Big East Tournament Preview

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 11th, 2015

It’s that time of year again. Selection Sunday is right around the corner and sports sections in newspapers and websites across the country are littered with college basketball discussions. Championship Week is a tasty prelude to next week’s madness, but it offers much of the same intensity, drama and excitement. Every conference has a team (or several) fighting to keep its dream of making the NCAA Tournament alive. While many major conference teams already have at-large bids locked up, some others are forced to play each game as if it were its last, because, well, it might just be. The Big East has six teams that appear to have played well enough during the regular season to earn those coveted NCAA bids. The other four have not been quite so fortunate and therefore will begin their pursuit of the dream in this week’s second season. Below is a brief review of what to watch for at Madison Square Garden.

USATSI_8428735_168381137_lowres

Villanova Wants to Add Another Trophy to its Collection This Weekend (USA Today Images)

Key Storylines

  • Will Villanova uphold its projected #1 seed for the NCAA Tournament?
  • How will a surging St. John’s perform at home amid the tournament hype?
  • Will one of the bottom four teams piece together a tournament run similar to Providence last year?
  • Seton Hall’s fall has been a steep one, but is there enough in the tank to regroup and make a run?

The Favorite: Villanova Wildcats (29-2, 16-2). It should come as no surprise that Villanova is the overwhelming favorite to win the Big East Tournament. After bowing out in the quarterfinals to Seton Hall last season, the Wildcats brought back most of their core group while adding a steady backup point guard in Phil Booth. Save for an ice cold shooting performance at Georgetown in February, Villanova’s offense has looked nearly unstoppable, running over any Big East opponent that has stood in its way. That balanced offense, led by senior Darrun Hilliard and full of shooters and slashers, poses all sorts of problems. The recipe for beating it is to strategically extend out to the perimeter on every player while keeping a rim-protector nearby should the Wildcats put the ball on the floor. Georgetown successfully figured this out (for one game, at least), while Butler and Creighton came awfully close as well. It can be done.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Weekly Big East Postseason Outlook

Posted by Justin Kundrat on February 16th, 2015

With just three weeks remaining in conference play, most Big East teams have started rounding into postseason form. For some units like Butler and Providence, this means steady improvement with an eye on seeding and positioning. For others like Seton Hall and St. John’s, it means clinging to NCAA Tournament hopes that seemed much more secure a month ago. As we approach March, we’ll run down the status of each Big East team’s postseason prospects in this weekly look. As of today, the league appears to have six solid NCAA teams, with the remainder in the discussion for NIT bids.

Villanova (23-2, 10-2)
Up Next: Monday vs. Seton Hall, Saturday at Marquette
RPI: 4 SOS: 28

Darrun Hillard (USA Today Images)

Darrun Hillard Kept Villanova in Contention for an NCAA #1 Seed Saturday (USA Today Images)

On Track For: NCAA, No. 1 or No. 2 seed. Villanova boasts one of the strongest resumes of any team in the country: 5-1 vs RPI Top 25; 9-1 vs RPI Top 50; and its two losses were on the road to Georgetown (#21) and Seton Hall (#70). Even accounting for another loss the rest of the way, Villanova should still find itself locked in as a No. 2 seed this season, with an outside chance at a No. 1 seed if it can win out. Regardless, this team’s numbers classifies it as an elite team that is poised to run away with the Big East regular season crown. Yet some of the same knocks will be made as last season: Who is Villanova’s go-to guy; can it compete against more athletic opponents; and has it been tested enough? Only time will tell, but Jay Wright’s team looks like its on the right track.

Butler (18-7, 8-4)
Up Next: Monday at Creighton, Saturday at Xavier
RPI: 24 SOS: 20

On Track For: NCAA, No. 4 or No. 5 seed. Perhaps the biggest surprise this season has been the play of Butler under interim-turned-head coach Chris Holtmann. Junior Kellen Dunham has provided consistent scoring while a number of other players — Alex Barlow, Kelan Martin and Andrew Chrabascz — have given the Bulldogs better offensive versatility and defensive tenacity. Butler’s November win over North Carolina is still impressive, and while the Bulldogs are just 7-7 vs. the RPI Top 100 and 2-5 vs. the RPI Top 25, their lone loss outside of the top 30 was at Tennessee (#80). The Bulldogs have played a challenging schedule and have won nearly every game they were supposed to have won.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Where 2014-15 Happens: Reason #19 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on October 27th, 2014

Here we go… headfirst into another season heralded by our 2014-15 edition of Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball, our annual compendium of YouTube clips from the previous season completely guaranteed to make you wish games were starting tonight rather than 30 days from now. Over the next month you’ll get one reason per day until we reach the new season on November 14. We’ve captured what we believe were the 30 most compelling moments from last season, some of which will bring back goosebumps and others of which will leave you shaking your head in astonishment. For all of this year’s released posts, click here

#19– Where Long Suffering Redemption Happens.

