Big Ten Preview Part II: Key Questions for Illinois & Ohio State

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on October 30th, 2017

With the season just a few weeks away, Rush the Court’s Big Ten preview will tip off its coverage by posing season-defining key questions for each team. Today we address Illinois and Ohio State.

#12 Illinois Does Brad Underwood have the backcourt to create more of his first year magic?

Point guard Te’Jon Lucas will be key for Illinois this season. (Caylor Arnold/USA TODAY Sports)

As a first-year, first-time head coach in 2013-14, Brad Underwood led Stephen F. Austin to a 32-3 overall record, including a 29-game winning streak and the Lumberjacks’ first NCAA Tournament victory in school history. In his first and only year at Oklahoma State, Underwood pulled his team out of an 0-6 Big 12 hole, proceeded to rip off 10 victories in 11 games, and ultimately took the Cowboys dancing. Now, after receiving an offer too good to refuse, Underwood finds himself at Illinois, where another first-year NCAA Tournament run seems dubious. Gone are three of the Illini’s top four offensive weapons — including Malcolm Hill (17.2 PPG) — which presents a problem for a coach whose teams thrive on sharp ball-movement and shooting. That’s why sophomore point guard Te’Jon Lucas, Wright State transfer Mark Alstork, and touted freshman Mark Smith probably hold the keys to success. If Lucas, a pure passer, can open up Underwood’s spread offense and find efficient looks for Alstork (19.0 PPG in 2016-17) and Smith (Illinois’ Mr. Basketball), Illinois has a chance to discover the offensive rhythm it generally lacked under previous head coach John Groce. The ability of forwards like Michael Finke (41% 3FG) and Slovenian freshman Matic Vesel to stretch the floor — along with marked improvement from frontcourt anchor Leron Black (8.1 PPG, 6.3 RPG) — will also be imperative. Realistically, there are probably too many “ifs” in Champaign for Underwood to pull yet another rabbit out of his hat this season, even with a backcourt that already seems to fit his system. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten Preview Part I: Key Questions for Rutgers and Nebraska

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on October 27th, 2017

With the season just a few weeks away, Rush the Court’s Big Ten preview will tip off its coverage by posting a season-defining key question for each team. This week, we start at the bottom.

#14 Rutgers – Will the Scarlet Knights score enough to climb out of the cellar?

Can Steve Pikiell lift Rutgers out of last place? (Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports)

In Steve Pikiell’s first year, Rutgers doubled its overall win total, won its first-ever Big Ten Tournament game, and climbed nearly 150 spots in the KenPom ratingsOf course, the Scarlet Knights still finished dead-last in the league for the third year in a row, stymied by three-point, two-point, and free throw shooting percentages that ranked among the worst 25 teams nationally. The good news for Pikiell is that significant incoming talent — headlined by four-star power forward Mamadou Doucoure and three-star combo guard Geo Baker — should help diversify Rutgers’ scoring potential. Doucoure, who joins the 2017 class after reclassifying in August, adds needed size to the Scarlet Knights’ frontcourt and should take defensive pressure off senior Deshawn Freeman, who’s proven to be a capable scorer in addition to his rebounding prowess (7.8 RPG). Baker — by all accounts an adept passer and playmaker — adds sorely-needed perimeter shooting and offensive versatility. He should help fill the shoes of Nigel Johnson, a departing graduate transfer who was the team’s best three-point shooter a season ago (36% 3FG). Equally important will be the addition of JuCo transfer Souf Mensah, whose presence at point guard should help leading scorer Corey Sanders (12.8 PPG) play off the ball more regularly and, presumably, score at a more efficient clip. Like Pikiell’s best teams at Stony Brook, Rutgers’ improvement was defined by hard-nosed defense and rebounding last season. Coupling that identity with a more capable offensive attack would make the Scarlet Knights far more competitive in 2017-18.

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

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 24th, 2017

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

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

Key Takeaways.

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

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

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

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 18th, 2017

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

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

Three Key Takeaways.

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

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

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Big East Conference Preview: Georgetown, Butler, Seton Hall

Posted by Mike Knapp on November 9th, 2016

The Big East microsite will be rolling out previews on all 10 teams this week, sorted into three tiers. Today we review the projected middle tier of teams — Georgetown, Butler, and Seton Hall. RTC’s previous bottom tier preview can be found here.

#6: Georgetown

John Thompson III Needs a Good Season at Georgetown (USA Today Images)

John Thompson III Needs a Good Season at Georgetown. (USA TODAY Images)

The Hoyas lost leading scorer D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera to graduation but bring back all of their other key pieces from a disappointing 15-18 season. Georgetown has great depth at forward with juniors LJ Peak and Isaac Copeland  both of whom finished strong last season — and Robert Morris transfer Rodney Pryor will see significant minutes on the wing. The team also features a formidable two-pronged attack at center with the return of reliable graduate-senior Bradley Hayes and sophomore Jessie Govan. While Govan had an inconsistent freshman year, he showed flashes of his well-rounded offensive skill set and looks to be a perfect fit in John Thompson III’s Princeton offense.

