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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Maturity, Resilience & Strong Start Has Seton Hall Poised for a Special Season

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 5th, 2017

Picture this: It is March 11, 2015, and Marquette, with a conference record of 4-14, has just laid a 22-point beatdown on Kevin Willard’s Seton Hall team in the #8 vs. #9 game of the Big East Tournament. Marquette would go on to lose to Villanova by 35 points the following afternoon and Seton Hall fans are not happy. Local media and message boards are calling for the head coach’s ouster after five seasons at the helm (without any NCAA Tournament appearances), and Willard even experienced some in-person heckling from Pirate fans the night before. After all, the fans have just witnessed a once promising season that began with a top 15 recruiting class and a 13-3 record crumble to bits in epic fashion as locker room tension destroyed a young and immature team. What would become of that dysfunctional group of freshmen that lost nine of their last 10 games to end the 2014-15 season?

Seton Hall Has Risen From the Ashes of 2015 (USA Today Images)

Exactly 1,000 days later (yes, really), Willard is in the midst of his eighth season in South Orange and those freshmen (minus Isaiah Whitehead, now plying his trade with the Brooklyn Nets) have blossomed into talented seniors. Three of those seniors — Angel Delgado, Desi Rodriguez and Khadeen Carrington — form the only active trio of 1,000-point scorers in college basketball. The Pirates are coming off two consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances and a 2016 Big East Tournament championship run (two feats not seen since the P.J. Carlesimo era of the early 1990s) that included consecutive wins over top-five opponents for the first time in the program’s 114-year history. Willard’s experienced Pirates stand at 7-1 and are ranked 19th nationally following a week in which they won at No. 17 Louisville and defeated No. 22 Texas Tech at the very arena where the program hit rock bottom nearly three years ago. The win at Louisville was Seton Hall’s second true road win against a ranked ACC team in program history, and to date this season, the Pirates are one of only two teams to have recorded four non-conference wins against power conference teams (with three of those coming away from the Prudential Center). The other team? That would be No. 1 Duke.

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Big East Notebook: Recapping Feast Week

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 28th, 2017

With a seemingly infinite number of early season tournaments this year in college basketball, Thanksgiving week becomes one of the sport’s busiest of the year. So in case you missed some of the action while you were busy with family and friends, here is a recap of several of the Big East’s key Feast Week storylines.

Villanova Celebrates Its Battle 4 Atlantis Win (USA Today Images)

  • Villanova hasn’t skipped a beat. This may never have been a real concern but any team that loses three starters will face some degree of uncertainty. That said, while both Purdue and Arizona were busy laying massive eggs in the Bahamas over the weekend, the Wildcats steamrolled its resulting competition to win the Battle 4 Atlantis. One reason for that is that junior Mikal Bridges continues to develop his offensive repertoire. The 6’7″ swingman, known as a highly effective defender whose limited usage masks highly efficient shooting, now takes the most shots on the team. More impressively, his effective field goal percentage is a whopping 70.6 percent this season — connecting on 50 percent of his three-point shots and demonstrating better body control when attacking the rim (66.7% 2FG). Conversely, Omari Spellman‘s freshman campaign is underway and the results to this point have been underwhelming. He is shooting just 38.5 percent at the rim and 23.1 percent from deep while accumulating a total of three points in his last two games. That shouldn’t necessarily be surprising given his relative lack of experience, but it’s worth monitoring as the team prepares for conference play.

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Rodney Bullock’s Inconsistencies Continue to Impact Providence

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 17th, 2017

Given how impressive Providence has been these last few seasons, it’s hard to criticize the program. Ed Cooley has done a terrific job at taking what often appears to be an underwhelming lineup and transforming them into NCAA Tournament caliber players by the end of the season. Last year Big East coaches picked the Friars to finish ninth in the conference standings, and yet they earned a #11 seed and nearly toppled USC in the First Round. In fact, Providence has outperformed its preseason ranking in each of the last four seasons. For that to happen this season, particularly if it involves a longer stay than one game in March, Cooley desperately needs a go-to scorer to emerge.

Rodney Bullock’s Variability is an Issue for the Friars (USA Today Images)

Point guard Kyron Cartwright is a tremendous passer (6.7 APG last season) and one of the best point guards in the country, but he’s better as a playmaker and not a primary scorer. Otherwise, the team is littered with tertiary players who can either shoot or finish inside, but lack in a “give it to this guy with time running out” sort of way. But what about Rodney Bullock, the 6’8″ senior forward who led the team in scoring last season with 15.7 PPG? He’s the obvious option for Cooley, and yet, despite having logged over 70 games, he continues to prove inconsistent. Against #14 Minnesota on Monday, Bullock tallied just 10 points and didn’t provide the aggressiveness necessary for the team to overcome a mounting deficit in the second half. And yet, on Thursday night against Washington, his 17 points and 10 rebounds led the team in both categories.

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Big East Preseason Player Awards

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 10th, 2017

The season is finally upon us, with eight Big East teams taking the floor tonight. Here is the Big East microsite’s preseason Honor Roll.

