Kris Jenkins Remains Vital to Villanova’s Repeat Hopes

Posted by Eugene Rapay on March 2nd, 2017

Last season, Villanova‘s Kris Jenkins nailed the shot of a lifetime — a dream state buzzer-beater that lifted the Wildcats to their second National Championship. If Jay Wright‘s club hopes to enjoy another deep run in the NCAA Tournament this March and April, he will need his clutch forward to become a more reliable and efficient scoring threat. During last year’s title run, Jenkins peaked at just the right time. A pedestrian 10.4 PPG scoring average on 38.7 percent shooting (30.1% 3FG) in non-conference play ceded to 15.2 PPG on an improved 48.7 percent shooting (42.6% 3FG) clip over the last 27 games of the season. Jenkins was held to fewer than 10 points in six of last year’s first 13 games, but he hit for double-figures in 24 of the remaining bunch. His stark improvement was predicated on picking his spots and working off of leading scorer Josh Hart. Although Villanova’s offense works best when spreading the floor and moving the ball around to get multiple players involved, it certainly helped the team by having two reliable go-to scoring options.

Boom. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Jenkins this season has shown flashes of last year’s versatile and effective wing, but there have also been instances where has has not been as much of a factor. His scoring and shooting percentages (13.2 PPG, 39.5 FG%) have fallen, and even though his three-point shooting percentage is slightly higher (38.9%), he hasn’t shown the same consistency from beyond the arc. As a matter of fact, the senior is currently logging the lowest offensive efficiency rating (114.7) of his four-year career, suffering through several cold shooting spells. A particularly tough shooting slump began on January 24 against Marquette, the start of a five-game dry spell that included four single-figure performances and 21.2 percent shooting from long range. Just when it seemed that he may have shaken off the slump in an excellent 22-point game against Seton Hall, he relapsed in recent contests against Butler and Creighton, shooting 30.4 percent from the floor and making just 2-of-12 three-pointers.

This inconsistency represents a different storyline from a player who was so instrumental to Villanova’s postseason success a year ago. As Wright manages a narrow seven-man rotation beset by various injuries, he needs to be able to rely on Jenkins as a consistent second scoring option behind Hart. The decorated senior has certainly demonstrated that he is capable of fulfilling that role, but he’s running out of time to locate his comfort level with the ball in his hands. With the end of the regular season staring the defending champions in the face this weekend, the Wildcats are hoping that he finds his stroke just as the stakes increase.

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Big East Bubble Watch: Volume II

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 2nd, 2017

A positive resulting from the recent struggles of Creighton and Xavier is the opportunity it has afforded the conference’s bubble teams. At the beginning of the season, five was a fair benchmark for possible NCAA Tournament bids coming out of the Big East this season. Now, with just one regular season game remaining for each team, as many as seven teams could hear their names called on Selection Sunday. At the expense of quality seeding has come quantity, which might prove to be a boon given the unpredictable nature of March Madness. Here is where those seven teams stand as we head into of the final weekend of the regular season. RPI and strength of schedule (SOS) figures are from RPIForecast.com.

Locks

  • Villanova: 27-3 (14-3); RPI: 1; SOS: 24
  • Butler: 23-6 (12-5); RPI: 10; SOS: 11
  • Creighton: 23-7 (10-7); RPI: 24; SOS: 44

Analysis: These three teams have made things pretty easy for themselves — even losing out would not be enough to destroy their NCAA Tournament hopes. Villanova is a virtual lock for a #1 seed, probably in the East Region; Butler has climbed its way up to the #3 seed line; and Creighton should find itself in the #5 to #6 range. With the right match-ups, all three are Sweet Sixteen contenders.

Should Be In

Xavier Has Lost Six Games in a Row and is Reeling as March Arrives (USA Today Images)

  • Xavier: 18-12 (8-9); RPI: 35; SOS: 7

Analysis: The Musketeers’ awful slide has continued with the once 18-6 team having now lost six games in a row. A home loss to Marquette does not help matters but it alone is not yet enough to knock the Musketeers to the fringe. Xavier has gone 0-6 vs. the RPI top 25 this season, but it has avoided any bad losses and still boasts a total of eight top 100 wins. The concern for Chris Mack‘s team at this point isn’t so much its seeding but just how poorly it might perform in the NCAA Tournament. The Musketeers’ last six games have been a disaster on the defensive end.

