The Best of the Big East: Creighton, Xavier, Villanova

Posted by Eugene Rapay on November 11th, 2016

The Big East microsite will be rolling out previews on all 10 teams this week, sorted into three tiers. Today we review the projected top tier of teams — Creighton, Xavier and Villanova. RTC’s bottom and middle tier previews were published earlier this week.

#3: Creighton

Maurice Watson Jr leads a Creighton team poised to make some noise. (AP)

Maurice Watson Jr leads a Creighton team poised to make some noise. (AP)

Since joining the Big East, Creighton has mainly been on the outside looking in. Yes, the Bluejays’ first year in the league was great with NPOY Doug McDermott leading the way, but Creighton has yet to be the same since he departed Omaha. That’s bound to change soon as the Bluejays are poised to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2013-14 season. They’ll do so behind the play of point guard Maurice Watson, Jr. Not only is Watson a very good scorer, averaging a team-high 14.4 points per game last season, but he’s also a tremendous distributor. His 6.5 assists per game led the Big East and represented the 12th-highest assist rate (38.8%) in college basketball. Teammates flourish off of Watson’s setups.

Unlike those McDermott teams, last year’s Creighton squad excelled at scoring inside. The Bluejays sported the 14th best two-point shooting percentage (54.5%) in America, but fell around the middle of the pack in shooting from three-point range (35.5%). Creighton hopes to improve on its perimeter shooting weakness with the eligibility of Kansas State transfer Marcus Foster and freshman Davion Mintz. Foster in particular hopes to replicate the success he had during an all-Big 12 freshman year when he made nearly 40 percent of his three-point shots. Aside from the issue with perimeter shooting, the Bluejays also need to replace highly efficient center Geoffrey Groselle, a big man who averaged 11.2 points and 6.1 rebounds per game last season while shooting at a 70 percent clip. Creighton recruited a four-star forward in Justin Patton, who is likely to be tested early as Toby Hegner nurses an injury that will sideline him for the beginning of the season. Can head coach Greg McDermott make the new pieces jibe?

#2: Xavier

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big East Conference Preview: Georgetown, Butler, Seton Hall

Posted by Mike Knapp on November 9th, 2016

The Big East microsite will be rolling out previews on all 10 teams this week, sorted into three tiers. Today we review the projected middle tier of teams — Georgetown, Butler, and Seton Hall. RTC’s previous bottom tier preview can be found here.

#6: Georgetown

John Thompson III Needs a Good Season at Georgetown (USA Today Images)

John Thompson III Needs a Good Season at Georgetown. (USA TODAY Images)

The Hoyas lost leading scorer D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera to graduation but bring back all of their other key pieces from a disappointing 15-18 season. Georgetown has great depth at forward with juniors LJ Peak and Isaac Copeland  both of whom finished strong last season — and Robert Morris transfer Rodney Pryor will see significant minutes on the wing. The team also features a formidable two-pronged attack at center with the return of reliable graduate-senior Bradley Hayes and sophomore Jessie Govan. While Govan had an inconsistent freshman year, he showed flashes of his well-rounded offensive skill set and looks to be a perfect fit in John Thompson III’s Princeton offense.

Georgetown still lacks consistent three-point shooting, but their main question mark coming into this season is at point guard. Junior Tre Campbell underwhelmed for most of last season as the floor general, only scoring in double figures twice. Their only other reasonable option is junior college transfer Rodney Mulmore. While the Allegany College import put up impressive numbers last season, the Maryland Junior College Athletic Conference is a far cry from the rigors of the Big East. The Hoyas will need either Campbell or Mulmore to step up at point guard to have a shot at returning to the NCAA Tournament this season. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big East Conference Preview: DePaul, Providence, St. John’s, Marquette

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 7th, 2016

The Big East microsite will be rolling out previews on all 10 teams this week, sorted into three tiers. Today we review the projected bottom tier of teams — DePaul, Providence, St. John’s and Marquette.

#10: DePaul

Eli Cain Wonders When DePaul Will Ever Get Over the Hump (USA Today Images)

Eli Cain Wonders When DePaul Will Ever Get Over the Hump (USA Today Images)

Roster turnover begets roster turnover in Chicago, where the Blue Demons have continually struggled to build upon any success. Now entering his senior year, Billy Garrett Jr.‘s potential never truly materialized so many have turned their attention to sophomore Eli Cain — a long, 6’6 slasher who relentlessly attacks the rim while also connecting on a healthy 42.5 percent of his three-point shots. But while backcourt mates Garrett and Cain should keep DePaul’s offense moving forward, the starting frontcourt has completely dissolved. The first attempt at a solution will be Levi Cook, a 6’10″ transfer who originally committed to West Virginia before a knee injury hampered his recruiting process. The second attempt will be forward Tre’Darius McCallum, a JuCo transfer with two years of eligibility remaining. But until either newcomer demonstrates an ability to compete at a high-major level of basketball, the offense will remain predominantly backcourt-oriented. This might suffice if Cain can improve in finishing around the rim and fourth-year transfer Chris Harrison-Docks supplies a scoring punch off the bench, but winning teams are generally built on two-way players and DePaul hasn’t ranked among the top half nationally in defensive efficiency in six years. Strong defensive units require roster continuity and Dave Leitao clearly needs more time.

