Sunday, February 27, 2011

Guest Contributor Ray Floriani: Rhode Island at Fordham

by Ray Floriani

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - Fordham's final Izod Center appearance for this season , was a less than memorable one. Rhode Island dominated the home standing Rams 90-58 in an Atlantic Ten Conference game on Saturday.

Outside the Izod Center
on a bright (Spring?) day

The efficiencies:

Rhode Island75120

Both teams entered the game averaging 67 possessions. With a significant deficit for most of the game Fordham was not about to milk possessions. They needed more, not less. The Four Factors:

Rhode Island58181420

The above table does a fairly good job telling the story. Rhode Island dominated. They started on a 10-0 run and never looked back nor were seriously threatened. Free throw rate divides made free throws by field goal attempts. Fordham had twelve free throws and 67 FGA while also canned a dozen but attempted 67 field goals. That slight 'edge' by Fordham proved a bit trivial as Rhody enjoyed huge advantages in eFG and offensive rebounding percentages.

Pre-game captains conference
run by Brian O'Connell (c).
Flanking Brian are Gary Prager(L) and John Gwynn (R)

Rhode Island coach Jim Baron made a point of how well his team shared the ball. Decided to run Synergy on both URI and Fordham. Synergy is a metric derived in this manner:

Synergy = FG PCT/(A/FGM)

The higher the number the better. Synergy is another metric to show how teams distribute the ball. The totals for this game:

Rhode Island0.914

Rhode Island's Synergy, as the numbers show, was near excellent.

The Manley Numbers...
...provide a good illustration of Rhode Island's complete effort. Taking a look at URI's and Fordham's two leading scorers...

Player, TeamPts.Eff.
Delroy James, URI2935
N. Malesevic, URI1320
Brenton Butler, For123
Chris Gaston, For107

URI-Fordham action at Izod

Rhody's outstanding forward Delroy James played 28 minutes and his efficiency per minute was a superlative 1.25. Breaking 100 on the per minute efficiency is excellent and of the not too frequent variety. Butler's 5 of 11 from the floor and one assist, 5 turnovers significantly affected the efficiency of Fordham's senior guard.

Chris Gaston did not start but played 27 minutes. Gaston was late for the team bus and Fordham coach Tom Pecora had the sophomore star sit out the opening minutes. A perimeter oriented team, Fordham never got the inside game going. By the time Gaston entered the contest, with about 6 minutes gone, Fordham was already looking at a double digit deficit. The result saw 26% of their field goal attempts from beyond the arc. Their two point shooting , 17 of 48 (35%) was subpar. Overall a long afternoon.

On the other end URI relentlessly attacked and frequently got good or uncontested opportunities in the paint. For Fordham it was a total breakdown on both ends of the floor.

'Dance Rhythm', the Fordham dance team
Were one of Fordham's bright spots

Rhode Island improved to 18-10 (9-5 in the A-10). Fordham fell to 6-20 and 0-14 in conference. Both teams committed 15 turnovers and had equal turnover rates. Rhode Island made Fordham play dearly for their miscues. URI enjoyed a 29-13 edge in points off turnovers.

Rhode Island finishes the A-10 regular season slate hosting George Washington Wednesday then traveling to St. Bonaventure on Saturday. Fordham wraps up at LaSalle Wednesday and home for UMass three days later.

"We will get back to work.
If we play as we are capable we can win our last two
against LaSalle and UMass."
-- Fordham coach Tom Pecora.

St. John's Post Game: Closing Out

Down 4 with 6:14 to Go...
Corey Stokes hit his sixth (and last) three point attempt to bring the 'Cats to -2, 61-63. The Johnnies brought the ball up to their end of the floor and passed around the perimeter looking for the seam in the Wildcats' zone. A Horne pass to Evans in the low post (Justin Burrell was playing the other forward position and blocked out of action by Dom Cheek) brought a one-on-one with Antonio Pena and a score with time expiring. Evans missed the and-one (Pena fouled him on the score), and what followed for the next minute and 50 seconds was three St. John's empty possessions, interleaved with four Villanova possessions, Wayns scored on a lane drive and an and-one on the fourth possession. Neither team seemed ready to seize the moment, but having drawn to within one of the Red Storm, Villanova seemed to forget why they were there. The Red Storm peeled off a 16-4 run over those last four minutes, two scores from the field (runners) and 12 points from the line.

The Athletic Department website posted the official boxscore and the AP wire story, "No. 15 Villanova Upset by No. 23 St. John's, 81-68", lead with emerging Big East Player of the Year contender Dwight Hardy's 34 point outing, a career-high for the senior guard. The breakdown by halves...

Opponent:St. John's University
 Offense Defense
1st2ndGame 1st2ndGame

Runs, Getting the First & Last Word...
A few of the posts this season have looked at the impact of play in the first four minutes of each half. The Redmen opened the game with a six minute, 20-7 run, that put the 'Cats on their heels and set the tone for the rest of the game. The Wildcats found themselves in a hole that they spent the next 30 minutes digging out. A comparison of efficiencies for that six minute stretch...

