Villanova has a 90% chance of taking this game. The teams will probably play for about 62 possessions, below D1 average, but low enough to disrupt the Wildcat's gameplan and offensive flow? Pomeroy's efficiency comparison projects a 13 point Wildcat win. According to Pete Tiernan's PACE system, there are 4 factors present in most (non-power conference) Cinderellas...
1. The squad is dominated by seniors. Check. American as noted before is one of the most experienced in D1 ball.
2. The squad is dominated by guards. Check. There are articles by the ream about Carr and Mercer. Not to mention senior backups Frank Borden, Bryce Simon and Jordan Nichols. Lots of experience in the back court and wings.
3. A solid starting unit that has accumulated a lot of solid wins. Check. Three members of the starting 5 have logged >80% of the minutes at their positions, the next 3 have 50% or better of the minutes as well. And American was the regular season and conference tournament champions in the Patriot League.
4. Meeting the favorite on a truly neutral court (not too close to the favorite's home). Ahhh, nevermind.

Jordan Brenner and Peter Keating, analysts for ESPN this season, who developed the "Vulnerable Giants & Giant Killer" approach to upset analysis, identified 2 vulnerabilities exhibited by Villanova...
1. Nova's 3 point defense is suspect (and American shoots it pretty well).
2. The Wildcats rely on free throw points for a large(r) part of their point production. Free throw points comprise nearly 25% of the 'Cats total points.
But they suggest the Eagles are not strong enough across the board to pull the upset (possible, but not probable...). Noteworthy as a counter point to the Giant theories, the 'Cats give up a lot on fouls (a weakness), but the Eagles, by offensive style (many POT characteristics), are in no position to exploit that weakness. A paradox about Nova's 3 point defense (not obvious unless you look at both the percentage taken and the rate at which their opponents convert...) is that opponents don't convert at an especially high rate (33.9%, earning Nova a rank of #149 -- in the upper division of D1-- the average is 34.2), but what those do is take a lot of 3s relative to the total number of FGAs taken (about 41%), thus translating their converted 3s into 34.7% of their point production. It appears that the 'Cats do a mediocre job of defending the 3, but opposing teams take those 3FGAs because relative to the available 2FGA opportunities, the 3FGA translates to a better point yield. The conversion rate for opposing 2FGAs is 45%, ranking Villanova #62 in D1. The Wildcat defense works to shut down the inside, if the 'Cats can clamp down enough on American's 2FGAs to force the Eagles outside (and given their propensity to shoot the 3, the Wildcats may not have to twist their ah...wings too hard to push them beyond the arc...), the dimensions of the Wachovia Center may be enough to throw their shooting off. If the projected pace holds, putting up more than 70 points should seal it (given that the 70 points are scored by Villanova...) for the 'Cats. More than 75 points will most likely spell blowout.

What Others Say
Looking around for more previews? Try...
Tim over at the Nova News Blog penned a good background piece on the game.
The Villanova Viewpoint Publisher wrote a three part essay examining American's Non conference schedule and results, American University's Patriot Conference Results, with the latest installment covering American's rotation & gameplan. All three installments contain links to American Univrsity blogs and sources for an Eagle-based perspective.