Otskey’s Big East Observations: 12.18.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 18th, 2015

While every season is definitely long and winding, Georgetown’s loss to Monmouth should be concerning for both the Hoyas and Big East fans. The primary reason is not that Monmouth is a bad team — rather, the Hawks have a quality squad this season — it is that the Hoyas were run off their home floor in a game that should have been a close, competitive loss or a win. This loss is the latest in a recent history full of uninspiring Georgetown losses under John Thompson III and the second of this season alone. When you look at the Hoyas’ overall KenPom profile, a few things stand out. First, this team is not defending at a high level. While Georgetown’s field goal percentage defense of 37.7 percent is very good, that statistic only shows so much.

John Thompson III's team was the latest to fall victim to upstart Monmouth. (Washington Post)

John Thompson III’s team was the latest to fall victim to upstart Monmouth. (Washington Post)

When you dig a little deeper, you find a team fouling at a high rate and failing to close out possessions on the boards effectively. A team that struggles to rebound and puts opponents on the foul line too often allows for plenty of extra points, which is the main reason why Georgetown ranks 87th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. When compared with their Big East companions, that rate puts the Hoyas ahead of only Butler, Creighton and hapless DePaul. Already with four losses on its resume, Georgetown has some work to do in league play in order to safely make another trip to the NCAA Tournament. Lackluster performances like those against Monmouth and Radford need to become a thing of the past, and Georgetown will have to become a more efficient squad in order to earn that invitation. Read the rest of this entry »

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Propelled by Fresh Faces, the Chris Mullin Era Has Arrived at St. John’s

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 15th, 2015

Few expected a winning season for a St. John’s team that experienced a complete roster upheaval. Not only was fifth-year head coach Steve Lavin shown the door, but all six players on a team that only played a six-man rotation to begin with departed the program. There was no apparent end in sight for the dark and gloomy forecasts that riddled the program. It went on for so long that fans, coaches and players alike were not wondering when, but if, St. John’s would ever return to its status as “New York’s team.” Alas, the arrival of Chris Mullin provided a struggling program with a flicker of hope. And that hope may be arriving sooner than expected. It started as an uphill battle for a program that hasn’t sniffed a continued degree of success since Mullin himself played in the 80’s. So after St. John’s suffered a blowout loss to Vanderbilt, struggled to hold off Division II Chaminade, and then lost by 16 at Fordham, few expressed much surprise. After all, this was a team full of misfits. Some were only at the university for a one-year stay as graduate students whereas others had been recruited to play for Lavin and were now forced to adapt to new leadership.

Slowly but surely, it seems the Red Storm are taking well to Chris Mullin's leadership. (Tania Savayan/The Journal News)

Slowly but surely, it seems the Red Storm are taking well to Chris Mullin’s leadership. (Tania Savayan/The Journal News)

Considering the limited degree of time and resources, Mullin’s roster construction in a matter of months has been a truly admirable effort. He took a completely unfamiliar group of players, put them on the floor together, and let the chemistry work itself out. “We’re young, we’re inexperienced, we’re all new guys, speaking a different language, but when you play together and you play well, it’s a positive reinforcement.” Mullin’s two graduate transfers Durand Johnson (Pitt) and Ron Mvouika (Missouri State) have stepped in as immediate contributors and provided invaluable leadership to the host of newcomers. Meanwhile, sparingly used returnees Christian Jones and Amar Alibegovic have worked to fill in the gaps while the freshmen, his freshmen, develop. Read the rest of this entry »

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What Makes Kris Dunn Unique Isn’t His Offense

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 4th, 2015

Providence’s Kris Dunn is a special kind of player. How many times have we heard that this season? His ascent to stardom came at an almost unprecedented rate, going from “good player who plays a supporting role to LaDontae Henton” to Big East Player of the Year in just one season. In the ensuing offseason, Dunn found himself in discussions as not just the best player in the conference, but the best player in the entire country. He’s seen his draft stock rise from completely off the board (DraftExpress on 12/3/2014) to surefire lottery pick in just 12 months’ time.

