Thursday, October 29, 2009

Preview 2009-10 -- Syracuse Orange

Too Busy for the Details?
Syracuse said goodbye to three players at the end of last season who seemed to thrive on the drama. Whether it was a 6 overtime win over Connecticut in the Big East Tournament, a dramatic bucket that turned an embarrassing mid-major loss into a win, a dunk at the end of a blowout game or a late evening off campus confrontation with coeds, a late season AWOL just before a big conference road game. Jonny Flynn, Erick Devendorf and Paul Harris could thrill and infuriate the Orange Nation simultaneously...several times a week. Coach Boeheim has 2 red shirts (Mookie Jones and Scoop Jardine), along with a transfer and 3 true freshmen ready to step into the vacated slots. The 2010 edition of the Orange may be a touch less talented, but they will certainly be far more coachable. Prognosis -- A 2nd quartile finish.

3 Years At a Glance
The distribution of minutes and offensive/defensive statistics resemble peaks and valleys for a reason -- the Orange have had problems establishing player continuity since (roughly) 2006. Fans may want to "blame" the talent level -- Green & Flynn left early for the draft, while critics may want to blame the players -- Harris & Devendorf left early for...(Europe)?; Wright left the program; Jardine & Edelen were suspended at points in their careers. Or blame the injuries, as at one time or another Onuaku, Rautins and Jardine have rehabbed injuries to the overall detriment of the team and their own development.


The returning "profile" looks much like the 2008 squad. The big difference is that 2008 team had to replace their forwards and center positions, the 2010 team will have to replace the back court and wing spots (note the differences in %3FGM & offensive rebounding between 2008 and 2010).

According to Pomeroy...
Overall ORtg117.311114.337113.148
Overall DRtg91.72994.36590.928
Big East ORtg109.94102.7999.69
Big East DRtg101.76102.0695.45
Four Factors --
All Off. eFG%54.41652.75550.6144
All Off. TOv%20.619221.621320.8142
All Off. OReb%35.67839.01535.783
All Off. FTA/FGA39.39242.0361.756
All Def. eFG%46.76749.213643.77
All Def. TOv%18.827019.822919.8241
All Def. OReb%35.527431.912236.7297
All Def. FTA/FGA26.21029.54431.162
Four Factors --
BE Off. eFG%54.5250.4749.48
BE Off. TOv%20.21321.21120.410
BE Off. OReb%35.6536.7331.413
BE Off. FTA/FGA34.9644.8238.57
BE Def. eFG%48.4549.1743.52
BE Def. TOv%18.8819.11118.510
BE Def. OReb%37.11330.4336.716
BE Def. FTA/FGA30.0535.5735.111
All Gms Cons19.414018.711015.922
All Gms Luck+.015104-.038240-.076309

If Paul Harris and Jonny Flynn could not persuade the staff to abandon Coach Boeheim's 2-3 zone in favor of man-to-man, this group, as athletic as they are, have no hope at all. Symptomatic of zone defenses, the Orange did not force turnovers, foul much or rebound (defensively) at quite the levels that their talent and athleticism would suggest. The zone is intended to diminish the opponent's offensive effectiveness by taking away easy scoring opportunities inside the arc. To beat the zone an opponent has to attack the zone's specific weak spots (and score) or shoot effectively from the outside, thereby forcing the zone to extend to the point where it falls apart.

For the Record...
Big East1170.611990.5001060.625
Post Season?NCAA/Rnd 3NIT/Rnd 3NIT/Rnd 2

The Orange went back to the NCAAs last season after a 2 year "hiatus" in the NIT. Though they put together the wins (conference and OOC) in 2007 & 2008, the slate, combined with the extended early season homestands, undermined their bid. The Orange upgraded their OOC slate last season, and left the confines of the Carrier Dome to take on opponents at neutral sites. This season will see them do the same.

The Orange's Nucleus
Coach Jim Boeheim may find the quiet next fall a little unsettling. While a significant percentage of the minutes, points and rebounds are gone, they go with what had to be one of the highest maintainance group of players ever to pass through his program. Rick Jackson aside, the others (including the red shirted Scoop Jardine) are for the most part complement pieces -- "glue guys", as their possession and shot percentages suggest (< 20 is more consistent with a "role" player on offense), rather than headliner/go-to guys.

On Offense

Rautins, Onuaku and Jackson all logged good minutes on the court, but were not the 1st or 2nd (or 3rd?) options on offense. Others drew the defense and took the pressure shots. A successful 2010 campaign will depend on how many are able to step into "Major Contributor" roles. If past is prelude, look for Rautins to get more green lights to hoist from beyond the arc. Will he be as successful if he draws additional defensive attention? From possessions and shots, Onuaku and Jackson may also take up more responsibility for the offense, evolving into "Significant Contributors" (about 20-23% of the possessions and shots), though the better bet is Jackson -- if he can avoid foul trouble.

On Defense
Andy Rautins67.510.518.
Arinze Onuaku64.816.64.317.85.31.0
Rick Jackson53.416.97.921.67.32.3
Kris Joseph29.

Significant Additions
The departure of Flynn, Devendorf and Harris will be filled (to some degree) with returning players. There are several newcomers who will help. The Orange's big get is 6-7 Wesley Johnson, a #3 transfer from Iowa. Coach Boeheim also has three true freshmen to compete for available spots. 6-3, 210 lb Brandon Triche may be advertised as an off guard, but Coach Boeheim intends to give him the ball early on in the fall. DaShonte Riley, a 6-11 220 lbs #5 out of Detriot, Michigan may be the more heralded of the entering class, but will most likely play behind the senior, Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson in the front court rotation. Prep player James Southerland, a 6-7, 190 lb #3 graduate of Notre Dame Prep in Massachusetts will add depth to the wing.

Explode If...
1. Wesley Johnson is as good as advertised & can hit an outside shot. In 2007 Coach Boeheim found himself constantly having to choose between playing Rautins and Harris at the #2/#3. Harris was the more aggressive and skilled defender, and a better slasher on offense. But Rautins was the better passer and could hit the outside shot, and did not embarrass himself in the 2-3 zone employed by the staff. Harris sat. If Johnson can combine the best of Rautins (hit the outside shot and pass well) with the best of Harris (athletic penetrator and good defender), the Orange should be a better team.
2. Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche take charge. Flynn's value was certainly as a scorer, but the jet quick point guard was a good ball handler and floor general. Jardine will most likely get 1st shot at the point. If he can prove that he can run the team responsably, Triche can learn without pressure.
3. Rick Jackson takes a big developmental step. Jackson has shown promise through 2 seasons. With possessions and shots hanging at 18% (or so), he is poised to grow into a major/significant contributor offensive role this season. The Orange will benefit greatly if he can convert possessions into points efficiently.

