Xavier’s Weakness Becomes Apparent

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 1st, 2016

Media pundits are always quick to jump on bandwagons and it happened again on Wednesday night. The chatter around Xavier’s perceived ceiling has been around all season, but it picked up considerably following the team’s win over #1 Villanova. Those claiming Xavier has Final Four potential aren’t wrong by any means; Chris Mack’s team is deep, athletic and extremely tough on the boards — a combination that usually makes for a tough out. Moreover, a 7-2 record against the RPI top 50 has erased any doubts about its ability to compete against Tournament-level teams. Below the surface, however, lurk some unpleasant memories, remnants of what are unquestionably ugly losses. A 31-point blowout at Villanova, a pair of brutally inefficient losses to Georgetown and Creighton, and most recently, a clunker at Seton Hall. The losses themselves aren’t the least bit concerning — Xavier’s four total losses is the second fewest of any team in the country — it’s the way they’ve lost.

Chris Mack is Safe For Now But Shouldn't 'Get too Comfortable (Getty)

Chris Mack and Xavier are legit contenders, but do have some things to work out. (Getty)

The Musketeers have a number of options — Trevon Bluiett, Myles Davis and JP Macura prime among them — when it comes to perimeter scoring, but these players aren’t relied upon for lights-out shooting as much as they are pure spacing. With a lightning-quick point guard in Edmond Sumner, Xavier can usually penetrate to get high quality looks around the rim because teams are forced to respect the array of shooters around Sumner. It doesn’t necessarily matter who is making shots, so long as they connect on a high enough percentage to keep defenses honest. The Xavier wings are also adept at making entry passes to the low post, a place where the Musketeers are converting at a high rate, as the presence of numerous shooters and slashers helps stop opponents from doubling on the interior. Xavier post options Jalen Reynolds and James Farr also both rank in the top 100 in offensive rebounding, helping the X-men corral 35.7 percent of its missed shots. Partially as a result of the attack of the offensive glass, Xavier attempts 40.3 percent of its shots at the rim and gets to the free throw line at an exceedingly high rate (29th nationally). Read the rest of this entry »

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You’re Not Mistaken: Conference Races Are Tighter This Season

Posted by Will Ezekowitz on February 19th, 2016

We are quickly approaching March and that means the regular season is almost over. Usually by this point in the season there are a few teams running away with the crowns in the power conferences, but it hasn’t quite gone that way this year. Analysts have described the level of parity this year in college basketball as unprecedented, but we decided to look into it ourselves. Exactly how close are the conference races this season as opposed to in previous years? Here’s a look at the last six years of the power conference races three weeks from the end of the regular season.

Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 11.20.38 AM Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 11.20.34 AM Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 11.20.28 AM Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 11.20.23 AM Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 11.20.17 AM Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 11.20.09 AM

A quick glance at each league reveals that the ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and especially the SEC are having some of the most contested conference races in recent memory. Interestingly, for every conference other than the Big East, the current first place team (e.g., Kansas at 10-3 in the Big 12) has as many or more losses than any first place team the past five years has had on this date. That also means that second and third place teams across the board have a better chance of winning their leagues than they usually would.

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Marquette Slowly Rebuilding But Hope is on the Horizon

Posted by Chris Stone on January 5th, 2016

Under former coaches Tom Crean and Buzz Williams, Marquette made the NCAA Tournament in eight straight seasons from 2006-13. Despite all of that success, a tumultuous period in program history began just one season removed from a 2013 trip to the Elite Eight. It begin with a sour relationship between Williams and former athletic director Larry Williams (no relation). The latter Williams resigned in December 2013 amid a cloud of uncertainty. The former Williams, for his part, surprisingly left the program for Virginia Tech at the end of the 2013-14 season. In retrospect, the decision was calculated. Williams decided that Marquette, a school with no football program and mired in the thick of a shaky Big East realignment, was not well-poised for future success. The Golden Eagles’ 17-15 record that season certainly wasn’t reassuring.

Steve Wojchiechowski is in the midst of a rebuild at Marquette. (Mark Hoffman/The Journal Sentinel)

Steve Wojchiechowski is in the midst of a rebuild at Marquette. (Mark Hoffman/The Journal Sentinel)

Steve Wojciechowski, the associate head coach at Duke at the time, saw Marquette differently than Williams. He saw a school where, similar to his alma mater in Durham, the men’s basketball program is an integral part of the university. He also recognized that the program has a proud and passionate fan base that will not accept mediocrity. In his first season, Marquette finished 13-19 and once again missed the NCAA Tournament, but a top-10 recruiting class that included highly-touted freshman Henry Ellenson brought a rejuvenated sense of hope. Those expectations were tempered very quickly at the start of the season. In the span of a single November week, the Golden Eagles lost their home opener to Belmont, needed overtime to get past IUPUI, and was walloped by Iowa. They bounced back with neutral court victories over LSU and Arizona State in Brooklyn en route to a 10-2 record that also included a surprising victory over Wisconsin in Madison. The beginning of Big East play, however, brought forth some new adversity. After a disappointing home loss by 20 points to Seton Hall, Marquette hit 0-2 in league play after an 80-70 loss to Georgetown on Saturday. Read the rest of this entry »

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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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