RTC Top 25: Week Seven Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on January 4th, 2016

The end of 2015 and beginning of 2016 in college basketball was marked by some important developments in the Big East. On New Year’s Eve, #7 Villanova showed it is still the top dog in the conference with a dominant 95-64 win over previously unbeaten #9 Xavier. Later that day, #11 Providence proved it was for real with an eye-opening 81-73 triumph at #20 Butler. What made that Friars’ victory so impressive was that they rebounded from an 11-point halftime deficit to outscore the Bulldogs by 19 points in the game’s second stanza. When Saturday came around, Xavier displayed no ill effects from its previous shellacking, as the Musketeers handed Butler its second Big East defeat in a comfortable 88-69 win. It is only just one week into the conference season, but statements have already been made. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

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Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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Risen From the Dead: The Big East is Back!

Posted by Shane McNichol on December 30th, 2015

As we sit on the precipice of celebrating the New Year, two conferences have landed four teams in the top 16 of the AP Poll. One is, of course, the ACC, monstrous in both size and basketball dominance. A league that stretches from Miami to South Bend to Boston, with a whopping 15 members located in that absurd triangle. The other is the Big East. Yes, that Big East. The star of ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary “Requiem for the Big East”. The conference with a Wikipedia page declaring that it ended three years ago. The same Big East who inspired headlines like “The Big East is dead (or at least dying). Long live the Big East” and “How the Big East died and was dead all along.” A Google search of “Big East is dead” fetches over 68 million results. SIXTY-EIGHT MILLION!

Jay Wright's crew leads an incredibly deep Big East conference this season. (Getty)

Jay Wright’s crew leads an incredibly deep Big East conference this season. (Getty)

And yet, the current iteration would certainly beg to differ. After the “Catholic Seven” refused to let their conference go by the wayside, they’ve done more than exist or tread water. Last season, six Big East clubs reached the Big Dance. That’s more than football powers like the SEC and the Pac-12 and just as many as the giant ACC. Having a swath of teams reach the tournament says one thing about a conference. Having four teams reach the turn of the calendar highly ranked with non-delusional plans of reaching the Final Four says something more. Whether through a stroke of luck or genius, the Big East schedule opens Thursday with two nationally televised games pitting these four teams against one another. #16 Villanova hosts #6 Xavier at noon, followed by #10 Providence traveling to play at #9 Butler. Butler then turns right around and heads to Xavier on Saturday.

Consider this long holiday weekend the first foray into what is sure to be a season long battle for the conference crown between four teams all capable of deep runs in March.

Villanova

Villanova, the most familiar with tournament success among the group of four, came into the season with heavy expectations. Ryan Arcidiancono returned for his senior season, along with experienced talent in Josh Hart, Daniel Ochefu, and Phil Booth. Big name freshman recruit Jaylen Brunson joined the fold, expected to make all of his now teammates lives much easier. Thus far they’ve nearly lived up to the hype, save for losses to two highly ranked foes, Oklahoma (on a neutral court) and Virginia (on the road). The Cats’ biggest issue has been a frigid start from long range, shooting merely 31 percent on the year. The cold start has been led by Booth (49% last year) shooting 27 percent and Kris Jenkins (37% in the two prior years) firing an ugly 29 percent on nearly seven attempts per game. In Jay Wright’s dribble-drive offense, led by playmaking by Arcidiacono and Brunson, shooting on the perimeter will not only increase scoring, but will open space for slashers or Ochefu operating on the post. Read the rest of this entry »

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RTC Top 25: Week Six Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on December 28th, 2015

The most important development of the holiday week in college hoops was two RTC top 10 teams finding a way to win without the services of a key contributor. On Tuesday night, #1 Michigan State had to fend off a pesky Oakland team in a very hard-earned 99-93 overtime victory. The Spartans were of course without star player Denzel Valentine, who will miss 2-3 weeks after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. #8 Kentucky had to showcase some resiliency of its own in a big rivalry win over #18 Louisville on Saturday after freshman guard Isaiah Briscoe suffered an ankle injury during pregame warm-ups. He is expected back soon. Injuries are part of the game, but as we head into the start of conference play this week, teams generally can’t afford to be banged up. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

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Quick n’ Dirty Analysis.

