CEBL Analytics: Previewing the Quarter-Finals

Kingston,ON – After a hectic twelve days of basketball, the round robin stage of the CEBL Summer Series is over and the playoff field is set.

  • By finishing first and second, respectively, Edmonton and Fraser Valley earned byes into the semi-finals,
  • The four Ontario teams will face-off in the quarter-finals this evening (Hamilton vs. Niagara and Ottawa vs. Guelph), and  
  • Last-place, Saskatchewan, is the first team eliminated from the Summer Series.

Leading up to Wednesday’s games, Guelph knew the task in front of them – if they could defeat Fraser Valley they would earn a coveted first-round bye. As we now know, that’s not how things went on Wednesday night. Due to Guelph’s loss, and Ottawa’s victory over Saskatchewan, three teams (Hamilton, Ottawa, and Guelph) finished with identical 3-3 records. The three teams each went 1-1 in the first tie-breaker (head-to-head record). The second tie-breaker (point differential) was not quite as friendly to Guelph, causing them to plummet all the way to the fifth seed. Late Wednesday night, as Ottawa pushed their lead over Saskatchewan north of 20 points, it was looking like they might claim the third spot. However, Saskatchewan narrowed the gap slightly, and Ottawa’s 19-point victory meant that Hamilton’s point differential was two points larger.

In a strange twist, the two quarter-final match-ups are rematches of the two opening day games. On July 25th (what now seems like ages ago), Niagara defeated Hamilton (97-85) and Guelph took care of Ottawa (89-71). Interestingly, the two losers of those match-ups went on to claim the higher seeds in the playoff bracket, and my model likes both #3-Hamilton and #4-Ottawa to avenge their opening day losses.

As a reminder, the semi-final round will be re-seeded, with the lower seed playing #1-ranked Edmonton, and the higher seed playing #2-Fraser Valley. If the seeds were to hold in the quarter-finals, we’d see semi-final match-ups of Edmonton vs. Ottawa and Fraser Valley vs. Hamilton. Below is the full set of playoff odds based on my model results.

My model suggests, not surprisingly, that Edmonton is the best team at the Summer Series. What may be surprising, is that it views Ottawa as the second best team. My model believes that Ottawa’s 3-3 record during round robin play understated their actual level of play. This is partially due to Ottawa’s poor three-point shooting thus far in the tournament. Game-to-game three-point shooting is largely variance, and the model expects Ottawa’s shooting to improve going forward. Despite the model viewing Ottawa as the second best team, Fraser Valley still has slightly better championship odds due their bye into the semi-finals.

#3 Hamilton vs. #6 Niagara (Thursday at 5:00 PM)

Round Robin Stats

What happened the first time they met?

Niagara used a strong second quarter to jump out to a 14 point half-time lead. They never looked back, cruising to a 97-85 victory. Daniel Mullings had by far his best game of the tournament, scoring 22 points on 10-14 from the field, and adding nine boards. Briante Weber was the star for Hamilton, with 22 points, six rebounds, and three steals.

Thanks to Mullings work on the inside, as well as 22 points off turnovers, the River Lions notched Summer Series highs in points in the paint (46) and fast-break points (30). It’s no coincidence that their best performance of the Summer Series occurred in the game in which they were most successful in those two categories.

What should you watch for?

As mentioned above, Niagara’s work in the paint and in transition were two main keys in their victory. Mullings was a bully on the inside, both off of cuts and offensive rebounds. It will be interesting to see if the Honey Badgers can do a better job of containing him the second time around.

Turning the Honey Badgers over will also be a key for Niagara. They need points in transition, since they go through stretches where they struggle to score in the half-court (more on that shortly). Getting easy buckets off turnovers was a main contributor to Niagara distancing themselves from Hamilton in the second quarter.

What makes this game such a potentially interesting chess match, is that Hamilton loves to run, playing at by far the fastest pace in the Summer Series. So, unlike the first time these teams met, will Hamilton play at the pace they want while also taking care of the ball? It will be fascinating to see.

Newcomer Daniel Mullings leads Niagara River Lions past Hamilton ...
(St. Catherines Standard)

In my last article I hinted at issues that have been plaguing the River Lions throughout the Summer Series. Niagara was the best team in the CEBL in 2019 by a significant margin. Coming into 2020 they kept together most of the core from a team that finished first in both offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency. However, many of their peripheral pieces have changed since the 2019 season.

