Two Weeks Remaining: Assessing Big East Regular Season Title Contenders

Posted by Todd Keryc on February 21st, 2014

The latest NCAA Tournament bracket projections put somewhere in the neighborhood of four to six Big East teams in the Big Dance. Xavier is on the inside looking out for the moment, with help from a big non-conference win over Cincinnati. Providence, St. John’s and Georgetown are all hovering on the bubble, their respective fates certain to be determined over the season’s final few weeks. Creighton and Villanova are the only total locks, each heading for top four seeds and possible protected first-week locations barring a late collapse.

For both Doug McDermott and James Bell, much is still up for grabs for Creighton and Villanova.

For both Doug McDermott and James Bell, much is still up for grabs for Creighton and Villanova.

While many eyes are focused solely on the Big East bubble (which will ultimately make or break the realigned conference’s debut) the regular season champion remains very much in doubt. It’s all but certain that either Creighton or Villanova will claim it, but they are about to begin a two-week sprint to the finish. Sure, teams are remembered for what they do in the NCAA Tournament but a banner will be hung somewhere for winning the Big East regular season, so let’s assess which team has the advantage down the stretch. In the preseason poll, the pair were picked to finish third and fourth, respectively — yet they have dominated this maiden Big East season. Villanova is 11-2 in conference play, with both losses coming against Creighton. The Bluejays are 12-2, with only a pair of road losses, as well as the clear conference (and likely national) Player of the Year, Doug McDermott, and that pair of dominant performances against Villanova.

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College Basketball by the Tweets: Bayloring, Brad Stevens & “Tyler Ennis” Unis for Sale

Posted by Nick Fasulo (@nickfasuloSBN) on February 18th, 2014

Nick Fasulo is an RTC correspondent who writes the column College Basketball By the Tweets, a look at the world of college hoops through the prism of everyone’s favorite social media platform. You can find him on Twitter @nickfasuloSBN.

Big/Fat Heads are all the rage in college basketball student sections these days. Personally, I believe that deviating from mainstream, easy-to-identify faces with more obscure mugs deserve bonus points. A tip of the cap, Seminole fans:

Brad Stevens is Probably a Great Person

By all accounts, The former Butler head coach is an incredible individual. Here he is visiting former player Andrew Smith after he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. Yes, that means Stevens made an impromptu trip from Boston to Indy last week to check in on a friend.

Bayloring

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Big East M5: 02.18.14 Edition

