Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Santa Clara Post Game: The Learning Curve

What the Zebras Give, They Take Away
The first half ended with Villanova going to the line for three of their last five possessions. Down 28-32 when Jordan Akwenuke fouled Mouphtaou Yarou on yet another low post entry pass to send Yarou to the line. Villanova's center converted 2-2, as did Dominic Cheek on the Wildcats' next possession. The score tied at 32, the teams exchanged two empty trips apiece as the clock slipped below 0:30 Bronco guard Brandon Clark fouled Cheek on a three point attempt. The junior wing stepped to the line and sank all three attempts. Back the other way with three ticks left freshman Darrun Hilliard fouled Santa Clara point guard Evan Roquemore in the midst of a desparation three. To the line with 0:0.2 on the clock, Roquemore managed to get the Broncos two more points before the half, and Villanova retired to the locker room with a one point, 35-34 lead.

Not able to pull away in the second half, the Wildcats nevertheless had the ball and a five point lead, 64-59, with 0:57 left. Villanova was not only unable to convert their next two possessions, but they compounded the problem by putting Roquemore on the line for Santa Clara's corresponding two possessions. The second trip to the foul line was especially frustrating because Villanova's defense had denied the Broncos a clean look for a tieing three point attempt. With 10 seconds left on the clock Santa Clara Coach Kerry Keating had called time when the Bronco's first three point play had broken down. Thinking they had a foul to give, the Villanova staff instructed Hilliard to foul with seven ticks left. The scoreboard may have said five fouls (even the refereeing crew told the Villanova bench the wrong foul count), but the scorer's book said six, and Hilliard's foul-to-give put Roquemore back on the line where he dropped both and cut the lead to one, 65-64. Hilliard could not find an open player at mid-court, and forgetting he could run the baseline, dumped the inbound to JayVaughn Pinkston who was the outlet. The forward gathered the ball, but was fouled instantly by guard Raymond Cowells, thus putting the freshman, who had converted three of four free throw attempts to that point, on the line with the game hanging. Pinkston missed the front end, and stepped between Yannik Atanga and Roquemore to intercept the pass. He made contact with Roquemore with 0:04 on the clock and put Roquemore back on the line shooting one-and-one. Roquemore converted twice to claim the win for Santa Clara.

The Villanova blogosphere and messageboards have dissolved into a tasty ragou of factions and differing opinions. The bloggers over at VUHoops.com offered a critical recap that provided readers with an opportunity to comment. Those readers generated 206 comments, which spanned the spectrum from absolute disgust to wait and see. The blogger wisely abstained from grading the performances, though the title, "Sloppy Cats Bucked by Broncos" implies an opinion of sorts. The Nova Blog chose to accentuate the positive in their recap, "Things Aren't As Bad...". The University site posted the AP wire story and the official boxscore. The breakdown by halves

OpponentSanta Clara 
 Offense Defense

Half Time Adjustments
The pace was slow for Villanova, but consistent with Santa Clara's offensive style of play. The Broncos are a perimeter oriented team (POT), that uses motion to find open three point scoring opportunities, which may take time to develop. Stymied by the Bronco's zone defense early in the first half, Villanova found the adjustment after 5-7 minutes, and looked for Yarou to flash to the key for a pass. When he caught it, the center could then reverse the ball or turn and shoot. Shooting was extremely effective as Yarou converted 4-7, most from that spot, and went to the free throw line several times as well. Santa Clara bigs collected seven personals in the first half. Though that play was available in the second half, Yarou's hit only 3-6, with Markus Kennedy only able to convert 1-6 in a similar situation.

Notes & Observations
1. A 28.6% conversion rate for three point attempts in the first half, and a 38.9% two point conversion rate in the second half worked to keep Villanova's eFG% below 50% for both halves. Recognizing what the defense will give earlier might have made a difference going into the half-time. Taking advantage of a loose zone early in the second half helped to build a modest lead through the first few minutes. Santa Clara recognized Wayns' tendency to drive the lane with late game possessions and defensed the play well, despite Villanova setting the second screen. Who was available to take a pass at that point?

2. Maalik Wayns took over 30% of the possessions and 24% of the available shots when he was on the floor. Those numbers allow the other members on the floor a larger role than setting screens and grabbing rebounds, but dishing only three dimes to four turnovers continues to eat into his efficiency. Wayns' eFG% was a modest 50%, accounting for a 10 point contribution to the offense.

3. Yarou emerged as a legitimate primary scoring option in this game. The Santa Clara front court contingent was outclassed when matched with Yarou. The junior went 7-13 from the field and 5-7 from the line to post an eFG% of 53.8% with a 1.16 PPWS, the best on the team among those who logged 50% or more playing time and 20% or more Shot%. Yarou also corralled 10.7% of the available offensive rebounds, a strong number for low post players.

4. A possible hint of minute distribution and player rotation to come, the staff used 10 players again, but only seven saw more than 10 minutes of PT. Bell and Yarou drew >30 minutes, while Wayns, limited by foul trouble in the first half, drew 29.

5. The turnover rate among the freshmen (and Wayns...) was high, with Ty Johnson losing 49% of his possessions, followed by Pinkston (37%), (Wayns...29%) and Hilliard (26%). Kennedy lost only 13% of his possessions, a strong number considering he plays in the low post. Given the inbounds play that put Pinkston on the line with 6 seconds to go, the staff intends to use the freshmen extensively (do they have a choice?) and in critical, end game situations.

