Big East Bubble Watch: Volume III

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 10th, 2020

There’s only one week to go, which means no more fringe teams. Georgetown has played its way out of the discussion following a pair of losses, while Providence has solidified its place in the NCAA Tournament by cleaning up its home games. We’re oh so close to Selection Sunday, so let’s do one more round of bubble watch before the Big East Tournament kicks off tomorrow. Below is Rush the Court’s second bubble evaluation of the Big East. All figures below are from WarrenNolan.com.

Locks

Two of the Best Big East Teams are NCAA Locks (USA Today Images)

Creighton: 23-7 (13-5); NET: 11; SOS: 18.
Villanova: 24-7 (13-5); NET: 13; SOS: 3.
Seton Hall: 21-9 (13-5); NET: 15; SOS: 4.
Butler: 22-9 (10-8); NET: 19; SOS: 45.
Providence: 19-12 (12-6); NET: 36; SOS: 8.

  • Analysis: Hello, Providence. While the first four teams on this list secured their place weeks ago, the Friars extended a four-game winning streak to six, thereby eliminating the potential for a bad loss. Ed Cooley’s group now stands at 19-12 overall with a 12-6 record in conference play, which includes seven Quad 1 wins and a NET rating that has climbed to 36th over the last week. What a run it’s been. With a match-up against Butler pending in the quarterfinals, a loss won’t be damaging enough to derail the Friars’ train.

Should Be In

Marquette: 18-12 (8-10); NET: 26; SOS: 6.

  • Analysis: Marquette did nothing to help its case in the last week and has, as a result, cast serious doubts over its Tournament status. Realistically, the Golden Eagles needed just one win to secure a spot, but instead further damaged their resume by adding a pair of losses at St. John’s and DePaul. The worst part? Those losses were by a combined three points. Neither is more than a Quad 2 loss, but now we have a team that’s lost six of its last seven games and is clearly spiraling. Their metrics (NET 26, SOS 6) are propping them up, but it’s hard to make the case that this team is playing like a tournament team. For better or for worse, Steve Wojciechowski’s group draws Seton Hall in the Big East quarterfinals, avoiding yet another potentially bad loss while giving it an opportunity to put all concerns to rest with a win. Would a loss against the Pirates cost them a bid? Unlikely, but the possibility is there.
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Five Questions: February in the Big East

Posted by Justin Kundrat & Brad Cavallaro on February 25th, 2020

We’re oh so close to March, the Big East Tournament and everything good that follows. With each slate of conference games under wrap comes more certainty but also more urgency. The Big East has had its fair share of risers and fallers in recent weeks, and below, microsite writers Justin Kundrat and Brad Cavallaro attempt to tackle the big themes happening now.

1. Creighton has seemingly taken the conference by storm these last few weeks, winning nine of its last 10 games. Is it safe to say the Bluejays are the team to beat at the upcoming Big East Tournament?

Creighton has Been on Fire All February (USA Today Images)

JK: As much as I want to say they’re being overrated, it’s hard to overlook what Creighton has accomplished in recent weeks. At 11-4 in Big East play, they are still a game back from Seton Hall but have been playing unconsciously on the offensive end. I could write for days about their 38.6 percent three-point shooting (fourth nationally) supported by three guys hitting at greater than 40 percent, and the ball movement that accompanies their small ball style. But the key difference has been: 1. Ty-Shon Alexander’s function as a defensive ball stopper, and 2. Denzel Mahoney’s ability to score at multiple levels. Alexander has shut down just about everyone from Kamar Baldwin to Markus Howard to Myles Powell, while Mahoney, a 6’5″ transfer from Southeastern Missouri has shot 34 percent from deep while showing an ability to out-muscle his defenders on drives. I’m a buyer of this team and think they’re the conference favorite.

BC: I agree, Creighton looks the best team at this point. Their dynamic offense quickly disposed of Butler in a blink of an eye and it will be extremely difficult for any other Big East team to slow them down. The Zegarowski/Alexander/Ballock trio is so scary because all three have extremely deep range and an ability to put the ball on the floor and become playmakers. While Villanova may have the highest ceiling and Seton Hall has an elite scorer and rim protector, Creighton’s scorching shooting makes them the late February favorite.

