Providence Offense is Too Reliant on Kyron Cartwright

Posted by Justin Kundrat on February 21st, 2018

As mentioned in Rush the Court‘s season preview on Providence, the key question for Ed Cooley‘s group was whether it could break into the Big East’s upper echelon. The optimistic stance was that a senior-laden group coming off of three consecutive NCAA Tournaments with one of the best point guards in the nation in Kyron Cartwright was bound to turn the corner and take up residence in the Top 25. And yet the Friars, plagued by inconsistency this season, have fallen short. With a 17-10 (8-6 Big East) record heading into tonight’s game against Seton Hall, a fourth straight trip to the Dance seems likely despite a sputtering offense that has frustrated everyone associated with the program. The search for an offensive solution extends in a number of different directions, but it ultimately stops with the play of the Providence seniors. A look under the hood — especially at Cartwright’s offensive production — reveals a team that struggles to effectively score against quality competition. The senior’s shooting figures, in particular, are at a career-high mark, but his performance against top 50 opponents drops considerably.

The above table compares the difference in Cartwright’s KenPom Offensive Rating, effective field goal percentage, and assist rate against top 50 opponents versus the entire regular season. In other words, his junior year Offensive Rating was two percent better in top 50 match-ups (104.9) than throughout the full season (102.6). Player performance should naturally decline against better competition, but Cartwright performed slightly better against those outfits during his junior season. The troubling trend here, however, is the noticeable drop-off that his offensive efficiency has suffered this year against good competition — a 17 percent drop in Offensive Rating, six percent drop in effective field goal percentage and a nominal drop in assist rate. Because of its league-best defense, Providence doesn’t need 20 points per game from Cartwright to be successful, but it desperately needs additional sources of efficient scoring in those key top 50 match-ups.

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Big East Bubble Watch: Volume I

Posted by Justin Kundrat on February 13th, 2018

With about one month remaining until Selection Sunday, the race to secure an NCAA Tournament bid is on. The Big East as a whole has exceeded preseason expectations thus far and is on pace for six or seven bids despite its ongoing intra-league cannibalism. RPI and strength of schedule (SOS) figures are from RPIForecast.com and the NCAA Nitty Gritty Report.

Locks

Could Villanova and Xavier Both Receive #1 Seeds? (USA Today Images)

  • Villanova: 23-2 (10-2); RPI: 3; SOS: 31
  • Xavier: 23-3 (11-2); RPI: 2; SOS: 10

Analysis: These two teams have made things pretty easy for themselves — even losing out would not diminish their NCAA Tournament hopes. Villanova is at this point a near-lock for a #1 seed with a 23-2 overall record and the #3 RPI. On the other hand, Xavier has also climbed to the #1 seed line with Duke’s recent struggles and several losses for the other top teams.

Should Be In

  • Creighton: 18-7 (8-5); RPI: 23; SOS: 48. Analysis: Creighton narrowly avoided what would have been its first bad loss (Quadrant 3/4) of the season last Wednesday, riding a 29-point performance from Marcus Foster to a one-point victory at DePaul. Yes, surrendering 23 points to the Blue Demons’ Marin Maric poses questions about the Bluejays’ interior defense, especially following the season-ending injury to Martin Krampelj. But we have yet to see in what form Greg McDermott‘s team is going to take given an extremely limited frontcourt rotation. The alternative is that with Toby Hegner at the five, Creighton can have five legitimate outside shooting threats on the floor at one time. Despite narrowly missing out on a signature win over Xavier on Saturday, the Bluejays are 8-7 against Quadrant 1/2 teams and should have no problems earning a 10-8 or better conference record.

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Has St. John’s Figured Out an Offense?

Posted by Justin Kundrat on February 6th, 2018

Make no mistake about it, the St. John’s offense is average at best. Its 1.06 points per possession (160th nationally) showing is propped up by decent free throw shooting and a remarkably low turnover rate, but nothing else from three-point shooting to scoring inside to rebounding, is commensurate with the team’s preseason expectations. So while the Red Storm’s stout interior defense and the scoring antics of sophomore guard Shamorie Ponds (20.3 PPG) have kept St. John’s competitive, an 0-11 Big East record tells the full story of its shortcomings.