Georgetown still lacks consistent three-point shooting, but their main question mark coming into this season is at point guard. Junior Tre Campbell underwhelmed for most of last season as the floor general, only scoring in double figures twice. Their only other reasonable option is junior college transfer Rodney Mulmore. While the Allegany College import put up impressive numbers last season, the Maryland Junior College Athletic Conference is a far cry from the rigors of the Big East. The Hoyas will need either Campbell or Mulmore to step up at point guard to have a shot at returning to the NCAA Tournament this season. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Virginia 77, #9 Butler 69

Posted by Brad Jenkins on March 19th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Malcolm Brogdon Led Virginia Back to the Sweet Sixteen (USA Today Images)

Malcolm Brogdon Led Virginia Back to the Sweet Sixteen (USA Today Images)

  1. Hello NCAA Tournament fans: Meet Andrew Chrabascz. One of the beauties of the NCAA Tournament is that we are introduced to previously unknown players that raise their games on the biggest stage. Tonight that player was Butler’s Andrew Chrabascz. The junior forward may normally be Butler’s fourth option, but he carried the Bulldogs on his back for the first 24 minutes of tonight’s game. At one point early in the second half, Chrabascz had scored 24 of his team’s 37 total points. That’s when Virginia’s Tony Bennett paid him the ultimate complement by moving ACC Defensive Player of the Year Malcolm Brogdon over to guard the red-hot Bulldog. Chrabascz pretty much disappeared from the Butler offense from that point on, going scoreless over the game’s last 13 minutes.
  2. The weakest link showed up in the second half. This game featured two offenses and one defense ranked among KenPom’s top 20 in efficiency. Of course that defense is Virginia’s famous pack line that has smothered opponents for years. But Butler’s defense played much better than expected, especially early in the contest. The Cavaliers only managed to score 23 points on 28 possessions in the first half, shooting a chilly 38 percent from the floor. In the second half, however, Virginia heated up by shooting a scorching 73.1 percent from the field. The Bulldogs gave up 1.50 points per possession after halftime, and couldn’t get key stops down the stretch despite hanging around until the very end.
  3. Virginia got support for its main three guys. There’s no doubt that Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Gill and London Perrantes are Virginia’s key players. But if the Cavaliers are going to make a deep run in this year’s Tourney, they will need other players to step up when one of those is having an off night. Tonight, two bench players — Marial Shayok and Mike Tobey — came up huge. Shayok scored 10 of his 12 points in the second half and Tobey contributed 10 points on 5-of-5 shooting. That’s the kind of support Bennett needs from his so-called role players from here on out.

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Rushed Reactions: #9 Butler 71, #8 Texas Tech 61

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 17th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Kellen Dunham hit five threes and scored 23 points to lead Butler past Texas Tech. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Kellen Dunham hit five threes and scored 23 points to lead Butler past Texas Tech. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

  1. Classic NCAA #8-#9 Game (for about 30 minutes). As expected, this was a back and forth affair between two evenly matched teams for most of the game. The key stretch turned out to be a personal 8-0 spurt by Bulldogs forward Kelan Martin with around eight minutes to go. With the score tied at 48, the sophomore hit consecutive threes to force a Texas Tech timeout. On the next possession, Martin turned a midcourt steal into a breakaway dunk to give Butler some breathing room. The Red Raiders could get no closer than three points the rest of the way.
  2. Butler was better equipped to win a physical game. Perhaps it’s their Big East pedigree, but the Bulldogs looked much more comfortable when push came to shove (literally). Things got a little chippy about halfway through the second half right before Butler took control of things. At that point in the game, Texas Tech appeared to be knocked back by Butler’s physicality on defense. The Bulldogs also won the rebound battle with a +6 margin. Texas Tech finished with only six offensive boards, including none in the first half.
  3. Texas Tech didn’t win the free throw game. Coming into the game, the Red Raiders ranked in the nation’s top 33 in both free throw percentage and free throw attempt rate. But credit goes to the Bulldogs’ defense for not putting the Red Raiders on the line much at all today. Texas Tech was only 2-of-3 from the stripe in the first half, and finished the game with just nine attempts (converting four). The Red Raiders got good production off the bench with 30 points from reserves, including 18 from senior Devaugntah Williams. Tubby Smith will only lose two players from this year’s surprising NCAA squad, so brighter days should be ahead for Texas Tech.

