Three Up, Three Down in the Big EastPosted by George Hershey on February 4th, 2014
There was plenty of action this past week in the Big East. Here is a look at three of the biggest improvements and three of the biggest regressions from the past week.
- The rise of R.J. Curington — You might be wondering who this is, but Curington is a name that will become well-known around the league over the next three years. The DePaul freshman guard had played 24 total minutes in the entire season, with 12 games where he did not see any time at all. Yet with DePaul’s lineup decimated by suspensions and injuries to its key contributors, head coach Oliver Purnell has turned to Curington to play more minutes. In the last two games he has shown his promise, playing 23 and 30 minutes, respectively, in losses to Seton Hall and Providence. Against Seton Hall he helped keep the game respectable with 15 points and five rebounds, but on Saturday he blossomed, scoring 22 points to lead DePaul on a comeback that came up just short. The freshman was confident and did not back away from the pressure, taking 15 shots and going 3-of-8 from three with a clutch jumper to tie the game late. He also attacked the basket forcefully, getting to the line six times. Curington was not a big-time recruit and he barely played earlier this season, but he appears to be a very good offensive player who will complement fellow freshman Billy Garrett Jr. and Tommy Hamilton IV going forward.
- St. John’s getting on a roll — It was only three weeks ago when St. John’s was the laughingstock of the Big East, starting 0-5 including a loss to DePaul. Since then the Red Storm have gone 4-1, with the only loss coming on the road to Creighton, which needed a deep Doug McDermott three to win. The defense has hunkered down and they displayed it with a dominant performance over Marquette at Madison Square Garden over the weekend. Marquette could not get any good looks and the Golden Eagles’ frustration was evident all night. Steve Lavin’s offense has also played much better, showing a chemistry and cohesion that was not there before. Earlier in the season, the team was settling for too many contested jump shots, but they have begun to move the ball around better. D’Angelo Harrison hit six threes Saturday, and most of those were wide open because of better spacing and ball movement. This team’s talent has been well-publicized and criticized for its play thus far, but they have finally begun to fulfill the potential and just a few more wins will get them onto the bubble.
- Georgetown’s Huge Slump Buster — Georgetown had been on a similar slump, losing five straight after starting the season 11-4 as the loss of Joshua Smith and Jabril Trawick‘s injury has left the frontcourt thin. The Hoyas went into their Saturday game against Michigan State as heavy underdogs, but left with a potential season-changing win. They played great defense, holding the Spartans to 18 points fewer than their season average. Their offense was also very balanced, something that had become a rarity. Guards Markel Starks and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera led the team in scoring, but Trawick, Mikael Hopkins, and Nate Lubick infused some additional offense. Trawick had arguably the most important basket of the game, jumping high for an amazing tip-in that gave the Hoyas a four-point lead with a minute remaining. While they have slipped out of the Top 25, ESPN.com‘s Joe Lunardi listed Georgetown as the 11th team out of the NCAA Tournament before their game on Saturday, so the Hoyas should be right on the bubble heading into the second half of conference play.
- Xavier’s Start to Games — Xavier was the team on the rise in the Big East in January, but February has not been kind to the Musketeers. They have dropped three straight now with losses to Seton Hall and Villanova over the last three days. The common theme in both losses was very bad starts. At home against Seton Hall, they let the Pirates run out to an eight-point lead before finally scoring themselves. They eventually lost by eight points, with the early deficit marking the difference. On Monday night, Villanova started on a 9-0 run and it took Xavier over four minutes to finally score. Against a team as good as Jay Wright’s Wildcats, you cannot dig yourself into such a big hole, and they paid for it by getting run out of the gym in the second half. In both games they attempted to make it close, but ended up coming up short. They have to make sure they come out with proper energy and execute early if they want to stay near the top of the league standings.
- Marquette’s Lack of Energy — Buzz Williams talked about the tough schedule his team faced last week, playing two games within 40 hours and 900 miles away. That may explain some of Marquette’s complete lack of energy and hustle in its Saturday loss to St. John’s. After coming off a huge win against Providence, one would figure the Golden Eagles would fight to earn a much-needed win on the road. All game they were a step slow. The offense was stagnant and too many tough jumpers were heaved, only hitting three threes. On defense their rotations were late and the zone that was mixed in was not effective. They gave up too many open shots, allowing D’Angelo Harrison to make six threes by himself. Hopefully this is a one-time performance, but the Golden Eagles have to fight through the grueling conference schedule if they want to have a shot of playing in meaningful games come March.
- Cleveland Melvin’s Absence — DePaul has lost five straight games since they won two straight Big East games for the first time in seven (!) years. Senior Cleveland Melvin was the team’s best player, averaging 16.7 points and 6.4 rebounds per game, while shooting 47 percent from three. Unfortunately for the team, Melvin has not played in the past three games because he broke team rules. As a senior and especially as the best player on the team, he has to be a leader and set an example for DePaul’s promising freshmen. The team was off to a great start relative to previous years and there were several winnable games ahead. It is not known when Melvin will be back, but it is unfortunate to see him miss time for a silly mistake in his final season of a great career at DePaul.