Posted by George Hershey on February 18th, 2014

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  1. Butler freshman Rene Castro has decided to transfer from the program after being suspended twice and failing to see much time on the court. His roommate on the road, senior Erik Fromm, told Zak Keefer, “It didn’t have anything to do with who he was. Sometimes, things just don’t work out. Rene’s future is bright, and it’s not a bad thing that it’s not with Butler.” Castro was seen as someone who could come in and eventually take the starting spot from Alex Barlow, but it never materialized as he failed to see the court in 13 games this season. This will hurt going forward as Brandon Miller loses depth at the point guard position heading into the last few weeks of the regular season and the Big East Tournament.
  2. ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi published his latest NCAA Tournament projectionsand he has five Big East teams in the field. Villanova and Creighton currently sit as #3 seeds, while Xavier, a #10 seed, Providence, a #11 seed, and St. John’s, a #12 seed, are fighting for space on the positive side of the bubble. Georgetown is his first team out, while Marquette was his seventh team out. After losing its first five league games, St. John’s has experienced quite the turnaround to get to 7-6 in Big East play and are surprisingly now considered in the field. The reality is that the league is likely to get five of its 10 teams into the NCAA Tournament this season, a very good number in its first year of existence.
  3. DePaul has had another tough season and some are calling for head coach Oliver Purnell’s dismissal at the end of it. David Webber of the DePaulia argues that with Cleveland Melvin’s recent departure, it is time for a change. Webber is not happy with athletic director Jean Lenti-Ponsetto’s results in her 12th year in Chicago, as the program has gone from a respectable Conference USA team into a Big East laughingstock. Her two hires, Jerry Wainwright and Oliver Purnell, have failed to improve the program, and Purnell only has eight conference wins in four seasons. A new arena and a coach who is familiar with and can recruit the Chicago area will help invigorate a proud but hurting program.
  4.  St. John’s is rising and earning some attention from the press as it fights for inclusion in the NCAA Tournament. Zach Braziller of the New York Post takes a look at the Red Storm’s “big three” of D’Angelo Harrison, JaKarr Sampson and Rysheed Jordan. Harrison has been clutch the past month, shooting well from the outside and not forcing the action. Jordan struggled early but he has helped Harrison and Sampson play better in recent weeks. Braziller sums up Sampson’s recent play nicely, writing, “He’s developed into a more efficient offensive player. He’s thinking less and reacting more. Even more impressive has been his defense, previously considered a weakness in his game.” Sampson is athletic, but at times hasn’t played smart and forced the action all too often. Who knows what is in store next for this red-hot team.
  5. Doug McDermott is becoming quite the college basketball legend. With two more amazing performances last week, he passed Larry Bird for 13th place on the NCAA’s all-time scoring list. Instead of writing about his play on the court, Omaha.com‘s Tom Shatel followed McDermott around after the game. McDermott signed countless autographs and smiled for pictures with strangers and some old friends. McDermott said, “How do I want to be remembered? I want to be remembered as someone who treated people well. A good guy.” For a player with so many accolades already received and many more to come, it is great to see him focused on being a good person and a role model for young people. The one thing he needs, though, is a deep run in March. Luckily, his team is in great position to do just that to top off his remarkable four-year career.
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What’s Trending: Tyler #ENNIONS, Dick Vitale Pop Art, Holly Rowe, and More…

Posted by Nick Fasulo (@nickfasuloSBN) on February 14th, 2014

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

Raw emotion meets raw weather, as Dick Vitale was caught puttering through a North Carolina blizzard only to find out the Duke vs. North Carolina game would be postponed due to the winter storm. We have applied a bit of an Andy Warhol Pop Art feel to it, while some feel like the original would be perfect album art for an upcoming indie rock band’s latest LP.

Dick Vitale snow picture

Tyler #ENNIONS Ennis Keeps Syracuse Undefeated

It will challenge for Game of the Year, capped off by a strong nominee for Play of the Year. Tyler Ennis, the savvy Orange point guard, has been huge in close games for his team all season long. You’ve seen the buzzer-beater, now check out the reaction from his giddy head coach and others around the web.

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Creighton’s Supporting Cast Appears Up to the Task

Posted by Walker Carey on February 14th, 2014

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Thursday night’s game between Creighton and Butler in Indianapolis.

When Creighton basketball has been mentioned over the past several seasons, Doug McDermott has rightfully been the primary focus of conversation regarding the Blue Jays. As a senior this season, McDermott has emerged as the heavy favorite for every national player of the year award. He is averaging over 25 points per game along with seven rebounds per contest for a 20-4 Creighton squad that is right in the thick of things in the race for the Big East crown. If the Blue Jays win the Big East and if they make noise in the NCAA Tournament will have a lot to do with the supreme talent of Doug McDermott; however, the team’s success has not and will not be only because of McDermott’s heroics. Creighton not only has arguably the best player in college basketball, but it also has a very capable supporting cast of role players that has been very essential to the team’s success.

McDermott is the Show, but Creighton is More Than Their Star (Getty Images).

McDermott is the Show, but Creighton is More Than Their Star (Getty Images).

The most heralded member of Creighton’s supporting cast this season has been senior forward Ethan Wragge. After spending his first three seasons of eligibility in a reserve role for the Blue Jays, Wragge has stepped up his production with his entry into the starting lineup. His scoring average has gone from 7.7 points per game as a junior to 11.6 points per game as a senior. Wragge also grabbed plenty of national attention after he exploded for 27 points on nine made three-pointers in Creighton’s blowout victory at Villanova on January 20. The program has recognized the senior’s contributions and honored its bearded sharpshooter with Lumberjack Night at the CenturyLink Center when it hosted DePaul on February 7.

