Big East M5: 02.05.14 Edition

Posted by George Hershey on February 5th, 2014

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  1. After dislocating his right kneecap, Grant Gibbs has not played in a game for Creighton in nearly a month and is still unsure when he will return. After taking three weeks to rest, he has started to do some light exercise in an effort to get ready to play again. Based on the initial prognosis that he would be out for four weeks, he should be ready to go shortly. In his absence, the team has played excellent basketball, going 5-1 and gaining significant national exposure as a member of the new Big East. Jahenns Manigat and Devin Brooks have helped pick up the load in the interim, but the team is obviously awaiting its sixth-year senior’s return to the lineup. Gibbs knows the Bluejays’ offense as well as anybody and brings the requisite leadership and experience that is crucial in March.
  2. Providence head coach Ed Cooley was selected as an assistant coach for the upcoming Team USA U-18 team next summer. He joins head coach Billy Donovan and fellow assistant Sean Miller on the bench. After hearing the news, Cooley said, “This is special to be able to work with two future Hall of Fame coaches. I feel blessed to have this opportunity to work with and learn from Billy and Sean, not to mention we get to represent our country. It is very inspiring.” Cooley will make his debut as a coach for a national team, but he was a training camp coach last year for Team USA’s U-19 team.
  3. Xavier came into February as one of the hottest teams in the Big East. The Musketeers were bordering on the Top 25 and seemed like a likely NCAA Tournament team. In the past week-plus, though, things have gone downhill as they have lost three straight games. Banners on the Parkway takes a look at some of the problems plaguing the team and some possible solutions. Semaj Christon and Matt Stainbrook are noted as players providing great effort, but Justin Martin and Dee Davis are starters who maybe should come off the bench. Pressing is another suggestion because the half-court defense has been ineffective and it could help increase the tempo and force turnovers. Obviously this Xavier team is pretty good, but it has fallen into a lull and some lineup and strategic changes could help re-energize the team down the stretch.
  4. Georgetown is one of the most historic and prestigious basketball schools in the nation. Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning and Roy Hibbert are some of the big man greats who went to school in DC. This year, though, the team doesn’t have any start players and thus has had to fight through adversity as it tries to find itself. Reid Forgrave at FoxSports writes about the battle the Hoyas have faced with this unfamiliar situation. After losing star Otto Porter to the NBA and Joshua Smith to academic suspension, the offense sputtered through a five-game losing streak. Forgrave concludes that this team doesn’t have the firepower to make a big run to win the Big East Tournament, but it won’t lose it’s morale either, and will continue to fight all season.
  5. St. John’s continued its torrid stretch last night with a big win on the road at Providence. If you watched the Johnnies’ last five games, you would assume it was a team that would be playing well into March. They may be playing great in early February, but they dug themselves a giant hole from November to January. Roger Rubin wrote about the work Steve Lavin’s team has cut out for it to earn a bid to March Madness. They have eight games left and a few good opportunities for big wins. They welcome Creighton to the Garden on Sunday night and visit Villanova on February 22. Besides those two games, nearly everything else is a must-win. They only have three games on the road, with one of those at DePaul, so if they can clean up at home they should be in good position. It would be quite the turnaround for St. John’s to go from 0-5 Big East cellar-dweller to NCAA Tournament team.
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Three Up, Three Down in the Big East

Posted 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.

Three Up

Oliver Purnell might've found a gem in A. (Chicago Tribune)

Oliver Purnell might’ve found a gem in RJ Curington (Chicago Tribune)

  1. 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.
  2. 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. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East M5: 02.03.14 Edition