St. John's71045231120111.82

The Johnnies' efficiency during the opening minutes was enough to sustain them when Villanova mounted a counter punch through much of the first half. Their eFG% was 90.0%, a reflection of their super 4-5 from beyond the arc. Their PPWS, 1.75, shows the effect of both their three point shot conversion and their trips to the line. Villanova's shooting numbers, 35.0% and 0.64 respectively, were as unimpressive as their points per possession. Though the Wildcats counter punched with a 29-21 run of their own through the end of the first half, the 1.26 points per possession (29 points in 23 possessions) was not efficient enough to overcome St. John's own 21 points in 23 possessions (0.91 ppp). By the 36 minute mark the Wildcats had cut the deficit to 1, 64-65, but the Johnnies' last run, 16-4 over the last four minutes turned back Villanova in convincing fashion. The numbers illustrate how the Red Storm closed out the game convincingly...

St. John's22001216101682.00

One of the more remarkable stats from those last eight St. John's possessions (a 2.00 ppp is pretty remarkable) is that the Johnnies had no empty trips. They scored at least one point every time they took possession of the ball in those last four minutes. A team cannot lose if they score everytime they touch the ball. During a sequence when the Wildcats desparately needed to hang empty trips on the Red Storm, they could not. Not once. During those two runs, the Johnnies outscored the Wildcats 36-11, a huge deficit to overcome. Tough enough to overcome a single 20-7 run, credit the 'Cats that they could close to one. Overcoming two double digit runs in a single game? Almost impossible. Credit St. John's -- while they could, and often did, mount double digit runs on opponents last season, they rarely mounted two double digit runs in a single game.

St. John's raises their record to 19-9 overall and 11-5 in conference play. The Johnnies last beat a ranked team on the road on January 17, 2002 (Boston College). The Red Storm finish the season with a last road game at Seton Hall, then return to the Carnesecca Arena on campus to play South Florida. Villanova's record drops to 21-8 overall and 9-7 in conference play. The Wildcats close out the season on the road. First stop is South Bend and a game against Notre Dame. The 'Cats then close the book on their 2011 series with Pittsburgh by taking on the Panthers at the Pete next Saturday.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Guest Contributor: Pico Dulce -- St. John's Scouting Report

Pico Dulce of Rumble in the Garden blog ran off a scouting report on the Red Storm...

Starting Five & Rotation Notes
Dwight Hardy G 6'2" and listed at 195 (which I don't believe) - he has a lot of nicknames and takes a lot of shots for the Red Storm. He's become very accurate in the last month. You may heave heard something about him.

Paris Horne G 6'3" - an ace defender, and finally able to use his combination of athleticism - strength and speed, defensive agility and leaping ability - to help the team win in ways that don't show up on the scoreboard.

DJ Kennedy G/F 6'5" - a tenacious dirty-work player who will pick up rebounds and is a dangerous defender in the Red Storm's press and in transition defense.

Dwayne Polee II F 6'7" - a long freshman getting his feet wet with a number of starts, he has a developing jump shot.

The Red Storm go maybe 8 deep, with forwards Justin Burrell and Sean Evans logging time in the post, along with point guard Malik Boothe.

Justin Burrell is 6'8" and looks like a basketball player. Half the time, he plays like a basketball player; he's been motivated and focused recently, so his active brand of basketball - physical, strong, and liable to catch a Technical foul - will be on display.

Sean Evans, the Philly native, has re-blossomed into a bit of a low-post force. He's doing a lot more right now than he did in the previous 3 seasons, not breaking off of the offense to make dribble moves that go nowhere (I hope he was breaking off of the plan. If that was the plan, well...). Evans can bang in the paint and hold his space.

Malik Boothe is all of 5'9" but he has been a defensive sparkplug. No quarter asked, none given. He's happy to try and pull the ball right out of another players' hands, passes decently, and is much better at making an end-of-shot-clock jumper or drive than in the past.

Defense First
St. John's whole system is based off of their defensive pressure. It's not constant; they press off of made shots, generally, and the press tends to slow teams down a bit, restricting transition opportunities. At times, they will crank it up with Paris Horne and Malik Boothe guarding ballhandlers close; there will be traps around halfcourt at times. When the press is broken, there is often an open 3-pointer waiting to happen.

In the halfcourt, the Red Storm mostly play a matchup zone. Some games it looks better than others, and they give up a number of three-pointers in the zone - for periods of the game. Late in the game, they tend to better identify developing threats and mark them well. Even with the open threes, the zone is effective. The Red Storm spring traps in the corners to force turnovers or passes that lead to turnovers. The team reacts well in the zone, forcing cross-court passes that can get a little wild.

On Offense
On offense the team moves the ball up quickly to test the defense. Off of misses and of turnovers, DJ Kennedy will likely be in the middle, looking for a streaking Justin Brownlee or Paris Horne going to the basket; sometimes Kennedy's the recipient of those passes. Dwight Hardy is often guarded, and gets many of his points off of a screen-and-roll and a dribble. He's become awesome at attacking a little bit of daylight for a drive and layup/ foul or a mid-range jump shot.

His job as point guard is in name only; he gets to handle the ball because he's uniquely able to take advantage of small breakdowns in the defense. But his ability to attack draws defenders; he'll pass the ball off, and get it back when he's better able to attack his man.

Vulnerabilities & Conclusion
The Red Storm have been susceptible to size for much of the season; Justin Brownlee is less effective against bigger defenders, though he is using his offensive versatility more than in the past. But the team has trouble scoring on longer, taller teams like Cincinnati; expect them to have some struggles against Yarou and Pena if they can't coax those two out of the paint. The forwards have shown a willingness to pass out of trouble (and to rotate to places to accept passes when their teammates are in trouble), and they look more effective, even if the shots aren't falling. Justin Burrell has shown signs of being a creative post player once more, so there's a chance that he might be able to go to work on Villanova.

