Monday, September 28, 2009

Preview 2009-10 -- Louisville Cardinals

Too Busy for the Details?
Steady or down? Losing both Terrence Williams and Earl Clark in one NBA draft is a blow no matter how much talent the roster boasts. Coach Pitino returns a talented (if headstrong and inconsistent) point guard and center (more consistent and amenable to coaching), along with veteran wings. The cupboard is not exactly bare, but important parts of the offense have to be replaced, and someone has to step up. Another talented class is coming in and should be able to contribute early and often. If the Cardinals will be able to concentrate on basketball this season, all should be go well. Maybe. Prognosis -- A 1st quartile finish.

3 Years At a Glance
Coach Pitino has had the Cardinals operating at a very high level over the past 3 seasons. This is the lowest starting point since 2006, their first season in the Big East, the year after their last Final Four run.


It is tempting to conclude the Cardinals will struggle next season, just as they did in 2006, but consider that 2006 squad suffered injuries to David Padgett and Juan Palacios just before the beginning of fall practice. Both were hobbled and marginally effective through much of the season (Padgett took surgery in February, virtually conceding the season was a washout).

According to Pomeroy...
Overall ORtg113.431115.232116.029
Overall DRtg84.2284.1588.416
Big East ORtg106.37105.96107.02
Big East DRtg92.4191.4194.72
Four Factors -- Overall
All Off. eFG%52.74953.14549.9176
All Off. TOv%19.713820.212619.266
All Off. OReb%34.610233.514537.153
All Off. FTA/FGA31.429436.517537.2150
All Def. eFG%44.31244.0745.523
All Def. TOv%23.04321.215522.586
All Def. OReb%31.712430.67933.8185
All Def. FTA/FGA30.24033.410545.5302
Four Factors -- Big East
BE Off. eFG%52.9352.7150.27
BE Off. TOv%19.71218.9816.42
BE Off. OReb%33.81030.21533.08
BE Off. FTA/FGA31.2938.2622.111
BE Def. eFG%44.8244.3246.34
BE Def. TOv%21.8120.5522.41
BE Def. OReb%33.7929.1234.912
BE Def. FTA/FGA31.3632.1640.713
All Gms Cons23.730018.610418.584
All Gms Luck+.06123-.065297-.054278

Valuing quick, lighter-weight but athletic, prototypic wing guard-type forwards may be a reason why the Cardinals consistently rank higher in the conference for generating defensive turnovers and shot defense. The preference has it's weaknesses -- ranking in the conference for offensive rebounding, for example, is relatively low. The key to improve an already top of the conference ranking in defense (beyond bringing back long time friend and defensive guru Ralph Willard) may be to improve (even more) an average defensive rebounding rate. And couple that with a better offensive rebounding rate. Samuels and Jennings should have the tools to do that in 2010.

For the Record...
Big East1620.8891620.8891330.813
Post Season?NCAA/Rnd 4NCAA/Rnd 4NCAA/Rnd 2

The Cardinals have, along with Pitt put together a terrific 3 year run, consistently competing for a bye seed (like Pitt, often the top seed) in the Big East Tournament. The previews are mixed, Jay Bilas sees a second quartile finish. Maybe, but how big a step back?

The Cardinal's Nucleus
Louisville may have lost nearly ½ of their minutes (and points, over ½ of their rebounds, etc.), but they bring back a point guard and their center, two places to start rebuilding.

On Offense

Given that senior Jerry Smith has not grown beyond the 3rd/4th option on offense (though flying under the radar, he has been extremely efficient when he does take that shot), it is very unlikely his role, even with the vacuum created by Clark's and William's exits, will expand much this season. Though he logged few minutes, Terrence Jennings' Poss% & Shot%, coupled with his ORtg, suggest a larger role. Even with a little degradation to his shooting/ORtg, Jennings would be on the high side for offensive efficiency (ie he would "pull the offense up"). Swopshire, like Jennings, hovers at the edge of "regular player" status in the offense, but unlike Jennings, has not been able to translate his opportunities efficiently into points.

On Defense
Samardo Samuels62.610.17.620.95.41.4
Jerry Smith52.
Edgar Sosa49.46.221.823.60.42.2
Preston Knowles41.78.210.813.80.53.3
Terrence Jennings26.511.63.816.313.72.3
Jared Swopshire13.515.
George Goode10.814.17.516.412.72.5
Reginald Delk10.37.814.910.34.01.5

Significant Additions
The scouting services really like Peyton Siva, a 5-11 pg out of Seattle, Washington & 6-9, 205 lb Rakeem Buckles, a pf from Florida. Siva is ranked in a few Top 25, while Buckles comes in somewhere between 50 and 100. Siva will be a talent upgrade over departed Andre McGee, a good (not great) pg who took direction well (better than Sosa). Siva will definitely make the practices more intense and push senior Edgar Sosa, a sometime flashy New York City point who has landed in Coach Pitino's dog house a few times in the past 3 seasons, to either get with the program or sit on the bench. Buckles has a power forward's game in a small forward's body and is especially effective in transition. With a good handle and an inclination to take defenders off the dribble, he may remind Louisville fans of Earl Clark. The Cardinals also bring in 6-3 off guard Mike Marra and a 6-9 220 lb power forward, Stephan Van Treese, will add depth.

Explode If...
Despite a "down year piece" by ESPN's Mike Hume (you need a subscription), the Cardinals have enormous depth, particularly on the wing and en the front court. You can't blame Hume, teams that lose two NBA 1st round picks always suffer a hangover season, but how many have returned with as much in the tank at the Cardinals?
1. Coach Rick Pitino identified #4/#5 Terrence Jennings as the one who had to make progress for the Cardinals to succeed. Jennings is a monster offensive rebounder and if he can duplicate the effort under the opponent's basket the Cardinals will move a long way towards replacing Williams' and Clark's defense.
2. Peyton Silva provides good support to a newly focused (and "coachable"?) Edgar Sosa. The Cardinals will not need Sosa's shot as much as his ability to distribute and involve the wings and low post playes in the offense.

