Big East Key Offseason Questions: Part I

Posted by Justin Kundrat on April 12th, 2016

The NCAA Tournament is now behind us and the days of transfers, NBA Draft declarations and coaching moves are upon us. April signals yet another ending, as we tear down everything we knew and build anew. The offseason has a way of inspiring hope that a new season will bring about improvement, that maybe this time things will be different. Consider where the Big East’s very own Villanova was just one year ago this spring. That unknown is why the offseason is such an intriguing time. Below is a list of key questions that each Big East team will attempt to solve over the coming six months.

ButlerWho will replace the scoring void left behind by Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones?

Kellen Dunham, Butler's third all-time leading scorer, won't be easily replaced. (Photo: Getty)

Kellen Dunham, Butler’s third all-time leading scorer, won’t easily be replaced. (Photo: Getty)

Butler has appeared in several “way too early” Top 25 rankings with little explanation as to why. The team will lose four of its seven rotation players, with Dunham and Jones having accounted for 38 percent of its scoring output this season. Rising junior hybrid forward Kelan Martin (15.7 PPG) will assume the duty of primary scorer, having already demonstrated an ability to do so numerous times. The question marks come next. Forward Andrew Chrabascz seemingly regressed as the season proceeded, although his potential as a stretch forward within Butler’s offense is intriguing. The remaining offensive responsibility will fall on George Washington transfer Kethan Savage and senior Tyler Lewis, with the hope that incoming freshman Joey Brunk can also contribute.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Virginia 77, #9 Butler 69

Posted by Brad Jenkins on March 19th, 2016

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.

Malcolm Brogdon Led Virginia Back to the Sweet Sixteen (USA Today Images)

Malcolm Brogdon Led Virginia Back to the Sweet Sixteen (USA Today Images)

  1. Hello NCAA Tournament fans: Meet Andrew Chrabascz. One of the beauties of the NCAA Tournament is that we are introduced to previously unknown players that raise their games on the biggest stage. Tonight that player was Butler’s Andrew Chrabascz. The junior forward may normally be Butler’s fourth option, but he carried the Bulldogs on his back for the first 24 minutes of tonight’s game. At one point early in the second half, Chrabascz had scored 24 of his team’s 37 total points. That’s when Virginia’s Tony Bennett paid him the ultimate complement by moving ACC Defensive Player of the Year Malcolm Brogdon over to guard the red-hot Bulldog. Chrabascz pretty much disappeared from the Butler offense from that point on, going scoreless over the game’s last 13 minutes.
  2. The weakest link showed up in the second half. This game featured two offenses and one defense ranked among KenPom’s top 20 in efficiency. Of course that defense is Virginia’s famous pack line that has smothered opponents for years. But Butler’s defense played much better than expected, especially early in the contest. The Cavaliers only managed to score 23 points on 28 possessions in the first half, shooting a chilly 38 percent from the floor. In the second half, however, Virginia heated up by shooting a scorching 73.1 percent from the field. The Bulldogs gave up 1.50 points per possession after halftime, and couldn’t get key stops down the stretch despite hanging around until the very end.
  3. Virginia got support for its main three guys. There’s no doubt that Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Gill and London Perrantes are Virginia’s key players. But if the Cavaliers are going to make a deep run in this year’s Tourney, they will need other players to step up when one of those is having an off night. Tonight, two bench players — Marial Shayok and Mike Tobey — came up huge. Shayok scored 10 of his 12 points in the second half and Tobey contributed 10 points on 5-of-5 shooting. That’s the kind of support Bennett needs from his so-called role players from here on out.

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Rushed Reactions: #9 Butler 71, #8 Texas Tech 61

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 17th, 2016

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.

Kellen Dunham hit five threes and scored 23 points to lead Butler past Texas Tech. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Kellen Dunham hit five threes and scored 23 points to lead Butler past Texas Tech. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