Implode If...
1. Chemistry has been an issue the past three seasons. The historic parties are gone this season, but should a new schism develop on the squad, it could doom another season.
2. There will be games when someone will have to take that shot. Faced with that situation 3 games into his freshman season, Jonny Flynn stepped up and did not flinch. Since that game, Flynn and Harris were the leaders (for better or worse). Both are gone, but those games will happen this season, and someone will have to step up. Onuaku is not particularly vocal, he may not call for the ball when the time comes, but does Jardine (or one of the freshmen) have the credibility to rally the team? For this group of returning players, none has had to call for the ball or take that shot. Flynn, Harris and Devendorf were eager to take charge in those situations.

Crucial Run/Bellweather Games
Syracuse will face traditional foe Colgate early in November, and host Albany and Robert Morris in a regional for the 2K Sports Classic before heading down to New York City to face California in the semi-finals. Depending on the result, the Orange will face either North Carolina or Ohio State in the Championship/Consolation game. The Golden Bears are a middling PAC-10 team, but Ohio State or North Carolina should be a good test for the young Syracuse squad on a neutral (sort of...) court. Syracuse will also travel to Tampa, Florida to face Florida in the Big East/SEC Challenge December 10. Those three games, against other power conference teams, should give the Orange Nation a good idea of how the young squad stands going into the Big East regular season. The 2010 schedule reflects Coach Boeheim's more consistent effort to create a mix of OOC games, at home, neutral and away, and with high and mid-major opponents, rather than a steady diet of local cupcakes. A perfect season going into Christmas should suggest a Happy New Year for the Syracuse fan-base. Three or more losses on the other hand, suggest the team will have more work to do in what might become a very challenging Big East schedule.

Syracuse will jump right into the frying pan when they open the Big East regular season with a road game at Seton Hall. The Pirates have hopes as high as the Orange for 2010, a win will fuel someone's March Dreams, though a loss (while it might hurt the pride) would not be fatal to Syracuse's post season prospects. The Orange return to the Carrier Dome for a three game homestand, facing Pittsburgh, Memphis (in their last OOC game) and South Florida. Anything less than 3-0 would be cause for concern. The next road trip, their last three game stint in the Big East regular season, will see the Orange face (in order) Rutgers, West Virginia and Notre Dame. The Scarlet Knights would appear to be the best target of opportunity in the trio, but the humiliation from last season's beating should be good fodder for Rutgers' Coach Fred Hill. The RAC might not be as easy as prior seasons, especially if the Syracuse squad lacks confidence. A 1-2 record would seem "about right", with anything better (3-0? 2-1?) cause for optimism. If Syracuse goes into the last week of January with a Big East record of 3-3, their "path" to a 9-9 (or better) season will rely a good deal on opportunity wins against struggling conference members. 4-2 or better and the Cuse will definitely be in conversations about the post season. At 2-4 or worse, the Orange will have to prevail in four to six of their remaining home games -- a slate that includes Marquette, Georgetown (maybe not as easy as prior seasons), Providence, Connecticut, Louisville, Villanova & St. John's. I count three "probables" in that list...they will need to find another one or two (or so). Among their remaining road games, only their stop in Chicago (1/30)...and maybe Providence 2/23) look like good win opportunities. The balance -- against Cincinnati, Georgetown and Louisville will be tough even for an experienced team.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Preview 2009-10 -- South Florida Bulls

Too Busy for the Details?
Coach Stan Heath heads into his 3rd season at the helm in Tampa with a decent nucleus of returning players -- the centerpiece of which is junior 3rd Team All-Big East Dominique Jones -- and a mixed bag of JUCOs and true freshman to fill out the roster. Jones is a good player to build a team around, but if the prolific scorer is called on to carry this team, the 2009-10 season will be remembered by the South Florida faithful as a disappointment. The Bulls will improve on their 2009 4-14 Big East record/#14th place finish, the only question is how much. Prognosis -- A 4th quartile finish.

3 Years At a Glance

The 2010 edition of the Bulls will be the most experienced squad South Florida has fielded since they joined the Big East in 2006. Coach Heath will return starters at the #1, #2, #4 and #5. There are no rehabbing red shirts for the first time in 2 - 3 seasons. And the Bulls have some Big East-level talent returning in the form of Dominique Jones who made the All Rookie team in 2008 and was an All-Big East Honorable Mention last season.

According to Pomeroy...
Overall ORtg100.684106.5108101.5168
Overall DRtg98.111297.49996.991
Big East ORtg93.61493.61692.514
Big East DRtg106.310106.314106.414
Four Factors -- Overall
All Off. eFG%44.831848.820749.3200
All Off. TOv%19.612120.010824.9317
All Off. OReb%34.510535.28335.2101
All Off. FTA/FGA34.920643.02747.77
All Def. eFG%47.28348.711347.572
All Def. TOv%17.631818.330219.7245
All Def. OReb%34.926333.117733.4161
All Def. FTA/FGA37.720833.911731.773
Four Factors -- Big East
BE Off. eFG%43.51646.61447.310
BE Off. TOv%18.6819.6923.816
BE Off. OReb%34.5833.8732.69
BE Off. FTA/FGA31.01039.2444.31
BE Def. eFG%48.8650.11049.611
BE Def. TOv%16.71416.21416.614
BE Def. OReb%34.51134.61234.811
BE Def. FTA/FGA34.91038.4931.97
All Gms Cons21.723221.320426.7327
All Gms Luck-.066306-.108335-.073305

That blip in the overall offensive rating in 2007-08 was Kentrell Gransberry, the Bulls' 6-11 center transfer (from LSU) who led the team for 2 seasons before moving on. Coupled with (then freshman) Dominique Jones, the pair provided Coach Heath with a very good inside-out attack. Conference play last season saw South Florida continually plagued by an inability to convert possessions into points -- see their Big East offensive rating of 93.6 -- largely due to shooting. Note Four Factors offensive stats that show the Bulls ranked in the middle of the conference in turnovers, offensive rebounds and getting to the free throw line...and at the bottom for field goal conversion (eFG%). Dominique Jones is a tremendous offensive threat, but he is the only weapon in the Bulls' 2009 arsenal. And everyone in the conference knows it. The guy would be even more effective if USF had a consistent low post threat (think Gransberry here), or someone (else) on the wing who could stick it consistently (maybe Mike Mercer?).