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Three Thoughts as Xavier Dominated Butler Last Night

Posted by WCarey on February 12th, 2014

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Tuesday night’s game between Xavier and Butler in Indianapolis.

Xavier began February quite ominously with a home loss to Seton Hall and a 23-point defeat at Villanova. Coupling those two losses with a loss at Providence to end January, the Musketeers went from a team that was projected as a lock for the NCAA Tournament to a team on the bubble. Riding a three-game losing streak, Xavier was able to get back on the winning track last Saturday with a hotly contested home victory over Providence. With games at Butler and at Marquette next on its schedule, Chris Mack’s team was presented with a great opportunity to score two more Big East road wins and help improve its overall NCAA Tournament résumé in the process. The Musketeers passed the first test on Tuesday night with a thoroughly dominating 64-50 win over Butler in Indianapolis. The following are three thoughts from last evening’s action.

Xavier Got the Sweep of Butler Last Night

Xavier Got the Sweep of Butler Last Night, as the New Big East Programs Move in Opposite Directions

  1. Xavier’s Defensive Effort Was Impressive. In the Musketeers’ victory over Providence on Saturday, they held the Friars to just 53 total points and a 37.5 percent shooting mark from the field. That defensive intensity carried over to Tuesday, as Butler was held to just 50 points on the evening. The half-century mark scored by Butler was significantly below its season average of 70.9 points per game and represented the team’s lowest scoring output of the season. Xavier’s strong field goal percentage defense was on display once again, as Butler was held to just 34 percent shooting on the evening. Musketeers’ junior guard Dee Davis was tasked with the role of guarding leading scorer Kellen Dunham and he completed it with great success, as Dunham finished the evening with just two points on 1-of-10 shooting. Xavier’s interior defense was also suffocating given the fact that Butler’s starting frontline of Khyle Marshall, Kameron Woods and Andrew Chrabascz finished the evening a combined 5-of-17 from the floor. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East M5: 01.27.14 Edition

Posted by Jameson Fleming on January 27th, 2014

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  1. Things aren’t going well for Georgetown as demonstrated by this sad fan which may be the funniest college basketball meme of the season. The Hoyas have lost five of six games to fall to 11-8 on the season and are on the outside looking in with respect to the NCAA Tournament. That stretch began with Joshua Smith’s first missed game (and he’ll miss the rest of the season), and Jabril Trawick only played in the first loss to Providence. Those two certainly have their flaws, but they’re significantly better than the other players who remain in John Thompson III’s frontcourt. It appears that it will be a long 2014 for the Hoyas and Sad Scott is only going to get sadder over the next two months.
  2. Creighton is fully embracing Ethan Wragge‘s status as a three-point shootin’ lumberjack. More importantly, Wragge has also adopted the persona as depicted in an excellent Omaha.com profile about the nation’s best shooter. Wragge revealed in the article that at one time he considered transferring from Creighton, but thankfully for Bluejays’ and college basketball fans everywhere, he stuck around. Wragge currently leads the nation in effective field goal percentage at 73.4 percent and true shooting percentage at 74.1 percent, and his 50 percent three-point stroke makes him a key part of the top offense in college hoops this season.
  3. Xavier coach Chris Mack thought he had escaped LaDontae Henton when the Providence wing picked the Big East’s Friars over the Atlantic 10’s Dayton during his recruitment. Then the Musketeers joined the Big East and Mack was stuck facing Henton, who had 23 points in the Friars’ win on Saturday, anyway. Henton’s improvement is one of the primary reasons why Providence has been able to weather a storm of player injuries and suspensions to be in a position to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004.
  4. Butler‘s Big East struggles culminated over the weekend with a 17-point home loss to St. John’s. The Bulldogs, a team that had already dropped six of seven conference games heading into the Saturday match-up, may have finally hit rock bottom according to IndyStar.com writer Zak Keefer. With three road games in a row coming up next, Butler is likely to find itself looking up at DePaul in the league standings for the rest of the season. This could turn out to be the first year that the Blue Demons don’t finish last in Big East play since 2008.
  5. Are things already going sour for Steve Lavin at St. John’s? The Red Storm only have one NCAA Tournament appearance in four years under the head coach and they likely aren’t headed to the Big Dance once again this year. The pressure may be on Lavin after a recent report suggested his relationship with the school is going south. He’s already denied the report, of course, but Lavin needs to start winning with the tremendous amount of talent he keeps bringing into this Big East staple.
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Big East M5: 01.20.14 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on January 20th, 2014

