Xavier Looks Ahead After Squandering Golden Opportunity Last Week

Posted by Brad Cavallaro on November 27th, 2018

Despite losing its three leading scorers from last season, Xavier was expected to remain relevant in the Big East race. Trevon Bluiett, JP Macura and Kerem Kanter all averaged double-figure points for the Musketeers last season, but returnees like Naji Marshall and Quentin Goodin were anticipated to fill the void. No one thought Xavier was set to replicate last season’s #1 seed level of success, but a sixth straight NCAA Tournament bid seemed completely attainable. With a 1-2 trip to the Maui Invitational now in the rear view, however, the Musketeers have squandered a golden opportunity to build their non-conference resume.

Xavier’s 1-2 Trip to Maui Puts a Significant Strain on Its NCAA At-Large Resume (USA Today Images)

For most of last week’s first round game against Auburn, it looked like Xavier had hit the jackpot. Ultimately, however, the Tigers prevailed in overtime with dynamic guards Jared Harper and Bryce Brown combining for 51 points in an overtime victory. Xavier was fortunate enough to have another opportunity for a quality win in the consolation round, though, as San Diego State should remain in the season-long discussion for a bid out of the Mountain West. The Musketeers built a substantial lead in the early portion of the first half of that game, but the Aztecs stormed back late and earned a five-point win. That loss meant Xavier was relegated to the seventh place game where they stopped the bleeding by defeating a struggling Illinois team. Given that the Fighting Illini will likely finish in the bottom three of the Big Ten this season, the win didn’t have much long-term at-large value. Xavier shot the ball extremely well in that game, but they were sloppy with the ball far too often.

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ACC/Big Ten Challenge: Tuesday Preview

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 27th, 2018

After Monday’s games, the 2018 Big Ten/ACC Challenge is tied with a pair of surprising results — Nebraska won at Clemson and Boston College outlasted Minnesota. ACC microsite writer Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) previews tonight’s heavy slate of action. (All rankings via KenPom as of Tuesday, November 26.)

Clemson Gave up a Home Game Last Night Against Nebraska (USA Today Images)

  • #16 Virginia Tech at #38 Penn State. Buzz Williams has another terrific offense brewing this season in Blacksburg. The Hokies currently rank seventh in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency and are making 41.4 percent (26th nationally) of their shots from long distance. They’ve also gotten the start of a breakout season from sophomore Nickeil Alexander-Walker (29.8 PER, 60.6% eFG). Their hot shooting will be tested tonight by a Penn State defense that is allowing its opponents to make just 22.9 percent (fourth nationally) of their attempts from three-point range. While excellent on the perimeter, Virginia Tech lacks size and could be vulnerable to Nittany Lions forward Lamar Stevens (26.6 PER, 24.8 PPG, 8.8 RPG).
  • #95 Illinois at #52 Notre Dame. Mike Brey’s club currently ranks just 51st in offensive efficiency, which is an odd sight to see. The last time a Brey team finished outside the top 50 in that category was all the way back in 2004-05. Part of the struggles this season have laid at the feet of T.J. Gibbs, the expected star of this team who has shot just 32.4 percent from the field and 21.1 percent from three-point range. Notre Dame will need to make some shots tonight to get a win, as the Illini feature a talented young backcourt of sophomore Trent Frazier (17.6 PPG, 58.3% eFG) and freshman Ayo Dosunmu (14.5 PPG, 57.6% eFG).
  • #8 Michigan State at #58 Louisville. Hello, Jordan Nwora. It hasn’t taken long for the talented Cardinals’ sophomore to break out this season, already the team’s leading scorer (18.4 PPG) despite coming off the bench. Nwora (29.4 PER, 57.6% eFG) is not simply a scorer, however. He’s posting a 27.8 defensive rebounding percentage and his turnover percentage is much improved this season despite more usage. While Nwora is actively turning into an ACC star, the Cardinals still have issues on the defensive end. They’re allowing opponents to shoot 43.8 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from long distance. They’ll have a tough task scoring tonight against Michigan State (eighth in KenPom adjusted offensive efficiency).

