Five Questions: Big East Tourney Preview Edition

Posted by Justin Kundrat & Brad Cavallaro on March 11th, 2020

We made it, everyone. From Feast Week to December’s lull to conference tip-off and a February with no shortage of complete mayhem, we’ve somehow arrived at March in one piece. The Big East Tournament starts this evening at MSG with no clear favorite and a whole host of questions in tow. Microsite writers Justin Kundrat and Brad Cavallaro are here to break it down.

Q: With Marcus Zegarowski’s status in flux, where does that leave Creighton? Can the Bluejays win the Big East Tournament and/or advance in the NCAA Tournament without their star point guard at full strength?

How Will Creighton Respond Without Marcus Zegarowski (USA Today Images)

JK: It’s not that Creighton isn’t still a contender for the Big East crown, but I am seriously reconsidering their status as the top dog. The Bluejays excel offensively with dribble penetration and floor spacing to enable kick-out threes, and Zegarowski is a key cog in breaking his man down. His sophomore campaign has resulted in 16.1 PPG and 5.0 APG, and he’s shooting an absurd 45.6 percent from deep in conference play. Not only that, but this team isn’t deep, ranking only 343rd nationally in bench minutes. Outside of Ty-Shon Alexander, there’s nobody else to run this offense! For a team that relies so heavily on crisp offensive execution, I’m worried about their performance this week without him. Let’s see how his status trends, but it might be safe to hold him out until next week.

Q: Providence is one of the hottest teams in the country after rattling off six straight wins. Do you see this hot streak extending into the postseason?

JK: I think so, but I’ll caveat that by saying I’ve been slow getting on the Friars’ recent bandwagon. Their defense has been tremendous and ranks second in efficiency, per Barttorvik, since February 1. Providence is a long team that possesses an uncanny ability to force teams into shots they don’t want to take, and that’s enough to give plenty of opponents a problem. Where they struggle: 1) a propensity to foul; and 2) efficient scoring. Luwane Pipkins has been great and Alpha Diallo is finally showing some maturity, but outside of that duo, the Friars’ offensive output has been unpredictable. If this team runs into a similarly lengthy team (which they won’t face in the conference except maybe against Villanova) that can stifle its robust offensive rebounding, what happens? The impending run will come down to match-ups, in my opinion.

Q: Who is your pick to win the Big East championship and why?

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Big East Bubble Watch: Volume III

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 10th, 2020

There’s only one week to go, which means no more fringe teams. Georgetown has played its way out of the discussion following a pair of losses, while Providence has solidified its place in the NCAA Tournament by cleaning up its home games. We’re oh so close to Selection Sunday, so let’s do one more round of bubble watch before the Big East Tournament kicks off tomorrow. Below is Rush the Court’s second bubble evaluation of the Big East. All figures below are from WarrenNolan.com.

Locks

Two of the Best Big East Teams are NCAA Locks (USA Today Images)

Creighton: 23-7 (13-5); NET: 11; SOS: 18.
Villanova: 24-7 (13-5); NET: 13; SOS: 3.
Seton Hall: 21-9 (13-5); NET: 15; SOS: 4.
Butler: 22-9 (10-8); NET: 19; SOS: 45.
Providence: 19-12 (12-6); NET: 36; SOS: 8.

  • Analysis: Hello, Providence. While the first four teams on this list secured their place weeks ago, the Friars extended a four-game winning streak to six, thereby eliminating the potential for a bad loss. Ed Cooley’s group now stands at 19-12 overall with a 12-6 record in conference play, which includes seven Quad 1 wins and a NET rating that has climbed to 36th over the last week. What a run it’s been. With a match-up against Butler pending in the quarterfinals, a loss won’t be damaging enough to derail the Friars’ train.

Should Be In

Marquette: 18-12 (8-10); NET: 26; SOS: 6.

