Big East Tournament Takeaways: Thursday Afternoon

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 10th, 2016

Day two of the Big East Tournament tipped off Thursday afternoon with quarterfinal action. Villanova received more than it asked for from Georgetown before pulling away from the Hoyas in the final 10 minutes to win, 81-67. In the second game, a surging Providence team dominated a Butler squad that had been playing very well coming into the postseason. The Friars and Wildcats will meet in Friday night’s semifinals for the second straight season; it will be Providence’s third consecutive trip since the Big East was reconfigured prior to the 2013-14 season.

Ben Bentil and Kris Dunn combined for 53 points in Providence's victory over Butler. (Photo: USA Today Sports)

Ben Bentil and Kris Dunn combined for 53 points in Providence’s victory over Butler. (Photo: USA Today Sports)

Georgetown (15-18): It was a strong effort from the Hoyas for the better part of 30 minutes but in the end Georgetown just didn’t have enough to deal with Villanova’s toughness and cohesiveness. Bradley Hayes made an immediate impact in the paint, a performance that kept Georgetown in the game and especially important with Villanova center Daniel Ochefu limited to 13 minutes by a nagging injury. L.J. Peak continued his quality play with 18 points but a lack of scoring production from senior D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera was an important factor in Georgetown fading down the stretch.

Villanova (28-4): The Wildcats broke open a close game with a 14-1 run midway through the second half that was keyed by a number of hustle plays leading to transition opportunities. Josh Hart had an outstanding game with 25 points, scoring from all over the floor and especially lethal in transition. After the game, head coach Jay Wright called Hart one of the nation’s best players running the floor and it’s easy to see why after today’s performance. Ryan Arcidiacono was his usual self, diving into the MSG crowd for two lost balls and igniting his team in transition. Two pull-up threes when he didn’t have numbers were gutsy shots that allowed Villanova to create some separation.

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Otskey’s Big East Observations: Scouting Big East Tournament Teams

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 9th, 2016

With the NCAA Tournament only one week away, let’s take a look at the five Big East teams likely to earn a bid from a scouting perspective. Matchups play a major part in whether a strong team makes an early exit or an average team makes a deep March run. This is magnified more than ever in the pressure cooker that is the NCAA Tournament as teams encounter opponents and styles of play they are largely unfamiliar with. Conversely, some of these teams may flourish once they’re free of the grinder that is the regular season in the Big East.

Villanova

Josh Hart and Villanova were the class of the Big East again this season. (USA Today Sports)

Josh Hart and Villanova were the class of the Big East once again this season. (USA TODAY Sports)

  • Why the Wildcats can go deep: Jay Wright’s team is incredibly balanced and cohesive on both sides of the ball. An elite defensive squad, Villanova leads the Big East in allowing only 63.3 PPG. That alone will keep this group in games against any team in the nation. They are known for their defense, but the Wildcats don’t seem to get enough credit nationally for their offensive prowess. They feature an experienced floor general in Ryan Arcidiacono, a versatile wing in Josh Hart and a savvy big man in the middle in Daniel Ochefu. Another thing Villanova does incredibly well that should come in handy in the NCAA Tournament is free throw shooting. It leads the nation with a 77.9 percent mark from the charity stripe. Mounting a comeback against the Wildcats in the final minute is often a futile endeavor.

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Otskey’s Big East Observations: 03.01.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 1st, 2016

As the regular season comes to a close, a pair of Big East teams are fighting for their NCAA Tournament lives. For Butler and Providence, nothing will come easy over the next two weeks. The Bulldogs in particular sit squarely on the bubble as the Big East conference tournament looms. A huge chance awaits Butler tomorrow night when they host a surging Seton Hall team. Chris Holtmann’s group has matched up quite well with the Pirates over the last few seasons, and is the only team to beat them since January 23. A middling RPI, poor non-conference strength of schedule and a 5-8 record versus the RPI top 100 are all resume items conspiring against Butler at this moment. Given those deficiencies, you have to think a wins on Wednesday and Saturday (Marquette) to close the regular season are necessary for Butler to stay in the Tournament mix. Butler passes the so-called “eye test,” but its resume needs an immediate boost to prevent a trip to the NIT.