  1. Classic NCAA #8-#9 Game (for about 30 minutes). As expected, this was a back and forth affair between two evenly matched teams for most of the game. The key stretch turned out to be a personal 8-0 spurt by Bulldogs forward Kelan Martin with around eight minutes to go. With the score tied at 48, the sophomore hit consecutive threes to force a Texas Tech timeout. On the next possession, Martin turned a midcourt steal into a breakaway dunk to give Butler some breathing room. The Red Raiders could get no closer than three points the rest of the way.
  2. Butler was better equipped to win a physical game. Perhaps it’s their Big East pedigree, but the Bulldogs looked much more comfortable when push came to shove (literally). Things got a little chippy about halfway through the second half right before Butler took control of things. At that point in the game, Texas Tech appeared to be knocked back by Butler’s physicality on defense. The Bulldogs also won the rebound battle with a +6 margin. Texas Tech finished with only six offensive boards, including none in the first half.
  3. Texas Tech didn’t win the free throw game. Coming into the game, the Red Raiders ranked in the nation’s top 33 in both free throw percentage and free throw attempt rate. But credit goes to the Bulldogs’ defense for not putting the Red Raiders on the line much at all today. Texas Tech was only 2-of-3 from the stripe in the first half, and finished the game with just nine attempts (converting four). The Red Raiders got good production off the bench with 30 points from reserves, including 18 from senior Devaugntah Williams. Tubby Smith will only lose two players from this year’s surprising NCAA squad, so brighter days should be ahead for Texas Tech.

Star of the Game.  Kellen Dunham, Butler. Dunham was the one constant for his team in both halves. The senior scored 13 in the first half to keep the Bulldogs close — Roosevelt Jones and Kelan Martin combined for only a single point in the first stanza. Dunham finished with 23 points and made 5-of-9 from three-point range.

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Big East’s Burning Questions: NCAA Tournament Edition

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 16th, 2016

With five NCAA Tournament teams seeded anywhere from #2 to a #9, the expectations for the Big East this season are all over the map. Let’s take a look at the single biggest question surrounding the postseason success of each program heading into the first weekend.

Is this the year Jay Wright and company finally make their long awaited run to the Final Four? (Getty)

Is this the year Jay Wright’s group finally makes another run? (Getty)

VillanovaCan the Wildcats finally break through to the Sweet Sixteen? This narrative has seemingly lasted forever. After a number of exits in the Second Round, many pundits are writing off Jay Wright‘s squad. The reasons are all over the place: a lack of true NBA-level talent; a lack of interior depth; limited athleticism; over-reliance on the three-pointer. But what the narrative fails to capture is that the team’s dynamic continues to evolve with each passing year — players gain experience, develop new skill sets and build cohesion. People desperately wanted to craft the three-point shooting storyline around this year’s team but it simply hasn’t held up. Yes, Villanova shoots threes, but they are rarely contested. They are simply a manifestation of an offense where the primary options are to use Josh Hart in the lane or Daniel Ochefu on the low block. Iowa isn’t the type of team to give Villanova problems, nor is an undersized and poor-shooting Temple team. Expect the narrative to finally unwind this March.

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Bracket Prep: Midwest Region

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 15th, 2016

bracketprep22

On Monday and Tuesday we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: Monday (East and West); Tuesday (South and Midwest). Here, Bennet Hayes (@HoopsTraveler) breaks down the Midwest Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC Midwest Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@rtcMWregion).

Midwest Region

Favorite: #2 Michigan State (30-5, 13-5 Big Ten). They aren’t the top seed in the region (more on that later), but the Spartans are as hot as any team in the nation entering the NCAA Tournament. Michigan State’s only blemish over its last 13 games is a one-point loss in overtime at Purdue, a surge that may not have earned them appropriate respect in the RPI (#11) but has done so in advanced rating systems (KenPom #3, Sagarin #2). Any Tom Izzo team is scary in March, but one led by a potential National Player of the Year (Denzel Valentine) evolves into an even more frightening tier of “opponent no team wants to face.” Oh, and their most likely challenger for the title of Midwest favorite knows this reality all too well – top-seeded Virginia has been bounced from each of the last two Tournaments by the Spartans. Michigan State is #2 in seed only in this Midwest Region.

Fresh off a Big Ten tournament title, Michigan State is as hot as any team in the field of 68. (Photo: AP)

Fresh off a Big Ten tournament title, Michigan State is as hot as any team in the field of 68. (Photo: AP)

Should They Falter: #1 Virginia (26-7, 13-5 ACC). Michigan State’s anointment as region favorite has little to do with any deficiencies exhibited by Virginia. Aside from a two-week stretch in early January in which the Cavaliers lost three of four, Tony Bennett’s team has been stellar from November to March. Like the Spartans, they too are in the top four in both the Sagarin and Pomeroy rating systems; unlike the Spartans, they have repeatedly proven capable of beating some of the nation’s best teams: Virginia owns five victories over teams that earned a #3 seed or better – four more than the Spartans. Making the Final Four could well require an exorcism of recent March demons by defeating Michigan State in the Elite Eight, but ACC Player of the Year Malcolm Brogdon, London Perrantes, and Anthony Gill form a leading trio capable of guiding the Cavaliers past any team in the field. Believe it.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Big East