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2018-19 RTC 16: Week One

Posted by Walker Carey on November 26th, 2018

The college basketball season really got cooking during a Feast Week that featured two top-five match-ups that could easily be played again at the Final Four in Minneapolis. #1 Gonzaga and #3 Duke tipped things off Wednesday evening in what was an extremely entertaining Maui Invitational title game. The veteran Bulldogs led by as many as 16 points before withstanding a furious Blue Devils rally to escape with a thrilling 89-87 victory. Not to be outdone, #2 Kansas and #5 Tennessee turned in their own early season classic on Friday in the title game of the Preseason NIT. The Jayhawks used a dynamite performance from star forward Dedric Lawson — coupled with the good fortune of Tennessee star big man Grant Williams fouling out prior to overtime — to emerge victorious with an 87-81 result. The college hoops regular season is much more of a marathon than a sprint, but these early season treats serve as a good reminder of how compelling it can be when we have the pleasure of watching some of the best teams in the country face off against one another.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

  • Gonzaga is the new #1 team. Following its impressive win over #3 Duke in the Maui Invitational title game, Gonzaga is the new #1 team in this week’s RTC16. Mark Few‘s squad is loaded with the talent all over the court, highlighted by sophomore guard Zach Norvell Jr. and junior forward Rui Hachimura. What might be the most impressive aspect of the current Bulldogs is that they have emerged to these heights without the services of excellent junior forward Killian Tillie, who remains sidelined with an ankle injury. Gonzaga’s non-conference slate does not get much easier this week, as it faces a good North Dakota State program on Monday before hitting the road to play in what will be a raucous environment at Creighton on Saturday.

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ACC Feast Week In Review

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 26th, 2018

It was a mixed performance by the 11 ACC squads that saw action in early season tournaments over Feast Week, as three league schools took home titles but five preseason top-25 ACC teams fell to lower-rated clubs. Below we will review some comparison statistics with the other five major basketball conferences as well as some of the ACC’s best and worst team performances from the last 10 days.

Unlike last November when the Big 12 dominated Feast Week play, things were more balanced this year, with some interesting conference-related takeaways: After a rough opening week of the regular season, the Big East (best record against other Power Six conferences) bounced back nicely in tournament action; the SEC (no titles) may not be nearly as strong as many had us believe; and the Pac-12 (overall losing record) is clearly a notch below the other Power Six leagues this year. Up next are some of the highs and lows involving ACC squads last week.

THE BEST

Three Tournament Titles for ACC Teams.

  • Virginia Tech – Charleston Classic. The Hokies captured the ACC’s first tourney championship with an 89-83 comeback win over Purdue. Emerging star Nickeil Alexander-Walker led the way, as the sophomore guard averaged 22.0 PPG on 55.1 percent shooting over the three games. Senior point guard Justin Robinson more than held his own against Purdue All-American Carsen Edwards in the title clash. Robinson finished with 23 points and six assists, leading Buzz Williams‘ club back from a 12-point second half deficit.
  • Boston College – Ft. Myers Tip-Off. Although the competition in Ft. Myers, Florida, was not stellar, Jim Christian’s squad deserves credit for two fairly comfortable wins. The Eagles took out Wyoming, 88-76, behind Ky Bowman’s 38-point explosion, and followed that up by holding Loyola (Chicago) to 0.87 points per possession in a 78-66 victory over last year’s surprise Final Four school.

De’Andre Hunter and Ty Jerome celebrate Virginia’s Battle 4 Atlantis title. (@UVAMensHoops)

  • VirginiaBattle 4 Atlantis. The Cavaliers’ vaunted defense struggled in their semifinal win over Dayton last week, allowing the Flyers to score 1.08 points per possession (PPP), but things were quickly back to normal for Tony Bennett’s pack-line D in Friday night’s championship tilt against Wisconsin. The Badgers only managed to post 0.79 PPP in Virginia’s 53-46 triumph. Sophomore De’Andre Hunter led the way with 20 points and nine boards in the title game, and the Cavaliers may have found some unexpected perimeter depth in the form of 5’9″ freshman Kihei Clark. Bennett inserted Clark into the starting lineup in the title game to spark his defense, and Clark responded with five defensive rebounds and three steals in 37 minutes of action.