Implode If...
The potential for distraction can be measured by the noise surrounding the program. Louisville players have been challenged to focus through player tantrums, injuries and player-staff feuds (all with accompanying commentary by fans...). But the noise generated by the "Karen Sypher Incident" (in addition to the usual drama) may be the loudest in the Pitino Era. With a trial still to come (best case -- have it over and done before the middle of October), the worst days may yet come. Count on the road being brutal this season.
1. The Cards have to replace the defensive rebounding that departed with Clark and Williams. Samuels and Jennings were surprisingly light (defensive) rebounders last season. They will have to improve. A lot -- but others (whoever takes the #3 and #2) should pick up some of that responsibility -- as Williams did -- if Louisville is to maintain their defense.

Crucial Run/Bellweather Games
The Cardinals typically put together a decent, though not killer OOC slate, and this season they will face traditional (but resurgent?) foe Kentucky, SEC middling power Arkansas (Basketball Hall of Fame Showcase on a neutral court in St. Louis, MO), a road trip to Las Vegas to face the Runnin Rebs and a rematch with the Hilltoppers from Western Kentucky. Rebuilding has been the off season theme, but running the table, a possibility, would suggest the Cardinals will again dominate the conference again this season.

The seven conference games that follow Louisville's annual tilt with Kentucky should be interesting. The Cards travel to Providence to take on a rebuilding Friar team, then return home to host St. John's and Villanova. A two game road trip with stops at a possibly down Pittsburgh and resurgant Seton Hall is followed by a three game home-away-home sequence with Cincinnati, West Virginia (don't the 'Eers get all the luck?) and Connecticut. Standing 6-2 or better (the Cards open the season by hosting the Bulls -- a game they will no doubt be favored to win) would be very good news for the Cardinal Nation. 4-4 on the other hand, would suggest Louisville will have a lot of work to do in the latter part of the season.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Coaching Carousal Part 8: Never Say Never?

Proclaiming September 24 as the latest date in the off season that a coach has been terminated was...premature!? A sign perhaps that the 2009 season & off season will not behave, Grambling University terminated 1st year coach Rick Duckett by letter on Friday. Like Army's late termination of Jim Crews, the proximate cause was the treatment of a player, though in Grambling/Duckett's case, the player in question, Henry White, a 21 year old Milwaukee native who transferred into Grambling from Hill Junior College in TX, grew ill during a training exercise and died 12 days later. Stranger still Duckett, in the hospital receiving surgery on the day of the training exercise, was not present to supervise the activity. Subsequent to White's death on August 26, Duckett, an assistant coach at South Carolina under Dave Odom and a DII head coach for 8 seasons, compiling a 150-75 record, and two of his assistants were placed on administrative leave. A third assistant, Robert Washington, was retained as the interim coach. Duckett was notified by letter on Friday, that he would be terminated on October 31.

By the Numbers
Grambling is the 32nd vacancy this off season, the 22nd initiated by the employer, pushing employer-initiated vacancies to 68.8% of the total. Higher than usual, but given the circumstances (as suggested by the extremely later point in the offseason cycle) surrounding both Army and Grambling's situations, understandable.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Coaching Carousal Part 7: This is it...Honest

The Last Drop Falls
The whispers out of the Hudson Valley news services, amplified nationally by Fox Sports (Jeff Goodman's Blog) for the past two days, floating beneath the early fall recruiting gossip & more players behaving badly, is word that Army basketball coach Jim Crews was terminated on Monday or Tuesday of this week. While there was no direct confirmation of Crews' release until early Thursday (9/24) morning when Army AD Kevin Anderson announced that he had, indeed terminated head coach Jim Crews, the evidence was leaking out of coaching staffs all over the country. Anderson was reaching out early to assistant coaches at Navy, Arizona State, Iowa State and St. John's -- among others -- to gauge interest in the position. A coaching change this close to the open of fall practice is extremely rare, "for cause" is always implied, and in Crews' case, the offense was apparently for "...putting his hands on a men's basketball player during a workout or practice...".

For the Record
The latest a coach was terminated in the 2007 off season was mid August (8/14), when Florida A&M's Mike Gillespie was terminated after a criminal charge was filed against him. A relatively low volume 2008 off season (43 vacancies, down from 60 in 2007) was nevertheless intense, given that all vacancies opened by late June.

By the Numbers
The Army opening is the 31st this off season, still well off of 2008's 43 vacancies. Like 2007 and 2008, just over 60% (61.3%) of the vacancies were initiated by the employer.

Preview 2009-10 -- Georgetown Hoyas

Too Busy for the Details?
From #1 in 2008 to #12 in 2009, (back to) #? in 2010? Anyone feel the need for some Dramamine? Coach Thompson will bring back a sophomore and junior dominated squad for 2010. The Hoyas will finish higher than they did in 2009 -- they bring back most of their points, minutes and rebounding. The entering class does not promise any missing (or last) pieces; everything is already in the program. The challenge was to bring them back, having lost #4 DaJuan Summers who would have been a senior this season. Prognosis -- A 2nd quartile finish.

3 Years At a Glance


The Hoyas lost a lot of returning minutes going into the 2009 season. Had Summers taken his senior season the returning minutes would have been >80%, providing Georgetown with the kind of experience that they had going into the 2008 season. But that did not come to pass. Of particular interest is the absence of 3 point shooting, that outside threat has historically worked to Georgetown's advantage when the Princeton Offense was a well oiled machine.

According to Pomeroy...
Overall ORtg111.245117.218124.82
Overall DRtg91.12286.4689.320
Big East ORtg101.412104.58111.41
Big East DRtg102.9793.1295.34
Four Factors -- Overall
All Off. eFG%53.04156.8457.04
All Off. TOv%21.624721.219222.0213
All Off. OReb%33.514833.813240.28
All Off. FTA/FGA41.94134.223736.6164
All Def. eFG%45.94042.0144.110
All Def. TOv%21.69818.927919.3267
All Def. OReb%36.229232.815733.9191
All Def. FTA/FGA33.310236.016332.178
Four Factors -- Big East
BE Off. eFG%51.0752.7256.91
BE Off. TOv%22.31421.91422.314
BE Off. OReb%34.1931.21339.83
BE Off. FTA/FGA34.6737.5728.65
BE Def. eFG%49.1842.5145.23
BE Def. TOv%20.9419.7819.97
BE Def. OReb%36.71232.0633.48
BE Def. FTA/FGA38.41240.61219.82
All Gms Cons27.534022.123822.1233
All Gms Luck-.113339+.02196+.00155

Turnovers aside, the Hoya's 2006-07 four factors profile is probably as close to ideal for the Princeton Offense as a team can get. Despite very average defensive numbers in conference play in both 2007 and 2008, the Hoyas maintained their status as an elite team. 2009's stepback defensively came in shot defense and defensive rebounding.

