Ten Questions to Consider: Conference Play Heats Up

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 6th, 2018

As we turn the corner into 2018 and settle into conference play, let’s examine 10 questions heading into a busy weekend.

Texas Tech Looks to Build Off Its Huge Upset Win in Allen Fieldhouse (USA Today Images)

  1. Big 12, Part 1: Will Kansas leave Forth Worth with one or two conference losses? While Kansas was picked once again to win the Big 12 in the conference’s preseason poll, the Jayhawks are in serious danger of losing two of their first three conference games. Earlier this season, head coach Bill Self noted that “this is the softest team that Kansas has had since I’ve been here. Things have not improved since those remarks as Kansas currently owns the second worst defensive efficiency in the Big 12 and ranks last in opponents’ rebounding rate through two games.
  2. Big 12, Part 2: Who will stay undefeated at the top? While Trae Young shines every night out for the Sooners, Oklahoma has also received consistent contributions from his sidekicks Kameron McGusty, Christian James and Brady Manek. West Virginia will represent the Sooners’ second opponent this season with a defensive efficiency within the top 50. The Mountaineers will get an offensive boost with the return of Esa Ahmad, who was second on the team in scoring last year.
  3. Big 12, Part 3: Should Texas Tech be concerned with Kansas State? After beating Kansas in Lawrence earlier this week, Texas Tech is riding high with a 2-0 record in Big 12 play. With games to come next week at Oklahoma and versus West Virginia, it would be easy to overlook a Kansas State team that lacks a true marquee win. But the Wildcats have four double-figure scorers and are a year removed from having already beaten Texas Tech. Beating Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse was a program-defining win, but it will lose some of its luster if Texas Tech fails to show up against Kansas State.
  4. How will Notre Dame look without Bonzie Colson? While Notre Dame did not miss a beat without the services of an injured Bonzie Colson against NC State, the Irish must now deal with a tricky road game against the Syracuse 2-3 zone. ESPN.com‘s Jeff Borzello reported earlier this week that Colson — who accounts for approximately a quarter of Notre Dame’s points and rebounds this season — is likely to miss eight weeks with a foot fracture. TJ Gibbs stepped up with 22 points in the Irish’s first game without Colson, his fifth time with at least 20 points this season. Read the rest of this entry »
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Kamar Baldwin’s Point Guard Play is Driving Butler’s Resurgence

Posted by Justin Kundrat on January 4th, 2018

Just one short week ago with Big East play very near on the horizon, LaVall Jordan‘s Butler squad was sitting on a 10-3 non-conference record that was noticeably lacking in signature wins. Other than a victory over a likely bubble team in Ohio State, the Bulldogs had failed to enhance their resume over any of the other three likely NCAA tournament squads (Maryland, Texas and Purdue). Needless to say, given Butler’s ongoing shooting slump and iffy ball movement, there was cause for concern in Indianapolis around the Bulldogs’ postseason hopes.

And Then This Happened (USA Today Images)

But on the heels of a thrashing comeback win over Georgetown and a words-won’t-do-it-justice shooting performance over then top-ranked Villanova, the Bulldogs have quickly gotten right back on track. The notable turnaround can be attributed to a number of things: senior leader Kelan Martin’s consistency; Paul Jorgensen’s streaky 41.9 percent outside shooting; and, the return of stretch forward Sean McDermott. But most of all, Kamar Baldwin’s over-thinking tendencies at the point guard position have seemed to evaporate, resulting in quicker ball movement and less hesitation in shooting or driving. It’s worth noting that the sophomore guard played the vast majority of last season off the ball, generally delegating point guard duties to one of the team’s two senior guards. But given their departures and freshman Aaron Thompson‘s unfamiliarity with the system, Baldwin has slowly assumed the role this year. While Butler started the season in a time-sharing situation at the position, the below table shows that Baldwin’s minutes without Thompson on the floor have slowly ticked up.

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What’s Trending: The End of 2017

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 2nd, 2018

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

Georgetown’s double-overtime loss to Butler last Wednesday was the second overtime loss of the season for the Hoyas. Those are also the only losses Georgetown had at the time — something worthy of consideration by the committee…?

Depaul fell short in its upset bid against Villanova, but “What’s Trending’s” favorite bench player Pantelis Xidias got some tv time regardless!

Saturday afternoon featured a pair of thrilling finishes at the same time. Duke and Florida State were flying up and down the court on one channel while TCU and Oklahoma were trading late leads on another. At Cameron Indoor Stadium, Marvin Bagley missed a free throw but managed to turn it into a wild bucket and foul.

