Saturday, October 30, 2010

2010-11 Preview -- South Florida Bulls

Too Busy for the Details?
After surging to a 9-9 conference record in 2010, the highest conference win total since joining the Big East in 2006, the Bulls have some rebuilding to do. Coach Stan Heath has to replace an entire back court (typically the strong point of Heath-coached teams). The Bulls bring in a nice mix of 'new' (true freshmen) and 'old' (transfers & JUCOs), but it will take time (more than one season).  Prognosis -- A 4th quartile finish.

3 Years At a Glance
The Bulls' record tracks with returning minutes, suggesting the players under Heath do improve over time. Most of the minutes/points returning come from the front court -- as noted by the (much) higher percentage of returning offensive rebounds than returning three pointers made.


Dominique Jones, currently playing for the Mavericks, took 30% of the Bulls' shots while he was on the floor (and he was on the court a lot, logging over 90% of the off guard minutes in 2010). That is a very large offensive role to replace, especially since a single guard-in-waiting (transfer Anthony Crater) from the 2010 roster returns for 2011. Troubling too given the Bulls' rise in conference standing coincided with a marked improvement in their offense...mostly departed with DoJo (see According to Pomeroy... table below).

According to Pomeroy...
BE Off Eff103.51193.61498.413
BE Def Eff109.212106.310108.614
BE Off eFG%47.21443.51646.614
BE Off FTRate43.2131.2839.24
BE Off TO%18.8918.6819.69
BE Off Reb%36.1T734.5833.87
BE Def eFG%50.41348.8650.110
BE Def Reb%36.11134.51134.612

South Florida's offensive efficiency improved enough in 2010 to lift the Bulls out of the Big East's 4th quartile and into the NIT. The offense looks for points inside the arc (USF scored 57.7% and 24.4% of their points from 2FGAs and FTMs respectively, good for a #33 -- out of 347 -- ranking per Ken Pomeroy) either converting 2FGAs or getting to the free throw line. While offensive rebounding and turnovers have remained constant over the past three seasons, the Bulls converted field goal attempts marginally better in 2010 than 2009, and got to the line more. Defensive rebounding (defense overall actually) continued to be anemic despite the succession of well-regarded low post bigs featured in Bulls' lineups since 2006.

For the Record...
Big East990.5004140.2223150.167
Post Season?NIT Rnd #1BET Rnd #1NA

How far back does South Florida slide? The scoring percentages suggest a 2-3 win season, but I suspect Caoch Heath has other plans. The offense will most likely move closer to the basket and balance a bit better between front court and back court scoring.

The Bulls' Nucleus
Coach Stan Heath's biggest task this season will be developing South Florida's reshaped back court, composed largely of entering freshmen, JUCOs, and with a several returning rotation players (Noriega and Crater) into an effective offensive unit. The new elements have to work with the more experienced front court trio of Gus Gilchrist, Jared Famous and Toarlyn Fitzpatrick. Several will have to take up the offensive role assigned to DoJo, there is a plethora of guards (seven in all, in the range of 5-11 to 6-6) to choose from, mostly two or so will collectively cover the points provided by Jones.

On Offense
Jarrid Famous71.4102.020.819.452.712.21.1150.6
Toarlyn Fitzpatrick54.885.515.113.841.09.40.8843.6
Augustus Gilchrist38.1104.825.324.652.49.31.1654.5
Anthony Crater33.880.911.511.338.11.60.7925.4

Gilchrist and Dominique Jones were a significant "inside/less inside" threat last season. DoJo maybe gone, but Gilchrist is back. If he can stay healthy, he should have a large and positive impact on the offense, as the #1 or #2 option. The task for Coach Heath is to develop an outside threat and most probably at least one more consistent offensive option. Fitzpatrick had a typical freshman season. He should improve with experience. With offensive rebounding rates in the range of 9.3 to 12.2, all three of the front court players are keepers. Coach Heath should be able to find time for each.

On Defense
Jarrid Famous71.416.93.820.42.21.0
Toarlyn Fitzpatrick54.814.
Augustus Gilchrist38.
Anthony Crater33.86.713.324.90.52.6

Note the turnover rates for Famouns, Fitzpatrick and Gilchrist -- all were in the range of 20% or more. Cut down on the turnovers alone and each would increase by 5% - 7% on offensive efficiency. Anthony Crater, the Ohio State transfer who accounted for 33.8% of the playing time in a backcourt position last season, will most likely start at pg, though like Famous, Fitzpatrick and Gilchrist, he will have to limit his turnovers to be effective. Other returnees include sophomore deep bench guards Shaun Noriega who logged 68 minutes in 20 games last season and Mike Burwell who logged 92 minutes in 19 games.

Significant Additions
Coach Heath brings in a mix of true freshmen (2), transfers (1) and JUCOs (3); five of the six are guards. Among the freshmen, the coach's own son, 5-11 Jordan Heath, a point guard out of Tampa Prep is a walk-on. The other is 6-0, 200 pound LaVonte Dority of Edwin G. Foreman, Chicago. The last three guards, all JUCOs include 6-0 185 pound Shadrick Haynes, out of Lackawanna College, 6-5 195 pound Hugh Robertson, from Tallahassee CC and (possibly the most intriguing...) Jawanza Poland, a 6-4, 195 off guard who sat last season for Hutchinson CC after transferring in from Cowley College in Wichita, Kansas. Poland has not played organized (collegiate) ball in over 18 monthes. Count him very ready to get things going. Ron Anderson, a 6-8 255 pound bfc transferred in from Kansas State in 2009, has sat his year per the NCAA rules, and will be available at the beginning of this season. Anderson has two years of eligibility remaining.

Explode If...
1. Gilchrist can have a breakout season, but the Bulls will need more to match (or come close to) last season's nine conference wins. Someone from the back court or wing (Haynes? Poland?) will have to combine with a consistent third scoring option if opposing defenses are to be kept off balance. The third option won't have to be the same player each game, but between Famous, Crater, Robertson and Anderson, some combination will most likely have to contribute nine-tem points each game.
2. Find a perimeter game from among the new players. South Florida converted three point attempts at an attrocious 28.3% rate (all play) last season, ranking them #338 out of 347 in Division 1. Gilchrist and Famous should be able to keep defenses honest, but someone has to convert long-range attemtps consistently.
3. Rebounding is an area where significant improvement will translate immediately into more efficient defense. Despite having length and low post mass, the Bulls consistently ranked in the bottom third of the conference for defensive rebounding.

Implode If...
1. The players do not mesh. The back court, JUCOs and true freshmen, were assembled in the monthes after last April. Poland, Haynes, Robertson and Crater have had only fall practice together as a full squad. At the very least the out of conference should be interesting.
2. Off court distractions seem to be an annual recurring theme with the program. While most seem to be silly scrapes resulting from not thinking things through, player-on-player incidents, the type that can destroy team cohesion, have also happened.