Dunn's Rise Has Been Meteoric (USA TODAY Sports)

Dunn’s Rise Has Been Meteoric (USA TODAY Sports)

But while much of the national media spotlight has been focused on Dunn’s flashy passing and bevy of offensive moves, his instinct on the defensive end of the floor hasn’t received proper attention. What many of those fail to realize about the junior All-American is that much of his playmaking ability is driven by the havoc he creates on defense.

Without much interior size, Providence fares poorly in defensive field goal percentages across the board. The Friars are allowing opponents to shoot 35 percent from three (222nd nationally), 51 percent from two (220th), and allowing offensive rebounds on 29 percent of opponents’ possessions (134th). Combining that with an average shooting offense might lead you to believe that this is a team struggling to stay afloat. Instead, Providence currently sits at 7-1 with significant wins over Evansville and Arizona along with a tightly contested loss to Michigan State. How is this possible, you ask? The answer is through an unusually prescient defense led by the prolific play of its superstar, Dunn.

As a team, Providence forces a turnover on nearly 24 percent of opponents’ possessions, ranking 26th nationally in this category. This turnover-hungry defense kickstarts an offense that converts on shot attempts in transition at a 54 percent clip (compared with 48 percent in non-transition settings). It also helps to explain why teams have only been scoring 68 points per game (seven fewer than the national average) in spite of the Friars’ poor field goal defense. Spearheading this defense is Dunn, who ranks second nationally in steal percentage at 6.5 percent. How does he do it? Let’s examine what makes Dunn such a great defender and how that propels the Friars’ offense.

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Otskey’s Big East Observations: 12.03.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 3rd, 2015

One season removed from sending six of its 10 teams to the NCAA Tournament, the Big East has again started the season with a bang. To date, the conference has amassed an 18-13 record against teams currently ranked in the top 100 of Ken Pomeroy’s ratings, with only Creighton, DePaul and St. John’s not yet in the win column. Against Power Five conference opponents, the league as a whole sports a 16-12 record. With a strong start under its belt, the question will inevitably turn to how many teams the Big East can place in the NCAA Tournament this year? It is probably safe to say that a minimum of four will go with a good chance for a fifth given the way Providence has been playing. However, it is still early and a lot of things can happen between now and March. As far as a sixth team, the odds are not as great but there is something of a chance. Marquette, Seton Hall and Creighton could very well fight for the sixth and final Big East NCAA berth when all is said and done in this league.

Jay Wright and Villanova have been on point. (Getty)

Jay Wright and Villanova, who sit at the top of the Big East standings at 7-0, is leading what is a tremendous conference pack so far this season. (Getty)

Right now, the edge would have to go to the Golden Eagles and Pirates. While Marquette’s (5-2) weak non-conference schedule will be an anchor, the Golden Eagles are a team that should get better as the season moves along and could win 10 games in the league. Its two wins before Thanksgiving at the Barclays Center against LSU and Arizona State were critical after starting the season with two early losses. As for Seton Hall (5-2), it has quietly picked up top-100 victories over Georgia and Mississippi and has another chance to grab a quality win at home against a banged-up Wichita State team that should get back to playing good hoops once Fred VanVleet returns. If Kevin Willard’s squad can finish the non-conference slate at 10-2 and get to 9-9 in conference, it will be right on the bubble come Selection Sunday. Creighton is in a tough position because of a non-conference schedule that provides limited opportunities for quality wins. It has already lost at Indiana, and while a game at Oklahoma later this month is certainly a top-notch opponent, it is unrealistic to think the Bluejays can win that one. After blowing a great chance for a top-100 win this week at home against Arizona State, Greg McDermott’s team will have a lot of work to do in conference play. Ultimately, five NCAA teams seems like the proper over/under for the Big East this year. Read the rest of this entry »

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The RTC Podcast: Conference Preview Edition

Posted by rtmsf on November 6th, 2015

In this, the third preseason installment of the RTC Podcast, the guys welcome Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) to join the discussion about favorites, surprises and storylines for each of the six major basketball conferences (sorry, American fans!). In a wide-ranging pod, consensus was reached in only a couple of conferences this preseason — see if you can guess which ones? As always, Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114) hosts, and make sure to subscribe on iTunes so it will automatically download to your listening device each week. The full rundown is below!

