Monday, July 25, 2016

Ten Teams and the Conference, Three Questions Each, Part 4

The FIBA tournaments are winding down and their NCAA players have gained valuable experience. The last of the transfers and fifth year seniors are finding their spots. July foreign tours are wrapping up as teams taking their tours in August are getting ready to start practice. As summer moves on, a few questions come to mind about each Big East program going into the 2016-17 season...

St. John's
Rookie coach Chris Mullin found a very bare cupboard (returning 8% of the minutes, 5% of the possessions and 4% of the points scored from the 2014-15 squad) this time last off season, he has to feel good about heading into this season with 51% of the minutes and possessions, and 49% of the points scored from last season's squad. Even though the Red Storm posted a 1-17 in conference and 8-24 overall record, Mullin knows there is help in the form of more (in numbers and talent) players available to continue his roster overhaul and rebuilding program at St. John's.

1. What can the Red Storm fans expect in season 2? More wins for starters. Their single conference win matched the total from 2003-04, a tumultuous season that opened with player suspensions and a Mike Jarvis' melodramatic walk-out six games into the season, which left Kevin Clark and the remainder of Jarvis' staff to clean up the wreckage. Mullin's 0.250 overall winning percentage bettered only the 1918-19 squad which failed to win a game in seven tries. St. John's, ranked #300 on offensive by Ken Pomeroy, can expect help from the experience earned by the returning players and and five new faces, transfers and JUCOs, red shirts and true freshmen. Last season's front court rotation, Kassoum Yakwe, Yankuba Sima and Amar Alibegovic, will be helped by transfer Tariq Owens (Tennessee), who sat in 2015-16 and the return of red shirt (injury) Darien Williams. Mullin will fill out the back court rotation with red shirt freshman Marcus LoVett and true freshman Shamorie Ponds, who will compete with rising sophomore Federico Mussini for time at the point and shooting guard positions.

The Red Storm's out of conference slate which includes Nichols State, Longwood, Binghamton, LIU and Delaware State, is more an extended exhibition slate than bullet points on a post season resume. Post season considerations may come in 2017-18 (or later). Timely out of conference tests will come with trips to Minnesota (St. John's Gavitt Games opponent) and Tulane (fulfilling a home-away contract), both of which, given the state of their respective programs, are winnable for a well-prepared Red Storm squad.

2. How badly will St. John's rebuilding efforts be hurt by the loss of Barry ("Slice") Rohrssen? A friendship forged nearly four decades ago in Brooklyn was a major factor that lured Rohrssen away from John Calipari's Kentucky staff and back to the Big Apple. Rohrssen had the reputation, the pedigree and connections to pull down the Associate Head Coach job, but he could not carve out a defined role on Mullin's staff. Left with only deep bench players, the staff cast a wide net that eventually gathered a squad with gaps both in the talent level and skill set. Not every scholarship player was able to suit up to boot. The lack of completeness seemed to reflect on Slice. And as the season lurched to a conclusion Slice's status seemed to diminish. For the 2016-17 season the Johnnies did sign Ponds, but they swung and missed on two other high profile elite targets into whom Rohrssen invested time and effort.

By season's end Mullin turned the recruiting focus from highly-regarded high schoolers to junior college and transfer prospects. Mullin and staff found a wing -- Marvin Clark out of Michigan State -- and an additional guard, Justin Simmon out of Arizona. Two time NJCAA First Team Bashir Ahmed, a native of the Bronx who attended Hutchinson Community College before returning home was signed in December. Mullin picked up a second scorer, a forward out of Germany, Richard Freudenberg, who averaged 14.8 points per game for his club they ran to the U19 German League championship. Going forward, Mullin and the Red Storm staff will rebuild St. John's program and reputation with a mix of reachable high schoolers and transfers. Top 50 recruiting will wait until success draws positive attention. Nearly eight weeks after Clark and Simmons signed Zagoria and others reported that Rohrssen and St. John's were nearing terms on a buyout. St. John's -- the program and their head coach -- should weather this transition.

3. What is St. John's greatest need? Scoring, or more precisely, more efficient use of their offensive possessions. A look at Pomeroy's 2016 profile for the Red Storm shows a team that scored 0.97 points per possession, ranked #301 out of 351 Division 1 teams. Ouch. As for the why, Ken Pomeroy's 2016 profile suggests two serious problems. The Johnnies' field goal efficiency was 45.6%, ranked #321 out of 351 Division 1 schools. They shot badly when they had the ball. Their turnover rate was 20.9%, ranked #322 (out of 351). A thumbnail narrative might be "the Johnnies were able to finish less than 8 of every 10 possessions with a field goal attempt or free throw (ie scoring) attempt. And when they did finish with a shot, they converted less than 50% of them". Notably, the Johnnies had difficulty converting inside the three point line, shooting only 44.1%. Their FTA/FGA rate -- 38% a bit above average for Division 1 -- further suggests that while they got to the line when they drove inside they only shot 64% at the line, among the least efficient in Division 1.

