Xavier on the Cusp of Returning to the NCAA Tournament

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 14th, 2014

Brian Otskey is reporting from the Big East Tournament all week

After missing the NCAA Tournament last year for only the second time since 2000, Xavier head coach Chris Mack made it clear to his team what the goal was this season. “Every time we play a game from day one, from game one up until tonight, we always wrote the four letters in the top right of the white board [in the locker room] that said NCAA’ because deep down that’s been a goal of these guys,” said the fifth year Musketeers coach. On a day that saw more dramatics reminding us of moments from years gone by in this event, Xavier was all business in taking care of Marquette and solidifying itsNCAA Tournament hopes. Xavier’s 68-65 win over Marquette was number 21 on the year for Mack’s squad and should be enough to ensure the Musketeers return to the NCAA Tournament next week. Xavier was out-shot and out-rebounded by the pesky Golden Eagles but it was able to get to the free throw line regularly and surprisingly won the turnover battle, two things Marquette head coach Buzz Williams said were key reasons why his team failed to advance to Friday night’s semifinal round. “We turned the ball over too many times in a lower than normal possession game,” said Williams. He was absolutely right as his team failed to take advantage of a Xavier club that ranks near the bottom of the Big East in both offensive and defensive turnover percentage.

Xavier Won Its First Big East Tourney Game Last Night

Xavier Won Its First Big East Tourney Game Last Night

In particular it was Justin Martin who provided a spark for Xavier in the win. He shot the ball very well en route to a 19-point performance and did not turn the ball over once. This was a physical game contested heavily in the paint, your typical grind it out Big East style of game that didn’t feature many transition opportunities. Xavier was buoyed by the return of Matt Stainbrook, who suffered a sprained MCL in the team’s loss at Seton Hall on March 3. Stainbrook only played 15 minutes but contributed eight points and gave the Musketeers a much-needed presence in the paint on both ends of the floor. Marquette tried to mount a charge at the end but a questionable shot by Todd Mayo sealed the deal. After the game, Williams actually asked the assembled media how the NIT selection process works, claiming he was not familiar with it.

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Marquette Dancing With Who They Brought

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vtbnblog) on February 14th, 2014

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference and a regular contributor. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

This could not be the team Buzz Williams envisioned would play this season as the 2012-13 wound down last April. That team had a backcourt rotation that included All-Conference First Team guard Vander Blue, junior Todd Mayo, a solid backup point guard in junior Derrick Wilson and a pair of promising freshmen, Duane Wilson and JaJuan Johnson, who would be allowed to ease into the system as they logged a minute here and there. Redshirt senior Jake Thomas and freshman John Dawson would hold down the end of the bench and wait. The always important wing and front court spots would go to a rotation of junior Jamil Wilson, All-American JuCo Jameel McKay, sophomore Steve Taylor (rehabbing from off season surgery) and junior Juan Anderson (who explored a transfer before returning to the team in late April).

Does Buzz Have Full Control of His Program Now? (AP)

Buzz Williams knows his team still has a long way to go to secure a bid to the Big Dance. (AP)

Freshman tweener Deonte Burton, a typical Williams recruit who could log minutes anywhere between off guard and power forward, would have to pick up scrap minutes and wait for his time. The low post would be anchored by Davante Gardner and Chris Otule. Either one of whom — possibly both — would be All-Conference Teamers (Gardner on offense, Otule on defense). Although Williams typically runs 10 (or more) players through each game, last April anyway, it appeared that he would have 13 talented players to mix and match for any given game and opponent. Read the rest of this entry »

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Three Up, Three Down in the Big East

Posted by George Hershey on February 4th, 2014

There was plenty of action this past week in the Big East. Here is a look at three of the biggest improvements and three of the biggest regressions from the past week.