  • Analysis: Marquette did nothing to help its case in the last week and has, as a result, cast serious doubts over its Tournament status. Realistically, the Golden Eagles needed just one win to secure a spot, but instead further damaged their resume by adding a pair of losses at St. John’s and DePaul. The worst part? Those losses were by a combined three points. Neither is more than a Quad 2 loss, but now we have a team that’s lost six of its last seven games and is clearly spiraling. Their metrics (NET 26, SOS 6) are propping them up, but it’s hard to make the case that this team is playing like a tournament team. For better or for worse, Steve Wojciechowski’s group draws Seton Hall in the Big East quarterfinals, avoiding yet another potentially bad loss while giving it an opportunity to put all concerns to rest with a win. Would a loss against the Pirates cost them a bid? Unlikely, but the possibility is there.
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Big East Bubble Watch: Volume II

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 3rd, 2020

With only about a week remaining until the Big East Tournament, things only continue to get more interesting (looking at you, Providence). There’s still plenty of bubble movement to monitor, but the upper-tier teams are all but locked in. Below is Rush the Court’s second bubble evaluation of the Big East. All figures below are from WarrenNolan.com.

Locks

Seton Hall: 21-7 (13-3); NET: 12; SOS: 10.
Creighton: 21-7 (11-5); NET: 13; SOS: 17.
Villanova: 22-7 (11-5); NET: 17; SOS: 3.
Butler: 20-9 (8-8); NET: 20; SOS: 35.

  • Analysis: Lock city with this group. At this point, it’s difficult to see any of these four teams missing the NCAA Tournament. Villanova, Seton Hall and Creighton are shaping up to be somewhere in the #2-#4 seed range, while Butler is a #5 or #6 seed in most brackets. Sure a loss here or there will hurt seeding, but there isn’t a scenario whereby any would miss the Tournament at this point. You can thank the strength of the Big East for providing so few opportunities for Q2/Q3 losses.

Should Be In

Markus Howard Likely Has His Team Dancing Again (USA Today Images)

Marquette: 18-10 (8-8); NET: 25; SOS: 4.

  • Analysis: A late season stumble hasn’t helped Steve Wojciechowski’s group secure a spot in the Tournament, but it would take a drastic collapse at this point for the Golden Eagles to miss out. However, with two road games at DePaul and St. John’s remaining, an opportunity exists for two more damaging losses and a first round Big East Tournament exit. Even if those losses are in the Q1 or Q2 category, the damage is more in the name and signalling (see Creighton’s loss at St. John’s). One more win would put this team into lock territory and ensure a 9-9 conference record without much NET slippage. Consider me shocked if they miss the Dance.
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Five Questions: February in the Big East

Posted by Justin Kundrat & Brad Cavallaro on February 25th, 2020

We’re oh so close to March, the Big East Tournament and everything good that follows. With each slate of conference games under wrap comes more certainty but also more urgency. The Big East has had its fair share of risers and fallers in recent weeks, and below, microsite writers Justin Kundrat and Brad Cavallaro attempt to tackle the big themes happening now.

1. Creighton has seemingly taken the conference by storm these last few weeks, winning nine of its last 10 games. Is it safe to say the Bluejays are the team to beat at the upcoming Big East Tournament?

Creighton has Been on Fire All February (USA Today Images)

JK: As much as I want to say they’re being overrated, it’s hard to overlook what Creighton has accomplished in recent weeks. At 11-4 in Big East play, they are still a game back from Seton Hall but have been playing unconsciously on the offensive end. I could write for days about their 38.6 percent three-point shooting (fourth nationally) supported by three guys hitting at greater than 40 percent, and the ball movement that accompanies their small ball style. But the key difference has been: 1. Ty-Shon Alexander’s function as a defensive ball stopper, and 2. Denzel Mahoney’s ability to score at multiple levels. Alexander has shut down just about everyone from Kamar Baldwin to Markus Howard to Myles Powell, while Mahoney, a 6’5″ transfer from Southeastern Missouri has shot 34 percent from deep while showing an ability to out-muscle his defenders on drives. I’m a buyer of this team and think they’re the conference favorite.

