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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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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