Three Up

Oliver Purnell might've found a gem in A. (Chicago Tribune)

Oliver Purnell might’ve found a gem in RJ Curington (Chicago Tribune)

  1. The rise of R.J. Curington – You might be wondering who this is, but Curington is a name that will become well-known around the league over the next three years. The DePaul freshman guard had played 24 total minutes in the entire season, with 12 games where he did not see any time at all. Yet with DePaul’s lineup decimated by suspensions and injuries to its key contributors, head coach Oliver Purnell has turned to Curington to play more minutes. In the last two games he has shown his promise, playing 23 and 30 minutes, respectively, in losses to Seton Hall and Providence. Against Seton Hall he helped keep the game respectable with 15 points and five rebounds, but on Saturday he blossomed, scoring 22 points to lead DePaul on a comeback that came up just short. The freshman was confident and did not back away from the pressure, taking 15 shots and going 3-of-8 from three with a clutch jumper to tie the game late. He also attacked the basket forcefully, getting to the line six times. Curington was not a big-time recruit and he barely played earlier this season, but he appears to be a very good offensive player who will complement fellow freshman Billy Garrett Jr. and Tommy Hamilton IV going forward.
  2. St. John’s getting on a roll – It was only three weeks ago when St. John’s was the laughingstock of the Big East, starting 0-5 including a loss to DePaul. Since then the Red Storm have gone 4-1, with the only loss coming on the road to Creighton, which needed a deep Doug McDermott three to win. The defense has hunkered down and they displayed it with a dominant performance over Marquette at Madison Square Garden over the weekend. Marquette could not get any good looks and the Golden Eagles’ frustration was evident all night. Steve Lavin’s offense has also played much better, showing a chemistry and cohesion that was not there before. Earlier in the season, the team was settling for too many contested jump shots, but they have begun to move the ball around better. D’Angelo Harrison hit six threes Saturday, and most of those were wide open because of better spacing and ball movement. This team’s talent has been well-publicized and criticized for its play thus far, but they have finally begun to fulfill the potential and just a few more wins will get them onto the bubble. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East M5: 02.03.14 Edition

Posted by George Hershey on February 3rd, 2014

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  1. Butler forward Andrew Chrabascz has gone from being a lightly-used freshman to a starter in his freshman year at Butler. Indy Star‘s Zak Keefer wrote an interesting article about Chrabascz’s relationship with Chris Herren. Herren is well known for his rise from Portsmouth to Boston College and Fresno State, and eventually being drafted by the Boston Celtics. Herren had trouble with drugs and eventually it caught up with him as his basketball career ended badly. After getting his life together he began to coach in the area and he became a mentor to Chrabascz as he began to get offers from prep schools and colleges. Currently, Chrabascz is earning the trust of his coach and teammates as he sees his role grow, while Herren has turned his life around completely, as he gives speeches and mentors kids around the nation. Chrabascz’s energy and hustle is evident every minute of the game as he is all constantly working. He has a bright future ahead as he grows his game alongside several other underclassmen.
  2. As DePaul struggles through another season, Big East Coast Bias asks if a new arena can save DePaul basketball. A team that was once well respected and made the 1979 Final Four, has failed earn a bid to the big dance since 2004. The construction of a new arena has been discussed at length recently and Mayor Rahm Emanuel seems to be behind the arena. As BECB notes, a new arena could triple student attendance and help bring in some top recruits. Although the team has struggled, their are some bright spots on the team. Chicago natives Billy Garrett Jr. and Tommy Hamilton IV as well as R.J. Curington have emerged as solid contributors this year and will be the rocks that the team builds off of going forward. They were one of Cliff Alexander’s final choices and if they can go out and get one or two of Chicago’s best players, the momentum should start to swing in DePaul’s favor.
  3. While Doug McDermott and Ethan Wragge get the spotlight for Creighton, Chris Novak of Big East Coast Bias points out that their future in the frontcourt is bright. Jahenns Manigat is graduating this year, so several less experienced players will have to take over next season. Luckily those players are Devin Brooks, Austin Chatman, and Isaiah Zierden. All three have contributed and have shown their great potential, albeit it sporadically. Chatman is averaging a stat stuffing 7.2 points, 4 rebounds, and 4.2 assists each game. He does not jump out when you watch games, but he is a key cog and his experience will help him next season. Brooks and Zierden have been up and down, with some greats performances mixed with average ones. Both have scored the ball at a high level at times and Brooks can rebound and pass well. Many may worry how the Bluejays will survive without McDermott, but their are pieces there that forecast a bright future.
  4. After Marquette’s lifeless loss at the hands of St. John’s at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, Buzz Williams talked about the tough turn around playing 40 hours after beating Providence 900 miles away. Anonymous Eagle takes a look at what Buzz Williams called “competitive inequities in the schedule.” It is never easy to play with only one day off between games, especially when your opponent had three days to rest, but Fox Sports 1 is paying the league a huge amount to broadcast the games, and the network needs to fill its spots. While it is more difficult to win in those situations, it is what teams face every year in the NCAA Tournament, and Williams knows that well, making the Sweet Sixteen the past three seasons. He will have to get his team ready for the beginning of March when they play two games on the road in three days, potentially with a team fighting for a spot on the bubble.
  5. Georgetown hopefully turned their season around on Saturday at Madison Square Garden with their win over Michigan State. After losing five straight with Joshua Smith ineligible, it looked like the Hoyas were headed to a losing season, but this win will give the team confidence and hopefully a light bulb went off for the players. While D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and Markel Starks have done the heavy lifting offensively, Nate Lubick was a key component in the win. Ben Standig takes a look at Lubick’s game on Saturday after he rarely looked to score most of the season. Lubick is a smart player and rebounds and defends well, but he was a liability on offense as he would never shoot outside of five feet from the basket. He only scored eight points, but he got to the line four times, showing increased aggression. The guards cannot do all the scoring, so Lubick’s contributions will help them find better shots and not have to make every play, leading to a more balanced and better team.
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Big East M5: 01.31.14 Edition