For the Record...
Big East7110.3891530.8331330.813
Post Season?NIT/Rnd 1NCAA/Rnd 2NCAA/Rnd 5

I believed the Hoyas would have difficulty earning a third consecutive BET bye seed in 2009. The squad's youth, especially when taken in the context of the conference's overall maturity, coupled with the loss of specific skills offered by Roy Hibbert (rebounding & scoring efficiency) and Jon Wallace (perimeter offense), would weigh heavily against them. I did not anticipate a losing conference record however.

The Hoya's Nucleus
On Offense

Summers (departed), Wright and Monroe formed the "offensive engine" for the Hoyas. With Summers' exit, who will step into that role? Monroe may have a few more touches in him, but if Georgetown is reduced to an inside/outside duo (Wright-Monroe), they will give away those aspects of the Princeton Offense (simultaneous, multiple inside/outside scoring threats) most responsible for it's efficiency. Austin Freeman seems poised to assume a larger role, but a versatile wing/forward, in the mold of Jeff Green or Summers would be most helpful...Jason Clark anyone?

On Defense
Chris Wright81.09.525.
Greg Monroe76.016.718.821.35.13.7
Austin Freeman72.511.314.613.90.61.8
Jason Clark45.
Nikita Mescheriakov25.38.27.827.50.71.7
Henry Sims21.813.25.720.26.31.8
Julian Vaughn20.912.

The Hoyas need to find defensive rebounds. Among the returning players, only Greg Monroe was ranked in Pomeroy's Top 500. For a program that boasted 2 sometimes 3 top 500 rebounders (a Top 100 in 2006), 2009 was a big step back.

Significant Additions
With no gaping holes to fill and no inbound transfers this season, it comes as no surprise the incoming true freshmen (three of them) are not Top 10/50 types. Of the three, 6-7, 190 lb 5th year #3 Hollis Thompson has received the widest recognition. Hollis enrolled in the Spring 2009 and participated in practices during the last season. 6-2 #2 guard Vee Sanford and 6-7, 200 lbs Jerrelle Benimon, a #4 out of Fauquier H.S. (VA) will have time to learn Coach Thompson's system.

Explode If...
As the 2009 season wound down the bloggers over at Hoya Prospectus launched an indepth exploration of why the Hoyas' season went South. While definative conclusions were few, they did examine 6 different (statistical) aspects of the Hoyas' game, "Pace and Turnovers", "Shooting" (efficient conversion), "Shot Selection", "Free Throw Defense" (not as strange as it sounds, it was actually a preamble to luck and experience...), "More Luck" and "Experience and Depth". The bloggers did not develop a structured narrative for what happened to Georgetown. Of the series, the first two were the most enlightening. They, when combined with a largely overlooked (but in my opinion, one of the best posts written on the blog) entry titled "The Problem of Rebounding", probably explain what happened to Georgetown. During the 2007 season Ken Pomeroy identified one of Georgetown's enduring paradoxes -- that the Hoyas, running a low possession offensive system (the Princeton Offense) and somewhat prone to turnovers were, nevertheless, one of the most efficient offensive teams in DI ball. In the 2 seasons since their Final Four appearance the bloggers observed the Hoya's increasing pace (possessions per game), even as their offensive efficiency declined (slightly at first, a good deal more last season). The key to efficient offensive possessions was their offensive rebounding. The Hoyas were able to parlay missed FGAs into a second 35 second period, usually long enough to reset their offense and take advantage of what they learned about the defense in their last offensive sequence. Given enough 2nd chances, they were able to convert. As their offensive rebounding declined (with no appreciable increase in their field goal shooting percentages), their pace increased and offensive efficiency declined. To right the ship, the Hoyas will have to begin with rebounding.
1. Monroe, a top 500 rebounder at both ends of the floor needs to become a top 100 rebounder. Sims, when he hits the floor, will have to embrace the mission as well. The Hoyas excelled when at least two players were ranked in Pomeroy's top 500 for rebounding (with one of the ranked players higher...much higher). The third rebounding monster will most likely have to come from a guard spot -- Austin Freeman, Jason Clark possibly -- or Nikita Mescheriakov (or Hollis Thompson?) a forward.
2. Consistent 3 point shooting departed with Jon Wallace in 2008. Jesse Sapp and DaJuan Summers took responsibility for that part of the Hoya offense in 2009, but with mixed results as both had conversion rates in the mid-high 30s. The mantle will pass to some combination of Mescheriakov, Clark, Freeman and Wright, a quartet whose accuracy ranged from the mid 20s to the mid 30s. The group will have to add about 10 points to their completion percentage.
3. The person holding the ball in the Princeton Offense ideally should have three options -- pass to one of two cutters or take the shot himself. The key is to have the player best able to score the points take the shot. It is no coincidence that in their best seasons Georgetown had 2 players -- one usually a forward -- ranked in the top 500 in Ast%...with a third player just outside of that ranking. Point guard Chris Wright had an assist rate of 25% (maybe too high!?), with the next highest just outside the top 500 ranking. The issue is not the number of assists, but rather the distribution/frequency of assists. If Chris Wright understands that his job is not to find the shooter and get him the ball, but rather to "set the table" -- that is, initiate the offense, -- then run his pattern, thus allowing the offense sequence run out with each player who holds the ball decide to pass or take the shot, the offensive system play to it's strength.

