Big East Key Offseason Questions Part 1

I wrote the first part of this series over at Rush the Court: http://rushthecourt.net/2016/04/12/big-east-key-offseason-questions-part-i/

Some interesting situations that stuck out to me:

  • Butler and Georgetown are undergoing similar situations…
  • Butler grew to rely heavily on Dunham and Jones for offensive production over their four year careers in the same way that Georgetown relied on D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera. These players grew into focal points as sophomores and juniors, so it’s difficult to imagine the offense without them. Butler’s Kelan Martin put on a tremendous sophomore campaign, boosting his eFG% from 45.5% to 50.4% and vastly improving his rebounding rates. Martin should fill into the primary scoring role well, although adapting to that increased defensive focus takes time. My bigger concern there is who fills into the other scoring roles. Chrabascz hopefully will, provided he can rediscover his shooting touch and confidence. Is Tyler Lewis going to provide enough at the PG spot? Maybe Kethan Savage (the GW transfer) will give them some backcourt production, although he was wildly inefficient during his time at GW… averaged 11.2 PPG on 43.9% eFG and never eclipsed a 26.4% three-point rate during his three-year stint.
  • For Gtown, there are a lot more offensive pieces, just ones that haven’t really gotten the opportunity to do so. Blame JT3’s system or blame DSR’s presence, it was probably a combination of both. The more interesting thought process is trying to figure out why this team so badly missed the mark compared to its preseason expectations. Paul White’s versatility was missed (spent much of the season injured) and there weren’t any good interior defenders on the roster (sorry Bradley Hayes), but the offensive limitations were inexplicable. DSR was a decent distributor but never shed that score-first mentality while Tre Campbell’s turnover rate overshadowed his passing. For a team stocked with shooters, the Hoyas’ aggregate percentage on the season was shocking: 33.9% from deep (211th nationally). Peak, Reggie Cameron and Marcus Derrickson were all >35%… DSR and Copeland took the most on the team yet shot the worst. Copeland has to turn the corner and improve his shot selection in order for Georgetown to take a step forward, because the skillset and physical attributes are there. Consider me less worried about the others… Peak will excel without DSR, Derrickson and Govan are already acclimated to the Princeton offense and both are versatile enough to play within it.
  • I’m not sure what form Marquette takes without Ellenson on its front-line, but it’s safe to say that Wojo isn’t done yet. Over the past month he has added Markus Howard, a small but prolific scorer, and USC transfer Katin Reinhardt, a sharpshooting wing. Looks like Marquette will be playing a good amount of “small ball”, and that wouldn’t be a bad thing if Luke Fischer inspired confidence as a rim protector and plus rebounder. But he doesn’t. He’s a terrific scorer around the rim, but I’m less confident in those other parts of his game. To thrive in a 4-out type system, they would need a strong baseline defender and a good passer out of the low post (a la Ochefu). Maybe he’ll prove me wrong and turn the corner, but I still think the Golden Eagles need to add another post player. The rest of the pieces (Traci Carter, JaJuan Johnson, Cheatham, Duane Wilson, et al) are interesting because they’re all effective slashers. If the offense can add some outside shooting consistency (which Wojo just did… see above), it’ll be a dangerously effective perimeter style of play. Can Wally Ellenson provide serviceable minutes at the 4? Is Matt Heldt (6’10 rising soph) ready to play at the collegiate level?

4/6 Big East Thoughts

  • No surprise Henry Ellenson declared. We knew he was a one-and-done from the start, the only ones holding out hope were Marquette fans hoping to continue the rebuild. Ellenson’s draft stock as a top 10 pick is somewhat overvalued though. I think he’ll struggle on the defensive end against NBA-level athletes since he’s primarily a below the rim player. But the offensive end is what teams love… he has great shooting mechanics, good size (a solid 6’10/6’11) and demonstrated a pretty impressive ability to score as a freshman in college. Despite leading his team in scoring, I wouldn’t really say Ellenson “flourished”. He had a high usage rate which padded his stats on an absolute basis, but his eFG% was just 48.0%, second lowest on the team among those who saw consistent minutes. His three-point shooting percentage was sub-30%, and that’s from the college line. I think Ellenson’s pro success would come at the 4 as a stretch guy who can knock down threes. He’s also a good rebounder in terms of having a nose for the ball, but struggled against good rebounding teams, especially those that went directly at him. Offensive rebounding was inhibited from his position on offense… he often played a mid-range/perimeter role, especially when Luke Fischer was in the game.  His success will be highly dependent on the system he plays in and he’ll certainly be starter material down the line if he develops a consistent outside shot.
  • Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins rightfully declared for the NBA draft… stock/name recognition is sky high and they’ll get some useful feedback. I don’t think either one stays though. Hart is a good defender and good athlete, but he isn’t ready to play any position in the NBA. He’s only 6’5 and doesn’t have a long wingspan so really won’t ever be able to play the 3. But his ball-handling and shooting aren’t there yet to play the 2. I’d imagine this is the feedback he’ll get, and those are definitely things that can be improved. Hilliard improved remarkably in both these regards and now serves as a Pistons “3 and D” bench guy. As for Jenkins, he’s a strange case. Lethal shooter who has also demonstrated the ability to score in back-to-the-basket situations this year. He’s also a pretty good passer and screen-setter, which could peg him as an interesting Draymond Green mold player. Defense was his biggest issue last season and he improved on it as the season went on. He hasn’t really shown up on any draft radars, which surprises me, although positionally he’s a big question mark. He operated best as a stretch 4 at Villanova, and he’d likely project to play in the same spot in the NBA since he simply isn’t quick enough to guard 3s. His rebounding metrics never really jumped off the page though and I’m not sure many teams would take an undersize 4 who isn’t a strong rebounder.
  • I was really impressed with Phil Booth in the championship game. He hit a sophomore slump this season and lost that “killer instinct” that he showed last season when attacking the rim. Looks like he rediscovered his game though… 20 points on 6-7 shooting. His play will be instrumental next season alongside Brunson as they share PG duties. If he can maintain that consistent shot, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Villanova keep its 2PG lineup. It worked well last season in handling pressure and keeping its drive-and-kick game rolling. His potential value add is being seriously underrated on next year’s team… Hart and Jenkins obviously round-out the 3/4 spots and I think Reynolds/Spellman share time at the 5. That’s the biggest question mark at this point, but Jay has done a fantastic job developing bigs recently (Cunningham, Mouph Yarou, now Ochefu), and it should be no different here.