THE WORST

Five Ranked ACC Teams Lost as Tournament Favorites.

  • Syracuse – 2K Classic. Granted, the Orange were without injured guard Frank Howard last week but no one expected them to get worked like they did in Madison Square Garden two weekends ago. Syracuse struggled mightily with perimeter shooting (11-of-50 3FG) in their two games, and even Jim Boeheim’s famous zone defense was ineffective, allowing both Connecticut and Oregon to top 80 points — something that only one of Syracuse’s opponents managed to do in regulation last year.
  • Clemson – Cayman Islands Classic. The Tigers were solid favorites in this event but couldn’t contain Creighton’s T-Shon Alexander in the championship game. Alexander exploded for 36 points in the Bluejays’ 87-82 win, torching Brad Brownell’s squad from deep (seven threes) and from the foul line (11-of-11 FT). Surprisingly, seniors Marquise Reed and Elijah Thomas were extremely careless with ball, combining for 12 of Clemson’s 19 turnovers in the championship bout.
  • Duke – Maui Invitational. So much for that crazy idea that the Blue Devils would go unbeaten. After dispatching #8 Auburn in the semifinals, Duke ran into an offensive machine in the title game. Gonzaga made 10 of its first 15 three-point attempts while racing to an impressive 16-point second half lead. Mike Krzyzewski’s young squad made a furious comeback to earn a chance to win but couldn’t convert with the game on the line and fell to the #3 Zags, 89-87. Duke missed all seven of its field goal attempts in the game’s final minute, which included an 0-for-5 effort from R.J. Barrett.
  • North Carolina – Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational. Texas once again played the spoiler role as the Longhorns hung on to defeat North Carolina, 92-89, in the opening round in Las Vegas. The Tar Heels were unable to contain Texas guard Kerwin Roach, who erupted for 32 points on 12-of-15 shooting. Surprisingly, Roy Williams is now 1-7 versus the Longhorns as the Tar Heels’ head coach. His team avoided a disastrous trip by rallying to beat UCLA, 94-78, in Friday’s consolation game.
  • Florida State – AdvoCare Invitational. The Seminoles entered Sunday’s title game with Villanova averaging 82.7 points per game, but they allowed the Wildcats to control tempo and lost a low scoring affair, 66-60. Leonard Hamilton’s crew was fortunate to be playing in the championship game, rallying from nine points down in Friday’s semifinal game with LSU to force overtime. The Seminoles eventually won, 79-76, when Mfiondu Kabangele rattled in a corner three with less than a second to go in the extra period.
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Diagnosing a Broken Villanova

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 19th, 2018

The loss of four key contributors meant that Villanova would be having a down year… by Villanova standards. And Villanova standards were a #9 ranking in the preseason AP Poll and a unanimous selection to win the Big East. Villanova fans had become spoiled, you could say, with the expectation that the program would be a perennial championship contender regardless of changes to personnel. So when Jay Wright‘s group posted a 27-point loss to Michigan in its highly-anticipated rematch of the National Championship game, there was a divergence in opinions. Some felt such a lopsided defeat was just a blip — that the freshmen and other newcomers just needed some time to gel. Others thought it was a signal of things to come. Now, with Saturday’s home overtime loss to Furman piling on, the needle has moved strongly towards the latter camp.