Implode If...
The Hoyas rolled into Storr on December 29th to open their Big East season. They were 10-1 and the Huskies were 11-0. Georgetown throttled UConn 74-63, and seemed to be on their way. Even through the next 2½ weeks, the Hoyas maintained a 12-4 record (a home loss to Pitt and 2 road losses, one to Duke and the other to Notre Dame) with Monroe joining Wright in the top 500 for assist rates, and guard/forward Austin Freeman hovering just below at 16. Then the well oiled machine fell apart as they went 4-11 the rest of the way, as Monroe's assist rate declined to 18.8 while Freeman slumped to 14.6. Given there were no injuries or dismissals due to academics or discipline, the collapse was especially odd. What causes a season to turn on a dime? What caused the Hoya season to turn in 3 weeks?
1. They cannot control the offensive or defensive boards. Offensive boards will allow them to compensate for average shooting without being penalized too severely for turnovers. Defensive rebounding can depress the opponent's score, especially if they are a poor shooting team.
2. Don't distribute the ball. Don't get the ball to the player with the best chance to score.

Crucial Run/Bellweather Games
Georgetown under Coach Thompson has usually had a What?!!?? game or two in the OOC, so a mediocre outing early will most likely not be a clear indication of how they are progressing. Their game versus Washington in the John Wooden Classic, should be a good early bellweather. Playing on a Pac-10 court, the Huskies, winners of the regular season Pac-10 title last season, will not exactly have a homecourt advantage, but it will be pretty close. A good showing in Los Angeles, if coupled with a win over Butler, a well coached program out of the Horizon League, will surely be an early indication that the Hoyas are moving in the right direction.

The Hoyas will be tested early in their Big East schedule, as they host Connecticut on 1/9 (their 4th game in the Big East regular season) to open a two game homestand that features Seton Hall as the encore. Georgetown then takes to the road for two games, first against the Wildcats and then the Panthers. 4-0 through that stretch would most likely put them at 7-0 (they open with a 3 game sequence that begins with a home game against St. John's and then a Mid-West road trip that takes them to DePaul and Marquette). A 5-2 or better start should be taken as good news by the Hoya fan-base. Their five game run to close out the season, three home games against Syracuse, Notre Dame and Cincinnati separated by road trips to Louisville and West Virginia will be difficult. But if the Hoyas are, like last season, out of gas at that point, that run will be brutal.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

DeCourcy -- Reynolds One of Top 10 #2 Guards

Virtually every 2009-10 preview that mentions Villanova identifies the Wildcat squad's strongest feature is the back court. Should anyone be surprised that The Sporting News' long-time College Basketball writer named Scottie to his list of "College basketball's top 10 shooting guards"? Maybe that Scottie was not identified as a point guard (most likely where he will play after Villanova)? While I have not always appreciated DeCourcy's perspective on DI basketball, it is good to see he gave a nod to these two 'Cats (see my earlier post on Corey Fisher). His comment about Scottie ("He is on pace to challenge the 2,200-point mark.") may be a bit optimistic, but appreciated because he has clearly done some homework.

Also honored by DeCourcy -- fellow Big East off guard Jerome Dyson of Connecticut.

Congratulations Scottie!

Monday, September 21, 2009

DeCourcy -- Fisher One of Top 10 Point Guards

Another dividend of the Final Four run last season? Or the extra exposure from the World University Games over the summer? According to Mike DeCourcy over at The Sporting News Villanova's Corey Fisher is the #9 point in DI ball. Says DeCourcy, "He should increase his 24.3-minute average. Others recognized include fellow Big East bballer Kemba Walker (#5) from UConn and former Big East bballer from Cincinnati (now at South Carolina), Devan Downey, who DeCourcy ranked at #4. DeCourcy also recognized freshmen John Wall (#2) and Abdul Gaddy (#7), who begin their DI careers at Kentucky and Washington respectively.

Congratulations Corey!

Preview 2009-10 -- DePaul Blue Demons

Too Busy for the Details?
That the Blue Demons return 4 of last season's starters and over 75% of the minutes played last season ought to be good news, but this squad went 0-16 in conference play. The fans can hope a staff shake-up along with renewed focus on Chicago-area recruiting will energize the squad and in turn resurrect a program that has lost ground steadily over the past four seasons. This team will be better than last season -- they will win a game or two in conference (before they get to the Big East Tournament), but will need another season or two to climb out of the Big East basement. Prognosis -- A 4th quartile finish.

3 Years At a Glance
The last vestiges of the Dave Leitao-recruited teams finished last season. This season was the first with all Coach Wainwright-recruited players. And the results were the worst of the Jerry Wainwright era. This will be the most experienced squad in the past three seasons, but given the lack of accomplishment of this squad, expectations are justifiably tempered.


True, the Blue Demons return more experience, more points and rebounds than any season since 2007, but no that this is also the team that ranked at (or very close to) the bottom of the Big East in virtually everyone of Oliver's four factors (see "According to Pomeroy..." below). DePaul will, given the experience and forecast for a "down" season in the Big East, win a few more games overall than they had in 2009, and also take a conference game or two before they get to New York City. But those fans expecting a big turnaround are due for disappointment.

According to Pomeroy...
Overall ORtg100.1191112.747112.659
Overall DRtg103.5213102.317391.640
Big East ORtg92.015104.6796.611
Big East DRtg117.016111.31696.16
Four Factors
All Off. eFG%45.529949.617851.2117
All Off. TOv%18.35317.21518.542
All Off. OReb%32.617832.916832.7195
All Off. FTA/FGA31.728830.829829.3315
All Def. eFG%51.828653.530647.261
All Def. TOv%19.024919.326117.7328
All Def. OReb%37.932235.628129.424
All Def. FTA/FGA25.7828.33131.469
BE Off. eFG%44.81549.1846.712
BE Off. TOv%18.7916.5217.16
BE Off. OReb%28.81632.01131.612
BE Off. FTA/FGA27.01430.51630.114
BE Def. eFG%55.41653.81647.15
BE Def. TOv%18.6919.3918.99
BE Def. OReb%40.51536.41429.42
BE Def. FTA/FGA28.8430.5429.54
All Gms Cons23.228516.02822.7251
All Gms Luck-.025212-.046259-.029223

For the Record...
Big East0160.0006120.333970.563
Post Season?BET/Rnd 2NoNIT/Rnd 3

The slide has been steady and consistent, much like watching the air go out of a balloon. The regular season conference record has been consistently lower than the Blue Demon's OOC record, consistent with many Big East teams, but when the OOC winning percentage is < 0.500, the signs point to a very bad conference record. The overall record has declined in each of the past three seasons. As Dave Leitao's recruits have moved on, Coach Wainwright has not been able to replace with comparable talent, much less upgrade the position for Big East competition.

