Tuesday, June 30, 2009

WUG 2009 -- USA Downs Russia 67-63 (Exhibition)

Working Out the Wrinkles
The USA squad slugged it out with the Russian squad 67-63, in the last game of the the Serbian Invitational Tournament, a warmup for the World University Games. With the win the USA squad posted a 2-1 record, 2nd to host Serbia (3-0). Serbia's University of Belgrade will host the World University Games this year, with the basketball tournament (the field consisting of 23 teams) scheduled to kickoff Thursday of this week (USA will play their 1st round game versus Finland, on Friday). The box score (and published accounts -- see bottom) indicates USA head coach Bo Ryan (Wisconsin) shuffled his starting five for the third time in three games, looking no doubt, for a combination that would start fast. He could not have been disappointed as the USA squad held a 9 point lead going into the locker room at half time. The Russians came out and evened the score by the end of the third quarter. The USA squad sealed the deal with a 17-13 4th quarter. As the possession-based stats below suggest, this was another defensive struggle.


The squad played the most down tempo game of the set, as each team garnered between 75 and 76 possessions. Coach Ryan's Wisconsin was the 2nd most deliberate team in the Big Ten in 2009. The Big Ten, home for coaches Todd Lickliter (Iowa), Bill Carmody (Northwestern of the Princeton Offense), John Beilein (Michigan) might be ranked the lowest possession conference among the BCS conferences. The tilt with Russia bore all the markers of a defensive struggle, a PPWS below 1.00, high turnover rates (TOR% -- above 20% for both teams) and efficiency ratings (Eff.) < 100.

A few possession-based stats for the squad:

Anderson, James10.00.00.0033.
Battle, Talor45.030.00.6518.821.20.00.0
Booker, Trevor17.550.01.0019.
Brackins, Craig17.5NANA0.
Butler, Da'Sean47.566.71.6710.710.00.06.4
Fisher, Corey70.054.51.1726.
Hayward, Lazar30.025.00.7233.
Hummel, Robbie47.537.50.9028.50.012.912.8
Pondexter, Quincy42.50.00.798.
Thompson, Deon65.060.01.0626.10.015.718.6
Turner, Evan62.50.00.2616.30.06.529.1
Varnado, Jarvis45.050.01.2115.110.622.76.7
Team Total39.00.91

The starting lineup is (again) highlighted in green. For the third game Coach Ryan decided to start the trio of Da'Sean Butler (West Virginia), Corey Fisher (Villanova) and Deon Thompson (North Carolina), while shuffling the last two spots (a wing spot -- #2/#3 and a low post spot #4/#5). He moved Evan Turner (Ohio State) and Jarvis Varnado (Mississippi State) into the starting lineup and brought Lazar Hayward (Marquette) and Trevor Booker (Clemson) in off the bench. The newcomers snagged 14 rebounds (6 more than they did as substitutes versus Serbia) and the shuffled combination netted 4 more rebounds than game #2 versus Serbia. Though the squad continues to struggle with shooting (see eFG% & PPWS above, both are below "good" levels of 50.0 and 1.00 respectively), Coach Ryan must have been happy, as he the starters take 58% of the playing time, well above the first and second game Min% of < 49%.

Additional Links
The AP wire story posted at USA Basketball.
The box score in .pdf format.
Some additional post game quotes.
Andy Katz mentions the squad and their shooting woes in his 6/29 blog entry (scroll down below the Memphis leadin). Also cited Villanova's Corey Fisher as "the most consistent player" so far.

Monday, June 29, 2009

WUG 2009 -- Serbia Downs USA (Exhibition)

Home Court Advantage
The USA squad faced the home team Sunday evening, and dropped a 16 point decision (98-82) while picking up a surprising 31 fouls. A total of 59 fouls were called, the host team tagged for 28 fouls. Unlike their host, who knew how to convert when the opportunity presented (the Serbs converted 39 of 46 FTs, 84.8%), the Americans shot 65.6% (21-32) from the charity stripe. The possession-based stats show a breakdown on both sides of the ball.


The USA squad was out rebounded for the second game in a row. The offensive rebounding rates (OReb) continues to be the more troubling stat, especially when coupled with poor shooting. Note the Serbs had a lower field goal efficiency rate (eFG), but nevertheless were far better at translating their shots into points (PPWS) than the USA squad (better free throw percentage in part, but also a 54.5% conversion rate on 2FGAs). The USA's turnover rate (TOR%) is a killer, especially when working to overcome a deficit.

Individual player stats show that again, a few squad members had a good game, but that poor shooting (and lack of rebounding) continue to undermine the squad's efforts

Anderson, James30.058.31.1631.
Battle, Talor52.544.41.0126.
Booker, Trevor42.5100.01.583.725.210.00.0
Brackins, Craig27.533.30.6717.
Butler, Da'Sean52.570.01.4714.
Fisher, Corey47.533.30.8739.
Hayward, Lazar40.020.00.6819.
Hummel, Robbie55.025.00.5611.46.53.915.2
Pondexter, Quincy40.050.01.1215.617.95.36.9
Thompson, Deon45.050.01.0120.
Turner, Evan45.092.91.6524.37.94.730.9
Varnado, Jarvis22.50.00.3413.

Starters are highlighted in green. The Big East contingent received the starting nod, but Fisher again logged <50% of the time at the pg, most likely due to his poor shooting (and lack of rebounding?). Hayward too was plagued with shooting (and turnover) woes, but he did a credible job on the defensive boards. The squad tightented up on their 3 point defense, against the Canadians they allowed a 50% conversion rate, but the Serbs were limited to a 17% conversion rate. Which makes their low conversion at the line (65.6%) and in 2 point defense (the Serbs converted 54.3% of their 2s) all the more glaring.

Additional Links
The boxscore in .pdf.
Post game quotes from the coach and several players (Corey Fisher & Ohio State's Evan Turner).
The AP story released by USA Basketball.

