Rushed Reactions: #11 Rhode Island 84, #6 Creighton 72

Posted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2017

Rush the Court is covering the NCAA Tournament from start to finish over the next three weeks. 

Rhode Island Played Harder and Smarter Today (USA Today Images)

Key Takeaways.

  1. Rhode Island’s Determination. From the opening tip today, it was easy to determine which team had more energy, more desire and more fire. Much has been written this week about Rhode Island’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since the Jim Harrick/Lamar Odom days of the late 1990s, but the biggest story here is that this particular group of Rams played like they really appreciated the opportunity. And why wouldn’t they? Because of a series of injuries and some other bad luck over the past several years, Rhode Island had become one of the hardest-luck near-miss cases in college basketball, on the cusp of the Big Dance but never breaking through. Today it was apparent when Rhode Island jumped out to a quick 6-1 lead (that it never relinquished) that higher-seed Creighton was in for a rock fight. Perhaps the most visible statistic showing the Rams’ singular focus and determination today came at the foul line — a 65.7 percent free-throw shooting team hit 28 of its first 29 attempts on its way to a 90.3 percent day.
  2. Creighton’s Dream Season Went Kaput With Mo Watson’s Injury. Creighton was 18-1 and unbeaten in Big East play when point guard Mo Watson suffered a season-ending ACL injury against Xavier back in mid-January. The Bluejays went on to win that game, but they then lost nine of 16 down the stretch after their team leader and best player was hurt. Given that so much of Creighton’s offense was reliant on three-point shooting, there just wasn’t much else the Bluejays if shots weren’t dropping like today (missing five of their first 20 attempts). I overheard the Creighton radio crew discussing the season, and the word “frustrating” came up several times. You have to imagine that they are wondering, like everyone else, what could have been with Watson available.
  3. What Will Justin Patton Do? Creighton hasn’t historically been the kind of school that has elite one-and-done talent, but the NBA draftniks around the basketball world are in love with seven-foot freshman center Justin Patton. With great length, agility and loads of opportunity to grow his game into his body, there’s plenty to like. Not much of that was apparent today, however. His game started with two missed bunnies and getting rejected, and he seemed somewhat tentative and jittery with the ball all game long. He ultimately fouled out after posting a forgettable eight-point, seven-rebound (on 3-of-12 shooting) performance. It would make good sense if the talented youngster cashed in while his stock is high, but he is still definitely a few years away from contributing at a professional level.

Star of the Game. Jeff Dowtin, Rhode Island. The freshman guard came up big today to ensure that his upperclassman teammates who have experienced so much anguish in their careers would keep playing this weekend. He contributed a 14-point second half on his way to 23 points and five rebounds, including a perfect 10-of-10 mark from the foul line.

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Rushed Reactions: Villanova 74, Creighton 60

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 11th, 2017

RTC’s Justin Kundrat (@justinkundrat) is providing on-site coverage of the Big East Tournament all week long.

Villanova Just Keeps Winning (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. It’s going to take a confluence of factors for Villanova to lose. As Butler proved this season, Villanova is beatable only under a perfect set of circumstances. Namely, an off shooting night from the Wildcats and opposing personnel that are capable of slowing the game to a crawl and turning it into a rock fight. Villanova struggles with defensive-minded teams that successfully clog the paint and force them to settle for jump shots. Across its three losses this season, Villanova attempted a significantly higher than average number of three-pointers. But few teams have the personnel to warp the driving lanes of Josh Hart and Jalen Brunson, a critical source of scoring and ball movement.
  2. Josh Hart has cemented his place as National Player of the Year. With the ever-improving play of Brunson and the emergence of Donte DiVincenzo as a lights-out shooter, Hart’s NPOY campaign took a back seat for a while. But he always seems to show up at the right times, whether by forcing his way into the lane to generate offense or coming up with a loose ball on the defensive end. Given Villanova’s strong play lately and Hart’s “do-it-all” role, it’s difficult to argue against him winning the award. And if there was a good guy of the year award, Hart would probably win that too.
  3. For better or worse, Creighton remains highly match-up dependent. On one end, the Bluejays’ spread offense is well-equipped to deal with a variety of opposing defenses (although its effectiveness lately has been tied to streaky shooting). However, the team has struggled on the defensive end, particularly against perimeter-oriented teams that rely heavily on ball movement to exploit out of position defenders. Xavier, Marquette and Villanova all fit this mold, and perhaps unsurprisingly, all have posted highly efficient games in their battles with Creighton.

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Rushed Reactions: Creighton 75, Xavier 72

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 10th, 2017

RTC’s Justin Kundrat (@justinkundrat) is providing on-site coverage of the Big East Tournament all week long.