  • 0:00-10:23 – ACC Preview
  • 10:23-17:51 – Big East Preview
  • 17:51-25:21 – Big Ten Preview
  • 25:51-32:54 – Big 12 Preview
  • 32:54-37:51 – Pac 12 Preview
  • 37:51-43:43 – SEC Preview
  • 43:43-45:41 – Which will be the best conference?
  • 45:41-49:13 – College Basketball Survivor Pool
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What to Watch For: Key Big East Preseason Storylines

Posted by Justin Kundrat on October 26th, 2015

College basketball is just around the corner. Finally. It seems like ages ago since we last discussed Big East basketball. Maybe that’s because the league had no deep NCAA Tournament runs outside of a Sweet Sixteen appearance from Xavier; or perhaps the droll of mid-summer baseball wasn’t enough to hold us over. Not to worry though, the hibernation period is over. For those who have distanced themselves from offseason news about the Big East for the last six months, here’s your handy primer. There are several key storylines worth monitoring as we approach the start of the regular season.

The Return of the… Freshmen?

(Ralph Thompson/maxpreps)

Jalen Brunson is the one to watch this season. (Ralph Thompson/maxpreps)

Three key players headline the list of Big East recruits this season, and all come at opportune times for their respective teams. The first is Jalen Brunson, recipient of the preseason Big East Freshman of the Year award and a star on the USA FIBA U-19 team over the summer. Brunson is a budding star and arguably the best point guard in his class, setting high expectations that he can provide an immediate scoring punch and carve out a starting role in Villanova’s loaded backcourt. Henry Ellenson, a 6’10″ forward who chose Marquette over the likes of Kentucky and Michigan State, will assume an immediate starting role in the Golden Eagles’ frontcourt alongside returning junior Luke Fischer. Ellenson is a big-bodied forward whose style more closely resembles a Brad Miller/Dirk Nowitzki type than a traditional back-to-the-basket player. And while Brunson might be the bigger household name following his summer breakout, Ellenson should have the larger impact on a resurgent Marquette team that desperately needs his size. Last is Georgetown recruit Jesse Govan, a 6’10″, 260-pound center who truly plays like one. His presence around the rim is game-changing on the defensive end, and as a result, the freshman should see immediate playing time following the departures of Joshua Smith and Mikael Hopkins. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Notre Dame 67, #6 Butler 64 (OT)

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 22nd, 2015

rushedreactions

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways:

Notre Dame is going to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2003. (Gene J. Puskar / AP)

Notre Dame is going to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2003. (Gene J. Puskar / AP)

  1. Mike Brey’s mother passed away this morning. How did he coach through that? Directly following one of the better games of the NCAA Tournament, Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey announced that his 84 year-old mother died of a heart attack on Saturday morning. The news came as a true shock to everyone in the room, a heartbreaking announcement in the midst of an otherwise joyful moment for the Irish. He cited her competitiveness, the fact that she tried to turn Brey and his siblings into swimmers growing up – she was an Olympic swimmer in 1956 – and reflectively noted “she had a great run.” You have to wonder how the heavy-hearted coach managed to muster enough positive energy to lead his team to victory.
  2. The seniors put Notre Dame over the hump. Sophomore Steve Vasturia led the way with 20 points. Junior Zach Auguste secured a team-high 13 rebounds. Second-year point guard Demetrius Jackson made a serious of big plays to re-establish momentum in the second half. But it was the senior guards – Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton – who finally got Notre Dame over its postseason hump. Connaughton swatted Kellen Dunham’s game-winning three-point attempt to send the game into overtime, then drilled a big triple in the extra period to break a 59-59 tie. A few minutes later, his team up three, Grant made a slashing layup with 21 seconds left to season the Irish victory. Entering the night, Brey hadn’t reached the Sweet Sixteen since 2003 – the victim of six first-weekend exits over the past 11 years. His seniors weren’t going to let it happen again.
  3. The Irish were hellbent on shutting down Kellen Dunham, and it worked. Even if it meant surrendering buckets to Roosevelt Jones (who scored 23 points), Notre Dame was not going to let Butler sharpshooter Kellen Dunham beat it from behind the arc – especially not after his 20-point performance against Texas on Thursday. Irish defenders were draped all over the junior from opening tip to final buzzer, holding him to just 2-of-13 shooting and eight total points, well below his season average (16.7 PPG). The Bulldogs were never able to extend their second-half lead far enough to take firm control, and their leading-scorer’s lack of scoring may have been the reason why.