Crucial Run/Bellweather Games
The out of conference (OOC) schedule is light on above "The Red Line" opponents, counting a maybe Texas Tech (South Padre Island Invitational, possible second round opponent...) have two. Auburn, visiting Tampa (a home-away agreement perhaps?) is heavy with newcomers, including their coach, and projected by many to finish at the bottom of the SEC Western Division, will probably not help the Bulls' RPI. There are however, a number of below The Red Line opponents who can nick up South Florida's record going into conference play. Chief culprits -- Brigham Young (Mountain West Conference) and Southern Mississippi (Conference USA), both of whom are expected to make the NCAAs in 2011. The Golden Eagles will open the Bulls' season at the Sun Dome, while the Cougars are the Bulls' first round opponent at South Padre Island. A second tier of below-the-Red-Liners includes Colonial Athletic Association members Virginia Commonwealth and James Madison, considered the class of the CAA, traditional rival Central Florida (CUSA, and with a new coach) and possibly West Coast Conference member St. Mary's. The Gaels will most likely not dance in the 2011 post season, but Coach Randy Bennett brings back three starters from the team that ran to the Sweet Sixteen. Sporting a record of 10-3 or better going into their conference opener (a road game against Seton Hall) would be bode well for Bull prospects, but not realistic.

Breaking down the Bulls' 9-9 2010 record, the key was holding serve (6-3) at home, while taking a few road games. Matching that win total may be a stretch without Jones, but if Coach Heath can coax five wins out of the conference schedule, South Florida can escape the fourth quartile for the second consecutive season. Drawing DePaul, Providence and Pittsburgh was definitely a mixed blessing. The Panthers will dominate while the Friars will struggle, so the mirror break will come with DePaul. The Demons will be sitting ducks on the road, but Oliver Purnell should have them playing better at home. Drawing that game late in the season may help USF, especially if they are within striking distance of five (or better wins). The five game stretch from the middle of January to early February should be a good predictor for the season, as that draw contains four winnable games: Providence at home (1/16), Rutgers (1/20, road), a trip to Morgantown (1/23, an improbable win), DePaul (1/27, at home) and closing out at Providence (2/2). If they can win four out of that run the chances of having five wins going into the BET are very good.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Guest Contributor: Ray Floriani -- MAAC Media Day

by Ray Floriani
NEW YORK CITY, NY -- On the media day circuit the MAAC held it event at BB King’s in midtown Manhattan. King’s ‘70 hit ‘The thrill is gone’ is a personal favorite and looking over some of the memorabilia of the noted artist was an added extra.

The MAAC rocked the house
at BB King's

On the basketball side, the media day once again gave an opportunity to take an informal survey of MAAC coaches utilizing tempo free statistics today.

Did not get a chance to speak with every MAAC mentor regarding tempo free but the ones inquired, had some opinions of note.

Ed Cooley, coach of pre-season favorite Fairfield noted, "I’m not really big on statistics except the final score. I’m old school, we have two teams the one with the most points is the winner." On further discussion Golden did admit his staff keeps very close attention to, charting and breaking down stops during a game. It was pointed out the discussion with Xavier’s Chris Mack over stops. With Mack, three straight stops are a 'kill' and seven kills in a game almost guarantee a win. "I’ll go along with that idea," Golden said. "To us during a game stops are vital and is a major statistic we want to keep track of."

Coach Ed Cooley of conference favorite Fairfield
discussing his club's outlook

Tom Parrotta of Canisius did not give much thought in the past to tempo free but may take a look at the numbers thanks to a certain software 'package'. "when I was recruiting at a tournament in Las Vegas a representative of Synergy showed me his product," Parrotta said. "I said 'show me Canisius’ out of bounds plays.' He put in some data and remarkably the sets we used on out of bounds series came up. I was sold."

According to Parrotta Synergy represents a great tool to utilize in scouting. "It shows everything," he said. "It breaks down everything by numbers so if one wants to use tempo free stats Synergy will have the entire breakdown." For Parrotta, his new found coaching aide will supply vital information on opponents and his own club just as well.

Tim Cluess of Ions is not only new to his school and the conference, he's the D I 'rookie' as well. From high school through Division II Cluess has been very successful on the sidelines. He takes a very enthusiastic approach to his current position at Iona. Tempo free statistics is something he is very interested in but until now unable to further investigate. "I would have liked to really get into those type of (tempo free) concepts in the past," Cluess admitted. "On the Division II level you are limited in staff and personnel. Here at Iona we have a full compliment so statistical breakdowns are something I will get into more."

Certain to play a major role for Cluess in stats breakdown area is Zak Boisvert. Zak realized playing college ball was out so he decided to work towards becoming a college coach. The last three years as student manager at Fordham Boisvert immersed himself in the game. Watching games when Fordham wasn’t playing, he would diagram plays, write them up on Fastdraw and submit them to the mens basketball hoop scoop site. His work on that site drew rave reviews from monitor Scott Peterman, a former college coach. Boisvert’s passion and love of the game no doubt landed him in New Rochelle. Beside film exchange, film edits, putting out a coaches' newsletter and related tasks, Boisvert promises to get involved more in tempo free studies. He’s read Dean Oliver’s Basketball on Paper, which is as good a start as any.

On the women’s side, got to speak with Megan Gebbia a Marist associate coach and integral part of the program’s outstanding success. Marist has been the MAAC’s flagship program on the women’s side for several year now.

Megan noted that Brian Giorgis and his Marist women’s staff do not utilize tempo free stats per se but it is a concept that interests them. Discussing some of the four factors she was intrigued, especially regarding turnover percentage. "I would like to know our (TO pct)," she said. "That is something we need to improve on."

To get into the analytical groove the following can serve as a 'shoot around'. A Four Factor breakdown of Marist women in 2009-10.

Pace : 67 possessions per game
Offensive points per possession:1.00
Defensive points per possession:0.86

The Four Factors for the Lady Red Foxes:


[Note -- Defense is opponents' offensive efficiency]

A little surprised Marist’s offensive efficiency (points per possession * 100) was 100. But all games in a 26-8 season were factored. The MAAC is a respectable conference and out of the league Giorgis opts for good competition. Megan was right on the money regarding turnovers as frequently noted 20% or more is too high. Defensively Marist did the job. The opponents points per possession was only .86, but the turnover rate of 23% and effective field goal percentage , a paltry 40%, shows Marist not only forced miscues but dictated the shots the opposition was getting. And not particularly successful in converting.

Coaches are copy cats. If someone won a national championship and in post game interviews attributed it to tempo free statistical research and studies, every D I staff in America would follow suit. By the next morning. Many schools do not utilize this tool fully. But they aware of the existence. That’s a good start.

