Big East Key Offseason Questions

Posted by Justin Kundrat on April 26th, 2017

The long offseason days of transfers, NBA Draft declarations and coaching changes are now upon us. This time of year has a way of inspiring hope that next season will bring about improvement, that maybe this time things will be different. Below is a list of a few key questions that Big East teams will attempt to solve over the coming six months.

Patrick Ewing Takes Over the Proud Hoyas Program (USA Today Images)

  • How successful will Patrick Ewing be at Georgetown? The biggest Big East storyline this offseason has been Georgetown’s decision to part ways with 13-year head coach John Thompson III. In his wake arrives Patrick Ewing, the former Hoyas’ superstar who most recently spent time in the NBA as an assistant coach. Ewing is inexperienced in both collegiate recruiting and coaching but he is an intriguing hire on brand name alone. The premise that Georgetown is hoping for is that a well-known face on the sidelines will rejuvenate a lethargic fan base and attract a level of talent that Thompson had failed to corral during his last few seasons. Ewing will have his hands full in restoring a team that loses its two leading scorers in Rodney Pryor (18.0 PPG) and LJ Peak (16.3 PPG) as well as a de-commitment from prized recruit Tremont Waters. For now, unfair of not, Ewing will receive the Chris Mullin at St. John’s treatment: benefit of the doubt with heavy expectations setting in after a couple seasons.

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Quantifying the Impact of Kamar Baldwin, Butler’s Unsung Hero

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 22nd, 2017

As Chris Holtmann’s group of Bulldogs head to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in six years, the underpinnings of “Butler basketball” are increasingly apparent. Statistically, this is the most efficient offensive unit in the last 16 seasons at the school. The offseason addition of sharpshooter Avery Woodson (42.9% 3FG), the remarkably effective play of point guard Tyler Lewis, and the midseason revival of leading scorer Kelan Martin have caused opponents to struggle with a brand of team-oriented basketball that trots out five legitimate scoring threats at any given time. It is therefore no surprise that such an experienced group comfortably executes its offensive sets at its own pace while minimizing turnovers. The tangential storyline, however, resides on the defensive end of the floor — the virtually unquantifiable impact of freshman guard Kamar Baldwin.

Kamar Baldwin’s Defense Has Helped Butler to the Sweet Sixteen (USA Today Images)

For the uninitiated, Baldwin is a former three-star recruit whose presence in the Bulldogs’ recruiting class was largely overshadowed by that of 6’10” center Joey Brunk, one of the highest regarded incoming big men this season. It was expected that Baldwin would provide backcourt depth alongside the returning starters and incoming transfers Avery Woodson and Kethan Savage, but a more significant impact was felt right out of the gate. Baldwin quickly slid into a role as defensive disruptor, providing relentless on-ball pressure and using his lateral quickness to cut off driving lanes and reroute passes. In fact, the Bulldogs rank 11th nationally in defensive assist rate — opponents assisting on just 43.7 percent of their baskets, compared with the national average of 52.1 percent — in large part because of Baldwin’s efforts.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Big East Teams

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 12th, 2017

Below is a review of how the selection process concluded for each Big East team and what they should expect in the first few rounds of the NCAA Tournament.j

The Champs Are Ready to Defend Their Title (USA Today Images)

  • Villanova, #1 seed, East Region. The Wildcats got what everyone was expecting: a trip to Buffalo followed by a short commute to Madison Square Garden, the venue of their recent Big East championship, if they can notch two more wins this week. In terms of specific match-ups, Jay Wright‘s team should have no problem disposing of its #16 seed play-in-game winner. The more intriguing game would come next against Wisconsin, a team that opened the season 21-3 before stumbling down the stretch in February and March. The Badgers could give Villanova a run for their money, given their propensity for slowing the pace and playing tenacious defense — not to mention their NCAA Tournament chops and outstanding coaching.
  • Butler, #4 seed, South Region. A #4 seed usually gets the treat of a #13 mid-major that has dominated its conference — Winthrop from the Big South fits the mold. The Eagles finished 15-3 in conference play, but the league ranked 28th of 32 Division I conferences this season (per KenPom). The Eagles’ uptempo style of play, while entertaining, should falter against Butler’s deliberate defensive schemes. The only potential downfall is if Winthrop, a top 50 team nationally in three-point shooting, gets hot early and forces Butler to play from behind.

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Rushed Reactions: Villanova 74, Creighton 60

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 11th, 2017

RTC’s Justin Kundrat (@justinkundrat) is providing on-site coverage of the Big East Tournament all week long.

