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NCAA Tournament 2015: A pointlessly statistical preview of Villanova vs. Lafayette

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Part one of a series of deeper statistical dive into the teams of the Eastern region - anyone and everyone Villanova might have to get through on its way to glory.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The logical starting place, in the spirit of not looking too far ahead, is Villanova's opponent this afternoon - the Lafayette Leopards!

The champion of the Patriot League Tournament comes in looking to be the ultimate Cinderella - after all, a 16 seed has never upset a 1 in the NCAA Tournament. And, while the Wildcats will obviously look to continue this streak, the Leopards of Easton pose an uncommon challenge: they enter the game as one of the top 10 shooting teams in the entire country, with an effective field goal percentage (eFG% - if ANYONE is reading my posts for the first time, a measure of shooting that reflects the extra value of a 3 pointer) of 56.30% and a corresponding 41.20% from beyond the arc. Though Lafayette never played in games this season that registered on CBS - the source of my shot chart scraping efforts - I've reconstructed a crude shot chart to let you see exactly how well they shoot - from everywhere.

CrudeAll

Yikes. They can stroke it from anywhere on the court. The aforementioned 41.20% from 3 is good for 2nd best in the nation (Division 1); its 43.10% mark from general long 2 range is top 5; and the 63.10% near the rim puts them in the top 60. Looking at this chart (and their shooting stats) with no context, it seems like Villanova could certainly be in for a challenge today.

And they could. Lafayette has been an excellent offensive team this year, scratching the top 40 in adjusted offensive efficiency (which does adjust for the weakness of the opponents they've faced). They've obviously got the moxie to win do-or-die games, as it's how they've gotten here, and they're coached by a man with deep ties to the Villanova program - with, perhaps, a better understanding of Villanova's game than most opposing coaches. An underdog getting hot from 3 and scrappy on D is, of course, every top seed's nightmare - and these guys are capable. But, edge away from that cliff, Nova fans (who like stats). Let's take a deeper look.

While offensive efficiency stats are weighted/adjusted for the strength of opponents, shooting stats typically aren't. And this makes sense, for many reasons - the general randomness of shooting, typically higher correlation between strong defensive/offensive opponents and corresponding by possession efficiencies in games, the difficulty in doing so, etc. - ignoring the context of opponent can be dangerous.

Lafayette has piled up its efficiency and shooting numbers - while often staggering - against extremely subpar opposition. This isn't exactly their fault - they have no control over the strength of the Patriot League, or a real ability or willingness to schedule a lot of strong opponents - but it remains a fact. The average adjusted defensive efficiency of the teams they've faced is 104.65 points/100 possessions (218th in the country); they've only played a grand total of 5 games against teams with rankings stronger than 150th in the country. While their polished offensive game has ground up the overmatched team defenses they've seen so far this season, they've really struggled against the few decent defenses they've played. Check out the same crude-ish shot chart for the 5 games they've played against top 150 defenses (Kansas, West Virginia, Yale, and Lehigh twice).

CrudeTop5

A lot less scary, right? Though sample size caveats must be thrown out there - 5 games is a blink of an eye, stats-wise - the obvious conclusion is that Lafayette really struggles to generate the open looks it feasts on against weaker opponents when matched up against the better athletes and team discipline you see in even decent defenses. Their percentages drop noticeably in every area - tumbling well below average at the rim and behind the arc - and they've struggled to win such games. In their 3 games against top 60 defenses (Kansas, Yale, and West Virginia), they were blown out, losing by 20 each time while limping to a 52.24%-45.24%-32.65% (rim-midrange-3) line from the field, and a cumulative offensive efficiency (unadjusted) below 90 points per 100 possessions.

And, in their two games against Lehigh (who, at 133rd in defensive efficiency, barely cleared my arbitrary line of 150th for decent defenses), they won by 4 and lost by 2. They're not an offensive juggernaut; they essentially profile as an extremely well-coached team full of relatively unathletic shooters surrounding the interior game of Dan Trist. Villanova, as the 13th best defense in the country to this point, will just miss being the best defense they've faced. With its plethora of athletic & defensively stout wings, it's really difficult to envision a scenario in which Lafayette outworks the team to drain a bunch of uncontested 3s. I mean, just take a look at Villanova's 'faced shots' chart from this year.

NovaD

If they can hit those contested 3s at a 40% rate, then more power to them. The odds are simply against it.

Now that we've beaten up on their strengths, let's move on to the weaknesses!! This will be a more positive part for many of you; there are a lot of them.