Andrew Chrabascz and Butler need a strong finish. (USA Today Sports)

It is crunch time for Andrew Chrabascz and Butler. (USA TODAY Sports)

After picking up a massive road victory at Villanova on January 24, Providence stood at 17-3 overall and looked like a sure-fire NCAA Tournament team. Who could have thought that Georgetown would be the only team the Friars would defeat in the month that followed? Providence swept the Hoyas but went 0-6 against every other team it played between January 26 and February 25. While the resume is good enough to merit a bid at this point, a loss to either Creighton or St. John’s would severely damage the Friars’ chances of holding on to an at-large bid. Star point guard Kris Dunn has been fighting an illness over the last week but head coach Ed Cooley said on Monday that the team is now healthy. As they did Saturday in dispatching DePaul, the Friars need to take care of business this week. No excuses if they fail to get the job done. Read the rest of this entry »

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Otskey’s Big East Observations: 02.12.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 12th, 2016

One of the interesting things about a long and grueling conference season is the subtle changes that teams undergo, both good and bad. For a Xavier team that remains in solid position for a top-two Big East finish and a top-three seed in the NCAA Tournament, an issue may be developing. Despite a 9-2 record since losing at Villanova, Xavier has been trending down in efficiency metrics (with both KenPom and others). Defense is the main culprit, specifically on the interior. Wins against St. John’s and Marquette were much closer than they should have been and Chris Mack’s team followed those up with a disappointing loss at Creighton, a game in which it was blitzed from the opening tip. The Musketeers have allowed six of its last seven opponents to shoot better than 50 percent from two-point range. What’s shocking is this had only happened six times in the preceding 23 games. While the better competition in Big East play is certainly a factor, the trend is undoubtedly still alarming. It’s no coincidence that the three teams to beat Xavier have all shot better than 60 percent from inside the arc. Given the makeup of this Musketeers team, the porous interior defending is especially surprising.

Jalen Reynolds and Xavier are scuffling a bit defensively.

Jalen Reynolds and Xavier are struggling a bit defensively. (AP)

Xavier not only has one of the better frontcourts in the nation, but it also has a stockpile of guards and wings with length and athleticism. Mack’s 1-3-1 zone has been incredibly disruptive at times this season, particularly in limiting penetration by the opponent. Given all this, it’s hard to decipher the exact problem for the X-men, but they would be wise to find a way to stop this trend. It will be notable if the poor defending continues down the stretch, as this team is faced with a brutal late February schedule. The Musketeers have been a complete team on both ends of the floor for most of this season and have a legitimate chance to make a deep NCAA Tournament run. It would be a shame if porous interior defense derails this dream season. Read the rest of this entry »

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Otskey’s Big East Observations: 01.15.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 15th, 2016

Early conference results can sometimes be deceiving. While the Big East is one of only two major conferences with a true round-robin format, the start to conference play for Butler and Georgetown has been quite different. These teams currently sit at 1-3 and 4-1, respectively, even though the Bulldogs are widely regarded to be the better team. While Georgetown was handed a soft opening stretch to conference play, one that included two games with DePaul, one with St. John’s and a home tilt against Marquette, Butler has had to play the likes of Xavier, Providence and Villanova right off the bat. Everything will even out eventually, but sometimes a tough start to league play can take away momentum created in the non-conference, something Butler (11-1 non-conference record) did quite well. But should there be concern now that the Bulldogs are heading in the wrong direction? Absolutely. Chris Holtmann’s team ranks a dismal No. 157 in adjusted defensive efficiency for the season and dead last in the 10-team Big East when considering conference games only. Butler has struggled all season with adjusting to life without Kameron Woods, who was a dominant rebounder last season. The Bulldogs are undersized in the frontcourt and need to figure out a way to rebound and defend if they are going to bounce back from a rough start to league play.