WUG 2009 -- USA Over Canada (Exhibition)

"...and we just came together on defense..."
...in the fourth quarter (international ball is 4 15 minute quarters). The USA team trailed 67-57 going into the 4th quarter before doubling the Canadians production 28-14 to take the game 85-81. Some possession-based efficiency stats for the team:


It was indeed a defensive struggle (though I am not sure why - as Corey Fisher's quote linked at bottom - suggests, the squad is not worried about their offense), with turnovers (Canadian mostly), especially steals & fouls (Canada's 23 to USA's 17), dominating the stat line.

A closer look at the squad suggests a few players had very good games:

Anderson, James17.533.30.725.60.00.0
Battle, Talor57.521.40.518.20.06.0
Booker, Trevor42.537.50.728.15.040.6
Brackins, Craig45.025.00.813.30.07.7
Butler, Da'Sean77.562.51.423.12.74.4
Fisher, Corey40.
Hayward, Lazar50.083.31.717.98.56.9
Hummel, Robbie27.
Pondexter, Quincy37.5100.
Thompson, Deon60.066.71.414.93.528.7
Turner, Evan27.583.
Varnado, Jarvis17.550.

Starters are highlighted in green. Those five logged 48.5% of the playing time, giving everyone on the squad some time, but also, no doubt, due to foul troubles for Villanova's Corey Fisher (4 fouls) and Washington's Quincy Pondexter (3 fouls). If the boxscore is a good guide, offensive rebounds are going to be a problem, especially if the squad continues to have difficulties scoring efficiently.

Additional Links
The boxscore (.pdf format).
The AP story posted on the USA Basketball website (reproduced on most of the D1 school sites for squad members).
Post game quotes by the coach and several squad members (Corey Fisher among them).

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The 3 Point Line -- How Winn Called the Offense

Before 19-0 Became 20-0...
Late last spring the NCAA announced the 3 point line for the 2009 season would be moved back a foot. SI's Luke Winn penned a detailed analysis on the implications of the rules change, identifying along the way, about 30+ teams (3 Big East squads would, according to Winn, be affected directly or indirectly) that could founder or thrive from the change. Winn considered the implications, and sorted 40 (or so) tournament teams...

1. Losers -- teams that rely on 3 point-oriented offenses will suffer -- Winn identified mid-majors as a groups that would be hit hardest because they tended to rely more on the 3 point shot as a equalizer against high-major squads. In a 1 - 2 possession game this can be crucial.
2. Winners -- teams that utilize 3 point scoring very little -- 2009's early favorites, North Carolina and Connecticut (listed among the 10 lowest 3 point shooting teams) have offenses that don't rely much on points from the 3 point line.
3. Winners -- teams adept at defending the 3 point line -- will force teams a foot farther back when taking that shot. Pomeroy's research suggested there is a "dead zone" about 17½ to 19 feet from the basket where teams who shoot from that zone assume the liability of a 3 point shot without the benefit of an extra point.
4. Losers -- teams (and individuals) who can't hit the 3FGA consistently -- defenders can cheat against those teams (Pittsburgh had problems hitting the 3 in 2008).

So How Did 3 Point Shooting Offenses Do?
The broad trend is clear (see chart from previous post), Division 1 teams had slightly fewer points from 3FGAs (a decline of 1.5% from 2008) last season. Ken Pomeroy posted a "3 point tracker" at the top of his KenPom Ratings Page which shows a decline, year-over-year, in both 3 pointers made (about -0.9%) and 3 pointers taken as a percentage of all FGAs (about -1.3%). What of the nearly 20 teams from the 2008 season which Winn identified as having offenses that could be affected (for better or worse) by the change? And were, as he asserted, mid-majors (non-BCS conference teams for our discussion) -- as a group -- adversely affected by the change? A quick comparison of year-over-year W/L records yields mixed results.

Portland St.23100.69723100.697

The teams highlighted in green returned to the NCAAs in 2009, while those highlighted in red did not play in the post season beyond their conference tournaments. For Oregon and Vanderbilt, the distance of the 3 point line was the least of their concerns. Both squads lost considerable experience through graduation. As their records reflect, Georgetown and Drake also lost via graduation. Drake had to replace Keno Davis, who moved over to Providence after Tim Welsh was fired, while Georgetown saw 3 seniors graduate and two sophomores transfer out. Consolidating last season's list with the 10 "Most 3 Point Oriented" from 2009's NCAA tournament yields this list...

Point Distribution
Portland St.15.833644.432139.96NCAA
Arizona St.20.218244.232335.622NCAA
Oklahoma St.21.411643.932634.730NCAA
Mississippi St.22.46344.332233.246NCAA
Western Kentucky18.327848.726333.054NCAA
Brigham Young19.023952.615528.4140NCAA

As before, green highlighted teams are repeaters from 2008. As I looked over this 2 year list a few things stood out:

1. If the ranking from year-to-year is about the same, points derived from 3 pointers from this group did decline. In 2008 the highest ranking team (#8 Butler) harvested 40.9% of their points from beyond the arc, while the next 4 (in order Belmont, Drake, Portland St. and American) gathered at least 36% of their points from 3FGMs. In 2009 only Michigan relied on the 3 for more than 36% of their points.
2. In 2008 3 of Winn's top 10 3 point teams (the last 3) hailed from BCS conferences. In 2009 5 of those teams are BCS conference members. In this, it seems for 2009 at least, Winn's call was correct.

Herb Sendak (Arizona State), John Beilein (Michigan) and Rick Pitino (Louisville) are familiar names to those who follow outside shooting teams.

