Thursday, January 1, 2009

Pitt / Notre Dame Preview

The Hoyas are one game into an absolutely murderous run of seven games (West Virginia's strong start has elevated them), and the Hoyas are already ahead of expectations thanks to an emphatic win at Connecticut.

Of course, the reward for the Hoyas is to get an incredibly physical Pitt team at home and then face a Notre Dame team that has won their last seven thousand games in South Bend.

Here are the current four factors for Pitt:
.                    Offense         Defense
Adj. Efficiency 117.9 (12) 84.9 (13)
eFG% 52.2 (71) 42.3 (16)
Turnover % 17.7 (25) 21.4 (154)
Off Rebound % 42.4 (8) 29.9 (66)
FT Rate 22.4 (231) 24.6 (15)

Pitt is a very good team, ranked fifth by Pomeroy. They are a much more balanced team than UConn or Notre Dame, both of whom match high octane, if not diversified, offenses with pedestrian (or worse) defenses. Pitt defends and scores.

The number that explodes off that page, of course, is the 42.4% offensive rebounding percentage, ranking eighth in the country. Pitt has been a much better offensive rebounding team than Connecticut or Memphis, which spells trouble for the Hoyas.

The amazing thing is that it is pretty much all DeJuan Blair. Tyrell Biggs is pretty good, and Sam Young isn't bad at all on the offensive boards, but Blair is grabbing a freakish 25% of all of Pitt's misses. That's amazing.

Logically, that should make Pitt's huge advantage here easier to offset -- one would think you could focus on boxing out Blair, but no one has really done that yet. Blair is strong and bulky, freakishly quick for his size and boasts a wingspan over seven feet. He has a nose for the ball as well and just seems to always bounce his body into the right spot.

In the Connecticut game, the Hoyas managed to offset Connecticut's offensive rebounding with some fairly strong offensive rebounding of their own. Pitt isn't invulnerable on their own defensive glass, so the Hoyas will have to put in the effort on their own offensive glass like they did versus Connecticut to hope to keep the rebounding margin under ten.

Pitt neither commits nor forces turnovers. Given the results of the Connecticut game, I expect a positive turnover advantage for the Hoyas. However, Blair and Young are better with the ball than Thabeet and Adrien, so the advantage may not be as pronounced.

Other than rebounding, fouls on offense and defense are the other key for the Hoyas. Pitt doesn't draw very many fouls, which seems a tad odd for a team with a strong offensive rebounder and a couple of strong scorers in Fields and Young. But while none of them are poor at drawing fouls, none of them are particularly strong. Monroe will have to watch himself around Blair, but this won't be the most difficult assignment in terms of avoiding foul trouble.

On the other end, the Hoyas offense has been so devastating because they are attacking the rim and getting to the line. Pitt is ranked 15th in terms of not fouling people, but are significantly more foul prone than Connecticut. The Hoyas didn't draw many fouls in the first half against the Huskies, but kept attacking and eventually wore them down. Wright, Mornoe and Summers will likely all have a significant quickness advantage versus their defenders, which should help generate trips to the line.

The keys to the game:
  • Keep Blair off the boards as much as possible. I don't really care how -- whether by getting him in foul trouble or double teaming him on the box out -- but it needs to be done.

  • Attack the hoop. It is imperative that the Hoyas remain the aggressors. Pitt's physicality could intimidate the Hoyas more than Thabeet's shotblocking, and if the Hoyas aren't driving and attacking, the offense is not nearly as impressive. Factor in that Jamie Dixon will actually switch to zone, and it would not be a shock to see the team slip into a three-point dependent offense.


Luckily, we have Pitt at home. Notre Dame isn't nearly as good, but it is a road game.

Here are the current four factors for Notre Dame:

.                    Offense         Defense
Adj. Efficiency 121.9 (3) 98.1 (135)
eFG% 53.9 (34) 46.2 (85)
Turnover % 13.2 (2) 17.5 (315)
Off Rebound % 36.4 (77) 29.2 (52)
FT Rate 19.1 (302) 18.7 (1)

Notre Dame has a great interior scorer in Luke Harangody, hits their threes and doesn't turn the ball over at all. The result is a very good offensive team that isn't nearly as dependent on three point shooting as people think (3PA/FGA of 34.4%).

The offense does have a few weaknesses, however. Harangody has been bothered by taller players in the past, though he exploded in his last games last year versus Thabeet. It's worth noting that Harangody struggled offensively versus a great shotblocking team in Ohio State, but it is hard to tell if his 10-25 shooting was due to Dallas Lauderdale and BJ Mullens or simply the fact that he was coming back from injury. However, he was impressive versus Texas and respectable versus UNC before getting hurt.

The Hoyas have been spoiled because Hibbert was an awful matchup for Harangody. Harangody simply wasn't quick enough to exploit Hibbert away from the hoop and Roy was otherwise too tall and too strong for Luke. Monroe has proven to be a capable low post defender, but he's neither as tall nor as strong as Roy.

The less obvious weakness for Notre Dame is that despite not turning the ball over much, their point guard is actually decidedly mediocre at that skill. Tory Jackson turns the ball over an average of three times per game, and while that may not seem like a lot, he'll be facing a team that is getting very good at forcing turnovers.

Notre Dame's big weakness, of course, if on defense. They simply aren't very good at it. They are decent at defensive rebounding and they don't foul much, but they don't force turnovers and they give up lots of easy shots. In fact, while not fouling is usually a good thing, in Notre Dame's case it signals the fact that they simply aren't contesting shots much.

However, the Hoyas can't assume a cakewalk on the offensive end. For one, the Hoyas will likely see a zone. Also, Notre Dame hasn't been impressive on defense, but it also hasn't had too many absymal defensive days, and one of those was against UNC.

Keys to the game:
  • Rebound. Notre Dame isn't a great rebounding team. But until the Hoyas prove that this isn't an issue against even mediocre rebounding teams, it's going to be a key to the game.

  • Get out on three point shooters. For the past few years, Georgetown has been very good at preventing threes from going in, pressuring shooters on the perimeter. This year has been no exception so far. Notre Dame is a great three-point shooting team that has shooters that don't need to be open. The fewer missed rotations and open looks the Hoyas allow, the better the chances of winning. The Hoyas help on penetration, but this may be one of the games where the Hoyas should consider not doing that.

1 comment:

  1. A very tough game today. Hoyas have to travel to South Bend on Monday. Given that both teams lost today, that Monday night game becomes pretty significant very quickly. Good luck.