MAAC pre-season player of the year
Ryan Rossiter of Siena poses with a Special Olympian
and guest of the MAAC

2010-11 Preview -- Seton Hall Pirates

Too Busy for the Details?
Bobby Gonzalez's "high risk, high reward" experiment has been extended (more or less) for another year...minus the chief architect. The new head coach had a scare in his first month as one of his best players, Herb Pope, collapsed after a workout and spent more than a month in the hospital. The silver lining is that Pope seems to have recovered and that incident may have played a small role in bringing the other two NBA Draft defectors (Jeremy Hazell and Jeff Robinson) back into the fold. That reconciliation means the new head coach takes over a program stocked with veteran talent (however temperamental) at nearly every position. Is talent with little discipline enough to win in this conference? If Willard can get this team to work together...the prognosis that follows is too low.  Prognosis -- A 3rd quartile finish.

3 Years At a Glance

Herb Pope will return and contribute this season. The junior #4 had declared for the NBA draft (along with teammates Jeff Robinson and Jeremy Hazell) but collapsed during an on campus workout. A hospital stay convinced the transfer that another season might re-establish his value for the draft. In a stroke of luck for coach Kevin Willard, Pope, Hazell and Robinson all decided to return to the South Orange school and try to improve on their 2010 record. If these guys had a high Pythagorean Winning Percentage (PWP) out of last season, the signs would all point toward a much better outcome this season. Of course if they had that PWP, Bobby Gonzalez would probably still be coach.

According to Pomeroy...
BE Eff.Diff-1.810-4.711-5.711
be Off Eff106.010103.110103.310
BE Def Eff107.811107.712109.012
BE OReb%33.21229.51530.814
BE DReb%36.21243.51638.815

One of the more interesting paradoxes of the Pirates under Coach Gonzalez is the lack of progress on offense, despite having one of the best shooters in the conference. The "Future is Now" strategy of 2010 produced a modest uptick on defense. Just enough to get the Hall to the 0.500 plateau in conference play and an NIT bid. Coach Willard has an experienced squad, and if he can get this group to rebound defensively (both boards actually), then the Hall may cross that line that separates the upper and lower halves of the conference.

For the Record...
Big East990.5007110.3897110.389
Post Season?NIT Rnd #1BET Rnd #2BET Rnd #1

The staff upgraded the schedule last season to include A-10 champion (and NCAA #5 seed) Temple along with ACC middle weight Virginia Tech. The Hall still improved their record. A few more schedule upgrades are offered this season (see below). If SHU can step up their record yet again, another post season tournament should come to them.

The Pirates' Nucleus
Coach Willard steps into an ideal situation. He has talent and experience at nearly every position. These Pirates reached the 0.500 mark in conference play last season, so they know they can win in the Big East. Can the staff set the goals and keep them focused?

On Offense
Jeremy Hazell78.0116.026.531.651.73.61.1029.4
Herb Pope73.899.
Jordan Theodore64.5109.519.117.747.53.01.0437.8
Jeff Robinson50.1118.819.120.954.39.21.1435.0
Keon Lawrence35.985.016.216.830.34.10.6916.5
Jamel Jackson25.6114.018.724.553.42.11.0811.4
Ferrakohn Hall23.5114.710.810.359.85.31.1743.1

Keon Lawrence struggled last season, but having a run-in with the law just before the first game of the season and getting suspended (for nearly two months) just days before playing the first "real" game in almost a year can do that. Lawrence seemed a step behind or a second slow all spring. Jeff Robinson, eligible as of last January on the other hand, is poised for a very strong season. He finished as a high-end "Role Player" (see Ken Pomeroy for more details on this classification system). The ceiling for Robinson is somewhere near the border of "Major Player". The question is where the additional possessions will come from (hello Jeremy Hazell). Robinson, Lawrence and bfc Herb Pope were all part of the "High Risk; High Reward" strategy Coach Gonzalez persued as he recruited these transfers to jumpstart the Seton Hall program. Lawrence (a high-volume scorer for his two seasons at Missouri) has brought little since his re-instatement, Pope was generally positive (if you overlook his NIT game versus Texas Tech and the most recent rumor that he signed a pro contract to play in Turkey proved false), while Robinson has a very productive conference season (his eligibility began at the end of the fall 2009 semester). Senior Jeremy Hazell has led the team in scoring virtually since his freshman season. An All-Rookie Teamer, promoted to the All-Conference Second Team last season (his junior year) and named to the preseason All-Conference First Team, the senior can help this team tremendously if he includes his teammates in the offense. His shooting numbers, a 51% eFG%, an offensive rating of 116.0 when taking over 3 in 10 shots when he is logging time is impressive -- until you consider the team's overall offensive rating is only 111.5. Hazell ended 1 in 4 team possesions, but had an assist rate of less than 10%. His numbers on defense (a defensive rebounding rate of 7.8 is low, even for a guard/wing).

On Defense
Jeremy Hazell78.
Herb Pope73.823.711.617.95.71.4
Jordan Theodore64.56.422.416.20.93.2
Jeff Robinson50.
Keon Lawrence35.910.116.716.82.81.5
Jamel Jackson25.
Ferrakohn Hall23.512.43.713.52.11.8

On the defensive side, Jamel Jackson and Ferrakohn Hall are back, and while both had strong offensive numbers that no doubt reflected the "All Eyes on Hazell" offense, they will need to step up their defense (specifically rebounding). The senior has scored 1,789 points over his first three seasons, and is on track to be the third Pirate (first since Terry Dehere in 1993) to score 2,000 points in his collegiate career. If Hazell maintains last season's pace, expect him to get there before Christmas (NJIT? Dayton?). Junior Jordan Theodore has played behind graduated point guard Eugene Harvey for two seasons. While the junior does not have to be a scorer (between Pope, Hazell and Robinson there will be enough on the floor already), he does have to do a better job converting three point attempts. His 2009-10 numbers (27-74, 0.365) suggest he could be even more effective from the perimeter (passing into the low post, or scraping a defender on a high pick) if he can make the step back shot something for a defender to think about. Lawrence will most likely be his backup.