Posted by George Hershey on February 3rd, 2014

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  1. Butler forward Andrew Chrabascz has gone from being a lightly-used freshman to a starter in his freshman year at Butler. Indy Star‘s Zak Keefer wrote an interesting article about Chrabascz’s relationship with Chris Herren. Herren is well known for his rise from Portsmouth to Boston College and Fresno State, and eventually being drafted by the Boston Celtics. Herren had trouble with drugs and eventually it caught up with him as his basketball career ended badly. After getting his life together he began to coach in the area and he became a mentor to Chrabascz as he began to get offers from prep schools and colleges. Currently, Chrabascz is earning the trust of his coach and teammates as he sees his role grow, while Herren has turned his life around completely, as he gives speeches and mentors kids around the nation. Chrabascz’s energy and hustle is evident every minute of the game as he is all constantly working. He has a bright future ahead as he grows his game alongside several other underclassmen.
  2. As DePaul struggles through another season, Big East Coast Bias asks if a new arena can save DePaul basketball. A team that was once well respected and made the 1979 Final Four, has failed earn a bid to the big dance since 2004. The construction of a new arena has been discussed at length recently and Mayor Rahm Emanuel seems to be behind the arena. As BECB notes, a new arena could triple student attendance and help bring in some top recruits. Although the team has struggled, their are some bright spots on the team. Chicago natives Billy Garrett Jr. and Tommy Hamilton IV as well as R.J. Curington have emerged as solid contributors this year and will be the rocks that the team builds off of going forward. They were one of Cliff Alexander’s final choices and if they can go out and get one or two of Chicago’s best players, the momentum should start to swing in DePaul’s favor.
  3. While Doug McDermott and Ethan Wragge get the spotlight for Creighton, Chris Novak of Big East Coast Bias points out that their future in the frontcourt is bright. Jahenns Manigat is graduating this year, so several less experienced players will have to take over next season. Luckily those players are Devin Brooks, Austin Chatman, and Isaiah Zierden. All three have contributed and have shown their great potential, albeit it sporadically. Chatman is averaging a stat stuffing 7.2 points, 4 rebounds, and 4.2 assists each game. He does not jump out when you watch games, but he is a key cog and his experience will help him next season. Brooks and Zierden have been up and down, with some greats performances mixed with average ones. Both have scored the ball at a high level at times and Brooks can rebound and pass well. Many may worry how the Bluejays will survive without McDermott, but their are pieces there that forecast a bright future.
  4. After Marquette’s lifeless loss at the hands of St. John’s at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, Buzz Williams talked about the tough turn around playing 40 hours after beating Providence 900 miles away. Anonymous Eagle takes a look at what Buzz Williams called “competitive inequities in the schedule.” It is never easy to play with only one day off between games, especially when your opponent had three days to rest, but Fox Sports 1 is paying the league a huge amount to broadcast the games, and the network needs to fill its spots. While it is more difficult to win in those situations, it is what teams face every year in the NCAA Tournament, and Williams knows that well, making the Sweet Sixteen the past three seasons. He will have to get his team ready for the beginning of March when they play two games on the road in three days, potentially with a team fighting for a spot on the bubble.
  5. Georgetown hopefully turned their season around on Saturday at Madison Square Garden with their win over Michigan State. After losing five straight with Joshua Smith ineligible, it looked like the Hoyas were headed to a losing season, but this win will give the team confidence and hopefully a light bulb went off for the players. While D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and Markel Starks have done the heavy lifting offensively, Nate Lubick was a key component in the win. Ben Standig takes a look at Lubick’s game on Saturday after he rarely looked to score most of the season. Lubick is a smart player and rebounds and defends well, but he was a liability on offense as he would never shoot outside of five feet from the basket. He only scored eight points, but he got to the line four times, showing increased aggression. The guards cannot do all the scoring, so Lubick’s contributions will help them find better shots and not have to make every play, leading to a more balanced and better team.
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Big East M5: 01.31.14 Edition