2. With just a few games remaining, are you worried about the late season slides for Butler and Marquette?

BC: I am certainly more worried for Butler than Marquette. Butler was projected as an NIT team in the preseason and their talent level is certainly closer to that level than that of an elite team. Butler will certainly make the NCAA Tournament — probably as a #6 or #7 seed — and has a fairly favorable closing schedule, but their deteriorating defense is the biggest concern. As for Marquette, I think we were getting ahead of ourselves in ranking them as a top 20 club. Expect a 10-8 conference record and a #6 or #7 seed for the Golden Eagles as well, but they have a much better chance of advancing behind an improved defense and the unreal scoring wizardry of Markus Howard.

JK: It seems like we’re writing about late season slides for Marquette every season as Howard runs out of gas or the defense fails to materialize or their secondary scorers disappear. It’s a problem, and I’m not sure why guys like Sacar Anim, Brendan Bailey and Koby McEwen can’t consistently generate offense when Howard receives so much attention. But the last game’s box score against Providence tells you all you need to know: Howard: 38 points, rest of team: 34. I love Howard, but I think you need an offense with multiple options, or a defense that can string together enough stops to offset any scoring droughts. So I’m a little worried, but not as worried as I am about Butler… a team that has battled more injuries than I can keep track of and recently saw Kamar Baldwin go out as well. This is already a short rotation team but the guys simply look gassed and don’t have the same cohesiveness defensively that we saw earlier in the season. Here’s a shocking stat: in conference play, Butler is dead last in defensive efficiency, allowing teams to score 1.08 PPP. This seems like a difficult problem to fix when you’re already short-handed.

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What’s Trending: Brawls, Bulldogs and a Boisterous Brey

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 27th, 2020

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Matthew Eisenberg (@matteise) is your weekly host.

As the final seconds ticked away in a lopsided Kansas win over intrastate rival Kansas State last week, what appeared to be normal ending of a blowout turned into anything but normal…

Bill Self spoke on the matter postgame and provided context: While it’s not always seen, every coach should be thrilled with the hustle of his players while time remains on the clock. He felt that DaJuan Gordon stealing the ball as well as Silvio De Sousa running him down and blocking his shot should also be applauded. But the line was crossed when De Sousa taunted Gordon after the clock struck zero, not before that point.

Allen Fieldhouse was not the only place with controversy between players. At Purdue, Illinois’ Alan Griffin blatantly stepped on Purdue’s Sasha Stefanovic in the opening minutes of the game.

In this week’s edition of “What Could Go Wrong College Officiating…,” Notre Dame found itself on the wrong end of the truly bizarre and wacky. Trailing by six points, the Irish forced a Florida State miss and grabbed the defensive rebound. Unfortunately for Notre Dame, the clock operator placed just 20 seconds on the shot clock. Somehow no one caught the mistake, leading to this fruitless rushed possession…

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Ten Questions to Consider: Conference Tests, Busting Trends, and the Quest to Remain Perfect

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 24th, 2020

The first standalone weekend for college basketball is finally upon us. Without football on the calendar over the next three days, eyes shift even more to the hardwood. It’s a weekend that includes tests within conference play in addition to between power conferences. Here are 10 questions I have for the games to come.