Significant Additions
Fifth year senior transfer (from Mississippi) Enil Polynice logged over 800 minutes for the Rebels in 2009-10, but was another volume shooter/scorer whose efficiency ratings (93.4 per Ken Pomeroy's Team Report) suggest that as a scorer he would be of little benefit to the Pirates. His assist rate (28.0) and playing time (as a percentage of the minutes at his position) give him a profile similar to the departed Harvey (though at 6-5 and 220 pounds, Polynice would fit better on the wing), and he may fill a role similar to Harvey's in the Hall offense. Of the four true freshmen joining the squad, 6-6 205 pound forward Fuquan Edwin out of Paterson Catholic (possibly the last class from that school), NJ, is the best regarded. Ranked by Scout, Inc. as #26 among #3s nationally, Edwin will compete with Jackson and Hall for time on the wing (if Robinson and Pope "slide up" a position), and may provide some needed rebounding. 6-9, 225 pound power forward Patrik Auda, one of two Pirate pickups from the Canarias Basketball Academy (Canary Islands, Spain), will probably see minutes this season as he brings accurate shooting out to the three point line to the table. The lefty is skilled but not athletic, so he may see spot duty next to (rather than in place of...) Pope. Aaron Geramipoor, a 6-11, 225 pound pf is a very long but light project. A year in the weight room and practicing his jumper, when combined with his great length (7-4 wing span...), will give SHU a good rebounder with scoring possibilities. 6-8 Anali Okoloji, a 210 pound prep student from Brooklyn, NY by way of the Impact Basketball Academy is a power forward with a handle. If he can rebound, he will probably see more time next season, playing one spot up from Edwin (at the #4) or one spot down from Hall (at the #3).

Explode If...
1. Coach Willard can persuade Jeremy Hazell to play defense. Good defense. Lacking consistent defense, Pirate games often went to the team that could score more consistently in the last 10 minutes. Keying on Hazell and defending his shot during that period was too easy for too many teams.
2. Jeff Robinson and Jordan Theodore hit the high-end of the efficiency usage band. Both convert possessions into points effectively, but right now they are high-end "Role Player" guys (possession/shot rate around 19%). They need to be high-end "Significant Contributor" guys (possession/shot rate around 24%) Hazell naturally draws defensive attention. Those guys have to get the ball and score enough to give those defenses someone else to think about.
3. Become an average, or just above average rebounding team. Moving up two positions in rebounding within the conference was a large reason for the Pirates' four game swing in conference play. They tend to shoot efficiently and value the ball, but they get relatively fewer second chance opportunities while surrendering relatively more rebounds to their opponents. Pope was a factor last season, someone among Robinson, Hall, Jackson, Edwin or Auda needs to step up and complement Pope.
Implode If...
In the face of enormous and numerous distractions in 2009-10 Seton Hall still managed to win 19 games total with nine coming in conference play. Only after a tumultuous week that included bad press going into the BET, the exceptionally poor handling of Stix Mitchell's press melt down and the (criminal) aftermath did the squad "crack" in the Texas Tech game. How could this season be more distracting and disheartening? Hopefully Coach Willard will not try to install a new offense and defense (ok, maybe not an entirely new offense), but will concentrate on improving what the players do well and developing schemes that amplify their strengths.

Crucial Run/Bellweather Games
The Hall faces an challenging out of conference schedule that starts with a road trip to Philadelphia to close out a home-away agreement with Temple (a consensus Top 20 team). Tilts with Alabama (followed by Iowa or Xavier) at the Paradise Jam, Big East/SEC Challenge opponent Arkansas (at Louisville), Dayton and Richmond, both of whom with contend for the A-10 title and should be in line for NCAA bids translates into the kind of slate SHU will have to play to draw some national attention. 11 or 12 wins going into conference play would be great -- but unrealistic. The numbers to follow will be defense and rebounding, if they show improvement, nine or ten wins is realistic and should give the Pirate faithful hopes for the conference season.

Reviewing SHU's mirror opponents -- Marquette Rutgers and Syracuse -- the Pirates can draw consolation (or confidence) from the knowledge that they should sweep Rutgers and have a solid chance to do no worse than split with Marquette and Syracuse, giving giving them a 4-2 leg up on the rest of their slate. Should they sweep Marquette, a tall order given those two games are backloaded on the schedule, the Pirates will most likely cross over to the upper division. Last season they recorded a 9-9 conference record by dominating at home, 6-3, while putting up an opposite, 3-6 away record. To at least match the nine win result this season, the Pirates would need two wins from an unusually tough road slate -- Cincinnati, DePaul, Louisville, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and West Virginia. Cincinnati, Louisville and DePaul are among the first five games they play, so they will have to start their season quickly. A 3-2 conference record going into Pittsburgh on January 15 would track with where the Pirates should be for a 9-9 season. Better than that (4-1?) would be a strong statement for Pirate prospects, as they should expect to collect another two or so wins (Rutgers? Providence?) through the end of January. A record of 2-3 or worse through the first five conference games would spell trouble, or at least that SHU would have to surprise a few folks at the backend of the schedule. The first two weeks of February present the Hall with a crucial four game run, starting with a road trip to Morgantown to face the Mountaineers on the 2/2. They return to the Rock to host UConn, then run down the Jersey Pike to play Rutgers and then home again to host Villanova (on 2/15). A 2-2 record is indicated by the ratings, a 3-1 record could scramble the rankings through the second quartile (especially if Coach Willard's crew sports a 6-4 record going into February...) and put the Hall in the conversation for an NCAA bid. If the Hall is hot, the last four games (two home and two away) would be for BET (and NCAA?) seed.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Guest Contributor: Ray Floriani -- Big East & A-10 Media Days

by Ray Floriani

New York City, NY -On Wednesday of last week the Big East held its media day at Madison Square Garden. The following day the Atlantic Ten hosted their event at the CBS College Sports studios at Chelsea Piers, about fifteen blocks south of MSG.

The dawn of a new season with the Big East media day at MSG

As a rule the media days are an opportunity to touch base with media colleagues and discuss the upcoming campaign with coaches who are in a much more relaxed state of mind, as opposed to handling a second straight loss with a road game looming in mid-January. On the flip side however is the fact that a lot of your quotes are of the generic brand. Such as "we will be ready to play every night...our seniors must step up...nothing is easy in this (fill in league name) conference..."

At both events I tried to get beyond that and discuss coaching concepts, such as preparing to play on the road, pre-season conditioning etc. Also took the opportunity to discuss tempo free statistics and study with Buzz Williams of Marquette and Chris Mack of Xavier.

Williams has been on the job as head coach of Marquette for two seasons. Already his penchant for organization and teaching the game are becoming widespread. We discussed the idea of game pace and the four factors. As he asked me to name and discuss them he wrote down the formulas in a notebook, in incredibly and painstakingly neat penmanship. We discussed turnover rate for awhile. The threshold, according to tempo free is 20%. At or above that figure for possessions ending in turnovers spells a below par offense. "An offense ending one fifth of their possessions throwing the ball away is awful...", Williams added. "At Marquette we pride ourselves on minimizing turnovers." A look at statistics in Big East games the last two years shows Williams is on the money.


The Marquette mentor also said effective field goal percentage is a revealing stat. Simply, you are credited more for hitting a three point field goal attempt than a two point attempt. "Shooting well from three point range was definitely a strength for us last year", Williams admitted. Again, a breakdown of the Marquette field goal shooting for 2010 bears this out.