Rumble in the Garden points out that the Johnnies were one of only two Big East teams that lost more games when their shooting was more efficient than their opponents than they won when their shooting was less efficient than their opponents. Shooting efficiency and turnovers are the more obvious problems, but defensive FTA/FGA percentage (43.3%, ranked #307 by Pomeroy) was the other problem. They have to foul less, especially at the end of close games. LoVett, Ponds and experience/maturity will help reduce the turnovers while Ahmed and Freudenberg should help with the scoring. Alibegovic, Sima and Yakwe will have to improve their offense around the basket to keep defenses honest.

Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu are playing in the NBA summer league, the Championship rings have arrived and the returning roster is prepping for their trip to Spain where, the staff has to hope, the squad will focus on the season coming up. The numbers, returning 72% of the minutes and points and 71% of the possessions are promising. However, how can one quantify the leadership and experience lost with the departure of Arcidiacono and Ochefu however? New faces include Donte DiVencinzo, a red shirt off guard, Omari Spellman a top 50 low post player with range and Dylan Painter, a traditional back-to-the-basket center much in the mold of Xavier's Matt Stainbrook and Villanova's John Pinone.

1. Can Arch be replaced? No, the intangibles are hard to duplicate, but Jalen Brunson and Phil Booth nearly match the tangibles and bring other assets to the point guard position. Brunson has an IQ and court vision equal to Arcidiacono's, which he can couple with a killer cross over move that he will learn to selectively apply to the appropriately scouted opponents. Brunson will have to master his tendency to over penetrate and learn to actively find and pass to the open shooter before the second (or third) defender closes off the passing lanes. Brunson will have to learn that even though you can hit the shot in front of you, passing to your teammate (who has an even better chance to convert) is essential to build the team. Booth will temper his tendency to over dribble and learn to look for and hit the open teammate, making his scoring instincts even more dangerous.

2. How will Wright manage a loaded roster? Villanova loses two senior starters (and most of his Bench Mob), but has to integrate an incoming class of five -- two true freshmen (Omari Spellman and Dylan Painter), two red shirt freshmen (Donte DiVincenzo and Tim Delaney) and a transfer (Eric Paschall) -- players with varying skill sets into a roster that features six returning veterans. The incoming group spans positions #2 through #5. If past is prelude, the new players will see the court when they commit to playing defense and when they are in game shape. Wright typically treats the first two months as an extended tryout and preparation for conference play, so expect to see the staff juggle the starting five and rotations early and often. Rarely going deeper than eight (or 8.5) come January, Wright will have to integrate two-three of the five newcomers with his six returning veterans. Everyone of the 11 players would probably start or be first off the bench for any of the other nine teams in the conference. Playing time last season ranged from a high of 32 minutes (Arcidiacono) down to 17 (#4/#5 Darryl Reynolds). Expect a similar distribution this season.

Ochefu, the established starter in the low post, rarely played more than 25 minutes last season and averaged 23.4 minutes per game. His backup, Reynolds has become a serviceable low post journeyman who averaged only six fewer minutes per game than Ochefu while providing nearly the same rebounding and scoring efficiency. Reynolds will close some of that six minutes gap next season as freshmen low post contingent (Painter, Delaney and Spellman) along with Paschall, learn the system. Paschall, a 6'7" 260 pound transfer exploded in his post grad year at Thomas More Prep and went on to garner the Atlantic 10 Freshman of the Year award playing for Fordham in 2014-15, has three years of eligibility and may be closest to playing shape.

Of the freshmen, Spellman, a consensus top 25 recruit with established scoring skills, is expected to have a more immediate impact than Dylan Painter, a 6'9" 215 pound bfc out of Hershey, Pennsylvania. Expect Spellman to invest quite a bit of his summer getting into a playing shape more suitable for Wright's style of defense. With multiple scorers at virtually every other position, the Wildcats' low post needs tend more toward a mobile rim defender, strong defensive rebounder, someone who can effectively set picks and screens and move to the basket as the scoring option that will keep defenses honest. Irrespective of position, defense is the way to earn playing time in Wright's program.

Both Brunson (24.0 minutes per game) and Booth (21.9 minutes per game) will earn more minutes as the kind of tandem point guard pairing that Wright has used for the past eight seasons. Expect Josh Hart to slide down to the #2 (or even a ball handling #1) at times with only a very small increase in minutes (31.4 mpg in 2016) as Wright tries out longer lineups while giving either Brunson or Booth (or both) a breather. Mikal Bridges most likely will slide down to the #3 while DiVencinzo will cover the #2 and #3 when Bridges moves up to the #4 as he did at times last season.