For the Record...
Big East4140.2223150.1673130.188
Post Season?BET/Rnd 1NoNo

The Bulls' Nucleus
Coach Stan Heath will bring back a decent collection of players for 2010, the best squad he has had since arriving in Tampa. It only took him 3 seasons, but he finally has a big or two to go with his wing gunner. And a point guard who can get them the ball.

On Offense

Note that of the returning members of the squad, only #2 guard Dominque Jones had an ORtg >100. Jones was pretty much the offensive show. He drew "Go-to Guy" level shots and possessions as the Bulls stuttered when Jones was cold. Coach Heath has worked to bring a few more scoring options onto the Bull's roster this season.

On Defense
Dominique Jones93.310.928.715.61.12.3
Chris Howard84.910.026.423.50.52.0
Augustus Gilchrist48.512.95.416.24.20.7
Alex Rivas Sanchez43.021.01.327.53.02.1
Justin Leemow39.07.715.

The Bulls will need defensive rebounding if they are to compete effectively in the Big East. Gilchrist, more a #4 than a #5, was a below average defensive rebounder last season. He will no doubt get better with experience alone, but the Bulls will need more immediate help with their opponent's misses. Sanchez and Howard have to cut down on their turnovers if they expect to see the court much this season, as possible upgrades will be available off the bench.

Significant Additions
Looking at his 3rd season in Tampa, Coach Heath's recruiting has not quite shifted away from "tryout mode" to something more selective. After bringing in 6 players for the 2008-09 season (3 of whom will be with the team going into this season), he will bring in another 6 new players, including a single JUCO (6-11, 240lb #5, Jarrid Famous), a single transfer (6-1, 170 lb #1 Anthony Crater moving over from Ohio State) who will be eligible at the end of the fall semester to back up senior Chris Howard, and 4 true freshmen, 2 of whom, 6-6 #2/#3 Mike Burwell from East Brunswick, NJ by way of Kent Prep and 6-5, 225lb, #3 Jordan Dumars, son of NBA player Joe Dumars, who, if he doesn't draw much PT, will certainly get local ink. The last two, locals #2 guard 6-4 Shaun Noriega and 6-8 #4 Toarlyn Fitzpatrick, fill out the class.

Famous will provide the low post presence missing since Kentrell Gransberry took his game to the NBA's D-League at the end of the 2008 season. Burwell, a 5th year senior was the leading scorer at Kent Prep, taking a good many shots from beyond the arc. If Burwell and Famous are as effective in the Big East as they were at their previous stops, junior scorer Dominique Jones should really be able to operate. Absent an inside threat in 2009 (and having reviewed 2008 USF game films of Jones' very prolific freshman campaign), opposing defenses tended to concentrate on shutting Jones down, and did so fairly effectively. Georgia transfer Mike Mercer, eligible to play in 2009, but dismissed from the team in January 2009, was reinstated in late August by Coach Heath. Mercer played 125 minutes scoring 34 points in his very short, 4 games career with the Bulls.

Explode If...
1. Famous, Sanchez & Gilchrist can provide effective low post presence. The Bulls need a credible threat in the paint -- Howard should be able to deliver the ball, but can one of the 3 finish?
2. One, preferably more than one of Mercer (best bet?), Leemow, Shaun Noriaga or Mike Burwell finds his shooting eye. More threats, inside and outside will make Jones more effective. It's called synergy.

Implode If...
Chemistry/discipline problems or catastrophic injuries aside, it is difficult to see this program falling. After all, it's not very far from #14 to #16. The Bulls won a record (for their time in the Big East) 4 conference games last season. This squad should have more Big East-level talent and be deeper than 2009 (or 2008 for that matter). 1. Opponents key on Jones and no one else can convert field goals. Not very likely given Mercer and Gilchrist, both of whom are not bashful about putting up shots.

Crucial Run/Bellweather Games
The Bulls face an early season test as they open the season hosting Virginia of the ACC in Tamps. Part of an effort to upgrade their schedule, the Bulls will also face Kent State in late November. After Virginia they will participate in the 2009 Charleston Classic, facing Southern Conference power Davidson in the first round. The second round game will pit them opposite the winner/loser of the South Carolina/La Salle game. The La Salle team is expected to challenge for a top spot in the A10 conference and a possible post season bid this season, while South Carolina earned an NIT bid for their work last season. A couple of wins in this early schedule will definitely boost the Bull's RPI/SOS (not to mention their confidence) going into conference play.

After opening in Louisville on 12/30, the Bulls return to Tampa to host Notre Dame (on Tuesday 1/6/2010), this tilt should provide a clue about their season. The Irish do not travel well, suffered an unexpected early season road loss to St. John's in 2009, and lost to the Bulls in Tampa back in 2006-07. Can it happen again? The Bulls' two game homestand in late January (Seton Hall on 1/28, followed by Pitt on 1/31) may be a good barometer. Win either or both, or at the very least make them competitive, and the South Florida fan-base will have reason for optimism. With home games against Rutgers (1/16), Cincinnati (2/16), St. John's (2/20) and Providence (2/27), the opportunities for 5 or more wins are in place for the Bulls. Combine with road games against a few programs expected to be in down cycles (Providence -- 1/23; Marquette -- 2/13; DePaul -- 3/2), and improvement on their 2009 finish is possible. The three game sequence in mid-February (@Marquette -- 2/13; home with Cincinnati -- 2/16 & St. John's -- 2/20) should yield at least one win, with 3-0 or 2-1 being very strong indicators that the Bulls are ready to run.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Roster Moves -- Post Midnight Madness

The Teams Began Practice, Except for...
A few more add/drops in the aftermath of Midnight Madness and the formal opening of Fall practice. The players are on campus, the last few unaccounted for adds are players waiting for NCAA clearance to practice/play. The drops on the other hand are nearly equal parts injury (regrettable but predictable), coach's decision (or non-decision as the case may be...) and civil/school discipline.

Cincinnati -- Rumors persist that Top 10 recruit Lance Stephenson is close, but not yet -- cleared to play. The NCAA has reviewed his transcripts & indicated his academics are in order. The hangup is the family's finances with attention focused on , but he should be cleared any day.