Villanova Just Keeps Winning (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. It’s going to take a confluence of factors for Villanova to lose. As Butler proved this season, Villanova is beatable only under a perfect set of circumstances. Namely, an off shooting night from the Wildcats and opposing personnel that are capable of slowing the game to a crawl and turning it into a rock fight. Villanova struggles with defensive-minded teams that successfully clog the paint and force them to settle for jump shots. Across its three losses this season, Villanova attempted a significantly higher than average number of three-pointers. But few teams have the personnel to warp the driving lanes of Josh Hart and Jalen Brunson, a critical source of scoring and ball movement.
  2. Josh Hart has cemented his place as National Player of the Year. With the ever-improving play of Brunson and the emergence of Donte DiVincenzo as a lights-out shooter, Hart’s NPOY campaign took a back seat for a while. But he always seems to show up at the right times, whether by forcing his way into the lane to generate offense or coming up with a loose ball on the defensive end. Given Villanova’s strong play lately and Hart’s “do-it-all” role, it’s difficult to argue against him winning the award. And if there was a good guy of the year award, Hart would probably win that too.
  3. For better or worse, Creighton remains highly match-up dependent. On one end, the Bluejays’ spread offense is well-equipped to deal with a variety of opposing defenses (although its effectiveness lately has been tied to streaky shooting). However, the team has struggled on the defensive end, particularly against perimeter-oriented teams that rely heavily on ball movement to exploit out of position defenders. Xavier, Marquette and Villanova all fit this mold, and perhaps unsurprisingly, all have posted highly efficient games in their battles with Creighton.

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Rushed Reactions: Creighton 75, Xavier 72

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 10th, 2017

RTC’s Justin Kundrat (@justinkundrat) is providing on-site coverage of the Big East Tournament all week long.

Marcus Foster’s Big Shot Carried Creighton to the Finals (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Consistent play from Justin Patton is a major determinant of Creighton’s postseason success. He’s gotten some flak lately for inconsistent scoring and sub-par defense but the numbers don’t lie. With the 7’0″ freshman on the floor, Creighton allows just 0.95 points per possession — when he’s on the bench, this number stands at 1.06. For a 70-possession game, this amounts to a difference of seven points allowed per game. Moreover, Patton’s impact on the offensive end as a catch-and-finish rim threat and capable three-point shooter have been long admired by scouts, and Friday night’s output was a perfect showcase: Patton poured in a highly efficient 21 points on 10-for-13 shooting.
  2. Xavier’s inexperience at the point guard position is overblown. Obviously, the injury to Edmond Sumner does more harm than good, but freshman Quentin Goodin has come a long way in averaging 7.4 points and 5.2 assists per game in his absence. There are many similarities to their games, notably the ability to channel well-timed passes to the post and a tendency to attack the basket, making Goodin an ideal substitute. As such, while the freshman isn’t nearly the same finisher as his counterpart, his recent bout of confidence has given Chris Mack‘s four-out perimeter offense much more room to run with results following.
  3. Tonight marked a revival of two struggling offenses. Xavier’s turnaround got underway earlier this week after a string of poor performances marked by questionable shot selection and decision-making. Meanwhile, Creighton broke a three-game skid of sub-32 percent three-point shooting, an unusual slump for a team that is averaging 40 percent on the season. Needless to say, confidence plays a vital role in offensive efficiency and both teams are turning things around at the right time.

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Rushed Reactions: Villanova 55, Seton Hall 53

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 10th, 2017

RTC’s Justin Kundrat (@justinkundrat) is providing on-site coverage of the Big East Tournament all week long.

Seton Hall’s Angel Delgado Expressed His Agony After the Buzzer (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Villanova’s defensive versatility once again saved the day. Even though the team’s 1-2-2 full court press hasn’t been as effective as last season, Wright still successfully employed it interchangeably with a 2-3 zone and its patented switching man-to-man tonight. Throwing out different looks not only forces opponents to re-adjust their offensive sets, but it also takes valuable time off the shot clock. Despite a lack of height and Eric Paschall’s lingering foul trouble, the Wildcats’ defense challenged Seton Hall’s paint-dominant and relentless style of play, holding the Pirates to just 0.90 points per possession and ultimately curtailing Angel Delgado‘s 13-game double-double streak.
  2. Seton Hall’s half-court offense has come a long way since November. Much has been said about the post-Isaiah Whitehead adjustment period, but over the last few weeks this team looks radically different in its half-court execution. Even though forward Desi Rodriguez is still struggling with his outside shot, his dribble-drive threat remains the team’s most reliable source of scoring opportunities. Being able to attack the rim with his 215-pound frame also provides the benefit of room and rebounding chances for Delgado, the nation’s leading rebounder. Seton Hall’s lack of a true passing point guard is unquestionably overcome by its penchant for attacking the rim in one-on-one situations.
  3.  At the end of the day, playmaking abilities won out. At the risk of sounding too cliché, this could not have proven truer on Friday night. In a game between two down-tempo, physical teams, the total score barely eclipsed the century mark. The 59-possession affair put a premium on making the most of limited opportunities in the closing minutes; supported by both Josh Hart and Jalen Brunson, Villanova simply had the better playmakers.