3. Can the Wildcats expect success comparable to 2015-16 this season? Most analysts seem to think so. Luke Winn has the 'Cats ranked #3 in his too early poll over at SI as does Garry Parish over at Should everyone get to campus and begin fall practice health (and happy...), expect the Wildcats to be ranked in the top 2-5 in pre and early season polls. A very early road game at Purdue, along games with Virginia and Notre Dame, make running the table on their out of conference slate improbable. Scheduled for the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, the Irish should be a good test for fan draw, as many Villanova alums live in New Jersey and metro New York City. If the Charleston Classic field plays to seed, Wright will have to game plan a Ben Howland-coached squad in the championship game after working through a solid (but not great) set of tournament opponents. Winning the Big East regular season title three straight times, the Wildcats should repeat, though equaling their 16-2 regular season conference record may be a stretch as both Xavier and Creighton are expected to challenge -- and never over look a Seton Hall squad that has posted the best conference record versus Villanova since the conference reformed in 2013. Look for a more competitive conference in 2016-17 and do not be surprised if some combination of the Pirates, Blue Jays and Musketeers (and a revived Hoya program!?) prove to be very inhospitable hosts.

While the 2016 Wildcats had the look and feel of a team on a mission, common wisdom counters with "draw and match-ups matter". Of the six coaches Wright had to prep his Wildcats for, only UNC-Asheville's Nicholas McDevitt was an unknown. And of the five coaches Wright had faced before, he had a winning record versus three -- Fran McCaffrey, Siena/Iowa (2-0), Jim Larranaga George Mason/Miami (2-1) and Bill Self Kansas (2-1). While Lon Kruger's Oklahoma squad won an early season match-up by 23 points, the Villanova squad they faced three months later was a more mature and far better prepared. Roy Smith, whom Wright had played while Smith mentored the Kansas team in addition to North Carolina, was the only coach who appeared to have Wright's number (0-4). Villanova should take the regular season title again this year and with it the #1 seed in Madison Square Garden. The Hall seems to have their number in the tournament; look for where they will meet. As for Selection Sunday, look for the draw and the matchups. The program is learning to travel well, especially for the NCAA Tournament.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Ten Teams and the Conference, Three Questions Each, Part 3

The NBA draft is done, summer league games are winding down and the transfers have made their moves. As July turns up the heat and we all look for air conditioning, a few questions come to mind about each Big East program going into the 2016-17 season...

By headcount (and starters), the The Golden Eagles personnel loss appears minimal. Appearances can be deceiving. The Ellenson brothers, along with senior Michael Mache departed. Starter Henry Ellenson put his name in for the NBA draft, brother Wally, recruited as much for track as basketball (and his 5 star brother) lost his scholarship in a numbers crunch that reverberated through the Ellenson clan back in April. With 5'11" transfer Andrew Rowsey ready to play and fifth year senior Katin Reinhardt waiting in the wings, expect Marquette to up the long range feature of Wojo's offense.

1. Steve Wojciechowski -- What can fans expect in year 3? Wojo returns 80% of the minutes, 75% of the possessions and 76% of the points from the squad that went 20-13 last season. Year one to year two of the Wojciechowski Era saw the Golden Eagles improve by seven wins. Another seven win bump in 2016-17 is a stretch, but the back court rotation is promising. Headed by Duane Wilson, Traci Carter, Haanif Cheatham, Sandy Cohen and JaJuan Johnson will all get time. Johnson and Cheatham can hit the three consistently while Carter showed a good instinct for passing and stealing the ball. Wojo bolstered the wings this off season by bringing in Reinhardt, a fifth year senior who, despite starting 18 games for the Trojans in 2015-16, foresaw a diminished role with the 2016-17 Trojans. Reinhardt and Johnson will mentor freshman wing Sam Hauser, a 6'6" consensus Top 100 recruit out of Green Bay Wisconsin. The question marks come in the front court, where Luke Fischer (6'11") and Matt Heldt (6'10") are the roster's only players taller than 6'6". Both will have to stay healthy and contribute if Marquette is to improve on last season's 8-10 conference record. Assuming MU brings 10-11 wins into conference play, a 9-9 or better record should yield another 20 win season albeit versus a stronger slate of opponents. A post season invitation should be forthcoming.

2. Will the Ellenson breakup damage recruiting? In need of a third scholarship, Wojo pulled Wally Ellenson's, which led to some social media "unfriending" in the days that followed. Henry maintains contact with Marquette and the staff while Wally will most like continue to run track for Marquette. Given that Wojo managed a commitment from Hauser, Wisconsin's Gatorade Player of the Year, along with Marcus Howard, another consensus Top 100 guard out of Arizona by way of Findley Prep in Las Vegas, the damage looks minimal at this point. Henry Ellenson's name was called June 23, just as expected, but having the opportunity to sign Reinhardt, a proficient and experienced scorer with stops at UNLV (as a freshman) and USC (two season), was too good to pass on. Wojo received an early verbal for the 2017-18 season from three star power forward Ikechukwu Eke, a Nigerian out of University of Detroit Jesuit High School in Michigan.