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Big East Notebook: Recapping Non-Conference Play

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 20th, 2017

Conference play in the Big East is a mere week away, which means most teams are quietly wrapping up the non-conference portion of their schedules and looking ahead to the good stuff. Currently ranked third by KenPom’s adjusted efficiency metrics, the conference as a whole has fared in line with expectations thus far. But not every team in the Big East can proclaim a strong start; there has certainly been a reshuffling of the pecking order in the middle of the standings. Here is a recap of several key conference takeaways from over the last few weeks.

Villanova Has Looked Great Through the Non-Conference Season (USA Today Images)

  • Villanova has looked every bit the part of a national title contender. Not only have juniors Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson made a case for being the best one-two combination in college basketball this season, but redshirt freshman Omari Spellman has erased any doubts over about a long adjustment period after his 27-point, eight-rebound outburst against Temple last week. Any of the Wildcats’ six rotation players are capable of scoring in double figures and Wright has gotten encouraging play from of his trio of freshmen. An entire essay could be written about the many things that Villanova does well. If there any areas for future improvement, it would have to be focused on the team’s inside scoring — the Wildcats rank 132nd nationally in shots taken at the rim and 90th in field goal percentage there.
  • Providence has underwhelmed so far, but full judgment isn’t yet justified. The Friars’ 8-3 record is a bit deceiving in that it includes marginal two-possession or fewer wins over Rider, Brown and Stony Brook. Those close victories are largely because Providence’s offense has struggled mightily over the team’s last four games, posting a mere 0.92 points per possession after a 1.17 PPP mark to start the season. A major contributing factor to that decline has been injuries to three key rotation players: Kyron CartwrightAlpha Diallo, and Maliek White. The lingering injury to Cartwright is particularly damaging on the offensive end as he serves as the primarily facilitator and secondary scoring option. Meanwhile, the injured Diallo provides a great degree of defensive versatility while having come into his own as a tertiary scoring option (11.4 PPG more than doubles his scoring from last season). These injuries coupled with a season-ending injury to presumptive starting forward Emmitt Holt have been noticeable setbacks for Ed Cooley’s squad.

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Ten Questions to Consider: Mid-December Blues

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on December 16th, 2017

With temperatures dropping across the country, nothing beats staying in and watching college basketball all weekend long. Here are 10 things to watch this weekend.

Butler (USA Today Images)

  1. Which Paul Jorgensen shows up for Butler? In Butler’s two losses this season, Paul Jorgensen scored a total of two points on 1-of-9 shooting. In Butler’s eight wins, Jorgensen scored 10 or more points seven times. If Butler expects to beat Purdue at the Crossroads Classic today, they will need Jorgensen to contribute offensively.
  2. Will Wichita State grab another win against a Big 12 opponent? Wichita State has already gone on the road and beaten Baylor and Oklahoma State in “Big 12 action”; this weekend the Shockers will get Oklahoma at home. Wichita State will be up against the nation’s leading scorer, Trae Young, who has scored 28 or more points in each of his last six games.
  3. Is Georgetown ANY good? Jokes about Georgetown’s dead-last non-conference schedule have been flying around all season long. Saturday’s game against Syracuse is the first Georgetown opponent to have a KenPom rating in the top 200 and only the second in the top 300. Good luck, Hoyas. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East Preview Part II: Key Questions for Marquette & Butler

Posted by Justin Kundrat on October 25th, 2017

With the season just a few weeks away, Rush the Court’s Big East preview will tip off its coverage by posing a season-defining key question for each team. Last week we covered DePaul and Georgetown.

#8 Marquette – Will there be enough talent on the defensive end to support the run and gun offense?

Wojo Looks to Build on His First NCAA Tournament Appearance (USA Today Images)

The Golden Eagles may not have been a transition-oriented team last season (131st nationally in percentage of shots coming in transition), but they could certainly put points up in a hurry. The tremendously efficient offense, supported by a nation-leading three point percentage (42.9%), provided for plenty of entertainment, including a comeback victory over top-ranked Villanova in January. What’s causing Marquette fans to get excited and opponents to get overly anxious this time around is that the Eagles’ top three shooters are back. Backcourt mates Andrew Rowsey and Markus Howard are joined by stretch forward Sam Hauser to form what should once again be a punishing trio. The not-so-exciting part — Marquette’s defense — is another story. Watching the ball drop through the net is fun, but blown defensive assignments and paltry interior defense are not. The Golden Eagles allowed their opponents to shoot a blistering 68.9 percent at the rim last season, good for 10th worst in college basketball. Furthermore, one of the only two players who stands above 6’7″ is now gone, and freshmen and a midseason transfer from SMU are expected to fill the void. Moreover, the team loses arguably its best perimeter defender in JaJuan Johnson. It’s never comforting to point to newcomers as a way to shore up stark defensive holes, but that’s the position Marquette finds itself in this season. Should Steve Wojciechowski‘s team gel on the defensive end, this team could very easily find itself back in the NCAA Tournament.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 North Carolina 92, #4 Butler 80

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 24th, 2017

RTC is providing coverage from start to finish of the NCAA Tournament for the next three weeks.