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 13th, 2016

In terms of the bubble, there was little surprise about the five Big East teams that were going to make the Big Dance. Rather, the biggest outstanding question was how their draws would play out. For a number of the middle-seeded teams, first weekend matchups mean nearly everything for postseason success. Below is a review of how the selection process concluded for each Big East team and what they should expect for the first few rounds of the NCAA Tournament.

Villanova, #2 seed, South Region. A surprising and frustrating choice for many Villanova fans. Few expected to receive a #1 seed after losing to Seton Hall last night, but many expected the opportunity to play in the Philadelphia regional rather than being shipped to the South region. Nevertheless, Villanova’s opening pod is a favorable one. The Wildcats handily beat Temple on its own floor a few weeks ago and Iowa has struggled mightily over its last 10 games. The Hawkeyes should beat the Owls, but their guard play is weak and the team has no dominant interior presence. A matchup against Villanova would be a battle of wings against a team that isn’t particularly strong at defending the paint. On paper, Villanova should handle it well.

Villanova's Big East Title Game Loss May Have Cost Them A #1 Seed (USA Today Sports)

Villanova’s Big East Title Game Loss May Have Cost Them A #1 Seed (USA Today Sports)

Xavier, #2 seed, East Region. Xavier should be happy with this placement. Weber State won lot of games but succeeded only once over a team in KenPom‘s top 150. Looking forward, Pittsburgh and Wisconsin are the Musketeers’ possible second round opponents — both are big, physical teams that play a slower-paced game. Neither is particularly adept at forcing turnovers, a point of weakness for the Musketeers, but Wisconsin is probably the more dangerous team. Given the Badgers’ impressive recent stretch (winners of 10 of its last 13 games) and ability to control tempo, Xavier will need to bring its best game. It says here, however, that Wisconsin will struggle to shoot well enough to challenge Chris Mack’s team.

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Big East Tournament Takeaways: Thursday Afternoon

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 10th, 2016

Day two of the Big East Tournament tipped off Thursday afternoon with quarterfinal action. Villanova received more than it asked for from Georgetown before pulling away from the Hoyas in the final 10 minutes to win, 81-67. In the second game, a surging Providence team dominated a Butler squad that had been playing very well coming into the postseason. The Friars and Wildcats will meet in Friday night’s semifinals for the second straight season; it will be Providence’s third consecutive trip since the Big East was reconfigured prior to the 2013-14 season.

Ben Bentil and Kris Dunn combined for 53 points in Providence's victory over Butler. (Photo: USA Today Sports)

Ben Bentil and Kris Dunn combined for 53 points in Providence’s victory over Butler. (Photo: USA Today Sports)

Georgetown (15-18): It was a strong effort from the Hoyas for the better part of 30 minutes but in the end Georgetown just didn’t have enough to deal with Villanova’s toughness and cohesiveness. Bradley Hayes made an immediate impact in the paint, a performance that kept Georgetown in the game and especially important with Villanova center Daniel Ochefu limited to 13 minutes by a nagging injury. L.J. Peak continued his quality play with 18 points but a lack of scoring production from senior D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera was an important factor in Georgetown fading down the stretch.

Villanova (28-4): The Wildcats broke open a close game with a 14-1 run midway through the second half that was keyed by a number of hustle plays leading to transition opportunities. Josh Hart had an outstanding game with 25 points, scoring from all over the floor and especially lethal in transition. After the game, head coach Jay Wright called Hart one of the nation’s best players running the floor and it’s easy to see why after today’s performance. Ryan Arcidiacono was his usual self, diving into the MSG crowd for two lost balls and igniting his team in transition. Two pull-up threes when he didn’t have numbers were gutsy shots that allowed Villanova to create some separation.

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2016 Big East Tournament Preview

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 9th, 2016

Here we are again. March is upon us, this time with 70 degree weather in New York City and four straight days of Big East basketball in the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden. The conference is likely to follow up last season’s six-bid NCAA Tournament mark with five teams, all of which will be vying for better seeding this week. The other five teams are looking at a frenzied series of as many as four straight games, their only avenue to the Dance via what would be a surprising run to the Big East Championship. Often the most vulnerable teams are the most comfortable teams, so the target on Villanova’s back as the defending champ as well as this season’s regular season winner is bigger than ever.