  1. Can Texas Tech guard Kentucky without sending the Wildcats to the free throw line? (Kentucky @ Texas Tech, Saturday, 6 PM EST, ESPN) Kentucky heads to Lubbock with an offense that gets to the free throw line at a rate north of 42 percent, a figure that ranks among the top 10 nationally. In Texas Tech’s six losses on the season, the Red Raiders have given up an average of 25.4 free throw attempts, an average of 10.8 more attempts than they have taken in those games.
  2. Which streaky Big East club picks up a key win to begin the weekend? (Marquette @ Butler, Friday, 9 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) Marquette began league play by dropping three of its first four games, but since then, the Golden Eagles have now won three straight. On the other side of things, Butler began Big East play 3-0 but has since lost three straight of its own. In order for Butler to turn things around, it begins with trying to slow Markus Howard, who comes in averaging 35 points per game over his last five outings.
  3. What impact will the midweek melee have on Kansas? (Tennessee @ Kansas, Saturday, 4 PM EST, ESPN) The Jayhawks will be without both Silvio De Sousa and David McCormack this weekend, forcing Bill Self’s hand into a more small-ball oriented lineup alongside Udoka Azubuike. Isaiah Moss and Christian Braun are two players who could see more consistent minutes in this type of lineup.
  4. Can Florida get enough defensive rebounds to potentially upset #1 Baylor? (Baylor @ Florida, Saturday, 8 PM EST, ESPN) While Baylor sits at 16-1 with a top five defensive efficiency ranking, it is a squad, however, that has an effective field goal percentage below the national average. In order for Florida to pull the upset, the Gators will have to limit second-chance opportunities. In their last game, Mike White’s team allowed 15 offensive rebounds to LSU.
  5. Will the quick turnaround to their second game against one another lead to a different result in the Big Ten? (Michigan State @ Minnesota, Sunday, 3 PM EST, Fox) Entering play on Thursday, Big Ten home teams have won 44 of 54 conference games, with five of those losses coming from bottom dwellers Nebraska and Northwestern. A little more than two weeks after losing in East Lansing, Minnesota hosts Michigan State. Xavier Tillman was a force for the Spartans in the last game, scoring 19, grabbing 16 rebounds and blocking five shots.
  6. Will Richmond be able to slow Dayton down and keep its hot A-10 start going? (Dayton @ Richmond, Saturday, 6 PM EST) The Spiders have held five of their six Atlantic 10 opponents to under 65 points. That will be a daunting challenge against a Dayton squad that owns the nation’s best effective field goal percentage and two-point percentage. In last season’s only match-up, the Flyers shot 73.7 percent from inside the arc in what was an easy 24-point win.
  7. How will Memphis look coming off of a 40-point loss? (SMU @ Memphis, Saturday, 4 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) In the Tigers’ recent lopsided loss at Tulsa, Memphis shot 2-of-21 from beyond the arc and turned the ball over 20 times. Freshman guard Boogie Ellis began the season by making 9 of his first 21 three-point attempts, but since then, Ellis has shot just 9-of-42 (21.4%). One difference between now and then, of course, is the absence of James Wiseman.
  8. Can Kihei Clark find his groove and help rescue Virginia’s season? (Virginia @ Wake Forest, Sunday, Noon EST, ACC Network) ACC play has not been kind to Virginia’s third-leading scorer. The sophomore guard is shooting just 33 percent from inside the arc and just 28.6 percent from beyond it during league play. Over his last five games, Clark has missed a terrible 26 of his 37 two-point attempts.
  9. Will San Diego State pass its latest test in Las Vegas? (San Diego State @ UNLV, Sunday, 4 pm EST, CBS Sports Network) In 68 prior match-ups between these squads, each team has won 34 times. While the Aztecs have won five of the past eight in Las Vegas, four of those have come by two points or fewer. San Diego State has done a tremendous job all season in creating turnovers, an area of which UNLV has struggled mightily all year.
  10. Can DePaul find a way to end its slump in Big East play? (St. John’s @ DePaul, Saturday, 2 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) DePaul began the year 12-1 but has since run into the Big East buzzsaw, having lost five of its first six league games. In the Blue Demons’ loss to St. John’s on January 11, center Paul Reed was held to a season-low four points. Over the three games since, Reed is averaging 21 points and 12 rebounds per game.

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Quarter-Pole Check-In on the Big East

Posted by Brad Cavallaro & Justin Kundrat on December 18th, 2019

We’re only about five weeks into the regular season and yet it feels like an eternity judging by how much has happened thus far. Between the risers and fallers, early season disappointments and pleasant surprises, the Big East has had no shortage of compelling storylines. Below, Big East writers Justin Kundrat and Brad Cavallaro regroup and recap several of the key questions the conference is facing going into the holidays.