Essentially, with their role players, they’ve sacrificed shooting for size and strength. Out are Nem Mitrovic (40% from three) and Alex Johnson (38%). In are Grandy Glaze (33% from three last year), Tyrone Watson (25%), Ryan Ejim (25%), and Daniel Mullings (29%). It seems like a significant overreaction to the perceived problem of not being big enough or tough enough last season. What’s ironic, is that in their 2019 season-ending loss to Hamilton, they out-rebounded the Honey Badgers 47-41, and Hamilton eeked out a one point victory only due to incredibly hot three-point shooting (18 of 38).

The shift in the strengths of their role players has created spacing issues and fewer good looks for the shooters still on the roster. This will likely be compounded by the news that sharp-shooter, Ryan Anderson, is no longer with the club.

The two clips below show attacks from Guillaume Boucard (Carleton) out of the mid-post. In the first clip, he’s joined on the floor by Anderson (38% from three last season), Trae Bell-Haynes (29%), Kassius Robertson (46%), and Sam Muldrow (38%). All four players were members of last year’s team, and all four are shooting threats. In the video you can see that each of the four is spaced well outside the three-point line as Boucard attacks. In the second clip Boucard is playing with Mullings (29%), Ryan Ejim (25%), Emmanuel Owootoah (rookie from Brock), and Robertson (46%). Mullings is floating seemingly indecisively around the foul line, while Ejim is only spaced to about fifteen feet along the baseline. It’s not hard to see how much difference this makes in the space that Boucard has to operate.

If Hamilton takes away space from the Niagara shooters, and makes Glaze, Watson, and Ejim (Carleton) beat them, they will be in great shape. Another issue with the Niagara roster additions is that, in many ways, they are similar pieces. When the River Lions go high ball screen, most CEBL teams are using their big defending the screener to “catch” the guard (often Trae Bell-Haynes). Bell-Haynes has been dropping bounce passes to the rolling big, but given the skill sets of the Niagara’s bigs, it’s a tough spot to catch the ball. At times, Ejim has been good in this spot, but at other times he’s looked uncertain. Glaze has struggled at times in this role as well. I’d be interested to see if Boucard would fare any better in this situation.

There are a couple of significant changes for Hamilton since the original match-up. Duane Notice played in the first match-up, but won’t be on the floor tonight due to injury. Caleb Agada (Ottawa) has filled in remarkably well in his place.

As usual, Briante Weber will be a key for the Honey Badgers. His ball pressure caused the Niagara guards issues, especially early on. Whether he can maintain that pressure for the whole game will be an important factor in determining if Hamilton can play at the high pace they desire. Owen Klassen (Acadia) may also play a key role. He was effective in the first quarter, but didn’t see as many opportunities as the game wore on.

Who should U SPORTS fans look for?

Honey Badger, JV Mukama (Ryerson), is coming off a 28 point outburst (including six triples) against Saskatchewan. He’s been up and down in the Summer Series, and his contributions tonight could very well be a difference-maker one way or the other. As mentioned earlier, Owen Klassen (Acadia) could also play a key role in tonight’s game.

On the Niagara side, I’d look at Guillaume Boucard. The 2019 CEBL Canadian Player of the Year has struggled mightily in this year’s tournament. He’s averaging only 5.5 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 1.8 assists, down from 16.1, 7.5, and 2.3 last season. Look for Niagara to try to get him more involved early on. Emmanuel Owootoah (Brock) has seen his role increase as the Summer Series has gone on. In the final game of the round robin he chipped in five points, two assists and a steal in 12 minutes of play.

#4 Ottawa vs. #5 Guelph (Thursday at 7:30 PM)

Round Robin Stats

What happened the first time they met?

Guelph blew open what had been a tight game through three quarters, outscoring the Blackjacks by 14 in the decisive frame to walk away with an 18 point victory. Tre’Darius McCallum led Guelph with 16 points, while Jonathan Arledge added 14 points and 10 rebounds. For the Blackjacks, Thomas Scrubb (Carleton) had 18 points and eight rebounds.

Defence has been the calling card for the Nighthawks all Summer Series, and that was certainly the case in the fourth quarter, as they held Ottawa to just 15 points.

What should you watch for?

Any analysis of this game should include a reminder that Ottawa will be playing their third game in as many days. They were able to limit their starters to 15-20 minutes last night, but it will be interesting to see if this impacts their legs should the game be close down the stretch.