Perimeter Oriented Teams...
Santa Clara offers a typical profile for a team that looks to generate it's offense from the outside in. The Broncos show some obvious clues by their point distribution (50.8% from three point conversions), but the more subtle clues are present even if they did not convert as efficiently as they did. Note the offensive rebounding rate (10.7%) and free throw rate (FTA/FGA -- free throws to field goal attemtps -- 22.0%), both of which hint strongly that the Broncos avoid contact while scoring their points. The pace, possessions per game, also hint at a POT, the Broncos rely on a variety of screens and ball reversals to set up their scorers.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Guest Contributor Ray Floriani -- Preseason NIT Finals

by Ray Floriani

NEW YORK CITY -- The shot chart the last eight minutes of the game showed Syracuse with nine field goals, Kris Joseph hitting five of them. The senior forward was instrumental in the Syracuse's 69-63 victory over Stanford in the Pre-Season NIT championship at Madison Square Garden.

The court at Madison Square Garden

The scores:

Consolation Game...
Virginia Tech59 57Oklahoma State

Championship Game...
Syracuse69 63Stanford

The possessions and efficiency:


Beside Joseph, the victory was predicated on good old full court pressure defense. The Cardinal had an eight point lead with under seven minutes to go and appeared to be in control. Syracuse then went into the press that forced turnovers, created quick scores and accelerated the pace. As Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim pointed out, Stanford was doing a great job controlling the clock with possessions in the 30-35 second range. Down eight that late , it would have been very difficult to come back if the possessions continued at that pace.

Joseph had a game high 18 points, earning Most Outstanding Player honors. Those five field goals in the latter eight minutes came from varying areas. There was a three pointer, two mid range jumpers and two closely defended penetrations in the paint.

MVP Kris Joseph of Syracuse

Syracuse did have an eFg percentage of 51%. Regardless, Boeheim feels his offense or improvement of it, is priority one. The Orange were guilty of 21 turnovers, an extremely high 29% TO rate. The Cardinal struggled even greater in that area with 24 turnovers and an astounding 35% TO mark.

Johnny Dawkins' Pac 12 representatives did pound the boards with a 50% offensive rebounding percentage. Syracuse was close behind with 47% led by Fab Melo with 5 offensive boards, and the versatile Joseph adding four.

Syracuse -- specifically Jim Boeheim -- fans

Stanford's Josh Owens a 14 points per game scorer, struggled with a 4 point (2 of 7 shooting) performance in 31 minutes.

A satisfying tournament for Syracuse. Not only due to taking home the championship but facing two good teams, Virginia Tech in the semis and Stanford in the final. In the latter contest, how Syracuse pulled it out was very gratifying. Now, it's back to the offensive 'drawing board'.

Coaches Johnny Dawkins and Jim Boeheim post game

The consolation gave us a hard fought one possession contest.

The pace and efficiency:

Oklahoma State56102
Virginia Tech6197

Two major keys here. Travis Ford's teams like to get out and push the pace. Virginia Tech favors a half court environment and Seth Greenberg's group dictated tempo. Oklahoma State entered the game averaging 72 possessions and were held to 16 less than their norm. On the afternoon, Oklahoma state was limited to two fast break points.

Other big factor was the offensive glass. Virginia Tech started slow looking at an 8-0 deficit after the first four minutes. The Hokies continued to work inside and gradually wore down the Cowboys. Virginia Tech had a 48-37% advantage in offensive rebounding percentage. Dorian Finney-Smith, a 6-8 forward, did appreciable damage for tech with 8 offensive rebounds.

Tech, interestingly, only shot 35% eFG percentage. Given their rebounding edge and a tidy 18% TO rate, it's not a huge surprise they were able to pull this contest out and exit MSG with that well earned split.

The Honors (with their final game Manley efficiency):

MOPKris Joseph, Syracuse22
All Tournament Team:Dion Waiters, Syracuse10
C. J. Fair, Syracuse12
Aaron Bright, Stanford13
Erick Green, Virginia Tech11

Markel Brown of Oklahoma State was not selected to the All-Tournament team but did lead the consolation game scorers with 19 points. His Manley efficiency checked in at an impressive 23 (largely due to the sophomore guard's 10 rebounds).

'Stat Stuffer' Melo
Fab Melo, Syracuse's sophomore center drew praise for his play in the final. The seven-footer played 32 minutes and scored 6 points (3 of 6 shooting) with 9 rebounds, 3 blocks and 3 steals. His final Manley efficiency, a very commendable 16. Second on the Orange in the championship game.

Street view from the pressroom,
New York on Black Friday

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The 2011 Legends Classic -- 4 Takaways

After I Got a Few Hours' Sleep Between Monday and Wednesday...
After blogging the Legends Classic Saturday and Monday night, I drove home to write the recap for RTC, sleep for an hour or two before embarking on a 24 hour juggling marathon of personal, professional and avocational responsibilities. Having an hour to actually sit and think...would probably put me to sleep. So before I think too long...

1. Entertaining & Exciting != High Quality & Excellent -- The fans who came out (mostly attached to the schools, which is a shame, these were very entertaining games) were treated to a four game set that included an overtime period between Oregon State and Texas Saturday, necessitated by an Oregon State make on the next-to-last possession of regulation (O State had not held the lead for more than one possession for the previous 32 mintues). Jared Cunningham sank two free throws to force the overtime period. Two other games featured the possible win or tie by the team holding the ball at the end of regulation. Nerve wracking for the winners and very exciting for those who came out to watch. The fourth game, by the way, was decided by seven points (three possessions), saw five lead changes and a tie in the last six minutes of play...hardly a snooze. So why does exciting not always equal excellent? The four games averaged 42.5 fouls (that is 21 fouls per team) and 35.8 turnovers (or nearly 18 per team per game). Each game seemed to have several stretches where both teams turned the ball over on successive possessions, leading to several sequences where the ball would change hands four-to-six times with teams exchanging "one-and-done" possessions, or possibly not taking a shot at all. Television timeouts, which seemed to stretch innocuous fouls into 2-3 minute huddle sessions, brought several promising runs to a screeching halt which fatally disrupted any attempts at a game flow. But the runs, taken by all four teams at various times, coupled with some impressive individual performances and wild end-of-regulation play sequences were strong redeeming qualities. Yes I'd do this again. In a heartbeat.