With only a close loss at Baylor, Butler has emerged as a Big East contender (or even front-runner) by analytics and their body of work. Do you see the Bulldogs as a legitimate contender or just a team off to a hot start?

Is Butler the Big East Team to Beat? (USA Today Images)

JK: With Seton Hall floundering and Villanova skirting by against inferior opponents, there’s no question in my mind that Butler is the top dog in the conference right now. The Bulldogs won’t overwhelm you with size or athleticism or shooting or lottery picks, but this team is as cohesive as any in the country. They remind me a bit of some of the Virginia teams in recent years, in that every game is played on Butler’s terms. The Bulldogs currently rank 338th nationally in tempo and opponents are getting just 16.7 percent of their shot attempts in transition, good for 12th nationally. Combine that with a defense that is elite in both defensive rebounding and discouraging perimeter shots and you have a recipe for success — there are no easy buckets with this team. On the other end, there are occasional concerns about the offense over-relying on Kamar Baldwin, but others have stepped up in recent games (here’s looking at you, Sean McDermott). And when opponents are scoring just 54.5 PPG, you don’t need multiple 20+ point scorers on the roster. Anyway, count me in as a buyer of Butler stock.

BC: I think at this point Butler is absolutely a contender. Between Seton Hall’s injuries and Xavier’s recent disappointing play, Butler and Villanova look like the clear front-runners in the Big East. While the Bulldogs do not have top-half conference talent, their excellent chemistry and buy-in from their role players has created a “whole is greater than the sum of its parts” scenario. While team synergy looks like the main reason for Butler’s early success, they are also receiving some great individual performances. Baldwin has taken the step from great player to star and the defense has been excellent with players like Aaron Thompson and Bryce Nze setting the tone. I think the most likely scenario is that Butler settles into the #15-#20 range nationally, but if they can get more from Jordan Tucker and Khalif Battle, the ceiling is even higher.

Seton Hall has disappointed, surrendering late game leads versus both Michigan State and Oregon? Can they back up their lofty preseason ranking and who emerges in Mamu’s absence?

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Ten Questions to Consider: A Super Weekend of Hoops

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on February 1st, 2019

This weekend’s slate of college basketball from Friday evening through Sunday afternoon will be the perfect lead-in to the “Big Game.” With now under 50 days until Selection Sunday, here are 10 questions I have for this weekend’s crucial action.