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Marquette’s Offense Drives the Golden Eagles Into March

Posted by Mike Knapp on February 25th, 2017

Marquette has had an up-and-down season to this point. The Golden Eagles are 17-10 (8-7 Big East) with a resume that includes nice wins over Villanova and Creighton as well as head-scratching losses to St. John’s and Georgetown. Their most glaring flaws are on the defensive end of the floor (where they rank 138th nationally, per KenPom), but their inconsistency can also be attributed to a lack of an offensive go-to option. Marquette’s top players — who, it should be noted, are clearly buying into the team concept — cannot individually match the output provided by First Team All-Big East contenders such as Josh Hart (Villanova), Marcus Foster (Creighton) or even Trevon Bluiett (Xavier). What head coach Steve Wojciechowski lacks in star power, however, he has in depth, which makes the Golden Eagles a dangerous squad to face in March.

Marquette is Going to Create Some Problems in March (USA Today Images)

Marquette currently has six players averaging between 10.1 and 12.5 points per game, five of whom stand between 5’10” and 6’6” and are virtually interchangeable in the Golden Eagles’ up-tempo, three-point happy offense. That offense is the team’s driver, ranking first nationally in three-point shooting at 41.9 percent and among the top quarter of the sport in adjusted tempo. Four of Wojchiechowski’s rotation players – Katin Reinhardt, Andrew Rowsey, Markus Howard and Sam Hauser – are shooting at least 38 percent from beyond the arc, making an average of two or more per contest. The Golden Eagles’ pronounced ability to spread the floor with multiple shooters makes them nearly impossible to guard in the half-court, but what really rounds out the Marquette offense is its anchor in the post. Senior big man Luke Fischer leads the team in player efficiency, rebounding and blocked shots, and his offensive game is as diverse as it is proficient. The 6’11” center can play with his back to the basket, possessing great touch around the rim, but he is also capable of acting as the roll man off screens. He may not be the most athletic big man in the Big East, but he makes up for it with his meticulous shot selection and skill set – Fischer currently ranks 21st nationally in effective field goal percentage.

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Big East Bubble Watch: Volume I

Posted by Justin Kundrat on February 23rd, 2017

Selection Sunday is fast approaching and remaining schedules provide dwindling opportunities to make the cut line for the NCAA Tournament. Given how wide open the Big East has been this season (thanks in large part to a number of injuries affecting Xavier and Creighton), there is an unusually large number of conference teams still with a fighting chance. Here is where those teams stand as we head into one of the final weekends of the regular season. RPI and strength of schedule (SOS) figures are from RPIForecast.com.

Locks

Villanova and Butler are Two of the Big East’s Mortal Locks (USA Today Images)

  • Villanova: 26-3 (13-3); RPI: 2; SOS: 29
  • Butler: 22-6 (11-5); RPI: 11; SOS: 12
  • Creighton: 22-6 (11-7); RPI: 26; SOS: 48

Analysis: These three teams have made things pretty easy for themselves — even losing out would not be enough to diminish their NCAA Tournament hopes. Villanova is a near-lock for a #1 seed even after last night’s home loss to Butler, while the Bulldogs and Bluejays should find themselves on the #4 or #5 seed lines.

Should Be In

  • Xavier: 18-10 (8-7); RPI: 22; SOS: 8

Analysis: Even accounting for the season-ending injury to Edmond Sumner, Xavier shouldn’t have needed to worry about which tournament it would take part in at the end of the regular season. But an ankle injury to leading scorer Trevon Bluiett has changed that perspective. Bluiett was back in action on Wednesday night, but the Musketeers regardless dropped their fourth consecutive game in ugly fashion at Seton Hall, and their upcoming schedule isn’t favorable. Still, three more losses would put Chris Mack‘s team at 18-13 with an RPI of ~38, which likely means squarely in the field. On the plus side, Xavier has been getting much better contributions from its post players, especially RaShid Gaston, which was a major concern earlier this season.

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St. John’s Bashir Ahmed Represents a Tradeoff Between Efficiency and Intangibles

Posted by Justin Kundrat on February 15th, 2017

St. John’s head coach Chris Mullin has the luxury of being able to construct a wide variety of lineups, but a curious dilemma arises when one of his most important players is also his least efficient. His roster has lightning-quick, penetrating guards, floor-stretching shooters and a handful of ultra-athletic big men who can defend the post and rebound, but he only has one Bashir Ahmed. Most of his other players, no matter how talented, are limited to specific positions. Guards Marcus LoVett, Jr. and Shamorie Ponds stand at 6’0″ and 6’1″, respectively. Swingman Malik Ellison is a defensive specialist. And shot blocker Tariq Owens is tremendous in his role protecting the paint, but he is generally confined to putbacks on the offensive end of the floor. That leaves Ahmed, a 6’7″ JuCo transfer who possesses great talent combined with a penchant for iffy decision-making.

