Xavier Has a Big Man Problem

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 6th, 2016

Like every other reasonable college basketball coach, Chris Mack assembles his lineups to best match his roster. For example, this meant spreading the floor last season around an adept big man who could rebound, pass out of the low post, and convert around the rim. With a similarly constructed backcourt this time around, Mack has implemented the same strategy, opting to let the play-making abilities of his three-headed monster of wings shine while others perform the dirty work. When it works, the Musketeers dominate the glass and generate countless offensive opportunities via putbacks, kickouts and free throws. But the inverse is a slogging half-court offense that cannot generate enough spacing to propel its interior-focused point of attack. While the results don’t quite reflect this, there is a clear disconnect between the two years of offensive output and it starts with Xavier’s big men and ends with putting the ball in the basket.

The obvious problem is that neither James Farr nor Jalen Reynolds is on this year’s team. Both were consistent in averaging just shy of double figure scoring and combining for nearly 15 rebounds per game, but neither was a go-to guy. The rebounding void has been filled this year by transfer RaShid Gaston and freshman Tyrique Jones, but while both might be tenacious on the glass, neither newcomer is very adept on the offensive end.

 

Below is Xavier’s shot chart against Baylor. Subpar perimeter shooting aside, the Musketeers missed an astounding number of shots within three feet of the basket:

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The Best of the Big East: Creighton, Xavier, Villanova

Posted by Eugene Rapay on November 11th, 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 top tier of teams — Creighton, Xavier and Villanova. RTC’s bottom and middle tier previews were published earlier this week.

#3: Creighton

Maurice Watson Jr leads a Creighton team poised to make some noise. (AP)

Maurice Watson Jr leads a Creighton team poised to make some noise. (AP)

Since joining the Big East, Creighton has mainly been on the outside looking in. Yes, the Bluejays’ first year in the league was great with NPOY Doug McDermott leading the way, but Creighton has yet to be the same since he departed Omaha. That’s bound to change soon as the Bluejays are poised to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2013-14 season. They’ll do so behind the play of point guard Maurice Watson, Jr. Not only is Watson a very good scorer, averaging a team-high 14.4 points per game last season, but he’s also a tremendous distributor. His 6.5 assists per game led the Big East and represented the 12th-highest assist rate (38.8%) in college basketball. Teammates flourish off of Watson’s setups.

Unlike those McDermott teams, last year’s Creighton squad excelled at scoring inside. The Bluejays sported the 14th best two-point shooting percentage (54.5%) in America, but fell around the middle of the pack in shooting from three-point range (35.5%). Creighton hopes to improve on its perimeter shooting weakness with the eligibility of Kansas State transfer Marcus Foster and freshman Davion Mintz. Foster in particular hopes to replicate the success he had during an all-Big 12 freshman year when he made nearly 40 percent of his three-point shots. Aside from the issue with perimeter shooting, the Bluejays also need to replace highly efficient center Geoffrey Groselle, a big man who averaged 11.2 points and 6.1 rebounds per game last season while shooting at a 70 percent clip. Creighton recruited a four-star forward in Justin Patton, who is likely to be tested early as Toby Hegner nurses an injury that will sideline him for the beginning of the season. Can head coach Greg McDermott make the new pieces jibe?

#2: Xavier

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Big East’s Burning Questions: NCAA Tournament Edition

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 16th, 2016

With five NCAA Tournament teams seeded anywhere from #2 to a #9, the expectations for the Big East this season are all over the map. Let’s take a look at the single biggest question surrounding the postseason success of each program heading into the first weekend.

Is this the year Jay Wright and company finally make their long awaited run to the Final Four? (Getty)

Is this the year Jay Wright’s group finally makes another run? (Getty)

VillanovaCan the Wildcats finally break through to the Sweet Sixteen? This narrative has seemingly lasted forever. After a number of exits in the Second Round, many pundits are writing off Jay Wright‘s squad. The reasons are all over the place: a lack of true NBA-level talent; a lack of interior depth; limited athleticism; over-reliance on the three-pointer. But what the narrative fails to capture is that the team’s dynamic continues to evolve with each passing year — players gain experience, develop new skill sets and build cohesion. People desperately wanted to craft the three-point shooting storyline around this year’s team but it simply hasn’t held up. Yes, Villanova shoots threes, but they are rarely contested. They are simply a manifestation of an offense where the primary options are to use Josh Hart in the lane or Daniel Ochefu on the low block. Iowa isn’t the type of team to give Villanova problems, nor is an undersized and poor-shooting Temple team. Expect the narrative to finally unwind this March.