Chris Holtmann and Butler were dealt no favors by the Big East schedule makers. (AP)

Chris Holtmann and Butler were dealt no favors by the Big East schedule makers. (AP)

We will find out a lot more about Georgetown in the coming weeks. The Hoyas now begin a stretch of six straight games against KenPom top 50 teams after their soft open to the Big East schedule. Turnovers, rebounding and perimeter defense remain issues for this team, and the loss of Paul White for the rest of this season hurts its depth. Georgetown showed glimpses of strong play in the non-conference, but when you remember the good with the bad — head-scratching losses to some legitimately bad teams — it is difficult to make a confident judgement on the team. One thing that is a safe bet: The Hoyas will go as far as D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera can take them.

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Otskey’s Big East Observations: 12.18.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 18th, 2015

While every season is definitely long and winding, Georgetown’s loss to Monmouth should be concerning for both the Hoyas and Big East fans. The primary reason is not that Monmouth is a bad team — rather, the Hawks have a quality squad this season — it is that the Hoyas were run off their home floor in a game that should have been a close, competitive loss or a win. This loss is the latest in a recent history full of uninspiring Georgetown losses under John Thompson III and the second of this season alone. When you look at the Hoyas’ overall KenPom profile, a few things stand out. First, this team is not defending at a high level. While Georgetown’s field goal percentage defense of 37.7 percent is very good, that statistic only shows so much.

John Thompson III's team was the latest to fall victim to upstart Monmouth. (Washington Post)

John Thompson III’s team was the latest to fall victim to upstart Monmouth. (Washington Post)

When you dig a little deeper, you find a team fouling at a high rate and failing to close out possessions on the boards effectively. A team that struggles to rebound and puts opponents on the foul line too often allows for plenty of extra points, which is the main reason why Georgetown ranks 87th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. When compared with their Big East companions, that rate puts the Hoyas ahead of only Butler, Creighton and hapless DePaul. Already with four losses on its resume, Georgetown has some work to do in league play in order to safely make another trip to the NCAA Tournament. Lackluster performances like those against Monmouth and Radford need to become a thing of the past, and Georgetown will have to become a more efficient squad in order to earn that invitation. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #6 Maryland 76, Connecticut 66

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 9th, 2015

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Maryland was too strong up front for Connecticut. The combination of Diamond Stone and Robert Carter ended up being too much for the Huskies to handle around the basket. Stone and Carter combined for 24 points and 20 rebounds, an impressive showing against Amida Brimah. The Huskies made a second half push from the three-point line which made the game interesting late, but Maryland’s earlier work in the paint was too much for Connecticut to overcome. The Terrapins absolutely dominated the rebounding battle (45-24) and pulled down 14 offensive rebounds, leading to 15 second chance points.

    Melo Trimble had a lot to smile about Tuesday evening. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

    Melo Trimble had a lot to smile about Tuesday evening. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

  2. Melo Trimble’s ability to get in the lane was the difference. Trimble was aggressive as usual tonight and that is best reflected in his free throw numbers. The sophomore point guard went to the free throw line 15 times, converting 14 of them. Trimble is very strong and uses his body tremendously when driving to the basket. Connecticut couldn’t keep him out of the lane, a place where he is absolutely lethal. Containing him is key to defeating Maryland and the Huskies just did not do that. Trimble makes so much happen whether it’s creating for himself or for his teammates. He has truly become one of college basketball’s best point guards in such a short time with the Maryland program.
  3. Connecticut needs an offensive presence in the paint. Although a highly talented group, Daniel Hamilton, Rodney Purvis and Sterling Gibbs can’t do it all for the Huskies. While Amida Brimah is a tremendous presence defensively, he is not a factor on the other side of the ball. UConn forwards Hamilton and Shonn Miller are not big enough to have success in the paint against teams like Maryland with strong frontcourts. Granted, UConn will not be facing teams the caliber of Maryland throughout the season but this has to be a concern for Kevin Ollie as teams key in defensively on his talented crop of guards.