3. Will Wojo upgrade the competition this season? Despite winning 20 games before being eliminated in the Big East Tournament, Marquette made no post season tournaments last March. The Golden Eagles out of conference schedule featured matchups with NCAA participants Iowa (a loss) and Wisconsin (a win), NIT invitee Belmont (a loss) to go with LSU and Arizona State (both wins). Five sub 300 RPI ranked teams devalued their 10-2 record going into conference play. Marquette will not participate in the Gavitt Games this season, but if tradition holds Marquette can count on a game with in state rival Wisconsin (at the Bradley Center). The out of conference schedule is taking shape as opponents and dates have been announced via twitter and news release. They will open versus Vanderbilt at a neutral site, return to Milwaukee to host Howard (2016 RPI #331) in their home opener, play Michigan (2016 RPI #58) in the semi-final of their early season invitational tournament (the 2K Classic Benefiting the Wounded Warriors Project this year), with a second game versus either Pitt (2016 RPI #51) or SMU (2016 RPI #13). Three home games follow -- IUPUI (2016 RPI #189), Houston Baptist (2016 RPI #224) and Western Carolina (2016 RPI #167) in that order. They return a date with Georgia (away -- 2016 RPI #62) and head back to the Bradley Center to host Fresno State (2016 RPI #69), in-state rival Wisconsin (2016 RPI #41) and St. Francis, PA (2016 RPI #267). That takes MU to Christmas Week and accounts for 11 of their 13 out of conference games. Howard, the lone #300+ ranked team, will most likely not improve its RPI much next season while St. Francis (PA) and Houston Baptist are worrisome. There is no guarantee that those RPIs will carryover through all of next season, but by the numbers, should Marquette log 10/11 wins versus that slate, post season conversations going into Big East play will include the Golden Eagles. With 11 of 13 out of conference opponents (more or less) identified, let's hope the remaining two are about the same quality.

Junior guard Kris Dunn, twice Big East Player of the Year, and sophomore Ben Bentil were both drafted by the NBA in June, taking the Friars top two scorers (and top rebounder in Bentil) to the league. Also losing rotation guard Junior Lomomba, Coach Ed Cooley returns 54% of the Friars minutes, 42% of the points scored, 43% of the possessions and 47% of the rebounds from last season's squad. There will be plenty of scoring opportunities available, the question is whether the 2016-17 version of the Friars has a player or players who can step into the role.

1. Who will be the next Council/Cotton/Dunn? Cooley has managed to find a backcourt headliner in every one of his four seasons in Friartown. This time around the candidates his three returning guards, Kyron Cartwright, Drew Edwards and Vincent Council II, along with a true freshman point Maliek White and a transfer, Isaiah Jackson (George Mason, 3 years of eligibility). Cartwright, who connected on 36% of his shots, both short and long range, is the best candidate from the 2015-16 squad. He takes, however, nearly three two point attempts for every three point attempt. Jackson, a well regarded bballer out of Florida, took his first stop at George Mason, coached at the time by Paul Hewitt. Hewitt was considered more skilled at identifying and recruiting talent than developing it once on the roster, was fired in March of 2015, leading to Jackson's move to Friartown and Ed Cooley's roster. While at GMU Jackson took a major role in the Patriots' offense and rebounded well for a guard. White, a 6' 2", two time conference player of the year, lead guard out of Richmond, Virginia, has a profile similar to Dunn's. Though two inches shorter than Dunn and only 170 pounds, White averaged 19.3 points, 6.3 assists and 6.1 rebounds per game last season for George Wythe High School. He might be Cooley's best bet.

2. Is Reggie Bullock ready for prime time? The junior forward is the Friars' lead returning scorer from last season's squad. Cooley has two freshmen wings, Khalif Young out of Ontario, Canada who was selected to play in the Biosteel All-Canadian Games -- the Canadian equivalent of the McDonald's All-Star game and Alpha Diallo, a consensus Top 100 recruit from Brewster Academy. Cooley's fourth option is Indiana (by way of Indian Hill CC) transfer Emmitt Holt, a 6'7" 230 pound power forward who ran afoul of Tom Crean when he struck a teammate with his car (and in a later incident picked up for achohol consumption). Those four will, unless Cooley gets a late signing (he hosted a number of fifth year seniors and JUCOs during the late spring), will be the nucleus of the Friar front court rotation.

3. Can the roster (and Cooley) get the Friars back to the NCAAs? PC lacks a traditional big man to function as a #5 on defense and that will be a problem. Historically Cooley's teams have played a high possession, quick paced game that relies on a well conditioned short rotation that presents an array of inside/outside threats designed to keep defenses honest. The out of conference schedule, as always, is weighted with traditional in state and regional rivals. Given that Rhode Island and Massachusetts should have good seasons, PC's SOS will benefit. Wins versus their Gavitt Games opponent (Ohio State) and Emerald Coast Invitational opponents (Memphis followed by Iowa or Virginia) will establish the Friars as credible challengers going into conference play.