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Butler’s Christmas Gift: The Impact of Roosevelt Jones

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 24th, 2015

Butler has historically been a defensive-minded program. The best teams of the Brad Stevens era rarely had the biggest or most offensively talented group of players, but what won games for the Bulldogs was toughness and intelligence, a methodical pace and aggressive man-to-man defense. With Chris Holtmann at the helm, now in his second season, the switch has been flipped. This year’s team is playing at a tempo that far outpaces any Butler team in the 14-year KenPom era, and the results of the uptick have so far been tremendous. The Bulldogs are averaging the second most points per game in the nation (89.7) and are unquestionably the highest scoring team in the history of the program (the next highest is the 2011 team that averaged 71.2 PPG and lost to Connecticut in the National Championship game).

The impending battle down low between Roosevelt Jones and will be must see TV. (ZJB photograpy)

Roosevelt Jones finally has it going for Butler. (ZJB photograpy)

Don’t get the wrong idea, though. The team’s ridiculously high scoring rates have not been facilitated by a full-blown run-and-gun offense, as Butler has been shooting, rebounding and taking care of the ball at unprecedented rates. There are a multitude of explanations for its newfound efficiency: senior Kellen Dunham‘s improved shot selection; point guard Tyler Lewis‘ preference for faster basketball (particularly when compared to his predecessor, Alex Barlow), and the emergence of Kelan Martin as a legitimate scorer. But above all, it’s been the steadying force of guard Roosevelt Jones that has pushed Butler into overdrive. Despite playing fewer minutes this season, the senior has elevated his game and improved his production in nearly every statistical category.

In short, Jones has gotten more involved in every facet of the offense. He is shooting a career best 50.0 percent from the field and has increased his per-game averages in rebounding from 5.2 RPG to 7.8 RPT and assists from 3.7 APG to 5.4 APG. Moreover, he has logged only one KenPom offensive rating below 100.0 this season (it was over 100.0 in just 15 of 34 contests last season). But to explain Jones’ game in purely numbers would hardly be doing it justice; he has had a monumental impact within one of the nation’s most efficient offenses. While under greater pressure to score last season, his overall shooting percentage dropped from 48.6 percent to 42.1 percent. Now, with Lewis and Martin emerging as legitimate scoring threats as well, the lane has opened up and allowed Jones to thrive.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten Weekend Look Ahead: 12.19.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 19th, 2015

After a quiet week for the league, this weekend storms in with some great games. The centerpiece of the next two days will be the Crossroads Classic, an event that takes the four most prestigious programs from the country’s most basketball-rich state and pairs them together in Indianapolis. It’s turned into one of the premier events before conference plays begins. Here is your weekend preview:

The Crossroads Classic

The Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis is upon us once again this Saturday.

  • Northwestern at Depaul (Saturday, 2:00 PM ET, FS1). People may not have noticed, but Northwestern is 9-1 with its sole loss against North Carolina–a game which was at least competitive in the first half. Not many have jumped on the Wildcats’ bandwagon because their schedule as of today has been laughable. Only two of their wins have come from teams ranked higher than #175 on KenPom and both those wins came in overtime. A win at DePaul (5-5) wouldn’t convert many to be believers, but it would represent Northwestern’s best win of the season (given their light schedule thus far).
  • Notre Dame vs Indiana (Saturday, 2:00 PM ET, ESPN2). This is the opener to the Crossroads Classic and Mike Brey decided to turn up the heat to it when he said yesterday that Notre Dame was the most consistent program in the state, “and it isn’t close”. It’s not certain whether his statement was a direct shot at their upcoming opponents, the only blueblood program in the state, or it was just innocuous praise for himself and assistant coaches. Either way, it should be a highly entertaining and frenetic game as both these teams have Top 5 offenses paired with pedestrian defenses. The game might come down to whoever makes the most threes or who has the most transition points. Grab the popcorn before you watch this one.