  1. Can Iowa turn around its porous defense against one of the Big Ten’s best? (Michigan @ Iowa, Friday 7 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) Despite having one of the Big Ten’s most efficient offenses, Iowa finds itself 5-5 in conference play ahead of tonight’s game against Michigan. The Hawkeyes are the only Big Ten team that is allowing at least 1.10 points per possession in conference games.
  2. Is Bowling Green a threat to Buffalo in the MAC’s Eastern Division? (Buffalo @ Bowling Green, Friday 8 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) Bowling Green and Buffalo each have just one MAC loss ahead of tonight’s match-up, but the Falcons’ ability to clean up its defensive glass could be the difference-maker. Bowling Green’s Demajeo Wiggins has a defensive rebounding rate that sits among the top five in the nation.
  3. Can Louisville stymie North Carolina’s three-point shooting for a second time? (North Carolina @ Louisville, Saturday 2 PM EST, ESPN) Roy Williams’ team has shot 40 percent or better from three-point range in six of its past seven games. The single game in which it did not was a 3-of-22 performance in a loss against Louisville. Correspondingly, ACC opponents have shot 30.8 percent against the Cardinals over their last five games.
  4. Will NC State be focused and ready for a feisty Virginia Tech team? (Virginia Tech @ North Carolina State, Saturday Noon, ACC Network) Sandwiched between the disappointment of their overtime loss to Virginia and a Tuesday game against North Carolina, the Wolfpack play Virginia Tech. All three losses by the Hokies thus far have come on the road.
  5. Which Big 12 title contender falls further back in the race for the regular season title? (Texas Tech @ Kansas, Saturday 4 PM EST, CBS) With both teams sitting at 5-3 in conference play, the loser of this game could find itself in the danger zone (yes, even Kansas). After shooting over 40 percent from long-range last season in conference play, Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver has missed 24 of his 27 three-point attempts in conference play this season.
  6. Will the three-point line again be the difference in the battle of Mississippi? (Mississippi State @ Mississippi, 3:30 PM EST, SEC Network) In the January meeting between these teams, both sides shot above 55 percent from inside the arc. The Rebels came out on top by four points, however, partly thanks to an 18-point advantage from behind the arc. Ole Miss has beaten the Bulldogs seven consecutive times in Oxford.
  7. Can San Francisco pick up a big resume boost? (San Francisco @ Saint Mary’s, Saturday 4 PM EST) San Francisco has two top-100 KenPom wins on the season, including a win over Saint Mary’s earlier this year. In their win over the Gaels last month, the Dons’ put four players in double-figures.
  8. Which Big East team will end its recent struggles in conference play? (Seton Hall @ Butler, Saturday Noon EST, Fox Sports 1) Collectively, Seton Hall and Butler have lost nine of their last 12 Big East games. In Seton Hall’s one-point win over Butler last month, Butler starters Sean McDermott and Henry Baddley both fouled out.
  9. Will Georgetown be in over its head again with its trip to Villanova? (Georgetown @ Villanova, Noon EST, Fox Sports 1) Villanova has beaten Georgetown seven straight times at home by an average of 17.7 points per game. Jay Wright’s offense is firing on all cylinders now, having shot above 50 percent on two-point attempts and 40 percent on three-point attempts in each of its last five games.
  10. Can Baylor avenge its earlier loss to TCU and stay on top of the Big 12? (TCU @ Baylor, Saturday 8 PM EST, ESPNU) Surging Baylor sits outside the top 30 in the most recent NET Rankings despite sitting atop the Big 12 standings. Scott Drew’s team trailed by as many as 19 points in the loss at TCU, a game in which Baylor’s defense was torched to the tune of 1.2 points per possession.

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Ten Questions To Consider: Conference Play Begins Across the Country

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 4th, 2019

With non-conference play all but over, it’s time to begin conference play in earnest. This weekend’s slate of games includes key road tests, match-ups among teams expected to battle for conference supremacy, and a chance to end a long losing streak.