Overall, the Johnnies are playing smart, smart basketball. I don't think they'll win - but that's mainly because I'm a pessimist. The team is really clicking despite their weaknesses, and they've become a real joy to watch.

greyCat Notes...Pico is absolutely correct about his last point -- this Johnnies team has been fun to watch. I caught them at the Garden for the Notre Dame and Pittsburgh games this season and the team has taken a 180 degree turn from 2010 and earlier editions. This is a very dangerous St. John's team.

On Dwayne Polee -- when asked in the Pitt post game presser about next season's team, Coach Steve Lavin suggested that getting starts and minutes this season for Polee would pay dividends next season as he would be one of the experienced players the staff could rely on to bring next season's freshmen along.

Catch Pico's "5 Questions..." features with (they discuss indispensable players, the bigs turnover problems and "Jay Wright to..." rumors) and Nova Blog (they explore confidence issues, Mo Sutton's suspensions, futures for Corey Fisher, etc.) over at Rumble in the Garden. Pico has also combined material from his "5 Questions for..." features with a scouting report I sent over yesterday and produced an entertaining breakdown of the Wildcats and Johnnies game tomorrow.

Conference Differentials, Part 11/02/25

NCAA -- 11 to Go?...
16 weeks into the season and the conference still has eight teams in the Top 25. Consider that in all 10 different Big East teams have been ranked over the course of the season, with at least three ranked every week so far. Eleven teams may be a stretch, but conditions are in place for the conference to break it's previous "most teams in the NCAA" record, eight, from 2006...
1. 15 of the conference's 16 teams entered conference play with winning records & strong RPIs.
2. 11 teams have established winning conference records (not an absolute predictor of an NCAA bid, but a necessary prerequisite) through week 16.
3. The bottom five teams have absorbed a lion's share of the losses handed out this season, while (Pittsburgh aside) the other 10 winning teams have traded punches and taken hits, mostly (but not exclusively) from each other. Only a few of those 11 teams (counting Pitt in this group) have ugly losses, and even those are not to the lowest two teams in the conference, DePaul and South Florida. 10 of the 11 teams are ranked #35 or higher in the RPI of 2/24, with Marquette number 11 on the list, ranked #52 (as of 2/24). But entirely in keeping with the tenor of the season, the Warriors hammered Connecticut 74-67, in Hartford, to bring their record to 8-7, virtually guaranteeing themselves a 0.500 record (or better) going into the Big East Conference Tournament next month. UConn is also 8-7 and also looking at a 0.500 record (or better) to finish out conference play.

TeamWLPct.Diff.Win %
Notre Dame1140.7330.0520.634
West Virginia870.5330.0300.583
St. John's1050.6670.0100.529
Seton Hall5100.333-0.0480.360
South Florida2130.133-0.1200.206

Sorted by net efficiency and including results through Thursday night's games, the "great divide" between the top 11 and bottom five is distinct. Five teams -- Villanova, Marquette, Louisville, Notre Dame and Syracuse share a tier, separated by a 0.015 difference in efficiency net. The next tier contains Cincinnati and West Virginia, with Georgetown and a surging St. John's close behind. Connecticut maybe underwater this week, but given the volatility in the conference race, could easily be back on the plus side of the net efficiency next week. Pitt and DePaul, outliers from virtually week 1 of conference play, have been joined by South Florida, as the Bulls settle into a niche at the bottom, just above the Demons. The 0.045 separation between UConn and Seton Hall is almost as large as the one that separates Pitt from Nova, and Rutgers from USF.

About Marquette & Villanova
Those two schools have had their struggles in conference play, yet have net efficiencies and Pythagorean Winning Percentages fairly inconsistent with their conference records. Pythagoras "says" each should have an additional win. The paradox is resolved when considering the winning and losing margins for 20+ games (apiece) the two have logged since January. The Golden Eagles' average winning margin is 11, while their average losing margin is -6.9. They have two wins by more than 15 points, and only one loss by more than 10. The Wildcats' 9 wins have been by an average of 10 points, while their six losses have been by an average of -4.8. Only a single loss (Providence) has been by more than 10 points. And yet the Wildcats may well be one of the eight teams who opens the Big East Tournament on Tuesday. Such is the Big East this season.

So How Many?...
I have to fight the urge towards over optimism, but certainly nine at this point is realistic...if conservative. Eleven teams have pretty much done what the NCAA has asked -- they have scheduled out of conference games away from home, limited the number of cupcakes (RPI ranks > 200, for example) and won against top 100/50 competition. It will be crucial, this season even more than most, for the Big East teams at the lower end of the S-curve to win their first round BET games and finish Championship week with a record no worse than 1-1. Watch how the bubble and at-large lock teams in the lower ranked conferences fare during their conference tournaments. Upset conference champions tend to limit BCS conference bubble teams. If favored teams prevail in the #6 - #10 ranked conferences during tournament week, then 10 or 11 is very possible.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Syracuse #02 Post Game: Consistency

The Return of Corey Stokes
The guard who could not miss Saturday could not make on Monday. The point guard who twisted and turned defenders in Chicago could not untwist his back for the second half in Philadelphia. The freshman who bombed Seton Hall into submission in a game last week was 0'fer in this game this week. The Coach talked about "finding ways, during a time when we're not making shot, to win...", and Monday night, the Wildcats did not. Senior wing Corey Stokes returned with a bang, dropping 24 points on the Orange before 18,500 (or so) fans in the Wells Fargo Center, but that was not enough to turn the result, as the Wildcats fell 65-69 on Senior Night.