The Blue Demon's Nucleus
The question going into 2010 is whether the returning nucleus can progress enough to bootstrap the squad out of the bottom of the conference. As the efficiency numbers (see tables above) suggest, the Demons lack offense. Can the returning group provide it next season, or should the staff look to the newcomers?

On Offense

After the departed #2 guard Dar Tucker (off to Europe), wing guard Will Walker and bf/c Mac Koshwal, who remains the inside threat, DePaul had no offensive options as the balance of last season's squad rarely ventured beyond "role player" status in the offense. While he scores efficiently (when he gets his shot off), defenses know to collapse on him when the ball goes inside. DePaul needs to find a second scoring threat inside of 15 feet to take the pressure off Koshwal. Will Walker took many more shots near the end of the season, but as a catch-and-shoot threat, he was consistent enough to carry the team if Dar Tucker was having an off night. The Demons will need to replace Tucker's scoring, but with someone who can convert more efficiently and consistently than the departed #2 guard if they hope to climb out of the conference cellar.

On Defense
Will Walker86.
Mac Koshwal77.720.812.721.51.42.5
Jeremiah Kelly57.24.419.
Devin Hill41.113.84.614.57.01.1
Michael Bizoukas34.27.623.731.30.92.1
Mario Stula18.64.25.311.90.41.0
Krys Faber16.915.83.516.43.61.1

Significant Additions
The Blue Demons added two transfers (sophomore Mike Stovall, a 6-5 #3/#4 native Chicagoan who spent a year at Oregon State and junior Eric Wallace, a 6-5, 215lb #3 out of Ohio State), to go with freshman Tony Freeland, a 6-5, 215lbs undersized #4 out of Fremont HS in Los Angeles, CA. While Wallace has a good pedegree (cousin of Stromile Swift) and Stovall is reputed to have a good handle and skills as a catch-and-shoot scorer, no one in this group is a game changer. It may take assistant coaches Tracy Webster and David Booth, two well regarded recruiters from Chicago, to bring in a solid class. The staff has also added 4 walk-ons (3 to be eligible this season) in early September.

Explode If...
A lot of things will have to fall into place for the Blue Demons to move out of the bottom quartile (looking for a winning season may be too optimistic at this point) -- Jeremiah Kelly (or Mike Bizoukas...) will have to take the reins as point guard and really make the team hit on all cylinders; Mac Koshwal will have to play defense on every possession; Will Walker will have to become a cold-blooded assassin from the outside; Tony Freeland will have to be another DaJuan Blair.

Implode If...
Clearing out the assistants was a message to Wainwright that this is the year. There was nothing secret about it. If Gary Waters' last season at Rutgers becomes the model for this season at DePaul, it will be painful and over pretty early. If the staff and players rally behind their coach the Blue Demons could put together a better showing than 2009, but will that be enough to save the coach?

Crucial Run/Bellweather Games
The OOC schedule has the Demons matched against preseason MVC favorite Northern Iowa at the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands. With a field that includes Tennessee, Purdue and St. Joseph's, the Demons are virtually guaranteed at least two Top 100 RPI matchups before the end of the tournment. Winning 2 (or more?) games in that invitational would be good news for the Demon Nation. Coach Wainwright's squad has two road tests early, as they travel to Nashville, Tennessee to play Vanderbilt the first weekend in December, followed by a trip to Tampa, Florida to take on Mississippi State in the Big East/SEC Challenge. The Bull Dogs have Jarvis Varnado to match up with DePaul's Mac Koshwal. The Demons return to Chicago to host 4 mid-majors at the All State Arena. An OOC record of 9-3 would be terrific, though under Coach Wainwright, the Demons tend to start slowly, usually registering one or two huh??!-type games early.

DePaul will host a down Marquette and Providence, which, by consensus, appear to be facing rebulding years, along with Rutgers (one of the worst road records in the history of the Big East) and South Florida -- four opportunities to notch a win & improve their conference winning percentage from 2009. Their first-best stretch will come 1/14 - 1/20, when they host Providence (1/14), then Marquette (1/20), with an east coast swing into New York City and St. John's over the weekend (1/17). 2-1 would be good news for the Demons. The conference schedule makers gave DePaul a 2 game homestand at the end of the season. The Demons come off of a road game with Rutgers to face South Florida, then St. John's, to finish the regular season. 2-1 in that run, if combined with a 2-1 record from January, might be enough to get the Demons out of the conference cellar.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Preview 2009-10 -- Connecticut Huskies

Too Busy for the Details?
Blessed with a talented and veteran backcourt, Coach Calhoun's UConn program will be challenged to replace most of their front court in 2009-10 without stepping back too far from their Final Four standing in 2009. If Calhoun's "life experiment" with senior Stanley Robinson comes to fruition and classmate Gavin Edwards commuted exclusively between the weight room and gym as rumored, these two will provide the leadership and court presence necessary to carry the team (along with Walker and Dyson) while the entering freshmen come up to speed. They is much to learn, and quickly. Prognosis -- A 1st quartile finish.

3 Years At a Glance
Ah, the year not the returning minutes from 2008 and 2009 with the Huskies' record from those years, and you will see solid progress at each step. Even though the minutes fell off very slightly last season the Huskies improved their standing. The season not listed is 2007. UConn returned about 32% of their minutes and won 6 Big East games. And did not go to a post season tournament (BET aside).