Star of the Game: Pat Connaughton (seven points, nine rebounds and a huge block). Forget about the statistics; Connaughton was the star tonight. His toughness and confidence and massive swat to end regulation carried Notre Dame to victory.

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Rushed Reactions: #8 North Carolina State 71, #1 Villanova 68

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 21st, 2015

rushedreactions

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

North Carolina State upended the top-seeded Wildcats in Pittsburgh. (Associated Press)

North Carolina State upended the top-seeded Wildcats in Pittsburgh. (Associated Press)

  1. North Carolina State’s defense was exceptional. It was going to take a complete 40-minute defensive effort for North Carolina State to pull this off, and that’s exactly what it got. The rotations were crisp. The guards did an excellent job of taking away the three-point line, holding Villanova to just 9-of-28 from behind the arc – crucial against a team that relies on the long-ball for over 35 percent of its offense. The frontcourt was rarely out of position, routinely collapsing on Wildcat big men Daniel Ochefu and JayVaughn Pinkston each time they worked the ball in the paint. All told, Mark Gottfried’s bunch held Villanova – the fourth-most efficient offense in college basketball – to just 1.06 points per possession and 31.1 percent shooting from the field, its second-lowest mark of the season.
  2. Yet again, the Wolfpack forwards were integral to its success. Despite no frontcourt players averaging more than 6.8 points per game entering the weekend, North Carolina State received massive contributions from its big guys for the second time in three nights. Lennard Freeman recorded an 11-point, 12-rebound double-double and couple big blocks. Freshman Abdul-Malik Abu also finished with a double-double – 12 points and 13 rebounds – coming up with critical offensive rebound after critical offensive rebound to keep the Wolfpack ahead throughout the second half. As good as its backcourt has been this season (and they were certainly vital again tonight), North Carolina State’s front line was the difference between a huge second-round upset and a “meh” exit from the Tournament.
  3. More disappointment for Villanova. For the second straight year, Villanova rolled through the regular season, earned a top-two seed in the NCAA Tournament and failed to reach the second weekend. “This will not define us,” head coach Jay Wright said after the game. But with arguably his best team ever – at least on paper – it’s hard not to view tonight’s outcome as an enormous disappointment, the kind of “what if?” defeat that lingers for several years to come. Two nights ago, the Wildcats looked capable of winning the whole thing; tonight, they are going home.

Star Player: Trevor Lacey (17 points, six rebounds). The Alabama transfer came up with big shot after big shot every time North Carolina State needed it, including a behind-the-back dribble, step-back three as the first half buzzer sounded, giving the Wolfpack a four-point lead at the break.

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Rushed Reactions: #11 Dayton 66, #6 Providence 53

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 21st, 2015

rushedreactions

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Dayton gave Providence fits on Friday night. (Paul Vernon, Associated Press)

Dayton gave Providence fits on Friday night. (Paul Vernon, Associated Press)