Seton Hall
The Pirates lose a starter and their sixth man, a fifth year guard. While that seems minimal, consider they return 72% of the minutes played, but only 65% of the points scored, 63% of the possessions and 50% of the assists from last season's 25-9 team that won its first Big East Tournament in 24 seasons and made its first NCAA appearance since 2006. Such was the impact of Isaiah Whitehead, who was selected by the Utah Jazz (and traded to the New York Nets) in last months NBA draft. Though relegated to the bench, UMass transfer Derrick Gordon became the Pirate's glue guy and was a crucial part of the Pirates' run to the Big East championship and NCAA bid. Despite the first round elimination by Gonzaga, the run was the second in Gordon's career. Three of the more pressing questions that confront Willard during this off season include:

1. Who will lead the Pirates? Willard handed Whitehead the ball and the point guard spot in May of 2015, a symbolic nod to Whitehead's defacto standing among his peers and a practical step to help Whitehead develop skills he would need for the NBA. Whitehead could put the ball in the basket, but could he run an offense and get his teammates involved? The chemistry developed over the 2015 off season was one key to the Hall's revival in 2015-16, and Willard may have to decide whether to actively promote a successor now that Whitehead has moved on. The early leaders include Desi Rodriguez, another wing nearly as talented -- but more mercurial than Whitehead -- and Ishmael Sanogo, a forward whose work ethic and evolving talents have drawn favorable comments from Willard multiple times over the past two seasons. Rodriguez's demonstrativeness has made him a fan favorite, but also landed him in the coach's dog house a few times last season, Sanogo has developed as a solid defensive, but not an especially assertive offensive, #4. Those two are part of a now four man junior class that also includes Angel Delgado and Kadeem Carrington. The four appear to have a tight bond and may simply lead by committee.

2. Where will the lost points come from? Whitehead accounted for nearly one in four of the Hall's points scored last season. Taking his assists into account, he had a hand in nearly 400 additional points scored. With no obvious scoring machine in the wings, Willard will have to fashion a (large?) committee to close that gap. Rodriguez was efficient at scoring both close and long range, but he will draw more defensive attention. Willard must convince him to share the ball when he draws the extra defender. Among his teammates both Delgado, a traditional low post player and Carrington on the perimeter should be able to exploit any defensive cheating on Rodriguez. Sanogo and rotation player Michael Nzei were reliable inside scorers. Whitehead's absence should provide them with additional opportunities. If Veer Singh can improve his accuracy from the three point line, he may earn a sizable chunk of the available minutes left by whitehead and Gordon. Two freshmen off guards, Myles Powell and (especially) Eron Gordon, should get long looks from Willard.

3. Who runs the offense? Willard may have up to four back court players waiting in the wings. Two transfers were point guards at their previous stops and the two true freshmen were shooting guards. The high schoolers are expected to get to campus this fall, but there may be a glitch with Jevon Thomas, the more promising of transfers. A 6'1", 185 pound rising junior out of Kansas State Thomas is a Queens, NY native and former teammate of Marcus Foster (transferred to Creighton). He was involved in an altercation during an intramural game on the West Orange campus last February and subsequently slipped off the radar. In two seasons with Webber, Thomas showed a good aptitude for passing the ball and setting up his teammates. Rising senior Madison Jones improved his assist rate in each of his three seasons at Wake Forest, but drew a second team suspension in August of 2015 and transferred to the Hall. Unlike Whitehead, neither Thomas nor Jones showed an aptitude for scoring, so Willard will have to look elsewhere. He could, much as he did Whitehead, attempt to convert one of the freshmen off guards, most likely Gordon -- who has been described as an excellent passer and good play maker -- into a serviceable point guard.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Creighton -- Some Questions Answered

A partial answer to question #2 is...
The Blue Jays have released their out of conference schedule, and it appears they Coach Greg McDermott has upgraded the slate for the 2016-17 season, with a few caveats. Borrowing a leaf from Anonymous Eagles' playbook, I have averaged Pomeroy's 2016 rankings for the slate announced late last week, along with Pomeroy's rankings for the out of conference slate they played last season. I also added the RPI rankings (averaged again, not using the algorithm for the SOS) as a point of comparison. As of last March, the NCAA's Selection Committee (for better or worse...) continues to use the RPI as a point of reference. On to the details (again borrowing Anonymous Eagles' format (Kenpom rank is followed by RPI).

2015-16 Season:
Low: Oklahoma (7, 6)
High: Texas-San Antonio (339, 348 out of 351)
Average of Creighton's 13 opponents (Pomeroy): 187.2
Standard Deviation of Rank (Pomeroy): 105.6
Median Opponent Ranking (Pomeroy): 180

My question dealt at length with problems in the 2015-16 schedule, so I am not going rehash the argument here.