How Did Inside/Low Post Offenses Do?
If "A implies B", is the opposite true -- does "the opposite of A imply the opposite of B"? Winn suggested as much by declaring that teams which most relied on 2s would be least affected by the distance change. His top 10 list (produced below) is almost prescient:

2008 Point Distribution
North Carolina18.833759.9521.499FF 2009
UConn19.733654.8 7525.55FF 2009
Coppin St.20.733056.24223.136
Michigan St.20.932760.1419.0234FF 2009
UCLA21.8 32157.3 2220.8139
San Diego22.131858.41019.5212
Miss. Valley St.22.4 31353.99923.720
Stanford23.4 29955.06321.684CBI
Arkansas23.9 28656.24019.8195

Green highlighted teams returned to the NCAAs in 2009. Aside from those five (three of which made it to the Final Four), only Stanford out of the PAC-10 conference made a post season appearance. Of the ten from the 2008 NCAA tournament, only Connecticut made the list again this season. The Huskies also made the top ten for points from free throws also (which also means they were among the last ten on the points from 3FGMs list...as was Michigan State).

Friday, June 26, 2009

A New Blog: Celevision

Former Villanova point guard John Celestand has started a blog...actually John started the blog in May, I am just a bit slow on the uptake. Celevision covers pro sports (mostly NBA basketball) and whatever else John wants to write about. Welcome to the blogosphere Celevision!

The 3 Point Line -- Cause and Effect

Fewer Points, But...
Recalling a few posts I wrote last summer after the NCAA moved the three point back a foot (reflecting on some implications SI's Luke Winn had discussed in his article -- more on that shortly). How did that move affect D1 ball this past season, and more specifically, how did it affect the Big East (and Villanova...)? I decided to start by looking at point distribution. Across D1 (see chart below) it appears that points from 3FGMs increased every season from 2004 through 2008, followed by a noticible drop in 2009. Yes, it looks as if the more distant arc, if it did not discourage 3 point attempts, surely did hold down conversions. The Big East Conference's point distribution however did not behave (data from kenpom.com).

Plotting 3 FGMs as a percentage of the point distribution shows that in the 16 team version of the conference, 3 pointers as a contribution to point total declined each season through 2009. Peeling back the layer, I decided to look at the details...


De Paul66.633.464.735.366.933.1
Notre Dame58.641.466.433.664.935.1
Seton Hall68.032.066.333.768.731.3
South Florida71.728.370.429.668.231.8
St. John's62.
West Virginia51.448.665.734.366.034.0

Connecticut under Coach Calhoun is, if nothing else, predictable and consistent on offense -- the Huskies take ¾ of their FGAs inside of the arc year-in and year-out, whether they win or lose. Others, like South Florida adjust to reflect their circumstances (transition of coaching styles, different player strengths, etc). Robert McCullum's Bulls, whose back court was staffed by a revolving set of players with health (and academic?) issues, relied on front court players for scoring (and lock down defense). Stan Heath brought in more guards/wings. For Villanova, the "move inside" may reflect the development of Dante Cunningham and more consistent low post/forward play over the years. The four programs highlighted in green however, moved very decisively away from the 3 point game, albeit for very different reasons.

Beilein, Harangody, Rautins( & Devo?) and Patterson?!
The Big East has become the poster child for BCS conferences on steroids, but the swing in point distribution from 2007 to 2008 reminds me that the presence (or absence) of a few key players, or a coaching change can radically alter how a team earns it's points. At first glance it seems that getting 71% of their points from the 2 is an anomaly, but it turns out that 2006 was the outlier, made possible by a productive Anthony Mason Jr. (his sophomore season, the last healthy one he would have), teamed with Eugene Lawrence and gunner Avery Patterson. Lawrence and Mason combined for 225 attempts from beyond the arc, career highs for both players. And nearly matched by Patterson's 220 attempts. Patterson was a junior JUCO player who stayed for that one season. He moved on to finish at D2 powerhouse Tarleton College (TX) where he led the Texans to the D2 Sweet Sixteen round in 2008. Like St. John's, Syracuse's one season shift was also traceable to the absence of players. Unlike the Johnnies however, the missing Orange players were coming back the next season. Losing Donte Green to the draft was bad, but losing Andy Rautins and then Erick Devendorf to the surgeons was catastrophic...for their outside game & post season chances. Notre Dame graduated Torin Francis, Rick Coronet and Chris Quinn, leaving space for Kyle McAlarney and Rob Kurz to step up. And Luke Harangody put on an Irish uni and picked, combined with Kurz, mounted the best inside offense Notre Dame has had since Coach Brey came to South Bend.

West Virginia, like South Florida in 2007, saw a change at the program's helm. John Beilein's Flying Circus, a unique motion offense that used screens and penetration to free up outside shooters had packed up and departed Morgantown for Ann Arbor during the summer of 2007. West Virginia persuaded K State (and ex-Cincinnati) Coach Bob Huggins, to return to his alma mater as head coach. Huggins, whose systems encouraged the penetrating guard/forward to finish at the cup (rather than look for a waiting wing to kick to), picked through Beilein's playbook and installed an offensive system that suited forward Joe Alexander (and guard Joe Mazzulla) to a tee. The Mountaineers have not looked back. Michigan on the other hand garnered 27.8% of their points from beyond the arc in Tommy Amaker's last season in Ann Arbor. In John Beilein's first season the Wolverines collected 34.1% of their points from 3s as they slumped to a 10-22 record. Last season the Wolverines pushed their 3s to 39.4%, rang up a 21-14 record on their way to a 2 round NCAA run.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Defense = (blk+stl)/fl?