Furman Flexing on Villanova’s Home Court is a Signal (USA Today Images)

So what’s been the biggest driver of the Wildcats’ under-performance? Glad you asked:

  1. Phil Booth and Eric Paschall have to this point both embraced hero ball. It partly makes sense given that the pair are the only returning significant contributors from last season’s NCAA Tournament run. But at the same time, increased usage has driven their shot quality down to staggering levels. Booth’s effective field goal percentage has dropped from 55.3 to 47.5 percent and Paschall’s from 60.0 to 41.1 percent — both replete with forced drives into traffic and unnecessary three-point shots. It’s time for Wright to return to the success of a more balanced offense, even if that means involving less trusted, developing players.
  2. Villanova’s newcomers have underwhelmed. Joe Cremo, the heralded graduate transfer from Albany who averaged 17.8 PPG a season ago, was supposed to provide a big scoring punch but has yet to do so — his 6.7 PPG includes just two points on two shots against Michigan. Jahvon Quinerly, the McDonald’s All-American replacement for Jalen Brunson, has witnessed his minutes dwindle from 17 to 16 to eight to a DNP-Coach’s Decision against Furman. Whether he’s battling an injury or Wright simply feels he isn’t ready, his lack of contribution has been perplexing. Combining this with inconsistent showings from the likes of Jermaine Samuels and the rest of the freshmen class has diminished the Wildcats’ offensive output.
  3. Team shooting has been horrid. The absurdly efficient three-point shooting that defined Villanova teams of recent past has been nonexistent thus far this season. In fact, the Wildcats’ 32.0 percent clip is on pace to be the team’s worst outside shooting performance since 2012 (and everyone remembers that year), and the second worst in Wright’s head coaching history. We know there are plenty of potent shooters on this team, but their shot selection and floor spacing to date has left a lot to be desired.
  4. It’s November. It’s an annoying excuse but a valid one, particularly with the number of fresh faces on the floor this season. Wright has said that people need to give this team time and there’s a good chance this group looks entirely different come March.

It’s hard to watch Villanova and believe that it hasn’t been underwhelming, if not outright disappointing, so far this season. But it’s worth sticking around and watching Wright develop his talent because Villanova has shown time and time again what it is capable of when the pieces begin to align.

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Let’s Not Panic About the Big East Just Yet

Posted by Brad Cavallaro on November 16th, 2018

After splitting the Gavitt Games in the first three years of its existence, the Big Ten has dominated in year four. The pair of teams projected at the top of the Big East this season — Villanova and Marquette — provided little resistance against Michigan and Indiana earlier this week. Meanwhile, Xavier and Creighton dropped home games to Wisconsin and Ohio State while Seton Hall proved to be no match for Nebraska. As it turns out, Georgetown and DePaul are the only Big East teams to win thus far, knocking off Illinois and Penn State (but both were without one of their top two players).

Steve Wojchiechowski is in the midst of a rebuild at Marquette. (Mark Hoffman/The Journal Sentinel)

On paper, these match-ups looked fairly even, but the Big Ten has proved to be the superior conference at this early point. Normally, these conference challenges need to be taken with a grain of salt as they are only one benchmark to compare conference strength. However, after the Big Ten’s beat-down of the Big East this week, not many reasonable people would think the Big East is the superior league. If St. John’s falls to Rutgers on Friday evening, it will cap off an embarrassing week for the conference.

Even though this has been a horrible start, it is still not time to panic. Even if the Big Ten is the better league, that does not mean the Big East won’t improve. Earning 28 NCAA Tournament berths in the last five years gives it the benefit of the doubt. Villanova has won two National Championships in the last three seasons; Xavier has an Elite Eight appearance under its belt: Providence has made five straight NCAA Tournaments; and Butler has consistently advanced in the postseason. These are great basketball programs that have proven resilient time and time again.

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Ten Questions: Mid-November Intrigue

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on November 16th, 2018

While this weekend’s schedule is a little light as teams prepare for the nonstop action of Feast Week, here are 10 questions to consider as the season settles in.