Posted by George Hershey on January 31st, 2014

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  1. Creighton and Villanova have shot up the rankings this season with great guard play and effective outside shooting. ESPN‘s John Gasaway wrote an article recently looking at the teams with the highest percentage of attempts that come from behind the arc. Creighton takes 43.1 percent of its shots from deep, but Gasaway points out how effective they have become at shooting two-pointers (54.8 percent of their twos in conference action) and how their defense is also much improved (surrendering 1.02 points per possession). Villanova has a similar profile in all three aspects. They take 42.7 percent of their shots from three, making 54 percent of their twos and allowing 1.04 points per possession. It’s interesting just how similar the two best teams in the league are and we will probably see a much closer game the second time these teams meet in Omaha. 
  2. Former Ohio State walk-on and current Grantland writer Mark Titus may not have the most accurate power rankings out there, but he definitely has the funniest. Titus likes to make jokes, but he is also very smart about basketball and makes compelling points along the way. This week he has Creighton Doug McDermott in his eighth national spot. Although he jokes about McDermott and his impressive recent play, he has a great quote about Creighton as a team, saying, “The Bluejays have become appointment viewing. If their shooting outburst against Villanova wasn’t enough to convince you of this, McDermott’s heroic effort should cement their status. No matter who they’re playing, you can turn on a Creighton game and be pretty sure you’re going to be thoroughly entertained for two hours.” The team’s ability to go off at any time and McDermott’s NPOY-level play has truly made this team a can’t-miss viewing appointment. 
  3. Buzz Williams must have been listening to all the Marquette writers and fans this week. With articles from Cracked Sidewalks, Anonymous Eagle, and Paint Touches all calling for the underclassmen to get more playing time, Williams put JaJuan Johnson and Deonte Burton into the starting lineup in last night’s impressive win, with John Dawson coming off the bench early. All three played at least 10 minutes while Burton led the trio with nine points and six rebounds. The key with the freshman is to remain aggressive while staying under control and understanding the situation. They showed their confidence attacking the rim and being pesky on defense, but also forced a few unnecessary shots. It seems like Williams likes the energy and production they bring which should help them get more comfortable with the college game in preparation for next season.
  4. Seton Hall has its first McDonald’s All-American since Andre Barrett and Eddie Griffin arrived in 2000. Coney Island native Isaiah Whitehead was named to the team on Wednesday as he finishes up an outstanding high school career. Zach Braziller at the New York Post talked to Whitehead after the announcement, as he follows in the footsteps of Lincoln High School legends Stephon Marbury, Sebastian Telfair and Lance Stephenson. This is a great honor for Whitehead and his arrival next year should excite Seton Hall fans as he leads a stellar class of New York and New Jersey local products.
  5. With the losses of Brandon Austin, Kris Nunn, and Rodney Bullock, Providence guard Josh Fortune has had to consistently play almost the entire game throughout conference play. He has played at least 30 minutes in all but one game, and even played 50 (!) against St. John’s. While Fortune has played a key role for the Friars as Bryce Cotton’s backcourt mate, he has had to focus on basketball while his mother is stationed 6,000 miles away as a colonel in the Army. Kevin McNamara writes about life off the court and how Fortune has to deal with the intermittent communication with his mother. Fortunately for head coach Ed Cooley, Fortune has stepped up and been a consistent producer all season, helping Providence battle for what appeared to be an unlikely NCAA Tournament berth.
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Three Up, Three Down in the Big East

Posted by George Hershey on January 27th, 2014

Every Big East team played on Saturday. Some had impressive outing, while others fell flat and disappointed. Here we highlight some of the positives and negatives from the weekend’s action with Three Up, Three Down.

Three Up

The Providence Role Players, Including Denton, Are Stepping Up

The Providence Role Players, Including Denton, Are Stepping Up

  1. Providence’s Supporting Cast. Coming into the season the emphasis was placed on senior scoring machine Bryce Cotton. In the non-conference slate, the team fared well but started with a poor 0-2 mark in conference play with a bad home loss to Seton Hall and a blowout defeat to Villanova. In those early losses, players like LaDontae Henton, Kadeem Batts, Tyler Harris and Josh Fortune had rough performances. They turned the ball over too much — 15 from the starters vs. Villanova — played poor defense, and failed to make the key plays that win games. More recently, Providence has been on a roll and these players are the primary reason for the difference. In the Friars’ win on Saturday against Xavier, four starters had at least 10 points with Henton dropping 23, Harris and Batts scoring 12 each, and Fortune hitting a key three as he was fouled to stymie a Xavier run. Carson Desrosiers was also very impressive on the defensive end, with six blocks against the Musketeers. Providence has now won five in a row to move to 5-2 in league play, good for third place in the conference standings. Read the rest of this entry »
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Are Marquette’s Two Least Utilized Players Keys to Turning the Corner?

Posted by George Hershey on January 25th, 2014

Most fans around the country know Marquette’s senior frontcourt of Davante Gardner, Jamil Wilson and Chris Otule as they have played in three straight Sweet Sixteens over the last three seasons. This year the Golden Eagles have not lived up to preseason expectations in large part because of a lack of production from their guards — point guard Derrick Wilson, in particular, is averaging only five points per game despite playing starter’s minutes. Wilson is known for his defense and low number of turnovers, but defenses can sag off of him because he rarely attempts a shot outside the paint. This causes the middle to get clogged and hurts the frontcourt’s ability to score in the post.