Posted by George Hershey on January 31st, 2014

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  1. Creighton and Villanova have shot up the rankings this season with great guard play and effective outside shooting. ESPN‘s John Gasaway wrote an article recently looking at the teams with the highest percentage of attempts that come from behind the arc. Creighton takes 43.1 percent of its shots from deep, but Gasaway points out how effective they have become at shooting two-pointers (54.8 percent of their twos in conference action) and how their defense is also much improved (surrendering 1.02 points per possession). Villanova has a similar profile in all three aspects. They take 42.7 percent of their shots from three, making 54 percent of their twos and allowing 1.04 points per possession. It’s interesting just how similar the two best teams in the league are and we will probably see a much closer game the second time these teams meet in Omaha. 
  2. Former Ohio State walk-on and current Grantland writer Mark Titus may not have the most accurate power rankings out there, but he definitely has the funniest. Titus likes to make jokes, but he is also very smart about basketball and makes compelling points along the way. This week he has Creighton Doug McDermott in his eighth national spot. Although he jokes about McDermott and his impressive recent play, he has a great quote about Creighton as a team, saying, “The Bluejays have become appointment viewing. If their shooting outburst against Villanova wasn’t enough to convince you of this, McDermott’s heroic effort should cement their status. No matter who they’re playing, you can turn on a Creighton game and be pretty sure you’re going to be thoroughly entertained for two hours.” The team’s ability to go off at any time and McDermott’s NPOY-level play has truly made this team a can’t-miss viewing appointment. 
  3. Buzz Williams must have been listening to all the Marquette writers and fans this week. With articles from Cracked Sidewalks, Anonymous Eagle, and Paint Touches all calling for the underclassmen to get more playing time, Williams put JaJuan Johnson and Deonte Burton into the starting lineup in last night’s impressive win, with John Dawson coming off the bench early. All three played at least 10 minutes while Burton led the trio with nine points and six rebounds. The key with the freshman is to remain aggressive while staying under control and understanding the situation. They showed their confidence attacking the rim and being pesky on defense, but also forced a few unnecessary shots. It seems like Williams likes the energy and production they bring which should help them get more comfortable with the college game in preparation for next season.
  4. Seton Hall has its first McDonald’s All-American since Andre Barrett and Eddie Griffin arrived in 2000. Coney Island native Isaiah Whitehead was named to the team on Wednesday as he finishes up an outstanding high school career. Zach Braziller at the New York Post talked to Whitehead after the announcement, as he follows in the footsteps of Lincoln High School legends Stephon Marbury, Sebastian Telfair and Lance Stephenson. This is a great honor for Whitehead and his arrival next year should excite Seton Hall fans as he leads a stellar class of New York and New Jersey local products.
  5. With the losses of Brandon Austin, Kris Nunn, and Rodney Bullock, Providence guard Josh Fortune has had to consistently play almost the entire game throughout conference play. He has played at least 30 minutes in all but one game, and even played 50 (!) against St. John’s. While Fortune has played a key role for the Friars as Bryce Cotton’s backcourt mate, he has had to focus on basketball while his mother is stationed 6,000 miles away as a colonel in the Army. Kevin McNamara writes about life off the court and how Fortune has to deal with the intermittent communication with his mother. Fortunately for head coach Ed Cooley, Fortune has stepped up and been a consistent producer all season, helping Providence battle for what appeared to be an unlikely NCAA Tournament berth.
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Big East M5: 01.24.14 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on January 24th, 2014