Shamorie Ponds Lit Up Duke Over the Weekend (USA Today Images)

Coming off a string of four paltry offensive performances in which the team averaged 0.88 points per possession, expectations were understandably low when Duke arrived in New York City on Saturday. Yet, despite a 10 percent implied win probability (per KenPom) and a projected scoring output of 73 points, Chris Mullin‘s group at one point commanded an 11-point second half lead on its way to 81 points and a four-point win. All told, St. John’s hung 1.19 points per possession on the Blue Devils, its second-best effort of the season. Yes, Duke’s defense leaves much to be desired, but it grades out at similar levels as Xavier, Creighton and Georgetown, all of which the Red Storm struggled against (averaging 0.98 PPP).

So, what changed? Was Saturday’s performance a fluke or did St. John’s flip a switch on the offensive end? The answer is probably a mixture of both. For one thing, while a 33-point scoring outburst from Ponds has happened numerous times this season, a more-than-50 percent variance from his average cannot be consistently counted upon. Second, a 47.1 percent outside shooting performance from a team that has connected on just 32.7 percent of its three-pointers is unlikely to be replicated. Looking at game film, however, shows that St. John’s found continued success in pick-and-roll sets. Those sets are the reason Ponds seemingly got to the rim at will, why Justin Simon notched seven assists, and why junior forward Tariq Owens accumulated 17 points.

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Poking Holes in Villanova’s Defense

Posted by Justin Kundrat on January 30th, 2018

It’s easy to extol all of the things at which Villanova has excelled this season: for example, the 20-1 record, a #1 AP poll ranking, and Jalen Brunson‘s Wooden Award candidacy. What’s harder is to find a way in which this team can be beaten. But if there’s one area of the game where the Wildcats have room for improvement, it’s with their 40-minute defensive effort. That’s not at all to say that Jay Wright‘s group has been playing poorly on the defensive end, but allowing 0.959 points per possession (32nd nationally) is actually his team’s worst performance since the 2011-12 season. At halftime on Sunday, with the Wildcats holding a narrow five-point lead, Wright’s frustration went from his standard non-verbal cues to a blunt admission on national TV: “We are playing no defense. None. It’s actually an embarrassment.” So what’s “wrong” with Villanova’s defense?

Jay Wright Knows His Defense Isn’t Up to Snuff This Year (USA Today Images)

For one, Villanova’s short rotation isn’t doing anybody any favors. Three different players have suffered hand injuries, the most recent being starting guard Phil Booth, who was averaging 28.2 minutes per game. The other two are freshmen Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels, both a key source of rest minutes for the starters at the guard and forward positions. As a result, Wright cannot go deeper than a seven-man rotation, pushing almost every starter to more than 30 minutes per contest. It’s no wonder that Villanova ranks 288th nationally in bench minutes. On the other hand, the Wildcats ranked 320th in the same category last year and 217th the year prior, so this isn’t a new wrinkle. While a short rotation can contribute to greater fatigue, the bigger potential explanation is that Wright has his least experienced roster in five seasons — of the seven rotation players, three are freshmen, two of whom play inside.

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Diagnosing a Broken Seton Hall Offense

Posted by Justin Kundrat on January 23rd, 2018

Put simply, Seton Hall‘s season to date has been a roller coaster. After opening the season with impressive wins over Texas Tech and Louisville away from home, the Pirates put up a stinker at Rutgers. They then reeled off five straight victories and held full control of first place in the Big East with an early 3-0 mark. What has followed in the ensuing two weeks has been a 1-3 stretch featuring three of the team’s worst offensive performances of the season. To put that into greater context, here are Seton Hall’s per-game performances, measured by offensive efficiency:

While two of the Pirates’ three recent conference losses have come on the road and none were bad by any means (all were to projected NCAA Tournament teams), it was the way in which the Pirates wallowed that was concerning. There are a number of recent issues with the team’s play, from continued reliance on isolation scoring tactics to slow development of freshmen to opposing defenses pushing center Angel Delgado away from the low post. But the most confounding concern for Seton Hall has been the play of pseudo-point guard Khadeen Carrington.

