Nate Lubick, Todd Mayo, Semaj Christon Lead Big East Players Who Need to Step Up

Posted by Jameson Fleming on December 28th, 2013

With the exception of Villanova and perhaps Butler, every Big East team at this point probably wishes its season was going a little better. Still, with the exceptions of Seton Hall and DePaul, the league’s teams as a whole have done enough to avoid resume-killing losses entering conference play, and therefore eight teams have a reasonable chance to dream about making the NCAA Tournament field in mid-March. But every team, including top 10 Villanova, has its weaknesses and struggling players, so here’s a look at who needs to step up on each squad if it hopes to achieve its postseason goals.

Villanova

Villanova (U.S. Presswire)

Villanova Has Had a Great Preconference Season – Can It Continue? (U.S. Presswire)

The Wildcats haven’t been shy about shooting the three-pointer this year. During the past six years, Jay Wright’s club has dedicated about 34 percent of its field goal attempts to the long ball. This year, that number has skyrocketed to 45.7 percent, seventh highest in the country. The problem? The Wildcats are shooting only 32.7 percent from three, 204th best nationally. Jay Wright has role players who are capable shooters – Josh Hart, Dylan Ennis, and Kris Jenkins each drills at least 38 percent of his attempts – but his top two volume shooters have struggled from beyond the arc. James Bell and Ryan Arcidiacono have taken a combined 140 three-pointers, but also hit just 28.5 percent of them. Overall, Bell and Arcidiacono have improved considerably from last season, but if Wright is going to continue to let those two bomb away from distance, they’ll need to at least improve their percentages to last year’s level (Bell at 36 percent; Arcidiacono at 33 percent).

Creighton

The Bluejays have become the new Gonzaga: All offense and little defense. The last time Creighton was a better defensive team than offensive one was 2008 when it ranked 70th in defensive efficiency and 106th in offensive efficiency under previous head coach, Dana Altman. This year is much of the same: Creighton ranks fourth offensively and 59th defensively. But to give the team some credit, this appears to be their best defensive team since 2007 when they ranked 37th nationally. However, that still won’t be good enough to make a deep run in March. Greg McDermott’s team doesn’t force many turnovers or block many shots. The guards need to interrupt passing lanes better, and the bigs, especially NPOY candidate Doug McDermott, who hasn’t blocked a shot the whole season, need to be a more imposing defensive force around the basket.

Georgetown

The Hoyas have a low post problem. Joshua Smith is as efficient as it gets as a scorer inside the paint, but because of his lack of conditioning and matador defense, he barely stays on the floor for half the game. With Mikael Hopkins and Moses Ayegba qualifying as offensive black holes, Nate Lubick needs to step up and give Georgetown a boost in the frontcourt. Right now, Lubick’s Georgetown career has been a disappointment as he contributes next to nothing on the offensive end and only serves as an average defender. Offensively, he’s a low-usage, mediocre offensive rebounder, high-turnover forward whose main contribution is setting screens. If John Thompson III figures out how to increase and improve Lubick’s role, then that production would help offset the mess that is the three-headed disaster of Smith, Hopkins, and Moses.

Marquette

Davante Gardner (Getty)

Marquette Needs Davante Gardner’s Teammates to Step Up (Getty)

The Golden Eagles have struggled to score throughout the season as they lack an offensive identity without a truly reliable perimeter scorer or penetrator. Davante Gardner is Buzz Williams’ best offensive weapon, but the majority of his scoring is done around the basket. So who needs to step up? Todd Mayo’s Marquette career has been filled with its fair share of ups and downs, but he’s occasionally shown the capability of taking over games. Despite a more assertive effort on defense, Mayo still hasn’t seen a substantial increase in his minutes. He can get to the basket, draw fouls, and knock down the occasional three, but if Marquette wants to take a step forward in conference play, Mayo needs more time on the floor.

Xavier

The Musketeers live and die by the play of Semaj Christon. In the 25 games Christon registered an offensive rating of less than 100, the Musketeers are 10-15. In games where Christon plays better, Xavier is 15-2. He’s without question a top talent who will likely go in the first round of the 2014 NBA Draft, but since he’s a high-usage player (27.4 percent) for Chris Mack, he needs to improve his shot selection. The sophomore is shooting just 51 percent around the basket and 27 percent on tw0-point jumpers. Toss in the fact that he hits only 60 percent of the eight free throws he attempts per game and it’s easy to see how Xavier wastes too many possessions per game.

Butler

Kellen Dunham (Photo: John Fetcho)

Kellen Dunham Needs to Improve His Shot Selection (Photo: John Fetcho)

The Bulldogs have plenty of offensive talent – Kellen Dunham and Khyle Marshall are stars, while Kameron Woods and Alex Barlow are solid role players. What Butler lacks is consistency from its primary scorer. Brandon Miller’s team is just 92nd in offensive efficiency despite great ball security thanks to the team’s overall inability to shoot, but the problem starts with Dunham who takes a lot of long, contested twos. Those shots are inefficient and difficult to rebound as the offensive rebounders are rarely expecting them and in good position to grab the misses. He’s a combined 5-of-20 from two in Butler’s two losses to Oklahoma State and LSU. That must get better.

St. John’s

The Big East’s preseason Rookie of the Year, Rysheed Jordan, has yet to live up to expectations for the Red Storm. The freshman guard has shown flashes of the talent that earned him that accolade, but overall he’s been a disappointment. With an eFG of 28.9 percent, Jordan needs to dial back his shooting and focus on his role as a distributor, at which he has excelled. Jordan has shown improvement in his last three games, so there’s a good chance he could fulfill expectations during conference play and become the point guard the Johnnies need.

Providence

Kadeem Batts

Kadeem Batts Needs to Continue Driving to Get to the Line

The Friars’ biggest problem is pretty simple: Nobody effectively scores inside the arc. It’s a team-wide problem that is a combination of poor shooting and an inability to draw fouls. Providence averages just 20 free throws per game from its top seven players, but the Friars are the second best free throw shooting team in the country. There needs to be a stronger drive to get to the line for those easy points. Kadeem Batts and Tyler Harris are the biggest culprits: Despite both being 6’9″ high-usage post players who pound the offensive glass, each player averages just south of four free throws per game. For some relevant perspective, Kentucky’s Julius Randle averages nine foul shots per game.

Seton Hall

Seton Hall’s biggest fault this season has been losing close games. Granted, the Pirates’ have their fair share of weaknesses too, but their season comes down to a 2-4 record in games decided by five points or fewer. Kevin Willard worked wonders at Iona, but he has struggled at Seton Hall. You can assign some blame for his players in those close losses, but when a Big East team falls to behemoths Mercer, Fairleigh Dickinson and Saint Peter’s in the same season, that reflects heavily on the coach.

DePaul

Oliver Purnell’s calling card at Clemson was always his defense. His team’s pressure forced turnovers and lots of bad, quick shots. At DePaul, Purnell’s system hasn’t translated with quite the same success. The Blue Demons create turnovers but in exchange allow too many easy baskets and rebounds. DePaul allows a league-worst 70.2 percent on unblocked field goals at the rim. Cleveland Melvin, Sandi Marcus and Tommy Hamilton need to commit to contesting every shot and grabbing the misses instead of too frequently taking themselves out of the play by trying to block every shot.

Jameson Fleming (18 Posts)

Jameson Fleming is an RTC columnist who also works for CBSSports.com as the site’s social media editor. You can follow him on Twitter @JamesonFleming.


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