Monday, August 22, 2011

Rising Seniors -- Eight to Watch

What I Am Looking For
Last March's "All-Big East'rs" Ashton Gibbs, Darius Odom-Johnson and Kris Joseph won't make this list. Neither will Kevin Jones or Tim Abromaitis. Everybody knows them, and everyone will have them on their "Best in" or "Top" list in the next two and a half months. The Big East coaches and AP writers will vote them to a variety of "All" preseason teams. They have already been a bullet on ESPN's "Keys to the Game" pre-game analysis, and will probably continue their bullet status this season. They made their marks during their freshmen or sophomore or junior seasons. Those "name" guys decided to come back and most will reap the rewards of returning to finish their education and eligibility. But every season a Hilton Armstrong, or an Andy Rautins, a Jon Wallace or a Dante Cunningham lands in the national press (and picks up a post season Big East award or two) seemingly out of nowhere. Invisible to many except their team's fans, these seniors tend to start somewhere back in that freshman pack, or labor in the vinyards of a low ranking team, but unlike their classmates, they (and their team?) improve quietly every season. By Pomeroy's classification system they may start as a "Role", "Limited Role" or even "Invisible" player, and grow into a "Major" player or "Go-to Guy" over the course of their four years. Pomeroy discusses growth "probabilities" in "Putting Individual Efficiency into Perspective" over at The Basketball Prospectus in 2007. These guys tend to push at the upper limit of their growth curve each season. The Jon Wallaces and Orinze Onuakus -- are drawing a good share of the minutes at their position going into their senior seasons and they are drawing somewhere between 18% - 20% of the possessions when they are on the floor. They may lurk off the MSM's radar, but their coaches and teammates know who they are, look for them on the floor...and trust them with the ball.

On Offense...
Jae CrowderMU68.8120.119.822.61.13
Dion Dixon'Nati66.8112.722.424.61.08
Chris Smith'Ville63.8110.019.718.91.12
Yancy Gates'Nati67.2108.822.924.31.07
Jason ClarkGTown76.1107.420.522.11.20
Nasir RobinsonPitt54.8103.521.920.51.10
Scott MartinNDU73.0101.018.520.11.03
Jordan TheodoreHall75.098.622.820.31.05

Dion Dixon fits the profile, each season (except for Lance Stevenson's single year in the Queen City...) his role with the Bearcats has grown. Securing 22.4% of the possessions and just under a quarter of the shots last season should have put Dixon on an "All" team if not for a slew of seniors (with better name recognition?) ahead of him in line. And also a Bearcat or two who drew conference and media attention. For Cincinnati to rub shoulders with the conference elites (seeds #1-#4) in 2012, Dixon and Gates (and rising sophomre Sean Kirkpatrick along with a few others...) will have to have very good seasons. And while we are in southeastern Ohio, Yancy Gates is another name that will appear on a preseason list or two. Gates, whose self-made demons held him back for a couple of seasons made significant strides last season. This time around the forward/center should do even better. vbtn is firmly in the pro-Gates Line this preseason. Marquette's Jae Crowder is another Buzz Williams JUCO/transfer the fourth year coach has a habit of pulling out of thin air (or so it seems). Two seasons of conference play may not be enough to turn heads among the conference's large media following, but every one of Marquette's conference opponents know they will have to account for him in their gameplans. Given Coach Pitino's penchant for stockpiling players are certain positions, Chris Smith has been victimized a bit by competition with rising junior Mike Mara and fellow rising senior Kyle Kuric. If Smith, whose shot and possession rates (Shot% & Poss%) are on the high side of "role player" will probably need more playing time and opportunities to score to grow into a major contributor or significant contributor level player. Preston Knowles is gone, but freshman Wayne Blackshear will press him for playing time at the #2. .

Four Factors...
Jae CrowderMU68.854.99.58.638.3
Dion Dixon'Nati66.849.
Chris Smith'Ville63.853.46.718.933.6
Yancy Gates'Nati67.251.79.312.742.0
Jason ClarkGTown76.157.24.721.025.9
Nasir RobinsonPitt54.854.89.519.854.3
Scott MartinNDU73.
Jordan TheodoreHall75.047.52.622.433.6

An offensive rebounding rate of 9.3 and higher is a Top 500 ranking per Ken Pomeroy -- Gates, Crowder and Pittusburgh's small forward Nasir Robinsin are reasons their teams rank in the upper half of the conference for rebounding. Robinson's offensive rating is hurt by his turnovers (and lack of playing time due to an absent three point shot?) a byproduct of his close-to-the-basket play, but with more mobile front court mates and versatile forwards, Robinson should see more time this season. Crowder's and Gate's lack of turnovers, despite their play in the front court is encouraging, especially when considered with their offensive rebounding, each presents some strong scoring opportunities for their teams. For Jordan Theodore to garner more favorable recognition in the conference, he will need to dampen his turnover rate, as will Georgetown wing Jason Clark, whose outstanding shot efficiency (eFG% -- 57.2%) is tempered by his tendency to lose the ball.

Jae CrowderMU11.418.73.32.7
Dion Dixon'Nati15.
Chris Smith'Ville18.
Yancy Gates'Nati10.321.15.11.8
Jason ClarkGTown11.711.20.72.9
Nasir RobinsonPitt10.513.70.41.2
Scott MartinNDU12.
Jordan TheodoreHall30.

Scott Martin had to sit a year as a Purdue transfer. The rising senior suffered an injury on the eve of the 2010 season, and came into 2011 off of a two year layover. Though he was rusty last season, as his rebounding suggested, and fitting into a rotation that had Ben Hansbrough and Tim Abromaitis available offensively no doubt limited his scoring oppportunities, Scott has another year to condition and as Hansbrough has graduated, should see a larger role in Notre Dame's offense. Theordore's assist rate is impressive and his defensive rebounding rate is not too shabby for a point guard. Now if he can get the turnovers under control and improve his shooting, the Hall will benefit immensely in conference play.

Hits & Misses...Last Year's List
Marshon Brooks exploded offensively and became one of the few bright spots (along with a win over Villanova...) in Providence's otherwise lackluster season. Brooks was named to the All-Big East First Team, along with "vbtn Watch List" mate Dwight Hardy from St. John's (who also took home the Big East's "Most Improved Player" award). Most of the Johnnies' limelight however, shone on "vbtn Watch List" member DJ Kennedy, who hit a runner at the buzzer against Pittsburgh in the Garden that put St. John's back into the Top 25 (and sealed their invitation to the Dance?). A season-ending injury three weeks later sidelined Kennedy and took a bit of wind out of the Red Storm. Rick Jackson and Brad Wannamaker made the All-Big East Second Team, with Jackson earning the "Defensive Player" award and Wannamaker honored with the conference's "Sportsmanship" award. Though Chris Wright was named to the All-Big East Third Team, the Hoyas' season sputtered at the end, giving Wright no opportunities for heriocs. The same can be said for Villanova's Antonio Pena, also named to the "vbtn Watch List". Though the bfc started the entire season, the Wildcats looked in vain for low post offense when their perimeter players were slowed (or sidelined) with nicks and dents. The Wildcats were trapped in a death spiral as the regular season slipped into the post season. Scoop Jardine decided to take all of his eligibility and return for a fifth year. Gilbert Brown had a decent season, though he did not have the breakthrough that fans predicted each of the four seasons he spent with the Panthers. Caught covering Butler's Shawn Vanzant late in their second round game, Brown could not prevent Vanzant's pass to Adam Smith whose bucket put Butler up for good, and sent Pittsburgh home in the first weekend.

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