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Bracket Prep: East Region

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 14th, 2016

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On Monday and Tuesday we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: Monday (East and West); Tuesday (South and Midwest). Here, Brian Otskey (@botskey) breaks down the East Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC East Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCeastregion).

East Region

Favorite: No. 1 North Carolina (28-6, 14-4 ACC). Although this region is loaded from top to bottom, the ACC regular season and tournament champions are the clear favorite. Roy Williams has one of the nation’s most talented teams with seniors Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige leading the way. Contending with Johnson is a nightmare for most teams. A relentless rebounder who averages a double-double, Johnson is one of the nation’s most efficient players. Carolina has weaknesses — namely three-point shooting and three-point defense — but the way it utilizes great athleticism to speed up the game makes the Heels hard to beat.

UNC

The ACC regular season and tournament champions are the favorite to take the East Region. (Photo: Todd Melet)

Should They Falter: No. 4 Kentucky (26-8, 13-5 SEC). Yes, we’re going to roll with the Wildcats here. John Calipari’s team has made Final Fours from lower seeded positions — most notably in 2011 and 2014. This is not a vintage Kentucky team by any means, but it is highly talented and Coach Cal has proven that he can push the right buttons in March. College basketball is a guards’ game and Kentucky has that in spades with Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe. The lack of a major threat inside and occasionally spotty defense are definite concerns, but Kentucky has the talent and athletes to get by North Carolina in a potential Sweet Sixteen matchup.

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Rushed Reactions: Seton Hall 87, Xavier 83

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 12th, 2016

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Three Key Takeaways:

Khadeen Carrington starred in another Seton Hall victory. (Credit: (USA Today Sports Images)

  1. Derrick Gordon changed the tide in the first half. Seton Hall’s lone senior created havoc on the defensive end with his deflections and hustle plays all over the floor. He was everywhere and set the tone for the Pirates, who used a 24-12 first half run to take control of the game. Gordon was one of the most important acquisitions on the transfer market this offseason and has provided Seton Hall with the leadership it desperately needed after last season’s collapse. His hustle and will to win were on display again tonight and made a huge difference in the outcome. His experience and selfless play is invaluable to a talented but still quite young group of Pirates.
  2. Seton Hall matched Xavier’s toughness and physicality. The Musketeers are known for their relentless, hard-nosed brand of basketball. Tonight they encountered an opponent more than willing to play just as tough and just as physical, and Xavier didn’t react well to that. In particular, the Pirates got under the skin of J.P. Macura and Jalen Reynolds; both players picked up technical fouls and eventually fouled out. The physicality of the game played right into Seton Hall’s hands as it turned up the defense and held Xavier to 34.9 percent shooting for the game. It was an impressive display by a young team that doesn’t seem have fear of any opponent.
  3. Seton Hall is a dangerous NCAA Tournament team. The Pirates are clicking on all cylinders right now. Their defense has been strong all year and ranks among the top 15 nationally in adjusted efficiency, but the difference maker has been an improved offense. Seton Hall struggled earlier in the year with stagnancy, but their chemistry and ball movement has improved by leaps and bounds over the course of the last five weeks. That’s due in large part to Isaiah Whitehead‘s stellar play, but also a result of increased contributions from complementary players like Desi Rodriguez and Khadeen Carrington. Seton Hall will win games with its defense and rebounding, but the added offensive punch makes them a legitimate threat to make the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend.

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Xavier’s Weakness Becomes Apparent

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 1st, 2016

Media pundits are always quick to jump on bandwagons and it happened again on Wednesday night. The chatter around Xavier’s perceived ceiling has been around all season, but it picked up considerably following the team’s win over #1 Villanova. Those claiming Xavier has Final Four potential aren’t wrong by any means; Chris Mack’s team is deep, athletic and extremely tough on the boards — a combination that usually makes for a tough out. Moreover, a 7-2 record against the RPI top 50 has erased any doubts about its ability to compete against Tournament-level teams. Below the surface, however, lurk some unpleasant memories, remnants of what are unquestionably ugly losses. A 31-point blowout at Villanova, a pair of brutally inefficient losses to Georgetown and Creighton, and most recently, a clunker at Seton Hall. The losses themselves aren’t the least bit concerning — Xavier’s four total losses is the second fewest of any team in the country — it’s the way they’ve lost.