The Athletic Department website posted the official boxscore and the AP wire story, "No. 15 Villanova Falls Short Against No. 17...69-64", lead with Corey Stokes' return, and the return of the "Philadelphia Kids"...Syracuse's Philadelphia Kids. Scoop Jardine and Rick Jackson combined for 38 points before their friends and relatives (and a healthy contingent of Syracuse fans), while Dion Waiters sealed the Wildcats' doom with free throws at the end of the game. The breakdown by halves...

Opponent:Syracuse University
 Offense Defense
1st2ndGame 1st2ndGame

Keys to Winning
The solidifies the notion that offensive shot efficiency is the single most crucial factor to winning or losing for Villanova. The 'Cats can survive a bad night of turnovers; they can overcome not getting to the line; they can survive being outrebounded...but when the shots do not drop they have yet to find or develop a Plan B. A 19.2% conversion rate for three pointers is terrible -- hit an abysmal 30% and they win by three. Free throw shooting also failed Monday night as the 'Cats hit an uncharacteristically low 63% of their attempts. Those cursing the free throw woes should know that even had the 'Cats shot to their pregame average (76.9%) they still would have lost by two.

Ineffectual Mutterings...
The Wildcats' tempo took a jump with this game, consistent with Syracuse games of the past. Though Coach Wright had the guards walk the ball up the floor, the guards clearly know how to pick Syracuse's 2-3 zone apart. A post game question to Coach Boeheim had the Orange coach admit he decided to extend the perimeter of the zone to "...knock their shooters off their spots...". Plan B, to pass to Antonio Pena at the free throw line where the power forward would have the triple option of taking his shot, kicking back out to a shooter off the screen or passing into the low post to a flashing Isaiah Armwood, found limited success as the low post pass was often mistimed. Additional games and practice should have that play working.

Records, Next Up...
Villanova's records stand at 21-7 overall and 9-6 in conference play. The Wildcats have three more games in their season-ending gauntlet, St. John's (H) up next Saturday, followed by two road games, at Notre Dame (A) and Pittsburgh (A). The Orange records stand at 23-6 and 10-6 in conference play. Syracuse will visit Georgetown, then go home to host DePaul to close the regular season.

Roster Notes
Maalik Wayns twisted his back during first half action and played about 16 minutes before the intermission. He returned, but logged only eight minutes additional in the second half. No word on whether this is day-to-day.

Guest Contributor Ray Floriani: Louisville at Rutgers

by Ray Floriani

PISCATAWAY NJ - Sometimes things like this happen. You prepare, have good , productive practices and are ready mentally and physically. And you literally lay an egg. That was the case as Louisville defeated Rutgers 55-37 at the Rutgers Athletic Center.

Pre-game warmups at the RAC

The efficiencies:


The all important first four minutes do not always send a portend of what might transpire. Tonight, the first four was on the money. The game’s complexion was dictated very early in that juncture before the first media time out.

At the 16 to go mark, Louisville had a 5-0 lead. The Cardinals had 7 possessions, two ending in turnovers but did knock down a two and three pointer and had a 71 offensive efficiency. On the other side, Rutgers came up totally empty. The result of their 6 possessions:

1. Turnover
2. Turnover
3. Turnover
4. Missed FGA
5. Missed FGA
6. 0 for 2 from the line.

Even a trip to the charity stripe yielded nothing. A bad sign for Mike Rice & co. Rutgers did not get on the scoreboard until Gilvydas Biruta scored in close with 5:11 gone in the game.

The Four Factors:


The First Four Revisited
The opening four minutes of the second half, Rutgers fared better with 6 points on 6 possessions (100 efficiency). The Cardinals had four points on their first five possessions (80 efficiency). Rutgers only trimmed two points off the Louisville lead. On the other hand a better start the second half gave added optimism. Trailing by 19 with three minutes left the opening half, the Scarlet Knights had gotten the deficit to a manageable dozen with 16 minutes remaining.

Self Destruction
Whenever the Scarlet Knights looked to make a run the final half, an open shot would not fall or another unforced turnover would rear its ugly head. Rutgers had a 30% TO rate. Credit Louisville defense, but a number of those 18 turnovers were Rutgers own undoing.

The Second Half Was Better
But not by much. The efficiencies in Rutgers case were consistently poor on the offensive end. The aspect allowing them to get within striking distance was defense. The defensive efficiency imposed on Louisville the second twenty minutes allowed Rutgers to keep Rick Pitino pacing the sidelines. But that offense…


opening tip from the press box vantage point.
A great view.

Louisville had the distinction of finishing the game with a better percentage from three than two point range. The Cardinals were 11 of 29 (38%) beyond the arc and 7 of 22 (32%) inside from two point range.

Preston Knowles paced the Louisville attack with 14 points (4 of 9 from three). Kyle kuric added 11 points on 3 of 7 from downtown. Terrence Jennings had a respectable 8 point 4 rebound showing inside.

Knowles and Kuric were both ‘crowd silencers’ for Louisville. Just when it appeared Rutgers might be headed for a run, one of the two would knock down a trey and silence the Scarlet Knight faithful and increase the Cardinal lead.

Rutgers was led by Gilvydas Birutas with 12 points 6 rebounds. The hard working freshman forward was a bright spot on an evening when nothing seemed to click for the Scarlet Knights.