BC: I agree, Creighton looks the best team at this point. Their dynamic offense quickly disposed of Butler in a blink of an eye and it will be extremely difficult for any other Big East team to slow them down. The Zegarowski/Alexander/Ballock trio is so scary because all three have extremely deep range and an ability to put the ball on the floor and become playmakers. While Villanova may have the highest ceiling and Seton Hall has an elite scorer and rim protector, Creighton’s scorching shooting makes them the late February favorite.

2. With just a few games remaining, are you worried about the late season slides for Butler and Marquette?

BC: I am certainly more worried for Butler than Marquette. Butler was projected as an NIT team in the preseason and their talent level is certainly closer to that level than that of an elite team. Butler will certainly make the NCAA Tournament — probably as a #6 or #7 seed — and has a fairly favorable closing schedule, but their deteriorating defense is the biggest concern. As for Marquette, I think we were getting ahead of ourselves in ranking them as a top 20 club. Expect a 10-8 conference record and a #6 or #7 seed for the Golden Eagles as well, but they have a much better chance of advancing behind an improved defense and the unreal scoring wizardry of Markus Howard.

JK: It seems like we’re writing about late season slides for Marquette every season as Howard runs out of gas or the defense fails to materialize or their secondary scorers disappear. It’s a problem, and I’m not sure why guys like Sacar Anim, Brendan Bailey and Koby McEwen can’t consistently generate offense when Howard receives so much attention. But the last game’s box score against Providence tells you all you need to know: Howard: 38 points, rest of team: 34. I love Howard, but I think you need an offense with multiple options, or a defense that can string together enough stops to offset any scoring droughts. So I’m a little worried, but not as worried as I am about Butler… a team that has battled more injuries than I can keep track of and recently saw Kamar Baldwin go out as well. This is already a short rotation team but the guys simply look gassed and don’t have the same cohesiveness defensively that we saw earlier in the season. Here’s a shocking stat: in conference play, Butler is dead last in defensive efficiency, allowing teams to score 1.08 PPP. This seems like a difficult problem to fix when you’re already short-handed.

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Big East Bubble Watch: Volume I

Posted by Justin Kundrat & Brad Cavallaro on February 10th, 2020

We’re finally working our way into the heart of February. College football is over, the Super Bowl is over, and as these other attention-grabbing sports fade into the rear-view, college basketball embraces its time in the spotlight. We still have a solid five weeks of play before the NCAA Tournament tips off on March 17, but the bracket is already taking form. Below is Rush the Court’s first evaluation of the Big East. All figures below are from WarrenNolan.com.

Locks

Seton Hall is Back, Baby (USA Today Images)

Seton Hall: 18-5 (10-1); NET: 12; SOS: 20
Villanova: 17-6 (7-4); NET: 18; SOS: 2

  • Analysis: Some other sites have been cautious to call these two teams locks, but I can’t conceive a scenario where neither makes it. Both are shaping up to be seeded in the #3-#5 range, with incremental wins at this point serving to move the dial upward and ideally provide a favorable location draw. In spite of Villanova’s recent three-game skid, the Wildcats still boast a NET ranking of #18 with five Q1 wins. The concern for Jay Wright is less about seeding and more so fixing its short rotation and ailing post defense. Seton Hall meanwhile has seen a number of its secondary players emerge at just the right time. Romaro Gill‘s offensive play has stalled, but the likes of Sandro Mamukelashvili and Jared Rhoden are helping to soften a recent Myles Powell shooting slump.

Should Be In

Butler: 18-6 (6-5); NET: 10; SOS: 46.