  • Player of the Year: Trevon Bluiett, Xavier. This award could end up with a number of players depending on how the season turns out, but it’s hard to argue that any single Big East player has as much of an impact on his team as Bluiett. The 6’6″ senior was unstoppable last March, averaging 25.0 PPG in the NCAA Tournament before the Musketeers finally fell to Gonzaga in the Elite Eight. He’s arguably the conference’s best scorer and the Musketeers averaged eight more points per 100 possessions with the versatile wing on the floor. The Xavier offense will be increasingly reliant on his ability to draw the attention of opposing defenses, particularly without the services of Edmond Sumner this year. Provided Bluiett finishes the season as advertised, it’s difficult to imagine many conference players posting punchier stat lines.

Jay Wright will be happy to have Omari Spellman playing this season (Mark Konezny/USA TODAY Sports)

  • Newcomer of the Year: Omari Spellman, Villanova. Before being ruled ineligible, Spellman garnered plenty of attention last offseason as one of Villanova’s highest-rated recruits of the last decade. Now that he has been cleared to play in his second year with the program, the 6’9″ freshman is one of the team’s lone legitimate post presences. Barring foul trouble, Spellman should receive plenty of playing time, making his role as a scorer and low-post defender critical for a team that lacks depth in those areas. There will be plenty of freshmen in the Big East who will make an impact come March, and perhaps several who earn starting roles along the way, but the spotlight will naturally follow the conference’s front-runner, Villanova.

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Big East Preview Part V: Key Questions for Seton Hall & Villanova

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 7th, 2017

With the season just days away, Rush the Court’s Big East preview will tip off its coverage by posing season-defining key questions for each team. Today we tackle Seton Hall and Villanova.

#2 Seton Hall – Can Khadeen Carrington step into the lead guard role?

Khadeen Carrington steps back into the lead role this year for the Pirates. (Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports)

Senior guard Khadeen Carrington, Seton Hall’s leading scorer last year at 17.1 PPG, handled the point guard position only when Madison Jones was on the bench. He instead primarily played alongside Jones, with his offensive production compensating for a pass-first guard who offered more utility on the defensive end. With Jones having graduated last spring, the responsibilities of distributing the ball will now fall to Carrington. It’s worth noting right away that Seton Hall’s offense does not typically rely on heavy ball movement and crisp passing — the Pirates ranked 307th nationally in team assist rate last season. Instead, Willard tends to utilize isolation sets in mismatches while asking his elite rebounding forwards to generate additional scoring chances inside. And from purely a scoring standpoint, Carrington’s shift to the point guard position should be beneficial in that it allows for sharpshooting sophomore Myles Powell to start while leaving the frontcourt nucleus featuring Desi Rodriguez (15.7 PPG) and Angel Delgado (15.2 PPG) intact. From a ball security standpoint, however, there are question marks. Carrington’s assist-to-turnover ratio, while somewhat improved last season, is just 1.2 through a three-year collegiate career. Moreover, the Pirates posted an abysmal 19.5 percent turnover rate last season (245th nationally) that quite frankly cost them an NCAA Tournament victory against Arkansas. Seton Hall is a very interesting team this year, and it’ll be worth tracking both the performance of Carrington at the point and the ongoing development of freshman Jordan Walker, who has been generating some buzz as a suitable backup. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big East Preview Part IV: Key Questions for Providence & Xavier

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 2nd, 2017

With the season just a week away, Rush the Court’s Big East preview will tip off its coverage by posing season-defining key questions for each team. Today we tackle Providence and Xavier.

#4 Providence – How will the Friars fare with heightened expectations?

How Will Ed Cooley’s Group Handle Success? (USA Today Images)

For the past few years it seemed like the Friars, even with Kris Dunn, entered each season as an overlooked group with a chip on its shoulders. This perceived slight seemingly served as motivation, paving the way for four straight 20-win seasons with corresponding NCAA Tournament berths. But now, after several years playing the underrated role, Ed Cooley‘s team in projected among the top tier of the Big East and even finding itself in several preseason Top 25 polls. And rightfully so. The Friars return every key contributor from last season’s 20-13 squad, although starting forward Emmitt Holt is out indefinitely with an abdominal issue. More importantly and regardless of the circumstances, the Providence program under Cooley has regularly exceeded expectations and addressed any uncertainties come March. Leading scorer Rodney Bullock (15.7 PPG) demonstrated an ability to shoulder the scoring load despite being the focal point of opposing defenses last season. Kyron Cartwright seamlessly stepped into the lead guard role vacated by Dunn, finishing fourth nationally in assists per game (6.7 APG). And Cooley’s deliberate pace (270th nationally) has played to the team’s strengths, letting Cartwright execute half-court sets while forcing opponents to churn the shot clock. So now that those questions have been answered, the key factor this season comes down to whether the Friars can take the next step up the ladder and play consistently enough from January to March to compete for the Big East regular season crown.

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Big East Preview Part III: Key Questions for St. John’s and Creighton

Posted by Justin Kundrat on October 30th, 2017

With the season just a few weeks away, Rush the Court’s Big East preview will tip off its coverage by posing season-defining key questions for each team. Today we tackle St. John’s and Creighton.