Louisville is 21-7 and 10-5 in the Big East. Cards have won 20 games now for nine straight seasons. Rutgers falls to 13-14 (4-11). Louisville hosts Pitt on Sunday while Rutgers hosts west Virginia the same afternoon. Attendance was 5,633. Among the attendees was Howard ‘Garf” Garfinkel of Five Star Camp fame.

"If we beat ourselves (18 turnovers)
there is no way we wan beat a team like Louisville
or any team in the Big East for that matter" - Rutgers coach Mike Rice

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Guest Contributor Ray Floriani: Marist at St. Peters, WBB

by Ray Floriani
JERSEY CITY, NJ - The first eight minutes were close. Then Marist went on a tear en route to a 79-38 victory over St. Peter's in a MAAC women's meeting. An impressive offensive team, the story of this game at Yanitelli Center, was the Red Foxes' outstanding defense.

Efficiency numbers:

St. Peter's6757

Marist entered the game a 65 possession team in MAAC play. Their offensive efficiency was 104 and the defensive number, an outstanding 66. They came to Yanitelli 15-0 in conference play and while they have the offensive weapons, Marist begins with defense.

At the half in this contest, Marist led 33-13. The pace saw Marist with 37 possessions and St. Peter's 36. The efficiency margin (offensive minus defensive) for the Red Foxes was off that chart at +53 with an 89 on offense and 36 on the defensive end.

The Four Factors:

St. Peter's30112630

Marist dominated in virtually every area. Outside shooting has been a concern of late to coach Brian Giorgis. Tonight the Red Foxes hit 10 of 21 beyond the arc. A significant number as league opposition, especially Fairfield who gave Marist their toughest MAAC test to date, before losing 54-52 a few weeks ago, will show a lot of zone. Erica Allensbach (3 of 6), Corielle Yarde (2 of 5) and Christine Best (2 of 2) all found the shooters touch from three.

Marist's Erica Allenspach prepares to inbound

The Defense Never Rests
With 12 minutes to play in the first half Marist had an 11-9 lead. St. Peter's was playing confidently and was able to get the ball inside. At that point I decided to chart the possessions the final dozen minutes of the half. The results epitomized the Marist D.

St. Peter's23417

Six of the St. Peter's possessions ended in turnovers. They did not score a field goal and the first points during that stretch were on two Teresa Manigasso free throws with 2:29 to play in the half.

Beside the forcing 20 St. Peter's turnovers and limiting them to 24% field goal shooting (6 of 12 from three boosted the eFG mark to 30%) from the floor, Giorgis was pleased with Marist's 10 blocked shots and 10 steals. Kate Oliver a 6-4 sophomore forward rejected four shots and altered a few more along the way.

The Marist defensive staple is man to man. The latter part of the second half with a big lead Giorgis zoned. Given their length and defensive reaction, Marist did not do a bad job in that defense. Still, the man to man, as noted is the primary option.

Celebration just after the buzzer

St. Bonaventure Connection
On the men's side when St. John's takes down another ranked opponent there is mention of the Red Storm's early season losses to Fordham and St. Bonaventure. With the women, Marist now has the nation's longest win streak at 21 games. Their last loss? December 4th 45-40, like St. John's at home, against the Lady Bonnies of St. Bonaventure. In an ironic twist the only other Marist setback was opening night against the St. John's women.

Marist is 25-2 (16-0 in the MAAC). St. Peter's 3-24 (3-13 in conference). Three Marist players wee in double figures. Erica Allenspach and Kelsey Beynnon shared scoring honors with 13 points each. Jynae Judson paced St. Peter's with 10 points. Marist had 11 players log at least 11 minutes of playing time. Marist held a 36-10 advantage in points in the paint and a 27-5 edge in points off turnovers.

Giorgis stated in post game interviews that this team is still on a mission. "They are playing with a little chip," he said. "We lost a great player Rachelle Fitz whose number was retired Friday. Some people wondered how we would do without her. These kids want to show they can do something special like go undefeated in MAAC play. That is their goal and focus."

Brian Giorgis interviewed on radio
Julianne Viani (l), recently starred for Marist
now does analysis for their broadcasts

Marist closes out the regular season with two interesting matchups, visiting Siena Friday and Fairfield on Sunday. St. Peter's will host Rider on Thursday and visit Loyola on Sunday.

A Side Trip in Jersey City...
An afternoon officiating assignment nearby gave me a chance to snap a few Hamilton Park Winter scenes. A beautiful scene, but a real contrast to the setting when Summer League is in full swing.

Courts wait silently, patiently
for the players to return

Close your eyes and picture
the fans surrounding the courts...
can you hear the crowd buzz?

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Value of Corey Stokes

For Want of a Nail a Kingdom Was Lost
Senior wing Corey Stokes has been DNP-injury in the Wildcats' last three games (Pittsburgh, Seton Hall & DePaul), but the senior indicated that he pulled/strained a hamstring in the Cincinnati game (January 9), followed by a turf toe injury in the Wildcats' loss to Georgetown (January 29). Though his minutes declined from 34.3 to 30.1 (Big East conference games only), observers noticed a decline in his offensive efficiency (and defensive capability). Looking at Ken Pomeroy's efficiency stats, game-by-game for Villanova's 14 Big East games so far...

RecordAverage (Raw)
RU - Providence520.71468.
GTown - DePaul430.57161.

