Tempo-Free Big East: Feb. 11th Edition

Is Villanova the Big East’s best team? Based on win-loss record and efficiency margin, the answer is clear. The Wildcats are certainly bound for the NCAA tournament, but digging deeper into the numbers suggests another squad might surpass Nova. Continue reading “Tempo-Free Big East: Feb. 11th Edition”

Providence 76, Miami (FL) 62: The Brilliance of Kris Dunn

Providence coach Ed Cooley likes to build season-long themes for his teams. Last season Bryce Cotton was the indefatigable point guard, but he has since left the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, and Cooley now stresses LaDontae Henton, a forward he calls “Superman,” might just be the most under appreciated player in Division I. Continue reading “Providence 76, Miami (FL) 62: The Brilliance of Kris Dunn”

Three Thoughts: Providence 72, Yale 66

(photo courtesy: Yale Athletics)

In the end, Vegas usually knows. So while the Providence fans, and even coach Ed Cooley to some extent, was a little upset the Friars didn’t bury Yale at various points of Friday afternoon’s 72-66 win, the Bulldogs can be equally peeved that they weren’t able to pull off the upset on a day where starting guard Kris Dunn (and freshman Jalen Lindsey) didn’t play.

Continue reading “Three Thoughts: Providence 72, Yale 66”

2014 Big East tournament final: Five Keys

Creighton will face Providence at 8:30 PM tonight at Madison Square Garden, and while one of the teams (Providence) is a conference OG — Dave Gavitt, the Big East’s founder, was a coach at Providence; during the conference’s heyday of the mid-1980s, the Friars, under Rick Pitino, made the Final Four — the Bluejays are the newcomer. However, one wouldn’t know this is Creighton’s first Big East tournament by the way their fans travel: the Garden became CenturyLink’s annex, and it will be loud tonight from the influx of Nebraska natives flooding 34th Street.

We’re not conceding the win to Greg McDermott’s squad, though no team has impressed in their conference tournaments more than CU. Doug McDermott has scored 67 points through his first two games, setting a record (previously held by Allen Iverson), and the ‘Jays rang up more than 1.40 points per possession on a very physical, defensive-minded Xavier squad. PC, though, split their two meetings with Creighton in 2014, and it is astonishing what the Friars have been able to accomplish with just six players. Coach Ed Cooley told me when February roles around, PC’s practices rarely last more than an hour, and are light on contact, efforts to keep the team fresh. What can we expect from the new look Big East’s first tournament final?

Do not leave Ethan Wragge.

  • The bearded sharpshooter was in a slump entering the Big East tournament, making (a pedestrian for Wragge) 40% of his threes, down from the 49% he had been making during the early Big East slate, but since arriving in NYC, Wragge has been the key to Creighton’s dominance. As well as McDermott has played, Wragge has made 58% of his 3s (seven of twelve), and was unstoppably versus Xavier. The Musketeers’ inability to find Wragge in transition, or not stay glued to his side on picks, contributed to XU’s defeat, and PC needs to shadow — not stay a step away, or have help defense — Wragge all game. Taking away Wragge’s looks helps restrict the spacing Creighton seeks to create.

Providence’s role players are emerging.

  • As good as Bryce Cotton, PC’s senior guard, has been this season, the tournament belongs to Josh Fortune and LaDontae Henton. Fortune couldn’t miss against St. John’s, and Henton, an undersized big who is clearly underrated nationally (and within the conference), scored a season-high 26 points. Cotton is such a high-usage player, one who garners a team’s sole defensive attention, and though he is such an exciting player, PC is much more efficient if Friars like Fortune, Henton, Tyler Harris, and Kadeem Batts contribute.

Be physical with the Bluejays.

  • Creighton thrives on constant offensive movement. Led by McDermott, who never stops cutting, the team presents a shifting offensive attack. Stillness is stricken from the team’s lexicon, so for a team to hope to slow down CU, they have to do work below the waist. Despite their lack of bench, PC is a very physical team, and will have to bump the Bluejay cutters and make sure there is a bit of contact when guards, or McDermott, come off screens. If Creighton is allowed to move about the halfcourt unimpeded, it could be a very difficult defensive showing for the Friars.

Extra possessions.

  • The Friars lead the Big East in offensive rebounding percentage, and Creighton is the second-best defensive rebounding team. Seems like a game between the two would nullify the advantage, right? What will be interesting is if PC’s securing of additional possessions will help them control the tempo. Creighton isn’t a running team — just 65 or so possessions per game — but they crash the defensive glass hard to spark their fast-break: their transition game often helps bury teams with threes. Even if PC isn’t able to convert their second chances, the extra possessions will allow them to slow down the contest.

Watch out for the double screens.