Steve Taylor Jr. was all over the place Monday against Georgetown. (Alex Brandon/AP)

Steve Taylor Jr. (25) was all over the place Monday against Georgetown.
(Alex Brandon/AP)

All season long, the team has been looking for a spark to get the offense going. There had been some good spurts that showed promise, but time after time, Marquette returned to its inability to shoot and long scoring droughts. In Monday night’s win over Georgetown, two players who had barely played all season were the reason that the Golden Eagles kept their hopes of an eight straight tournament berth on life support. With the highly touted freshman Duane Wilson redshirting this season, the point guard position has looked bleak for Marquette. With Williams putting his trust in Wilson, it did not seem that he would look to his backup, freshman John Dawson, for much playing time. He had averaged just over five minutes in conference play so far and most pundits and fans seemed to think he was a project and four-year backup (the New Mexico native had not had as much exposure in high school and recruiting services did not rank him highly). Read the rest of this entry »

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Big East M5: 01.17.14 Edition

Posted by George Hershey on January 17th, 2014

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  1. Marquette freshman Jajuan Johnson suffered a sprained ankle in practice on Wednesday. There was some concern among the Marquette faithful after Johnson sent out three tweets that playfully hinted that he was hurt, but they were taken down soon after. Fellow freshman Duane Wilson was hurt before the season started and decided to redshirt this season. Hopefully Johnson’s injury is nothing severe as he has been getting more consistent minutes recently, and after being such a highly-touted prospect, we would hope that he can start to come into his own as the season progresses. 
  2. Another day, more attention and praise for Creighton‘s All-American, Doug McDermott. ESPN.com‘s Eamonn Brennan took a look at his chase for a career mark of 3,000 points. The second leading scorer in the nation has turned his game up a notch recently despite a sprained shoulder. Brennan also places McDermott at the top of his Wooden Watch list, and says quite frankly that the award is his to lose. With an offensive rating of 121.6 on 33 percent usage, it is no wonder that the nation is starting to pay more attention to the uber-efficient senior.
  3. Seton Hall is getting some much needed help as Eugene Teague will return from injury on Saturday. Teague has not played in a conference game yet as the Pirates head to Georgetown with a 1-3 record. Teague’s return is obviously a huge game-changer for Kevin Willard as his starting center was averaging nearly a double -double with 10.8 points and 9.4 rebounds per game prior to his injury. Besides the obvious statistics that show his value on the court, his size is much needed as the Pirates have been deficient all year in their frontcourt. Teague has the experience and strength to battle down low in the Big East and brings a fair amount of leadership that is difficult to replicate.
  4. St. John’s began the year with talk as a potential sleeper to win the league and some coaches saying that they had the more talent than anybody. Unfortunately for Steve Lavin and crew, the Johnnies’ season has not gone to plan as they have seriously struggled so far in conference play. After last night’s loss in double-overtime to Providence, they Red Storm are o-5 in league play and had yet to look impressive. Zach Braziller at the New York Post takes a look at why they have gotten off to such a bad start. He argues that the players have been settling for too many tough jump shots, failing to use their size as an advantage, and ultimately are playing inefficiently. Lavin is widely renowned as a tremendous recruiter, but the knock on him since his days at UCLA has always been that he isn’t a great coach in game situations. After going two extra periods with Providence, hopefully the team has seen what it can do to compete with the top teams in the league, because any more bad losses and St. John’s dwindling hopes of a postseason berth will be long gone.
  5. Luke Winn of Sports Illustrated has one of the best and most interesting power rankings out there and this week he has two Big East teams on his list of 16 teams, as Villanova moved up to fifth and Creighton jumped to 11th. Winn takes a look at both of the team’s three-point shooting. In Villanova’s case, he points out that the Wildcats have the biggest gap between their 3PA/100FGA and their opponents 3PA/100FGA , at about 13. Creighton is second at about seven. The Wildcats shoot 44.8 of their shots from behind the arc as opposed to their opponents trying about a third from there. Winn also highlights Creighton’s lumberjack three point specialist, Ethan Wragge.
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Big East M5: 01.15.14 Edition