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Rushed Reactions: #10 Virginia 70, #14 West Virginia 54

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 8th, 2015

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. “Press Virginia”. Bob Huggins’ athletic group of Mountaineers imposed their style of play from the opening tip, forcing Virginia into 11 first half turnovers. The Cavaliers came into the game averaging only 7.3 turnovers per game, best in the country. It was amazing to watch West Virginia make Virginia look like an awful ball handling team. Even when the Cavs were able to get the ball over half court, the hectic pace still forced them into a number of mistakes. West Virginia certainly came prepared on both ends of the floor, but Virginia’s discipline and experience took control after halftime, as the Cavaliers finally looked like themselves. It’s the mark of a great team when it can look completely overmatched in the first half of the game but make the proper changes and go on to dominate the second frame. The halftime adjustments made by Virginia’s experienced backcourt is the main reason the Cavaliers prevailed.
  2. Virginia has a handful of great players but London Perrantes may be the most important. The junior guard was shut out in the first half tonight in his first game back after recovering from an appendectomy, but Perrantes was the Cavalier catalyst in the second half. College basketball is a guard’s game and Perrantes is one of the finest point men in all the land. He does an incredible job running the team on the floor and makes it look effortless — almost as if he never breaks a sweat while working hard. His strengths go beyond his poise, however. Perrantes is a sniper from beyond the arc, and it was his trey from the left wing with 4:38 to play that pretty much salted this game away. Perrantes totaled 13 second half points while assisting on three UVA buckets. Tony Bennett is happy to have him back.
  3. The pack-line stood tall in the end. After surrendering 24 points in the paint to West Virginia in the first half, Virginia constructed a fortress around the basket after halftime. The Mountaineers managed only 10 points in the paint after halftime (and just 18 total for the half) in a game that was quite clearly a tale of two halves. UVA did a good job containing Devin Williams offensively (18.7 PPG on the season, just 10 tonight) while also limiting him to just three rebounds. Virginia as a team controlled the glass (+5 in rebound margin) — an incredibly important task against any Bob Huggins team.
Anthony Gill's 15 Point, 8 Rebound First Half Kept Virginia Close (Photo: USAT Sports)

Anthony Gill’s 15 Point, 8 Rebound First Half Kept Virginia Close Early (Photo: USAT Sports)

Star of the Game: Anthony Gill, Virginia. Gill kept his team afloat during a difficult first half, scoring 15 points on an efficient 7-of-9 shooting. For the game, he totaled 20 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, his first double-double of the season. While Perrantes highlighted the second half, Gill was the one constant on the floor for the Cavaliers. His leadership and energy were crucial in Virginia’s efforts to keep the game close early on, giving the Cavs the chance to eventually turn it around and take control in the second half.

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Otskey’s Big East Observations: 12.03.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 3rd, 2015

One season removed from sending six of its 10 teams to the NCAA Tournament, the Big East has again started the season with a bang. To date, the conference has amassed an 18-13 record against teams currently ranked in the top 100 of Ken Pomeroy’s ratings, with only Creighton, DePaul and St. John’s not yet in the win column. Against Power Five conference opponents, the league as a whole sports a 16-12 record. With a strong start under its belt, the question will inevitably turn to how many teams the Big East can place in the NCAA Tournament this year? It is probably safe to say that a minimum of four will go with a good chance for a fifth given the way Providence has been playing. However, it is still early and a lot of things can happen between now and March. As far as a sixth team, the odds are not as great but there is something of a chance. Marquette, Seton Hall and Creighton could very well fight for the sixth and final Big East NCAA berth when all is said and done in this league.

