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."

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