Kennedy Meeks and the Heels had a lot to cheer about Friday night (Photo: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports)

Key Takeaways.

  1. Tar Heels explode in the first half. North Carolina raced out to a 16-point lead in the first 10 minutes and never looked back. The Tar Heels would maintain that edge for the second 10 minutes of the first half, taking a 52-36 advantage to the locker room. Three Tar Heels scored in double figures – Justin Jackson with 17 points, Luke Maye with 14, Joel Berry with 10 – in a quintessential display of Carolina offense. They played fast (43 possessions), made three-point shots (8-of-17 from long-range), and exploited their size advantage inside in outrebounding Butler by 11. UCLA and Kansas each boast offenses as good, if not better, than that of North Carolina, but neither possess the inside-outside balance of the Heels. The first 20 minutes of this game was a potent expression of this reality.
  2. Unexpected and expected Carolina contributors. UNC has relied upon Jackson and Berry all season, and the Tar Heels’ junior duo delivered again tonight. They combined for 50 points, five three-pointers, and committed just three turnovers. However, it wasn’t just Jackson and Berry fronting the load this evening. Maye provided an unexpected spark in leading the first half surge, scoring 14 points and grabbing 11 rebounds in the opening frame. Roy Williams expressed immense appreciation for the contributions and skills of UNC’s very unlikely catalyst, saying he was not surprised by Maye’s night because he sees it every day in practice. Either way, the Heels should benefit from a confident Maye, as his ability to step out and shoot the three provides a nice balance to the bruising interior duo of Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks.
  3. Butler three-point shooting struggles. The Bulldogs were an efficient offensive outfit for the better part of their first 33 games of the season, with top-100 percentages nationally in 3FG, 2FG, and FT%. However, the 21st-most efficient offense in the country struggled to generate the points needed to hang with North Carolina this evening. The origin of the drought was obvious, as Butler made just eight of its 28 three-point attempts. Chris Holtmann couldn’t have had a problem with most of the rest of the offensive stat sheet, as his team shot 55 percent from two-point range, 86 percent from the free throw line, and turned the ball over just nine times in a high-possession game. Missed three-point shots is a familiar killer of seasons this time of year; tonight, Butler’s long-range struggles ensured its season would not continue.

Star of the Game. Justin Jackson, North Carolina. The versatile Tar Heels star had the full arsenal working Friday night. He was confident and effective in shooting the three, lofting floaters in the half-court, and getting out on the fast break for easy buckets. Jackson finished with 24 points, five rebounds, and five assists. Honorable mention goes to Maye, who unexpectedly delivered a career high 14 points and 11 rebounds, and Berry, who finished with a game-high 26 points.

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Quantifying the Impact of Kamar Baldwin, Butler’s Unsung Hero

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 22nd, 2017

As Chris Holtmann’s group of Bulldogs head to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in six years, the underpinnings of “Butler basketball” are increasingly apparent. Statistically, this is the most efficient offensive unit in the last 16 seasons at the school. The offseason addition of sharpshooter Avery Woodson (42.9% 3FG), the remarkably effective play of point guard Tyler Lewis, and the midseason revival of leading scorer Kelan Martin have caused opponents to struggle with a brand of team-oriented basketball that trots out five legitimate scoring threats at any given time. It is therefore no surprise that such an experienced group comfortably executes its offensive sets at its own pace while minimizing turnovers. The tangential storyline, however, resides on the defensive end of the floor — the virtually unquantifiable impact of freshman guard Kamar Baldwin.