Chris Mack is Safe For Now But Shouldn't 'Get too Comfortable (Getty)

Chris Mack and Xavier are legit contenders, but do have some things to work out. (Getty)

The Musketeers have a number of options — Trevon Bluiett, Myles Davis and JP Macura prime among them — when it comes to perimeter scoring, but these players aren’t relied upon for lights-out shooting as much as they are pure spacing. With a lightning-quick point guard in Edmond Sumner, Xavier can usually penetrate to get high quality looks around the rim because teams are forced to respect the array of shooters around Sumner. It doesn’t necessarily matter who is making shots, so long as they connect on a high enough percentage to keep defenses honest. The Xavier wings are also adept at making entry passes to the low post, a place where the Musketeers are converting at a high rate, as the presence of numerous shooters and slashers helps stop opponents from doubling on the interior. Xavier post options Jalen Reynolds and James Farr also both rank in the top 100 in offensive rebounding, helping the X-men corral 35.7 percent of its missed shots. Partially as a result of the attack of the offensive glass, Xavier attempts 40.3 percent of its shots at the rim and gets to the free throw line at an exceedingly high rate (29th nationally). Read the rest of this entry »

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The X-Factor: Breaking Down Xavier’s 1-3-1 Zone

Posted by Chris Stone on February 22nd, 2016

After a dominant 88-70 road win over Georgetown in Washington, DC on Saturday, Xavier is now 24-3 on the season (9-3 in the Big East). The Musketeers are currently ranked sixth in the RPI and are projected to be a top-two seed in the NCAA Tournament according to Bracket Matrix, a site that aggregates bracket projections from across the Internet. They are ranked 13th on KenPom, 13th in the Sagarin Ratings, and 17th on Team Rankings. But despite the gaudy win total and solid computer numbers, Xavier has generally flown under the radar nationally all season.

Xavier's hectic 1-3-1 defense helps the Musketeers fluster opponents. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Xavier’s hectic 1-3-1 defense helps the Musketeers fluster opponents. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

The Musketeers have a legitimate top scoring option in sophomore Trevon Bluiett, who averages 15.3 points per game. Freshman Edmond Sumner also has the ability to score in bunches; he did so on Saturday, scoring a career high 22 points against the Hoyas. However, it’s Xavier’s defense, specifically its ability to switch between man-to-man and a 1-3-1 zone, that makes the Musketeers so dangerous. The zone, which has been mentioned in multiple iterations of Luke Winn’s Power Rankings over at Sports Illustrated, is Xavier’s X-factor. While Winn has noted that the Musketeers have gone to the zone a bit less during Big East play, the 1-3-1 has still been an effective way for Xavier to speed up opponents and force them into tough shots or turnovers.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Arizona 68, #6 Xavier 60

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on March 27th, 2015

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Three Key Takeaways.

Despite Early Struggles, Senior Point Guard T.J. McConnell Came Up Large Late (Greg Wahl-Stephens/AP)

Despite His Early Struggles, T.J. McConnell Came Up Large Late (Greg Wahl-Stephens/AP)