Seven games on both sides of the divide, but the difference shows just about everywhere, from the won-loss record, to the offensive and defensive efficiencies (points scored and allowed per possession), to the Pythagorean Winning Percentage. The numbers would suggest the greatest impact has been offensive, and many in the Nova Nation would agree the lack of a (more) consistent three point threat has diminished what the staff wants the offense to do most -- penetrate and finish/dish/pass into the low post. With an inconsistent threat on the perimeter, those teams who send help to stop dribble penetration are too often rewarded with a defensive stop. The drop in pace (possessions) is shocking -- a 10.2% decline in per game possessions this late in the season signals a dramatic change in playing style (or certainly in personnel in the rotation). Stokes is not noted for his end-to-end speed, but compared to the players who have taken those minutes, there is little doubt the offense was able to get a field goal attempt off earlier in the shot clock when Stokes was on the court. A comparison of Oliver's four factors, before and after for both offense and defense reveals a few more interesting things about the team's offensive and defensive efficiency...

On Offense
Thru PC52.419.038.148.4
Thru DePaul51.319.637.148.3

The deline in shot conversion efficiency (eFG%) is understandable -- Stokes was one of the best in conference prior to his turf toe injury. Pulling a sophomore off the bench and expecting him to pick up that role without missing a beat is unrealistic (and unfair). The slightly higher turnover rate may, like the lower pace, reflect a renewed commitment to a low post-oriented game. Entry passes get deflected and stolen. The decline in the rate of free throws to field goal attempts, very modest, may derive more from losing games. The team behind tends to commit "possession fouls" at the end of a close game. Villanova's additional loss has diminished the need to foul.

On Defense
Thru PC45.919.132.741.5
Thru DePaul47.216.630.834.0

The change in virtually every factor defensively is interesting, and unlike the offensive factors, where most changed at the margins, here I found rather significant movement in several stats. Note the declines in turnovers and free throw rate -- both suggest the defense has become more passive. Passive defenses do not force turnovers and put the other team on the line. One would expect, with the additional loss, to see a slight uptick in the defensive FTA/FGA (remember the possession fouls?), but it does not show here. I did find better defensive rebounding (a lower ORb% on the defensive side is a better number). Most likely a reflection of the longer players seeing more court time.

DePaul Post Game: Fish

A Different Coach, A Different Attitude...
Ever since Penn's Dick Harter took the air out of the ball and beat a Top 10 Villanova team 32-30 on a Dave Bilsky jumper with 0:01, every Division 1 coach has understood (on some level) that when overmatched with an opponent, cutting down on possessions can increase chances to win, and Oliver Purnell, DePaul's very capable first year coach knew coming into this game that playing for the Blue Demon's "normal" 68 possessions would spell disaster. DePaul and Villanova took their time, 45 minutes and 73 possessions to be exact, to decide that Villanova, by a 77-75 margin, would emerge the winner. But make no mistake, the Demon coach took the air out of the ball to slow down the Wildcats, employed his Diamond Press to put 94 feet of pressure to force turnovers and gave a big green light to his perimeter shooters. The best he could tease from the strategy was a 40 minute stand off, and a two possession deficit after playing 44 minutes and 53 seconds.

The Athletic Department website posted the official boxscore and the AP wire story, "No. 15 Villanova Edges DePaul in Overtime, 77-75", lead with Corey Fisher's 34 point outburst, DePaul's resurgence in the last 2-3 games and Jeremiah Kelly's offensive output. The breakdown by halves...

Opponent:DePaul University
 Offense Defense
1st2ndOTGame 1st2ndOTGame

Keys to Winning
30 possessions in the first half projected to another 60 possesion game, an emerging pattern for Villanova games lately. Scoring 0.78 points per possession with an abysmal 35.0% shot conversion rate for a first half should translate into a hole so deep even a good offensive turnaround in the second half would not be enough to overcome...but DePaul's 0.88 points per possession first half meant Villanova's hole was not so deep after all. The improved offenisve production in the second half and overtime period were enough to overcome improved offensive numbers for DePaul.

Coach Purnell's Diamond Press caused problems in the first half, forcing a 22% turnover rate for Villanova in the first half. Credit half time adjustments which allowed the Wildcats to break the press enough to convince Coach Purnell to abandon it through large stretches of the second half and overtime. And Villanova's front court dominated the boards at both ends of the floor. DePaul is not a strong rebounding squad, but Villanova beat DePaul's numbers rather handily.

Ineffectual Mutterings...
The Wildcats' tempo continues to decline. The plethora of zone defenses, coupled in this case with a 94 foot press, translated into a 63 possession game in regulation play. For the fifth consecutive game Villanova has played for fewer than the conference average of 65.4 possessions in regulation play. For the regulation game, the 'Cats came in at 63.0 possessions, below their own conference average of 64.8 possessions -- expect it to decline yet again. The teams were on track for a 60 possession game going into the half, but consistent with previous games, the pace increased in the second half. With their possession-to-points conversion rate, had the second half gone for another two possessions, the Wildcats would have won without need for an overtime. 10 possessions in five minutes, the pace at which the overtime period was played, was unusually high. Projected over a 20 minute half, the teams would have played for 40 possessions, way, way high fir either team. Blame the fatigue.

Corey Fisher scored 34 points on 11-18 (5-8, 6-10) shooting from the field, combined with 7-9 from the line. Corey's numbers compute to an eFG% of 75.0%, an outstanding combination of volume shooting and efficient shot conversion. His PPWS was 1.52, will definitely turn heads next week.

Noted here and there, but not widely, was Mouphtaou Yarou's double-double -- 12 points on 5-12 (0-0, 5-12) and 2-4 from the line shooting and 15 rebounds. For Yarou, this was more a case of volume shooting to overcome a less effective (41.7%) shot conversion rate.