In an earlier article I looked at the first Ottawa-Guelph match-up in significant detail. I may be slightly biased, but I think it’s worth another read as we approach tonight’s game.

Of particular note, is the piece on ex-Raven, and current Nighthawk, Marcus Anderson. His defence on Phil Scrubb was one of the main deciding factors in the fourth quarter. In my analysis, I wrote:

Anderson played nearly the entire fourth quarter as the primary defender on Phil Scrubb, picking him up in the full court and generally making his life as difficult as possible. Due to Anderson’s work on defence, Ottawa found alternative ways to initiate their offence – generally through Johnny Berhanemeskel (Ottawa), Thomas Scrubb (Carleton), or Olivier Hanlan. Without the involvement of their most effective creator, Ottawa’s offence too often devolved into an iso option, ending up with low percentage shots. When Phil Scrubb did try to beat Anderson off the bounce, he had trouble doing so – Anderson drew an offensive foul on him early in the fourth, before deflecting the ball off Scrubb’s knee on a later possession.

As you likely know, last week Scrubb left the Blackjacks to re-join his European club. Since he left, the Blackjack offence has become more balanced and multi-dimensional. Without Scrubb, there likely isn’t a specific player that Nighthawks’ Coach, Charles Kissi, can assign Anderson to that will effectively take Ottawa out of their flow. Even if there was, Phil Scrubb was the most natural fit for Anderson. Phil’s brother, Tommy, is the most important Ottawa player currently, but chances are that he would use his size to take advantage of Anderson in the post. In addition, Anderson’s teammate, Tre’Darius McCallum is an excellent defender and has the size to match-up with Scrubb. That leaves two options for Anderson – Johnny Berhanemeskel or Olivier Hanlan. Guelph point guard, Kimbal Mackenzie, will likely draw the assignment on the other.

On the other side of the ball, Guelph may have more trouble scoring in the half-court than they did in the initial meeting. Ottawa’s defence has become increasingly stout as the tournament has gone on. The one blip in their defensive improvement came in the Niagara game, when Kassius Robertson performed his best Steph Curry impersonation.

Couple that with Guelph’s tendency to go through prolonged offensive droughts, and you can start to see a scenario in which Ottawa’s defence is able to put the clamps on the Nighthawks. Guelph’s most recent drought cost them a chance at a first-round bye, as they failed to score over a 6:50 span in the third quarter against Fraser Valley, and scored a total of only 25 points in the second half.

Of the six teams that made the playoff field, these two played at the slowest pace. My guess is that if either one is willing to increase the pace, it will be Guelph. They play at a slightly higher pace normally, and were able to take advantage of Ottawa a bit in the first match-up, picking up 21 points in transition.

Another area to watch will be rebounding. Ottawa has been the better rebounding team during the Summer Series.

However, during the decisive fourth quarter, Guelph dominated on the offensive glass. Here’s an excerpt from my previous analysis:

This discrepancy is due to Guelph’s six offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter. Offensive rebounding rate is a good measure of a team’s offensive rebounding efficiency. It’s calculated by dividing a team’s offensive rebounds by the total available rebounds. Guelph’s offensive rebound rate went from 21.9% in the first three quarters, to an incredible 60% in the fourth quarter. The 60% rate means that out of the ten rebounds available at the Guelph offensive end, the Nighthawks claimed six offensive rebounds, while the Blackjacks came down with only four defensive rebounds. For context, the team average rate in the NBA is around 27%.

Who should U SPORTS fans look for?

On the Blackjack side, you can pretty much draw a name from a hat. Blackjacks that were once, or are still, Carleton Ravens include Scrubb, Munis Tutu, TJ Lall, Isiah Osborne, Yasiin Joseph, Lloyd Pandi, and Jean Pierre-Charles. Pierre-Charles finished his collegiate career at the University of Ottawa, and is joined by ex-Gee Gee, Johnny “Buckets” Berhanemeskel. If I had to pick one, it would be Pandi. He’s been dynamite since taking Phil Scrubb’s spot on the roster, and could play a key role tonight. If you’re looking for a more veteran player, you certainly can’t go wrong with Thomas Scrubb.

For Guelph, there’s the aforementioned Marcus Anderson, as well as former Ryerson Ram, Myles Charvis. Charvis played 28 minutes the first time the two clubs met, contributing nine points and nine assists.

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