Connecticut -- The Courant's Mike Anthony spotted the much anitcipated recruit Atar Majok wearing a boot -- and out of the team cross country run (won by senior Gavin Edwards) the week of Midnight Madness. Majok was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his left tibia. Healing time is expected to be 4 - 6 weeks, which, given his eligibility schdule, (about mid-December), means this should have no impact on his playing time. Senior reserve center Jon Mandeldove was asked to sit out the fall semester to get himself in shape. Though pretty much confirmed by Coach Calhoun ("not set in stone" per the Husky Head Coach), it nevertheless sounds a bit strange.

Louisville -- Senior swingman Jerry Smith and sophomore bf Terrence Jennings were arrested over the Columbus Day Weekend alumni homecoming party in Jeffersonville, Ind. If the details were sketchy, Louisville's response was not. The AD will impose no penalties on the athletes.

St. John's
Fifth year senior Anthony Mason will miss 4 - 6 weeks of the season with a right hamstring injury. Coach Norm Roberts indicated Mason, plagued by injuries to his right ankle and tendon last season which eventually forced him to take a redshirt, might be ready for Big East play.

Assessing the Impact
The consensus opinion from those around the program is that Stephenson will qualify, and sooner rather than later. The Bearcats, starved for point production last season, should improve offensively this season with or without Stephenson (Cashmire Wright will take the point, giving Vaughn a license to roam and look for his spots), but having the consensus Top 15 recruit qualify quickly and get into serious game preparation can only help the team and Stephenson.

Matok's rehab coincides with his waiting period. He should be cleared to play (medically and academically) by the end of the fall semester. The question for Matok may be whether he will be 100% this season. He was supposed to be available last season (fall of 2008), but academics, a flirtation with the NBA and now this injury serve as an ongoing stream of distractions for him. I really don't know what to make of Mandeldove's status. His contributions to the program have been extremely limited over the course of his UConn career. The program does not appear to need his scholarship this semester, and he does not appear to be a negative influence/distraction to the program.

Smith and Jennings will most likely get no blowback from their Indiana Adventure. The episode amounts to another distraction for a program that needs to focus on the challenge of replacing the contributions of the departed Terrence Williams and Earl Clark. The civil authorities have yet to adjudicate the players' case, but the DA appears to have decided on a single charge of reisting arrest, which I suspect will be reduced to something on the order of "refusal to heed an officer", as the police cannot charge a suspect with resisting arrest unless they attempt to arrest him (her?) for something first (see the problem?).

A fully recovered Mason Jr. would be a contributor to the Red Storm team and program, but his injuries, and absence for rehabilitation, have severely diminished his influence with the team and the potential for his having a significant impact on St. John's games this season. Coach Norm Robert, in a pre Media Day interview with ESPN's Andy Katz, suggested that adjustments made last season in response to Mason's season-ending injury served to minimize the impact of his last round of ailments.

And Then There's...
Corey Chandler, who might hold the record for speed transferring through DI programs. Chandler, a junior off guard, was dismissed by Coach Fred Hill in early August for an unspecified breach of team rules. Chandler turned up at Binghamton about 2½ weeks later, prepared to sit out the 2009-10 season, and pick up his DI career in 2010-11. When Bearcat guard Tiki Mayben was busted in late September Coach Kevin Broadus dismissed 4 of Mayben's teammates, Chandler included. Two DI programs in less than six weeks has to be a record. No news yet where Chandler will turn up next.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Preview 2009-10 -- St. John's Red Storm

Too Busy for the Details?
The Johnnies return 93% of their minutes. They return all 5 starters. They bring in 2 JUCOs, 2 High Schoolers who could be missing pieces, and they bring back a red shirt 5th year senior. They also bring back an accumulated 25 losses in the last 2 season of Big East play, balanced against 11 wins. The losses, it seems, may have made a stronger impression so far. Back in 2007 the Red Storm was climbing out of the crater left by Mike Jarvis' 2004 meltdown, but Norm Robert's program lost ground in 2008 as Roberts, with the passing of a modest but productive class, had to integrate a small battalion of players, with candidates at virtually every position. The freshmen of 2008 are juniors in 2010. The direction of wins is favorable, the preponderance of returning minutes, scoring and rebounding are all favorable. In every season it seems that (at least) one program takes a big, 8 or so standing jump. Will St. John's be the program that takes the Big Jump, or one that makes another small, but positive adjustment? Prognosis -- A 3rd quartile finish.

3 Years At a Glance

Backsliding with the decline of minutes (changeover of players) is fairly common in all but deep, stable elite programs. The 6 game swing downward swing (2 fewer wins, 4 more losses as the Big East added two more games to the conference schedule) in 2008 is troubling. 2009 produced a modest 2 game swing (+1 win, -1 loss). The very high percentage in returning minutes, points and rebounds suggest St. John's will improve -- the question is how large a swing will this class of juniors produce?

According to Pomeroy...
Overall ORtg100.918198.0215103.0150
Overall DRtg96.57793.25095.274
Big East ORtg94.31390.11592.913
Big East DRtg105.29102.28101.511
Four Factors -- Overall
All Off. eFG%46.228445.831347.4259
All Off. TOv%21.825122.626621.5185
All Off. OReb%37.92733.215532.1219
All Off. FTA/FGA37.215835.021534.5211
All Def. eFG%50.222049.515147.157
All Def. TOv%20.614621.713519.9235
All Def. OReb%32.013731.611135.6269
All Def. FTA/FGA35.515540.324833.197
Four Factors -- Big East Only
BE Off. eFG%44.91444.11645.714
BE Off. TOv%22.41522.71620.611
BE Off. OReb%37.3431.81230.814
BE Off. FTA/FGA36.8537.3927.216
BE Def. eFG%53.31552.61549.913
BE Def. TOv%19.7721.0418.511
BE Def. OReb%31.0228.5133.27
BE Def. FTA/FGA34.6939.01031.66
All Gms Cons26.133621.521225.4320
All Gms Luck-.008160-.022197+.03077

Not obvious from the Offensive/Defensive Efficiency tables (above -- Big East games only) is the large gap between the #12 ranked Hoyas (101.4) and the #13 ranked Johnnies (94.3). That -7.1 (points per 100 possessions) forms a chasm between the #1 - #12 ranked teams and those ranked #13 - #16, suggesting there was quite a separation between teams in the upper 3 quartiles and those in the 4th quartile. While the Johnnies have made modest year-over-year improvement in their offensive efficiency, they continue to function well below the conference average, especially eFG% and TOv%. Red Storm players had problems converting possessions into points -- they lose the ball a lot but even when they shoot, chances are less than 50% that it will produce points. Strong ratings in rebounding (the silver lining...they do get relatively more 2nd chance opportunities than their Big East counterparts) and getting to the free throw line (suggests a good part of their offense comes in the paint) are overwhelmed when balanced against shooting and turnovers. Middle of the conference defensive rankings for forcing turnovers (TOv%) and rebounding (OReb%) were undermined by terrible shot defense. Compounding the their shot defense woes, Red Storm players tended to foul as well -- a symptom of "late to the shooter" shot defense? Red Storm opponents may have had relatively fewer 2nd chance scoring opportunities, but since they converted at an effective rate >50%, the value of the Johnnies' defensive rebounding was somewhat diminished.

