Big East Key Offseason Questions: Part II

Posted by Justin Kundrat on April 13th, 2016

The NCAA Tournament is now behind us and the days of transfers, NBA Draft declarations and coaching moves are upon us. April signals yet another ending, as we tear down everything we knew and build anew. The offseason has a way of inspiring hope that a new season will bring about improvement, that maybe this time things will be different. Consider where the Big East’s very own Villanova was just one year ago this spring. That unknown is why the offseason is such an intriguing time. Below is a list of key questions that each Big East team will attempt to solve over the coming six months. Part One, which included Butler, Creighton, DePaul, Georgetown and Marquette, can be viewed here.

ProvidenceWhat happens to Ben Bentil?

Ben Bentil Broke Out Big Time This Year (USAT Sports)

Ben Bentil Broke Out Big Time This Year (USAT Sports)

It’s a shortsighted question but the answer plays a large role in Providence’s long-term outlook. If Bentil leaves school this offseason, Ed Cooley will have to replace two players (along with Kris Dunn) who accounted for 51 percent of his team’s scoring, a virtually insurmountable task for this program. Rising junior Kyron Cartwright came into his own as a distributor this season, although his passing figures to be hampered without the All-American around to convert for him. His absence would force one of Providence’s role players to assume greater scoring duties, and the most likely candidate for that role is Rodney Bullock, a 6’8″ forward with a streaky shooting touch. It would be silly to completely write off this team off without Bentil returning, but having him back for his junior season would certainly put the Friars back into NCAA Tournament consideration. Providence fans will undoubtedly be on the edge of their seats for the next month.

Seton Hall: How will the Pirates’ defense fare without Derrick Gordon?

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Big East Key Offseason Questions: Part I

Posted by Justin Kundrat on April 12th, 2016

The NCAA Tournament is now behind us and the days of transfers, NBA Draft declarations and coaching moves are upon us. April signals yet another ending, as we tear down everything we knew and build anew. The offseason has a way of inspiring hope that a new season will bring about improvement, that maybe this time things will be different. Consider where the Big East’s very own Villanova was just one year ago this spring. That unknown is why the offseason is such an intriguing time. Below is a list of key questions that each Big East team will attempt to solve over the coming six months.

ButlerWho will replace the scoring void left behind by Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones?

Kellen Dunham, Butler's third all-time leading scorer, won't be easily replaced. (Photo: Getty)

Kellen Dunham, Butler’s third all-time leading scorer, won’t easily be replaced. (Photo: Getty)

Butler has appeared in several “way too early” Top 25 rankings with little explanation as to why. The team will lose four of its seven rotation players, with Dunham and Jones having accounted for 38 percent of its scoring output this season. Rising junior hybrid forward Kelan Martin (15.7 PPG) will assume the duty of primary scorer, having already demonstrated an ability to do so numerous times. The question marks come next. Forward Andrew Chrabascz seemingly regressed as the season proceeded, although his potential as a stretch forward within Butler’s offense is intriguing. The remaining offensive responsibility will fall on George Washington transfer Kethan Savage and senior Tyler Lewis, with the hope that incoming freshman Joey Brunk can also contribute.

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Three Key Factors For Villanova Tonight…

Posted by Justin Kundrat on April 4th, 2016

One game remains in the 2015-16 college basketball season and the storylines surrounding it are plentiful. Villanova and North CarolinaKenpom‘s #1 and #2 teams, will square off in a battle between the most statistically efficient offenses in the nation. Two-point shooting aside, however, these teams could not be more different. The former bases its scoring attack on guard play — all of which are proficient shooters and slashers — while spotting a lone big man inside to aid with ball movement and spacing. The latter runs an offense heavily predicated on second chance points with the focus on getting the ball to its dominant frontcourt players in scoring position. North Carolina thrives in transition and pushes the ball frequently off of defensive rebounds; Villanova has succeeded by running controlled half-court sets. Tonight should come down to two different styles: winning with size vs. winning with spacing. Below are three keys that will decide the champion.