Two Point Shooting42.3%
Three Point Shooting39.3%
effective Field Goal (eFG%)50.7%

Analytical, organized but not without a sense of humor. One writer asked how practice was going Williams replied, "on Friday I would have bought my team. By Saturday sold them. Monday the market was closed."

Chelsea Piers, site of the A-10 media day,
was in fact a pier along the Hudson

Thursday at the A-10 media day...
...the opportunity to discuss tempo free concepts with Chris Mack was a major objective. Last March at the conference quarterfinals in Atlantic City, we sat behind the Xavier bench as they battled Dayton. Each time out an assistant asked a question of two graduate assistants seated behind us. Turns out they were charting possessions and that information was utilized with the game in progress.

"We are definitely tuned into Kenpom (Ken Pomeroy) with what we do," Mack admitted. "We look and study his possession numbers and ranking on a weekly basis. We are very interested in seeing the numbers our opponents are putting up."

Mack knows the possession based formulas. During the game the staff will record possessions longhand to assure 100%, as opposed to 98% accuracy. "We will use the numbers in time outs," he said. "We definitely use them at the half to point things out and of course post game."

Mack is interested in pace of the game as well as offensive and defensive efficiency. He studies the four factors closely. "We look at our numbers and if we are deficient in an area as rebounding then we will look at the tape to see just why."

Mack also told of an interesting metric he terms a 'kill'. "Stops on the defensive end are very important to us," Mack said. "If we get three consecutive stops that is a kill. If we get seven kills in a game we are almost certain we will win."

The legions of tempo free followers are growing. Significantly, they are now entering college coaching staffs.

St.Bonaventure's Mark Schmidt (l)
and John Giannini of LaSalle (r)
share a lighter moment at the media day luncheon

A Villanova Aside...
...working on an informal survey of toughest places to play on the Big East road, I spoke with Jay Wright and Corey Fisher. Wright felt West Virginia, Syracuse and Pitt were the three toughest, "but for different reasons." Discussing further Wright noted it’s no coincidence all three locales have home teams with talented players. "Ultimately," he said, "players not buildings win games."

Villanova coach Jay Wright meets the media

On hearing the question Fisher smiled answering "Can I say Villanova?" Fisher went on to cast his 'vote' with Syracuse. "The crowd is huge and seems right on you," he said, "plus the arena is configured in a different way."

Thursday, October 21, 2010

2010-11 Preview -- Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Too Busy for the Details?
Year 20 of Rutgers rebuilding program begins with a new coach, the fourth of the rebuilding program. 20 years!? Yes, the Scarlet Knights, having won the Atlantic 10 Conference regular season advanced to the NCAA Tournament under (then coach) Bob Wenzel in 1991 with an at-large bid. New coach Mike Rice assumed control of a program whose fans were discouraged with a programs whose wins did not match the squads talent and roster was depleted by graduation and outbound transfers. If the effort he put into the first five months is any indication, Rice may well defy the trend and point the program in the right direction. In the 2011-12 season.   Prognosis -- An energetic 4th quartile finish.

3 Years At a Glance

The returning numbers should be up across the board. Hamady N'diaye was the only graduating significant contributor, and the source of the large drop in rebounding. The attrition came through outbound transfers, a trend the new staff will hopefully be able to reverse.

According to Pomeroy...
BE Off Eff90.71591.81688.416
BE Def Eff113.715106.011105.412
BE Eff Diff-16.716-14.615-17.016
BE Off eFG%47.61245.01345.215
BE Off TOv%21.41522.81622.515
BE Off Reb%34.31033.31228.216
BE Off FTR%29.21523.31632.214

Running a multi-year double digit negative efficiency differential has to be put on the staff. A single season might be explained by a talent gap, but when the squad has All-Conference talent and the trend line barely moves, the staff is offering little by way of player development. Or the players are not listening. If his stint at Robert Morris is any indication Rutgers fans should see a more aggressive defense that forces turnovers and contests the defensive boards.

For the Record...
Big East5130.2782160.1113150.167
Post Season?BET Rnd #1BET Rnd #1NA

The Scarlet Knights' Nucleus
The cupboard may not have been picked bare, but the last season of the Fred Hill Era was another net minus for returning minutes, points and returnees in general. Coach Mike Rice will have an experienced (though maybe not quite All-Big East quality talent) back court, but he will to search for minutes, points and rebounds among his assembled front court. Recruiting/incoming players (see below) will have to help. Right now.

On Offense
Jonathan Mitchell82.1104.018.323.448.14.71.0213.5
Dane Miller68.590.323.521.
James Beatty63.7104.013.712.
Mike Coburn53.292.522.
Austin Johnson27.5101.414.710.551.98.21.1488.5

Some might wonder if Rutgers teams of the past had Big East-level players. That did not seem to be the problem in the last three seasons, as the staff signed and delivered all-state players in both the 2009 and 2010 season. Unfortunately a few transferred out before exhausting their eligibility. With Mike Rosario off to GatorLand, Patrick Jackson gone to Kent State and Hamady N'diaye graduated, sophomore forward Dane Miller and senior forward Jon Mitchell are the two most active returning offensive options. Transfer pg James Beatty was relatively efficient (see his 104.0 offensive rating), but nearly invisible in the offense (note his 13.7% possession and 12.1% shot rates), despite loggin about 60% of the minutes with the squad. He will probably see a jump just because Rosario is gone, but will have to be more assertive this season, if the Scarlet Knights are to see production from their backcourt spots. Look for Mike Coburn a 6-0 185 pound senior who appeared in all 32 games last season (starting in 15) to continue to log regular minutes in the rotation.

On Defense
Jonathan Mitchell82.
Dane Miller68.513.619.
James Beatty63.76.426.827.90.23.0
Mike Coburn53.25.831.426.60.11.9
Austin Johnson27.511.99.324.51.81.0

6-8 sophomore Austin Johnson was squarely in the rotation behind (at first) Greg Enchenique (since transferred to Creighton) and Hamady N'Diaye (graduated), appearing in 32 games for an average of 11.0 per game. While he showed an ability to be efficient (freshmen can have offensive ratings in the high 80s and still show promise their sophomore season), logging a 101.4, note that Johnson, like Beatty, was not the first or second (or third or fourth) option on offense when he was on the court. N'Diaye and Enchenique are gone, if the Knights are to show any low post offense Johnson will have to provide it.