For the Record...
Big East6120.3335130.278790.438
Post Season?CBI/Rnd 1NoBET/Rnd 1

The Johnnies' Nucleus
Coach Roberts will have another season to work with the colossal class he brought in back in 2007. Though he lost 2 players from 2008, neither was a starter/critical member of the Johnnies 2009 rotation. The question is how much progress will this group of players make during the season, and whether, from among the returning bench/rotation players or the newcomers, he will find the players who can address some of St. John's historical weaknesses.

On Offense
D.J. Kennedy86.2106.
Paris Horne83.7105.821.825.950.84.81.0520.9
Sean Evans68.696.721.921.151.411.71.0444.6
Malik Boothe61.881.817.013.937.62.20.8434.5
Justin Burrell60.490.521.319.945.95.41.0050.6
Q Roberts47.285.317.918.341.34.10.9022.3
Rob Thomas28.9108.823.025.451.116.01.0442.6
Dele Coker22.785.416.414.946.29.10.9926.2

Additional offensive "output" has to come either from the players who dressed last season (or for Mason, the season before), or from new players. Looking at the veterans, improvement/growth from Quincy Roberts will come anyway. Kennedy, Evans, Burrell will have to become more efficient even as they become more prolific. If Coker, Boothe, Burrell and Roberts cut down on turnovers, each would improve his offensive efficiency. The team could use an accomplished point guard. A pretty tall task, not impossible, but difficult.

On Defense

Kennedy, Evans and Coker form a good corps of defensive rebounders, even if there is no dominant defensive rebounder. Coker has a noticibly good block percentage, but is hampered with a 30% turnover rate. He gives away 3 of every 10 possessions he gets.

Significant Additions
Coach Roberts brings in only 4 recruits this season, a departure from past practice when the staff brought in jumbo recruiting classes only to turn out 2 - 4 players the next off season. Hopefully with a bit more discrimination at the front end of the process that practice will stop. The incoming class numbers 2 JUCOs and 2 true freshmen. Between the JUCOs, 6-2 #2 guard Dwight Hardy out of Indian Hills CC in Iowa will most likely get early and often minutes. Hardy hit 3s at a 45.3% clip while playing at Indian Hills, so he will bring some much needed outside shooting to Queens. Although the Johnnies return 93% of their 3FGMs from last season, this was a problem area for their offense. Hardy will help. 6-7 #3 Justin Brownlee joins a crowded wing contengient, and will compete with Evans, Kennedy and Mason for minutes. Between the freshmen, 5-11 point guard Malik Stith might get the early look. Most scouting services did not see much upside to Stith's game, and St. John's aside, most of the DI interest came from mid-majors (Tulsa, George Mason and Winthrop). But observers are nearly unanimous that Stith has an exceptional handle, and is very mobile with the ball in his hands. Turnovers are an area of concern (especially with the Johnnies' pg of record, Malik Boothe), and Stith may be able to address that problem. He will most likely back up Boothe at the point. 6-4 #2 guard Omari Lawrence injured his shoulder severely in the summer of 2008 and having to take time for surgery and rehabilitation, was off the AAU circuit at that (for him and the other members of the Class of 2009) critical time. A heavier (and stronger) Lawrence scraped off the rust for last winter's High School season. Lawrence will have to find his place in an off guard rotation that will include 2009 starter Paris Horne (a junior), JUCO Dwight Hardy and sophomore Quincy Roberts.

Explode If...
1. Coach Roberts finds a healthy and reliable point guard. Malik Boothe was having a rough season when he went out with an injury. Who knows, had he remained healthy he may have worked through the problems by the end season. Roberts, Horne and Edmonson all had their turns and problems. Wing DJ Kennedy functioned as a make shift point forward, leading the team in assists by season's end. Although St. John's is offense-challenged, finding a reliable ball handler who can run the offense and distribute the ball well would allow the staff to overlook a lack of point production.
2. One (or better two or more) of Quincy Roberts, Paris Horne, Dwight Hardy or Omari Lawrence (or Anthony Mason) provides consistent offense from beyond the arc. The Johnnies took 24.2% of their FGAs (Big East games only) from beyond 20-9 last season, possibly the lowest of any team not named Connecticut. There was a reason...they connected on only 30.9% of the 3s they took. A more consistent threat from outside will also make interior scoring easier.
3. The team cuts down (significantly) on their turnovers. While Boothe was the principal culpret, the front court (Burrell, Evans and Coker in particular) had high individual turnover rates. Fewer turnovers translate into more opportunities to shoot.

Implode If...
The team has problems with turnovers and outside shooting. These are weaknesses, not fatal flaws, so St. John's may pick up another win or so relative to the conference even if the current roster fails to address them. The nucleus of this team has gone through the conference wars together two years running -- chemistry should not be an issue now. Short of a catastrophic series of injuries or external disruptions, the team's floor should be no worse than a loss over last season. But these guys should be able to move up this season.

Crucial Run/Bellweather Games
With match-ups against Siena (MAAC champion, NCAA participant) and Temple (A10 champion, NCAA participant) in the Philly Hoop Group Classic, followed by a road trip to Duke and a face-off against Georgia in the Big East-SEC Challenge, Johnnies fans will have a pretty good idea whether this St. John's team will compete in the Big East this season. Going 4-0 through that competition is not realistic (but a real confidence booster should it come to pass), but 3-1 would be a clear indication the Red Storm is ready to move up in the conference. Even a competitive 2-2 would mean progess over last season.