Three Key Factors in the Championship Game

One game remains in the 2015-16 college basketball season and the storylines surrounding it are plentiful. Villanova and North CarolinaKenpom‘s #1 and #2 teams, will square off in a battle between the most statistically efficient offenses in the nation. Two-point shooting aside, however, these teams could not be more different. The former bases its scoring attack on guard play — all of which are proficient shooters and slashers — while spotting a lone big man inside to aid with ball movement and spacing. The latter runs an offense heavily predicated on second chance points with the focus on getting the ball to its dominant frontcourt players in scoring position. North Carolina thrives in transition and pushes the ball frequently off of defensive rebounds; Villanova has succeeded by running controlled half-court sets. Tonight should come down to two different styles: winning with size vs. winning with spacing. Below are three keys that will decide the champion.

  1. North Carolina’s ability to successfully make entry passes and establish post position. Villanova’s numerous defensive schemes have been wildly effective when it comes to stifling opposing offenses. Its guards put constant pressure on ball-handlers, forcing difficult entry passes (see: Kansas’ Perry Ellis) that often result in bigs catching the ball out of scoring position. Marcus Paige is far from turnover prone, but Villanova’s 2-3 half-court zone set could complicate his entry passes. Moreover, Villanova’s guards time their low post double-teams well, limiting easy scoring opportunities in the paint. Given how heavily UNC relies on inside scoring, the time that Villanova’s guards spend playing help defense on Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks will be worth monitoring. The other key factor here will be Daniel Ochefu’s foul situation – his team’s help defense will have to be aggressive to avoid putting the Villanova big man in dangerous spots.
  2. Jay Wright’s big vs. small lineup decision. With the exception of Kansas and Perry Ellis (although, to be fair, Ellis isn’t a true post scorer), Villanova’s NCAA Tournament opponents have been generally perimeter-focused teams. As a result, there has not been much pressure on center Daniel Ochefu to contain low post scoring; instead, Villanova’s defensive focus has been placed on containing penetration and preventing three-point shots. Jay Wright’s lineup decisions were easy ones. But North Carolina’s style of play is unlike anything Villanova has faced this season. With its exceptional frontcourt size and depth, both Kris Jenkins and Josh Hart will face a significant height and rebounding disadvantage at their positions (UNC ranks third nationally in offensive rebounding). So the key question is whether Jay Wright opts to play Ochefu and Darryl Reynolds at the same time to provide some additional interior defense. The tradeoff comes at the offensive end, where spacing will be inhibited and the mismatch that Jenkins provides against one of the North Carolina bigs will be lost.
  3. Villanova’s shooting. It sounds obvious, but the effects are deeper than it looks at face value. Hot shooting doesn’t just give Villanova immediate points; it allows the Wildcats to set the tempo. Made baskets mean that it can either establish its 1-2-2 press or get back on defense and more easily mark defensive assignments. Slowing the pace on the offensive end has provided Villanova with high percentage shots while limiting turnovers, thereby suppressing any transition opportunities and momentum that faster-paced teams rely upon. North Carolina’s offense can certainly operate well in the half-court, but Roy Williams’ teams always look to get out and run, capitalizing on opportunities at a ridiculously high rate (59.5% effective field goal percentage in transition; 50.2% in the half-court). Moreover, while they have gone largely unchallenged against equal-sized teams, the big question mark is how effectively Villanova can score in the paint against North Carolina’s long and athletic front line.