  • Analysis: Butler is closer to “Lock” status than “Not Quite There,” but after a sizzling 15-1 start, the Bulldogs have only won just three of their last eight games. In those eight contests, the defense has given up 1.12 points per possession, as opponents are scoring both at the rim and around the perimeter. This is a concern for a team with a methodical approach that, in the beginning half of the season, used defensive stops to power its offense. Still, none of the trio of losses are necessarily bad — Butler is still 12-6 in Q1/Q2 games and has no losses in the Q3/Q4 territory. Consider this team safe, in general.

Creighton: 17-6 (7-4); NET: 22; SOS: 31.

Creighton Has Been Sneaky Good All Season (USA Today Images)
  • Analysis: The bracket aggregation site BracketMatrix lists Creighton’s average seed as a 5.08. With a 6-6 record in Q1 games and unblemished beyond that, the Bluejays look every part a Tournament team. Their defense, given a lack of size and inability to win the rebounding battle, is concerning, but a 7-4 conference record is propelled by a remarkably efficient offense (7th nationally). The remaining schedule offers more opportunities for quality wins, which can further improve their seeding, but the other benefit is that there are not many opportunities for bad losses either. Consider Creighton close — maybe a week or two away from being a lock.

Marquette: 17-6 (7-4); NET: 24; SOS: 10.

  • Analysis: Marquette has an eerily similar profile to Creighton in many ways. The Golden Eagles also have six Q1 wins, no bad losses, and a 7-4 Big East record. The notable part about this group is their much improved defense, with a range of long wing players and an improving front line in tow. They are currently slotted as a #6/#7 seed in most brackets, which should further improve once adjusted for Sunday’s home win over Butler. There is some margin for error here, so a few bad losses won’t put them out of the picture, but it’s too early to say definitively. Like Creighton, this team is almost to the point of playing for seeding.
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Five Questions: Big East Midseason

Posted by Justin Kundrat & Brad Cavallaro on January 15th, 2020

It feels like just yesterday that the season was tipping off and we were examining the biggest questions each Big East team would face this season, trying to fit new players into the puzzle, and evaluating offseason departures. But here we are at the midpoint of the season, and while there has been plenty of clarity around the conference’s contenders, the questions continue to pop up faster than the answers. Below, Big East microsite writers Justin Kundrat and Brad Cavallaro attempt to tackle the biggest ones at this point of the year.

1. Providence is off to a surprising 3-1 start. Is it too little too late or can you see a path for a tournament bid?

Where Does Providence Go From Here? (USA Today Images)

BC: Unfortunately, I think it’s too little too late for Providence. Despite an impressive 3-1 start that includes two road wins, the Friars likely need to get to 12-6 to make up for their awful non-conference start. Their schedule will only get tougher from here — providing more opportunities — but will also expose their inconsistent offense. Tonight’s game versus St. John’s is basically a must-win at this point because it may be their easiest remaining game on the schedule. Providence needs more contributions from AJ Reeves and Luwane Pipkins, who combined to shoot 1-of-11 against Butler last Friday.

JK: The best part about the Big East is that there’s no shortage of opportunities for quality wins. I’ve seen a record of 12-6 quoted on Providence’s message boards as the golden record, and honestly, it probably gets them there. That puts the Friars at 19-12 overall, ranked among in the top three of the conference standings, and presumably includes eight or so wins over NCAA Tournament teams. The home game loss against Butler last Friday was definitely a missed opportunity, but the Friars have definitely turned a corner. Alpha Diallo is finally getting (creating) good looks around the hoop; guard Maliek White has found consistent scoring; and the defense was successful in forcing opponents to take tough shots. A four-game winning streak featured some of the best two-point defense all season. That said, it’s an uphill climb to get to 12-6 — this team can’t afford any missed opportunities.

2. Marquette and Xavier are squaring off tonight and both stand at 1-3 heading into that game. Which team is more likely to right the ship and continue on the Tournament track?

