Tempo-Free Big East: Jan. 30 Edition

We are entering the month of February, the heart of conference play, where it’ll be easier to discern which teams are pretenders and which have a chance to make a dent in the postseason.

Below are the efficiency margins for the fourth week of Big East play, and some thoughts as we arrive at the second half of Big East action.

http://cf.datawrapper.de/aq0Jb/1/

Villanova looks like Villanova again.

Despite their scintillating start to both non-conference and Big East play, there was always something off about Villanova. Yes, they were scoring well over a point per possession, and their crisp and exact ball movement often found Wildcats the moment they shed their defenders, but the standard Jay Wright lineup, one consisting of four “guards” and one big, wasn’t taking as many threes as years past.

The three-ball is an integral element to the squad’s success, yet only 36.1% of their attempts were from beyond the arc in non-conference play (converting just over a third of those looks). However, since the Big East tipped, there has been a drastic upswing in the amount of shots VU is taking from deep, and the squad now handily leads the league in the percentage of field goals that are three-point attempts (47.1%). So what changed?

Before the season, Wright mentioned junior guard Ryan Arcidiacono needed to increase his scoring load to balance the departure of James Bell. Arch didn’t need to dominate the offense, as he did his freshman season, but he needed to look more often for his shot, which he was during the months of November and December, attempting 20.6% of VU’s shots. However, those threes that Arcidiacono has feasted on in previous seasons weren’t dropping – 20.9% — so clearly a change was needed.

The junior has been more selective, and much more efficient, from deep in conference play, attempting only 15.3% of Villanova’s attempts but making an astounding 51.5% of those looks.

Poor close-outs and hacks dooming St. John’s

We’re now at the end of January, several weeks into Big East play, and St. John’s defense hasn’t improved. The team had the worst Big East defensive efficiency rate – 1.21 PPP – at the beginning of the conference action, and it hasn’t gotten better.

What is dooming the Red Storm are the perimeter gaps opponents continually find combined with plain hacking. During SJU’s most recent loss, to Creighton, the Bluejays had a free throw rate of roughly 39%, which is on par with SJU’s Big East rate and ranks as the second-worst defensive free throw rate of Steve Lavin’s tenure.

The team is pressured to make stops because its matchup zone, one predicated on generating turnovers and causing offensive confusion, is currently affording opponents wide-open perimeter looks. Creighton had its best shooting game of the season, making 43.3% from long-range, which isn’t an anomaly for the Red Storm, which allows opponents to make nearly 40% of their three-point attempts.

In the video (cue to 1:16), you can see the poor rotations by the SJU defenders, which, if James Milliken didn’t hit a three, would have likely led to a dribble-drive and foul. Avery Dingman drives the lane, and there are four Red Storm defenders with a foot in the paint – which wouldn’t be a bad thing except they are all within several steps of a Bluejay. Even with the Milliken ball-fake, Phil Greene IV makes a perfunctory close out, which allows Milliken all sorts of time to set up his three.

How Isaiah Whitehead’s return impacts Seton Hall.

At the moment, it appears Isaiah Whitehead, who has been out since mid-December with a foot injury, will be available when Seton Hall plays Xavier this Saturday.

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Where Whitehead will have the most significant impact is defensively. Seton Hall hasn’t struggled necessarily, but when it was announced Whitehead would miss significant time, Willard immediately touched on his defensive importance, saying, “The thing about Isaiah … he’s got a tremendously high basketball IQ, and the way we’re able to play with him on the defensive end really helped us out.” (H/T Chris McManus at South Orange Juice).

Now that Whitehead is back, look for the Pirates to begin playing more man defense. SHU has used mostly zone in recent games in an attempt to lessen Sterling Gibbs’ workload – “I can’t have Sterling chasing guys off screens when I need him to score 20 points,” said Willard – and Whitehead, a physical defender, will shore up the Pirates’ defensive front.

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