Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Glass All the Way Full: The Hoya Prospectus Positive Outlook Season Preview

I'm going to preface this preview, mostly because if I don't, my friends will likely try to get me some psychiatric help. I'm far from a relentlessly positive person, so taking the "The Hoyas are Going to Be Really Good" side of a positive/negative Prospectus Season Preview is a stretch for me. Rest assured, I'm the still the cynic I've always been. I'm acting, people.

Brian will be posting something super-negative, probably much better written and definitely backed up with more stats, graphs, etc., than my following positive outlook. But there are a lot of possible positives for this year, and here are some of 'em.

The Georgetown Hoyas are the 20th ranked team in the Pre-Season AP Top 25. They were picked fourth by the coaches in the Big East. And Basketball Prospectus guru Ken Pomeroy's as yet unnamed statistical projection system tags the Hoyas at 13-5 in the Big East and 11th overall in the country.

Why so much angst, fans? Here's some reasons why the AP, the coaches and Ken Pomeroy are right:

The team was really good last year.

Yes, they lost to Ohio. And Rutgers. And... well, get it out of your system. Despite all that, the final Georgetown Kenpom ranking was 13th. Sagarin's predictor placed us at 19th. The tournament selection committee placed them in the 9-12th range. In other words, sports fans, the Hoyas were clearly a Top 20 team last year.

The team didn't lose that much from a really good team last year.

The Hoyas lost a lottery pick, their only 30 minute+ big man, and one of their best players in Greg Monroe.

But this is college basketball, and over a quarter of everyone's roster turns over every year. And more of that in minutes. According to Basketball Prospectus, the Hoyas return 65% of their offense from last year and 70% of their defense. (It's a higher % of total minutes, but BP gives proper credit in terms of Greg Monroe's production versus pure minutes).

That's more than all but 3 other Big East teams (Pitt, St. John's and Seton Hall, and if you're the latter two, that's not all that big of a positive).

When you're a good team, and most everyone returns, that's a good thing.

Factor in the general average level of improvement that occurs with most college players, and it's a very good thing.

Optimism-run-rampant continues after the jump

Greg Monroe was very good offensively, but he wasn't perfect.

Greg Monroe was the hub of the offense, but he wasn't nearly as efficient as he could have been. What's wrong with this table from last year?

Player          Poss%       ORating
Monroe          27.4%        106.1
Wright          22.8%        111.6
Freeman         21.2%        120.3
Vaughn          19.0%        104.7
Clark           15.7%        112.0
TEAM                         110.2

Should a team really be funneling 27% of it's possessions into a player who ends possession at a rate worse than the team as a whole?

There's no doubt this statistic is somewhat unfair to Monroe, as many of the high ratings for other players (Vaughn and Clark in particular) are due to either Monroe feeding them nice passes or being able to only take open shots as Monroe would take many of the forced shots necessitated by the shot clock.

That said, it certainly seems like possession allocation wasn't optimized last year. Monroe made a lot of assists, but he also committed a lot of turnovers:

Player         Poss%       ARate      TO%
Monroe         27.4%       22.2%     21.1%
Wright         22.8%       22.6%     17.0%

For all the shots he made, Monroe also missed more than some of his teammates:

Player         Shot%       eFG%
Monroe         24.8%       53.4%
Freeman        24.5%       60.2%
Vaughn         17.9%       58.4%
Clark          16.8%       60.6%

While these prior year eFGs and Assist Rates may be adversely affected by Greg's departure, those are huge differences in eFG and in turnover rates. It's not just the other plays feeding off Greg's play-making.

Freeman and Clark are significantly better shooters, from range and from the line. Vaughn has better low post moves and a softer touch than Greg, even if he struggles against some taller opponents. Freeman is a better finisher at the hoop as well.

The offense is going to be helped by having Chris Wright execute more of the playmaking and by having Austin Freeman (and others) take more of the actual shots. It will be different than before, but it will also be better.

OK, but what about defense? Rebounding?

What about 'em? They were abominable last year for Georgetown: 148th in defensive rebounding and 42nd in defense.

But here's the thing: Greg wasn't a great defensive presence down low. Julian was actually a better shot-blocker than Greg. And Greg spent a lot of time trying not to foul out.

There's an argument to be made - and I'm making it - that shuttling in larger numbers of players who do not care about fouling out will actually generate better defense down low.