JK: This is tough. Both teams have significant holes (interior offense for Marquette; shooting for Xavier) but Marquette probably has the higher ceiling and is therefore more likely to right the ship. Xavier is awkwardly constructed by lacking a true point guard, and aside from KyKy Tandy, you more or less know what you’re getting with this team. On the other hand, with Markus Howard consistently putting up 25-30 points per game, there’s a floor for Marquette that hopefully encourages more production from Brendan Bailey or Koby McEwen. But most of all, the team desperately needs Theo John to give something — anything — in the post. The 6’9″ big man has been saddled with foul trouble and awkwardly low efficiency around the hoop, contributing to an offense that ranks 338th (!) nationally in field goal conversions at the rim. No matter how much the defense has improved this season, interior offense is going to hold this team back.

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Quarter-Pole Check-In on the Big East

Posted by Brad Cavallaro & Justin Kundrat on December 18th, 2019

We’re only about five weeks into the regular season and yet it feels like an eternity judging by how much has happened thus far. Between the risers and fallers, early season disappointments and pleasant surprises, the Big East has had no shortage of compelling storylines. Below, Big East writers Justin Kundrat and Brad Cavallaro regroup and recap several of the key questions the conference is facing going into the holidays.

With only a close loss at Baylor, Butler has emerged as a Big East contender (or even front-runner) by analytics and their body of work. Do you see the Bulldogs as a legitimate contender or just a team off to a hot start?

Is Butler the Big East Team to Beat? (USA Today Images)

JK: With Seton Hall floundering and Villanova skirting by against inferior opponents, there’s no question in my mind that Butler is the top dog in the conference right now. The Bulldogs won’t overwhelm you with size or athleticism or shooting or lottery picks, but this team is as cohesive as any in the country. They remind me a bit of some of the Virginia teams in recent years, in that every game is played on Butler’s terms. The Bulldogs currently rank 338th nationally in tempo and opponents are getting just 16.7 percent of their shot attempts in transition, good for 12th nationally. Combine that with a defense that is elite in both defensive rebounding and discouraging perimeter shots and you have a recipe for success — there are no easy buckets with this team. On the other end, there are occasional concerns about the offense over-relying on Kamar Baldwin, but others have stepped up in recent games (here’s looking at you, Sean McDermott). And when opponents are scoring just 54.5 PPG, you don’t need multiple 20+ point scorers on the roster. Anyway, count me in as a buyer of Butler stock.

BC: I think at this point Butler is absolutely a contender. Between Seton Hall’s injuries and Xavier’s recent disappointing play, Butler and Villanova look like the clear front-runners in the Big East. While the Bulldogs do not have top-half conference talent, their excellent chemistry and buy-in from their role players has created a “whole is greater than the sum of its parts” scenario. While team synergy looks like the main reason for Butler’s early success, they are also receiving some great individual performances. Baldwin has taken the step from great player to star and the defense has been excellent with players like Aaron Thompson and Bryce Nze setting the tone. I think the most likely scenario is that Butler settles into the #15-#20 range nationally, but if they can get more from Jordan Tucker and Khalif Battle, the ceiling is even higher.

Seton Hall has disappointed, surrendering late game leads versus both Michigan State and Oregon? Can they back up their lofty preseason ranking and who emerges in Mamu’s absence?

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Big East Key Questions: Villanova and Xavier

Posted by Brad Cavallaro on November 4th, 2019

Villanova: Will the Wildcats’ offense be as effective without a clear go-to guy?

Jay Wright Wonders Where His Offense Will Come From (USA Today Images)

Villanova’s roster last season was missing a perimeter creator and Jay Wright clearly had expected 2018 Final Four MOP Donte DiVincenzo to have filled that role. Seniors Phil Booth and Eric Paschall were terrific on their own, but a supporting cast led by Joe Cremo and Jahvon Quinerly fell woefully short of preseason expectations. Collin Gillespie began to flourish when Booth assumed the go-to scoring role, but he looked overmatched as the lead ball-handler. Saddiq Bey and Jermaine Samuels showed great promise as well, but neither created for themselves very often.