Posted by George Hershey on January 15th, 2014

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  1. Georgetown will be playing undermanned tonight when the Hoyas travel to Cincinnati to play Xavier. Joshua Smith is still battling academic issues and Jabril Trawick will miss his second straight game after he broke his jaw against Providence last week. The Hoyas were impressive in their overtime victory at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Saturday, but Xavier poses a tougher test as they are 8-1 in their last nine games after a loss to Creighton on Sunday. Xavier has a very good frontcourt and will likely look to exploit Georgetown’s relative lack of size. Moses Ayegba and Reggie Cameron will have to step up and play more than the 10 minutes they have averaged so far this season. Markel Starks and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera must continue their own exceptional play, but not having their big men to help space the floor will make finding open shots more difficult.  
  2. Xavier lost its first game after an eight-game winning streak, but the Musketeers are ready to face Georgetown after taking away several positives from their close loss to Creighton. They had trouble guarding Doug McDermott and didn’t shoot their free throws well (59%), but the team was happy about the perseverance they showed throughout. Center Matt Stainbrook said, “it [showed] a ton of resiliency and the fact that we can all have short-term memories. You learn from your mistakes, but when it comes to misses or stuff that’s not favorable for us, we have a really short-term memory.” Going forward in conference action, Xavier will need that short memory to keep fighting when momentum is not on their side, like they experienced on Sunday when Creighton was simply unconscious from deep.
  3. Luke Fischer‘s transfer was officially announced on Monday when he began classes at Marquette; yesterday he spoke to the media. He has already begun practicing and assistant coach Jerry Wainwright sounded excited about working with the new big man. Fischer has 11 months until he can suit up, but Wainwright says he will have an instant impact on the Golden Eagles. Fischer will match up against Davante Gardner and Chris Otule in practice, giving the centers a break from each other and a new challenge on both ends. The league has several centers similar to Fischer, but few like Gardner and Otule, so they will have a player to practice against that will more closely replicate games. In other Marquette news, Paint Touches takes a look at the freshmen so far, discussing those who are coming into their own and becoming significant contributors. Cracked Sidewalks has five charts that show why Marquette should be better than it has shown this season. The Golden Eagles seem to be rounding the corner every other game, but have yet to beat a team ranked higher than themselves.
  4. The Big East may not be as strong at the top this season with only two teams currently in the Top 25, but the league has tremendous depth. While Villanova and Creighton have moved up to #6 and #20 in the latest AP poll, the rest of the league may not be ranked but there are no really bad teams this year. In years past, teams like Syracuse and Louisville were national title contenders, but the league also suffered South Florida, DePaul, Rutgers, and Providence perennially struggling to win more than a few games. As of last night, seven of the 10 conference teams were ranked in the top 70 in Ken Pomeroy’s latest rankings, and DePaul was the lowest at #130, a number likely to rise after beating St. John’s. So far, the league has only had six blowout wins, showing the relative parity among all of the teams. This had led to a ton of excitement on numerous Big East campuses this season.
  5. ESPN had a series of posts on the best venues in college basketball, and not surprisingly, Hinkle Fieldhouse, home to the Butler Bulldogs, was included. Eamonn Brennan wrote about the history of the building, including most famously being where the “Milan Miracle,” the game that inspired the making of the movie, Hoosiers, occurred, and the incredible atmosphere in the building. He gives a great description, “You ascend the same blue-tinged concrete concourse to find your seat. You see the same afternoon sunlight shine down at the same angle through the same windows on the same, original wooden floor, the oldest in college basketball.” Hinkle seems to be a magical place as there constantly outstanding games there, including five overtime periods already this season. The Big East has some great venues with the Cintas Center, Bradley Center, and CenturyLink Arena among them drawing some of the largest crowds in the nation.
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Big East M5: 01.10.14 Edition