NC State's Richard Howell dunks
at the end of a run out
in State's loss to Vanderbilt

2. Vanderbilt Can Win Without Festus Ezeli (or Even Johnny Jenkins?!). Oregon State Cannot Without Jared Cunningham -- Coach Kevin Stallings put speculation about the impact of no Ezeli to bed quickly, and the subject of the post game interviews refocused on how Vanderbilt played rather than how they would have played. The Commodores downed two good -- not great -- teams from power conferences. Teams expected to finish in the upper division of their respective conferences, though not to seriously challenge for the top spots in their respective conferences. Given the competition, that Vanderbilt won both games speaks well for the Commodores' depth and poise. They bested middling teams from other power conferences without their starting center who was the team's #3 scorer and #2 rebounder (#1 offensive rebounder) speaks to the talent level that is now available. That is the basic talent level that will sustain them through SEC play. Ezeli, when he rehabilitates and rejoins the squad, will most likely make a difference as to whether the 'Dores finish #5 or #3 (or higher...) this season. His absence will not determine whether the squad has a winning or losing season. Opposing coaches spoke of Vanderbilt's experience in post game pressers, but invariably they mentioned senior wing Jeffrey Taylor, before junior guard John Jenkins, the leading SEC scorer last season.

Can the same be said for Oregon State? Coach Craig Robinson asserted to the assembled press that his team "...have quite a bit of character...", and "...[Jared Cunningham]'s a marked man now. We expect Jared to understand that help [his teammates] get involved...he affects the game even when he is not scoring 35 points a game...". While forward Devon Collier and pg Ahme Starks led the scoring against Vanderbilt, the Beavers' scoring is largely in those three teammates' hands. Though he had seven steals, the Beavers needed more than nine points from the junior off guard against Vanderbilt. Cunningham will need to post more than nine points per game to boost the Beaver's chances in Pac-12 play.

Starks (#3) & Collier (#44) are not enough
if the Beavers are to finish
in the Pac-12's top 3

3. Should Coach Barnes Test His Team for ADHD? -- Counting the two halves of each game separately, Texas "lost" the last four minutes three out of four times (four out of five if you count the Oregon State overtime Saturday). What happened? In the first half of their semi-final versus Oregon State, the Long Horns had just outscored the Beavers 14-7 from the 7:59 mark to the 4:00 mark. From there to the end of the half however the Horns managed eight points on eight possessions, for a 1.00 points per possession rate. The Beavers scored 10 point in eight possessions, good for a 1.25 ppp. Though the Horns retained a five point edge going into the intermission, they had Beavers on the ropes at the 4:00 minute mark, and let them go. The second half of Saturday's game followed a pattern similar to the first half, the Horns again established an edge going into the last four minutes (complements of a 13-6 scoring edge from the 11:50-4:00 mark), but lost focus again, scoring six points in their last eight possessions (0.75 ppp) to Oregon State's 12 points over eight possessions (1.50 ppp). The Horns shot 3-9 from the floor and 9-12 from the line in those two four minute slices, with no assists. Coach Robinson's squad shot 6-14 (with six assists) and 7-8 from the line.

Monday night's Consolation Game with North Carolina State had a similar pattern emerge with respect to "the last four", at least in the first half. Up by 13 at the 4:00 minute mark, the Horns scored their last five points in the half using six possessions (0.83 ppp), shooting 1-6 from the field with a single assist and 2-4 from the line.

NC State Coach Mark Gottfried can only watch
as Texas center Alexis Wangmene stuffs a putback
in first half of the Consolation Game

The Wolfpack scored eight points on seven possessions (1.14 ppp) on 1-2 shooting from the field (on an assist) and 5-6 from the line. Coach Barnes identified fouling as one of the areas the staff had to continue to address with the young team. J'Covan Brown's technical (and fifth foul) as a reaction to his fourth foul became a central theme in the post game presser. Coach Rick Barnes, reflecting on Brown offered "...That's where he gotta grow up. He's been in the program for three years and he's at different role now where these guys are looking for a lot from him...and he just can't do that. This has happened too much and sooner or later he's going to have to figure out that's what's going to keep him from where he wants to be and more importantly, it's a team game, and...he's got to realize it is not about him, there's more to it than scoring points...there's a lot that goes into being a part of a basketball team" Speaking with that gentle Southeastern drawl that tends to soothe the untrained Yankee ear, the coach continued "...he's come a long way...but he's, he ought to have it figured out by now...". In response to a later question about the impact of the technical on the team, Barnes responded "...I'm concerned for J'Covan. We're going to be fine. We've got enough guys who will work...the concerning part is for him. He's a junior, he's been here long enough and he ought to know...but for the team, if he doesn't do what he needs to do we'll move without him. We don't want to do that...everyone likes him...he's worked harder than he's ever worked in his life...but there's more to it...there's a mental side to it; there's a team component side to it...". Acknowledging that the technical "put them back on their heels..." was a mild statement.

Texas Coach Rick Barnes responded
to reporters' questions
but did he have any answers?

Leading 65-52 when Brown was T'ed up, the Horns could score only nine points on their last 16 possessions of the game (0.56 ppp), going 2-12 (no assists) from the field and 5-7 from the line. The Wolfpack scored 21 points on their last 16 possessions (1.56 ppp), converting 6-9 (four assists) from the field to go with 7-11 from the line.