I'll take another timeout to couch this 'criticism' of Lafayette. First, I'm very clearly a Villanova fan. I'm rooting for them to lose. Second, they're a 16 seed - they're not supposed to be one of the best teams in the country; they just needed to be good enough to Dance. Not here to jump on them, just to point out the things I hope Villanova can exploit while surviving their challenge to move on to the next round.

First and foremost - they're a very, very bad defensive team. Currently ranked as the 338th 'best' defense per KenPom's adjusted rankings, they're allowing a raw (unadjusted) 111.11 points per 100 possessions. This is just chum in the water for Villanova, the country's 4th best offensive team and owner of this balanced, totally amazing (offensive) shot chart.

NovaO

While Lafayette avoids fouling with the best of them (14th lowest defensive FT% in the country) and does a decent job protecting the rim (allowing a pretty much average 58.60% FG conversion rate there), it does this with a defense that essentially punts on forcing turnovers (currently forcing turnovers at a bottom 50-in-the-country-rate), defending jump shots closely (they're allowing opponents to hit about 38% from 3, and 40% from the mid-range), or rebounding opponent misses (allowing offensive rebounds at one of the worst rates in the country). Villanova should be able to get to the rim, find open shots, and crash the offensive boards against a team that simply does not have as much talent as them. Daniel Ochefu and Josh Hart, especially, should feast on the offensive glass - while (hopefully) everyone crushes it from the field, all the while remembering to feed the inside.

While there's cause for worry in just about any single elimination game, Jay Wright and crew have been routinely crushing much better teams than the Lafayette Leopards - they emphatically earned that number 1 seed, with reason. If they play to their defensive abilities on the perimeter tomorrow, it's really difficult to imagine a scenario in which Lafayette gives them a ton of trouble. Of course, I'll be sweating that possibility until the buzzer sounds tomorrow - that's just life as a fan.

Go Nova!

Oh, and here's a look at the stats of their most-utilized 5 man lineups.

Offense

Player 1

Player 2

Player 3

Player 4

Player 5

MIN

eFG%

TO%

OR%

FTR

O Rtg

FG% S 2P

FG% L 2P

FG% 3P

D Reb%

Dan Trist

Seth Hinrichs

Nick Lindner

Joey Ptasinski

Bryce Scott

149.42

56.59%

15.02%

21.58%

30.77%

1.14

57.30%

49.45%

41.94%

66.44%

Dan Trist

Seth Hinrichs

Nick Lindner

Joey Ptasinski

Monty Boykins

62.40

64.50%

23.97%

35.00%

26.00%

1.16

69.44%

34.38%

59.38%

71.05%

Dan Trist

Seth Hinrichs

Nick Lindner

Bryce Scott

Monty Boykins

56.83

51.01%

13.49%

25.00%

8.08%

1.02

73.33%

42.86%

26.47%

83.33%

Dan Trist

Seth Hinrichs

Nick Lindner

Joey Ptasinski

Zach Rufer

55.10

56.71%

14.74%

24.44%

25.61%

1.15

72.73%

32.35%

50.00%

63.64%

Dan Trist

Seth Hinrichs

Nick Lindner

Bryce Scott

Zach Rufer

42.73

59.68%

9.15%

40.00%

25.81%

1.33

69.57%

47.37%

40.00%

79.17%

Defense
Player 1 Player 2 Player 3 Player 4 Player 5 MIN eFG% TO% OR% FTR D Rtg FG% S 2P FG% L 2P FG% 3P D Reb%
Dan Trist Seth Hinrichs Nick Lindner Joey Ptasinski Bryce Scott 149.42 51.66% 19.75% 33.56% 17.71% 1.02 62.00% 29.63% 40.00% 78.42%
Dan Trist Seth Hinrichs Nick Lindner Joey Ptasinski Monty Boykins 62.40 64.06% 8.82% 28.95% 17.71% 1.33 68.29% 48.28% 50.00% 65.00%
Dan Trist Seth Hinrichs Nick Lindner Bryce Scott Monty Boykins 56.83 50.72% 17.52% 16.67% 23.19% 0.97 60.00% 50.00% 29.63% 75.00%
Dan Trist Seth Hinrichs Nick Lindner Joey Ptasinski Zach Rufer 55.10 57.03% 22.51% 36.36% 32.81% 1.11 59.26% 36.84% 50.00% 75.56%
Dan Trist Seth Hinrichs Nick Lindner Bryce Scott Zach Rufer 42.73 62.50% 14.99% 20.83% 21.43% 1.18 48.00% 61.54% 55.56% 60.00%