If the Johnnies are to move up, the first 5 conference games pose an excellent opportunity to set out boundaries. After opening on the road at Georgetown, St. John's returns home to host Providence, then on the road again to Connecticut, and a homeward swing for two games -- against Cincinnati and DePaul. The road games might be tough, but the home stands opponents are beatable (Cincinnati also wants to make a statement -- this could be a bellweather game for both programs). 3-2 or even 2-3 would be a promising beginning to the season. Moving up means holding at home while taking a few road games, so the Johnnies' next two road opponents, Pittsburgh and Rutgers, coming at near-mid season present possibly the best chance to determine if the Red Storm is indeed ready to move into the middle of the pack. The February home games, especially those against Seton Hall (2/17), Marquette (2/24) and Pittsburgh (a return date 2/27), are crucial to the Johnnies prospects, as all three will be direct competitors for the mid-conference seeds. Seton Hall, like St. John's, most likely will be nurturing aspirations at a 2nd quartile seed, so stakes hanging on the outcome of the February 17 game may be higher than a single win. The late season road games at South Florida (2/20) and DePaul (3/5) are also winnable, and could well solidify an upward move. If St. John's is looking for 8 - 10 wins, they will most likely have to go 4-2 at worst through their last 6 games.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Preview 2009-10 -- Seton Hall Pirates

Too Busy for the Details?
A veteran center and point guard? Check (ok, the center has tender knees).
A hungry gunner at the off guard? Check.
An aggressive scorer & rebounder at #4? Check
An active and quick #3? Check
Depth at most positions? Check!
For the 1st time since taking the reins at the South Orange school Head Coach Bobby Gonzalez has a team with just about everything he feels he needs to put together a great season. In addition to depth at the guard position (something he has had nearly every season to date), the 4th year coach has a Big East-level front court...with depth too. An injury to any of his starters would be devastating, but the Pirate bench is good enough to cover minutes during a game. Why doesn't every analyst have Seton Hall in the top 4? Most likely because no one is sure how well this collection of players will function as a team. Making the jump from perennial 4th quartile scrapper to 1st quartile power house is very tough, especially in one season. But the Pirates are knocking on the door, having logged back-to-back 17-15 seasons, they are stocked and ready to move up. But how far? Prognosis -- A 3rd quartile finish.

3 Years At a Glance
Coach Gonzalez brings back most of the squad that finished at 17-15 2 seasons running, but more importantly held steady at 7-11 in a much tougher conference last season. And to that veteran squad the coach will add a talent upgrade at two or so positions.


Seton Hall's improvement last season was on the defensive side of the ball. Their dramatic improvement on conference shot defense more than negated their modest slide in defensive rebounding and keeping their opponents off the free throw line.

According to Pomeroy...
Overall ORtg110.551110.263109.380
Overall DRtg98.2116101.015497.6106
Big East ORtg103.110103.31098.410
Big East DRtg107.712109.015106.715
Four Factors -- Overall
All Off. eFG%48.817748.024546.8274
All Off. TOv%17.21816.81216.58
All Off. OReb%31.920933.514031.8228
All Off. FTA/FGA33.424736.716533.2249
All Def. eFG%47.710451.122551.7240
All Def. TOv%20.813521.116023.741
All Def. OReb%40.233837.832536.4296
All Def. FTA/FGA44.330839.322445.4301
Four Factors -- Big East
BE Off. eFG%48.71148.01145.813
BE Off. TOv%16.2317.0316.11
BE Off. OReb%29.51530.81428.215
BE Off. FTA/FGA31.2838.4530.015
BE Def. eFG%48.0451.61453.115
BE Def. TOv%19.9620.2621.23
BE Def. OReb%43.51638.81536.415
BE Def. FTA/FGA43.51641.11345.815
All Gms Cons21.020917.45723.6277
All Gms Luck-.035241+.02783-.108329

Seton Hall's defense has been at or very near the bottom of the Big East 3 years running. The problem is clear (refer to chart above) -- the Pirates do not get enough of the defensive rebounds (the DI average is 32.9; the Big East average is 34.5 -- it's a tough conference for rebounders) and foul too often (the DI average is 36.8; the Big East average is 33.6). Both suggest a scrambling, undersized defense that can get in front of the shooter (the Hall's defensive eFG%, 48.0, is good), but either foul, or if the shot misses, allow the opponent to grab the loose ball (and try again). Physical defense that disrupts without fouling (and get rebounds...) would move the Pirates up in the standings. Converting FGAs more efficiently will definitely power a upward move in the Big East standings. The lack of offfensive rebounding, like their defensive rebounding, suggests an undersized squad that has been unsuccessful at converting misses into second chance opportunities. A bigger and more athletic front line could help quite a bit.

For the Record...
Big East7110.3897110.3894120.250
Post Season?BET/Rnd 1BET/Rnd 1No

As Coach Gonzalaz observed in an interview given over the summer, after a rough sub .500 start (13-16), the Hall climbed to 17-15 and has been "stuck" there for several years. Stalling a 7-11 in Big East play could be the key for SHU. Get to the .500 point in the conference (9-9), and the Pirates could into the Big East Tournament with a chance to get 20 wins.

The Pirate's Nucleus
Coach Bobby Gonzalez brings back all of his significant 2009 team members except Master Thief, 5-11 Paul Gause. The core of the Pirate squad is experienced and pretty good, but they have been too short and too few. This season could be different.

On Offense

On Defense
Jeremy Hazell89.77.85.512.10.12.8
Eugene Harvey83.96.927.521.10.32.5
Robert Mitchell83.716.
John Garcia62.016.56.318.96.10.9
Jordan Theodore55.45.415.924.10.12.4

Garcia and Stix are good, but not great defensive rebounders. Mitchell may be more valuable as a #3, but has been asked to cover power forwards, usually giving them 20 pounds and an inch or two on the inside. The Pirates could benefit with from more rebounding, and it will not, judging from Hazell, Harvey and Theordore, come from the back court. The tallest player on the squad has the lowest block rate. While Garcia, a 5th year senior is scarred from multiple injuries and surgeries, it should nevertheless speak volumes on what is not happening on defense.

Significant Additions
Coach Gonzalez will have two things he has never had in South Orange -- a physical #4 in New Mexico State transfer Herb Pope, and (experienced...) depth, not only for his front court, but his back court as well. In the front court Memphis transfer Jeff Robinson, a well regarded #3/#4 who played HS ball at St. Patrick's in Elizabeth, NJ, red shirt freshman Melvyn Oliver, a 6-11, 340 lb (Coach Gonzalaz believes Oliver may be lighter, after working out in California this summer) back up #5 and true freshman Ferrakohn Hall, a 6-7 #3. The 2009 rotation included 3 walk on players, not a good prospect for winning late in the game. Missouri transfer Keon Lawrence will join senior Eugene Harvey, junior All Big East Third Team Jeremy Hazell and sophomore Jordan Theodore in the Pirate back court.