Coach Jim Calhoun has to bring a sqaud whose returning minutes are the lowest since 2007 (that squad returned about 32% of the previous season's minutes). The difference (beyond the additional 9%) is that the 2010 squad's senior will contribute 64% of those returning minutes, about 3 times the percentage from 2007. The 2010 Huskie squad has seniors (and a junior or two) who can pass along the program's traditions and attitude. The very loaded freshmen class will not find themselves on the floor with sophomores who don't quite "get it".

According to Pomeroy...
Overall ORtg116.615117.317104.3126
Overall DRtg84.8392.34185.87
Big East ORtg108.61110.8191.316
Big East DRtg92.72102.0793.31
Four Factors -- Overall
All Off. eFG%51.38150.613946.3284
All Off. TOv%18.15019.37121.2166
All Off. OReb%39.91138.91741.26
All Off. FTA/FGA46.4648.1445.515
All Def. eFG%42.4244.2841.91
All Def. TOv%16.233616.933221.6139
All Def. OReb%30.15533.520732.8136
All Def. FTA/FGA19.5123.5531.060
Four Factors -- Big East Only
BE Off. eFG%49.9851.5450.66
BE Off. TOv%18.0618.9719.79
BE Off. OReb%39.2237.3242.21
BE Off. FTA/FGA41.8247.4139.46
BE Def. eFG%42.2145.7342.31
BE Def. TOv%16.21515.31615.316
BE Def. OReb%31.9434.51132.44
BE Def. FTA/FGA18.5123.8221.41
All Gms Cons21.020620.416527.1328
All Gms Luck+.01898-.009166-.117332

The Huskies' recovery offensively powered their return to the conference elite in 2008 and 2009. The jump from #16 (2007) to #1 (2008 & 2009) coincided with their jump from a #12 (BET) seed in 2007 to a #4 seed in 2008 to a #2 seed in 2009. When the team dominated however, it was through their defense. Coach Calhoun built his defense from the low post out. If the turnover rate appears shockingly low, consider that UConn blocked/deflected or otherwise caused their opponents to flat out miss the bucket more than anyone else in conference play. And when their opponent missed, the Huskies were there to rebound. And UConn did not allow their opponents to bail out the possession at the free throw line. They just did not get there. Note the same measures show through in the overall slate as in Big East play. UConn was pretty much the same whether they played an OOC opponent or a Big East opponent.

For the Record...
Big East1530.8331350.7226100.375
Post Season?NCAA/Rnd 5NCAA/Rnd 1BET/Rnd 1

The year-over-year progress is clear and very obvious compared to the "progress" made by other teams when they returned high percentages of minutes and points. Given the experience level of UConn's returning minutes should preclude the program's falling back as severely as 2007.

The Huskies's Nucleus
On Offense

Walker and Dyson will anchor the back court and wing. Note they both were efficient (but not super effiencient) with their offense, even as both participated as "Contributors" -- 2nd options -- on offense. The key to taking more offense efficiently will rest on their (collectively) ability to improve their accuracy -- each had an eFG% < 50.0, a sure sign they are missing shots. Pushing their eFG% over the 50.0 mark (preferably in the 55+ range) would boost UConn's offense. And help fans forget Hasheem Thabeet and AJ Price. There is room for growth for Robinson as well. He can have a strong positive impact on the team by garnering another 5+% of the possessions and shots without giving back much on his offensive rating. Edwards, a senior classmate of Dyson and Robinson, was very efficient in 2009, but the prospects that he will grow into a significantly larger role on offense is unlikely.

On Defense
Kemba Walker61.510.220.721.20.62.4
Jerome Dyson47.79.520.516.51.03.6
Stanley Robinson47.215.48.819.63.91.4
Gavin Edwards28.614.

Robinson and Edwards have never been more than average defensive rebounders. The Connecticut defense relies heavily on gathering a large percentage of the defensive rebounds, so both will have to improve, and the low post newcomers will have to contribute defensively immediately.

Significant Additions
Had everyone recruited to play in 2008-09 suited up, the Huskies would stand very well going into this season (they probably would have done better in Detroit last April). A day late, but just about everyone is in Storrs now. The assembled group, late comers and true freshmen, numbers 6. The immediate needs are in the front court, and this cohort has several answers. At the #5, Coach Calhoun will look to 7-1, 255 lbs Charles Okwandu, a JUCO from Lagos, Nigeria by way of Harkem College, PA. Okwandu arrived at Storrs last December, but could not clear his paperwork with the NCAA. "Big Chuck" took the semester to attend to academics and practice with the team. Summer reports suggest his biggest contributions will be on defense. True freshman Alex Oriakhi, at 6-8, out of The Tilton School (NH) will provide the team with another back-to-the-basket option. Another academic casualty in 2009, 6-10, 233 lbs #4 Ater Majok from Sidney, Australia, flirted with the NBA draft before deciding to fulfill his commitment to the Huskies. Majok will, when his eligibility begins after the fall semester, combine with Okwandu, Edwards and Oriakhi in the low post rotation. True freshman Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, a McDonald's All American 6-7, 210 lbs #3 will split time with Robinson on the wing. Two additional guards, 6-2 Darius Smith and 6-5 Jamaal Trice will no doubt get time in the early rotation to impress the staff. Coach Calhoun tends to reach 10 or more deep into his bench, especially in the OOC. Whether that will help or hinder the development of team play remains to be seen.

Explode If...
1. Coach Calhoun's gamble on Stanley Robinson pays off & Robinson grows into the leader Coach Calhoun believes he can be. And Ater Majok proves to be worth the wait.
2. Okwandu and Oriankhi do not need to contribute a lot of points, but they do need to block shots and rebound. The more they prove to be effective stoppers, the better Connecticut's defense can become.
3. Kemba Walker learns to stick the 3. Connecticut has considered the 3FGA an integral part of their offense, typically using it for about 30% of their FGAs. Last season, with shooting woes suffered by Price, Walker and Dyson, the Huskies leaned heavily on Adrien, Thabeet and penetration from the guards. Consequently their 3FGAs, as a percentage of all FGAs dropped to a low of 23.0. Shockingly low and very predictable. UConn would be more effective if the 3FGA percentage was higher.