Records, Next Up...
Villanova's records stand at 21-6 overall and 9-5 in conference play. The Wildcats have to run a four game gauntlet consisting of Syracuse (H) and St. John's (H) before taking to a road that leads through Notre Dame (A) and Pittsburgh (A) to finish out the regular season. The Blue Demons' records stand at 7-19 and 1-13 in conference play. DePaul will visit St. John's, come home to host South Florida and Rutgers, before closing out the season at Syracuse.

Roster Notes
Corey Stokes did not play, but will, according to Terry Toohey's post over at the Toohey on Colleges blog, the Villanova guard will be available off the bench should his pregame warmups go well and the need arise.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Post Game: Pittsburgh at St. John's -- We're Baaack!

Red Storm Rising
For two hours the cheers rolled down to the court like thunder as #4 Pittsburgh and St. John's traded buckets and defensive stops. The house exploded when the Johnnies retook the lead 58-56 on Dwight Hardy's second free throw, but the Pittsburgh fans responded in kind when Travon Woodall knocked down Pittsburgh's only three pointer of the afternoon that did not come from the hand of Ashton Gibbs. The Red Storm brought the ball up and called timeout. 0:11 left and a one point game, Dwight Hardy drove to the lane passing Gilbert Brown, he had to move left and down to the baseline. Brown shadowed him, staying between the guard and the basket, but Hardy piroetted (Coach Lavin's words...) past the Panther forward and Brown let him go, believing the vaunted Pitt lane defense behind him would rotate over to cover the guard. No help came, but Hardy had driven too far, and positioned under the basket, had lost his clear shot. Laying his arm out he flipped the ball up with an underhand motion. The ball bounced tentatively on the edge of he rim before dropping through. The Garden exploded, sending a wall of sound down to the court. 60-59 St. John's. "...a tough shot...give (him) credit for making the shot" said Jamie Dixon after the game.

Like many Saturday noon games, the crowd was slow to assemble, and if the cheers during the line up announcement was louder than usual, the cheer that greeted Hardy's first (and only) three pointer, the response to a Gary McGhee put back of Travon Woodall's runner that had put Pitt up 2-0 from the tip, was several decibels above the line up announcement, and a precusor of the support to come. Pittsburgh's pregame notes described Madison Square Garden as the Panthers "home away from home", and touted Pitts 26-11 record in the building since 2001, but the cheer that filled the arena after Hardy's long jumper left no doubt the players in home whites were indeed the home team. With Hardy's bucket the Johnnies opened a 14-5 run that stunned Division 1's #4 team and left them reeling through much of the first half. Physical, deliberate defense-oriented play characterized the first half, with Pittsburgh trailing by margins as high as nine. Facing a hostile and active road crowd seemed to unnerve the Panther squad and their head coach, Jamie Dixon, who drew a technical with 5:05 left in the first half. And the referee crew too seemed affected as they closed the half with a series of bizarre calls that put two technicals on St. John's (one on Coach Steve Lavin and another on guard DJ Kennedy), and gave the Panthers four straight free throw attempts, the ball and a one point lead with 0:25 on the clock. The 27-26 score held through the end of the half.

The breakdown by halves...

 St. John's Pittsburgh
1st2ndGame 1st2ndGame

The pace was Pittsburgh's all the way. Neither team managed more than six points on fast break opportunities. Ashton Gibbs' third foul -- he grabbed DJ Kennedy after the St. John's guard picked Travon Woodall's pocket and was closing in as a one man fast break -- was the favored tactic to prevent the easy, close in buckets. Gibbs, whose return to the Pittsburgh rotation was overshadowed by the loss, scored a game 26 points 8-14 (6-9, 2-4) and 4-4 shooting for a remarkable 67.9% eFG% and 1.64 PPWS.

Halftime Adjustments
Both teams did a great job holding the other to <1.00 point per possession through the first half (divide the ratings in table above by 100). Though the pace did not change (it became even more deliberate), both teams scored afar more easily. For Pittsburgh, points came through field goal conversion as suggested by their 60.9% eFG% (12-23 from the field). St. John's by contrast had a field goal conversion rate reminiscent of last season, but compensated with reduced turnovers (turnover rate was 10.2%) and trips to the line (their FTA rate was 109.5%), which outnumbered their field goal attempts.

Notes and Observations
1. Johnnies' guard, and Pittsburgh native DJ Kennedy, a graduate of the famed Schenley High School, picked up three fouls in the first half -- the third a technical after the guard made a face in response to his second foul call -- and played only eight minutes in the second half. Kennedy, who scored 11 points picked up his fourth foul less than two minutes into the second half, and sat for much of the second frame, taking one of St. John's most consistent scoring threats off the floor.
2. Rehabbed Ashton Gibbs was the only Pittsburgh player to score more than 10 points. Gary McGhee, saddled with his fourth foul at the 10 minute mark of the second half and forced to sit for nearly seven minutes, scored seven points. Nasir Robinson and Travon Wooodall, both also carrying four fouls, scored six points.
3. St. John's remarkably matched Pitt on the boards, snagging 31 loose balls. Dixon used a rotation of Talib Zanna, Lamar Patterson and Dante Taylor with Robinson and McGhee. Dixon's problem was rebounding versus scoring. With McGhee and Robinson he had scorers, but the tandem seemed less effective on the boards than Taylor with McGhee. Taylor grabbed five boards in 19 minutes of play to Robinson's two boards in 29 minutes.
4. St. John's was paced by Dwight Hardy who scored 19 points in 32 minutes of play. Other double digit Johnnies included the foul plagued Kennedy (11 points) and Justin Burrell, whose size and length posed a match-up problem for Pitt. Burrell, who logged 34 minutes of play off the bench hit 15 points and pulled down eight rebounds.