Posted by George Hershey on January 10th, 2014

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  1. Creighton let out a huge sigh of relief on Wednesday. First, Doug McDermott‘s shoulder injury turned out to be a shoulder sprain. He is expected to play on Saturday and downplayed the injury, a good sign for the stud. Later, fellow senior Grant Gibbs received good news as his scary knee injury was revealed to be a dislocated kneecap. The worst case scenario some were fearing was a torn ACL, but luckily the sixth year senior will be able to play in his final year. Gibbs is expected to be out about a month, returning in time for the final month of the Big East season and postseason tournaments. The Creighton offense has been playing spectacularly and the team will feel the loss of Gibbs, but should survive without him, as several players like Jahenns Manigat, Austin Chatman, and Devin Brooks have stepped up their games this year. Each is averaging at least seven points, three rebounds and two assists per game. 
  2. Georgetown center Joshua Smith did not travel with the team to Providence due to academic reasons. The Hoyas ended up getting run out of the gym against a Friars team that started 0-2 in the Big East. The Hoyas had their worst offensive performance of the season, shooting 39.6% from the floor while committing 15 turnovers. This situation looks similar to the suspension Greg Whittington was dealt after the first semester because of grades, and he ended up not playing the rest of the year. Hopefully Smith resolves the academic issue and returns back to the lineup because the Hoyas need his offensive presence down low to open up the floor for Markel Starks and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, who is having a breakout year. 
  3. Doug McDermott is gaining traction as a leading candidate for National Player of the Year honors. With all the early season buzz about the top freshman across the country, McDermott is earning more recognition from the press for his remarkable season. Seth Davis wrote a great piece highlighting him as the top senior and SI.com‘s Brian Hamilton wrote about the star bucking the one-and-done trend to continue to hone his game,  and his relationship with his coach, who is also his father. CBSSPORTS.com‘s Gary Parrish gave Doug a ton of attention this week by looking at whether he will win his first scoring title as well as putting him at the top of his list for NPOY, pointing out the last player to have the numbers he is putting up was Kevin Durant.
  4. The world’s most famous bracketologist, Joe Lunardi, published his latest bracketology yesterday. He has four Big East teams in the field, with Villanova leading the way with a #2 seed. Creighton improved to a six seed and Xavier moved up to an eight seed. Georgetown regressed down to the 10 line after their loss to Providence. Butler was the eighth team out before they lost to DePaul, likely setting them back farther. Creighton and Xavier have impressed and should continue rising if their recent play continues. Seth Davis thinks the league will end up receiving five bids, but the rest of the league’s teams have not been helping their case. As unlikely as it seems now, don’t be surprised if Marquette and Providence make serious runs for berths as both have seemed to turn a corner and have the talent to win big resume boosting games.
  5. Seton Hall solidified their 2014 recruiting class with the addition of Northwestern transfer Chier Ajou. The Sudan native is 7’2″, but failed to see the court often while in Evanston. Ajou has a great story, coming to the United States after being held hostage in his home country. He will be eligible after the first semester next season and joins one of the nations top recruiting classes. The one missing piece for Kevin Willard’s team was at the center position, and he now will have a player in conference play to battle in the post. He has great size and physical tools, and will have the next year to get to know Willard’s system and improve his game. Ajou has the genes as his cousin is Luol Deng, but it will take more than that for him to play big minutes next year.
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Big East M5: 01.08.14 Edition

Posted by George Hershey on January 8th, 2014

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  1. Only a few days after announcing his departure from the Providence basketball team, Brandon Austin has decided to transfer to Eugene to play for Dana Altman and Oregon. The impact of his loss has already been discussed, but Brendan McGair of the Woonsocket Call takes a look at Ed Cooley‘s burden after Kris Dunn was hurt in an exhibition game and the school’s administration suspended two of his players. He points out that Cooley’s job has gotten much more difficult on his quest to transform Providence back into a basketball power. Now in his third year, Cooley has shown he can recruit at a high level but his teams have failed to win enough games to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament. As if things couldn’t get any worse after a 30-point pasting at Villanova on Sunday, Cooley’s house suffered some damage after catching fire earlier this week. Luckily he and his family were safe.
  2. Villanova picked up its second commitment in the class of 2015 with Delaware shooting guard Donte DiVincenzo choosing the Wildcats over Syracuse. DiVincenzo has good size and will probably play shooting guard for Jay Wright’s squad. He can shoot the ball very well, has great athleticism, and looks like a good passer and facilitator. He is the second highly ranked player coming to Villanova next year, and he appears to be a great fit as someone who will be able to learn from Ryan Arcidiacono as a freshman.
  3. Big East teams are finally gaining some respect from Top 25 voters. Villanova rose three spots to eighth in the latest AP poll while Creighton is now 23rd in the USA Today Coaches Poll. Xavier also received some votes for the first time this season, as the Musketeers have impressed with recent wins over Cincinnati, Butler, Alabama, Wake Forest and St. John’s. Xavier hosts Marquette on Thursday and will travel to Creighton for a big tilt on Sunday. Georgetown could also work its way into the rankings over the next two weeks with upcoming games against Butler and Xavier. Reid Forgrave of FoxSports.com thinks that the Big East will improve come March and that some teams — Creighton, Villanova — are setting themselves up nicely while others — Marquette, Seton Hall, Providence — are digging themselves holes.
  4. Creighton was able to pull out a tough win against DePaul last night, but the bigger news of the night for the Bluejays was the injuries sustained by the team’s two best players. Grant Gibbs came down awkwardly at one point and was unable to make it off the court under his own power because of what looked to be a knee injury. He did not return and the severity of the injury is still unknown, but he is expected to undergo an MRI today. Doug McDermott dealt with a shoulder problem all night after running into the Blue Demons’ Sandi Marcius; the NPOY candidate finished the game and said he was fine afterward, but he was clearly hurting throughout. Losing Gibbs for any period of time would be a huge blow to the Bluejays’ long-term success, as Gibbs as the point guard runs one of the nation’s most efficient offenses. Over the summer, Gibbs received a surprising sixth year of eligibility so losing him would be a tragedy for Greg McDermott’s team. Here’s hoping that Gibbs and McDermott both recover quickly from their respective injuries. 
  5. Seth Davis of Sports Illustrated wrote his annual Stock Report piece, taking a look at 63 teams and deciding whether to buy, sell, or hold each going forward. Davis mentions seven Big East teams in his piece. He is optimistic about all three of the league’s new members — Xavier, Butler and Creighton —  as he rates them all a buy. Davis gives Georgetown a hold as the Hoyas have a tough stretch upcoming, but they have proven capable thus far. He gives three teams a sell, with Villanova leading that group because he thinks they won’t be able to keep up their tremendous play all season. He also is selling Marquette because they have been unable to score effectively, and he thinks St. John’s has been terribly disappointing with its over-reliance on D’Angelo Harrison and several bad losses so far this season. Overall, there were some positive signs for most of the teams and this was a fun read for fans.
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Big East M5: 01.06.14 Edition