Implode If...
1. Oriakhi and Okwandu are ok (or maybe downright bad), but in any event, not dominant low post players.
2. Dyson is forced to take on too much of the offensive responsibility. Dyson is accurate, but he cannot put the team on his back (offensively) night in and night out.
3. Kemba Walker struggles at the point. AJ is gone, and Donnell Beverly is not going to breakout next season. This one is on Walker, and if he struggles, the Huskies will sputter.

Crucial Stretches/Bellweather Games
Historically, Coach Calhoun has developed young teams by bringing mid/low majors into Storrs (and Hartford) for a series of confidence building home games. The strategy backfired in 2007 when the team collapsed in Big East play after running the table in November and December. A new team and a new approach this season as the Huskies committed (as a regional host) to the NIT Preseason Tip Off. Should UConn survive pool play they will advance to New York City to face (most likely) a championship bracket of Arizona State, Duke and LSU. The field, even in the regional pools, contains a "higher fiber" variety of mid/low major. The NIT, along with Connecticut's face-off with John Calipari's much hyped Kentucky Wildcats in the Big East-SEC Challenge (December 9 in Madision Square Garden) will provide a better early season barometer on the Huskies' progress. 13-0 against that slate of opponents would mean a bit more than their unbeaten run through their 2007 OOC, and would establish the Huskies' credentials for post season play.

UConn will open the Big East slate with a road trip to Cincinnati on 12/30, and play 9 games in January (7 versus conference rivals and 2 versus national rivals). The front end of their conference schedule sets up very nicely, to accommodate those two nationally televised games at Michigan and versus Texas perhaps? Other than road games at Cincinnati and Georgetown, The more challenging conference opponents (the Hall, Pitt & St. John's) travel to Storrs (or Hartford). Running the table in through that section of their schedule (10-0) would put UConn in the top 10 nationally (at the very least), but anything less than 7-3, especially if combined with losses in the OOC, would suggest that a return to elite DI status may take another year or two.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Preview 2009-10 -- Cincinnati Bearcats

Too Busy for the Details?
Coach Cronin returns a solid nucleus of players, including combo guard Deonta Vaughn, center Steven Toyloy, bf/c Yancy Gates and wing Rashad Bishop. Red shirt freshman Cashmire Wright should be ready to take over the ball handling responsibilities that will allow Deonta Vaughn to roam and find the open area. To that mix add Top 15 recruit Lance Stephenson out of New York City -- assuming he clears the NCAA Clearing House (among others), and, if the Bearcats can shake off memories of their season-closing 4 game slide, this squad should be ready to make a big (upward) move. Prognosis -- A 2nd quartile finish.

3 Years At a Glance
The 3 year table (below) is a great illustration of the effect of JUCOs. A good deal of experience available every other year, but a disquieting underachievement with that experience. The returning minutes this season come less from transferring juniors (or JUCO seniors) who bring a single season of DI experience to the table, but rather sophomores (1 year) and true juniors and seniors (2-3 years of experience).


Returning minutes are among the highest in the conference this season, giving observers and fans a reason to expect a move to the conference's upper division. On the offensive side of the ball everything is pointing up, returning points, field goals made and rebounds all suggest the Bearcats can expect to be even stronger this season. The defense has been a big problem in prior seasons, as Cincinnati has ranked near the bottom in overall defensive performance. Looking at Oliver's four factors, the problem areas have centered on shot defense (eFG%) and allowing opponents to get to the line. For all of their aggression, the Bearcats allowed opponents to take 4 free throw attempts for every 10 field goal attempts. That is uncomfortably close to a 1:2 ratio of FTAs to FGAs. The aggression did not produce many turnovers either. I expect defensive rebounding will be among the best next season, the key for the Bearcats will turn on whether they can step up their field goal defense (in conference...overall did not seem to be much of a problem), defensive rebounding and force turnovers.

According to Pomeroy...
Overall ORtg107.678104.6132103.7139
Overall DRtg97.910495.37297.298
Big East ORtg102.91198.11496.112
Big East DRtg110.415103.18106.316
Four Factors -- Overall
All Off. eFG%48.419747.127545.9292
All Off. TOv%20.417920.817218.958
All Off. OReb%40.01035.08935.395
All Off. FTA/FGA30.331132.825829.7310
All Def. eFG%47.38849.213452.0252
All Def. TOv%18.826818.130722.491
All Def. OReb%34.223730.26432.4111
All Def. FTA/FGA35.415046.132137.9198
Four Factors -- Big East
BE Off. eFG%48.91047.11245.215
BE Off. TOv%18.5720.91220.07
BE Off. OReb%35.6635.2434.47
BE Off. FTA/FGA29.31231.91530.412
BE Def. eFG%51.81348.8655.216
BE Def. TOv%17.11318.41221.06
BE Def. OReb%34.41030.9433.16
BE Def. FTA/FGA40.81548.51430.612
All Gms Cons24.932119.313321.4201
All Gms Luck+.02378-.019193-.041260

Losing a slew of JUCOs (and transfers) at the end of the 2008 season took a toll on the team's consistency in 2009 (not to mention the Bearcat's defensive showing in conference). The JUCOs & transfers recruited in the aftermath of the Huggins/Kennedy changeover were replaced last season with freshmen (and a JUCO center named Steven Toyloy), two of whom played significant minutes last season. The two season lifespan of JUCOs and transfers over the past 3 seasons is also reflected in the Bearcats' record...

For the Record...
Big East8100.4448100.4442140.125
Post Season?BET/Rnd 1CBI/Rnd1No

Had they taken their 1st round game in the BET (versus DePaul), the Bearcats may have worked themselves into a post season tournament (NIT? Most likely another tilt in the CBI) for the second post season running. Very desirable when trying to build a contending team.

The Bearcats' Nucleus
Coach Cronin will no doubt work this group of players for all they can produce offensively. The entire cohort could have used another consistent scorer...