  • Before Xavier made their late second half run in last night’s loss, Creighton was up by double digits, a margin that propelled McDermott to insert Zach Hanson into the game. The frosh has barely played this season, but as soon as he entered the game, CU would run the same play four straight times: a staggered screen where McDermott would pop to beyond the three point line and Hanson would dive to the post. The play resulted in three out of four field goal makes, and Creighton loves this play call when McDermott is paired with Will Artino or Wragge. It is arguably the most efficient play in McDermott’s game plan.

Big East tempo-free metrics: week four

For the third time this season, St. John’s could not manage pull the upset against a highly-ranked opponent, losing to Creighton on a Doug McDermott last second three. True to form, St. John’s again competed for nearly 40 minutes before a stretch of questionable decision-making — why was Chris Obekpa sagging so far off McDermott? — doomed a SJU victory. A few Big East teams have a break from conference play heading into week four’s weekend — Georgetown plays Michigan State, and Villanova ventures into Big Five play — but there are some interesting tempo-free takeaways as we reach the halfway point of conference action.

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Creighton 8-1 1.24 0.99
Villanova 7-1 1.18 1.05
Xavier 5-2 1.17 1.09
Providence 5-2 1.10 1.05
Seton Hall 3-4 1.06 1.08
Marquette 3-4 1.01 1.07
Georgetown 3-6 0.96 1.03
St. John’s 2-6 1.00 1.05
DePaul 2-6 0.99 1.13
Butler 1-7 0.98 1.10

Villanova’s luck or will February doom the Cats? Judging by the overall conference efficiency percentages posted by Jay Wright’s squad, one might assume Villanova is the cream of the Big East. However, after taking a deeper look, it appears the Wildcats have been exceedingly fortunate during the past few games. Discounting the two games against DePaul and Creighton, which were both romps from the onset, Nova has struggled to effectively run their offense: against St. John’s, Marquette, and Georgetown, VU scored just 1.08 PPP, which is pedestrian when compared to their overall Big East offensive efficiency percentage (1.18). Nova’s defense hasn’t fared well during those three games either, rising slightly to 1.07, but despite this narrow efficiency margin (+.01), Nova’s record during this stretch is a very lucky 3-1 (it might be worth noting that the margin of victory in each of the three wins was in the single digits).

One explanation for Nova’s offensive slide is their struggles from beyond the arc. The Wildcats heavily depend on threes — per Ken Pomeroy, about a third of their points come from the perimeter — but during those four games, Nova converted only 34% of their long-range attempts. Villanova doesn’t often finish at the rim — 36% of their shots come at the rim (below the DI average, according to Hoop-Math.com) and when the squad does grab an offensive board, they don’t typically finish (.91 points per play) — and a dependence on made threes fuels the team’s offense; when those shots aren’t dropping, the Wildcats’ defense, which simply isn’t as stingy as it was a year ago, can’t carry this increasingly anemic offense.

Bryce Cotton’s conditioning. Only one other player this season has used a higher percentage of his team’s minutes than Providence’s Bryce Cotton. The diminutive guard has played every minute during PC’s last five games, and on last week’s conference call, coach Ed Cooley was asked how the coaching staff treated Cotton’s conditioning on non-game days: “We have to be very cautious of how we physically practice … truly we’ve been in this situation since I’ve been the coach at Providence. If you look at Bryce’s minute distribution since we’ve been here, his routine has been in place, [and] we know what we are doing with him.” There are two areas of Cotton’s game that have evolved in his senior season and has allowed Cotton some rest while on the court; while Cotton is still nationally known as a lethal from beyond the arc, the guard has ably transformed into a true combo guard.

His assist rate has skyrocketed from 2013 (18.1% to 35.1%), and since he really never leaves the court, his assists per 40 minutes is virtually the same as his assist average this season (6 per game), so while Cotton was accustomed to continuously running all over the court in past seasons, he has been able to conserve a bit of energy by acting as a facilitator.

The other alteration has been PC’s use of the flex offense at times; in recent games, Cooley’s squad has used cross and back screens to free Cotton and the other Friars for uncontested shots within the arc. Cotton has been a prime beneficiary of this offensive switch — the constant movement frees Cotton for mid-range jumpers and helps keep his legs fresh.

Matt Stainbrook undervalued? There is a reason Cooley, during the same conference call, unequivocally praised the Western Michigan transfer as one of the nation’s most underrate bigs. Stainbrook has been somewhat of a surprise star for Xavier this season. While his potential — a 6’10” big with soft hands and great court vision — was talked about with much enthusiasm in Cincinnati, it was unclear entering this season whether Stainbrook would be in shape to keep up with his fast-paced backcourt and how he would handle the physicality of Xavier’s new conference. So far, though, Stainbrook has been arguably the Big East’s most underrated player — only Dee Davis and Semaj Christon have a higher assist rate than Stainbrook, and a greater percentages of Xavier’s possessions are resulting in a post touch. Stainbrook may not be as athletically gifted as other Big East frontcourt players, but the junior has been skilled using his body and touch around the basket to convert 52% of his twos.