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Otskey’s Big East Observations: 12.18.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 18th, 2015

While every season is definitely long and winding, Georgetown’s loss to Monmouth should be concerning for both the Hoyas and Big East fans. The primary reason is not that Monmouth is a bad team — rather, the Hawks have a quality squad this season — it is that the Hoyas were run off their home floor in a game that should have been a close, competitive loss or a win. This loss is the latest in a recent history full of uninspiring Georgetown losses under John Thompson III and the second of this season alone. When you look at the Hoyas’ overall KenPom profile, a few things stand out. First, this team is not defending at a high level. While Georgetown’s field goal percentage defense of 37.7 percent is very good, that statistic only shows so much.

John Thompson III's team was the latest to fall victim to upstart Monmouth. (Washington Post)

John Thompson III’s team was the latest to fall victim to upstart Monmouth. (Washington Post)

When you dig a little deeper, you find a team fouling at a high rate and failing to close out possessions on the boards effectively. A team that struggles to rebound and puts opponents on the foul line too often allows for plenty of extra points, which is the main reason why Georgetown ranks 87th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. When compared with their Big East companions, that rate puts the Hoyas ahead of only Butler, Creighton and hapless DePaul. Already with four losses on its resume, Georgetown has some work to do in league play in order to safely make another trip to the NCAA Tournament. Lackluster performances like those against Monmouth and Radford need to become a thing of the past, and Georgetown will have to become a more efficient squad in order to earn that invitation. Read the rest of this entry »

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Off to a Hot Start, Cincinnati’s Improved Offense the Key

Posted by Jared Kotler on December 2nd, 2015

Going into the season, Cincinnati wasn’t getting a whole lot of respect. Despite being picked to finish third in the American by the league’s coaches, Mick Cronin thought his team was better than that. Fast forward a month and the Bearcats are out to a blazing hot 7-0 start, including two solid wins against Nebraska and George Washington in last week’s Barclays Center Classic. Led by a new-look offense, Cincinnati takes on a tough Butler team tonight at home. Let’s take a quick look at what has made Cincinnati look more like a contender than a sleeper through the first two-plus weeks of the young season.

•The UC-UConn rivalry benefits from the mutual respect between Cronin and Ollie (Richard Messina / Hartford Courant)

A lot of pundits felt Cincinnati would stagnate this season but Mick Cronin has his squad pointing up so far. (Richard Messina / Hartford Courant)

Elite Defense

Defense is a staple of Cronin’s Cincinnati teams. The Bearcats have had a top 50 defense in each of the last six seasons, and Cincinnati is off to its best defensive start under Cronin ever, ranking third nationally and allowing more than 70 points only once thus far (Western Carolina). Let’s take a look at the team’s most recent performance in a 61-56 victory over George Washington. Two statistics stand out — the Colonials’ three-point and two-point field goal percentages. The Bearcats held GW to a miserable 29 percent shooting on two-point attempts, and it was only by virtue of 50 percent shooting beyond the arc that the Colonials stayed in the game. This shows that Cincinnati will muck things up inside the paint in an effort to prevent any easy baskets, even if by doing so the Bearcats give up some open threes in the process. Read the rest of this entry »

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Thoughts on the Big East’s Opening Week

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 19th, 2015

Half-empty stadiums, passive fans, and disheveled teams. All of these are commonly found in college hoops in November, and all steadily reverse as the season progresses. Why is it the case that November basketball brings all these out? These games count the same towards the record as the games in February, often providing prime chances for key non-conference wins. It’s a strange time for both fans and players. The former are overlooking many of these games, either writing them off as wins or being simply indifferent towards the outcome. The latter are inexperienced and unable to achieve an optimal degree of chemistry on the floor.

Like the haze from the charity stripe, it was an up-and-down week for Jessie Govan and Georgetown. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Like the haze from the charity stripe, it has been an up-and-down start for Jessie Govan and Georgetown. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Which brings us to Exhibit A: Georgetown. How disappointing was a double overtime loss to Radford? Well, very. The poor play of D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and his surrounding cast of sophomores left much to be desired in the loss to the Highlanders. Somehow though, just days later they gave #3 Maryland everything they wanted in the Comcast Center. Despite ultimately falling short, the positives were numerous. Seldom used senior Bradley Hayes has played out of his mind thus far, displaying very impressive footwork and shot-making ability in the post. Sophomore Isaac Copeland, who may see as many minutes as Smith-Rivera this season, will eventually find ways to be more assertive on offense given his greater degree of responsibility. Freshman Marcus Derrickson shined against the Terps, and it looks as if he will have a chance to provide the Hoyas with a much needed three-point threat. Like last season, it may only be a matter of time before things start clicking for John Thompson III‘s squad. Read the rest of this entry »