Significant Additions
Coach Rice unpacked his bags, picked his staff and hit the recruiting trail. He has replenished the roster with six players (five new, one a returnee) for the 2010-11 season. Impressive to be sure, but next season's incoming group will be even better. 6-8, 230 pound Gilvydas Biruta is probably the best-regarded among the true freshmen. Biruta signed with Coach Hill, but Rice worked hard to sell Biruta on Rutgers a second time. Ranked #35 nationally among pfs, Biruta has a Big East body, a Euro-style shooter's touch from the outside, but also the ability to close and finish in the low post. Rice will definitely find something for him to do on the court. He should be a strong paint companion to Johnson. Biruta played for Dan Hurley's Grey Bees at St. Benedict's Prep in Newark, NJ. Fellow Grey Bee Mike Poole, a 6-6 195 pound sf joined Biruta in New Brunswick, and should see regular minutes on the wing for the Scarlet Knights this season. Coach Rice added an additional wing when post graduate Robert Lumpkin, a well-traveled 6-7 215 pound wing out of Washington DC who played two seasons for New Mexico State after transferring in from Kilgore College in Texas. Lumpkin will add experience to the wing positions. Coach Rice also gathered two guards, 6-3 185 true freshman Austin Carroll, a Brewster Academy graduate who will provide some perimeter shooting and another journeyman, 6-1 190 pound junior transfer Tyree Graham who left Texas Tech at the end of the fall semester of his freshman year. Graham surfaced at Brunswick Community College in North Carolina where he played the 2009-10 season for Coach Walter Shaw. Carroll is described by scouting services as a good complementary player, Carroll will probably see minutes in the back court rotation. Graham, described as competitive, will contribute points and assists next season, pending complete rehabilitation of his torn ACL. The returnee is Charlie Rigoglioso, a fourth year junior who transferred (out) to Moravian College after his freshman season (2007-08), and after one season at the small Pennsylvania college, back (in) to Rutgers where he sat (per NCAA rules) for the 2009-10 season. Rugoglioso is a walk-on who will provide depth in the backcourt and some game experience in practice.

Explode If...
Explode is a relative term. A good season for Rutgers would be to avoid the conference cellar and take a game or two they weren't supposed to win. Winning more than 12 games would be a good beginning for Coach Rice, but somewhere near or just outside the 95% confidence interval given the state of the program and squad.
1. Absolutely everything comes together for Mike Coburn and James Beatty...and Dane Miller proves to be the kind of impact player who can put the team on his back and win night in and night out. And Biruta makes Rice look like a genius for spotting talent.

Implode If...
1. Mid-major coaches tend to neglect conditioning when they move up to BCS coaching jobs. Older coaches like George Blaney never quite understood why their teams broke down (literally) in February (Blaney figured it out when he joined Coach Calhoun's staff at UConn, but he missed it completely when he headed the Seton Hall program). The younger guys have an understanding that some conditioning is required, but they usually underestimate the extent and commitment until their practices and routines begin to wear down their squad. Watch the headlines and notices through February, if members of the Scarlet rotation start showing up with nicks and dings, know the squad will be dog-tired by March. The schedule maker left a couple of "treats" at the end of Rutgers' regular season, but if the squad is spent, Rutgers may drop those otherwise winnable games.
2. This is Coach Rice's first BCS season, and no one really knows how he will handle the pressure. If the Scarlet Knights go into an extended slump (losing say, eight or ten games at a pop), the coach will struggle to keep the players focused and in the game.

Crucial Run/Bellweather Games
Though he coaches in a power conference, old habits are hard to break. Coach Rice has his Scarlet Knights on the road for six of Rutgers 12 out of conference games. Robert Morris may have had to live out of a suitcase in November and December, but Rutgers does not. Most of the travel is actually reasonable given the commitments, whether it is a good method to prepare for the Big East season is a debate for another day. The Knights will return a date with traditional New Jersey rival Princeton to open the season, take three games at home (one against Miami of the ACC), then travel down the Jersey Pike to the Palestra to play Saint Joseph's in the Philly Hoop Group Classic Championship round. Back to the RAC for two more games, then out to Pittsburgh for the Big East-SEC Invitational match with Auburn. Another home date with Green Knights of FDU, and back on the road to Monmouth to play in the Hawks' new arena. Back to the RAC to host St. Peter's, then off to Madison Square Garden to close out their three game contract with North Carolina. 9-3 would be a reasonable record going into their Big East schedule, though an upset one way or another could yield eight or ten wins.

The road theme continues into conference play as Rutgers opens on the road with one of their mirror opponents, Villanova. While January holds a few challenges (the opener at Villanova, Marquette and Georgetown at home), February could be make or break month. Beginning on January 29, and over the course of the next 30 days the Scarlet Knights host Pittsburgh, Villanova, Seton Hall, Louisville and West Virginia, interspersed with road trips to St. John's, Notre Dame, and Syracuse. As Hoops Heaven's Jerry Carino noted, Rutgers could easily go 0-8 in February. Granted they close out March with (winnable?) road games at DePaul and Providence, but by that time the squad may be mentally and physically, beaten to a pulp. If Rutgers is to avoid the last seed in the Big East Tournament, Coach Rice will have to find at least three, possibly four wins. The Scarlet Knights are mirrored this season with Providence, Seton Hall and Villanova. Sweeping Providence would establish the pecking order, but Rutgers will also have to beat South Florida (in the RAC on 1/20) and take another game. But among the home games, only USF which lost a lot of minutes and scoring from 2010, appears to be vulnerable, so the fourth win will have to come versus an opponent against whom Rutgers cannot expect to be favored (at least not at this point). Welcome to the Big East Coach Rice.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

2010-11 Preview -- Preseason Polls

Data Compilation & Other Busy Work
Like the foreign tours, the first classes of the fall semester, the supervised small squad practices, and Midnight Madness, Conference Media Day has become the latest mile marker passed on our journey to the first games of the 2010-11 season. Months of individual "polls" and rankings, both D1 and Big East Conference, begin to give way to the informal consensus approach to ranking the best teams in Division 1 and the members of the Big East Conference. Pico Dulce has kicked off his second cycle of conference bloggers Round Table posts with the compiled results of ranking the conference, one of the questions/requests Pico made of the bloggers. 15 bloggers, associated with 12 of the conference's teams participated. Get over to East Coach Bias and read the results (and comments).

5West VirginiaWest VirginiaWest VirginiaWest Virginia
6St. John’sMarquetteConnecticut?
7Notre DameSt. John'sMarquette?
8LouisvilleLouisvilleSt. John'sLouisville
9MarquetteNotre DameLouisville?
10ConnecticutConnecticutSeton HallConnecticut
11Seton HallSeton HallNotre DameSeton Hall
13South FloridaSouth FloridaSouth FloridaSouth Florida

The rankings for the Coaches, Writers and Bloggers are reported elsewhere, linked at various points in this post (and at the bottom). The Consensus ranking is a "look test" -- the team listed at that rank by two (or more) of the polling groups is named the consensus pick. I made no attempt to reconcile those rankings where there was no consensus, simply annoting those with a question mark (?). Note that St. John's, Marquette and Notre Dame are not assigned a Consensus rank. Unanimous rankings were highlighted in green. Results of the writers' poll, an annual tradition, were compiled sometime in the last month and released by the Syracuse Post Standard yesterday in advance of the conference-wide Media Day. 16 sports writers (only several identified in the Post Standard 10/19 story, ranked the teams and used a cumulative point system (1st place = 16 points, 2nd place = 15 points, 3rd place = 14 points, etc.) to sort out the rankings. The Post Standard reported that Pitt received 10, Villanova 3, Syracuse 2 and West Virginia 1, first place votes from the writers.