It’s Always Fun When Kansas Visits Hilton Coliseum (USA Today Images)
  1. Will Toledo’s offense continue to shine as they take on Ball State in a “Best of the West” MAC opener? (Ball State @ Toledo, Friday 7 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) The MAC’s Western Division is led by KenPom top 100 teams Toledo and Ball State. The Rockets’ Nate Navigato has scored 14 or more points in six of the team’s last seven games while shooting 27-of-48 from distance.
  2. Can Iowa State make enough threes to beat Kansas? (Kansas @ Iowa State, Saturday 5 PM EST, ESPN2) On the season, 41 percent of Cyclone field goal attempts have been three-pointers. Iowa State will be dealing with a Kansas defense, on the other hand, that has forced opponents to miss 126 of their last 168 three-point attempts.
  3. Will Michigan State’s defense show up this year against Ohio State? (Michigan State @ Ohio State, Saturday Noon EST, FOX) Last season, Ohio State was one of four teams to score 80 or more points against Michigan State. The Buckeyes have managed to score at least one point per possession in each of their last five home games against the Spartans.
  4. Is beating Butler as easy as slowing Paul Jorgensen? (Creighton @ Butler, Saturday Noon EST, Fox Sports 1) Butler’s senior guard Paul Jorgensen began the year scoring in double-figures in each of the team’s first six games. Since then, Butler has gone just 1-4 when its backcourt star does not reach 10 points — in those games he is shooting just 3-of-21 from beyond the arc.
  5. Will Kentucky be able to get to the free throw line at its usual high rate in the Wildcats’ SEC opener? (Kentucky @ Alabama, 1 PM EST, ESPN) John Calipari’s squad has marched to the free throw line at a rate that ranks just outside of the top 10 nationally. Kentucky begins SEC play on the road against an Alabama team that has sent teams to the line at a rate better than the national average.
  6. Does this Florida State team have enough offense to beat Virginia if the Cavaliers continue to shut down Terrence Mann? (Florida State @ Virginia, Saturday 3 PM EST, ESPN2) Terrance Mann’s 13.1 points per game leads the Seminoles in scoring on the season, but in three career games against Virginia, he has logged only 11 points in 64 minutes of action.
  7. Will Oregon State’s fortunes change at Matthew Knight Arena this season? (Oregon State @ Oregon, Saturday 8 PM EST, Pac-12 Networks) Oregon State has lost six straight and 23 of its past 25 games at Oregon. In the current losing streak, the Beavers have lost by double-figures five times, including a 42-point embarassment in 2016. In order for Oregon State to come out on top, they will need Tres Tinkle to turn around his shooting woes as he has gone just 8-of-39 from distance over his last seven games.
  8. Will Duke’s freshman play like freshman in their first taste of ACC conference play? (Clemson @ Duke, Saturday 8 PM EST, ESPN) Duke begins ACC play hosting a Clemson team that has done a tremendous job in limiting second-chance opportunities all season long. If Clemson is able to limit easy buckets for Duke, might the pressure of their first ACC game be enough to keep it close?
  9. Is Michigan’s defense beginning to leak some air or is there nothing to worry about? (Indiana @ Michigan, Sunday 4:30 PM EST, CBS) While Michigan’s defense has been among the best in the nation to date, opponents have begun to see great improvement in shooting the ball from inside the arc against the Wolverines. In their first eight games, only one opponent shot better than 40 percent on two-point attempts. Since then, four of Michigan’s last five opponents have shot better than 50 percent in that range.
  10. How much better is Gonzaga about to get? (Santa Clara @ Gonzaga, Saturday 9 PM EST, ROOT Sports) Matt Norlander of CBS Sports tweeted that Mark Few believes Gonzaga could have both Geno Crandall and Killian Tillie available for its game this weekend against Santa Clara. Adding those two stalwarts back in the Bulldogs’ lineup will only make the nation’s most efficient offense that much more lethal.

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Ten Questions To Consider: Mid-season Questions as Non-Conference Play Comes to a Close

Posted by Matthew Eisenberg on December 29th, 2018

Sandwiched between the holidays and the New Year is a weekend slate of games that includes a bitter rivalry, several rematches of early season games, and individual matchups that fans and scouts will want to see. Here are ten questions to consider while enjoying games over the next few days.