BigEastbracket2016

Here’s a printable version of the bracket: 2016 Big East Tournament Bracket

And the Winner is: Villanova

It’s a boring pick, but given the Wildcats’ continuing success, it’s hard to build an argument against them winning this thing again. Villanova posted a 16-2 Big East record this season and has no shortage of experienced players on its roster. Junior Josh Hart played his way into the Big East Player of the Year discussion as one of the league’s best all-around players; Kris Jenkins has developed into a deadly sharpshooter; and seniors Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu continue to provide their typical steady contributions. The team’s balanced, inside-out attack utilizes a heavy dose of screening that keeps opponents off-balance and sets up quality outside looks. But even on bad shooting days, Jay Wright’s club can grind out wins with tremendous team defense. Should the favorite somehow falter this week, Xavier and Seton Hall are the most likely candidates to supplant Villanova as the Big East Tournament champion. Read the rest of this entry »

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Otskey’s Big East Observations: Scouting Big East Tournament Teams

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 9th, 2016

With the NCAA Tournament only one week away, let’s take a look at the five Big East teams likely to earn a bid from a scouting perspective. Matchups play a major part in whether a strong team makes an early exit or an average team makes a deep March run. This is magnified more than ever in the pressure cooker that is the NCAA Tournament as teams encounter opponents and styles of play they are largely unfamiliar with. Conversely, some of these teams may flourish once they’re free of the grinder that is the regular season in the Big East.

Villanova

Josh Hart and Villanova were the class of the Big East again this season. (USA Today Sports)

Josh Hart and Villanova were the class of the Big East once again this season. (USA TODAY Sports)

  • Why the Wildcats can go deep: Jay Wright’s team is incredibly balanced and cohesive on both sides of the ball. An elite defensive squad, Villanova leads the Big East in allowing only 63.3 PPG. That alone will keep this group in games against any team in the nation. They are known for their defense, but the Wildcats don’t seem to get enough credit nationally for their offensive prowess. They feature an experienced floor general in Ryan Arcidiacono, a versatile wing in Josh Hart and a savvy big man in the middle in Daniel Ochefu. Another thing Villanova does incredibly well that should come in handy in the NCAA Tournament is free throw shooting. It leads the nation with a 77.9 percent mark from the charity stripe. Mounting a comeback against the Wildcats in the final minute is often a futile endeavor.

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Otskey’s Big East Observations: 03.01.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 1st, 2016

As the regular season comes to a close, a pair of Big East teams are fighting for their NCAA Tournament lives. For Butler and Providence, nothing will come easy over the next two weeks. The Bulldogs in particular sit squarely on the bubble as the Big East conference tournament looms. A huge chance awaits Butler tomorrow night when they host a surging Seton Hall team. Chris Holtmann’s group has matched up quite well with the Pirates over the last few seasons, and is the only team to beat them since January 23. A middling RPI, poor non-conference strength of schedule and a 5-8 record versus the RPI top 100 are all resume items conspiring against Butler at this moment. Given those deficiencies, you have to think a wins on Wednesday and Saturday (Marquette) to close the regular season are necessary for Butler to stay in the Tournament mix. Butler passes the so-called “eye test,” but its resume needs an immediate boost to prevent a trip to the NIT.

Andrew Chrabascz and Butler need a strong finish. (USA Today Sports)

It is crunch time for Andrew Chrabascz and Butler. (USA TODAY Sports)

After picking up a massive road victory at Villanova on January 24, Providence stood at 17-3 overall and looked like a sure-fire NCAA Tournament team. Who could have thought that Georgetown would be the only team the Friars would defeat in the month that followed? Providence swept the Hoyas but went 0-6 against every other team it played between January 26 and February 25. While the resume is good enough to merit a bid at this point, a loss to either Creighton or St. John’s would severely damage the Friars’ chances of holding on to an at-large bid. Star point guard Kris Dunn has been fighting an illness over the last week but head coach Ed Cooley said on Monday that the team is now healthy. As they did Saturday in dispatching DePaul, the Friars need to take care of business this week. No excuses if they fail to get the job done. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big East Bubble Watch: Volume III