About the Big East Coaches
The Big Each released the Coaches' preseason poll earlier today, and off season rumors, kicking around since last May, that Coach Pitino picked St. John's to finish first were confirmed. That poll has been used by the Big East front office to match teams with mirror opponents as the conference works to develop the conference schedule for the upcoming season. Interesting to know the conference does not "repoll" closer to the beginning of the season to allow the poll to reflect recent developments. The coaches were instructed to exclude their own team from their ballot, so in theory the highest point total should be 240 (# of coaches * 1st place points and so on...). The results, St. John's surprisingly strong fan-base in northern Kentucky aside, contained few surprises.

Forming a Consensus
The coaches and writers agreed on the ranks for 11 of the conference's 16 members. I have not checked previous seasons to see if that agreement is unusually high or unusually low. I suspect however, that it is typical and probably consistent with historical data. For the writers and coaches is it a case of great minds thinking alike? Or a case of very heavy cross-pollination? The bloggers agreed with four of the 11, making 25% of the conference rankings unanimous. Oddly, those unanimous picks were over where West Virginia (#5), Cincinnati (#12!), South Florida (#13) and DePaul (#16) would finish. In the other seven cases, the bloggers' ranking differed, in most cases, by no more than a rank or two with the coaches and writers. The Big East coaches ranked Louisville and Marquette as a tie for #8 (and #9), making the Cardinals' rank and either/or. All three groups agree Coach Pitino's squad will finish on the boundary of the upper and lower division of the conference. The bloggers' had a similar tie with respect to Providence and Rutgers for #14 (and #15), again affirming a consensus those two teams, along with DePaul (as a unanimous choice for #16) will finish as the last three in conference in 2010-11. Affirming a commonly understood notion, first articulated by Justice Potter Stewart in his concurrent opinion for Jacobellis v. Ohio, coaches, bloggers and writers are confident they about who who will excel (#1 - #5) and who will struggle (#10 - #16) in conference this season. Who will finish in the four spots that straddle the middle of conference -- #6 through #9 -- (Louisville excepted) is where the consensus falters. Significantly, all agree that St. John's will be there...somewhere, as will Marquette. The last spot in among those four is in dispute. Notre Dame? Connecticut? A trivial disagreement perhaps, especially since conference play will provide an absolute solution. But consider that if past is prologue, all four of those spots will be filled with NCAA bubble (and top-seeded NIT) teams.

Caveat Emptor!
Note Pico Dulce's recent post that the coaches do not always get it right however. In the preseason 2009-10 poll the coaches' consensus accurately placed only two teams, while projecting five other teams +- one position of their actual finish. Those seven constitute 43.8% of the conference. Dulce's analysis also affirmed an observation I (and many, many others) have made in numerous posts, that in every season one or more teams will finish much higher than anticipated, while one or two others will finish much lower than predicted. The "good" surprise teams in 2010 were Marquette and Pittsburgh, both of which finished seven positions higher than the coaches projected. The disappointment was Connecticut. The Huskies finished eight positions lower than predicted, and judging from this preseason poll, the conference coaches and beat writers believe Coach Calhoun will not turn it around this season.

Sources/Further Reading
The Coaches Poll -- official press release
The Writers Poll -- the Post Standard story
The Bloggers Poll -- east coast bias post.
Rob Dauster's preview in Ballin is a Habit. Includes a thumbnail on each each team, Rob's projected OYs, "All Teams" & conference storylines.

Monday, October 18, 2010

2010-11 Preview -- Providence Friars

Too Busy for the Details?
Can Coach Davis stabilize the program after the Friars' disappointing 2010 campaign and disastrous off season? After climbing to a 10-8 record and an NIT bid in his 2009 inaugural campaign, Coach Davis launched a rebuilding project in 2010 and saw the squad stumble to a 4-14 conference record that included a 10 game losing streak to close out the season. The off season brought not only the anticipated graduations, but a wave of transfers, staff changes and off court turmoil of the kind that plagued the program in Coach Welsh's tenure, leaving fans less optimistic about the 2011 campaign. The Joseph Young recruiting stand-off not only adds another swing-and-miss on the recruiting trail (and a cautionary note to PC's future targets), but makes Providence look petty in the process. A no-win from the moment the young man decided to decommit, the school should have cut their losses early and moved on. The Friars are due for another rough year, how rough? Freshman Bryce Cotton's dunk show notwithstanding, very rough...Prognosis -- A 4th quartile finish.

3 Years At a Glance

The Friars will return more minutes (but fewer points -- note the %3FGM from 2010, that's why the Friars did not see the significant drop in returning points scored in 2010) and rebounds than 2010, but the steep loss of points should be troubling. Where will the scoring come from in 2011?

According to Pomeroy...
Overall DRtg104.823799.313197.195
Overall DR%63.430963.530263.9296
Overall Def 2FGM%52.232750.125349.4204
Opp 3FGA%22.531528.213927.4231
Eff. Height-2.63181.4891.966

The Friars' Defensive rating, not good in Tim Welsh's last season (2008) has continued to decline steadily over Coach Davis' two seasons. Defensive rebounding, combined with poor two point shot defense points to problems in the low post. The Friars' vulnerability was not a secret. A check of opponents' three point attempt percentage suggests Providence's opponents understood their scoring opportunities were more promising inside than outside. A quick look at effective height confirms Providence has been getting "shorter" over time. One would expect beefing up Providence's front court presence would have to be a recruiting priority for the Friar staff. Losing French recruit Alex Gavrilovic, a 6-10 235 pound bfc to academics was a blow.

For the Record...
Big East4140.2221080.5566120.333
Post Season?BET Rnd #1NIT Rnd #1BET Rnd #1

The Friars' Nucleus
Coach Keno Davis welcomes more returning minutes than last season, but he still has a lot of gaps to fill. Council, Brooks and Dixon all logged better than 60% of the minutes at their positions, but a quick look at the entire cohort and, Dixon aside, none is taller than 6-5. And that can be trouble for the Friars, not a defensive dynamo last season. The five players listed below logged at least 10% of the minutes at a position last season, add Chris Carter and fifth year Ray Hall (two deep bench players last season), the only other veterans from 2010 returning, and (red shirt Kadeem Batts aside) Providence will build around a nucleus of six scholarship players. Which will probably make them the least experienced squad in the conference next season.