Jay Wright and Villanova have been on point. (Getty)

Jay Wright and Villanova, who sit at the top of the Big East standings at 7-0, is leading what is a tremendous conference pack so far this season. (Getty)

Right now, the edge would have to go to the Golden Eagles and Pirates. While Marquette’s (5-2) weak non-conference schedule will be an anchor, the Golden Eagles are a team that should get better as the season moves along and could win 10 games in the league. Its two wins before Thanksgiving at the Barclays Center against LSU and Arizona State were critical after starting the season with two early losses. As for Seton Hall (5-2), it has quietly picked up top-100 victories over Georgia and Mississippi and has another chance to grab a quality win at home against a banged-up Wichita State team that should get back to playing good hoops once Fred VanVleet returns. If Kevin Willard’s squad can finish the non-conference slate at 10-2 and get to 9-9 in conference, it will be right on the bubble come Selection Sunday. Creighton is in a tough position because of a non-conference schedule that provides limited opportunities for quality wins. It has already lost at Indiana, and while a game at Oklahoma later this month is certainly a top-notch opponent, it is unrealistic to think the Bluejays can win that one. After blowing a great chance for a top-100 win this week at home against Arizona State, Greg McDermott’s team will have a lot of work to do in conference play. Ultimately, five NCAA teams seems like the proper over/under for the Big East this year. Read the rest of this entry »

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2014-15 RTC Awards: NPOY, FrOY & COY

Posted by Brian Otskey on April 2nd, 2015

Perhaps it is no coincidence that all three of our individual award recipients this year will play in the upcoming Final Four. It is a remarkable achievement to be the best of your peers at what you do, but we are sure that the following three men would give all the credit to their incredible teams before offering a word about themselves. Here are the 2014-15 RTC individual award winners, chosen by a panel of Rush the Court‘s national columnists and contributors.

Player of the Year: Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin

frank

There is something to be said for how Frank Kaminsky arrived to the position he is in today. Now a senior and the leading scorer on a Wisconsin team that has lost just three games this season, Kaminsky shunned the fame and fortune of the NBA last spring in order to return to Madison to help lead the Badgers to a National Championship in his final year of eligibility. “Frank the Tank” is unique in the college game today. Standing at a cool seven feet tall, Kaminsky is the definition of a matchup nightmare. The Lisle, Illinois, native is not afraid to get physical in the post but could easily drop a three-pointer on you the next time down the floor. His versatility is off the charts and it shows up in his numbers: 18.7 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 54.9 percent field goal percentage, and a 41.5 percent mark from three-point range. In his final season under Bo Ryan, the senior increased his production across the board and does not get the credit he deserves for his outstanding defense — averaging 1.5 blocked shots per game and altering many more. Fitting a NPOY winner, he has saved his best production for March, recording a season-high 31 points against Michigan State on March 1, 27 points against Coastal Carolina in the round of 64, and 29 points against Arizona in the West regional final. There were many terrific players in college basketball this year but Kaminsky was a cut above the rest and a very deserving winner of this season’s RTC Player of the Year honor.

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Rushed Reactions: #4 Villanova 69, Xavier 52

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 14th, 2015

rushedreactions

Villanova won its first Big East Tournament title since 1995 and all but locked up a No. 1 seed at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.

Three Key Takeaways.

Villanova Dominated the Big East From Start to Finish This Season (USA Today Images)

Villanova Dominated the Big East From Start to Finish This Season (USA Today Images)