Missing Saturday's semi-final with a rolled ankle
Wolfpack forward Scott Wood
provided outside scoring to complement State's inside game

4. Three For the Post Season? -- I left the 2010 Legends convinced that three of the four teams would play in the post season somewhere (in a tournament that starts with an "N"). Three did, though I was surprised at the details. I am not sure if three of the four teams I saw Saturday and Monday will go to the post season this time. Tournament winner Vanderbilt is the easy pick, assuming they do not hit anymore "Ezeli Bumps" (see Notre Dame's Tim Abromaitis), but which among the others will draw a bid? If Oregon State, the other finalist Monday does finish in the top 3/4 of the Pac-12 they will probably be tabbed. The win over Texas would help if there is any doubt, but Jared Cunningham has to show up. The Texas squad was not impressive, especially in the second loss to North Carolina State. But then neither was Michigan last season, and the Wolverines managed a bid as Coach Beilein's squad did mature and gel as the season progressed. North Carolina State did not impress in their semi-final game with Vanderbilt, but C. J. Leslie was back for his first game and Scott Wood was a DNP. The wing was solid, even on a shaky ankle, in the Wolfpack's win over Texas. And Leslie looked more comfortable than in his first game. Project (by Ken Pomeroy subscription) to tie for sixth in the Atlantic Coast Conference this season, North Carolina has an experienced squad. With Mark Gottfried at the helm and a staff that includes Bobby Lutz and Rob Moxley, the Wolfpack is better prepared to succeed than any of the past five years.

Texas freshman guard
Sterling Gibbs (#13) saw action in
the Consolation Game Monday

Saint Louis Post Game: Deja Vu

Take Me Home, Country Roads
The first seven possessions went like clockwork, 13 points on 5-8 shooting with three made three point field goals as Villanova jumped out to a 13-5 lead on St. Louis. Then the Billinkens calmed down and began to work their offensive sets. The game tightened up as the Bills took a 12-10 run over the next six minutes to trim two points off of the Wildcats' lead. Then Mouphtao Yarou headed to the bench with his sesond foul of the half, and the wheels fell off of the wagon. Coach Rick Majerus' squad launched a 22-10 onslaught over the last 9:30 of the first period that wiped out Villanova's lead and sent Saint Louis into the lock room with a four point, 38-34 lead. And firm control on the game.

Watching Villanova's defense try to trap and press St. Louis reminded me of a badly played game of keep-away. By the mid point of the second half the relative youth (and indiscipline?) of the Wildcats showed with a series of flairing elbows and flagrant foul calls. Walking a fine line between tough, Big East defense and chippy basketball, the 'Cats found themselves under an unwelcomed refereeing microscope. The irony was that Villanova's offense was not terrible, as in lose-the-game terrible. With a 52.9% eFG% and turnover rate of 18.5%, how could Villanova be losing, and by double digits (the game was in the second half...) at that? The game reminded me of the West Virginia teams under John Beilein. Most of the time the Wildcats got much of what they wanted offensively, but would still lose to a Mountaineer team that understood what plays to run to exploit the Wildcats' help defense. As Blue and White defenders collapsed on the Billiken with the ball driving the lane (or at the elbow), the pass would go into the area just vacated by the "help" defender...to a Billiken flashing to the basket or set for a quick three. The Bills converted 14 of 27 three point attempts, far, far to high for any opponent to overcome. It was a game where high rebounding numbers and low turnover rates were marginalized by the extraordinary efficiency offered by the other team.

The bloggers over at VUHoops.com offered a brief recap with player grades while the Nova Blog posted a recap followed by a detailed player critique later. The University site posted their AP wire story. The official boxscore is also posted. The breakdown by halves

OpponentSt. Louis 
 Offense Defense

Half Time Adjustments
An anemic 6.7% offensive rebounding rate in the first half was "corrected" to 37.5% in the second half. Realistically that was probably the only way to boost an already good 56.3% eFG%. Ironically the rebounding improved -- but the conversion rate still dropped. A 52.9% eFG% coupled with a 1.13 PPWS should be good enough offensively to chalk up the win. The Billikens however, sliced up Villanova's defense to the tune of a 64.7% eFG% and 1.30 PPWS, numbers that should draw a comment from Ken Pomeroy and others who track those numbers. Villanova's "help defense" was it's own worst enemy in this game. And the frustration manifested by a number of second half chippy fouls (and Darrun Hilliard's quick exit after his fourth foul) suggests the players knew their best efforts were useless to shut down the offense they faced.

Notes & Observations
1. The assist rate drop from first to second half (75.0 to 30.8) is clear evidence that the offense went away from dribble drive to one-on-one breakdown as a response to being down double digits for much of the perod.

2. Maalik Wayns took a whopping 44% of the shots when he was in the game. Given he played 87.5% of the available minutes at one of the guard positions, his high shooting percentage was not a distortion of the minutes. His 49% possession rate, however, tends to reduce Villanova's offense to one dimension. Stop Wayns and the Wildcats stall.

3. James Bell emerged as a legitimate second option on offense. The sophomore wing took 26.5% of the shots when he was on the floor, with a comparable percentage of the possessions. Now one (or both?) of Mouphtaou Yarou or Dominic Cheek must establish themselves as legitimate second/third scoring options. For Yarou that means staying in the game (and game flow). For Cheek it means shooting/scoring more consistently.

4. The staff used a 10 man rotation again. Minute distribution ranged from five (Ty Johnson to 35 (Wayns) minutes, with eight drawing 10 or more minutes.

5. St. Louis was paced by sophomore guard Jordair Jett who came off of the bench to score 19 points on 7-8 (2-2, 5-6) shooting from the floor and 3-6 from the line. Kwamain Mitchell (32.1% Shot%), Cody Ellis (23.5% Shot%) and Rob Loe (43.6% Shot%) were, along with Jett, the offensive mainstays for St. Louis. Mitchell did not convert efficiently however, and Loe played only nine minutes (taking five field goal attempts in that time span).

Up Next... -- Santa Clara will face Villanova in the 3rd place game on Sunday.