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  1. Georgetown was once considered a favorite in the Big East, but these days they are just trying to hang on to their NCAA Tournament hopes. The Hoyas have dropped  two straight — 80-67 to Xavier and 67-57 to Seton Hall — and are really struggling to score. Long offensive droughts have doomed the Hoyas in the last two games, and outside of starting guards D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and Markel Starks, there aren’t many options available. Josh Smith and Jabril Trawick have been out for the last few games each, and Mikael Hopkins has been held to two points in three of his last five games. With Marquette on the schedule tonight, the Washington D.C. scorekeeper may not see a lot of action.
  2. Speaking of struggling Big East programs, Butler‘s inaugural Big East campaign has not started the way that Bulldogs’ faithful would have hoped with the team losing its first five Big East games. On Saturday night, however, Butler stopped the bleeding in its fourth overtime contest in six games, pulling out its first Big East win over Marquette, 67-59. Golden Eagles head coach Buzz Williams credits Butler’s culture for the program’s recent success, and says that getting back to “The Butler Way” is a path towards renewed success:

    “Maybe the reason Butler went to back-to-back Final Fours is because of the culture and who was a part of that culture, how they embraced that culture… You can’t jump to a conclusion and say, ‘We’re on Fox Sports every day, we’re sold out every game and yadda-yadda-yadda,’ and get away from how you built it. When you get away from how you built it, that’s when teams typically take a dive. You’ve got to make sure you continue to recruit guys who believe in what coach [Brandon] Miller believes, what Barry Collier is about.”

  3. Bryce Cotton continues to play all-conference caliber basketball for Providence, and his latest victim was Creighton. Cotton scored 23 points and doled out six assists to lead the Friars past the Bluejays on Saturday. Greg McDermott gave Cotton a lot of praise after the guard knocked off his team: “This is by far the lowest possession game we’ve played all year, and Cotton did a great job of controlling the tempo of that game. He’s got the ball in his hands all the time, and it’s difficult to get it out of his hands… He creates a lot of opportunities for his teammates, and he obviously made a lot of big plays tonight.”
  4. St. John’s winless Big East record has to be one of the shockers of the season, and the Red Storm had to be relieved to see Dartmouth pop up on the schedule to break up their conference slate. The Big Green held on in the first half of this colorful match-up, but the stifling Johnnies’ defense led them to a comfortable 69-55 win. Head coach Steve Lavin was relieved by the team’s effort: “The only way we’re going to solve the challenges we’re facing is looking within individually and collectively as a group and trying to support each other through a tough time. Eventually, you make your breaks by sticking to it.”
  5. In the midst of all of the struggling Big East programs, Villanova continues to shine. One of the only missing pieces for the Wildcats is a true post presence, but center Daniel Ochefu has strung together a few strong games in a row and may be poised to add that last element to Jay Wright’s already strong assembly of talents. Against DePaul, he scored 14 points while shooting 6-of-6 from the field, grabbed six rebounds, blocked three shots, and even dished out four assists. If Ochefu continues to get better, the Big East rich may just get richer.
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Three Thoughts On Butler’s Win Over Marquette

Posted by WCarey on January 19th, 2014

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report following Saturday’s game in Indianapolis between Marquette and Butler.