  1. Can Chris Mack beat Kentucky in his first matchup against the Wildcats as Louisville coach? (Kentucky @ Louisville, Saturday 2 PM EST, ESPN2) In their first game against Kentucky as head coach of Louisville, both David Padgett and Rick Pitino lost by 20 or more points. Chris Mack’s Lousville team is led by Jordan Nwora who comes into this game having made 16-of-28 three-pointers over the last five games.
  2. Will Florida’s defense be able to create turnovers at a higher rate against Butler this go around? (Butler @ Florida, Saturday 4 PM EST, ESPNU) This is a rematch of the Battle 4 Atlantis fifth-place game in which Butler beat Florida 61-54. In that game, Florida’s defense forced turnovers at a season worst rate of just 17.4%. On the season, the Gators force turnovers at a rate of 24.7%, which ranks among the top ten in the nation.
  3. Will one of the easiest non-conference schedules in the country have St. John’s ready for its Big East opener? (St. John’s @ Seton Hall, Saturday 8:30 PM EST, Fox Sports Net) St. John’s has played one of the ten easiest non-conference schedules in the country according to KenPom rankings. The Red Storm begin Big East play against a Seton Hall team that has won five straight.
  4. Will Oregon avoid disaster in a trap-game at Boise State? (Oregon @ Boise State, Saturday 7:30 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) Oregon beat Boise State by 12 points just two weeks ago at Matthew Knight Arena. The Broncos led the Ducks at halftime of that game. This game is sandwiched between a loss at Baylor and Oregon’s conference-opener next week against in-state rival Oregon State.
  5. Does Purdue have a bad matchup on its hands with Belmont coming to West Lafayette? (Belmont @ Purdue, Saturday 4:30 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) Opponents have shot 38% from beyond the arc against Purdue on the season, which puts Purdue’s three-point defensive ranking outside of the top 300. Belmont enters this game as a team that shoots 36.4% from distance and has six players who have made double-digit threes while shooting at least 33% for the season.
  6. Will North Carolina continue its recent trend of following a loss with a dominating performance? (Davidson @ North Carolina, Saturday Noon EST, ESPN2) North Carolina has lost consecutive non-conference games just once (November 2010) with Roy Williams as coach. Following loses to Texas and Michigan earlier in the season, the Tar Heels came out and won the next games by 16 and 28 points.
  7. What will Markus Howard do next? (Southern @ Marquette, Friday 8 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) Marquette’s leading scorer Markus Howard is one of five players in the nation who is averaging 25 or more points per game. Howard is averaging 32.8 points this month and is coming off of his second 45 point game of December. Southern’s defensive efficiency ranks among the bottom five in the nation.
  8. Is beating Lipscomb a must for the sake of Clemson’s resume? (Lipscomb @ Clemson, Sunday 3:00 PM EST, ESPN3) Clemson is 0-3 against KenPom top 100 teams on the season. The Tigers get one more opportunity at a top 100 non-conference win with Lipscomb. If Brad Brownell’s squad does not get the win, early conference games against Duke and Virginia could turn into must-win games.
  9. Which big-man will shine brighter between Ethan Happ and Charles Bassey? (Wisconsin @ Western Kentucky, Saturday 5:30 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) Western Kentucky’s five-star freshman big man Charles Bassey will be put to the test against Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ. Both Bassey and Happ do a tremendous job of drawing fouls. With WIsconsin’s offense running through Happ, Bassey’s ability to stay out of foul trouble will be key in this game.
  10. Just how good is the MAC’s second best team? (Penn @ Toledo, Saturday 2 PM EST, ESPN+) While Buffalo has rightfully been a team that has been in the spotlight, Toledo continues to also perform at a high level. The Rockets are 11-1 with a NET ranking in the top 70. Tod Kowalczyk’s squad’s next three games are all against KenPom top 100 teams, including a January 8th matchup with Buffalo.

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Big East Burning Questions: Butler & Creighton

Posted by Justin Kundrat on October 18th, 2018

The NBA season tipped off earlier this week, which makes it the perfect time to roll out some new Big East content to drown out the monotony of early-season professional basketball. Over the coming weeks, the Big East microsite will be previewing all the teams, players and key storylines to watch as we approach tip-off. Be sure to follow @RTCBigEast and its contributors Justin Kundrat and Brad Cavallaro to get your fix.

In the spotlight today will be (alphabetically) Butler and Creighton.

Butler: Can Kamar Baldwin take on the role of alpha dog?

Can Kamar Baldwin Shoulder Butler’s Offensive Load? (USA Today Images)

A number of publications and season previews have penciled in the 6’1″ junior as the Big East Player of the Year given his expected role on the contending Bulldogs and demonstrated play-making abilities on both sides of the ball. What’s being overlooked in that analysis, though, is the inefficient and inconsistent method in which he played offensively last season. The Butler offense was actually 0.05 PPP better without Baldwin on the floor, and his 104.1 KenPom Offensive Rating was the second worst among the Bulldogs’ rotation players. He fared well as a distributor and two-level scorer, but often struggled with his shooting (33.1% from deep) and witnessed his efficiency succumb to higher volume and more defensive attention. With Kelan Martin’s 21.2 PPG now off the roster, the spotlight will inevitably turn to Baldwin to buoy the offense alongside a flurry of outside shooters – Paul Jorgensen (10.2 PPG), Sean McDermott (43.1% 3FG) and Duke transfer Jordan Tucker. If he can put up enough points while maintaining his notorious defensive tenacity, LaVall Jordan‘s group should have no problem finishing in the top three of this league, but there’s an if.

