The style-less on-court style of Ed Cooley

Ed Cooley's style off the court has made an unquestioned impression across the landscape, but in this piece, ScoutFriar will attempt to determine how Cooley's coaching style will translate on the floor.

Since Ed Cooley was hired as Providence's men's basketball coach in March, his class, energy, focus and story have made an impact with the returning players, departed players, prospective players, national writers and just about anyone else who's taken the time to look and listen. His style off the court has made an unquestioned impression across the landscape, but in this piece, I attempt to determine how Cooley's coaching style will translate on the floor.

We've just emerged from a three-year span with a rather bland personality but someone whose teams played a bold, extreme style. Keno Davis' Friars played fast, shot threes, went for offensive rebounds and protected the ball, in often cases to extremes that led to awful interior defense and poor shot selection. It's a style that Lorenzo Romar has turned into many NCAA Tournament appearances and a Pac-10 title at Washington, but Davis failed due to a lack of leadership and an inability to bring in appropriate talent. His successor is focused first on leadership and talent, since his teams don't play a style nearly as discernible as Davis'.

After completing a statistical analysis of the fingerprint of the last four Providence teams (which includes Tim Welsh's last season) and the last four Fairfield seasons (the final four of Cooley's five seasons), I found that Cooley's teams showed far more variance from season to season – Welsh's last team was more statistically similar to all of Keno's teams than any single Cooley team was to any other. From one year to the next, Fairfield would look very different with large swings in strengths and weaknesses. The key indicators that a coach can influence regardless of personnel – tempo, offensive rebounding, turnovers forced – showed very little continuity for Cooley compared to recent Friars teams, which have been predictable in their sameness.

This tells me that Cooley is willing to adjust his style of play for his personnel. In many ways, this is a strength – no shoe-horning of an ill-fitting system, like Keno's three-point preference without shooters or pressing without a shot-blocker at the back, did for the last two Providence teams. In theory, if a coach can tailor your team's play to its personnel, he can get the most out of that personnel. The contrary perspective is that system teams have a trademark, a way they play, a type of player they recruit that fits. Coaches like Tom Izzo, John Beilein and Bo Ryan have a program identity and are able to filter players into and through that system seamlessly.

Providence's identity – if Cooley gets his way – may come much more from its attitude, mental toughness and subsequent success rather than any systematic on-court style that gets the team to its goals.

All that said, there are some stylistic fingerprints that we can glean from Cooley's Fairfield team. For one, the pace of play may be a bit of a comedown after Davis' teams. There is only one area in which Fairfield ranked in the bottom half of the MAAC each of the last four seasons, and that is tempo. Even so, Fairfield has gone from 10th to ninth to sixth to sixth in pace over the last four seasons, so Cooley wont to play an extremely slow tempo. His last three teams have played at a pace about five possessions per 40 minutes slower than Davis' teams or just slightly faster than recent Notre Dame, Georgetown and Cincinnati clubs.

One thing we should know about Cooley is his offensive pedigree, having coached under Al Skinner, who favors the flex offense, a pattern that favors profuse picking and player movement over dribble penetration. It's no surprise, then, that Fairfield ranked in the top half of the MAAC all four years in assists per made field goal, a sign of good ball movement and offensive patience.

It may be a coincidence, but the departure of Cooley from Boston College saw a distinct drop in assist rate.

Season Assists/Field-goals Made National Rank
2002-03 .603 55
2003-04 .654 11
2004-05 .686 2
2005-06 .678 4
Cooley leaves for Fairfield
2006-07 .571 117
2007-08 .590 85
2008-09 .569 101
2009-10 .583 64

Boston College's assist rate dropped by an average of eight percent and went from an average national ranking of 18th to 92nd. In fairness, Bill Coen also left the BC staff to become the head coach of Northeastern the same season Cooley left. If we're trying to assign credit between Coen and Cooley for BC's assists prevalence in the early-to-mid 90s, Cooley appears to be favored. His Fairfield teams had assists on about three percent more of their possessions in his five years there as Coen's Northeastern teams. Cooley's average national rank was 75th; Coen's has been 143rd. The days of dribble up and shoot appear to be over at Providence.

Tempo and assist rate were the two most consistent and strong characteristics of Cooley's teams as most other indicators tended to jump around a lot, but there is one more thing I'd like to note, as it will mark another departure from Davis' style.

Cooley likes two-pointers. His teams ranked in the top half of the MAAC in each of his last four years in two-point field-goal percentage. Fairfield has also spent the last four seasons getting more and more of its points from two-pointers. From 48 percent of its points in 2007-08, Fairfield has increased that proportion each season, topping at 58.7 percent last season. Providence hasn't scored more than 53.4 percent of its conference points on two-pointers in any of the last four years, despite Davis cutting back on the chuck-and-duck style last season.

Cooley enters the Big East with a defensive reputation, but it's important to note that his Fairfield defenses were nothing special until last season. It's not as if he came to Fairfield and the defense immediately turned around – it ranked fourth then eighth then seventh then fifth in his first four seasons before leading the MAAC in defense last season. It wasn't until 2010-11that his teams were better than fifth in the MAAC in defensive efficiency or seventh in field-goal defense. Last year's Stags made staggering defensive improvements over the previous season:

Stat 2009-10 MAAC Rank 2010-11 MAAC Rank
Def Eff 97.5 5 86.7 1
Eff FG Pct Def 48.5 7 43.7 2
TOs Forced Pct 22.3 2 23.5 2
Def Reb Pct 34.8 9 30.9 2
3-Pt Pct Def 36.4 10 31.3 2
2-Pt. Pct. Def 45.4 6 42.5 2
Steal Pct 10.9 5 12.4 2
3PA/FGA Def 33.6 8 27.2 2

Fairfield did have four new players in its nine-man rotation last season, but I'd be interested to see what Cooley indicates was the big change from two years ago to last year in making Fairfield a defensive powerhouse – and whether he will be able to duplicate that at PC. Ken Pomeroy indicates that his Fairfield teams play mostly man, something Davis did only when his matchup zone was ripped to shreds, which is to say, by the end of almost every game.

Despite not having copious amounts of decisive data, we do get a glimpse of what we'll see on the floor starting this season. Cooley's Friars will contrast with Davis' as nearly any new coach would, just because Davis was that extreme. All of Davis' extremes will be muted – the fast tempo, the wreckless crashing of the offensive glass, playing mainly on the perimeter – and Cooley will add in his emphasis on ball movement in the flex offense along with a slower-than-normal tempo and more of a willingness to adjust to his personnel.

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