The 2019-20 Wildcats do not have any unforeseen departures, but they did lose the only two players in Booth and Paschall who could consistently put the ball in the basket. A strong group of returnees is bolstered by an excellent freshman class, but it is difficult to see how the Villanova offense moves forward. When you factor in the fifth-year seniors’ wealth of experience and essential contributions, an adjustment period feels inevitable.

Still, most prognosticators disagree. Despite finishing 30th in KenPom last season and losing their two most productive players, the Wildcats are expected by many to be significantly better this season. Villanova has been consistently ranked as a top-10 team in most human polls and computer metrics. I expect Villanova finish closer to 20th nationally. Their defense has elite potential with great positional size and versatility, but the losses of Booth and Paschal — especially on the offensive end — are being undersold. Multiple players will need to take major leaps in their skill set development to become consistent shot creators. Freshman Bryan Antoine was the most logical candidate until his season was jeopardized with a shoulder injury. Bey and Justin Moore could fill that role eventually, but it is probably too soon to place that burden on them. Perhaps big man Jeremiah Robinson-Earl can add an interior scoring punch, but will that be enough?

Xavier: Was last year’s end of season push a mirage or a sign of things to come?

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Big East Key Questions: Seton Hall & St. John’s

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 1st, 2019

Seton Hall: Is there enough roster improvement here to warrant a Top 25 ranking?

Myles Powell Dives Back Into Big East Play as a Preseason All-American (USA Today Images)

A recent article over at Three Man Weave highlighted an interesting conundrum: Decent teams with high minutes continuity from the previous season rarely make a big leap. Just two of the 47 data points containing teams with 80%+ minute continuity that finished the prior season between #41-#80 on KenPom finished in KenPom’s top 15 the next year. In other words, the most likely outcome for this year’s Seton Hall team is last season’s result, which would be a huge letdown for a fanbase thirsty for postseason success. Michael Nzei is the only meaningful contributor lost from last year’s squad, and the addition of 7’0″ transfer Ike Obiagu should go a long way in shoring up the Pirates’ lackadaisical post defense. But outside of that, the onus will likely fall on Myles Cale and Jared Rhoden to provide consistent scoring alongside the 23.1 PPG fire hose that is All-American Myles Powell. Cale alternated between a confident, slashing 6’6″ wing who could pour in 20+ points in numerous ways and a forgotten standstill shooter who couldn’t find his mark. Rhoden, on the other hand, is a rising 6’6″ sophomore who demonstrated his tremendous potential in flashes and has the makings of a legitimate breakout candidate with more minutes. Nonetheless, we know what last season’s Seton Hall team was capable of — the question is whether a corner can be turned this season. Let’s see if those players can make the leap.

St. John’s: Can newly minted head coach Mike Anderson bring some defense to Queens?

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Big East Key Questions: Marquette and Providence

Posted by Brad Cavallaro on October 30th, 2019

Marquette: Will a stylistic change pay off for the Golden Eagles?

All-America Guard Markus Howard Leads Marquette (USA Today Images)

Marquette was gaining traction as a potential elite team for the upcoming season once All-America guard Markus Howard removed his name from the NBA Draft. That is, until two of the most shocking transfer decisions in recent memory grinded those premature expectations and optimism to a halt. Without the Hauser brothers returning (they have since transferred to Virginia and Michigan State), an immediate reaction was to bury Marquette. The pair were absolutely integral to the spacing and three-point shooting that made opposing defenses fear the Golden Eagles’ potent offense. As the offseason progressed, however, Marquette slowly looked more favorable and even appeared in some Top 25 polls.