Butler entered Saturday’s home contest with Marquette needing a victory in the worst way. The Bulldogs’ first season in the Big East got off to a disastrous start with five consecutive losses to Villanova, Xavier, DePaul, Georgetown, and Creighton. Marquette also entered the afternoon with something to prove. The Golden Eagles were picked to win the Big East in the preseason, but they entered Hinkle Fieldhouse with a pedestrian 2-2 conference record and a very disappointing 10-7 overall mark. In a game where Marquette seemingly had control in the early second half, Butler came roaring back to force overtime where the Bulldogs outscored the Golden Eagles 20-8 on their way to a 69-57 victory. The following are three thoughts from Saturday afternoon’s game in Indy.

Butler guard Alex Barlow, right, and Marquette guard Derrick Wilson fight for a loose ball in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Indianapolis, Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Butler guard Alex Barlow, right, and Marquette guard Derrick Wilson fight for a loose ball in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Indianapolis, Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

  1. Butler Shored Up Its Defensive Effort. Butler’s defense in its first five conference game was a disaster. The Bulldogs were giving up a league-worst 82.4 points per game, while allowing their opponents to shoot a league-worst 51% from the field. Saturday was a different story for the Bulldogs, as they looked like a completely different team on that end of the court. Following a first half where they allowed Marquette to shoot just 40% from the field, the Bulldogs brought up their defensive intensity another notch in the second half. The Golden Eagles were limited to just 17 second half points on a woeful 18.5% from the field. Butler’s defense carried its intensity over to the overtime period where it allowed Marquette to score only eight points on 3-of-8 from the field. After allowing opponents to shoot 51% from the field over its first five conference games, Butler held Marquette to just 30.8% from the field over the course of Saturday’s game. Read the rest of this entry »
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Three Thoughts on Georgetown’s Win Over Butler

Posted by Walker Carey on January 12th, 2014

Butler came into Saturday night’s game in dire need of a victory. The Bulldogs entered with an 0-3 Big East record and they had hit a low point Thursday night when they allowed lowly DePaul to leave Hinkle Fieldhouse with an overtime victory. Georgetown also entered the contest needing for a win. The Hoyas struggled mightily in their first road conference game on Wednesday, falling at Providence, 70-52. Georgetown also experienced some personnel issues in the past week with center Joshua Smith unavailable due to an academic issue and forward Jabril Trawick suffering a broken jaw in Wednesday’s loss. As it turned out, Georgetown was able to overcome its depth issues and hand Butler yet another overtime loss in a 70-67 Hoyas’ victory. The following are three thoughts from Saturday night’s game in Indy.

John Thompson III Has His Hoyas Playing At A High Level (Getty)

John Thompson III Has His Hoyas Playing At A High Level. (Getty)

  1. Georgetown’s Perseverance Was Impressive: Already with Smith and Trawick unavailable, Georgetown’s frontcourt battled foul trouble all night long. Starting forwards Nate Lubick and Mikael Hopkins and reserve big man Moses Ayegba were all disqualified before the final buzzer sounded. The Hoyas refused to use that as a hindrance, though, as they were able to seamlessly shuffle in senior forward Aaron Bowen, freshman forward Reggie Cameron, and former walk-on John Caprio to pick up the slack left by their fouled-out veterans. The Hoyas also persevered in the final minute when it looked like Butler was going to escape with a victory, but senior guard Markel Starks nailed a clutch three-pointer with 14 seconds remaining to tie the game at 60 and ultimately send it to the extra period. Read the rest of this entry »
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Conference Play Already Delivering Unexpected Drama

Posted by Bennet Hayes on January 11th, 2014

We may still be in the nascent period of conference play, but early developments have hinted that a number of league races may not play out as planned. Heading into another good college basketball weekend, here are a few of the more surprising twists supplied by the early days of conference action.