2016-17 Season:
Low: Wisconsin (33, 41)
High: Longwood (290, 324 our of 351)
Average of Creighton's 9 known opponents (Pomeroy): 167.3
Standard Deviation of Rank (Pomeroy): 85.9
Median Opponent Ranking (Pomeroy): 172

The numbers reflect last season's performance, and are -- at best -- only partially predictive of performance this season. They do suggest that McDermott has considered a more balanced schedule with fewer #200 and higher ranked programs, along with fewer top #50 programs. The second and third games from the Paradise Jam will be known only when the tournament is played, but looking at a second round match-up with North Carolina State (the better of the NCSU/Montana match-up) is not a stretch. The numbers improve at the margins in that scenario; the average and median drop to 158.8 and 131 respectively, while the standard deviation rises to 86.2 A quick look at the entire bracket suggests that Creighton would be the favorite in their side of the bracket, with (most likely) Mississippi (or less likely) Saint Joseph's/Oral Roberts the other bracket's contribution to the Championship game.

Scheduling Division 2 Truman State as the last out of conference opponent is interesting. With no obvious historical or personal connection to Truman State, there are pros and cons to weigh with this decision. The game is scheduled early in the Big East season and will be a respite to the conference grind. As a Division 2 opponent, the Jays' SOS will not suffer for scheduling the game. The school will include the stats in the records for the players and the history, while the NCAA will treat the stats and result as an exhibition game. While the Selection Committee will disregard the result when they analyze for the post season, it would be hard to unring the bell. This most likely is a guarantee game, a practice discouraged by the NCAA.

The schedule with Pomeroy and RPI

18-NovWashington St.NPac12204207
26-NovLoyola (MD)HPat286257
17-DecOral RobertsHSumm172149
20-DecArizona StAPac1210498
14-JanTruman St.HD2NRNR

More information for question #3 (and question #1)...
Kobe Paras, a consensus Top 150 recruit who reopened his recruitment when denied admission at UCLA in late June signed with Creighton earlier this week and will be available in the fall. At 6'5" and 190 pounds the Californian, variously described as an off guard and small forward, will join David Mintz as the second true freshman in the Blue Jays' four member incoming class. Expected to carve out a role as a wing in McDermott's system, Paras is known for his speed in the open court, quickness and his ability to score in bunches. At 190 he may have to put on some muscle to add an inside dimension to his game.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Ten Teams, One Conference, Three Questions Each, Part 2

The NBA draft is done, the transfers have made their moves and the teams traveling abroad have made their travel plans. As summer moves on, a few questions come to mind about each Big East program going into the 2016-17 season...

The Blue Demons lost five seniors and junior Tommy Hamilton (to transfer). Losing Hamilton, Myke Henry and Aaron Simpson hurt most, as coach Dave Leitao returns 54% of the possessions and minutes played, along with 50% of the points scored -- but only 39% of the rebounding -- from last season's 9-22 squad.

1. Leitao built a winning program at DePaul in his first stint in Lincoln Park (2002-03 through 2004-05) -- can he do it again? In the second year of his second stint, Leitao left DePaul as the Blue Demons concluded their run in CUSA, but before they moved into the Big East. The Big East of 2016 may not be the Big East of 2003 (some would argue that point...), it is a far more competitive conference than CUSA. Leitao has a lot of work ahead. A talent upgrade is mandatory. In response to the Blue Demons large turnover of scholarships (five seniors and Hamilton) Leitao will add up to eight new faces to the returning nucleus of rising sophomore Eli Cain (who showed real progress as he closed out his freshman campaign) and rising seniors Billy Garrett Jr. and Darrick Wood. Embracing a Division 1 wide trend, Leitao's new contingent will include both four incoming freshmen, a JUCO and three transfers. Among the freshmen Devin Gage and Brandon Cyrus, should, along with fifth year transfer Chris Harrison-Docks (Western Kentucky), provide a solid backcourt rotation headlined by returners Cain and Garrett. Levi Cook and Al Eichelberger -- along with JUCO wing Tre'Darius McCallum (Indian Hills CC) -- have large roles to fill with the departure of Henry and Hamilton. McCallum might be the answer to Henry's departure, especially if he can maintain his 40% three point conversion rate. Two additional transfers, Max Strus (a Division 2 All-American from Lewis University) and Austin Grandstaff (Ohio State and Oklahoma) will sit this season per NCAA transfer rules and be eligible to play (Strus for two seasons, Grandstaff for three) in 2017-18.

2. How can DePaul avoid the conference cellar this season? While Leitao gave back three conference wins (3-15) compared to Oliver Purnell's 2014-15 squad (6-12), DePaul managed to avoid the conference cellar for a second consecutive season thanks to Chris Mullin's 1-17 inaugural season at St. John's. The Red Storm will make progress in 2017, so DePaul must solve its tendency to slump in February and March to avoid the bottom rung for a third consecutive season. The Blue Demons' conference record from 2011-2016 is 17-73 (0.189) -- bad, but good compared to their February/March record during that same period -- 6-42 (0.125). Whether it is the grind of conference play, lack of conditioning, a too short rotation or eroding morale, the squad must develop the toughness to avoid this apparently inevitable late season malaise.

3. Will Billy Garrett finish his career with more than 1500 points scored? Garrett is ranked 34th among DePaul's highest scorers. A healthy season with even average offensive production would virtually guarantee that he becomes the eleventh player to join DePaul's 1500 point club. Garrett needs another 380 points and 75 assists to join Brandon Young as the second player to score more than 1,200 points, convert more than 100 three point field goals and dish 400 assists over the course of his career.