  1. Wake-up Time. About 30 minutes into tonight’s game, Xavier led by four points and looked very much like the better team. The Musketeers were quicker to most loose balls. They were controlling the paint. They were running their offense through Matt Stainbrook with impunity. Dee Davis was beating his man (T.J. McConnell) off the bounce just about whenever he wanted, and McConnell, the Wildcats’ senior leader, looked nothing like the gutsy, scrappy veteran that we’ve gotten accustomed to. Arizona looked lost on offense and disinterested on defense. The large number of Arizona fans in Staples Center was quiet. And then, against Xavier’s tough 1-3-1 zone, T.J. McConnell found himself with a good-looking 15-foot baseline jumper. He missed it, but the Musketeers couldn’t corral the defensive rebound. The senior recovered it and banked in a hoop, prompting Chris Mack to call a timeout. A couple possessions later, Kaleb Tarczewski grabbed an offensive board and put it back in. On the other end of the court, he helped trap a Musketeer ball-handlers near midcourt, forcing a timeout. Following that timeout, McConnell swiped a steal from Myles Davis and, in the blink of an eye, the momentum of this game had shifted, Arizona fans were back into it, and the rest is history. A 21-9 game-closing run for the Wildcats following that McConnell second-chance bucket sealed the game.
  2. Zone Defense. The bad news is that Arizona again struggled mightily against a zone defense for large stretches of a game against a team from Ohio. Nobody but Gabe York could knock in the occasional long-range jumper. McConnell looked confused and frustrated. And whoever the Wildcats tried to turn into a play-maker in the middle of the zone had trouble finding open teammates. So, again, that’s the bad news. Here’s the good news: It is very likely that the Wildcats have seen their last zone defense for the year. Wisconsin isn’t going to zone them. There’s not a chance Kentucky would zone them. And we’d have to see the matchup in the final but it’s probably unlikely. Xavier stayed in the game tonight by throwing as many as four or five different defensive looks at Arizona. It uglied things up for the ‘Cats, but, hey, survive and advance.
  3. Kaleb Tarczewski. Of all the players in college basketball, there are very few that take the kind of abuse from average college basketball fans (even including Arizona fans) that Tarczewski does. But as Sean Miller puts it, “he just does his job.” Xavier’s Matt Stainbrook seemed to be getting the best of him early, using a number of pretty post moves against his single coverage on the way to a double-double of 17 points and 10 boards. But Miller views Tarczewski’s ability to guard frontcourt bigs like Stainbrook one-on-one as a key to the Wildcats’ defensive success. “Stainbrook had his moments, but he had one offensive rebound. And one of the strategies for us is we didn’t want him to provide 10 to 20 points for his teammates. Because they do a great job of throwing it into him and he’s such a terrific passer that all of a sudden, the floodgates open from three or they get the ball moving and the reason it starts to move is because you had to help on Stainbrook. And then it’s both: He’s not only scoring inside, but their perimeter attack is thriving because of him. The reason we won, in my opinion, is Kaleb’s double-double and his very good defense. He did what we asked him to do.” To summarize: Tarczewski limited Stainbrook on the offensive glass, grabbed his own offensive boards on the other end, and because he was able to battle the Xavier big man to an individual draw, stifle Xavier’s half-court offense.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen Thursday

Posted by Walker Carey & Andrew Murawa on March 26th, 2015

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While the early round upsets and Cinderella stories are what make the NCAA Tournament unique to any other sporting event in the country, there is always something to be said about the best competing against the best. No more might that be true than this season’s Sweet 16, which feature arguably a legitimate “Top 16” team pool … and it all gets started today. Here are four previews of Thursday’s games:

#3 Notre Dame vs. #7 Wichita State – Midwest Region Sweet 16 (from Cleveland) – at 7:15 PM EST on CBS

Compared to the Pantheon of coaches, Gregg Marshall and Mike Brey aren't often thrown in the discussion. But, both have their teams playing at the highest of levels at the moment. (AP & Getty)

Compared to the Pantheon of coaches, Gregg Marshall and Mike Brey aren’t often thrown in the discussion. But, both have their teams playing at the highest of levels at the moment. (AP & Getty)

The Irish and Shockers will meet Thursday night in what should be a very entertaining battle between two of the country’s best perimeter teams. Notre Dame and its four-guard lineup boasts one of the best scoring offenses in the country. USBWA first-team All-American Jerian Grant is one of the best offensive guards in the country. His scoring ability and ball distribution skills definitely makes him a player to watch each time he takes the court. For Notre Dame, sophomore point guard Demetrius Jackson and sophomore guard Steve Vasturia have each made a name for themselves this season. Jackson has greatly matured as Notre Dame’s floor leader on offense and his ball pressure on defense has been a greatly under appreciated facet of his game. Vasturia is the only Irish starter that does not have a scoring average in double figures, but his knack for hitting big shots coupled with some tenacious defense against some very good players (see his performance from last Saturday against Butler’s Kellen Dunham) has contributed to Notre Dame reaching its first Sweet 16 since 2003. When you think of the great glue guys in the country, Irish swingman Pat Connaughton has to be one of the first players who comes to mind. The captain has been an essential asset all season from his three-point shooting to his defensive rebounding to his overall leadership, Connaughton has been the heart of the Irish attack.