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  1. Following his amazing performance against Villanova, Creighton’s Ethan Wragge has become something of a ‘cult hero’ on the national stage. Omaha.com‘s Tom Shatel dove into Wragge’s journey to this point, and things haven’t been very easy for a fifth-year senior who struggled as an underclassman and occasionally considered transferring elsewhere. After averaging between spot duty minutes off the bench for nearly four years, Wragge has finally broken into the starting lineup and is hitting around four three-pointers (and for the most part, only three-pointers) per game at a 50 percent clip. We’ve already touched on the “Lumberjack Day” which will be held in his honor in a few weeks; finding out his full Creighton story makes him that much easier to root for.
  2. With Villanova coming to town this weekend, Marquette can use all the help it can get. Luckily, it sounds like the cavalry may arrive in the form of JaJuan Johnson, who is expected to return from a sprained his ankle he suffered in practice. Playing time won’t be guaranteed for anyone, however, as Buzz Williams expects to cut down his rotation as Marquette makes a push for the postseason. Journal-Sentinel writer Michael Hunt says it will be the veterans who carry the Golden Eagles if they are to go dancing: “If Marquette is to go to the tournament for the sixth time in Williams’ six years, it will largely be up to the four seniors to carry the team, particularly Davante Gardner, who has put together consistently good games since moving into the starting lineup five games ago, and Jamil Wilson, who is starting to get it together on a consistent basis.”
  3. Marquette and Georgetown were expected to be the standard-bearers for the Big East this season, at least until some of the newcomers got their bearings in the new league. However, both of those teams are struggling while Creighton and Xavier sit in two of the three slots in the conference standings. Omaha World-Herald writer Steve Pivovar believes that while his hometown Bluejays are a good story, the Big East needs the recognizable brand-name programs to step up: “Unfortunately, not everyone will have at their fingertips on the mountain of data that the Division I basketball tournament committee members will possess to judge the Big East fairly. That’s where having the league’s two most recognizable names — Georgetown and Marquette — at the top of the standings might help in how the Big East is perceived.”
  4. Many didn’t expect much from Xavier or Providence this season, and it’s not hard to see why on paper. The two teams are built on the backs of transcendent players in Semaj Christon and Bryce Cotton, but it wasn’t always obvious where their depth would come from. Of course, Christon and Cotton have played their parts, with Cotton as one of the conference’s most prolific scorers and Christon leading the way for a team that is only one half-game out of first place. The two teams face off this weekend in an important match-up for the Big East standings, as crazy as that may have sounded back in October.
  5. Xavier head coach Chris Mack has done a great job with the Musketeers this season, and he will now be celebrated as all top sports figures should — with a bobblehead doll. Mack gave Cincinnati.com an incredibly funny interview about the giveaway, which features some self-promotion: Each figure has Mack’s Twitter handle @CoachChrisMack etched into the base.
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Big 12 Bubble Watch: Texas is Here to Stay

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 23rd, 2014

Want a good laugh? Take a look at our Big 12 Bubble Watch from six weeks ago. Look at how gaudy those early season records were! Sigh, we were only kids then. But now is a lot different. Kansas appears headed for another Big 12 championship while early favorites Baylor and Iowa State are struggling to find themselves in conference play. Kansas State has turned around what could have been a disaster of a season following a co-Big 12 title last year. Oklahoma State is very much in the conversation for dethroning the Jayhawks and Rick Barnes’ Texas Longhorns continue to surprise us game after game.

(Ed. Note: While it was unclear in December who would win the Big 12, at least now we have a good enough sample size to project a team to take the conference’s automatic bid. For this particular scenario, that Big 12 champion is Kansas. Not considered in this Bubble Watch were TCU, Texas Tech and West Virginia.) 