The Search for a Defensive Efficiency Stat
One of the nifty benefits of Dean Oliver's Individual player offensive rating (ORtg) is how the number is useful for identifying how well (efficiently) a player converts possessions into points. As most come to understand however, that stat needs a context -- what role (major contributor? significant contributor? role player? limited role?) does the player actually serve in the offense. That question needs one (or sometimes two) more numbers -- the percentage of possessions the player gets when he is in the game, and maybe also how often the player gets a shot (FGA). Want to compare the conversion proficiency of a player who takes most of his shots inside the arc with one who takes a large portion of his shot outside the arc? Use the eFG% ((FGM + 0.5 * 3FGM)/FGA). Want to know how efficiently a player registers points when he takes a field goal attempt? Use the PPWS or True Shot (Pts/(FGA + 0.475 * FTA)...for the PPWS, which can then be divided by 2 to get the TS). And know that the offensive efficiencies are more easily identified and measured. Dean Oliver, author of Basketball on Paper, devoted a specific chapter ("Individual Defensive Ratings") in his book, to discuss the difficulties encountered when trying to identify (and collect/compile) stats that would be useful to measure defensive efficiency.

Magic Bullet or Magic Marker?
A stats geek (BadgerCane) over at APBRmetrics, proposed a statistic that divided the sum of a player's blocks and steals by the number of fouls he committed. I ran the numbers for Big East players for the last 2 seasons, looking only at players who logged 450 or more minutes (about 37.5% of the playing time at their position) in each season (2007-08 & 2008-09). The Top 30 players over the two season time frame...

2 Yr.
Hasheem ThabeetUConn1.875
Terrence WilliamsLVL1.439
Earl ClarkLVL1.368
Rick JacksonCuse1.275
Jonny FlynnCuse1.123
Sam YoungPitt1.113
Dominic JamesMU1.068
Hamady N'DiayeRU1.033
Jerome DysonUConn0.965
Stanley RobinsonUConn0.955
Will WalkerDPU0.948
Geoff McDermottPC0.940
Paul HarrisCuse0.938
DeJuan BlairPitt0.936
Jerel McNealMU0.934
Jeff XavierPC0.921
Jeremy HazellSHU0.899
Weyinmi EfejukuPC0.892
Jeff AdrienUConn0.868
Alex RuoffWVU0.860
Jessie SappGTU0.860
D.J. KennedySJU0.856
Corey ChandlerRU0.852
Eugene HarveySHU0.843
Paris HorneSJU0.833
Dante CunninghamNova0.814
Dwayne AndersonNova0.811
Ryan AyersNDU0.797
Arinze OnuakuCuse0.778
Jerry SmithLVL0.755
Craig AustrieUConn0.754

All the Usual Suspects...and a Few Surprises
>1.0 is very good. If the Big East's Defensive Player of the Year (2 consecutive seasons) -- Hasheem Thabeet -- does not surprise, the fact that he registered nearly 2 blocks/steals per foul gives pause to think. Using the stat to measure magnitude (is Thabeet twice as "defensive" as Austrie?) is hardly appropriate, but the list is certainly studded with names known throughout the conference for their defensive abilities and athleticism -- James & McNeal from Marquette, Williams & Clark from Louisville, Pitts' Sam Young and DeJuan Blair (both gone to the league this post season), Flynn, Jackson, Harris and Onuaku from Syracuse, and virtually the entire Connecticut starting line up (Thabeet, Adrien, Robinson and Dyson...only Price, who was ranked #35, is missing -- small wonder the Huskies, along with the Cardinals were far and away the best defensive unit in conference games last season). Villanova's Dante Cunningham and Dwayne Anderson, two well regarded defenders on the Wildcat squad for the past two seasons, are also ranked in the top 30.

On the other hand when Jeremy Hazell and Eugene Harvey from Seton Hall are mentioned, it is generally not for their defensive exploits. Hazell is regarded as a prolific scorer. Weyinmi Efejuku, Will Walker, Jeremy Hazell all combined good (to excellent) steal rates with a lower than average propensity to commit fouls, attributes that suggest good defensive skills.

A Few Other Wildcats
A few of the other squad members who logged the requisite amount of time...

2 Yr.
Scottie Reynolds380.706
Reggie Redding470.616
Corey Fisher500.552
Corey Stokes640.441
Shane Clark660.390
Antonio Pena710.341

For Reynolds and Fisher, whose steal rates were comparable to Will Walker's, Geoff McDermott's and Jeremy Hazell, the key was fouls. Both players were whistled often enough to diminish their ratings. The same holds for Pena and blocks -- the Villanovan had a block rate comparable to Geoff McDermott (his ranking was a combination of blocks and steals...) and DaJuan Blair, and better than Jeff Adrien. But the Wildcat also fouled at a higher rate than those three players.

Corey Fisher Named to World University Games Squad

USA Basketball announced the players who earned positions on the World University Games 12 man squad today. The tryouts, a series of 2-a-day practices conducted June 14-16 narrowed the pool of invitees to 12.

Other Big East players named to the squad -- Lazar Hayward of Marquette and Da'Sean Butler of West Virginia, will, along with Fisher, train at Colorado Springs for another week, and then leave for Begrade, Serbia on June 24. The World University Games will be played over 9 days, July 2-11.

Congratulations to Corey and the other team members. Best of luck fellas.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Rivalries -- The Big 5

A City Tradition
I first learned about the Big 5 when I was a freshman at Villanova. My roomate, a native of Trenton, New Jersey and a die hard Phillies/Eagles fan, was a huge fan of The City Series. And little wonder. If the rest of the country had difficulty seeing a college basketball outside of the campus gym (NCAA finals & the UCLA/Houston game of 1966 excepted) fans of the Big 5 saw many of their series games televised throughout the Philadelphia media market, one of the innovations introduced with the inception of the series back in the 1950s. The series was approaching its peak years, still flying under the national sports radar. Lacking an "outsider's perspective" may have been a mixed blessing as Philadelphia fans developed a fondness for many of the rivalries' more passionate traditions -- the signs and pranks (good), the chant-counter chants (very good) and the confetti and streamer blizzard that celebrated the first basket of the game (very bad). The "1st Basket Celebration" required a time out to clear the debris off the Palestra floor. The fans stubbornly clung to this tradition until the NCAA instructed referees to assess a technical "delay of game/hazardous playing conditions" on the team whose fans tossed the confetti. Even then one or two "T"s had to be assessed before that "tradition" passed into the ages.