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Creighton’s Success Has Come from Unexpected Sources

Posted by Justin Kundrat on January 16th, 2018

Despite losing four of its top six scorers from last season’s 25-10 team, Creighton has found itself flirting with the Top 25 and comfortably above the mid-January NCAA Tournament bubble discussions. As the story was expected to go this year, backcourt mates Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas have paced the offense, accounting for 37 percent of the team’s scoring production and 40 percent of its shot attempts. And while Foster has historically been an inefficient scorer and Thomas a better defender than playmaker, the two have formed a tenacious offensive tandem this season, showcasing their abilities to score in virtually any scenario. Some observers assumed that the Bluejays’ offense would sputter or devolve into more isolation sets without the services of point guard Mo Watson or superstar big man Justin Patton, but head coach Greg McDermott has ensured that isn’t the case. The biggest offensive concern heading into this season was how the lost interior production of Patton would be replaced, but Creighton is on pace for its best offensive season since Doug McDermott was still on campus in 2014, and that unlikely success has come from an unexpected source.

Creighton’s Martin Krampelj Has Been a Huge Surprise This Season (USA Today Images)

While Foster and Thomas receive most of the offensive credit, it is actually Martin Krampelj, who averaged under six minutes per game last season, who holds the crown as the team’s most efficient player. In fact, Krampelj owns the highest effective field goal percentage of anyone in the Big East with a greater than 50 percent minute share. His 69.6 percent conversion rate is largely a product of three-quarters of his shot attempts coming right at the rim, but nevertheless, finishing those attempts at an 83 percent clip is astonishing. Krampelj’s role is important for two reasons. First, he is far and away the team’s best and only consistent source of offensive rebounds. McDermott’s system typically does not prioritize offensive rebounding (only 3.9 percent of his team’s shot attempts arise from putbacks), but they remain a highly efficient origin of points. Second, Krampelj’s inside scoring and ability to draw fouls there add offensive diversity to the team’s perimeter-oriented style of play. The 6’9″ forward accounts for nearly a quarter of his team’s shot attempts at the rim and is a huge reason why the Bluejays are having their best success there in years (see below table).

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Big East Notebook: Early Conference Turmoil

Posted by Justin Kundrat on January 9th, 2018

Unsurprisingly, cannibalism within the Big East has proven itself very real again this season. With every team having now played a minimum of three conference games, only Seton Hall remains unbeaten, and even the Pirates have narrowly escaped in all three of their victories. The conference boasts four of its teams in the current AP Top 25 and as many as seven NCAA Tournament bids by March is a realistic possibility. Below are three key takeaways from Big East action over the last two weeks.

Raise Your Hands if You Had Seton Hall as the Last Big East Unbeaten Team (USA Today Images)

  • Providence has rebounded sharply. Even at full strength, Ed Cooley‘s group scraped by in home games against Rider, Brown and Stony Brook. The Friars’ backcourt was then significantly hobbled leading into conference play but the root causes — poor shooting to inconsistent defensive rebounding — seem to have corrected themselves over the last few weeks. Having a healthy Kyron Cartwright back in action has helped as the Friars score 1.11 points per possession (PPP) with him versus 0.99 PPP without. But the most important factor to the team’s success has been the emergence of wing Alpha Diallo as a legitimate offensive threat. In addition to his excellent defense, the sophomore has averaged 13.3 PPG in Big East play by using his mid-range jump shot as a reliable weapon. His outside shooting (21.4% 3FG) leaves something to be desired but, judging by his form, is certainly fixable. On the other end of the floor, his play was a big reason the Xavier duo of Trevon Bluiett and JP Macura combined for just 21 points (10.5 below their season average) in a loss to Providence over the weekend.

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Kamar Baldwin’s Point Guard Play is Driving Butler’s Resurgence

Posted by Justin Kundrat on January 4th, 2018

Just one short week ago with Big East play very near on the horizon, LaVall Jordan‘s Butler squad was sitting on a 10-3 non-conference record that was noticeably lacking in signature wins. Other than a victory over a likely bubble team in Ohio State, the Bulldogs had failed to enhance their resume over any of the other three likely NCAA tournament squads (Maryland, Texas and Purdue). Needless to say, given Butler’s ongoing shooting slump and iffy ball movement, there was cause for concern in Indianapolis around the Bulldogs’ postseason hopes.