Explode If...
1. John Garcia can stay healthy and active for his last season. Garcia is a good offensive rebounder, and an above average defensive rebounder. The Hall will need 2 (or preferably more) good rebounders for the defensive boards (Herb Pope fits the bill at both ends of the floor), but Garcia would be starting point.
2. Herb Pope will become more efficient offensively. Pope took a lot of possessions (and shots) for New Mexico. Passable (for a 1st semester freshman) accuracy from inside the arc was sabotaged by abysmal shooting from beyond the arc, and unusually high turnover rate. He needs to become more accurate with his shot and careful with the ball.
3. The back court can work together. Coach Gonzalez has 3 players (2 at the point) who are used to starting and (for 2 of them anyway) carrying the offense. There are enough minutes to distribute. But only one basketball.

Implode If...
1. See #3 above. A lineup of Lawrence, Hazell, Mitchell, Pope and Garcia would have, if each player's last full season is a guide, taken 114% of the possessions and 118.3% of the shots. See the problem? If those 5 start, the percentage of possessions and shots will equal 100%, and that 100% will be distributed somehow among the 5. Will it be the "most efficient" distribution? The "most proficient" scoring distribution?
2. In assembling this squad Coach Gonzalez has decided to rely on JUCOs and DI transfers, ex-pat Northeasterners who left the region for college and have had second thoughts. It is a high-risk, high-reward strategy, because in several cases their clothes and dorm furniture are not the only baggage they bring to Seton Hall. Getting his collection of players to subordinate their individual agendas for the team may be more difficult than he anticipated. That Pope, Lawrence and Robinson have managed to avoid trouble and get to class so far is a good sign.
3. While not the "coach most likely to draw a technical" in the Big East last season, Coach Gonzalez has a volatile personality and has been known to lose his temper, sometimes in public and at occasionally inconvenient times.

Crucial Run/Bellweather Games
An out of conference schedule so light that it leaves Pirate fans grumbling, Seton Hall will play in no invitational tournaments and draw opponents largely out of mid-low major conferences in the Northeast and Middle Atlantic regions. The Hall will play teams out of the American East (1), the A10 (2 -- Temple and UMass), the Big South (1), the MAAC (1), the Ivy (1), the NEC (2), Patriot (1) to go with an independent (NJIT). The marquee game, against Virginia Tech of the ACC, will be played on a neutral court. With post season aspirations, the Hall will practically have run the table in the November to January schedule. Of the opponents, VaTech should be the most challenging, hardly an automatic win.

In the conference look for the Hall to make a statement early. They host West Virginia and Syracuse to open the season. Splitting those games (or taking both...) would show the squad is ready to make a move. Syracuse in particular will be inexperienced, so taking them on the road early would bolster Pirate confidence. Seton Hall faces Virginia Tech in Mexico to ring in the New Year, and stays on the road to take on Connecticut before returning home to face the Cincinnati Bearcats. Cincinnati will also challenge to move into the conference's upper division, so the 1/9/10) face off could well factor into a tie breaker later in the season. Going 3-2 through this stretch (2-2 in conference) would put the Pirates on track for a #8 - #10 place finish (should they hold up through the end of the season). The six games that follow kick off with a quick run down to Washington to face Georgetown (1/14/10), followed by a two game homestand (Louisville 1/21/10; Pitt 1/24/10) and capped by an especially difficult three game road run (USF 1/29/10; Villanova 2/2/10; Pitt 2/6/10). A 3-3 record would confirm the Pirates are ready to move up, as they should sweep their last four home games, and take two of their last four road games.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Preview 2009-10 -- Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Too Busy for the Details?
The Scarlet Knights say goodbye to three frequent senior starters and a promising sophomore, but they bring back prolific shooter Mike Rosario, and two bigs. The question is whether Echenique and N'Diaye will be used as inside scorers or whether they will be rebounders. Mike Rosario proved to be a dangerous scorer his freshman season, but has Coach Hill another scorer or two who can draw some defensive attention? And a floor general who can direct the attack and setup the scorers? Prognosis -- A 4th quartile finish.

3 Years At a Glance
Despite different levels returning minutes, the Scarlet Knights' record, season-over-season, has changed very little (well, it actually declined modestly). The program may have attracted a better level of talent, but that has yet to translate into more wins.


The 2009 Rutgers team returned 86% of their minutes and over 90% of their 2008 scoring, but advanced a single spot in the Big East standings (largely because they stepped aside as DePaul plunged to the sidewalk) even as they lost one more game than 2008. Corey Chandler's late summer dismissal, aside from the loss of additional minutes and experience (about another 10% reduction), will hit hardest in 3 point shooting. Chandler took another 14% off the returning 3FGMs when he packed his bags.

According to Pomeroy...
Overall ORtg96.824195.2283100.0198
Overall DRtg94.96395.474102.0192
Big East ORtg91.81688.41691.615
Big East DRtg106.411105.412106.013
Four Factors --
All Off. eFG%46.327944.732343.4326
All Off. TOv%22.929522.124120.3112
All Off. OReb%34.410931.622534.5139
All Off. FTA/FGA32.128334.622638.6124
All Def. eFG%46.04347.77051.1216
All Def. TOv%17.631918.628919.0276
All Def. OReb%32.616233.822033.6176
All Def. FTA/FGA32.89127.41833.195
Four Factors --
BE Off. eFG%45.01345.21542.116
BE Off. TOv%22.81622.51517.74
BE Off. OReb%33.31228.21632.110
BE Off. FTA/FGA23.31632.21435.29
BE Def. eFG%50.81150.41249.712
BE Def. TOv%17.91117.61316.515
BE Def. OReb%32.8633.2932.65
BE Def. FTA/FGA37.41129.8334.69
All Gms Cons22.626521.722221.4206
All Gms Luck-.083323+.011115+.04158

The greatest challenge for Head Coach Fred Hill over the course of his tenure on the Banks of the Old Raritan, has been to develop an offense that can consistently convert possessions into points. Quincy Douby's exit at the end of Gary Waters Era left the Scarlet Knights with a few prospects, but no proven scorers. While freshman phenom Mike Rosario, an off guard out of St. Anthony's Jersey City, NJ) averaged () 16.2 points per game, the Knights still cannot push their points per possession (ppp) over the 1.0 threshold -- for conference games they managed just about 0.92 ppp. Not good, especially when they yield about 1.06 ppp.