While bound by a renewable contract, the five schools entered into this quasi-conference playing arrangement in an era before the wholesale rise of conferences in the Northeast. Only the University of Pennsylvania belonged to an all sports conference in 1954, though St. Joseph's would join the MAC later in the 1950s.

Series Standings, 1955-2009
I reviewed and compiled these standings, using the records over at the University of Pennsylvania archives and Records Center, in addition to the media guides for the five schools (La Salle, Penn, St. Joseph's, Temple and Villanova). The record, compiled by an unacknowledged archivist, recorded the dates, scores, attendance and a short capsule for every one of the Big 5 games from 1955 (the first season) to 2000. Through the end of the 2008-09 series the teams have played 200 games apiece in the series, the composites:
La SallePennSt. JoeTempleNovaWins
La Salle----2420162383
St. Joseph's3034----2522111

La Salle831170.415
St. Joseph's111890.555

Ironically, Penn owns the worst overall winning percentage in the series, but the Quakers also have the best single decade winning percentage during the full round robin periods -- 0.725, earned for their 29-11 record compiled 1971-80. Over the course of that decade, those Quaker teams went to eight NCAA postseason tournaments, finished #1 in the big 5 six times and won eight Ivy League titles. The late Chuck Daly coached those teams from the 1970-71 season through the 1976-77 season, compiling a 125-38 (0.767) record. Note that Temple posted a 0.792 winning percentage during the period 1991-2000 on a record of 19-5. Most of that decade saw the Big 5 teams play a reduced (2 game) round robin in which the opponents/match ups were rotated. Villanova is however, on the verge of equaling (if not besting) both of those records. The Wildcats teams of 2001-02 through 2009-09 have compiled a 29-7 (0.806) record. If they lose all 4 games (perish the thought) next season, they will do no worse than tie the Quaker's 1971-80 record, while going 3-1 (or better) will translate into a winning percentage of 0.800 (or 0.825). If the Quakers have the lowest winning percentage, it is the Explorers who hold the dubious distinction of holding no advantage among the series rivals. La Salle finds itself on the losing side of each of their Big 5 series. La Salle (see table above) is Penn's saving grace.

Passing the Baton
The Hawks dominated the series in the period 1955-1970, piling up a winning percentage so significant (0.700) that it took nearly 2½ decades of mediocre ball (a 0.450 winning percentages overall) to bring St. Joseph's back to the rest of the field. An o'fer record in series games during the 1994 season opened the door for the Temple Owls & John Chaney to pass the Hawks. Their 0.450'ish winning percentage stalled the Hawks, but Temple under Coach Chaney posted a sizzling 33-11 record from 1982-83 (his first at Temple) to 1993-94 (when the baton passed from Hawk Hill to North Broad), an impressive 0.788 winning percentage. The Owls tenure atop the Big 5 ended this past season, a product of (as much?) rebuilding as the Owls transitioned from the Chaney Era to the Dunphy Era, as Villanova's record setting (2001-09) winning pace.

At a Glance
I have juxtaposed few odds and ends of interest in the tables below...
La SalleTemple16340.320Nova23270.460
PennsylvaniaNova14360.280La Salle28220.560
St. Joseph'sNova22280.440Penn34160.680
Temple[1]24260.480La Salle34160.680

Note [1] -- Both St. Joseph's and Villanova have 26-24 (0.520) records versus Temple.
As mirror programs, note that La Salle does not have a >0.500 record versus any of the Big 5 members, while Villanova does not have a <0.500 record versus those Big 5 members. Given their standings (and proximity in the Big 5 standings) it is hardly surprising that Villanova is a nemesis to 3 programs and Temple is nemesis to 2 programs. Odd then, that La Salle has had such (relative) success against Nova. The Villanova-Penn series is, by the way, the most lopsided in the City Series.

La Salle[2]19210.4751991-008160.333
St. Joseph's1961-7025150.6251971-8017230.425

Note [2] -- La Salle recorded an identical 19-21 (0.475) record in both the 1961-70 and 1981-90 decades.
The historical competitiveness of the series is such that each program has had (at least) one <0.500 decade, while also having (La Salle excepted) at least one >0.500 decade. Temple & Villanova can boast of a single sub 0.500 decade each, hardly surprising that their "Worst Decade" (along with St. Joseph's) would coincide with Penn's "Best Decade". St. Joseph's, not quite as fortunate as Temple and Villanova, suffered through a second sub 0.500 decade, 1991-00, albeit given the abbreviated round robin, the Hawks' record (11-13) yielded a 0.458 winning percentage.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Big East Walkaround -- Pre NBA Draft

The NBE Report tracked down two good off season reports in the past two days. Slam Online's Joey Whelan posts a very nice capsule on each Big East team's incoming class. He nominates Connecticut's class of four recruits (two each for the front court and back court) as "arguably the top recruiting class in the conference this season". The school the Huskies will argue with is Villanova, which also welcomes four freshmen recruits. Like UConn, Nova will bring in two for the front court (Yarou & Armwood) and two for the back court (Cheek and Wayns). Whelan also singled out Pittsburgh's four man class (three for the front court) for special mention, suggesting that with the additions of Dante Taylor (to whom he devotes some of his strongest praise), JJ Richardson and Talib Zanna, "...The Panthers may have assembled the rebounding recruiting class in the conference for next season..."

Jeff Goodman over at Foxsports also assembled a conference rundown, much in the same vein as a number of rundowns he has penned for other conferences. Goodman's is especially valuable because he identifies not only the outbound transfers (if any) that each team sustained since the end of the season, but also the staff changes. This has been an particularly volatile off season for Big East staffs as both South Florida and Villanova have lost assistant coaches to head coaching job searches, but Jerry Wainwright, under pressure from AD Jean Ponsetto, replaced his entire staff of 3 assistant coaches. A very unusual move for a Head Coach. Goodman also catalogs each team's invitational tournaments and noteworthy OOC games.