On Offense

When the shot went up last season, you could bet that either Deonta Vaughn or Yancy Gates (if they are on the floor) was the last to touch it. And that was a problem as the Bearcats could have really used a 3rd (consistent) option. If the Bearcats entered the 2010 season status quo ante, either Dion Dixon or Larry Davis would be good candidates to step into that 3rd (and/or 4th) scoring option. Both, hovering 19+ percent of the possessions and 20+ Shot% last season, hovers at the boundary of "Regular Guy" status in the offense. The key will be shot accuracy, at hitting their shots consistently was a problem for both last season. Stephenson, should he pass muster with the NCAA, will dramatically change that dynamic.

On Defense
Deonta Vaughn88.510.927.323.10.02.3
Rashad Bishop64.812.518.324.51.02.7
Yancy Gates57.516.34.513.74.61.2
Dion Dixon54.19.712.516.30.81.4
Larry Davis53.45.714.
Steve Toyloy39.518.38.627.81.70.7

Significant Additions
Ranked #12 in the Class of 2009, 6-5, 225lbs wing Lance Stephenson supplies what could be the missing piece to a Bearcat squad that struggled at times last season. Stephenson, a much heralded stud out of Abraham Lincoln HS on Coney Island, NYC brings confidence and credibility to Coach Cronin's squad. Stephenson will almost certainly play DI ball for a single season. And he will spend that season in Cincinnati. Given the tumult of the past 3 seasons, Cincinnati did not need a lot of replacements this season, so recruits Jaquon Parker, a 6-4 PG out of Suffolk, VA and Sean Kilpatrick, a 6-5 SG out of White Plains, NY (by way of Notre Dame Prep in Massachusetts), will have time to develop. If redshirt freshman Cashmire Wright does not develop as anticipated, Parker may see some playing time. Kilpatrick is an accomplished outside shooter who (I suspect) Cronin anticipated developing to eventually step into (Dion) Dixon and (Larry) Davis' wing spot. The addition of Stephenson should motivate the trio to work harder.

Explode If...
1. Lance Stephenson clears the NCAA (transcrips, finances, etc.) and blends into a team offense that will look for Vaughn 1st and Stephenson 2nd. "Born Ready" joins an established squad that is missing a consistent offensive option. This is not a squad built around him, but rather one he must fit into.
2. Toyloy and Gates cut down on turnovers under the Bearcat basket while and build up their rebounding presence their opponent's basket. Gates will have to learn to defer to Stephenson (and Vaughn) on offense, and wait his turn as the 3rd/4th option.
3. The Bearcat defense gets tougher, but cleaner. Cincinnati ranked near the bottom of the conference in shot defense (2FGAs especially), forcing turnovers and allowing opponents to get to the line. Points will come (one way or the other), but Bearcats have to stop their opponents.

Implode If...
If Stephenson does not play a minute in the Queen City this season, Cincinnati would still post a better record. The squad is experienced with several solid contributors ready to take the next step. With Stephenson the Bearcats can take a big jump...or a big fall. The question is how quickly (and how well) Coach Cronin can get this squad to play together. And play the game his way.

Crucial Runs
In the 3rd week of November the Bearcats will head to Hawaii, to play in the EA Maui Invitational, which will most likely provide them with their toughest tests in the OOC portion of the schedule. Cincinnati drew the Commodores of Vanderbilt in the 1st round, to be followed by either Maryland or host Chaminade. The Commordores, out of the SEC, return most of their minutes from 2009, including those posted by big man AJ Ogilvy, an Aussie who measures 6-10 and weighs in at 260 pounds. Vandy is projected by ESPN's Fran Fraschilla to finish 3rd in the SEC East and will surely be no worse than a bubble team. ESPN identified this matchup as one of the "10 Nonconference Games We Can't Wait To See" for good reason. Depending on the outcome the Bearcats will face Maryland, projected to be an upper tier team in the ACC this season (and Villanova's matchup in the BB&T Classic in December) or DII host Chaminade. 'Nati's 3rd round opponent will come from the pool of Arizona, Colorado, Gonzaga or Wisconsin. The likeliest candidates 'Zona or the Zags. Three solid games would be very encouraging. A 2-1 or better record against the field will bring some good press for the team. The Bearcat's cross-town game with the X-men will be one of those bellweather games in the OOC. Xavier, having lost Coach Sean Miller to Arizona in the off season, will most likely take a step back in 2010, providing Cincinnati with a good chance to beat a higher (lately) profile opponent. The Bearcats will also face traditional rival Miami of Ohio out of the MAC and the Red Hawks' conference mate, Toledo. Other tests include a road game with UAB out of Conference USA. While the Blazers, 22-12 in 2009, returns a fraction of minutes (and even less of the scoring) of that 22-10 team, they still hold the home court advantage. This one may have less to do with beating a fellow bubble team (and choking off the competition) as it does with winning in a hostile environment. How the team handles this test should, along with Maui and the local rivalries, give the Bearcat Nation some indication of how the squad will fare when the curtain rises in the Big East.

The 2+ week (12/30 - 1/16) stretch that opens the Big East regular season will be a good opportunity for the Bearcats to make a statement. They host Connecticut and Notre Dame as bookends to a run that includes road trips to Rutgers, Seton Hall and St. John's interspersed among home games with Pittsburgh and California State at Bakersfield. 7-0 would garner notice around the conference and in the national media, but at minimum if Cincinnati is to fulfill expectations for an upper division conference finish they will have to beat inferior squads (Rutgers, Cal State), even as they exploit the home court advantage against similarly regarded opponents (Pitt and Notre Dame). The east coast road swing through Seton Hall and St. John's should yield some insight on the pecking order for those three teams. Each program's fan-base has expectations for their squad, and should the Bearcats go 2-0 or even 1-1 (with competitive games) in that swing, their fans would have have to feel optimistic about the rest of the season. Cincinnati fans would have to feel good should their team go 5-2 through that stretch (4-2 in conference). The end of the Big East regular season also holds a tough run as the Bearcats journey to Morgantown to face West Virginia, return to Fifth Third to host the Wildcats, then hit DC for season closer with Georgetown. Cincinnati collapsed at the end of the 2009 season, dropping the last 4 games of the regular season, then tacking 1 last loss (BET) to the end of that dreadful run. If Cincinnati is on the bubble, that 3 game run could be a dream-killer.