Rick Barnes has coached himself back into the Texas job this season. I'm sure I could have phrased that better. (Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Rick Barnes has coached himself back into the Texas job this season. I’m sure I could have phrased that better. (Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

In Very Good Shape

Oklahoma State: 15-3 (3-2); RPI: 12, SOS: 38

Analysis: It seemed like the world would come crashing down when Michael Cobbins went down with a season-ending Achilles injury and the Stevie Clark situation(s) flared up, but it wasn’t so. Marcus Smart is still doing Marcus Smart things and did you know Phil Forte is connecting on half of his three-pointers this season (53-for-106)? Seriously. Oklahoma State managed to be a few possessions from winning at both Kansas State and Kansas (and for that matter, a few possessions from losing at West Virginia). While having Memphis and Colorado as good non-conference wins, nice RPI and SOS numbers, no bad losses, and the rough part of their schedule still to come, Travis Ford’s team has plenty of chances to add to its portfolio.

Iowa State: 14-3 (2-3); RPI: 10, SOS: 11

Analysis: Surprised to see these guys here? The Cyclones’ struggles have been well-documented and their chances at a Big 12 regular season title are dwindling, but there is still a lot going right for this team. Remember that win over Michigan in mid-November? Its luster started to fade but the Mitch McGary-less Wolverines have re-entered the Big Ten title race with consecutive wins at Wisconsin and against Iowa. Speaking of the Hawkeyes, Iowa State beat them last month as well. At this point in the season, the difference between the Cyclones and Baylor is their head-to-head match-up in Ames where Fred Hoiberg’s team took them out with ease. What will be interesting to see from the Cyclones now will be how they deal with DeAndre Kane’s minutes. He’s played 35 minutes or more in every Big 12 game while battling an ankle injury. Will Hoiberg try to work Bubu Palo, who was placed back on the team by a county judge, into the rotation to supplant Kane? We shall see.

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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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Creighton’s Three-Point Barrage Enters The Big East

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on January 2nd, 2014

A lot was “new” at Omaha’s Centurylink Center on Tuesday night: a new conference, new logo, and a new year. Not new, however, was the deluge of three-pointers Creighton hoisted up in beating Marquette in its inaugural Big East game. The Bluejays had taken 17 three-pointers by the eight-minute mark of the first half, and ended up shooting a total of 35 for the game. Greg McDermott’s team made a good percentage of them (13, or 37%), as they have done all season long (43%). The team came into the game with the third best team three-point percentage in the country, which is obscene when you consider the volume that they fire up — around 26 attempts per game (good for 46 percent of their total field goal attempts).

Ethan Wragge is shooting an incredible 50% from three this year. The Jays' Big East hopes depend on continued success from deep.

Ethan Wragge is shooting an incredible 50% from three this year. The Jays’ Big East hopes depend on continued success from deep.

Will Creighton’s reliance on a three-point offense be as sustainable in the Big East? The answer is that its hopes at capturing the conference title in its maiden season completely depend on it. Marquette has been solid in defending the three this season (holding opponents to 33.1%), yet the Bluejays were able to impose their game plan successfully on the defense-first Golden Eagles. Georgetown down the road (January 25 and March 4) will likely be a tough match-up since the Hoyas have held opponents to only 28.5% from three (28th nationally), but the only other Big East teams in the top 100 are Butler (69th, 30.8%), DePaul (93rd, 31.5%) and Xavier (96th, 31.6%). That Creighton isn’t entering a conference full of elite three-point defenses is certainly a positive for them.

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Otskey’s Observations: Episode VI

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on December 18th, 2013

Battle For Iowa Lived Up To Its Billing

For my money, the best game in recent days was Iowa State’s thrilling win over Iowa on Friday night at Hilton Coliseum. This game was the true essence of what college basketball is all about. It was a heated in-state rivalry between two quality teams in a crazy atmosphere, smack dab in the middle of a basketball-crazed state. It is simple: This was a fun game, period. Although Fred Hoiberg’s Cyclones came away victorious, you may be somewhat surprised to find out that my biggest impression taken from this game was just how good Iowa is. I actually thought the Hawkeyes were the better team for most of this contest. Don’t get me wrong, Iowa State played really well. After all, it beat a team I thought was very impressive so that should tell you something about the Cyclones as well. I thought Iowa had a terrific game plan and evidence of top-notch coaching and scouting was present throughout the game.

