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.

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