Is Michigan Due For a Letdown? (USA Today Images)

  1. How will St. John’s fare in its only road non-conference game? (St. John’s at Rutgers, Friday 7 PM EST, BTN) St. John’s only road non-conference game takes place just down the road in New Jersey against local rival Rutgers. In Mustapha Heron‘s  first two games as a member of the Red Storm, he is averaging over 20 points per game.
  2. Will Arizona State avoid an upset in a potential trap game? (ed. note: this game was canceled last night because of smoke issues related to wildfires) (Arizona State @ San Francisco, Friday 10 PM EST, Pac-12 Network) Before Arizona State heads to Las Vegas to take on a ranked Mississippi State team, they will take on the Dons in San Francisco. After falling behind by 15 points early, San Francisco was only outscored by three points in the final 30 minutes of last season’s match-up in the desert.
  3. Has Stanford found Reid Travis 2.0 in KZ Okpala? (Wofford at Stanford, Friday 10 PM EST, Pac-12 Network) When Reid Travis decided to transfer to Kentucky, Stanford had to fill a large gap in its offense. Sophomore KZ Okpala has seen his scoring average explode from 10.0 as a freshman to 22.7 PPG through the first three games of the season.
  4. Will early season turnover woes be the deciding factor? (South Carolina vs. Providence, Saturday 2:30 PM EST, ESPN 3) Through three games South Carolina has committed 44 turnovers while Providence has committed 46 turnovers. Both the Gamecocks and Friars are forcing turnovers at a rate better than the national average, so winning the turnover battle will be crucial in this game.
  5. Can Charleston stay perfect with a win in Stillwater? (Charleston @ Oklahoma State, Sunday 4 PM EST) Coming off a 26-8 record last season, Charleston was picked second in the preseason CAA media poll. The Cougars feature two of the conference’s best players in Jarrell Brantley and Grant Riller. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State is struggling, having lost to #299 Charlotte already this season. Read the rest of this entry »
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North Carolina Off and Running Out of the Gate

Posted by Matt Auerbach on November 14th, 2018

Two weeks ago, when asked to submit my preseason national rankings, I knew the decision to place North Carolina as my top-rated squad would draw some raised eyebrows. Three games into the season, however, I have seen nothing from the Tar Heels (maybe something from Duke) that has given me reason for pause — in fact, their performance in this small sample size has been even better than anticipated. For the first time in more than three decades, North Carolina opened its season with two true road games, a challenge rarely taken by the sport’s elite (Duke, for example, won’t play its first road game until January 8!). And while not tested by the strongest of competition, Elon and Wofford, which beat Roy Williams‘ team at the Dean Dome a year ago, provided difficult road environments that helped prepare the Tar Heels for what will be a conference schedule littered with those affairs.

North Carolina Has Been Quietly Humming Along Through Three Games (USA Today Images)

After rolling Stanford at home on Monday night for the third victory of the season, North Carolina now ranks third in the KenPom ratings, a product of strong performances on both ends of the floor (currently ranking fifth in both offensive and defensive efficiency). Rarely does Williams fret over his offense, but he must be reveling in the elite defensive potential that this year’s team has already shown. Freshmen Nassir Little and Leaky Black are the type of long, athletic and versatile wings whose sole purpose seems to be to disrupt the flow of opposing offenses. Little, for all of his natural ability, also appears to check all of the intangible boxes to boot — toughness, strength, desire. Those areas have not always been North Carolina’s calling cards, but this year’s squad has shown a willingness to be first to the floor and it seems to play harder than its opponents.

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Big 12 Observations After One Week

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 14th, 2018

Eight of the 10 Big 12 teams have played at least two games (Oklahoma State squares off at Texas-San Antonio tonight and West Virginia meets Monmouth tomorrow), so while it’s still too early to draw sweeping conclusions, it is a good time to take a look at some early revelations with Feast Week just around the corner.

Two games has been enough for Kansas fans to be treated to the full Dedric Lawson experience. (Nick Krug/Lawrence Journal-World)