The NBE blogger reproduced Goodman's rundown and added his own notes/comments. The blogger's supplement identifies a number of the critical/impact transfers due to gain eligibility before and during the season and in a few cases, provides some background on the program. Goodman's presentation was a bit tighter, but the NBE post is worth the 5-7 minutes extra after you finish Goodman's piece.

The Courier-News' Rutgers beat writer Jerry Carino produced a couple of posts for his New Jersey Hoops Haven Blog last week. The first, "'Big Ten' reasons..." takes a look at reasons why Rutgers would do better by staying in the Big East. His second post "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly", touches two topics I have written about over here, Scottie Reynolds and the NBA (Carino labels "The Good") and several recent coaching changes -- long time FDU head coach Tom Green's unexpected (and late) termination ("the Bad") and Tim Floyd's unexpected (but not shocking) resignation as the NCAA closes in on some alleged violations in the USC basketball program ("the Ugly").

Friday, June 12, 2009


We come from St. Olaf, we sure are the real stuff.
Our team is the cream of the colleges great.
We fight fast and furious, our team is injurious.
Tonight Carleton College will sure meet its fate.
Um Yah Yah! Um Yah Yah!

- St. Olaf College fight song

Gasoline...and a Match?
No question the students of St. Olaf consider the (Carlton College) Knights their rival. While I believe the animosity is mutual, I have yet to find a reciprocal set of lyrics in a Carleton fight song. That may be due, however, to the Carleton student body's obsession with securing ownership of a stolen bust of German philosopher Carl Schiller. The Villanova Wildcat's fight song does not single out a particular opponent. Nor as far as I can tell, have any opponents honored the 'Cats with a fight song reference.

Over on the Nova Nation message boards this past spring the subject wandered from rivals to lopsided series. The consensus was that Rutgers might be Villanova's goat, but I was not sure the series was "substantial" enough to warrant the term rivalry. I did however, wonder about that series and others, knowing there has been a long (and one or two) lopsided series among Nova's Big 5 rivals, not to mention a gem or two buried in the history books, after all, Villanova has records going back to 1921. I decided to take a look at the 2008-09 Media Guide...

Familiarity Breeds...(Contempt)?
I began with the thirty or so schools that Villanova has played most. Two facts were apparent as I surveyed the list
1. A few series stretch back to Villanova's earliest days as an NCAA program.
2. Not a lot of games were played in any series. The St. John's series, for example (most games played with Villanova), logs 101 games as of 2009 in a series that goes back 88 (or so) seasons. Oregon over in the PAC-10 conference for example, played (through 2006) 323 games with cross state rival Oregon State (a series that dates back to 1903), and 275 and 266 games with interstate rivals Washington and Washington State respectively (again, both series date back to the early 1990s). Long conference affiliations with Stanford, UCLA and USC have produced series that number 122 (from 1920), 96 (from 1937) and 95 (from 1956) respectively. Big Ten rivals, those in the SEC and the Big 12 have routinely logged series numbers similar Oregon (and their PAC-10 conference mates).

The lack of games is a feature common to many schools in the Northeast. Unlike their counterparts west of the Appalachian Mountains, teams of the Northeast did not affiliate through conferences until relatively late. Until the mid/late 1970s (when CBS paid very large broadcast fees to the NCAA for the exclusive rights to broadcast the tournament, but insisted that all invitees had to accept), most series among Northeastern schools were negotiated as a series of individual home-n-away contracts. Arrangements like the Philadelphia City Series (the Big 5) and the St. Bonventure-Niagara-Canisius (the Little 3) series were the exception, not the rule. Consequently many programs from the Northeast show a similar pattern to their series -- a small number of longstanding (frequently played) series, usually about 1/3 of the school's "most often played" list, with about half of that list made of up schools whose series boasts less than 40 games over 8 or more decades.

St. John's (NY)10143580.4261923200986
Seton Hall9660360.6251921200988
Providence 8349340.5901936200973
Boston College7753240.6881946200660
St. Joseph's6642240.6361921200887
Syracuse 6430340.4691946200963
La Salle5832260.5521934200874
St. Bonaventure3921180.5381925197954
West Virginia3820180.5261938200971
Notre Dame3117140.5481970200939
Loyola MD242040.8331927198356
Miami (FL)2313100.5651992200412
North Carolina St2210120.4551930200777
St. Francis PA211920.9051940200060

It comes as no surprise that all of the top 12 "most played" teams are current (green) or former (red) members of the Big East Conference or Big 5 (yellow) affiliates. No coincidence that the first twelve teams listed have a current or past affiliation with the Big East Conference or participates in the Philadelphia City Series (the Big 5). The influence of conference is apparent in the Miami (FL) series, a matchup that began and ended with Miami's "just about a decade" membership in the Big East. The teams have not maintained the series, indeed given the distances, the differences in student bodies and institutional missions (and histories), the lack of contact should not surprise.

For Auld Lang Syne...
Villanova's list still reflects a bit of basketball history from the 1940s and 1950s. Muhlenburg and Scranton were early opponents who the Wildcats played more regularly during the late 1930s and throughout the 1940s. This was the same time period when Al Severance, concerned about the growing influence of gamblers in Madision Square Garden and the Philadelphia Convention Center, eschewed playe dates in those venues in favor of campus-based play dates. The consequence was the loss of those opponents (St. John's, Temple, La Salle and St. Joseph's) who used those facilities as a "second" home court. The Muhlenburg Mules were hardly a step down in competition however, having been NIT participants several times during the 1940s. Both Scranton and Muhlenburg left Division 1 during the 1950s/60s as the conferences they belonged to reclassified to D3 and D2 respectively. Villanova and Penn agreed to play a number of double headers in Penn's on campus arena, the Palestra, for the 1950 season. The experiment was successful enough to to catch the eye and interest of the three other city schools, and serve as the precursor to the Big 5. The Dukes, Bonnies, Purple Eagles and Griffens shared a rivalry with the Wildcats that in most cases date back to the earliest days of the program. Those series were sustained over the course of decades, and especially for the Dukes and Bonnies, were competitive throughout. Changing conference affiliations and the growth of D1 basketball spelled the end to those annual matches.