Creighton: How quickly will its sophomores grow up?

Greg McDermott Has a Lot to Replace This Season (USA Today Images)

Creighton joins Seton Hall, Xavier, Villanova and just about every other Big East team in losing the majority of its scoring output from last season. In addition to Marcus Foster (19.8 PPG) and Toby Hegner (8.4 PPG), what really stings is the early departure of junior Khyri Thomas to the NBA. All told, Greg McDermott lost north of 60 percent of last season’s scoring and is now attempting to replace it with a mix of freshmen, sophomores, redshirts and transfers. Will his team end up in the NCAA Tournament for a third consecutive year? Doubtful, but it should be fun to watch this eclectic group of players slowly form a cohesive unit over the season. Leading the way are a trio of sophomores — Mitch Ballock (7.3 PPG), Ty-Shon Alexander (5.5 PPG) and Jacob Epperson (6.3 PPG) — each of whom showed well in spurts last season. Ballock is the biggest breakout candidate of the bunch (and my pick for most improved): After spending most of last season under the radar, he posted a team-leading 16 points and eight rebounds in the Bluejays’ NCAA Tournament loss to Kansas State. It will take time for each of these players to adjust to a heightened role, but when that happens and versatile forward Martin Krampelj returns from injury, the March version of this team will look nothing like November’s.

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Big East Conversation: Opening Weekend Takes

Posted by Brian Otskey & Justin Kundrat on March 20th, 2018

With NCAA six teams in action this past weekend, Big East fans have a lot to talk about this week. Big East microsite writers Justin Kundrat and Brian Otskey discuss what’s on their minds following a full slate of games.

Brian Otskey: Villanova is now the sole flag bearer remaining for the Big East. The Wildcats are the best team left in the field but their draw isn’t easy. How do you see them matching up with what is clearly the tougher side of the remaining bracket?

Villanova Looked Fantastic Last Weekend (USA Today Images)

Justin Kundrat: Villanova‘s path might have been the easiest when the bracket was announced, but now the Wildcats have one of the more difficult ones. Given how haphazardly this year’s bracket has shaken out, trying to predict future match-ups beyond this round seems futile. They are undoubtedly going to be the favorite in their region to make the Final Four, but each of the teams left in the draw is stylistically different. Against West Virginia, the key will not only be taking care of the ball (although the Wildcats rank 11th nationally in turnover rate), but in the effectiveness of big men Eric Paschall and Omari Spellman. The Mountaineers are an elite shot-blocking group behind 6’8″ Sagaba Konate, which definitely threatens the drive-and-kick nature of Villanova’s offense. That means Paschall and Spellman will have to knock down perimeter shots to drag Konate away from the rim. As for the Elite Eight, Villanova matches up better with a backcourt-dominant team like Texas Tech than it does with Purdue. The Boilermakers’ Matt Haarms was wildly effective against Butler and will be a handful should he face Villanova’s undersized frontcourt. All told, though, Villanova’s versatility and balance should be enough to get them to San Antonio.

BO: Did most people underestimate the impact of Martin Krampelj’s injury on Creighton? Aside from the Villanova win, the Bluejays struggled over the final two months of the regular season and did not play well against Kansas State.

JK: I’m not sure underestimate is the right word. Everyone knew that the impact was severe and there was no replacement for a player like him. At 6’9″, he was the team’s best post defender and rebounder, and he moved around the floor better than most guys his size. It’s no surprise that Greg McDermott loved using him in pick-and-roll sets because he could spread the floor or glide to the rim. The other two bigs on the roster are 6’10” Toby Hegner, who was basically a spot-up shooter, and 6’11” freshman Jacob Epperson, who had flashes of brilliance but couldn’t string together much consistency. So his loss turned what was already backcourt-dominant team into one that overrelied on one or two guards to generate offense.

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