Lucky Charms?
"Yes! Every time we credential you, we win!" was St. John's SID's response to Rush the Court's request for courtside access to run a live blog when Pittsburgh visited St. John's at Madison Square Garden.

Because This is a Villanova Blog...
The St. John's staff wore suits, no ties, and white running shoes to the game. This has become the preferred attire since the Coaches vs. Cancer "shoeless" game last month. Coach Lavin was asked if he was assuming a Louie Carnesecca-like superstition given the Johnnies' recent run of good games. "No" he replied and talked about realizing how much more relaxed he was without the tie. When asked if he was really willing to concede the "Best Dressed Big East Coach" battle to Villanova's Jay Wright, Lavin chuckled "Jay Wright is George Clooney" he replied, confessing "I am attracted to Jay Wright. And my wife knows I am attracted to Jay Wright..." The laughter that rolled through the room was easy and genuine. The winning team's press conference is always more fun.

Earlier in the presser Justin Burrell was asked about tension in the St. John's huddle at the under five minute timeout with the Johnnies down two. What plays were discussed the forward was asked. "None" he replied. "The coach told us to enjoy ourselves". The response begged for a followup, and to Lavin, who entered the room and took the podium after Burrell and Hardy departed, this was the first topic touched. "A matter of miscommunication..." replied Lavin "They were obviously down as the guys on the court walked over to the huddle...I decided to try to lift their spirits rather than go over specific plays..." His next lines brought back memories of Coach Massimino's now famous "pasta" half time speech during the Wildcats' Regional Final versus North Carolina. "...I told them to enjoy the moment. Here they were, playing the game they love, with their best friends, in front of their fans in Madison Square Garden. It does not get better than this...go out and enjoy playing the game..."

Pittsburgh takes their third loss of the season and second in conference play, putting their record at 24-3 and 12-2 respectively. The Panthers' road trip continues with a stop in Morgantown, WV to face the 'Eers on Thursday. St. John's record now stands at 17-9 overall and 9-5 in conference play.

Guest Contributor Ray Floriani: Siena at St. Peters, WBB

by Ray Floriani

JERSEY CITY, NJ - It was a pleasant homecoming for Siena guard Cristina Centeno. She led all scorers with 21 points as Siena defeated St. Peter's 57-40 in a women's game at Yanitelli Center on Saturday.

Outside of the Yaniitelli Center
looking south on Kennedy Boulevard
at St. Peter's College

Efficiency numbers:

St. Peter's6364

Siena entered the game a 64 possession team in MAAC play. Their efficiency margin was a +5 with an offensive mark of 85 and a defense of 80. A 40% opposing eFG percentage was further testament of their defense.

St. Peter's' possessions were at 68. The efficiency margin was a woeful -13. Good blame is on offensive struggles as the offensive efficiency stood at 79 and the defense 92. That defensive mark is respectable and the opposition's 45% eFG percentage and 26% turnover rate are further examples that St. Peter's can play some D.

The Four Factors:

St. Peter's31154033

St. Peter's led 28-22 in points in the paint and actually got to the line almost as frequently as Siena. They didn't capitalize on their chances and trailed in free throw rate. Siena shot 13 of 15 (87%) from the charity stripe while St. Peter's was 8 of 13 (62%).

St. Peter's struggled mightily getting any shot to go down. They were 0 for 8 beyond the arc. A tough shooting day, yes, but credit Siena's defense. They utilized a 1-2-1-1 full court press to wear St. Peter's down then defended very well in half court. The TO rate inflicted on St. Peter's is another indication of Siena's defense.

game action Siena-St. Peter's at Yanitelli

On their behalf St. Peter's did not defend that bad. The efficiency, eFG and TO rates of Siena bear this out. An 88 defensive efficiency mark should win you a lot of games. But not when you are putting up a 64 on your end of the floor.

Centeno a junior guard out of Belleville, Nj played her high school ball at nearby Marist in Bayonne. Her 21 points came on 7 of 13 shooting (2 for 3 from three). She was 5 of 6 from the line as well.

Serena Moore added 15 points, 12 rebounds. A 6-2 senior forward, Moore has the versatility to play inside and handle the ball against the press or on the perimeter.

Cristina Centeno's cheering section
with a sign for her # 25

Siena is 11-14 (9-6 in the MAAC). St. Peter's falls to 3-23, 3-12 in conference. Junior center Quiana Porter came off the bench to pace St. Peter's with 14 points. They were almost even in turnovers (Siena 22 St. Peter's 21) but the Saints were more opportunistic. They enjoyed a 22-15 edge in points off turnovers. Score was tied at 13 late in the half before Siena went on a 15-2 closing run to take a 28-15 lead into the locker room at the half. Siena has won three of the last four and visits Fairfield on Monday. St. Peter's has dropped eight straight and hosts MAAC leading and nationally ranked Marist on Monday. Siena coach Gina Castelli is in her 21st season at Siena. She was on the sidelines when St. Peter's coach Stephanie DeWolfe played for the Peahens in the late Nineties.

St. Peter's players
graciously host a post game autograph session
for local youth