Bashir Ahmed is the Only True Wing Threat St. John’s Has (USA Today Images)

Ahmed is aggressive in attacking the basket, savvy enough to draw contact in the lane, and athletic enough to challenge most defenders — all highly desirable attributes in a small forward. But when combined with an ingrained habit of unabashedly exerting his will against good defenses, the result is too many turnovers and missed shots. As the below table shows, Ahmed lags behind the other Red Storm rotation players in just about every shooting category.

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Marquette and the Defensive Perils of Playing Small

Posted by Justin Kundrat on February 10th, 2017

The small ball era has been discussed ad nauseam with case studies such as Golden State in the NBA and Villanova in college acting as manifestations of its success. But for all the talk about how effective shooter-stocked lineups are, the most under-appreciated element of the strategy is player interchangeability on defense. Villanova’s small lineups work because its wing players can effectively guard multiple positions and Jay Wright’s emphasis on help defense shores up any size deficiencies. Marquette‘s small ball approach, on the other hand, has so far come up short. Before diving into the issues surrounding the Golden Eagles’ strategy, though, it’s important to illustrate why Steve Wojciechowski has resorted to it in the first place. On its face, his decision to add undersized shooters to his lineup appears to favor offense over defense.

Height 3PT FG%
Andrew Rowsey 5’10 47.2%
Markus Howard 5’11 51.9%
Sam Hauser 6’6 45.3%

 

The maneuver has turned what was a decent offense into the program’s best since Tom Crean and Dwyane Wade were still on campus back in 2003. The ninth-most efficient offense in college basketball features the nation’s best three-point shooting arsenal at 42.4 percent, serving as a primary source of the offense and ostensibly justifying Wojciechowski’s decision to recruit for a motion-heavy, perimeter-based attack. The glaring trade-off on defense, while somewhat apparent at the time, was not expected to be this drastic. While Marquette’s offense has clearly surged, its mid-major defense (165th nationally) represents a problem of positional versatility. Most undersized teams have at least one or two guys who are capable of “sizing up” and defending bigger players on switches. Wings JaJuan Johnson and Haanif Cheatham both possess good athleticism, but neither has shown an ability to effectively front his man on the block and contest shots around the rim. Meanwhile, the pair of stretch fours that Wojciechowski employs, Sam Hauser and Katin Reinhardt, are offensive specialists who are not quick enough to defend the perimeter. Watch Hauser in the clip below as he is caught off balance and never regains his composure.

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Angel Delgado is Keeping Seton Hall Afloat

Posted by Mike Knapp on February 9th, 2017

Despite winning its last two games in overtime to keep its postseason hopes alive, Seton Hall’s season has not gone quite the way it had hoped. Coming off a campaign that included a Big East Tournament championship and a top-20 final ranking, the Pirates were probably expecting something slightly better than a 15-8 (5-6 Big East) record heading into the home stretch. The team has without question missed the play-making brilliance of all-Big East guard Isaiah Whitehead — who bolted South Orange for the NBA — but four upperclassman starters returned, including a player in junior center Angel Delgado who has emerged as one of the best big men in the country.

Angel Delgado is Responsible For Seton Hall’s Recent Surge (USA Today Images)

After earning all-Big East honorable mention last season while averaging a near-double-double (9.9 PPG; 9.3 RPG), Delgado came into this year in better shape and as determined as ever. And although the junior averaged a very healthy 14.3 points and 11.4 rebounds per game in non-conference play, his uptick in production during Big East play has been outstanding. In 11 conference games, Delgado is averaging 15.7 points and an astonishing 14.7 rebounds per game – 5.0 of which come on the offensive end. That translates to a superb 28.9 percent defensive rebounding rate, far and away the best in the Big East, and also a stellar offensive rebounding percentage of 14.5 percent – fifth in the league.

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What is Xavier’s Ceiling Without Myles Davis?

Posted by Mike Knapp on January 29th, 2017

Xavier, loser of four of its last five games, finds itself reeling after its Crosstown Shootout defeat to Cincinnati on Thursday night. The Musketeers now stand at 14-6 (4-3, fifth in the Big East) and have already lost as many games as all of last year. In a lot of ways, Xavier’s shaky play is not surprising. Having lost their two best big men from last season (Jalen Reynolds and James Farr), a certain level of drop-off was reasonable. What Chris Mack did not plan for, however, was the major hit his backcourt took when senior guard Myles Davis announced he would be stepping away from the program. After a two-month suspension to start the season, Davis only played three games before announcing his abrupt departure. It is clear that the Musketeers are still clearly missing their primary playmaker.