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-112011-122012-13 and 2013-14 preseasons.

Share this story

UConn and Cincinnati: Trading Places in the Postseason

Posted by Will Tucker on April 5th, 2014

On March 8, 2014, Cincinnati and UConn looked like two teams headed in opposite directions. Having just hung 97 points on Memphis to complete a sweep of Josh Pastner’s team, the Bearcats went on the road and clinched a share of their first conference championship since 2004. That same day, Connecticut suffered an 81-48 drubbing at the hands of Louisville – the kind of humiliating end-of-season defeat that might spell doom for a team’s postseason.

AAC Men's Basketball Championship

Mick Cronin and Kevin Ollie: diverging paths (Richard Messina / Hartford Courant)

To the Huskies’ credit, they had just beaten Cincinnati a week before, capping a 6-1 stretch that followed a road loss to the Bearcats in February. But Kevin Ollie’s team exhibited red some flags even before being massacred in Louisville. They had eclipsed 70 points during regulation only once in the past seven games. DeAndre Daniels, who in January I predicted was poised for a breakout season, scored in double figures only twice during the same time frame. UConn had been outrebounded in their previous six games by an average margin of 8.3 boards per game.

Cincinnati, conversely, looked like a physically imposing, battle-tested, and veteran squad that was prepared to usher the program beyond the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 1996. Rebounding from consecutive close losses to Louisville and UConn, All-American Sean Kilpatrick was firing on all cylinders in his subsequent two games, averaging 29 points on 68 percent shooting. Fellow seniors Justin Jackson and Titus Rubles appeared up to the task of complementing Kilpatrick in the frontcourt. And after winning the number one seed in the AAC Tournament by way of a coin flip, the Bearcats seemed destined for a rematch with de facto home team Memphis, whom they had already twice beaten soundly.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Rushed Reactions: #14 Creighton 86, Xavier 78

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 14th, 2014

rushedreactions

Brian Otskey will be reporting from the Big East Tournament all week.

McDermott Continued to Add to His Legend With

McDermott Continued to Add to His Legend With 32 More Points

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. You cannot stop Creighton’s offense, you can only hope to contain it. Creighton’s offense is by far the most efficient in the nation. When you can spread the floor with four or five three-point shooters, you can get an open shot nearly every time. That’s what Creighton does to nearly every team, making it nearly impossible to defend. Xavier could not contain the three-point barrage and, despite a late run, could never get to a point where it truly threatened the Bluejays. Big runs necessitate stops and it is more difficult to get them against Creighton than against any other team in America. To beat Creighton, a team must expose it defensively and dominate the rebounding. You have to generate extra possessions and also hope they just miss shots they usually make. Creighton’s defense is not elite by any means, but if you limit possessions, you can beat them. Xavier did not do that tonight.
  2. Xavier showed tremendous resolve. Almost everyone in the building thought this game was headed into blowout territory but the Musketeers trimmed the lead to as little as five points with 1:27 left to play. If the eye test does exist, Xavier passed it in this week’s Big East Tournament. Chris Mack’s team methodically took out Marquette last night and fought a hard battle against Creighton tonight. This is a team that can win a game in the NCAA Tournament and maybe two with the right match-ups. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

Rushed Reactions: Providence 80, Seton Hall 74

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 14th, 2014

rushedreactions

Brian Otskey will be reporting from the Big East Tournament all week.

Bryce Cotton Has Led His Team to the Brink of a Big East Title (NYDN)

Bryce Cotton Has Led His Team to the Brink of a Big East Title (NYDN)

Three key takeaways.

  1. Providence was simply the better team. After the teams traded baskets for the first six minutes, Providence opened the game up with a quick 12-0 run and never really looked back. Seton Hall never led again and Providence kept the Pirates at arm’s length for the majority of the game. There were multiple sequences throughout this game where Seton Hall would miss a jump shot and Providence would make one on the next possession. It was that simple, as the Friars thoroughly outplayed the Pirates en route to their first conference championship game since 1994 when they beat Georgetown.
  2. Providence had fresh legs and played outstanding defense. When Ed Cooley showed zone, his team executed the game plan very well. Fresh Friars’ legs allowed the zone to rotate flawlessly and track Seton Hall’s perimeter shooters all game long. The Pirates finished the game 6-of-23 (26.1 percent) from the three-point line, a team that makes 36.1 percent on average. It was the difference in the game as Providence was able to make Seton Hall incredibly stagnant on offense for the better part of the night. Three-point defense had been a strength for Cooley’s team in conference play, and it vaulted them to a win tonight.
  3. NCAA ticket punched? Providence will not have to worry about the bubble if it wins tomorrow night, but is a run to the Big East Championship game enough on its own? One would think so. The Friars have played extremely well down the stretch after a midseason lull. Aside from a double-overtime loss to league champion Villanova and a setback at Creighton on Doug McDermott’s senior night, Providence has taken care of business in every game since losing four out of five games in early February. While the resume remains light on quality wins, one would think Providence has done enough to warrant a bid, especially when compared to other bubble teams throughout the nation.