The American Athletic Conference Is Up For Grabs

Remember when Louisville was supposed to be head and shoulders above the rest of this conference? Or when UConn was the Cards’ only real competition for the inaugural AAC crown? Yeah, me neither. Rick Pitino’s team may still be the AAC favorites, but after a non-conference season featuring just one victory over a top-100 team, the recent dismissal of Chane Behanan, and Thursday night’s home loss to Memphis, it’s safe to say that the Cardinals’ grasp on pole position has been significantly weakened. As for the Huskies, an ugly 0-2 beginning to conference play (losses at Houston and SMU) has altered the trajectory of their season. Shabazz Napier and company should be able to handle UCF later today, but with a trip to Memphis and a home date with Louisville looming next week, a 1-4 start to conference play is a definite possibility. It’s not the AAC we expected to see, certainly, but this unforeseen parity could give the league one of the better, more entertaining conference races the rest of the way.

It's Early, But Russ Smith And The Cardinals Have Unexpected Company In Their Chase For The American Athletic Conference Crown

It’s Early, But Russ Smith And The Cardinals Have Unexpected Company In Their Chase For The American Athletic Conference Crown

Butler Still Seeking Its First Big East Win

Expectations were initially modest for Butler this season, but a non-conference campaign with just a pair of minor blemishes – two-point losses to Oklahoma State and LSU – gave hope that the transitions between coaches (Brad Stevens to Brandon Miller) and leagues (A-10 to Big East) might be smoother than expected. Not so much, however, as the Big East has so far proved daunting for the Bulldogs, dropping their first three games: on the road at Xavier, and home games to Villanova and (gasp!) DePaul. Three total overtime periods were needed for those two home defeats, but no number of extra sessions will excuse a loss to DePaul, a program that was 7-86 in the five-plus Big East seasons that preceded their successful trip to Hinkle Fieldhouse. The Bulldogs are better than that Big East record would indicate, but a brutal upcoming schedule has the potential to permanently sink the Butler ship. Georgetown visits Indianapolis tonight, and 11 of the 12 games that follow come against teams in Ken Pom’s current top-75. At least for a season, the Butler faithful may end up missing not only Brad Stevens, but also the Atlantic 10.

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Butler Off to a Rough Start in its Inaugural Big East Season

Posted by Walker Carey on January 10th, 2014

Walker Carey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Thursday evening’s tilt between DePaul and Butler in Indianapolis.

Butler‘s meteoric rise from the Horizon League to the Big East in just two years has been well-documented. While it is great to discuss how the little school from Indianapolis was able to conquer some of the country’s national powers and sustain the success that predicated the conference ascension, Butler is now in the Big East and it is now appropriate to discuss what the Bulldogs have to do in their new league to carry on the past success. After last night’s loss to DePaul in a double-overtime game where the Bulldogs gave up an 11-point lead in the final minutes of regulation, Butler sits at 0-3 in conference play and is wondering what has gone wrong.

Heads are Hanging at Butler after an 0-3 Start (AP)

Heads are Hanging at Butler after an 0-3 Start (AP)

In the preseason, Butler was viewed as an unknown commodity and was subsequently picked ninth in the Big East preseason poll. It had a new head coach in Brandon Miller and its top returnee – Roosevelt Jones – was lost for the season with a wrist injury suffered over the summer. Once the season began, the Bulldogs appeared to be better than advertised during the non-conference slate. Despite finishing 1-2 at the Old Spice Classic in late November, the Bulldogs played well in all three games – including a two-point loss to preseason top 10 Oklahoma State, and a two-point overtime loss to an LSU squad that entered the season with high expectations. If you removed the three games in Orlando, the Bulldogs went a perfect 10-0 in non-conference play. Along the way, sophomore guard Kellen Dunham and senior forward Khyle Marshall began to emerge as a legitimate high-low combination with standout potential.

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