Devyn Marble

Devyn Marble and his mates were outstanding. But Iowa State was just a little bit better. (AP)

One specific example of great scouting came late in the first half when Roy Devyn Marble got in the middle of a dribble hand-off by Georges Niang and broke it up, leading to two Iowa points on the other end. Marble read the play perfectly and it paid off for his team. Fran McCaffery’s squad excelled in transition and got almost anything it wanted offensively on the low block with Aaron White leading the charge. Iowa ran some beautiful half-court sets that resulted in plenty of clean looks, especially for White and Marble. The Hawkeyes dominated the glass (but did not take full advantage of it) and answered the bell nearly every time Iowa State put together a charge, except for the final minute where it wound up costing them the game. Iowa simply didn’t make the plays it needed to win late, highlighted by Mike Gesell’s two missed free throws. McCaffery and his team can learn a lot from this game but in the end it is on the players to step up and lead down the stretch. Whether that’s Marble (most likely), White, Gesell, or someone else, Iowa needs someone to be “the man” in order to take the next step and contend at the very highest level in the Big Ten.

Michigan Back On Track?

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Four Thoughts on Marquette, Creighton, SDSU & GW at the Wooden Legacy

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) on November 30th, 2013

The Wooden Legacy created a lot of buzz on Friday night during its action. Here are four thoughts on what happened last night in Fullerton.

  1. As of today, more than three months from the NCAA Tournament, it remains to be seen just how good Marquette really is. There are some serious question marks about this team, mostly offensively, including just exactly who on this team, aside from specialist Jake Thomas, is going to hit some outside shots. But, we could probably think back to last year about this time and come up with some similar questions. And the year before. And the year before that. But still, Buzz Williams’ teams have wound up experiencing plenty of success in each of those years (just to remind you, they’ve been in at least the Sweet Sixteen for three years running), despite those weaknesses never getting fully resolved. Why? A lot of it is because his teams have taken on the personality of their coach: humble, intense, blue collar, and hard-working. A great example of the fire that Williams brings out and celebrates in his team came with under a minute to go Friday afternoon in the waning moments of a Marquette blowout. With George Washington refusing to give up the ghost despite a 16-point deficit, the Golden Eagles did the same, fighting to the final buzzer. And there was that aforementioned specialist Thomas, diving on the floor for a loose ball, thinking of calling for a timeout on an otherwise meaningless possession, but then, from the seat of his pants, finding his bulldog point guard Derrick Wilson for a breakaway layup. It was a play that caused the entire Marquette bench, Williams included, to erupt with a passion normally reserved for a tight game. Distill that play, bottle it and you’ve got the very essence of “Marquette basketball” under Williams. Williams on that play: “That’s a Marquette play. You can argue as a fan that maybe it wasn’t a meaningful possession. You can argue that mathematically the game was over. But for Jake to dive on the floor with both feet and both hands and come up with the loose ball, and then to pitch it ahead to Derrick for a layup, I hope that that’s a reflection not only of him and of our current team, but also our program.”

    Marquette Basketball Has Come To Embody Many Of The Same Characteristics As Their Head Coach, Buzz Williams (MJS/R. Wood)

    Marquette Basketball Has Come To Embody Many Of The Same Characteristics As Their Head Coach, Buzz Williams (MJS/R. Wood)

  2. George Washington did not play particularly well on Friday afternoon, and head coach Mike Lonergan was the first to admit it. But, this is a team that, again, as Lonergan admitted, probably didn’t expect to be playing for a championship on Sunday anyway. They knew they were going to be in for a battle every game this tournament, and the fact that they have a chance to be playing for third place on Sunday is a boon for them. Meanwhile, for Creighton, it is a disappointment. If Creighton isn’t careful, they’re liable to suffer a letdown on Sunday, especially playing in the cavernous Honda Center in front of a sparse crowd rather than the band box Titan Gym where the first two rounds were played. And if that happens, a GW team with shooters on the wing like Maurice Creek and Nemanja Mikic, grinders in the middle and nothing to lose, could make the Bluejays earn their lunch on Sunday, something Greg McDermott alluded to in his postgame press conference: “I’m not looking too much down the road, because I think George Washington is a heck of a basketball team and we’re going to need to be ready to play on Sunday or we’re going to be in big trouble.” Read the rest of this entry »
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