Myles Davis (USA Today Images)

As a junior, Davis was one of the more under-appreciated distributors in college basketball. He boasted a solid 24.6 percent assist rate and was great at keeping the ball moving in an offense that relied heavily on precision passing on the perimeter to find open shooters. Davis also led the Musketeers in assists – averaging more than four per game – but he was so valuable because of his ability to see one pass ahead in the hockey-assist style (the pass leading to the assist). Per Hoop Lens, Xavier averaged a robust 1.13 points per possession with Davis on the floor last season, best on the team. When he was off the court, Xavier’s resulting drop of 0.18 points per possession was noticeable. More data: The Musketeers’ effective field goal percentage was almost seven points higher with its top play-maker on the court, as much as a result of his scoring in addition to his passing — Davis ranked second on the team in both three-point percentage and threes made last season.

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Replacing Maurice Watson Hasn’t Come Easy For Creighton

Posted by Chris Stone on January 26th, 2017

As if the college basketball world needed yet another reminder, this week has emphasized just how difficult it is to win on the road. On Tuesday night, Kansas, Kentucky and Villanova all came up short in away conference battles, followed up last night with Georgia Tech blowing out Florida State and USC outlasting UCLA, both on the road. Perhaps the most concerning loss of the week — because replacing talent is more difficult than adjusting tactics — may have taken place in the nation’s capital where Creighton suffered its second straight defeat, 71-51 to Georgetown, without injured point guard Maurice Watson, Jr. The senior’s absence is being felt across the board. “He made the game easier for coach [Greg McDermott], me and all my other teammates,” freshman center Justin Patton said after the game.

Creighton is still working out how to play without Maurice Watson Jr. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Watson’s injury created a large offensive void for the Bluejays — in addition to using 24.5 percent of the team’s possessions, he also assisted on 43.0 percent of its made baskets while contributing 17.3 points per 40 minutes. As his head coach noted, that translates to a massive statistical impact. “We’ve lost a big part of our offense,” McDermott said, while also noting that many of his players will need to step into roles they may have never played before. In some ways, that may not prove too difficult. Creighton — one of the fastest per-possession teams in college basketball — continued to push the pace against the Hoyas last night, often throwing a pass ahead to whichever guard was available. Those players need to improve their decision-making in those quick-hit scenarios, but that will come with time and repetition. There are other areas, however, where it’s simply not clear if the Bluejays can replace Watson. Read the rest of this entry »

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It’s Time to Modernize Georgetown’s Offense

Posted by Justin Kundrat on January 25th, 2017

On the heels of a 15-18 season in 2015-16 and currently in the midst of a 10-10 campaign featuring a 1-6 record in conference play, the criticisms of Georgetown‘s offense far outweigh the viable solutions. Yes, the Hoyas do not have a true point guard, but their assist to field goal ratio (60.7%) ranks among the top 30 in college basketball. Sure, Georgetown is lacking in high volume shooters, but its three-point field goal percentage of 36.9 percent ranks in the top 100. John Thompson III‘s team might not be a very good defensive rebounding team this year, but the 28th-tallest team nationally did not simply forget how to rebound (the Hoyas were much better at cleaning the defensive glass last season). Is the Princeton offense broken? No, but without player buy-in, understanding, cohesiveness or whatever you want to call it, the pieces at Georgetown will not fit into the greater puzzle. Without good team chemistry and trust in the process, all those backcourt cuts that require a heavy reliance on spacing and timing will become a turnover-fueled hodgepodge. So, what are the Hoyas to do?

One of Thompson’s first initiatives in the offseason was to instill a faster offense — as a result, the Hoyas’ average length of possession this season has fallen from a middling 17.3 to a top-quintile 16.0 seconds. But this strategic shift hasn’t made Georgetown’s offense more efficient — it’s actually worse — and its transition rate of scoring is only marginally higher. In effect, the “faster pace” scheme can be distilled to “taking shots earlier in the shot clock,” which, if anything, runs against the overarching theory of finding the best shot. There’s nothing wrong with the way Georgetown’s lineup is constructed. It generates plenty of firepower from the backcourt, has floor-stretching, big wings, and experienced big men. The attack instead needs to be focused on improved shot selection and methods of scoring. Currently, as the above table shows, an outsized proportion of Hoyas’ offense comes from the free throw line (14th nationally). It’s a plausible strategy in theory, but it is also one that relies heavily on the whimsy of officiating. Read the rest of this entry »

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