Josh Hart and Villanova Seek to Take Home Its Second National Title (USA Today Images)

Josh Hart and Villanova Seek to Take Home the School’s Second National Title (USA Today Images)

  1. North Carolina’s ability to successfully make entry passes and establish post position. Villanova’s numerous defensive schemes have been wildly effective when it comes to stifling opposing offenses. Its guards put constant pressure on ball-handlers, forcing difficult entry passes (see: Kansas’ Perry Ellis) that often result in bigs catching the ball out of scoring position. Marcus Paige is far from turnover prone, but Villanova’s 2-3 half-court zone set could complicate his entry passes. Moreover, Villanova’s guards time their low post double-teams well, limiting easy scoring opportunities in the paint. Given how heavily UNC relies on inside scoring, the time that Villanova’s guards spend playing help defense on Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks will be worth monitoring. The other key factor here will be Daniel Ochefu’s foul situation – his team’s help defense will have to be aggressive to avoid putting the Villanova big man in dangerous spots. Read the rest of this entry »
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Breaking Down Villanova’s Enhanced 1-2-2 Zone Press

Posted by Justin Kundrat on April 1st, 2016

Jay Wright’s teams have long employed a 1-2-2, three-quarter-court press as a variant to its standard halfcourt man-to-man defense. This has been partly used as a way to force turnovers, but it also helps the Villanova defense by burning valuable time off the shot clock. Its efficacy largely hinges on its personnel. Villanova has always had talented backcourts with proven abilities to score, but the necessary buy-in on the defensive end has only occurred in recent years. As a result, the zone press has experienced a significant uptick in usage — a testament to both Jay Wright‘s acknowledgement of its success and increased practice time in mastering its implementation. But the biggest development in this defensive scheme hasn’t been just added practice time — rather, the arrival of freshman Mikal Bridges has drastically improved the defensive scheme. Bridges gives Villanova a deceptively long, athletic wing with above-average foot speed who can wreak havoc within this extended defense.

The set-up of the 1-2-2 is as follows. The most important position is the player circled in red at the top, whose job it is to force the opposing ball-handler to one side of the floor.

Some of the more aggressive variations of the 1-2-2 press will attempt to trap the ball-handler in his own backcourt. While that strategy may force more turnovers, the downside is that it leaves the press exposed on the other end of the floor — especially true if the opponent has multiple ball-handlers. Wright’s adjustment is that Villanova presses in a more passive manner. The first objective is to bait the dribbler into throwing a pass, whereby players 1 -3 will aggressively pursue anything thrown over the top.

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Why Villanova’s Offense Is So Lethal

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 22nd, 2016

Let’s clear the air about something: Villanova is not a three-point reliant team in the traditional sense. A few rare instances aside, this is not a unit that will simply fire shots from the perimeter because three points is worth more than two. There is a logic behind its strategy, one that insists that Jay Wright‘s group is much more balanced than people think. The threes taken are seldom contested, a product of Villanova’s mechanical drive-and-dish offense that forces opponents to make a decision between preventing a layup or a three. And his personnel fits the system perfectly: Josh Hart is an incredibly effective finisher off the dribble; Daniel Ochefu is a deceivingly smart passer out of the low post; and Kris JenkinsRyan Arcidiacono and others are all strong shooters who force defenders to stay honest. There’s a reason Villanova is one of the most effective teams in the country at the rim (68.7%; 12th nationally) despite having only one player standing 6’8″ or taller. The four-out, one-in offense perfected by the NBA champion Golden State Warriors has allowed Villanova to become a lethal offensive group. Let’s take a look at how they run it.

First and foremost are a series of high-screens that puts pressure on opposing big men. Playing off the ball to defend the screener leaves the ball-handler with an open look, certain to be the wrong decision when defending a team full of shooters.

 

Hedging hard, however, forces a third defender to pick up the screener and leaves a different player open. Given how well Villanova spreads the floor, the decision by a defense to hedge is a gamble that the tertiary defender will be quick enough to recover to the perimeter.

 

Post play is also an important part of Villanova’s offense. For all of the talk about the guards, Ochefu and Darryl Reynolds convert field goals at rates in the 60 percent range, and both use a variety of post moves to score. This low-post effectiveness calls for another forced defensive decision: double-down on the post or sacrifice a high percentage shot.

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Big East’s Burning Questions: NCAA Tournament Edition

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 16th, 2016

With five NCAA Tournament teams seeded anywhere from #2 to a #9, the expectations for the Big East this season are all over the map. Let’s take a look at the single biggest question surrounding the postseason success of each program heading into the first weekend.