For the Record...
Big East2160.1113150.1673130.188
Post Season?BET/Rnd 1NoNo

The Scarlet Knight's Nucleus
Coach Fred Hill lost three players who started games throughout their four year careers. He will miss point guard Anthony Farmer, a hard worker who struggled his first 2 seasons, but became a steadying influence his last 2. Sophomore Earl Pettis, another rotation player who made progress, transferred to La Salle in May, and junior Corey Chandler a scoring guard who has been looking for a spot on the floor, was dismissed in August. Coach Hill brings in 4 new players, which when combined with his returning players (a nucleus of 5, 3 guards and 2 front court players), he hopes will turn Rutgers around. The squad won't be any deeper than the 2009 Knights, will it be better?

On Offense

Mike Rosario took 1 in 3 of the Scarlet Knights' FGAs when he was on the floor. The Rutgers' offense became too easy to defend -- shut down Rosario (note his ORtg...95.8) and squeeze off the passing lanes to Enchenique (or N'Diaye), thus leaving Chandler (departed over the summer) or Mike Coburn to take the shot. Neither was particularly successful, as Coburn converted at a 41.7% efficiency, and Chandler at an even less efficient 37%. There may come a time when Rosario can be both prolific and efficient, but it would be a lot easier if Rutgers had another (or two other) consistent scoring options. Both Enchenique and N'Diaye performed above the team efficiency, but neither had many scoring opportunities (how of their collective points developed from low post entry passes and how many came from putbacks).

On Defense
Mike Rosario80.97.511.
Gregory Echenique70.720.64.516.88.11.5
Hamady N'Diaye58.019.33.627.38.91.2
Mike Coburn46.18.323.

The lack of offfense was difficult enough to overcome, but the Scarlet Knights saboutaged their themselves time and again with high turnover rates. Note Coburn's 34.0% and N'Diaye's 27.3% turnover rates. It could have been worse; they might have logged as many possessions as Rosario and Enchenique. The Knights can really use a distributing point guard who can hit a shot or two.

Significant Additions
Coach Fred Hill brings in a mixed bag of transfers (1), JUCOs (1) and true freshmen (3). First the transfer -- 6-7, 225lb Jonathan Mitchell, a #3 who transferred in from Florida. Eligible from the start of the 2009-10 season, Mitchell will step into the wing rotation, largely vacated by the departure of Jaron Griffen and Earl Pettis, most likely splitting time with sophomore Patrick Jackson, a 3rd guard or one of the freshman forwards. Next the JUCO -- 6-2, 190 lb James Beatty, a nationally recognized point guard out of Miami-Dade CC, signed on with the Scarlet Knights in July 2009, might be Coach Hill's most important recruit. Brought in to replace departed senior Anthony Farmer, Beatty, a pass-first point guard with a shooting touch, should have the experience to organize and run an offense more sophisticated than "pass the ball to Rosario and watch for the rebound". Finally the true freshmen -- Brian Okam, a 7-0 #5 out of Florida may be the highest rated of the 3. He will play behind N'Diaye. 6-7 #3 Dane Miller out of Rochester, NY and 6-7 #4 Austin Johnson, a Blair Academy (NJ) graduate may find the court in a few of the early games.

Explode If...
1. JUCO James Beatty exceeds expectations for the point guard spot. When Rosario handled the ball on virtually every possession, Rutgers' offense stalled. Assuming Rosario can find space without the ball, Beatty should be able to find him. Not on every possession, but on enough to make him efficient.
2. Echenique and N'Diaye are very good rebounders, but the Scarlet Knights' shooters were not especially accurate. The two big guys need to continue to get rebounds, but they should either convert (Echnenique could improve here, but N'Diaye, at 10.8% of the shots, has to cut down on his turnovers and shoot instead) or find the open shooter for another attempt.
3. There were not enough scorers on the floor last season. Rutgers has to find another scorer or two, either from the returning players (not a good bet), or from the transfers/true freshmen. Dane Miller? Jonathan Mitchell? Bueller? Bueller? Oh, and everyone has to stay healthy.

Implode If...
1. Coach Hill's job status becomes the most talked about element of the Rutgers. Nothing saps morale faster than talk of a change in staff.
2. The bench is thin. Injury or discipline issues can reduce the rotation even further, thus grinding down the starters and other members of the rotation. If the returning players cannot produce a third/fourth scorer, the chances of finding the right player among a very small pool of transfers/JUCOs/true freshmen is far from certain.

Crucial Run/Bellweather Games
The Scarlet Knights host two opponents as a regional site for the Legends Classic before going to Atlantic City to play UMass in one of two semi-final games scheduled for Boardwalk Hall. They will play either Michigan State or Florida in the second game (Championship/Consolation, depending on the outcome of their semi-final game). While the Legends field has been announced (1 team TBA), it is not clear which two of Cornell, Drexel, Georgia Southern, Troy, Toledo, Valparaiso or Vermont they will host. My guess is probably Cornell and Drexel (the two closest oppponents), though Vermont might be an easier game for them than Cornell. [Late note -- Rutgers' regional opponents will be Drexel and Vermont. The Knights will play the Dragons Friday 11/20 and the Catamounts Sunday 11/22, both games at the RAC in Piscataway] A game against Florida might be a useful predictor for Big East play, as the OragneRutgers will travel to Chapel Hill to run their series with UNC to 4 games. The margin of victory in their first three most recent meetings were -39, -22 and -22. I guess anything under -20 will be progress.

The Knights open their Big East schedule by hosting the Bearcats of Cincinnati, a team many expect to move up in the conference this season. If Rutgers is to nurture any hopes of escaping the Big East's bottom quartile, it has to start with a decent homecourt record, and that starts with Cincinnati. The game is not a must win for the Knights, but they need to show progress. Their best home win opportunities come with a young Syracuse squad (1/13/10), a Notre Dame squad that historically doesn't "travel well" (1/30/10), followed immediately by a St. John's squad that returns a lot of minutes, but also struggles to score (2/2/10), and during their final home stand when they host the DePaul Demons (2/27/10) followed by Seton Hall (3/4/10). If the Knights are to finish #12 or higher, they will have to take at least 4 of those games, coupled with at least two from their road games. The best opportunities among the road opponents come early in the season, first at Providence (1/9/10), followed in the next week with a trip to Tampa to play the Bulls (1/16/10). The Knights will travel to Milwaukee to play Marquette at the end of January (1/26/10), followed by a second Midwest swing in February to visit DePaul (2/16/10). The Knights need at least 2 of those games, very difficult for a program that has never traveled well in conference.