Friday, November 25, 2011

UC Riverside Post Game: Opening Strong

The Burn Offense is Alive and Well...in Riverside, California
While it might seem far fetched that a basketball team can create a 25 point winning margin on just 58 (plus or minus 1?) possessions, that is precisely what Villanova did in their first round game with University of California Riverside of the 76 Classic in Anaheim, California. Looking at last season's kenpom ratings this would make some sense, the Wildcats obtained the highest rating among the eight schools invited to participate; UC Riverside had the lowest. Two things happened on the way to the first round...first, the balance of the field was not seeded in the anticipated 1-8, 2-7, 3-6, 4-5 fashion that one might have expected, and second, the kenpom ratings changed to reflect games played this season, and Villanova fell to #3 according to the kenpom system. The field was seeded to insure an "East-West" game for the finals. The only team in Villanova's bracket not from the Mississippi or east was UC Riverside, the team most likely to lose their first round game. All of the teams in the other bracket come from west of the Mississippi River Valley, Oklahoma, clearly a "southwestern" team is the most easterly team in the bracket. Villanova dismantled UC Riverside 71-46 in the most decisive game so far in the Wildcats' the 2011-12 schedule. The final will feature an East-West match.

The Highlanders held onto the lead for over 10 minutes in the first half. The shot clock, not a hot shooting hand or control of the offensive boards was the key. The Highlanders typically took 20-30 seconds off the clock before they took a field goal attempt. The Wildcats would more often than not gather the defensive rebound and respond with a shot (often a miss) anywhere from four to twenty seconds into the shot clock. That tactic, to "shorten" the game by burning the clock, is an often employed strategy by an overmatched underdog. It makes sense too; by limiting the scoring opportunities the underdog can, in theory, keep the score close, maximizing the impact of high reward offensive tactics like the three point attempt. By the 11 minute mark however, the Highlanders, overmatched on height, had no more fouls to give, and the Wildcats' offense began to grind them down. Freshman off guard Darrun Hilliard hit a three at the 9:30 mark putting Villanova up by one 15-14, and the Wildcats were not headed again. Once on top, the 'Cats took a 17-2 run to close out the half...and the game.

The bloggers over at Nova Blog and VUHoops.com attributed UC Riverside's 11 minute lead to hot shooting (the Highlanders) and sloppy play (the Wildcats), both of which were true. Sort of. UC Riverside did score in their first three possessions (which consumed over two minutes on the game clock), but those seven points were half of their entire point production through the first 11 minutes of the half. It took the Highlanders another nine minutes to scored their next seven points. And seven more minutes to score their next two (and last of the half) points. Villanova did go an appalling 2-9 from the field while they were down on the Highlanders, but stayed within contact by shooting 6-6 from the line. While the Highlanders committed seven fouls (putting the 'Cats in the bonus) with a single turnover over that time period, the 'Cats committed four fouls and one turnover by contrast. The University site posted their AP wire story. The official boxscore is also posted. The breakdown by halves

OpponentUC Riverside 
 Offense Defense

Half Time Adjustments
Villanova broke on top in the first because, though their eFG% was poor enough to be down at the half, was better than the Highlanders...shot defense. The Wildcats took care of the ball (see turnover rate) while forcing turnovers by UC Riverside. Second half stats show improved (reflected in the score margins, which ranged as high as 30 late in the second period, ultimately settling in at 25) shot efficiency (eFG%) coupled with much better offensive rebounding rates, even as the Wildcats continued to care for the ball (see turnover rate). The half-over-half steep drop in free throw rate (FTA/FGA) is most likely a reflection of the Highlanders' foul difficulties -- their bigs had to be careful, which may also account for the dramatic increase in Villanova's offensive rebounding rate (24.8 to 64.7).

Notes & Observations
1. The staff appears to have fixed on the starting five, using Maalik Wayns at the point with Darrun Hilliard and Dom Cheek rounding out the back court/wing sports, with James Bell playing the "#4" and Mouphtaou Yarou at the #5. The staff called the numbers for a total of 10 players who were alloted playing time ranging from eight minutes (freshman Ty Johnson again) up to 35 minutes (Wayns). Freshman Achraf Yacoubou drew a modestly surprising 20 minutes, due most likely to Bell's foul problems. Freshman JayVaughn Pinkston played for 17 minutes while fellow freshman Markus Kennedy drew 12 minutes.
2. Yarou and Wayns asserted themselves as hoped for. Yarou scored a double-double on 11 points and 10 rebounds. Wayns chipped in a game-high 23 points while the 'Cats had two others, Hilliard (12 points) and Bell (12 points) who also notched double digit minutes. Bell's 12 points were scored in 13 minutes of play, all that could be safely allocated given his foul problems.

3. A crucial and welcomed stat is the point distribution, highlighted in green above. Though Villanova shooters were hitting their three point attempts at a 50% clip, but the guards did not drop out to the arc and start jacking threes. Note points from two point attempts in the second half was 66%, and overall threes accounted for under 30% of the point production. Given the point margin was +20 through much of the second half the back court showed discipline and good judgement by not stepping back taking threes. They also insured that a cold streak would not let the Highlanders back into the game.

4. Wayns took about 40% of the possessions and 38% of the shots when he was on the court. This time he combined high usage with high efficiency, for the kind of production that will earn him some national attention. I have just about accepted the idea that he will be a volumn shooter, not a role I would like to see. Against programs like UC Riverside however, it works. He draws (defensive) attention, which should benefit second and third scoring options like Hilliard, Yarou and Yacoubou, both of whom took between 11% and 21% of the shots. Bell took a surprising 31% of the shots, but consider how little time he actually logged.

5. UC Riverside was paced by Daymond Cowlah, who scored 10 points on 4-7 (2-4 from threes, 2-3 from inside the arc). Team-high rebounding was shared by T.J. Burke and Elliot Berry.