And Then This Happened (USA Today Images)

But on the heels of a thrashing comeback win over Georgetown and a words-won’t-do-it-justice shooting performance over then top-ranked Villanova, the Bulldogs have quickly gotten right back on track. The notable turnaround can be attributed to a number of things: senior leader Kelan Martin’s consistency; Paul Jorgensen’s streaky 41.9 percent outside shooting; and, the return of stretch forward Sean McDermott. But most of all, Kamar Baldwin’s over-thinking tendencies at the point guard position have seemed to evaporate, resulting in quicker ball movement and less hesitation in shooting or driving. It’s worth noting that the sophomore guard played the vast majority of last season off the ball, generally delegating point guard duties to one of the team’s two senior guards. But given their departures and freshman Aaron Thompson‘s unfamiliarity with the system, Baldwin has slowly assumed the role this year. While Butler started the season in a time-sharing situation at the position, the below table shows that Baldwin’s minutes without Thompson on the floor have slowly ticked up.

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Big East Notebook: Recapping Non-Conference Play

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 20th, 2017

Conference play in the Big East is a mere week away, which means most teams are quietly wrapping up the non-conference portion of their schedules and looking ahead to the good stuff. Currently ranked third by KenPom’s adjusted efficiency metrics, the conference as a whole has fared in line with expectations thus far. But not every team in the Big East can proclaim a strong start; there has certainly been a reshuffling of the pecking order in the middle of the standings. Here is a recap of several key conference takeaways from over the last few weeks.

Villanova Has Looked Great Through the Non-Conference Season (USA Today Images)

  • Villanova has looked every bit the part of a national title contender. Not only have juniors Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson made a case for being the best one-two combination in college basketball this season, but redshirt freshman Omari Spellman has erased any doubts over about a long adjustment period after his 27-point, eight-rebound outburst against Temple last week. Any of the Wildcats’ six rotation players are capable of scoring in double figures and Wright has gotten encouraging play from of his trio of freshmen. An entire essay could be written about the many things that Villanova does well. If there any areas for future improvement, it would have to be focused on the team’s inside scoring — the Wildcats rank 132nd nationally in shots taken at the rim and 90th in field goal percentage there.
  • Providence has underwhelmed so far, but full judgment isn’t yet justified. The Friars’ 8-3 record is a bit deceiving in that it includes marginal two-possession or fewer wins over Rider, Brown and Stony Brook. Those close victories are largely because Providence’s offense has struggled mightily over the team’s last four games, posting a mere 0.92 points per possession after a 1.17 PPP mark to start the season. A major contributing factor to that decline has been injuries to three key rotation players: Kyron CartwrightAlpha Diallo, and Maliek White. The lingering injury to Cartwright is particularly damaging on the offensive end as he serves as the primarily facilitator and secondary scoring option. Meanwhile, the injured Diallo provides a great degree of defensive versatility while having come into his own as a tertiary scoring option (11.4 PPG more than doubles his scoring from last season). These injuries coupled with a season-ending injury to presumptive starting forward Emmitt Holt have been noticeable setbacks for Ed Cooley’s squad.

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Xavier’s Revamped Offense Starts in the Paint

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 6th, 2017

Anyone who is familiar with Xavier teams of recent years knows that Chris Mack‘s most frequently employed lineup features four perimeter players running a drive-and-dish philosophy that emphasizes excellent spacing. Given that the Musketeers typically have several shooters on the floor at any given time, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that the Musketeers are connecting on 39.1 percent of their perimeter shots (53rd nationally) this season. But the driver of the nation’s third most efficient offense isn’t the offensive rebounding acumen that has buoyed Mack’s last few groups; rather, this year’s team has taken a remarkable leap in its interior scoring. For the purposes of this article and particularly when applying it to Xavier’s four-out offense, interior scoring refers to shots at the rim in the half-court offense in addition to shots in the paint and transition-generated inside scoring. For a team that many figured would seek to replicate last year’s offensive scheme, there have been quite a few notable changes driving this season’s jump in efficiency.

Two. As in more than one way to win for Chris Mack and Xavier. (Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports)

For one, the introduction of graduate transfer Kerem Kanter has given the Musketeers a legitimate low post scoring threat, something that was often lacking a year ago. While the 6’10” forward might sometimes be a defensive liability, he is connecting on a whopping 85 percent of his shots at the rim and is drawing the most per-minute fouls on the team. Read the rest of this entry »

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