Yes, the prospect of Hollis Thompson guarding Yancy Gates is frightening. But the defense last year wasn't good anyway. And defense is a team activity. Which means that improvements from the rest of the team -- which did not play up to potential last year -- can easily overcome the loss of Greg Monroe.

OK, but rebounding?

The Hoyas' only good rebounder last year was Monroe.

Player       OReb%     DReb%
Monroe        8.6%     25.1%
Vaughn        9.8%     13.8%
Sims          7.1%     17.0%
Benimon       7.0%     11.4%
Thompson      5.3%      9.4%

Aside from a bit of offensive rebounding proficiency from Vaughn, no one other than Monroe could rebound. Sims' decent numbers include a lot of time versus subpar opponents, and despite the general point of view, Benimon's numbers were barely better than a couple of the team's guards. And some of those guards were better rebounders than Thompson (Vee Sanford for PF, anyone?).

Here's the bad news: if you simply remove Monroe and insert, say, Benimon, into the starting lineup, you get Reb%'s that look something like this:

Player       OReb%    DReb%
Wright        2.0%     8.0%
Clark         4.5%     9.4%
Freeman       3.6%     8.5%
Benimon       7.0%    11.4%
Vaughn        9.8%    13.8%
TOTAL        26.9%    51.2% 
2009-10      33.3%    67.7%

Wow. I mean, that's colossally bad. You're going to lose a lot of games if you simply only grab half of your available defensive rebounds. The worst defensive rebounding team last year grabbed 60% of the available rebounds. So this would be historically awful.

Here's the good news: the Hoyas simply can not be that bad. While lineup changes with offensive rebounds have a history of being mostly additive (meaning the above exercise works), the same is not really true of defensive rebounding.

Defensive rebounding is more of a team stat. There's a couple of good, logical reasons for this, but the most compelling is the idea that there are a certain amount of rebounds that are going to the defense almost all of the time, and who gets them is more a matter of choice than ability.

Think back to any game you've seen. Whether it's because of a quick shot, effective blocking out or simply that the offense is trying to get back on defense, there are a number of rebounds that the opposing team puts little effort into rebounding. The ball comes down amidst two or three defending jerseys. One of them grabs it, but really, any of them could have.

There's no doubt Greg Monroe was a good rebounder. But Monroe also got most of those discretionary rebounds. He was on the floor a large amount of time where he was the team's only big man, and much like the centerfielder taking every easy fly ball in the gaps, Monroe got most of those discretionary boards.

Someone's going to get those discretionary boards this year. It can be Julian Vaughn or Nate Lubick or whomever. It's all but impossible for a team to only grab 50% of defensive boards.

So what's the worst they could could do? As stated before, 60% was the NCAA-worst last year. The worst major conference team was 62% (Rutgers, in case you were curious). That would be around a 6% swing from last year.

What does that mean? The Hoyas give up about 37 missed shots a game, so losing 6% of those rebounds (worst case) means that they give back another 2.25 possessions to our opponents. There's a cost to that -- probably around two to three points per game, and that's not a small amount.

But it isn't devastating, either. Especially when the offense can gain quite a bit more (Pomeroy's model has the Hoyas jumping from a 110 efficiency to a 117, about +4.5 ppg at last year's pace).

Add in that players like Lubick and Abraham were known for their rebounding and general bulldoggedness (that's a word on the Hilltop, even if spell check does not recognize it) and the rebounding issue is smaller than many people think.

So I'm sure you want to put some kind of summary here.

Yes, thank you. Despite losing a lottery pick who was the center of the offense and the team's lone quality rebounder, the Hoyas are going to be a better team this year.

  • The offense is going to improve by moving ball-handling and creating duties to a more efficient creator in Chris Wright
  • The offense is going to improve by taking Monroe's shots and moving them to more efficient scorers, like Austin Freeman
  • The defense and rebounding are going to miss Monroe, but other player's improvement will shore it up enough that the offensive improvements will be greater than the defense's loss
I'm not sure I would have bought that as premise before walking through some of the numbers. But the reality is that losing Monroe hurts us most on the side of the ball where the team has the most possibility of improvement.

The Hoyas have a ton of offensive talent and better chance this year of using it to its utmost. When they put more focus and effort into the defensive side of the ball, this team is going to be better than last year's already talented team.

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