6. Coach Jay Wright, as noted by VUSports.com, logged win #350 for his career.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Guest Contributor Ray Floriani -- Legends Classic

by Ray Floriani

East Rutherford, NJ - The attendance on both nights of the Ticketcity Legends Classic was, to put it politely, sparse. Too bad. There were four close games that got sloppy at times, remember it is not even Thanksgiving, but were not short on excitement coming down to the wire.

outside the Izod Center

The Scores:

Semifinal Games...
Vanderbilt86 79North Carolina State
Oregon State100 95Texas

Consolation Game...
North Carolina St.77 74Texas

Championship Game...
Vanderbilt64 62Oregon St.

We will look at the final evening's consolation and championship games from the Izod Center.

The possessions and efficiency:

North Carolina St.68113

For the second straight night the Longhorns showed an efficiency that should win you a basketball game. But came up short. Unfortunately that was the case in each of Texas' games here. On Saturday they posted a gaudy 117 OE only to generously allow a 127 OE to Oregon State in that overtime affair. Both teams shot the ball well (Texas 52% eFG, NC State 50%) and cared for the ball rather well. Texas had a 19% TO rate while the Wolfpack of the ACC came in at 16%. Both numbers are what you would love to have in March, and are ecstatic about in November. Achilles heel for Texas, and it was noted by coach Rick Barnes, was the persistent fouling. NC State had an off the chart 75% FT rate. They shot 33 of 44 from the line.

NC state came back from 18 points down. They made the decisive run the latter part of the second half after Texas' J'Covan Brown fouled out. With the Texas lead guard exiled on fouls, the Longhorns were a different team. And one who could not hold off the surging Wolfpack.

Leading scorers:

CJ Leslie, NCSU1713
Sparked Wolfpack off the bench each game
J'Covan Brown, Texas1717
Shot 7-14, 1 turnover & 7 assists

Championship Game

Oregon State State7187

Resilience was the key. Vanderbilt by as much as nine but in a game with nine ties and lead changes, Oregon State was determined not to go away. The decision was sealed in the final seconds on a jumper by Vanderbilt's Brad Tinsley. Chalk it up to Oregon State's persistence coupled with Vanderbilt's 'bull in a china shop' care of the basketball. The Commodores were guilty of 22 turnovers, translated, a ridiculously high 32% TO rate. Oregon State wasn't much better with a 24% TO mark. The SEC representatives also outshot Oregon State from the field with a 54-45% eFG mark. In a one possession outcome that is a big factor.

John Jenkins' 14 points for Vanderbilt, included a huge three pointer in the stretch. Jared Cunningham of Oregon State, entered the game with a 26 ppg scoring average, was held to nine points but did have seven steals.

Vanderbilt is a very good club at this juncture. One would be safe to assume, they will be even better when 6-11 Festus Ezeli returns from a knee injury and rejoins the Commodores in a few weeks.

Leading Scorers:

Devon Collier, Oregon St1925
John Jenkins, Vanderbilt146

Upper press view of the Izod Center court

Jenkins' Manley number was affected by 5 of 13 shooting from the field, no assists and three turnovers. Make no mistake though, Jenkins' came up big both nights for coach Kevin Stallings and Vanderbilt.

Official Jim Burr and Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings
share a lighter moment

MVPJohn Jenkins, Vanderbilt
All Tournament Team:C.J. Leslie North Carolina St.
Sheldon McClellan, Texas
Jared Cunningham, Oregon St.
Jeffrey Taylor, Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt raises the championship trophy

And Then There is...
--   Good officiating friend Guy Pagano, who lives in Northern New Jersey, worked the final with Jim Burr and Mike Stephens.

--   Had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with one of the tempo-free 'Gods', John Gasaway. John was covering with Basketball Prospectus colleague Andrew Cannon.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Guest Contributor Ray Floriani -- At the Coaches vs Cancer

by Ray Floriani

NEW YORK CITY -- The Coaches vs. Cancer final could be analyzed and dissected in several ways. The point that stands out is the second half effort by Mississippi State.

Lady Antebullum can wait
for two days it was college hoops at MSG

The Bulldogs expanded a one point half time lead, held Arizona to 23 second half points and went on to post a 67-57 championship game winning performance.

The possessions and efficiency:

Mississippi State64105

A further look at the two halves is necessary to illustrate the job Mississippi State on both ends of the floor those final twenty minutes.

Efficiency by...
Mississippi State103107105

Both teams cared for the ball very well as Mississippi State was 14% in TO rate while Arizona came in with a creditable 16%. Bulldogs of the SEC were a bit stronger in the paint. They had a29-24% in offensive rebounding percentage and made more trips to the line with a 19-9% advantage in free throw rate.

Victorious, Mississippi State celebrates

There was one tie and Arizona never led. Still, the Wildcats were right there until Mississippi State pulled away in the waning minutes. Largely on defense as the second half efficiency shows.

Ray with Arizona cheerleaders

The Scores:

Semifinal Games...
Mississippi St.6960Texas A&M
Arizona8172St. John's

Consolation Game...
Texas A&M5857St. John's

Championship Game...
Mississippi St.6757Arizona

Observations of the Tempo Free Variety:
Following the consolation loss to Texas A&M, St. John's coach Steve Lavin noted how his team did a better job in the turnover (commission) department. Not that much better. An analogy would be if 70 is a passing grade, a student getting a 45 on a test then next time out getting a 60, shows improvement. Yes the latter exam was better , but both grades are failing.

Against Arizona the Red storm coughed the ball up 17 times. The number was 14 against A&M. But getting a better look at turnover rate, the percentage of possessions ending in a TO, we get the following numbers:

vs. Arizona26%
vs. Texas A&M22%

Granted the rate decreased but 20% is the cutoff. Twenty per cent or over is an unacceptable TO rate for an offense.

In the huddle
St. John's Steve Lavin and assistant Mike Dunlap (r)
go over adjustments during a time out.