  1. Dayton had home-court advantage, and it clearly mattered. After beating Boise State on Wednesday in Dayton, the Flyers barely had to trek one hour east for tonight’s game in Columbus. Same went for their fans, who showed up in full force to Nationwide Arena. When the shots starting falling and the lead began to build, so did the volume, helping Archie Miller’s undermanned and undersized club maintain its level of energy and confidence against the bigger, deeper Friars. And the story should be much the same against Oklahoma on Sunday, which begs the question: Has a #11-seeded, First Four participant ever been in a better situation?
  2. The Flyers are impervious to fatigue. This was Dayton’s fifth game in eight days, which might not be so bad were it not for the fact that it ranks 343rd nationally in bench minutes. Unlike last year, when Miller played 11 guys a night, only six or seven Flyers see significant time on the court this season. Moreover, none of those players stand taller than 6’6”, meaning their effort and activity on the defensive end – especially against a frontcourt as massive as Providence’s – must to be at a maximum on every possession in order to compete. And yet they never seem to tire, routinely overcoming mismatches and attacking opposing defenses like it’s the middle of November instead of the third week of March. Conventional logic and scouting reports don’t seem to apply to this group, which is why it could wind up in the Sweet 16 for the second year in a row.
  3. Providence’s Ed Cooley should not have received a technical foul. Cooley is a smart, level-headed coach who was clearly trying to motivate his team when he tipped over a chair during the under-4 timeout in the second half. But he received a technical for it, which John Adams, the NCAA’s national coordinator of officials, said was supported by Officiating Manual Rule 10, Section 3, Article 2 – “Bench personnel committing an unsportsmanlike act.” – and further supported by another section pertaining to “a negative response to a call/no-call.” I understand that rules are rules, but considering the situation – 3:42 left in an eight-point game – it seemed completely unwarranted.

Star Player: Kyle Davis (six points, nine rebounds, five steals). Dyshawn Pierre led the team statistically with 20 points and nine rebounds, but Davis – the quick-handed sophomore guard – was a force on the defensive end, beating Providence’s Kris Dunn at his own game (swiping the basketball) and using his speed for a few timely buckets.

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Rushed Reactions: #5 West Virginia 68, #12 Buffalo 62

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 20th, 2015

rushedreactions

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Devin Williams led West Virginia to victory today. (Tony Dejak/AP)

Devin Williams led West Virginia to victory today. (Tony Dejak/AP)

  1. That was sloppy. The game was close and there was plenty of drama, but let’s not mince words here – this thing was ugly. The teams combined for 29 turnovers, shot well under 70 percent from the free throw line and squandered offensive opportunity after offensive opportunity throughout the afternoon. West Virginia had numerous chances in the second half to put Buffalo away, yet repeatedly took out of control shots or fumbled the ball away. Buffalo missed gimme layups and had trouble keeping the Mountaineers off the glass, especially late. And the fouls… all told, 49 fouls were called, interrupting both squads’ offensive rhythm and leaving everyone in Nationwide Arena mildly perturbed – coaches, fans and players alike.
  2. West Virginia’s pressure left Buffalo with an uphill climb. “It’s hard to simulate what they do,” Buffalo head coach Bobby Hurley said afterwards, referring to West Virginia’s relentless pressure. And it showed, especially early on. The Mountaineers – which lead the country in defensive turnover rate – held Buffalo scoreless for the first three-plus minutes and forced innumerable errant passes, leaving the Bulls with an early 24-11 deficit that was probably the difference. If Bobby Hurley’s club had figured out the press earlier, its late surge may have been enough to in the game. Alas, it did not.
  3. The Mountaineers will rattle you. Trying to break West Virginia’s press and keep them off the glass each time down the court is an exhausting proposition, even if you manage keep pace. Bob Huggins plays upwards of 11 guys each game, sending body after body – even if the fouls add up – in an effort to keep opposing teams agitated. As VCU showed during its 2011 Final Four run, that kind of aggressive, jarring style can work in a tournament setting. Whichever team emerges from Maryland vs. Valparaiso will have its struggles against the Mountaineers on Sunday – whether or not it can mentally (and physically) regroup will dictate who moves on.

Star of the Game: Devin Williams (17 points, nine rebounds). The 6’9” sophomore was too much for Buffalo to handle on the interior today, converting around the rim and securing several clutch, late-game offensive rebounds. Perhaps most importantly, Williams shot 7-of-9 from the free throw line in a game otherwise defined by missed chances.

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