Star of the Game: LaDontae Henton, Providence. Look no further than Henton when searching for reasons why Providence is playing for the Big East title tomorrow night. The lefty wing filled up the stat sheet with 26 points and 14 rebounds on 9-of-13 shooting. Seton Hall never had an answer for him and Henton made his name known in front of a big crowd and a national TV audience. This is a guy that needs more publicity as he has been productive in every season at Providence. He is a big time breakout candidate as a senior in 2014-15.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Xavier on the Cusp of Returning to the NCAA Tournament

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 14th, 2014

Brian Otskey is reporting from the Big East Tournament all week

After missing the NCAA Tournament last year for only the second time since 2000, Xavier head coach Chris Mack made it clear to his team what the goal was this season. “Every time we play a game from day one, from game one up until tonight, we always wrote the four letters in the top right of the white board [in the locker room] that said NCAA’ because deep down that’s been a goal of these guys,” said the fifth year Musketeers coach. On a day that saw more dramatics reminding us of moments from years gone by in this event, Xavier was all business in taking care of Marquette and solidifying itsNCAA Tournament hopes. Xavier’s 68-65 win over Marquette was number 21 on the year for Mack’s squad and should be enough to ensure the Musketeers return to the NCAA Tournament next week. Xavier was out-shot and out-rebounded by the pesky Golden Eagles but it was able to get to the free throw line regularly and surprisingly won the turnover battle, two things Marquette head coach Buzz Williams said were key reasons why his team failed to advance to Friday night’s semifinal round. “We turned the ball over too many times in a lower than normal possession game,” said Williams. He was absolutely right as his team failed to take advantage of a Xavier club that ranks near the bottom of the Big East in both offensive and defensive turnover percentage.

Xavier Won Its First Big East Tourney Game Last Night

Xavier Won Its First Big East Tourney Game Last Night

In particular it was Justin Martin who provided a spark for Xavier in the win. He shot the ball very well en route to a 19-point performance and did not turn the ball over once. This was a physical game contested heavily in the paint, your typical grind it out Big East style of game that didn’t feature many transition opportunities. Xavier was buoyed by the return of Matt Stainbrook, who suffered a sprained MCL in the team’s loss at Seton Hall on March 3. Stainbrook only played 15 minutes but contributed eight points and gave the Musketeers a much-needed presence in the paint on both ends of the floor. Marquette tried to mount a charge at the end but a questionable shot by Todd Mayo sealed the deal. After the game, Williams actually asked the assembled media how the NIT selection process works, claiming he was not familiar with it.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Rushed Reactions: Providence 79, St. John’s 74

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on March 13th, 2014

rushedreactions

Brian Otskey will be reporting from the Big East Tournament all week.

Three Key Takeaways.

Providence Advances to the Big East Tourney Semifinals (USA Today)

Providence Advances to the Big East Tourney Semifinals (USA Today)

  1. Providence is alive. St. John’s, not so much. With the win today, Providence lives to see another day. I’m not quite sure that the Friars are in the field of 68 just yet, but they get another opportunity for a win tomorrow night. However, that win would have to come against Seton Hall, a sub-100 RPI team. Now we know the Pirates are not a bad team, but a loss to them would qualify as a “bad” loss on Providence’s NCAA resume. The Friars surely don’t want to lose that one and put themselves in jeopardy with a chance to win their way into the NCAA Tournament. As for St. John’s, it is the unfortunate loser of what was likely an NCAA elimination game. With 12 losses on its resume and not many quality wins to boot, the Red Storm appear to be NIT-bound. Still, it has been a remarkable turnaround for a team that started 0-5 in conference play.
  2. It was important for Providence to show it can win without a strong Bryce Cotton performance. Cotton, the star Friars senior, struggled to the tune of a 1-of-10 shooting night and yet the Friars still held a comfortable advantage for most of the game. Cotton made up for that by getting to the line 13 times (making 10), but it was certainly not a dominant game for him. It was interesting to note that Cotton played “only” 34 minutes, his lowest game total since playing 32 minutes against Vermont on November 18. The good news for Providence? Cotton isn’t likely to shoot this poorly tomorrow night, and as an additional bonus, should be relatively well-rested.
  3. Free throw shooting continues to serve Providence well. The Friars are the No. 2 team in free throw shooting nationally and Carson Desrosiers’ clutch makes at the end of the game sealed this win. For the game, the Friars got to the free throw line 30 times, making 22. When you can get to the line that often (specifically Cotton), great free throw shooting can be a lethal weapon. It quells runs and seals games in the final minute. If Providence does end up in the NCAA Tournament next week, don’t be surprised if it wins a game based on free throw shooting alone.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Rushed Reactions: Seton Hall 64, #3 Villanova 63