Star of the Game.  Kellen Dunham, Butler. Dunham was the one constant for his team in both halves. The senior scored 13 in the first half to keep the Bulldogs close — Roosevelt Jones and Kelan Martin combined for only a single point in the first stanza. Dunham finished with 23 points and made 5-of-9 from three-point range.

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On Andrew Chrabascz and Butler’s Surprising Fall

Posted by Justin Kundrat on February 2nd, 2016

Back around Christmas, we talked about how drastically Butler’s offense had transformed this season, in large part due to faster pace and an improved individual efficiency for some key players. This offense was predicated on a balanced attack that featured reliable shooters and a handful of players who could score in the paint. As his team headed into Big East play, it appeared that Butler head coach Chris Holtmann had everything figured out. His Bulldogs had collected wins over Cincinnati and Purdue and were a weekly member of the Top 25. The offense that was propelling the Bulldogs was ranked among the nation’s top five in terms of points per game and averaging a whopping 123 points per 100 possessions. The most impressive part wasn’t the above-average rebounding rates for an undersized team or Butler’s remarkable ability to take care of the ball; what separated this year’s Bulldogs from past editions was its ability to score inside. Through its non-conference slate, Butler was shooting over 57 percent from two-point range, its best mark in 15 years. Curiously though, all of it – truly, all of it – has come undone in the last few weeks.

Andrew Chrabascz's shooting woes have plagued Butler in Big East play. (USA Today Sports)

Andrew Chrabascz’s shooting woes have plagued Butler in Big East play. (USA Today Sports)

Many are pointing fingers at Butler’s stark lack of depth across essentially every position on the roster, and while it’s true that the bench lacks the ability to consistently contribute, the starting lineup still provides plenty of firepower. Senior Kellen Dunham has been remarkably consistent this season, shedding the up-and-down shooting woes of his former self. Roosevelt Jones has shown no signs of slowing down when it comes to attacking the rim. Budding sophomore Kelan Martin has established himself as a do-it-all scorer and one of the team’s most efficient shooters. None of these three have suffered any slowdown in conference play and none are the reason why Butler has been unable to win close league games. Instead, the tragic downturn has coincided with both an injury to point guard Tyler Lewis, and more importantly, the disappearance of 6’7″ post man Andrew Chrabascz, a player who has struggled mightily with his shooting touch. The Bulldogs do not need 20 points per game out of Chrabascz, but any reasonable consistency from him will open up the floor. When he shoots the ball well, defenders are forced to respect his outside shooting as he rolls off screens, a nice addition to the help defense he normally draws in the low post. Butler excels when it uses Chrabascz to set ball screens to free Dunham or Jones and set up a two-on-one situation with Chrabascz either rolling to the rim or floating out for an open jump shot. His shooting ability forces post players to leave the paint in order to contest his shots, which is part of the reason Jones and Martin have had so many lanes on their drives to the basket.

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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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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.21.15 Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on March 21st, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

March Madness is finally upon us, and we here at RTC are here to make everything a little bit easier for you. From the First Four until One Shining Moment, we’ll be dropping daily tidbits of knowledge regarding the teams in each region.

Midwest Region

Goodness Gracious. (USA Today Images)

Goodness Gracious. (USA Today Images)

  • Kentucky expected more out of itself in Thursday night’s win over Hampton. It is possible that the Wildcats need the edge back from last year when they advanced to the national title game as a #8 seed?
  • Cincinnati interim coach Larry Davis traces his roots back to Kentucky.
  • After earning a thrilling victory over Buffalo on Friday afternoon, West Virginia coach Bob Huggins acknowledged in his postgame remarks that he does not understand ESPN analyst Jay Bilas’ Young Jeezy-inspired Twitter schtick.
  • Maryland walk-on defensive specialist Varun Ram saved the day for the Terrapins on Friday when he locked down on Valparaiso guard Keith Carter and produced a turnover as the buzzer sounded to ensure  a 65-62 Maryland win.
  • Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew will always have his March Madness memories from his miracle run as a player in 1998, but he was unable to produce new memories as a coach in Friday’s narrow loss to Maryland.
  • Butler coach Chris Holtmann acknowledged Friday that junior forward Roosevelt Jones will play Saturday night against Notre Dame after suffering a knee injury in Thursday’s win over Texas.
  • Notre Dame coach Mike Brey is expecting senior captain Pat Connaughton to have a big game Saturday night when the Irish take on Butler.
  • Indiana showed that it has talent on the perimeter in Friday’s close loss to Wichita State, thus it seems like the next move for the Hoosiers is to find a big man capable of leading the team to greater heights.
  • With Friday’s victory over Indiana, Wichita State earned its shot to play Kansas – a shot the program has been craving for years.
  • Kansas forward Perry Ellis said his previously injured knee “felt great out there” in Friday’s sizable victory over New Mexico State.

West Region

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