Good defense by Mississippi state in the semifinal as well. They limited Texas A&M to an 88 offensive efficiency. State's big man Renardo Sidney received praise from coach Rick Stansbury for his hustle. Sidney, however, had a forgettable 3 point night against A&M, fueled by 0 for 8 shooting from the floor.

A 109 offensive efficiency usually wins games. In the semifinal meeting with Arizona, it didn't do the job for St. John's. The Wildcats of the Pac 12 posted an outstanding 127 offensive efficiency.

St. John's shot 51% from the field while Arizona was checking in at 42%. The eFG gives us a better read. Red Storm did go for 54% in that category but the Wildcats were 53% thanks to a 14 of 29 mark from beyond the arc. In fact 48% of Arizona's points came from three. While St. John's had only 13% of their points from a similar range.

Those 'first four' can often set the tone and tell us something important. First four minutes of the Texas A&M-Mississippi state game were crucial and eventually proved decisive. State hit three shots from long distance en route to a 15-5 lead . Texas A&M was never able to recover.

Free throw rates jumped off the stat sheet when assessing St. John's. they were 45% against Arizona and 51% in the consolation. The free throw rate divides made free throws by field goal attempts. Against A&M, St. John's shot 22 of 38 9no typo) from the line while the Aggies were 2 of 3.

St. John's has outstanding, aggressive dribble penetration that draws fouls and gets them to the line. Texas A&M Coach Billy Kennedy did not complain about the disparity but when asked simply smiled and said, "I really like New York so I won't get into it ."

Both games St. John's allowed a +40 in offensive rebound percentage. Arizona was 43% while Texas A&M came in at 46%. With a smaller lineup and limited depth, inside play will be a challenge for St. John's. Especially in Big East contests.

Both nights, Arizona's TO percentage was right on 16%. One of the main positives coach Sean Miller took from these games.

Tournament Honors (with their two day "Manley efficiency averages")...

MVPArnett Moultrie, Miss. State20.0
All Tournament Team:
Kourtney Roberson, Texas A&M10.0
Nurideen Lindsey, St. John's10.5
Jesse Perry, Arizona14.5
Dee Bost, Miss. State12.5

Ray with the
the St. John's cheer squad

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Delaware Post Game -- The Juniors

On the Other Hand
In the 78-59 blowout Villanova handed Delaware in late December of last season, a few Blue Hens got a bit chippy at the end. Playing before a mellow crowd in the undersold Wells Fargo Center did not provide the electricity usually associated with Philadelphia's downtown pro venue. Maybe it was the disappointment or maybe it was the fact that the game was uncompetitive virtually from the tip-off, but the Blue Hens, staff and players were unhappy with the experience and made no effort to hide it. This season the game was completely different. The game was scheduled earlier (by a month), the venue a more intimate Pavilion on Villanova's campus and the contest much, much closer. The Hens had a year to focus their frustration and the results showed last night as Delaware still lost by double digits, 79-69, but went down fighting (figuratively speaking), holding the margin to the 8-10 range from the 35:00 mark in. Blue Hen guard Devon Saddler recorded the game-high 27 points on 10-26 (3-10, 7-16) shooting from the court and 2-4 from the line. 'Cat guards Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek notched 21 points apiece, team-high for the host.

The Wildcats took the first 5:52 to jump out to a 14-5 lead, in a tease that hinted at another 20+ win. The flow ground to a halt for the next 5:52 however, as the Blue Hens outscored Nova by a 4-1 margin on an ugly sequence that featured four points on eight possessions by Delaware and one point on seven possessions by Villanova. Though the 'Cats took a 14 point edge into the half-time break, the margin was based on a Villanova 8-3 run in the last 2:21 of the half. The second half featured a 16-6 Delaware run in the first 4:34, and while the two teams did not fall into another high-possession low-scoring funk, the Wildcats were not able to sustain a scoring run that could create the separation necessary to demoralize the Blue Hens. The teams hovered at the ten point margin for much of the last three minutes of play.

My last paragraphs echo the disappointment registered by the bloggers over at VUHoops.com and The Nova Blog, both of whom felt the winning margin should have been greater than 10 points. We should probably shut up; no point in giving Coach Monte Ross more bulletin board material. The University site posted their AP wire story. The official boxscore indicates that Throw Your V's Up blog can tally this one in the 0>10 "Home" column. The blog features an excellent breakdown on how the Wildcats performed in close games last season. The breakdown by halves

 Offense Defense

Half Time Adjustments
Villanova's first half can be traced to efficient shot (eFG% ) conversion, and tight defense. Note Delaware's 37.9% eFG% (nerves?) combined with low offensive rebounding (30%) and high turnover rate (24%). The Hens had few shot opportunities, and when they shot they neither converted nor did they get many second chances. If Villanova was not as dominant as they were versus Monmouth, they nevertheless converted well, rebounded their misses and did not turn the ball over much. Notice the second half collapse of Villanova's defense. The Blue Hens managed to score 45 points on just over 32 possessions. Last season that would have killed Villanova.

Notes & Observations
1. The staff started four guards for the fourth straight game (last exhibition plus three regular season games), using Wayns at the point with Bell playing the "#4" and Darrun Hilliard along with Dominic Cheek rotating between the #2 and the #3. Hilliard logged 27 minutes last night, down slightly from the tighter La Salle game. The staff shows a lot of confidence in the freshman, keeping him in the game when the score is closer. A total of 10 players were used, alloted playing time ranging from three minutes (freshman Ty Johnson) up to 36 minutes (Wayns). The three junior starters logged an average of 33.3 minutes apiece, as opposed to the other seven players who average 14.3 minutes apiece...remember Hilliard got 24 of those minutes, while freshman JayVaughn Pinkston played for another 19 minutes.
2. Among the junior starters, Yarou stepped into the "offensive engine" role, taking over 30% of the possessions and 33% of the shots in a very un "Guard U"-like performance. Wayns stepped back and worked on setting up the team a bit more (28% assist rate) while taking about 28% of the possessions and 24% of the shots. His efficiency exploded. Cheek (24% Shot%, 23% Poss%) logged numbers consistent with prior games, again suggesting his role will grow this season and he responded with another efficient scoring night (62.5% eFG%). Yarou was not as efficient, most likely due to turnovers (he had two). Pinkston, the other front court option, had a night of growing pains, going 0-6 from the field with two turnovers.
3. Rebounding was an issue for the first time this season as the 'Cats were outrebounded, 34-36, by the Hens. Note the table above, the big letdown was in the second half, where Villanova allowed Delaware to grab 50% of the Blue Hen misses, about 17% more than the Division I average, and 20% more than usual for Villanova.

