Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Conference Play So Far: What Happened?

Nine games into conference season and the Hoyas' offense has cratered.  Despite a strong start, it's ranked 51st nationally just weeks after it was top 20.  In conference it is ranking 9th, decidedly mediocre for the first half and has registered sub-90 efficiencies in four of its nine games.  This hasn't been overly uncommon -- but it just happens in those years like last year or 2008-09. 

The usual commentary will be written:  people have figured out Georgetown's (gimmick) offense.  On one hand, it's not illogical that this offense would perform better out of conference than in -- after all, few out of conference teams will take the time to prepare as well as a team that sees Georgetown two to three times a year.

On the other hand, it doesn't fit all the facts.  For one, the offense has been in place for years, opposing coaches have seen it for years and as late as Season 6 of the John Thompson era, we had a Top 10 offense.  In addition, plenty of programs runs offenses with Princeton elements, and Georgetown incorporates a lot of elements from non-Princeton sources.  Those other teams aren't suddenly shut down, either.

So, what is it?  As always on this blog, let's look at the facts before coming to a conclusion.

Let's look at some basic team numbers, non-conference and in conference play. I've included the 2007-08 team so we can contrast current stats with a successful team -- after all, we'd expect every team to be worse in conference play. Just how worse is the question. I'm also not claiming 2007-08 as perfectly representative of how much the competitive increase affects these stats -- but it's an easy way to get some reference.

                       Difference (Conf. Play - OOC Play)
Statistic              2011-12 (thru 9 games)     2007-08

Offensive Efficiency         -15.7                 -12.1
Defensive Efficiency         -10.4                 - 5.0

eFG%                         - 5.0                 - 7.6
TO Rate                      + 4.0                 + 1.7
OReb Rate                    - 1.8                 - 2.9
FTA/FGA                      + 3.8                 - 0.4

2PT FG%                      - 5.6                 - 7.9
3PT FG%                      - 2.1                 - 4.9
FT%                          - 9.2                 +12.1

eFG%                         + 2.4                 + 1.7
TO Rate                      - 2.5                 + 1.6
OReb Rate                    + 3.6                 - 2.4
FTA/FGA                      + 4.9                 + 9.5

2PT FG%                      + 0.8                 + 2.6
3PT FG%                      + 3.9                 + 0.7
FT%                          + 5.3                 + 0.0

In absolute terms, the offense has cratered worse than the defense from the non-conference to conference play, but neither has held up well. In 2007-08, the Hoyas actually declined similarly on offense and much less on defense, but this quick glance says that neither side of the ball is holding up particularly well.

When we look at the components, it's not surprising what is driving many of the losses on offense. The team is, of course, shooting worse, as anyone would expect. But the decline from preseason to conference play in both 2PT and 3PT field goals is actually less than the 15-3 '07-'08 team saw. And this Hoya team, thanks to the Rutgers game, is actually shooting more free throws than in non-conference.

However, there are two key declines that are perhaps worse than expected. First, the team is giving away 2-3 more turnovers a game. That decline in offensive efficiency is about 10 points per game -- and turnover account for about three of those. One would expect an increase, but that amount -- going from 17.8 to 21.8%, is fairly disastrous.

The other unexpected problem is FT shooting. Turnovers can be caused by many things, but poor FT shooting is fairly isolated to just poor play if there isn't a huge shift in who is shooting the FTs. The 2007-08 improved to over 70% in conference play while this year's Hoya team is down near 60% in conference play. That's worth a point or two on average.  

On defense, the issues are more standard across the board. Our comparison year helped keep its defense strong by forcing more turnovers and did better defending the three. That team extended its perimeter D but Hibbert was there to stop those that tried to take advantage of that aggressiveness. This team has not been able to control the three point line as well, though some of that may be opposition and luck.

Breaking it down by player after the jump

What if we look at it at a player by player level?
                    Difference (Conf. - OOC)
Player                 ORating     DRating
Clark, Jason              -2          2
Sims, Henry              -30          5
Thompson, Hollis         -23          1
Starks, Markel           -23          0
Lubick, Nate             -10          4
Porter, Otto             -24          1
Whittington, Greg          3          5
Trawick, Jabril          -27         10
Hopkins, Mikael          -12          5

Jason Clark, you're excused. Oh, and please shoot more.

Jason and Greg Whittington are the only players to have maintained their efficiency from conference play; Whittington uses less possessions and is working from a low base. Jason has been the one player who has managed to get good shots and make them against good competition.

The rest of the team is a sadder story - virtually no one has played anywhere nearly as well as they did in non-conference play. Only Jason Clark and Hollis Thompson have an offensive efficiency greater than 100 (Hollis may have dropped 23 pts, but he's still at a 108). Aside from those two, no player is scoring.

But the biggest issue overall is the play of Henry Sims. Henry Sims' game has cratered. He's not making shots, his assist rate is nearly halved and he is committing turnovers on 27% of his possessions used. He's been awful offensively, going from a player who's usage and efficiency rivaled Roy Hibbert's in non-conference play to one that is well, Henry Sims, but last year in conference play.

It's not a shock. Sims' post game is nowhere near Hibbert's, and he's always allowed himself to be muscled more than he should Against Pitt, he had just one post play where he muscled his way to the hoop (bucket) but never went strong otherwise in the game. No one could reasonably expect Sims' performance to hold up as well against stronger competition as Hibbert's did. But this has been disastrous. It's not just disastrous because Sims, Thompson and Clark are the upperclassmen triumvirate who have taken most of the shots. It's disastrous because Sims was the only low post threat on the team. Without Sims to punish a team down low, it becomes must easier to guard everyone else on the floor. When Sims plays poorly, Hollis Thompson gets less open shots and Otto Porter's cut to the hoop isn't open.

I don't mean to overly criticize Sims here. It's not his fault he is the only player on the team with his skillset, and that as the team's center, his performance is both and offensive and defensive lynchpin. Plenty of other Hoyas have played as poorly. But they don't mean as much to the team as Henry Sims does.

That's a problem going forward. While we can probably expect the free throw shooting to improve, and it seem unlikely that players like Hollis Thompson and Markel Starks will continue to slump this badly, Sims' poor performance seems to be equal parts slump and an inability to deal with better competition. There's no doubt he's missed layups he should be making, but there's little doubt that he also doesn't have the automatic low post game that he'd need to shoot effectively and draw the defense to the inside.

Sims is going to need to improve his play -- especially on offense -- if this team is going to be better than it has been in conference play.

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