Kamar Baldwin’s Defense Has Helped Butler to the Sweet Sixteen (USA Today Images)

For the uninitiated, Baldwin is a former three-star recruit whose presence in the Bulldogs’ recruiting class was largely overshadowed by that of 6’10” center Joey Brunk, one of the highest regarded incoming big men this season. It was expected that Baldwin would provide backcourt depth alongside the returning starters and incoming transfers Avery Woodson and Kethan Savage, but a more significant impact was felt right out of the gate. Baldwin quickly slid into a role as defensive disruptor, providing relentless on-ball pressure and using his lateral quickness to cut off driving lanes and reroute passes. In fact, the Bulldogs rank 11th nationally in defensive assist rate — opponents assisting on just 43.7 percent of their baskets, compared with the national average of 52.1 percent — in large part because of Baldwin’s efforts.

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NCAA Regional Reset: South Region

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 21st, 2017

Rush the Court is providing comprehensive coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish over the next three weeks.

New Favorite: #1 North Carolina (29-7). The Tar Heels might have actually had the most unimpressive opening weekend of the four teams remaining in the South, as they needed a kind late whistle to escape #8 Arkansas on Sunday. However, the region’s #1 seed retains its status as a Final Four favorite in large part because of the draw. Butler posted a pair of workmanlike victories in dispatching #13 Winthrop and #12 Middle Tennessee State last weekend, but the Bulldogs’ road to Memphis was far simpler than that of fellow semifinalists UCLA and Kentucky. Second round wins over Cincinnati and Wichita State, respectively, are impressive notches — victories that confirm both the Bruins’ and Wildcats’ status as National Title contenders. Because Butler is simply not that, North Carolina becomes the only team in a balanced region to not need two victories over elite foes in Memphis, which gives the Heels the inside track to Phoenix.

Joel Berry and the Tar Heels are still the team to beat in a balanced region.(Photo: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports)

Horse of Darkness: #4 Butler (25-8). As noted above, Butler is the only team in the Memphis region that doesn’t qualify as a true contender. That’s no knock on the Bulldogs — a group that put together a nice season and a pair of quality first weekend performances — but there is an obvious drop-off when it comes to program prestige and overall talent against the three blue-bloods in this regional. However, that does not mean Kelan Martin (19 points, six rebounds and four assists in the win over MTSU) and his Bulldogs aren’t capable of winning two games in Memphis. Successfully slowing tempo against the frenetic Tar Heels will be a key to that process.

Biggest Surprise (First Weekend): #8 Arkansas (26-10). The Razorbacks’ season may be over, but in this surprise-less region, their near-upset of #1 North Carolina qualifies as the most sizable surprise of the first weekend. According to KenPom, Arkansas held a 75 percent chance of winning that game with three and a half minutes remaining – a feat few expected before the opening tip. Of course, the Razorbacks proved unable to hold on, but when all four top seeds advance to the regional semifinals, it’s hard to find too many true surprises. More on that below.

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Rushed Reactions: #4 Butler 74 ,#12 Middle Tennessee 65

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 18th, 2017

Butler started the game off perfect on its first four threes and ended up shooting 8-of-15 for the game, keying its 74-65  victory over Middle Tennessee tonight in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament.

Butler Pulled Away From MTSU to Advance to the Sweet Sixteen (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. It truly is a” make or miss” game . The major difference in the result of tonight’s game was that Butler simply shot the ball from distance at a much better rate than Middle Tennessee. The Bulldogs shot 53.3 percent from three-point range while Middle Tennessee was only able to muster 21.1 percent. The Blue Raiders ran their offense effectively in getting a number of quality looks, but they simply couldn’t get anything to fall. Most of the other stats on the day were relatively even, but shooting — makes and misses — was the difference-maker.
  2. Butler played like an experienced team. With three graduate transfers in its rotation and a starting lineup that starts all upperclassmen but one — freshman Kamar Baldwin — Butler doesn’t lack for experience. The Bulldogs played like a team that doesn’t easily rattle tonight, taking every punch that Middle Tennessee threw at them and combating it with a key play or basket. The Blue Raiders made several short runs, but Butler and its bevy of veterans always had a counter.
  3. Antwain Johnson was the best player on the floor. Despite the loss, Antwain Johnson put together an outstanding effort tonight. Without getting big games from its three best players except for JaCorey Williams, Johnson kept the Blue Raiders in the game with his ability to get to the basket and attack from the mid-range. It was almost enough to offset a goose egg in the scoring column from Giddy Potts.

Star of the Game. Kelan Martin gets most of his recognition for being Butler’s best offensive player. He contributed a team-high 19 points today, grabbing six rebounds and dishing four assists to boot. He also did a quality job in guarding both Williams and Reggie Upshaw. The junior was mostly quiet in the First Round, so getting more games from him like this one bodes well for the rest of the NCAA Tournament.

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