Posted by George Hershey on January 6th, 2014

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  1. It was a rough weekend for Providence. The Friars took a beating at Villanova on Sunday night after getting news on Saturday that highly-touted freshman Brandon Austin would be transferring from the school. Austin had yet to play a single minute in a Providence uniform because he was suspended before the season (along with fellow freshman Rodney Bullock) for breaking school rules. His departure hurts the Friars’ future prospects considerably, as he was poised to take on a major role next year with the personnel losses of seniors Bryce Cotton and Kadeem Batts. This is on top of the injury to Kris Dunn, which will keep him out for the rest of the season. It is unfortunate that a year that looked so promising has turned into an 0-2 start in conference play with a postseaon berth looking increasingly unlikely.
  2. Last year’s Wisconsin Mr. Basketball, Luke Fischer, a player who decided to attend Indiana over Creighton and Marquette, decided to transfer last week. He took a few days to decide and ultimately picked Marquette over Creighton and Milwaukee as his next destination. Fischer played high school an hour away from Milwaukee and will have the chance to contribute with the Golden Eagles immediately. He will have to sit out until the end of the fall semester, but he will have two -and-a-half seasons upon his return. Anonymous Eagle breaks down the transfer details as well as the scholarship situation for Marquette, which looks like one of the someone will not be making it onto campus next year unless a current player transfers. Paint Touches breaks down the impact and importance of the transfer, as Fischer is expected to fill a big void in the frontcourt with Chris Otule, Davante Gardner and Jamil Wilson graduating.
  3. Seton Hall started Big East play with an overtime win over Providence, but senior leader Eugene Teague looks like he will be out a while dealing with effects from a concussion he suffered a week ago against Lafayette. Teague was still feeling post-concussion symptoms last Thursday, with head coach Kevin Willard saying that he “is going to be out for awhile, that’s just the way it is. He took a really hard fall, and we’re going to be extra cautious and do what’s best for him. Whether its a week, two weeks, three weeks, we just don’t know and we really have to be careful with him and do what’s in his best interest.” The senior is one of the Pirates’ best players and the lack of his presence in the post hurts Seton Hall considerably. Willard has to decide quickly whether he wants to burn freshman Rashed Anthony‘s redshirt to add a big body inside, because it is going to be difficult to play without a center with a very tough stretch against Villanova, Marquette and Georgetown coming up, all in the next two weeks.
  4. Villanova played masterfully against Providence on Sunday but survived a major scare during the blowout victory. Halfway through the second half and with the win already in the bag, Wildcats’ Ryan Arcidiacono and Dylan Ennis ran into each other, leaving the former dazed requiring help to the bench. After being examined by the trainer, he was luckily able to return to action and help the Wildcats finish off the win. Jay Wright assured everyone that “Arch” is just fine. He shot the ball well and hopes to get out of a slump so far this season. After shooting 32 percent from beyond the arc last year, he has slipped to a chilly 25 percent this season. If he can get things going with his jumper, it will be hard for teams to stop the Wildcats as they have a versatile offense that can create points in a number of ways.
  5. Creighton‘s Sports Information Director, Rob Anderson, tweeted out some very interesting stats this weekend as Omaha froze over. Greg McDermott’s program has started 12-2 or 13-1 for the third straight year, and for the fifth time since 2002-03. The only other teams to do that are Syracuse, Missouri, Illinois, Gonzaga and Louisville. To have accomplished strong starts to the season so many times speaks to the consistently high level the team has performed the past decade, joining a number of schools with great basketball history and tradition. Anderson also pointed out how well the Bluejays’ offense performed against San Diego State back in November. Creighton is the only team to score more than 65 points against them this season other than top-ranked Arizona (69), and the Bluejays averaged 1.123 points per possession in that contest. Creighton has climbed the RPI ratings as well, and now sit at 22nd in America. At 2-0 in league play and looking like a team running on all cylinders, the rest of the Big East should be on notice that this team is not going to be intimidated by anything.
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Takeaways from the Big East Opening Day