Wichita State is equally as talented on the perimeter. Junior point guard Fred VanVleet has had as good of an NCAA Tournament as anyone thus far, as he thoroughly outplayed Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell in the round of 64 before having his way with Kansas guards’ Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham in the round of 32. The other two Shockers perimeter players — Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton — each bring a unique skill set that have lifted the team all season. Baker has a knack for leading the scoring effort and hitting big shots. Cotton is an elite defender and his athleticism results in him constantly being a slashing threat on the offensive end. This is going to be a very fun game and you have to figure that both team’s perimeter groups will get theirs. Read the rest of this entry »

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.25.14 Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on March 25th, 2015

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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

This guy is not intimidated by John Calipari and the Wildcats. (Getty)

This guy is not intimidated by John Calipari and the Wildcats. (Getty)

  • Though he’s struggled thus far in the NCAA Tournament, John Calipari’s message to Devin Booker is simple. “We told him after the game, ‘Hey, you’ve got to keep shooting,’ because there’s going to be a game we need him to make shots or we can’t win,” Calipari said. “You can miss all these. It doesn’t matter. The next one’s coming up and we may need you to make some shots.”
  • Bob Huggins has had John Calipari’s number historically, but Kentucky certainly has the advantage by the numbers this time. Here’s what Kentucky blog A Sea of Blue has to say about Thursday’s battle.
  • West Virginia is fast and physical, but Huggins is concerned about Kentucky’s defense, particularly inside the three-point line. “Probably the closest one was Kentucky in 2010. We led by one [actually two, 28-26] at halftime and did not have a two-point field goal (eight three-pointers and four foul shots). I think every time we took it inside the three [point line] we got our shots blocked. I can’t remember anybody who would be as close to this team other than that team,” he said.
  • The odds are against him, but Bob Huggins has a chance to improve on his 8-2 record against his buddy John Calipari on Thursday.
  • The public seems to be praising Wichita State after its upset over Kansas, but don’t sleep on Notre Dame just yet.
  • Pat Connaughton has been huge for Notre Dame on the court, but his leadership away from it is what sets him apart.
  • Alabama is reportedly looking to make a run at Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall. Here‘s why Matt Bonesteel thinks Marshall should stick around in Wichita.
  • Wichita State is the lowest-seeded team left in the Midwest Region, but the Shockers have several qualities that previous Final Four teams have possessed.

West Region

Two old friends go at it in the Sweet 16. Will Chris Mack the Pupil get the upper hand? Or will Sean Miller the teacher still show who's boss? (Getty)

Two old friends go at it in the Sweet Sixteen. Will Chris Mack the Pupil get the upper hand? Or will Sean Miller the Teacher still show him who’s boss? (Getty)

  • It’s no accident that Bo Ryan’s Wisconsin teams rarely foul. Averaging around 12 fouls per game, the Badgers rank among the lowest in the country in that metric. Much of this is due to the emphasis put on it by the head coach. “There are a few pillars of the program or things that have been consistent through the years and helped us be successful,” associate head coach Greg Gard says. “And that’s one of them. They understand if they want to get on the floor and play, they’re going to have to be able to play without fouling.”
  • Despite having a reputation as a very well-respected academic institution, Wisconsin hasn’t exactly wowed people with its recent graduation rates.
  • Though he was reportedly doubtful to play earlier this week, Kennedy Meeks worked out briefly on Tuesday and he is still a possibility to play on Thursday night.
  • For Marcus Paige, North Carolina’s Sweet Sixteen game on Thursday will be a bit of a family affair. His sister, Morgan, played at Wisconsin, and now plays professionally in Europe.
  • Xavier big man Jalen Reynolds is being investigated by the school for a recent incident outside of a Xavier dorm. However, Reynolds is still scheduled to play for the time being.
  • Thursday’s Sweet Sixteen battle will be special for Xavier coach Chris Mack. Mack served as Arizona coach Sean Miller’s top assistant for five years before he left Xavier for the desert. “The fact is that it’s hard to play against someone who gave me such an opportunity. We spent so much time in the trenches and he trusted me so much as an assistant coach. I enjoyed my time with him,” Mack said.
  • Both Arizona freshman Stanley Johnson and others surrounding the program seem open about Johnson only being in Tucson for one year, but that isn’t stopping both parties from making the best of the situation.
  • For Sean Miller, coaching against his former team, Xavier, will be tough. “It’s kind of one of those things that when you’re watching the selection show, you’re kind of watching and cheering for them [Xavier coach Chris Mack and former Xavier coach Thad Matta] to go off your board,” [Arizona Director of Basketball Operations Ryan] Reynolds said. Reynolds came with Miller from Xavier to Arizona six years ago.

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