  • Dedric Lawson’s been just okay. Just one week in and we’ve already seen some of the inconsistency for which the preseason All-American became known during his two years at Memphis. Even though Lawson struggled to a 5-of-18 shooting night against Michigan State, he was good enough to contribute 20 points along with 14 rebounds, two blocks and a pair of steals. In his Allen Fieldhouse debut against Vermont on Monday, however, he was a total non-factor from start to finish as the Catamounts pushed him around and held him scoreless for the first time in his career. Among his many skills, Lawson is a tremendous passer out of the paint, but Kansas’ insistence on running so much of its offense through Udoka Azubuike presents challenges in terms of fit and strategy when they’re both on the floor. The junior shouldn’t have any problems on Friday against Louisiana, whose rotation includes just one player taller than 6’6″, but it’s fair to have expected a little more from the big man in his first two games in Lawrence.
  • It might be a while before we know how good West Virginia is. There isn’t much shame in losing to mid-major darling Buffalo in overtime, but the fact that the Mountaineers put up a defensive turnover rate of just 12.8 percent at home and were fairly mediocre on the offensive glass in allowing a 13-point second half comeback should dispel any notions that this season will be business as usual in Morgantown. Bob Huggins‘ team will have opportunities to clean things up, but with this weekend’s Myrtle Beach Invitational lacking top-end competition and just one meeting against a KenPom top-50 team remaining (Florida in Madison Square Garden) before conference play, determining where this team belongs in both the Big 12 and national picture might take some time.

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Analytics vs. Experts: Teams to Watch The Projections Disagree About

Posted by Will Ezekowitz on November 13th, 2018

As the college basketball season gets under way, everyone wants to get a read on their favorite teams. Does their on-court product match the preseason hype? For some teams, it depends on which preseason hype you considered. College basketball fans can seek either scouting/film-driven projections or analytics/model-driven projections. These two approaches usually tend toward some overlap, but not in every case. I have documented some of the bigger disagreements among top 50 teams below, and it will be interesting to watch which interpretation is borne out during the regular season.

NOTE: For the purposes of this article “Analytics” are mainly KenPom, BartTorvik, John Gasaway and some HoopLens and HoopMath thrown in. The “Experts” will be: the Top 25 polls, preseason conference polls, Matt Norlander’s #1-#353 rankings, and preview articles from NBCSports, ESPN, The Athletic and others, although many of those ranking systems also consider analytics as part of their methodologies.

Group 1: Loved by the Analytics, Hated by the Experts

Miami— KenPom: #20. AP Top 25: #33 (according to “Others Receiving Votes” section)

Jim Larranaga Wonders Why the Polls Don’t Like His Team (USA Today Images)

  • Summary—lots of talent leaving, but hyper-efficient role players taking their place.
  • What the experts say: Bruce Brown and Lonnie Walker are playing in the NBA, Ja’Quan Newton is also gone, and there are no impact newcomers other than graduate transfer Zach Johnson. This one seems simple — a #6 seed lost its three most talented players, so the Hurricanes will take a step back.
  • What the analytics say: Brown, Walker and Newton were all talented, but none of them were that successful last year. To replace them, Jim Larranaga has productive big man Dewan Hernandez (formerly Dewan Heull), a sophomore jump expected from Chris Lykes, and a bunch of efficient role players led by three-point gunner Dejan Vasiljevic. And if you think 20th from KenPom seems aggressive, BartTorvik currently lists the Hurricanes at #8!

CreightonKenPom: #35. AP Top 25: No votes received (52nd or higher)

  • Summary—Four starters are gone, but Martin Krampejl and Greg McDermott are still around.
  • What the experts say: Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas are now playing professionally in addition to the losses of contributors Toby Hegner and Ronnie Harrell. Some feisty freshmen return, as does big man Krampejl from an ACL tear. However, as Matt Norlander notes while ranking the Bluejays 71st in his rankings, the fact that he’s their best player “slots Creighton as having the least impressive best player of any team in the Big East.” It’s rebuilding time in Omaha.
  • What the analytics say: Norlander should show some respect for Krampelj’s name! Per HoopLens, the Bluejays were an astonishing 0.15 points per possession better defensively when he was playing last year, which is the difference between the fourth- and 180th-best defenses in the country. On the other side of the ball, McDermott has guided his offense into the top 60 nationally every season since 2012. Put the two together, and Creighton would appear poised to make the NCAA Tournament for a third straight year.

Penn StateKenPom: #35. AP Top 25: No votes received (52nd or higher)

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