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Holiday Tournament Previews: Puerto Rico Tip-Off & Charleston Classic

Posted by Andy Gripshover on November 19th, 2015

One of the true beauties of non-conference play in November is all of the various tournaments and the match-ups that they enable. With multiple events tipping off this weekend, let’s start this series of previews by analyzing two of the bigger annual events — the Puerto Rico Tip-Off (bracket) and the Charleston Classic (bracket).

Puerto Rico Tip-Off

Potential top-10 pick Jakob Poeltl and Utah headline a strong Puerto Rico Tip Off tourney. (AP)

Potential top-10 pick Jakob Poeltl and Utah headline a strong Puerto Rico Tip-Off. (AP)

  • Favorite: Utah. Just about everyone other than Delon Wright and Dallin Bachynski is back, and Brandon Taylor can fill enough of Wright’s shoes without making the team so reliant on any one player. Arizona is the Pac-12 favorite by default this season but it’s looking incredibly wide open after that and it ultimately may come down to the Utes defending their second-place crown against upstart Cal.
  • Darkhorse: Butler. It’s Butler in a tournament setting — you’re not quite sure you see the Bulldogs coming but you’re not surprised when they do. Roosevelt Jones (yes, he’s still there) and Kellen Dunham (yep, him too) lead a team that dropped a Big East record 144 points on The Citadel transitioning from Chuck Driesell (344th in adjusted pace last year) to Duggar Baucom (the former VMI coach who was perpetually first)
  • Most on the line: Miami, Minnesota, Temple. The Hurricanes might be the most interesting team in this tournament. That’s not a surprise considering they were also one of the most interesting teams for most of last season. Will they be the “winning at Cameron by 16” Miami or the “losing at home to Eastern Kentucky” Miami? Probably somewhere in-between. The Gophers are entering Year Three of the Richard Pitino Experiment, but closed Year Two by losing six of their final eight games. They’ll be eager to get off to a good start. The Owls couldn’t keep it close with a Marcus Paige-less UNC team in Annapolis and they have as much on the line as any team this weekend by virtue of their status as annual NCAA bubble candidates.

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Big East Season Preview: The Contenders (#1-#3)

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 11th, 2015

Over the last two days, we covered the group of Big East teams that are likely to be on the outside looking in (#7-#10) followed by the group of dark horses that could go either way (#6-#4). Today’s group falls under the “almost certain to win” category — in other words, the contenders. While it’s true that there are some strong teams within the middle-tier category as well, a clear, distinctive line exists between the groupings. All three of the league contenders should be in the Top 25 on a weekly basis, and each one has a strong case for winning the conference.

3. Butler

Andrew Chrabascz will be looking to improve upon a breakout sophomore campaign. (Butler Athletics)

Andrew Chrabascz will be looking to improve upon a breakout sophomore campaign. (Butler Athletics)

The Bulldogs fall into a strikingly familiar predicament as Xavier, only the impact of their losses is less significant. Gone are starters Alex Barlow and Kameron Woods, both of whom provided a strong defensive presence but neither a game-changing impact. In come two transfers and a 6’10” freshman, Nate Fowler. What does this mean for Butler? Perhaps predictably, more of the same old “grind-it-out” basketball that the program is known for. Leading scorers Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones are back for their senior seasons and center Andrew Chrabascz will be looking to improve upon a breakout sophomore campaign. Moreover, Tyler Lewis, NC State’s former starting point guard, is eligible and should elevate Butler on the offensive end of the floor. Given the team’s experience and offensive versatility at every position, it seems that just about all of the pieces are in place for a successful season. The Bulldogs enter the season nationally ranked (#24) and with two preseason conference first teamers (Dunham and Jones), but it seems as if they’re still being overlooked. Head coach Chris Holtmann will undoubtedly use this to his advantage, but there should be no doubt that shotmaker extraordinaire Dunham and his helter-skelter counterpart Jones will keep Butler in contention all season long. Read the rest of this entry »

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