Is this the year Jay Wright and company finally make their long awaited run to the Final Four? (Getty)

Is this the year Jay Wright’s group finally makes another run? (Getty)

VillanovaCan the Wildcats finally break through to the Sweet Sixteen? This narrative has seemingly lasted forever. After a number of exits in the Second Round, many pundits are writing off Jay Wright‘s squad. The reasons are all over the place: a lack of true NBA-level talent; a lack of interior depth; limited athleticism; over-reliance on the three-pointer. But what the narrative fails to capture is that the team’s dynamic continues to evolve with each passing year — players gain experience, develop new skill sets and build cohesion. People desperately wanted to craft the three-point shooting storyline around this year’s team but it simply hasn’t held up. Yes, Villanova shoots threes, but they are rarely contested. They are simply a manifestation of an offense where the primary options are to use Josh Hart in the lane or Daniel Ochefu on the low block. Iowa isn’t the type of team to give Villanova problems, nor is an undersized and poor-shooting Temple team. Expect the narrative to finally unwind this March.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Big East

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 13th, 2016

In terms of the bubble, there was little surprise about the five Big East teams that were going to make the Big Dance. Rather, the biggest outstanding question was how their draws would play out. For a number of the middle-seeded teams, first weekend matchups mean nearly everything for postseason success. Below is a review of how the selection process concluded for each Big East team and what they should expect for the first few rounds of the NCAA Tournament.

Villanova, #2 seed, South Region. A surprising and frustrating choice for many Villanova fans. Few expected to receive a #1 seed after losing to Seton Hall last night, but many expected the opportunity to play in the Philadelphia regional rather than being shipped to the South region. Nevertheless, Villanova’s opening pod is a favorable one. The Wildcats handily beat Temple on its own floor a few weeks ago and Iowa has struggled mightily over its last 10 games. The Hawkeyes should beat the Owls, but their guard play is weak and the team has no dominant interior presence. A matchup against Villanova would be a battle of wings against a team that isn’t particularly strong at defending the paint. On paper, Villanova should handle it well.

Villanova's Big East Title Game Loss May Have Cost Them A #1 Seed (USA Today Sports)

Villanova’s Big East Title Game Loss May Have Cost Them A #1 Seed (USA Today Sports)

Xavier, #2 seed, East Region. Xavier should be happy with this placement. Weber State won lot of games but succeeded only once over a team in KenPom‘s top 150. Looking forward, Pittsburgh and Wisconsin are the Musketeers’ possible second round opponents — both are big, physical teams that play a slower-paced game. Neither is particularly adept at forcing turnovers, a point of weakness for the Musketeers, but Wisconsin is probably the more dangerous team. Given the Badgers’ impressive recent stretch (winners of 10 of its last 13 games) and ability to control tempo, Xavier will need to bring its best game. It says here, however, that Wisconsin will struggle to shoot well enough to challenge Chris Mack’s team.

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Ismael Sanogo is the Key to Seton Hall’s Success

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 13th, 2016

When Ismael Sanogo committed to Seton Hall in July 2013, few outside of those within the program took notice. Here was a player who chose a struggling Seton Hall team four months removed from a 3-15 Big East season (its worst in 28 years) over the likes of recent Final Four participant VCU, George Mason, Saint Joseph’s and Pennsylvania. At that moment, any of those schools could have looked like better options to a 17-year-old Sanogo. He could have seen more playing time as a freshman in a conference like the Atlantic 10 or pursue an elite education from an Ivy League school. Instead, the local kid from Newark decided to stay home and commit to Kevin Willard’s struggling Big East program.

USA TODAY Sports

Ismael Sanogo has developed into a major contributor as a sophomore for surging Seton Hall. (Credit: Tommy Gilligan/USA TODAY Sports)

The initial scoop on Sanogo was a wiry defense-first tweener who needed time to develop his body and offensive game. At 6’6″ and 185 pounds, Sanogo needed to bulk up in order to contribute at the college level. Fast forward to his 2014-15 freshman season and “Ish” would not find himself getting off of Willard’s bench very often. Sanogo received an average of only 5.3 minutes per game in just 18 of Seton Hall’s 31 games as the Pirates lost nine of their last 10 games after beginning with a 15-6 record. It was an ugly end to a once-promising season as outside distractions and chemistry issues sunk the Pirates’ ship.

