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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Otskey’s Big East Observations: 01.15.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 15th, 2016

Early conference results can sometimes be deceiving. While the Big East is one of only two major conferences with a true round-robin format, the start to conference play for Butler and Georgetown has been quite different. These teams currently sit at 1-3 and 4-1, respectively, even though the Bulldogs are widely regarded to be the better team. While Georgetown was handed a soft opening stretch to conference play, one that included two games with DePaul, one with St. John’s and a home tilt against Marquette, Butler has had to play the likes of Xavier, Providence and Villanova right off the bat. Everything will even out eventually, but sometimes a tough start to league play can take away momentum created in the non-conference, something Butler (11-1 non-conference record) did quite well. But should there be concern now that the Bulldogs are heading in the wrong direction? Absolutely. Chris Holtmann’s team ranks a dismal No. 157 in adjusted defensive efficiency for the season and dead last in the 10-team Big East when considering conference games only. Butler has struggled all season with adjusting to life without Kameron Woods, who was a dominant rebounder last season. The Bulldogs are undersized in the frontcourt and need to figure out a way to rebound and defend if they are going to bounce back from a rough start to league play.

Chris Holtmann and Butler were dealt no favors by the Big East schedule makers. (AP)

Chris Holtmann and Butler were dealt no favors by the Big East schedule makers. (AP)

We will find out a lot more about Georgetown in the coming weeks. The Hoyas now begin a stretch of six straight games against KenPom top 50 teams after their soft open to the Big East schedule. Turnovers, rebounding and perimeter defense remain issues for this team, and the loss of Paul White for the rest of this season hurts its depth. Georgetown showed glimpses of strong play in the non-conference, but when you remember the good with the bad — head-scratching losses to some legitimately bad teams — it is difficult to make a confident judgement on the team. One thing that is a safe bet: The Hoyas will go as far as D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera can take them.

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What’s Trending: We’re Back and We’re Here to Stay

Posted by Griffin Wong on January 14th, 2016

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Griffin Wong (@griffwong90) is your weekly host.

Tragedy Strikes the Basketball World

The college basketball community was hit hard with the death of Andrew Smith earlier this week. Smith, a Butler center during its back-to-back title game runs in 2010 and 2011, finally lost his battle with cancer on Tuesday. His family has received tremendous support from all over the Internet over the last couple days.

It’s clear that Smith was an outstanding human being. Tragic.

Bob Huggins Hits the Jackpot
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Examining Elite Eight Profiles: Who Looks Poised to Go Deep Into March?

Posted by Will Ezekowitz on January 8th, 2016

As conference play heats up, the identities of teams become increasingly apparent. As we invariably figure those teams out, we also start thinking about which teams are poised to make a run in March. To take a deeper view of postseason success, we looked at the KenPom statistical profile of five years of Elite Eight teams (perhaps a little arbitrary, but it’s hard to sneak into the national quarterfinals without being actually good) and compared it with this year’s teams that currently fit that profile. In the past five years, Elite Eight teams have ranked an average of 18th in offensive efficiency and 31st in defensive efficiency. Offense is clearly more important, as only two teams in the last three seasons have managed to crack the quarterfinals from outside of the offensive top 40 (both of which, coincidentally, were Louisville). The table belows shows the 10 teams this season that fit the Elite Eight profile as of January 8.

Screen Shot 2016-01-08 at 11.56.33 AM

If your favorite team is not on the above list, it appears that it still needs work. Let’s examine some of those missing teams, many of which are highly-ranked.

Teams that Must Improve Defensively

Purdue. The Boilermakers’ dream season has taken a couple of recent hits in losses to Butler and Iowa. What should worry Matt Painter, though, is that during the four-game stretch that included wins over Vanderbilt and Wisconsin in addition to those two losses, Purdue never posted an offensive efficiency that was above the Division I average. The team ranks first in defensive efficiency but is only 41st on the other end of the floor. Rick Pitino’s recent Louisville teams have shown that it is possible to advance in the NCAA Tournament on the strength of defense alone, but it’s generally easier to get there by finding greater balance with the offense.

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