Marquette could plausibly repeat last year’s performance and warrant such preseason recognition, but there is no debate that this year’s team will bear little resemblance to a lineup that was loaded with long-range threats a year ago. As a result, few teams will undergo as drastic a stylistic change in one offseason. The Golden Eagles’ identity has now pivoted toward length, athleticism, and a possible two-big lineup.

Surprisingly, head coach Steve Wojciechowski did not chase a shot-making wing or stretch power forward to replace the Hausers. They will be instead replaced with scoring combo-guard Koby McEwen and versatile forward Brendan Bailey. McEwen averaged 15.6 PPG and 3.2 APG for Utah State two seasons ago and is known for his ability to attack the basket. Bailey averaged 3.2 PPG as a freshman and will need to make a major leap. The 6’8’’ forward shot a paltry 25 percent from three-point range, but that number should increase considerably as he becomes more comfortable.

Almost as surprising as the Hauser brothers leaving was the addition of Jayce Johnson to the roster. Johnson was a starting center at Utah and turned down numerous starting opportunities to become the backup at Marquette. That is how the graduate transfer logically fits on this roster, but Wojciechowski mentioned playing the big man alongside Theo John in what would undoubtedly be a disaster with neither player scoring outside the paint. Pairing Ed Morrow with either traditional center would be more palatable, but it would still be a stark contrast from the incredible shooting and spacing Marquette enjoyed last year.

Despite all these changes, Marquette still returns the anchor of its offense in Howard and the anchor of its defense in John. Sacar Anim has excelled as a glue guy and perimeter defender and can now show his full offensive arsenal. These three veterans will raise Marquette’s floor considerably, even if its new identity flops. As long as they stay away (far away) from playing John and Johnson together and emphasize their increased length and athleticism, Marquette should plan to return to the NCAA Tournament.

Providence: Will an upgrade at point guard be enough to save Providence’s struggling offense?

Ed Cooley Brings Back an Interesting Friars Squad (USA Today Images)

Providence missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013 last season despite owning a talented roster filled with several former top recruits and numerous proven Big East players. The reason was very simple — the Friars could not score. Ed Cooley‘s offense ranked 164th in KenPom (eighth-worst high-major team); it was 257th in three-point percentage, 275th in two point percentage, and even struggled to convert free throws (235th).

While it may look like shooting the ball was the Friars’ biggest issue, point guard play was the root cause of these offensive deficiencies. Providence lacked someone who could consistently create his own shot during shot-clock situations and generate easy opportunities for his teammates. Cooley rotated through all of his lead guards at one time or another, but none were able to separate themselves and consistently deliver suitable results.

David Duke made an immediate defensive impact but looked extremely uncomfortable running the team. He had trouble creating shots and fared much better when he was eventually moved off the ball. Maliek White showed flashes of being the answer at point guard, but was too inconsistent to be permanently given the reins. Makai Ashton Langford was just plain ineffective. Even Alpha Diallo’s game grew increasingly sloppy and inefficient when trying to be the team’s lead offensive creator.

No team relies on its point guard more than Providence. Per Jordan Sperber, Cooley’s lead guards have the highest assist rate in college basketball, which speaks to the enormous responsibility of being slotted in that position. Fortunately, Providence struck gold with its inaugural dive into the graduate transfer market by landing Luwane Pipkins. The dynamic guard will certainly inject offense into the lineup, but at what cost? Last year’s team had enough talent to play in a lesser postseason tournament (NIT or CBI), but instead cratered to become Massachusetts’ worst team of the KenPom era (dating back to 1997).

The hope is that Pipkins can be the missing piece to an already talented roster. If he can create open threes for AJ Reeves, ease some of the offensive burden off of Diallo, and find Nate Watson more easy opportunities around the basket, this Providence offense could flourish. When you throw in a potential breakout candidate in Duke, a possible return to form from Emmitt Holt, and a deep veteran bench, you can really see some upside. If the Friars can integrate Pipkins and maintain their stellar defense, the sky is the limit this season for Providence.

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