Big East Weekend Wrap: Vol. IV

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 16th, 2014

The Big East Weekend Wrap will cover news and notes from the weekend’s games.

With only two weeks left before conference play gets under way, eight Big East teams remain squarely in contention for an NCAA Tournament bid. While it might be too early to draw any definitive conclusions, it’s something to monitor as the season progresses. Currently both Joe Lunardi and Jerry Palm project six Big East teams into their fields, with two others — Creighton and Providence — on the outside of the bubble. Coming off a light weekend of Big East action, below are three key takeaways.

Butler Failed to Close Things Out at Tennessee Over the Weekend (USA Today Sports)

Butler Failed to Close Things Out at Tennessee Over the Weekend (USA Today Sports)

  1. Butler and DePaul both lost their edge in the closing minutes. It was a tough Sunday for two teams in drastically different situations. Butler brought its #15 ranking into Knoxville – a difficult environment for any visiting team – while DePaul tried to prove that its 6-3 start was for real. Butler showcased its defensive stinginess in the first half versus the Vols, only to give away a 12-point lead and crumble in the final minutes. Roosevelt Jones and Alex Barlow struggled as perimeter defenders against Tennessee’s longer, more athletic guards, allowing them access into the lane time and time again. But if Tennessee’s 59.3 percent second half shooting wasn’t enough of an issue, Kellen Dunham’s tendency for poor decision-making made matters worse. The junior took 11 of his 14 field goal attempts from beyond the arc and then proceeded to use the second half to pass up open looks and dribble into traffic. If the Bulldogs can’t generate consistent stops, they turn into a much less effective team too dependent on getting Dunham open looks. On another note, it might be in Chris Holtmann’s interest to give rising freshman Kelan Martin more playing time; the 6’6″ wing is averaging just as many points as Jones (10.8 PPG) but in half the time (16.1 MPG). Meanwhile, DePaul managed to commit enough turnovers in the closing minutes of its game on Sunday to blow a solid lead against Illinois State. To be honest, the Blue Demons’ starting lineup is remarkably competent on the offensive end; Myke Henry has emerged as a true leader, with Jamee Crockett and Tommy Hamilton IV adding wing and inside dimensions. But as with prior years, many of the same issues remain: turnovers and defense. Oliver Purnell will have to find a way to fix at least one of those weaknesses before the program takes another step forward.
  2. Xavier builds itself back up. After slipping down the stretch in losses to UTEP and Long Beach State in November, the Musketeers appear to be back on track by grabbing wins over Alabama and at Missouri. Chris Mack’s squad ranks 10th in the country in offensive efficiency, and much to the surprise of many, Xavier has demonstrated an extremely diversified offense. In that 97-84 win over the Crimson Tide, six different players scored in double figures. Perhaps the most impressive feat, though, has been the team’s lack of reliance on Matt Stainbrook, thought to be the offensive centerpiece of the team heading into this season. Over the last three games, the 6’10” center has scored a combined 22 points on just 13 field goal attempts. Instead, freshman Trevon Bluiett has taken the reins and now leads the team in scoring (14.0 PPG), with Dee Davis and Myles Davis adding a pair of outside shooting threats. Xavier hasn’t received much national attention since dropping that earlier pair of games, but expect them to be back on everyone’s radar shortly. While everyone talks about the offensive balance at Villanova, few have noticed that of Xavier.
  3. Obligatory Isaiah Whitehead tout. The Seton Hall star freshman won Big East Rookie of the Week honors yet again, and he has been nothing short of spectacular in his last few games. Prior to the St. Peter’s game, he had strung together five consecutive games with at least 12 points, including 25 against Rutgers and 28 against Wichita State. Whitehead’s impact goes beyond his multifaceted scoring skill set, though; the 6’4″ guard has also served as a distributor on the offensive end, leading the Pirates in assists (3.4 APG). Head coach Kevin Willard has said he will support Whitehead if he decides to turn pro after this season, but Pirates fans obviously hope that he will stay.
Justin Kundrat (166 Posts)

Villanova grad, patiently waiting another 10 years for season tickets. Follow Justin on twitter @JustinKundrat or email him at justin.kundrat@gmail.com


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