  1. Villanova made a statement tonight. The Wildcats were in control of this game from the start, encouraged by a highly partisan Madison Square Garden crowd. It was a microcosm of Villanova’s season in which it dominated a very good Big East conference with a 16-2 regular season record. Xavier was able to get in a few licks, but tonight was all about the Wildcats. While Jay Wright’s team may be a bit too over-reliant on the three-pointer, it has clearly shown that it can beat anyone in the country. This was also a good tournament for Villanova from an experience perspective. The Wildcats destroyed an inferior Marquette club on Thursday only to be pushed to the brink by Providence the next night. Tonight, Villanova made very quick work of a strong and surging Xavier team.
  2. Jay Wright challenged his team and it responded. After Thursday’s opening win over Marquette, Wright said this was not one of his better defensive teams even after holding the Golden Eagles to just 49 points. Last night the Wildcats limited Providence to 35 percent shooting. Against Xavier, the Musketeers were held to 52 points on 37.9 percent shooting. Whether it was coachspeak or something else, Villanova answered the bell. In watching this team all year, it makes up for a lack of size with an aggressive three-quarter court zone press that falls back into a stifling man-to-man with intense ball pressure. On some night when the threes don’t fall in the NCAA Tournament, it is going to be up to Villanova’s defense to carry it through. And it is capable.
  3. Xavier’s inconsistency was on display again. While Villanova is an incredibly tough opponent to deal with, the gritty play the Musketeers displayed against Butler and Georgetown earlier this week wasn’t there tonight. This loss in particular is not a concern going into the NCAA Tournament, but for a team that has lost 13 times (some against weak competition), it’s worth tracking. Chris Mack’s team is more than capable of reaching the Sweet Sixteen but it is going to have to play more consistently in order to get there. It was a good experience this week in New York for Xavier, but it must get down to business with outstanding focus after the selection show tomorrow night.

Player of the Game:  Josh Hart, Villanova. The Wildcats’ sixth man, of whom Wright said he would not take that role next season, continued to impress. Only a sophomore, Hart totaled an efficient 15 points, making seven of his nine shots in addition to grabbing seven rebounds. His play speaks to the balance and great chemistry of this team. He fits seamlessly in the lineup and his growth is a testament to the incredible player development under Wright’s leadership.

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Rushed Reactions: #4 Villanova 63, Providence 61

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 13th, 2015

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

Just Another Night in the Big East Tournament (USA Today Images)

Just Another Night in the Big East Tournament (USA Today Images)

  1. That was an old school Big East battle. Some people like to talk about how the “new” Big East just isn’t the same, but they fail to remember the Big East was a small nine-team league when it developed its reputation as one of the top conferences in the nation. Two of those nine teams battled it out in this game and the result was a throwback to classic Big East games of the past. This was as good as it gets. A tough, physical underdog going up against the conference goliath that is playing as well as any team in the nation. The Garden crowd was electric on this Friday night for a game that more than lived up to its billing.
  2. Providence dominated the boards and nearly overcame poor shooting. The Friars shot only 35 percent for the game but outrebounded Villanova 42-30, including a 19-9 advantage on the offensive boards. Freshman Ben Bentil in particular was great, pulling down six offensive boards and scoring 12 points mostly from second chances. Providence held a 19-6 edge in second chance points but just could not overcome a rough shooting night by most of its better players. LaDontae Henton, Kris Dunn and Tyler Harris were a combined 11-of-33 (33 percent) from the floor.
  3. This game was a great test for both teams as they head into the NCAA Tournament. There is no doubt that both Villanova and Providence will be participating in the Big Dance next week. Both coaches commented after that game about how much a tough, close, grinding game like this one gives them valuable experience heading into the NCAAs. NCAA Tournament games always seem to be played at a slower pace; although both of these teams are comfortable in transition, getting a hard-fought experience against a quality opponent like here can only help as they transition into next week’s action.

Player of the Game:  Daniel Ochefu, Villanova. Could reasonably have gone with Kris Dunn or Josh Hart in this spot, but Ochefu was dominant inside tonight, especially defensively. Providence was smothered most of the time when it tried to go in the paint and a lot of that credit goes to Ochefu. His five blocks tied a season high. On the offensive end, the Villanova big man totaled 15 points and 13 rebounds, his seventh double-double of the season. Ochefu plays an important role as a true big man on an otherwise undersized team. He will be a valuable piece as Villanova begins its quest for a national championship.

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