Bradley Hayes was granted another season of eligibility, leaving D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera as the Hoyas only significant loss this off season. Coach John Thompson III brings in three more players, guard Rodney Pryor, a fifth year senior from Robert Morris, Jonathan Mulmore, a JUCO point guard from Allegheny College in Maryland and freshman off guard Jagan Mosely, a St. Anthony's (NJ) graduate. The emphasis on guards is no mistake as the Hoyas are so stacked at the forward and low post positions that players will struggle to see the floor.

1. Will the Hoyas bounce back this season? A team loaded with four and five star athletes could not seem to find second gear in 2015-16. Stumbling out of the gate at 0-2, the Hoyas staggered to a 7-5 record through the first two months. A mid season 6-2 rally petered out with a 2-10 closing run, which broke an eleven season string of post season appearances (two NITs, nine NCAAs). Thompson will work with 82% of the minutes, 77% of the possessions and 78% of the points scored from last season's 15-18 squad which suggests that Thompson will start out with an 84% "ceiling" on his continuity of minutes (see Pomeroy here) -- a strong hint that Georgetown will improve. Other hints of progress include youth -- as measured by both division 1 (1.38 years per Ken Pomeroy, 279th) and the conference (7th), they will mature and luck -- the Hoyas played 13 close (margins of 6 points or 2 possession) games last season, going 3-10. They played eight blowout (15 or more points) going 6-2.

2. What two areas most need improvement? Thompson must address defensive fouls and turnovers (too many on offense and not enough on defense). Historically the Hoya combined shot efficiency with offensive rebounding to mask a tendency to lose possessions before taking a field goal attempt. Field goal conversion rates continue to be efficient -- though not as efficient as the six squads Thompson coached from 2006-2011, but offensive rebounding has cratered to 28.3%m=, the lowest ever under Thompson. Maturity alone with improve the fouling rate at the margins. Greater discipline and better defensive preparation will definitely yield better results as well.

3. Which will have a bigger impact on recruiting, the new practice facility or a new approach to offense? Both are long overdue. The John R. Thompson Jr. Intercollegiate Athletic Center, due for completion sometime in 2016, will provide separate men's and women's practice facility as part of a 144,000 square foot facility that will serve all 29 of the Hoyas' athletic teams. It should serve as proof of administrative commitment to athletics for the 29 coaching staffs that will use the facility. Thompson's most successful teams ran a high-post version of the Princeton Offense with the offense directed by the passing center (Roy Hibbert, Greg Monroe) or through a point forward (Jeff Green, Otto Porter). Guards advanced the ball and with their wings (Jon Wallace, Chris Wright, Austin Freeman, Jason Clark, Jabril Trawick), connected on enough threes to keep the defense from collapsing on the low post. Thompson will no doubt incorporate "Read and React" elements, pick and roll along with isolation plays for his guards, into his pass-oriented offense. No one in this back court, LJ Peak excepted, has consistently hit three point attempts. The roster is stacked at virtually every position, expect very competitive practices come October and an updated look come November. Nothing helps recruiting more than a winning program.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Ten Teams and the Conference, Three Questions Each, Part 1

After the NBA deadline and initial flurry of fifth year transfers, the rosters have settled down. With news of the out of conference schedules trickling out, it is time to look at some of the questions facing each Big East program going into the 2016-17 season...

The Bulldogs graduated Kellen Dunham, Roosevelt Jones and Austin Etherington, three solid contributors during coach Chris Holtmann's two years. Also departed, sophomore Jackson Davis a rotation forward and Jordan Gaithers, a graduate transfer who filled out the Bulldog backcourt rotation last season.

1. Butler's Backcourt -- Who's Got Next? The Bulldogs' largest productivity losses came in their backcourt as Dunham, a 43% shooter from beyond the arc last season (38.5% career) and Jones, a 230 pound linebacker disguised as an off guard/wing moved on. Holtmann returns 53% of the minutes, 51% of the scoring and 50% of the possessions from last season, but Dunham and Jones account for most of those missing minutes and points. Holtmann has two transfers, red shirt senior Kethan Savage (George Washington) and graduate transfer Avery Woodson (Memphis), to team up with likely starting point guard, senior Tyler Lewis. Savage, a slasher who posted a 48% completion rate inside the arc in three seasons at George Washington, compliments Woodson who matched Dunham's long range productivity last season playing for Josh Pastner. This combination should help the Bulldogs post a third consecutive winning conference record and upper division finish. Those three should give freshman Kamar Baldwin time to get up to speed.