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Rushed Reactions: Seton Hall 78, Villanova 76

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 12th, 2016

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

Seton Hall Shocked the World With Its Run to the Big East Title (USA Today Images)

Seton Hall Shocked the World With Its Run to the Big East Title (USA Today Images)

  1. Isaiah Whitehead proved he is the most talented player in the Big East. There isn’t a better player around when it comes to hitting clutch shots and making things happen offensively. Time and time again, head coach Kevin Willard put the ball in Whitehead’s hands and let him create something. And create he did. Tonight’s 26-point effort was the result of an endless stream of floaters in the lane, savvy moves to create space for shots, and a game-winning play down the stretch where he drew contact and finished an old-fashioned three-point play. It’s his uncanny ability to score combined with a penchant for putting his teammates in good position that makes Whitehead the best all-around player in the conference. The 6’4 sophomore has always had talent but his decision-making has caught up with his skill set. Gone are the forced passes and ill-advised shots; what remains is a heady player who now makes the right plays at the right times. Seton Hall is the clear beneficiary.
  2. Daniel Ochefu‘s injury takes away the best part of Villanova’s offenseThe 6’11” center has played in limited minutes this week due to an ongoing ankle injury, which he re-aggravated against Seton Hall tonight. Backup Darryl Reynolds was more than sufficient on the defensive end and held his own on the glass, but problems arose when it came to offense. Reynolds isn’t nearly the passer that Ochefu is, thereby eliminating the inside-out game that allows Villanova to generate open three-point shots. Instead, Seton Hall rarely doubled down on him and were quick to close out on Villanova’s shooters and force them to drive into traffic. Jay Wright will absolutely need Ochefu healthy should the Wildcats hope to make a run in the NCAA Tournament.
  3. Seton Hall will no longer surprise teams in the NCAA TournamentIn back-to-back games, Kevin Willard’s group knocked off the #5 and #3 teams in the country and now have the full attention of every media outlet and head coach from coast to coast. These statement wins have given Seton Hall its first Big East championship in 23 years but have also correspondingly put a giant target on its back. After being continuously overlooked for much of this season, this team often succeeded by playing with a chip on its shoulder, but that will change as Seton Hall will no longer catch anybody by surprise.

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Rushed Reactions: Seton Hall 87, Xavier 83

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 12th, 2016

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways:

Khadeen Carrington starred in another Seton Hall victory. (Credit: (USA Today Sports Images)

  1. Derrick Gordon changed the tide in the first half. Seton Hall’s lone senior created havoc on the defensive end with his deflections and hustle plays all over the floor. He was everywhere and set the tone for the Pirates, who used a 24-12 first half run to take control of the game. Gordon was one of the most important acquisitions on the transfer market this offseason and has provided Seton Hall with the leadership it desperately needed after last season’s collapse. His hustle and will to win were on display again tonight and made a huge difference in the outcome. His experience and selfless play is invaluable to a talented but still quite young group of Pirates.
  2. Seton Hall matched Xavier’s toughness and physicality. The Musketeers are known for their relentless, hard-nosed brand of basketball. Tonight they encountered an opponent more than willing to play just as tough and just as physical, and Xavier didn’t react well to that. In particular, the Pirates got under the skin of J.P. Macura and Jalen Reynolds; both players picked up technical fouls and eventually fouled out. The physicality of the game played right into Seton Hall’s hands as it turned up the defense and held Xavier to 34.9 percent shooting for the game. It was an impressive display by a young team that doesn’t seem have fear of any opponent.
  3. Seton Hall is a dangerous NCAA Tournament team. The Pirates are clicking on all cylinders right now. Their defense has been strong all year and ranks among the top 15 nationally in adjusted efficiency, but the difference maker has been an improved offense. Seton Hall struggled earlier in the year with stagnancy, but their chemistry and ball movement has improved by leaps and bounds over the course of the last five weeks. That’s due in large part to Isaiah Whitehead‘s stellar play, but also a result of increased contributions from complementary players like Desi Rodriguez and Khadeen Carrington. Seton Hall will win games with its defense and rebounding, but the added offensive punch makes them a legitimate threat to make the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend.

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