Posted by Justin Kundrat on February 26th, 2016

Another week, another Big East team falls by the wayside. Last week, we watched Georgetown fail to seize wins in two must-needed opportunities. This week, the team exiting the bubble fray is Creighton. Given such low preseason expectations, a 17-11 (8-7 Big East) record is nothing to be ashamed of, but it’s a tally inflated by a relatively sub-par schedule. On Wednesday, Greg McDermott’s squad dropped a home game against Marquette, one it simply couldn’t afford to lose. Even the best case end of the regular season scenario (3-0 with wins over St. John’s, Providence and Xavier) would be likely to leave the Jays’ RPI in the 60s or 70s heading into the Big East Tournament. So for now, we bid you adieu, Creighton. For the Big East teams still on this list, NCAA Tournament dreams are very much alive. Here’s the latest installment of the Big East Bubble Watch. RPI and SOS figures are from RPIForecast.com.

Locks

  • Villanova: 24-4 (13-2); RPI: 2; SOS: 9
  • Xavier: 25-3 (13-3); RPI: 3; SOS: 32

Analysis: Once again, no justification needed here. And after Xavier’s mettle-testing mid-week victory over the Wildcats, a sometimes-maligned Big East may now be in line for two #1 seeds. Even if that scenario fails to manifest itself, one thing has been clear for quite awhile: these two teams have put together remarkable seasons.

J.P. Macura And Xavier Are Rolling (Photo: AP)

J.P. Macura And Xavier Are Rolling (Photo: AP)

Should Be In

Seton Hall: 20-7 (10-5); RPI: 37; SOS: 70

Analysis: Fueled by the ever-improving play of sophomore Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall has continued to build momentum. There was a major scare in a near loss at St. John’s on Sunday, but the Pirates prevailed and then backed it up with a convincing home win over Providence on Thursday, adding a 3rd top 50 win to its resume. This win should all but punch the Hall’s ticket, but with three games on the schedule, it feels a tad too soon to declare them a lock. There’s an upcoming home game against Xavier that should present more as opportunity than test — it’s essentially a no-lose situation. For a team that was picked to finish 7th in the conference, the Pirates and their wiser, calmer sophomore leader have come a long ways. Outside of Kris Dunn, Whitehead might be the most exciting player to watch in this conference. Keep an eye on him this March.

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Big East Bubble Watch: Volume II

Posted by Justin Kundrat on February 19th, 2016

Sorry Georgetown, but it’s time to say goodbye to the NCAA Tournament. An 0-2 week against Providence and Seton Hall means that the Hoyas are now just 14-13 overall and 3-10 against the RPI top 50. The opportunities have been there, but they simply haven’t seized them. Even the most fervent Hoya fans would be willing to admit that this demotion has been rightfully earned. For the rest of the Big East as a whole, however, little has changed. This is the second installment of the Big East Bubble Watch, with RPI and SOS figures from RPIForecast.com.

Locks

  • Villanova: 23-3 (12-1); RPI: 2; SOS: 13
  • Xavier: 23-3 (11-3); RPI: 5; SOS: 34

Analysis: No justification needed here. Both teams are firmly in the RPI top 10 and could be looking at #1 or #2 seeds. At this point, even a prolonged losing streak wouldn’t be enough to keep them out.

Should Be In

Ben Bentil, Kris Dunn And The Friars Should Be Good To Dance...If They Keep Avoiding Bad Losses (Photo: USA Today Sports)

Ben Bentil, Kris Dunn And The Friars Should Be Good To Dance…If They Keep Avoiding Bad Losses (Photo: USA Today Sports)

Providence: 19-8 (7-7); RPI: 37; SOS: 44

Analysis: Providence is one of those teams whose computer ratings have always trailed its AP ranking and public perception. Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil have been one of the best one-two combinations in college basketball, accounting for 51 percent of the team’s points this season. But inconsistent play from the Friars’ supporting cast has proven difficult to overcome, and this was especially evident last week as Providence went 1-1 with an expected win over Georgetown and an expected loss at Xavier. The Georgetown win matters only in the sense that the Friars avoided a bad loss — an important exercise at this time of year. But with a healthy Bentil — the Big East’s leading scorer with 20.3 PPG — leading the way, Providence should be good to go for the remainder of the year. The key will be whether Rodney Bullock or Ryan Fazekas can produce more to take a great deal of pressure off the killer combo — both in the Friars’ pursuit of the NCAA Tournament and their efforts once there.

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