#6 St. John’s – Will new additions finally bring consistency to the Red Storm?

Chris Mullin returns a much more experienced team this year in the Big Apple. (Anthony Gruppuso/USA TODAY Sports)

Chris Mullin’s group was a fun team to watch last season, playing at one of the fastest tempos in the country and supported by a fearless backcourt duo of Marcus LoVett (15.9 PPG) and Shamorie Ponds (17.4 PPG). But their interest on the offensive end did not directly translate into an efficient half-court offense, nor did it carry over to success on the defensive end. So while the Red Storm were often competitive (7-11 in Big East play), the team’s offense came in spurts from its youthful backcourt or the sporadic contributions of junior Bashir Ahmed. That leaky defense of last season (131st nationally) often appeared to be a function of effort; the Red Storm ranked among the top 50 nationally in both steals and blocks, yet they were one of the worst in defensive field goal percentage (258th). Another year of experience for the youngest team in the conference will certainly bandage the consistency problem, and the biggest benefit should come in the form of its two transfers: Justin Simon (from Arizona) and Marvin Clark (from Michigan State). The duo will function as experienced plug-and-play guys at the forward spots, giving Mullin depth where he needs it most and additional scoring threats should the backcourt suffer an off night. If there’s one thing Johnnies fans have been asking for over the last several seasons, it’s an ability to sustain an occasional high level of play. With it, this team becomes a legitimate dark horse. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big East Preview Part II: Key Questions for Marquette & Butler

Posted by Justin Kundrat on October 25th, 2017

With the season just a few weeks away, Rush the Court’s Big East preview will tip off its coverage by posing a season-defining key question for each team. Last week we covered DePaul and Georgetown.

#8 Marquette – Will there be enough talent on the defensive end to support the run and gun offense?

Wojo Looks to Build on His First NCAA Tournament Appearance (USA Today Images)

The Golden Eagles may not have been a transition-oriented team last season (131st nationally in percentage of shots coming in transition), but they could certainly put points up in a hurry. The tremendously efficient offense, supported by a nation-leading three point percentage (42.9%), provided for plenty of entertainment, including a comeback victory over top-ranked Villanova in January. What’s causing Marquette fans to get excited and opponents to get overly anxious this time around is that the Eagles’ top three shooters are back. Backcourt mates Andrew Rowsey and Markus Howard are joined by stretch forward Sam Hauser to form what should once again be a punishing trio. The not-so-exciting part — Marquette’s defense — is another story. Watching the ball drop through the net is fun, but blown defensive assignments and paltry interior defense are not. The Golden Eagles allowed their opponents to shoot a blistering 68.9 percent at the rim last season, good for 10th worst in college basketball. Furthermore, one of the only two players who stands above 6’7″ is now gone, and freshmen and a midseason transfer from SMU are expected to fill the void. Moreover, the team loses arguably its best perimeter defender in JaJuan Johnson. It’s never comforting to point to newcomers as a way to shore up stark defensive holes, but that’s the position Marquette finds itself in this season. Should Steve Wojciechowski‘s team gel on the defensive end, this team could very easily find itself back in the NCAA Tournament.

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Big East Preview Part I: Key Questions for DePaul & Georgetown

Posted by Justin Kundrat on October 19th, 2017

With the season just a few weeks away, Rush the Court’s Big East preview will tip off its coverage by posing season-defining key questions for each team.

#10 DePaul – Is this the year the Blue Demons finally embrace perimeter-oriented basketball?

DePaul’s Dave Leitao Needs a Good Season (USA Today Images)

DePaul hasn’t had a team that finished among the top 100 in three-point shooting in 13 years. That’s right, the last time the Blue Demons posed any sort of perimeter threat was the same year Connecticut’s Emeka Okafor was embarrassing opponents in the post. Last year’s squad had just one player shooting better than 35 percent from deep, and he graduated. So it should come as no surprise that DePaul has struggled mightily on the offensive end of the floor, relying on a hard-to-watch “free throws and rebounding” offense, to which most teams responded by simply packing the paint. Thankfully help is on the way in the form of a pair of wings who have the potential to reshape the offense. The first is Max Strus, a 6’6″ Division II standout sporting a career 35.7 percent mark from deep. The second is Ohio State transfer Austin Grandstaff, a player who saw little court time with the Buckeyes but was a highly-touted perimeter shooter coming out of high school. Both will see significant minutes on the wing alongside leading scorer Eli Cain. The hope is that these three will provide enough spacing and production for the Blue Demons to run a perimeter-oriented offense. Moreover, 6’10” graduate transfer Marin Maric, the team’s only post player with any real experience, shot 46.9 percent on two-point jumpers last season, which is better than all but one of Dave Leitao‘s players. Big men who can consistently knock down shots out of pick-and-rolls don’t grow on trees. Bottom line here: There is a variety of shooting threats on the roster, so perhaps this is finally the year in which DePaul starts to run an efficient half-court offense. Let’s not go any further than that just yet.

#9 GeorgetownWill Patrick Ewing’s legacy at Georgetown carry over to coaching?

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