#9: Providence

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Even Without Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall is Here to Stay

Posted by Justin Kundrat on October 25th, 2016

Things took a turn for Seton Hall in the offseason when Isaiah Whitehead, the team’s leader and go-to scorer, opted to remain in the NBA Draft. Over the course of his two-year stint as a Pirate, the 6’4″ guard transformed from a ball-dominant, somewhat careless passer into one of the nation’s best combo guards. His 33.0 percent assist rate ranked 44th nationally and his savvy ability to get into the lane warped opposing defenses, summoning all help attention his way. In the wake of his departure, the prevailing concern is whether Kevin Willard‘s team can recoup its losses and turn in another Top 25 season. That sentiment is valid, but dropping the Pirates to a middle-of-the-pack conference contender and fringe NCAA Tournament team is overkill. There are a number of reasons why.

Isaiah Whitehead Led Seton Hall to Its Best Season in a Long While (USA Today Images)

Isaiah Whitehead is Gone But All is Not Lost at Seton Hall (USA Today Images)

1. The team’s stout interior defense will be largely unchanged from last season as forwards Angel DelgadoIsmael Sanogo and Desi Rodriguez all return. It was easy to appreciate the Pirates’ offensive prowess when Whitehead was improvising and making unfathomable plays — even if the Seton Hall offense was remarkably average from a metrics standpoint. The real backbone of the team, however, was its defense — the 10th-most efficient unit in the country and one of the very best at altering opponents’ shots.

2. Junior forward Delgado is poised for a breakout campaign. While Whitehead was the key cog in last season’s offense, Delgado’s role was also substantial. Not only was he the Pirates’ best rebounder and interior defender, but the Seton Hall offense took a remarkable hit when he wasn’t on the floor (a difference of 0.15 points per possession).

To compensate for its poor outside shooting, Seton Hall generated numerous second chance scoring opportunities from offensive rebounds. Delgado and fellow stretch forward Sanogo were two of the conference’s best at that particular skill, helping the Pirates recover 37.1 percent of its misses (37th nationally). This portion of the offense will remain intact. Without Whitehead, Delgado’s usage rate will climb and it would be wise for Willard to feature his ultra-efficient forward on the offensive end.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Previewing Four Key Big East Storylines

Posted by Justin Kundrat on October 13th, 2016

Every team experiences roster turnover and this offseason was no different. What’s interesting this time around, though, is that those personnel moves were particularly harsh to the better half of the conference. Villanova, Xavier, Butler, Seton Hall and Providence – the conference’s five representatives in the NCAA Tournament last season — each lost leading scorers or otherwise critical starters. Some of the bottom half of the league, however – e.g., Creighton and St. John’s — emerged relatively unscathed. There will be some natural upheaval in the standings as teams at the top re-position themselves with different rosters, but the 2016-17 Big East is likely to hinge on a number of key questions and themes below.

What to Make of Seton Hall Without Isaiah Whitehead?

Khadeen Carrington is Poised (Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)

Khadeen Carrington is Poised to Handle Seton Hall’s Attack (Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)

The highly touted 6’4” guard lived up to the hype in his sophomore season and used it to sign a four-year contract with the Brooklyn Nets over the summer. By putting the ball in his star’s hands and letting him create, Kevin Willard led the Pirates to their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2006. Whitehead was one of the highest usage players in the country last season, and rightfully so — his ability to get into the lane to score or dish puts immense pressure on opposing help defenders. With Whitehead no longer around, Willard will turn to junior Khadeen Carrington to handle the point guard duties. Carrington is more than capable of running the show, but teams always take a different form after losing a ball-dominant player. Whitehead and departed senior Derrick Gordon accounted for over half of the team’s assists last season, so the biggest question at Seton Hall is whether anyone on the team other than Carrington is capable of propelling the offense. Swingman Desi Rodriguez didn’t show that he could create much off the dribble last season and forward Angel Rodriguez primarily garnered his points off putbacks or dump-offs. Maybe freshman Myles Powell can create something for himself, but that remains a big question mark.

Marquette May Have the Big East’s Most Efficient Offense

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

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?

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

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 »
Share this story

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story