Competitors & Goats
I resorted Villanova's 30 Most Played Opponents (below) by Villanova's series winning percentage. This is one of the few tables where, from a competitive standpoint, being in the middle is better than being at either end...

St. Francis PA211920.9051940200060
Loyola MD242040.8331927198356
Boston College7753240.6881946200660
St. Joseph's PA6642240.6361921200887
Seton Hall9660360.6251921200988
Providence 8349340.5901936200973
Miami (FL)2313100.5651992200412
La Salle5832260.5521934200874
Notre Dame3117140.5481970200939
St. Bonaventure3921180.5381925197954
West Virginia3820180.5261938200971
Syracuse 6430340.4691946200963
North Carolina St2210120.4551930200777
St. John's (NY)10143580.4261923200986

Interesting that those series where Villanova holds the greatest advantage are the least frequently played. I was surprised to see Villanova held an advantage that large over Xavier. While the two schools played 11 games in the 1950s and 1960s, the last regular season game was the 1973 season-ending matchup at Xavier. The last two meetings were a post season tilt during Villanova's NIT championship run in 1994 and a Wildcat loss to the X-men at the 2006 Paradise Jam. That Rutgers is Villanova's least competitive Big East opponent (South Florida, with 3 losses excepted) is hardly surprising, but Penn, a Top 25 All Time ranked program as Villanova's easiest (by far) Big 5 opponent should trigger a few head scratches.

When Does a Series Become a Rivalry?
1. Locality isn't required, but it helps -- St. Olaf and Carleton are both located in Northfield, MN. Bragging rights for Northfield may seem like small stakes, but in the dead of winter Northfield may seem like the universe. It is only 15 miles from Bethlehem, PA (Lehigh) to Easton, PA (Lafayette College). Is New England big enough for both Providence and Boston College (I gave preference to a conference mate). Notre Dame and USC have managed to stoke a (football) rivalry that stretches halfway across the continent, but it has to be easier if the rival is across town (like USC & UCLA; Cincinnati & Xavier) or within traveling distance (Seton Hall & Rutgers).
2. Contending for something of value raises the stakes -- and the passions. Villanova and Georgetown contended for a National Championship 24 years ago. That single game has become a reference point for both teams (especially when they meet and both squads are contending for conference honors), but the passion has not been sustained over the decades. Like many "failed relationships", it may be a matter of bad timing -- the Hoyas have tended to be down when the 'Cats are up, and visa versa (most of the time). Despite a promising, 7-6 pre-Big East start to their series, Villanova has compiled a passion-dampening 0.409 winning percentage against the Hoyas (worst of any of their Big East conference mates). The Thompsons have been heck on the Wildcats.
3. Sibling Rivalries -- are often the most heated. Our Civil War generated passions for a century after its conclusion, quite unlike World War II, after which the US entered into alliances with Germany, Italy and Japan within a decade after the conclusion of hostilities. Both Carleton College and St. Olaf are ranked in the Top 50 among Liberal Arts colleges (Carleton holds the decided edge in rankings, which may explain why St. Olaf makes the direct reference while Carleton students feign greater interest in a dead German philosopher) and draw their students from the same ethnic groups and geographic areas. The same generally holds for the "L"s in Pennsylvania. The Temple-Villanova series may be, based on winning percentages, the most closely contested of all of the Big 5 series, but it is the Villanova-St. Joseph's series that carries the name "Holy War". A socio-economic breakdown of St. Joes's and Nova's student bodies shows that those two schools draw from largely the same groups in largely the same geographic areas of the Middle Atlantic region. Nothing stings like the taunts from your brother (or sister).

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Reynolds Returns

The Nova Nation received good news this morning as rising senior Scottie Reynolds announced he will return to the Mainline for his last season to earn his degree and finish his college career. Welcome back Scottie!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Coaching Carousal Part 5: Last Turns?

Expecting the Unexpected
As of the close of the Spring signing period (May 15 this off season) only the Texas Pan-American's head coaching job was unfilled. The Broncs drew from the DII ranks and hired Ryan Marks, head coach of St. Edwards University (TX) to head up the men's basketball program on May 27th. That should have closed the book on coaching changes this off season...but for the inevitable, but unexpected, turn. This off season saw a twist similar to the St. Louis job turnover in 2007. The Billikens "released" Brad Soderberg two days into the Spring signing period (April 17) and replaced him 10 days later with Rick Majerus, surprisingly late in the cycle. This off season Fairleigh Dickinson University fired their coach of 26 years, Tom Green (as gracious as the press release was worded, AD David Langford did say the decision was his, not Green's & he had decided "...there needed to be a change months ago..."). Langford cited the fiscal calendar as the determining factor, a tacit acknowledgment that the economy may be having an impact not only on the decision(s) to retain (other) coaches, but it may also affect the timing of the changes. Bret Campbell's resignation as head coach of the Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks on June 4 was more typical (though very regrettable) for coaching changes at this point in the off season. Campbell decided to resign after an internal audit revealed he had co-mingled funds from the Tennessee-Martin off season basketball camp with personal funds in violation of the school's policy.