Posted by George Hershey on January 1st, 2014

What an opener for the new Big East. The league had two overtime thrillers, there was an upset, and all three of the new members impressed. Here are some takeaways from a great day of hoops.

St. John’s vs. Xavier

St. John’s is great in transition, but struggles mightily in the halfcourt:  The Johnnies rushed out to a big lead in the first eight minutes, in large part to their transition offense. They scored their first seven points in transition off of turnovers or running after rebounds. Throughout the game it was evident that the halfcourt offense was not working well and often times ended with a contested jump shot. The Red Storm made a push in the second half by pushing the ball up-court, but ended up settling for tough shots as the game winded down. D’Angelo Harrison, Rysheed Jordan, and Orlando Sanchez all are capable of running the break and Jordan had a great game as he got to the rim, hit some outside shots, and showed a nice pull-up jumper. Many talk about this team’s great talent, but their halfcourt offense is limiting their ability to use their athleticism. If the Johnnies want to win go from an under-achieving team to an NCAA Tournament one, they need to get out in transition, while they improve their offensive sets.

Seton Hall vs. Providence 

Seton Hall can get out of the cellar in the new Big East: What a game! A great double overtime thriller on opening night. Seton Hall showed incredible fight and resolve yesterday as they saw their double digit lead dissolve in the final minutes. Some questionable calls did not help them in the extra sessions, but they made winning plays when it mattered. With starting center Eugene Teague our for the game, Kevin Willard was without his best post player. The Pirates forced the Friars into 14 turnovers, eight in the first half, which helped create  most of the early offense. They limited Bryce Cotton to 1-8 from three and the Friars struggled all night to score. The win should give the team a ton of confidence going forward as Brian Oliver, Brandon Mobley, and Jaren Sina stepped up to make crucial baskets. Sina came off the bench in overtime to hit a three with two minutes left to spark the Pirates. Oliver was the player of the game as his hot shooting provided most of the offense in the second half and Mobley came up time after time, especially with his three free throws with a minute left. This team may have suffered injuries to every significant player thus far, but their win over a high quality opponent while shorthanded is impressive, and there is no reason they cannot build off this win.

Smith Should Be A Bigger Force For Georgetown

DePaul vs. Georgetown:

Joshua Smith needs to produce more offensively: The big fella came in and dominated in his first game against Oregon, but since he was beaten up by Kansas, he has struggled mightily, and yesterday was no difference. Against a smaller and inexperienced front line, he only had five points and one assist, without even recording a rebound. There is no reason why Smith, who has been heralded as an excellent low post scorer since he arrived in UCLA, should not average at least 10 points during conference play. The Hoyas have struggled at times to score so far and Smith is a player who can provide instant offense. He also can create for his teammates by attracting double teams and finding them. Smith needs to get to the line, to get opponents in foul trouble and also get some easy points. The Hoyas have a good team with many pieces that make a winning team, but they could use a player you can dump it down to and let go to work on the block.

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