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Reality Check: Problems Abound On The Main Line

A night after a tumultuous "victory" over a team with zero basketball scholarships down the road, I would love to be a fly on the wall at today's practice on campus. You can say whatever you want about the UPenn program being improved from last year's squad but this was supposed to be a walk. Without a heroically/uncharacteristically assertive effort from Corey Stokes, the Cats quite possibly would have fallen victim to the 199th best team in America last night. This was supposed to be a coming out party against a squad that we scored 55 points against last the first half.

More commentary after The Jump.

This is a team with talent to contend for the National Championship. The team is stocked with veteran's at critical positions and quite possibly has 3-4 players who have the ability to play in the NBA. But so far this year, most everything that could have gone wrong, has gone wrong. With the dismissal of JayVaughn Pinkston this past week, the front court has gone from a perceived strength to a question mark. While it is difficult for the casual fan to understand, Pinkston was the most game-ready freshman to come to Villanova in recent memory and his style of play would have allowed him to contribute immediately. Now, the team again will depend on Maurice Sutton to play critical minutes on both ends of the floor and no one can feel particularly good about this.

Front-court issues aside, the real problems so far are in the back court where it appears that the past 6 months were not enough time for Corey Fisher and Maalik Wayns to learn how to play basketball with each other, as opposed to play on the same court at the same time. After referring to KenPom, any Nova fan should be worried about the numbers these two are putting up. Ken Pomeroy has been writing a college basketball statistics blog for the past decade and has created metrics which as respected across the basketball community. While some of these metrics are self explanatory, please refer to this legend for further explanation.

The most offensively utilized player on the team (possessions that end in him making/missing a shot or committing a turnover) is Maalik Wayns. Despite having a high assist rate (assists divided by fields goals made by teammates),  he is struggling across the board with his offense. He has a low free throw rate, is shooting an abysmal 16.5% on 3 pointers and has the lowest offensive efficiency rating of any player in the rotation. He is hands down the worst of the regulars with respect to any offensive efficiency statistic related to shooting. Wayns is forcing too many shots plain and simple. As fun as it is to watch him break down slower players in the half court and push the ball in transition, the Tennessee game showed us what happens when you depend on this to run a successful offense. The team is relying too heavily on Wayns at this point.

Corey Fisher was supposed to dominate this year and step in seamlessly for Scottie Reynolds. A funny thing happened along the way and Wednesday night's benching reminded us: Fisher has been nothing but a sidekick to this point in his college career and is struggling not just on but off the court in becoming the team's leader. While there is still time to turn this around, off court issues cannot continue and if they do, they will prove to be the downfall of this team. Statistically, despite a small sample, Fishers numbers have plummeted in most scoring areas:

True Shooting % (includes efficiency at getting to the line with FG%): 38.0% (2010) vs. 51.0% (2009)

Effective Field Goal %(same as FG% but made 3's are given 50% more emphasis): 47.3% (2010) vs. 57.5% (2009)

Assist Rate: 23.2% (2010) vs. 27.5% (2009)

FG%: 40.4% (2010) vs. 47.1% (2009)    3P FG%: 22.9% (2010) vs. 39.6% (2009)

One area where Corey has been much better has been in taking care of the basketball as his turnover rate is down almost 10% (based on possessions per game). He is also drawing a higher number of fouls per game, showing even despite the poor shooting, he still has the ability to create points. 

Meanwhile one positive has been the efficiency ratings of the 3 other starters. Stokes, Pena and Mouph have all been doing their part on the offensive end. They are currently the three most efficient scorers on the team despite each one of them being used on less than 20% of the possessions that they are in the game; Mouph is also in the top 100 in rebounding efficiency nationwide.

This writer really believes that there is a an on court struggle between Fisher and Wayns and until either they or Coach Wright figure out a solution, the team will be at risk. They are both high usage guys who need the ball in their hands and so far Wayns, despite less minutes, is the higher utilized of the two meaning that he is dominating the ball while he is on the court. While Fisher has his share of possessions as the true point guard, he is finding himself more in Scottie's old role as the go to scorer and this has led to him taking shots that don't suit him nearly as well. Shot selection has been a problem for both but I believe that Fisher's dip can often be attributed to being "the guy" at the end of possessions, while Maalik's is due mostly to immaturity and poor decision making. While extremely talented, he is still unproven and letting him run the show is not the answer. The number one goal needs to be getting Fisher on track and this means getting him to spots on the offensive end where he has been comfortable in the past.

While it is too early to hit the panic switch, this team has less than a month to prepare for conference play and they need to get things into gear in a hurry. Fisher and Wayns must adjust and in all honesty, I would like to see them each play minutes with the other on the bench. I know that the plan all along was to start them together and play them alongside of each other but after watching the first few games, Wayns to me seems better suited to play Fisher's old role as the 6th man. Play them together in spurts but play them separately to allow them the freedom to operate without the other cramping his counterpart's style.

Dominic Cheek, despite knocks on his offense/not having much of a green light to shoot, has quietly been the most efficient guard on the team offensively. He is a monster on defense with his length, rebounds at  a high rate (which neither of the starters do), fouls at an extremely low rate and has proven to be a capable 3 point shooter. This to me sounds like a perfect compliment to the other two and my only complaints with Cheek so far in his career have been that he at times seems tentative/not confident. More minutes would solve this. Him and Stokes will create defensive mismatches for other teams and their spot up shooting will spread the floor...

To get more touches inside for the two bigs. All the years of guard play have led everyone to forget that many of the successful Big East teams of our times have been front court dominant. We have the pieces to be balanced this year. There is no need for Wayns and Fisher to be forcing shots and drives when we have capable front court scoring and other guards who can spot up at higher rates than either of them. This team will not win as a one dimensional Nova team of the past but if they can evolve their style to fit the players we have, they still have a chance to be special come March.