By the Numbers
The 28 turnovers (8.1%) in DI coaching circles this off season represents the lowest point in a two year trend. The 2007 off season saw 60 coaching (17.9% of the DI coaching positions) turnovers, while 2008 saw 43 (12.6%) turnovers. Consistent with the past two seasons, the period of the NCAA tournament was the most active for turnovers. This year, possibly reflecting the economic downturn, over 57% of the vacancies were created during the three week period of the Tournament. An unsettling trend over the past two seasons has been the turnover during the season -- in both 2008 and 2009 approximately 15% of the vacancies have been created during the regular basketball season. An overwhelming 10 of the 12 turnovers (83.3%) in those seasons was employer-initiated. The lagging economy represents unfamiliar ground this off season. Couple the contracting economy with the expanding ranks of DI basketball (144 teams in 2008-09, up from 136 in 2006-07 -- a 6% expansion over 2 seasons, with more to come), and we may have a few more coaching vacancies both during this off season, and in the season to come.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Signs of the 2009 Off Season #3 -- Big East Breakup

We Have All Been Here Before...
Basketball historians often credit Dave Gavitt, Providence basketball coach cum Athletic Director (followed by Big East Commissioner...and finally, Boston Celtics GM), with creating the original "basketball first" conference when, in 1979, he convinced the 7 charter members of the Big East (Boston College, Providence College, University of Connecticut, St. John's University, Syracuse University, Seton Hall University and Georgetown University) to forego their previous conference commitments and forge the Big East Conference. Those historians forget the marquee sport in the Atlantic Coast Conference was basketball, and the principal motivation for the secession of the ACC's seven charter members from the old (and prestigious) Southern Conference back in 1953 was post season play. The ACC was the original "basketball first" conference, and until formation of the BCS, the ACC appeared to weigh most decisions in light of the impact on men's basketball.

The formation of the BCS back in the 1990s has posed a constant challenge for the Big East. Historically about half of the conference members did not field a D1-A football team, and the original conference made no provisions to underwrite a BCS-level football conference. Expansion into BCS football in 1992 brought, over time, new members in three flavors -- "all sport" (Miami & Va. Tech), "all but football" (Notre Dame) and "football only" (Temple & Rutgers). The unique half-n-half makeup of the membership has, over time, disturbed third party observers and mainstream media sportswriters far more than the conference fans. Expanding the 8/9 member conference to accommodate an 8 member BCS-worthy football conference was, inevitably, lamented (NYT's George Vescy commentary is a good example) by many in college basketball circles, but accepted by others (see Kevin McNamara's 2005 background piece from the Providence Journal) as the price for keeping the basketball component together. And triggered speculation over further realignments that have grown into a cottage industry. The early mega-conference detractors (Mike DeCourcy among the earliest and loudest) authored commentaries that, at times, seemed to reflect equal parts anger and skepticism. Despite having early (negative) speculations about the conference refuted, DeCourcy has allowed skepticism over the conference's future bias his analysis of conference sports. Size and the hybred nature of the Big East has the capacity to drive some critics to distraction...not to mention fuzzy logic. Jay over at the GameJabs Blog takes the award for the most obnoxious suggestion however, as he declares the Catholic (basketball-only) contingent rename themselves the Metro Conference (capitalizing on the basketball reputation of the old Metro Conference), but, he adds, the schools should substitute the "t" in Metro with a crucifix. Wow, dude...

In the aftermath of "The Raid" in 2004, I have wondered once or twice, if the ACC's expansion was motivated as much by the desire to break up the Big East and thereby destroy their biggest basketball competitor as it was by their publicly stated desire to form a twelve team conference and reap the financial benefits of a championship football game (and a possible increase in BCS Bowl invitations). The subsequent reformation of the Big East (the addition of 5 schools from CUSA) has, ironically, only fueled speculation over the Big East's future.

The Latest Turn
If the speculation is annual, the catalyst changes. This off season Penn State's football coach, Joe Paterno, kicked off the latest round of speculation with a May 1 interview during which he restated his desire to have the Big Ten play a football championship game, a move that requires a twelfth team. Who can blame Paterno, whose Nittany Lions anchor the eastern "flank" of the Big Ten Conference, for looking eastward at the NYC media market as he named his preferred candidates (Syracuse or Pittsburgh or Rutgers)? The speculation has, despite repudiation by Big Ten Commissioner, lingers on, opening the door to a variety of realignment scenarios in recent weeks...a few involving, directly and indirectly, several Big East teams.

For the conference realignment, fantasy-league contingent, check out Matt Peloquin's massive "Conference Realignment Grid" in which he identifies (literally) at least 5 dozen different schools and realignment scenarios. Peloquin also produced a very long analysis of the conference's finances (mostly TV contracts and allocation of the post season appearance monies), with an (over?) on the recent successes of the conference's BCS members. Though he provides an interesting if flawed analysis of the state of the conference (one way to "save" the Big East is to expand it to 18 teams?! Really?), he does provide two important dates for the Big East fan to consider:
1. 2010 is the last year the football schools can exit without paying an exit fee. They also get to keep their accumulated shares of the basketball post season revenues.
2. 2013 is the year the ESPN's TV contract is up. Peloquin suggests the football schools alone could command a combined contract that would substantially increase the revenues to their programs.

Final (for now) Thoughts...
This was a very successful season for Big East basketball. The Garden sold out for 5 consecutive nights, with fans provided outstanding basketball games at least three times a week from January to early April (I'm counting the post season here). Despite post Raid concerns the football has prospered and the basketball has blossomed. The conference has sent 13 of it's 16 members to at least one post season basketball tournament. The ACC, expanded to accommodate their "football first" members, has yet to reap the supposed benefits of their expansion. Their 2nd place basketball team (and winner of their post season tournament) was blown off the court by the Big East's fourth place team. The all-Big East Regional Final produced one of the three best NCAA games in this decade. As long as the Big East members value community and quality of competition, "The Split Issue" is a non-issue.