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Highlighting the Changes that Revived Xavier’s Lost Season

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 10th, 2017

Staring into the abyss of a lost season appears to have sent a message bleak enough to stir Xavier. The problems were numerous: the loss of star point guard Edmond Sumner, inconsistent contributions from interior players, a confused defensive identity, and an increasingly frustrated fan base. Riding a six-game losing streak into this week’s Big East Tournament put Chris Mack’s group dangerously close to the NCAA Tournament cut line, all but demanding an immediate and drastic turnaround if the season was to be saved. While a reversion to its earlier form remains somewhat unlikely, three strong performances (the latest coming in a momentous defeat of #2 seed Butler on Thursday night) have offered glimpses of a team not yet ready to end its season. Perhaps the most confidence-inspiring aspect of the three-game role reversal is that it isn’t attributable to streaky hot shooting performances. Instead, Xavier’s strong play has resulted from three areas: a renewed focus on attacking the paint, more frequent defensive switching, and the improved play of graduate transfer Malcolm Bernard.

Xavier Has Started Looking Like Xavier Again (USA Today Images)

The injury to Sumner has already been discussed at length, and the result, aside from the obvious loss of a key playmaker, has been a reduction in high efficiency shots around the rim. As the below table shows, the 6’6″ guard led the team in shot creation opportunities in the paint, taking a whopping 54 percent of his shots at the rim.

 

In Sumner’s absence, Xavier’s tendencies have, quite understandably, drifted toward the preferred scoring methods of Bluiett and Macura: jump shots. The overlooked problem with this arrangement is that it significantly simplifies things on the defensive end for opponents, especially given Xavier’s lack of low post scoring options. Accordingly, since Sumner’s injury, Xavier’s shooting rate around the basket and free throw rate have notably declined.

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The Evolution of Kyron Cartwright Parallels Providence’s Surge

Posted by Eugene Rapay on March 9th, 2017

Heading into the season, there wasn’t much to expect from Providence. The Friars had just said their early goodbyes to all-Big East talents Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil, both of whom were drafted by the NBA. They were projected to finish ninth in the Big East, a prediction that was attributed to significant roster shakeup and a number of reserves stepping into bigger roles for the first time. Junior point guard Kyron Cartwright was one of those players next in line, facing the burden of not only becoming a first-time starter but also the pressure of being Dunn’s successor.

-friarbasketball.com

At first, he and the Friars lived up to their low expectations. Ed Cooley’s squad feasted on a weak non-conference schedule that featured nine teams outside of the RPI top 100, finishing 10-3 against those teams. This included a 2-2 showing against the four top-tier opponents, beating Vermont and Rhode Island but losing to Ohio State and Virginia. It also included an embarrassing road loss to Boston College just before Big East play began.

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Previewing the 2017 Big East Tournament

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 8th, 2017

Here we are again: four straight days of Big East basketball in the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden. The conference is likely to follow up last season’s five-bid NCAA Tournament mark with seven teams this year, all of which will be vying for better seeding this week in New York. The other three teams are looking at a frenzied series of as many as four straight games, their only avenue to the Dance in what would be a surprising run to the Big East Championship.

Here’s a printable version of the bracket: 2017 Big East Tournament Bracket

And the Winner is: Villanova

The obvious but boring pick. Even amid a slew of injuries and an undersized but shockingly effective lineup, the Wildcats have again found their way to the top of the Big East totem pole. Few teams have been able to slow down an offense churning out 1.23 points per possession — as a matter of fact, games at Butler (0.99) and at St. John’s (0.99) were Villanova’s only two instances under 1.0 PPP. Sophomore star Jalen Brunson is arguably the most underrated point guard in the country, embracing an old-school style of play that lulls defenders to sleep before blowing by them. Every rotation player with the exception of one is a capable three-point shooter, and the incessant ball screen switching on the defensive end has remained effective because entry passes are such a persistent headache. There are some chinks in the armor, however, as Butler has demonstrated. Crowding the paint on drives and staying down on ball fakes can slow the offense, occasionally causing this team to lose its mojo.

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After a Forgettable Regular Season, What Does Georgetown Do Now?

Posted by Chris Stone on March 7th, 2017

Sitting directly in front of the Georgetown student section during the Hoyas’ 81-55 blowout loss to Villanova on Saturday, it wasn’t difficult to hear the occasional chants regarding coach John Thompson III directed toward the school’s administration. Whether it was some variation of “Fire Thompson” or “We Want Change,” a vocal collection of students made their feelings clear — after what will likely be consecutive seasons of missing the NCAA Tournament (and three of four campaigns), they’re ready for a new regime. What’s less clear is how Thompson himself feels about those chants. When he was asked about it afterward, a school official stepped in and requested that reporters limit their questions to those related to the game. The uncertainty surrounding the Hoyas’ program, however, is something worth examining, and it starts with trying to figure out what is going to happen with Thompson.

Georgetown is in an unenviable position with regards to John Thompson III. (Matt Slocum/Associated Press)

The available evidence seems to suggest that change isn’t coming to Georgetown anytime soon. That was the conclusion of ESPN’s Jeff Goodman after speaking to four ex-players who, on the condition of anonymity, suggested that a move is necessary. But institutional inertia in support of Thompson is very strong. His father, John Thompson, Jr., built the program to national prominence in the 1980s and the school recently opened a $62 million practice facility with “Big John’s” name on it. Add in the younger Thompson’s history of success that — although starting to feel rather dated — includes a trip to the Final Four, and it becomes more understandable that Georgetown is willing to give him more time to correct course. Read the rest of this entry »

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