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 13th, 2014

rushedreactions

Brian Otskey will be reporting from the Big East Tournament all week.

Three key takeaways from Seton Hall’s dramatic Big East Quarterfinal upset of Villanova.

  1. Villanova’s chances at a top seed took a major hit. Seton Hall isn’t a terrible team but because of some bad losses and a weak non-conference schedule, its RPI is well outside of the top 100. This is only Villanova’s fourth loss of the season, but it means that it won’t be playing any more games until next week after the brackets are announced. The Wildcats are light on big-time wins so their resume will be looked at with more scrutiny after this loss. The general consensus was that Villanova would earn a No. 1 seed with a Big East Tournament title or even just a trip to the championship game, but that won’t happen now and Villanova’s chances of getting the final top seed are significantly lower.
  2. Seton Hall played with a ton of confidence. After surviving a Butler team that beat them twice, the Pirates played with nothing to lose and gave it everything they had today. For a hard-luck team, it finally paid off. Coming into this tournament, Seton Hall had lost an astounding six games either by one point or in overtime. In two games at Madison Square Garden, Kevin Willard’s team has flipped the script with two one-point victories and one massive upset. This win against Villanova, ranked third in the AP Top 25, was Seton Hall’s first ever top-three win in program history. The Pirates had previously been 0-30 against the top three of the AP poll before this afternoon’s win.
  3. Free throw shooting cost Villanova the game, but points off turnovers nearly won it for the Wildcats. Villanova shot 15-of-25 (60 percent) from the charity stripe this afternoon with JayVaughn Pinkston in particular having a very rough game (3-of-10). For as much as free throws eventually wound up costing the Wildcats the game, disrupting Seton Hall’s offense and creating live ball turnovers. Villanova turned those into quick points with most of them coming during a 16-0 run that allowed the Wildcats to turn a 13-point deficit into a three-point lead, a run that seemed to take the air out of Seton Hall’s upset bid at the time. Villanova’s pressure bothered the Pirates for most of the second half, forcing them into wasted possessions and bad shots. However, the free throw struggles proved insurmountable for Villanova.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Otskey’s Observations: Wednesday at the Big East Tournament

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on March 13th, 2014

Brian Otskey will be reporting from the Big East Tournament all week.

While the makeup of the Big East has changed, much was the same on day one of the 2014 edition of the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden. The crowd at the Garden was certainly not sold out but it exceeded expectations for what seemed, on paper at least, like a lackluster doubleheader featuring Seton Hall, Butler, Georgetown and DePaul. In fact, attendance was similar, if not better, than the Tuesday and Wednesday rounds in Big East tournaments past. The opening rounds have never drawn well so a decent crowd on hand Wednesday night has to be a positive sign going forward for the re-configured conference. The real test will come during Thursday’s quarterfinals with four games involving the league’s better teams.

Butler's Stay at the Big East Tourney Was Short and Sweet (C. Michael)

Butler’s Stay at the Big East Tourney Was Short and Sweet (C. Michael)

In game one, Seton Hall survived Butler in a match-up of two hard-luck teams. The Pirates had lost seven games either by one point or in overtime this year but finally put a one point game in the win column, holding by the count of 51-50. Butler had lost five games by either two points or in overtime entering tonight. Seton Hall looked to be in command as it built a 13-point lead with under ten minutes to play but the Bulldogs whittled the deficit to one with only 47 seconds to play but neither team scored again, resulting in the final margin. Seton Hall did a great job taking Kellen Dunham out of the game, especially when you consider Dunham went off for 29 points when these teams met in Indianapolis just four days ago. Dunham and Alex Barlow combined to shoot 3-of-21 from the floor but senior Khyle Marshall picked up the slack, pouring in a highly efficient 22 points. The Pirates came out strong on the defensive end and it carried them to victory. The Hall isn’t a bad team when it plays hard, but getting this team to bring it every night has seemed to be head coach Kevin Willard’s major problem in his four years with the program. With nothing to lose, Seton Hall may be a tougher than expected challenge for top-seeded Villanova tomorrow afternoon, although the Wildcats should end up prevailing.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story