2. Can Holtmann recruit at the Big East level? In his two years the coach logged hits and misses on the trail. He can identify and attract good transfers, while sophomores Tyler Wideman (a #4/#5) and (#3/#4) Kelan Martin, significant contributors at both ends of the court this past season, confirm that he can scout and recruit high school talent. This seasons three entering freshmen, #2/#3 Henry Baddley, a 6'6", 190 pound wing from St. Vincent-St. Mary's High School in Akron, Ohio, 6'11" 240 pound #5 Joey Brunk from Indianapolis' Southport High School and Kamar Baldwin, a 6'2" 175 pound combo-guard out of Winder, Georgia (Apalachee High School) do appear to be more projects than impact players. Red shirt freshman Sean McDermott, a 6'6" 'tweener has had the benefit of practicing with the team last season. Among the transfers, Austin Etherington (Indiana) did not have the anticipated impact, but fifth year senior Jordan Gaithers (St. Bonaventure) and two year transfer Tyler Lewis (North Carolina State) were consistent, solid backcourt contributors last season. Holtmann will look to two more transfers, Savage and Woodson to play expanded roles on this season's team. Another GWU transfer, Paul Jorgensen, will be available for two seasons starting in 2017-18.

3. Can Butler get out of the NCAA's first weekend? The question that haunted Villanova for the past three seasons will no doubt dog coach Holtmann's squad as they face the press on Media Day next October. Their records for 2014-2016 need no apology as they tallied wins over North Carolina, Purdue, Temple, Cincinnati, Texas, Texas Tech and Tennessee over that span. While the draw and match-ups will play a big role in how they do next March, do not minimize the experience gained by the staff and the returning members of the squad.

Geoffrey Groselle and James Milliken have exhausted their eligibility, but Maurice Watson, fresh off of an outstanding junior season, tested the NBA waters before returning for his senior season. Meanwhile guards Marcus Foster, a 6'2" transfer from Kansas State and 6'4" freshman Davion Mintz, are ready to compete for minutes. Coach Greg McDermott will have some interesting decisions to make about his backcourt.

1. How good is Creighton's back court? Potentially the best backcourt in the Big East according to many who cover the conference regularly. Foster (who, according to Jon Rothstein, reduced his body fat from 14% to 8% during his NCAA required sitting period) will pair with senior Maurice Watson Jr. to provide a 1-2 scoring and passing combination that should stretch opposing defenses next season. McDermott will have the option to run a long or a quick rotation as the Bluejays, returning 76% of the minutes and possessions and 74% of the scoring from last season's 20-15 squad, are deep at the wing and low post. The key will be the chemistry that Watson and Foster can develop and maintain, as they have similar skills. Their versatility will either enhance scoring opportunities for their teammates -- a healthy mix of seniors and sophomores -- or freeze them to setting picks and rebounding. The line however fine, should be easily recognized by McDermott, a Division 2 and Division 1 head coach for 22 years with stops at Northern Iowa, Iowa State before Creighton. If McDermott can fine tune the Bluejays they should shake up the Xavier/Villanova hegemony at the top of the conference.

2. Will McDermott upgrade the Bluejays' out of conference schedule? A 9-9 conference record that featured wins over Georgetown, Seton Hall, Butler, Xavier and Marquette (road) coupled with five losses by five or fewer points drew favorable comments from fans. The Bluejays, doomed by a so-so 9-4 out of conference record versus a #305 (RPI) ranked slate of opponents, were never in a serious NCAA bracket discussion. Their loss to #238 RPI ranked Loyola of Chicago rendered their pospects DOA by New Year's Eve. McDermott cannot control Creighton's draw in early season invitational tournaments. Stinkers like Rutgers (RPI #294) are inevitable, but he can control CenturyLink Center visitors and home-away contracts, five of whom last season were with teams ranked below #250. McDermott has an experienced squad that can post 20+ wins against a much stronger slate this season. The Bluejays are set to face in state opponent Nebraska, will kick off the Paradise Jam with Washington State (with either North Carolina State or Montana their second opponent) and have a return date with Arizona State (away). With five of 14 opponents set, McDermott can assemble a solid slate with (rumored) Akron (#36 RPI last season) and others in the #50 to #130 range. Rumors that Longwood (#324 last season) and Tennessee-Martin (#215 last season) are on tap -- let's hope McDermott can control his sweet tooth.

3. Has Creighton's recuiting pipeline made the trasition to the Big East? Yes, McDermott's annual additions usually include a healthy mix of freshmen and transfers/JUCOs. He appears to have many of his wing and front court needs for the next two years already in works. A pair of four star wings, Ty-Shon Alexander and Mitchell Ballock, are set to enter in 2017. This reduces McDermott's 2017-18 need list to #4s and #5s, the two areas where the heaviest attrition will take place. With Watson's departure timetable known, McDermott already has Syracusse transfer Kaleb Joseph waiting in the wings. Joseph will school Mintz in practice as he works out with the team during his NCAA-mandated red shirt season. Marcus Foster's plans could be the wild card (what else is new?). If he jumps after a single season in Omaha and disrupts McDermott's anticipated point guard line of succession (Watson-Foster-Joseph-Mintz), McDermott will have another spot to cover in the Jay's backcourt rotation.