On Offense
Vincent Council68.8106.621.517.444.45.21.0153.8
Marshon Brooks66.2113.922.825.953.16.51.1023.1
Bilal Dixon61.4107.416.915.552.511.91.0740.0
Duke Mondy33.7100.214.515.742.84.20.8913.5

Council, a Big East All-Rookie Teamer last season, will most likely take the point, with senior Marshon Brooks on the wing. Bilal Dixon, listed at 6-9 and 245 pounds on the Friars' web site will man the low post. 6-2 guard Duke Mondy will be part of the rotation. The last two positions will have to be filled by freshmen.

On Defense
Vincent Council68.88.226.821.30.42.3
Marshon Brooks66.29.810.
Bilal Dixon61.416.74.818.36.92.0
Duke Mondy33.711.513.419.40.64.3

Significant Additions
Three of the five incoming freshmen are over 6-5, but only one, 6-7 Ron Giplaye, weighs more than 225 pounds, and none is listed as a "center", which leaves the low post duties to Bilal Dixon and red shirt freshman Kadeem Batts, a 6-9, 250 pound forward (and maybe senior Ray Hall?). Of the entering freshmen, Gerard Coleman, a 6-4 170 pound off guard is the most highly regarded. Coleman, a gradauate of Tilton School in New Hampshire, is a scorer who can hit the lane or step back and drop a mid-range jumper. He will see wing minutes pretty early, but may need to hit the weight room (and cafeteria) to fill out a bit. 5-10 point guard Dre Evans will spell Council at the point, but probably not much more this season. A very late and under-the-radar point guard out of Palo Verde HS in Tuscon, Arizona however is the one who has tongues wagging after his Midnight Madness dunking exhibition. 6-0 175 pound Bryce Cotton was a very late July pickup for the Friars, the kind of late recruiting season reach (necessitated by the Joseph Young fiasco?) which, if it pays off, will add to Providence's reputation as a program with a very good eye for diamond in the rough recruits. Of the two wing/forwards Coach Davis will welcome to Providence this fall, the more highly regarded is 6-8, 205 pound Brice Kofane, a native of Cameroon who finished at the Miller School, and turned a few heads on the AAU circuit in 2009. The "need" position at the #4, will probably see undersized Ron Giplaye, a 6-6, 230 pound forward out of Notre Dame Prep, log a few minutes this season. A handful of others, Mike Murray (guard, Troy, NY), Xavier Davis (guard, Smithfield, RI) and Lee Goldsbrough (forward, Manchester, England) will round out the roster.

Alexandre Gavrilovic, a 6-9 225 pound French import who schooled at the IMG Academy in Florida last season will be the one who got away. Gavrilovic dazzled recruiters in the spring evaluation period and signed with Providence (to much applause) in May. While very much the kind of big Coach Davis is looking for, grade conversion issues with the NCAA Clearinghouse will sideline him for 2011. Back in France in late August, it was not clear Gavrilovic would enroll in the fall.

Explode If...
1. Council, Brooks and Dixon have breakout seasons.
2. The freshman Ron Gilplaye proves to be another DaJuan Blair, only better.
The Friars will have a very rough road to travel even if Council and Brooks have very good, but not breakout-level seasons.

Implode If...
1. The freshmen and seniors become discouraged. The squad faded badly at the end of the 2010 season and was then rocked by several embarrassing developments in the off season. News from the staff (well-regarded recruiter Pat Skerry moved over to Jamie Dixon's staff at Pittsburgh) and recruiting fronts was discouraging, so the team will need some good bounces early to keep their spirits up.
2. More off the court developments distract the squad.

One of the advantages of a young squad is that they often don't know enough about the conference and schools to be intimidated. Young players do, however, become discouraged with extended losing streaks. Should the conference schedule put these player onto a run of three or four very difficult games in a row, they could become discouraged. Coming early in the conference season, could (dis)color the entire season for them.

Crucial Run/Bellweather Games
The early season features a mix of the traditional regional rivals, Brown, Boston College and Rhode Island to go with a trip to Cancun (La Salle and either Missouri or Wyoming), a middling SEC opponent (Alabama) and the usual cupcakes. La Salle should be the first "test", as the Explorers are expected to finish anywhere from #7 to #13 in the A-10 Conference. Dr. Giannini's squad features some length in A-10 Rookie of the Year Arec Murray and experience on the wings and back court. The Friars should take this game, so a loss would be a bad sign. Going 2-0 in Cancun (there are two preliminary round games which Providence should take easily) would be a good sign, as 0-2 would be troubling. The eight days running from the first Saturday in December (12/4) to the second Saturday in December (12/11) will feature four games, three against challenging opponents and one taken on the road. The kick off opponent will be Rhode Island, in something of a rebuilding year themselves. The Rams do feature Delroy James, a well-regarded forward who will team with Will Martel and should clog the lane and dominate the boards. A quick trip to Boston to play the BC Eagles, then back to Providence and a match with Alabama, a team expected to finish in the middle of the SEC's weaker West Division to serve as the closing bookend. The Tide will feature another long low post player, JaMychal Green, who the Friars will struggle to counter. Trevor Releford will man the point; Providence will counter with Bryce Cotton and home court advantage. If the Friars are on a run they might go 3-1 or better through that stretch, but anything south of 2-2 would set a down mood to close out the out of conference (OOC) portion of their schedule.

The Big East schedule-maker dealt the Friars three mirror opponents who, like Providence, have their own demons to conquor. USF, Louisville and Rutgers all (like Providence) hav lost headlining players. For USF the depletion is pretty severe, but like Alabama and (maybe more on target) La Salle, the Bulls have a good front court presence that the Friars may be hard pressed to counter. If avoiding last place is the objective, the Friar staff will have to find at least four-to-six wins, and two, maybe three can come from the mirrors. Providence will find out early, as they go on the road to face Rutgers and South Florida as part of a three game swing in the second week of January. West Virginia is the sandwich filling, so taking one of the three games would be good news, and most likely break the anticipated three game losing streak that will most likely open the season. Should they return to Friar Town 0-6, they would be in serious danger of going winless in January and through the first half of their conference schedule. Of the three games left to close out January, a young Louisville squad may be the most vulnerable team, especially given the Cardinals are young and visiting. The back end of the conference schedle holds some promise, as the Friars will host South Florida, DePaul, Cincinnati and Rutgers, all winnable (on paper) games. The question is whether Coach Davis can keep his team engaged through the very rough run in the first half of the conference. Two or three conference wins going into February would do the trick and keep the Friars out of last place in the bargain.