A Look at the Legends Classic

Breaking Out the log5...
I noticed Ken Pomeroy ran a few log5 calculations for destination invitationals running this weekend. The four teams competing in the Legends Championship Bracket this weekend were not included, so I decided to run the numbers and see who is favored. Note, the log5 calculation is an exercise in conditional probability, not a Nostradamus-inpired quatrain. log5 measures probabilities of a set of outcomes relative to each other, and should not, therefore, be taken as an absolute prediction of the future...but hey, it's fun and I am going to be doing a live blog for Rush the Court, so this is a good preparation for the double header (Vanderbilt vs. North Carolina State at 6:30, followed by Texas vs. Oregon State at about 8:30) on Saturday night and the playoff round (winners vs. winners, losers vs. losers) on Monday night.

No. Carolina State32.52.2
Oregon State21.20.03

Though Vanderbilt is the only ranked team (#20 in the Coaches Poll) in the field, Texas, by virtue of the easier semi final opponent, gets a slight nod in the final. Counter intuitive no doubt, but with the NCAA-mandated seven game suspension of Vandy's 6-11 scoring and rebounding machine Festus Ezeli, the Long Horns might be the favored choice...on potential anyway.

How They Got Here (Secaucus, New Jersey)
Though some (mostly birds migrating North in the spring and South in the fall...) might believe the Meadowlands of New Jersey is an exotic destination, the Legends is not a "destination" tournament like the Old Spice Classic or Paradise Jam. Each team headed to the IZOD Center for Saturday's showdown hosted two teams in preliminary play. Unlike the NIT Tip-Off however, the host, who may not be a preliminary round winner, advances to the Championship Bracket in Secaucus.

Texas breezed by Boston University 82-46 on 11/13, then down Rhode Island by 10, 100-90, on 11/15. Vanderbilt lost their first preliminary round game, 58-71, to Cleveland State on 11/13, but beat Bucknell 80-68, on 11/15. North Carolina State hammered Morehead State 91-61 on 11/13, then squeaked by Princeton 61-58 on 11/14. The last team in the Championship bracket, Oregon State, barely broke a sweat disposing of Division II West Alabama, 93-60, then faced a slightly tougher test as they downed Hofstra by 10, 82-72 on 11/16.

Vanderbilt versus North Carolina State
The Commodores bring a junior and senior dominated squad to the IZOD. Even with Ezeli sidelined, the 'Dores will start five upperclassmen, starting with senior point guard Brad Tinsley and SEC scoring champion John Jenkins in the back court. Senior Jeffrey Taylor will start at the wing, while seniors (and New Jersey native) Lance Goulbourne and Steve Tchiengang will start as duel forwards. Stallings has used between 10 and 12 players in each of the Commodores' first three games, though he felt the reserves were effective only in Vandy's last game (versus Bucknell). First year (at Raleigh) coach Mark Gottfried will counter with experienced starters, CJ Leslie's NCAA-mandated suspension should be completed by the Vanderbilt game. If he does not start at the #3/#4 he will come off the bench pretty quickly. Sophomore Lorenzo Brown will start at the point with freshman CJ Williams at the #2. The front court spots will be filled by junior Scott Wood, with two of Richard Howell, Leslie, DeShawn Painter or Jordan Vendenberg, the last two considered legitimate centers. Though Gottfried emptied the bench in the Wolfpack's only blowout (a 30 point win over Morehead State), he seems more comfortable with his first eight-to-nine players.

Texas versus Oregon State
The Long Horns lost their entire starting lineup in the off season, but Coach Rick Barnes has earned his reputation as one of the Big 12's strongest recruiters. Barnes has junior J'Coven Brown, a McDonald's All American as a high schooler, available to start this season. Senior Alexis Wangmene has started twice at the $4/#5, with three of his prized freshmen, Jon Holmes, Myck Kabongo and Julien Lewis starting and giving the Horns a three guard/two forward lineup. Barnes used a nine and ten man rotation in Texas' two games, suggesting that a few more members of his seven man freshman class (Sterling Gibbs, Sheldon McClellan and Jaylen Bond) will get regular minutes for the time being. Barnes has also called senior Clint Chapman's number often. Coach Craig Robinson has settled into his starting five, starting with Jared Cunningham at the off guard and Ahmed Starks at the point. Both Cunningham and Starks have 1-2 years of experience. Juniors Joe Barton and Angus Brandt will hold down the #4/#5 spots, with sophomore Devon Collier at the #3. Kevin McShane (senior forward), Roberto Nelson (sophomore guard), Calle Barton (true freshman, guard) and Eric Moreland (red shirt freshman, forward) saw minutes in each Oregon State's games so far.

The View From Here
Expect Vandy and Texas to meet in the finals Monday, with the States, North Carolina and Oregon to meet in the consolation game. Of the underdogs, Gottfried's Wolfpack might have the better shot at an upset, as Vandy has a habit of unexpectedly freezing up on occasion. CJ Leslie might be the unknown factor Saturday, but the 'Dores are very deep and experienced, with or without Ezeli. I will be running a live blog courtside for Rush the Court, starting around 6:30 Saturday night. Drop by for a courtside perspective if you have the time.