Marcus Foster’s Big Shot Carried Creighton to the Finals (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Consistent play from Justin Patton is a major determinant of Creighton’s postseason success. He’s gotten some flak lately for inconsistent scoring and sub-par defense but the numbers don’t lie. With the 7’0″ freshman on the floor, Creighton allows just 0.95 points per possession — when he’s on the bench, this number stands at 1.06. For a 70-possession game, this amounts to a difference of seven points allowed per game. Moreover, Patton’s impact on the offensive end as a catch-and-finish rim threat and capable three-point shooter have been long admired by scouts, and Friday night’s output was a perfect showcase: Patton poured in a highly efficient 21 points on 10-for-13 shooting.
  2. Xavier’s inexperience at the point guard position is overblown. Obviously, the injury to Edmond Sumner does more harm than good, but freshman Quentin Goodin has come a long way in averaging 7.4 points and 5.2 assists per game in his absence. There are many similarities to their games, notably the ability to channel well-timed passes to the post and a tendency to attack the basket, making Goodin an ideal substitute. As such, while the freshman isn’t nearly the same finisher as his counterpart, his recent bout of confidence has given Chris Mack‘s four-out perimeter offense much more room to run with results following.
  3. Tonight marked a revival of two struggling offenses. Xavier’s turnaround got underway earlier this week after a string of poor performances marked by questionable shot selection and decision-making. Meanwhile, Creighton broke a three-game skid of sub-32 percent three-point shooting, an unusual slump for a team that is averaging 40 percent on the season. Needless to say, confidence plays a vital role in offensive efficiency and both teams are turning things around at the right time.

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Big East Bubble Watch: Volume II

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 2nd, 2017

A positive resulting from the recent struggles of Creighton and Xavier is the opportunity it has afforded the conference’s bubble teams. At the beginning of the season, five was a fair benchmark for possible NCAA Tournament bids coming out of the Big East this season. Now, with just one regular season game remaining for each team, as many as seven teams could hear their names called on Selection Sunday. At the expense of quality seeding has come quantity, which might prove to be a boon given the unpredictable nature of March Madness. Here is where those seven teams stand as we head into of the final weekend of the regular season. RPI and strength of schedule (SOS) figures are from RPIForecast.com.

Locks

  • Villanova: 27-3 (14-3); RPI: 1; SOS: 24
  • Butler: 23-6 (12-5); RPI: 10; SOS: 11
  • Creighton: 23-7 (10-7); RPI: 24; SOS: 44

Analysis: These three teams have made things pretty easy for themselves — even losing out would not be enough to destroy their NCAA Tournament hopes. Villanova is a virtual lock for a #1 seed, probably in the East Region; Butler has climbed its way up to the #3 seed line; and Creighton should find itself in the #5 to #6 range. With the right match-ups, all three are Sweet Sixteen contenders.

Should Be In

Xavier Has Lost Six Games in a Row and is Reeling as March Arrives (USA Today Images)

  • Xavier: 18-12 (8-9); RPI: 35; SOS: 7

Analysis: The Musketeers’ awful slide has continued with the once 18-6 team having now lost six games in a row. A home loss to Marquette does not help matters but it alone is not yet enough to knock the Musketeers to the fringe. Xavier has gone 0-6 vs. the RPI top 25 this season, but it has avoided any bad losses and still boasts a total of eight top 100 wins. The concern for Chris Mack‘s team at this point isn’t so much its seeding but just how poorly it might perform in the NCAA Tournament. The Musketeers’ last six games have been a disaster on the defensive end.

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Big East Bubble Watch: Volume I

Posted by Justin Kundrat on February 23rd, 2017

Selection Sunday is fast approaching and remaining schedules provide dwindling opportunities to make the cut line for the NCAA Tournament. Given how wide open the Big East has been this season (thanks in large part to a number of injuries affecting Xavier and Creighton), there is an unusually large number of conference teams still with a fighting chance. Here is where those teams stand as we head into one of the final weekends of the regular season. RPI and strength of schedule (SOS) figures are from RPIForecast.com.

Locks

Villanova and Butler are Two of the Big East’s Mortal Locks (USA Today Images)

  • Villanova: 26-3 (13-3); RPI: 2; SOS: 29
  • Butler: 22-6 (11-5); RPI: 11; SOS: 12
  • Creighton: 22-6 (11-7); RPI: 26; SOS: 48

Analysis: These three teams have made things pretty easy for themselves — even losing out would not be enough to diminish their NCAA Tournament hopes. Villanova is a near-lock for a #1 seed even after last night’s home loss to Butler, while the Bulldogs and Bluejays should find themselves on the #4 or #5 seed lines.

Should Be In

  • Xavier: 18-10 (8-7); RPI: 22; SOS: 8

Analysis: Even accounting for the season-ending injury to Edmond Sumner, Xavier shouldn’t have needed to worry about which tournament it would take part in at the end of the regular season. But an ankle injury to leading scorer Trevon Bluiett has changed that perspective. Bluiett was back in action on Wednesday night, but the Musketeers regardless dropped their fourth consecutive game in ugly fashion at Seton Hall, and their upcoming schedule isn’t favorable. Still, three more losses would put Chris Mack‘s team at 18-13 with an RPI of ~38, which likely means squarely in the field. On the plus side, Xavier has been getting much better contributions from its post players, especially RaShid Gaston, which was a major concern earlier this season.

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Judging the Seeding Impact of Major Injuries and Suspensions

Posted by Shane McNichol on February 3rd, 2017

The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee faces a number of difficult decisions while building the field for this year’s NCAA Tournament. After sifting through home and road performances, quality wins, RPI and every other tool currently available, the committee faces one particularly difficult task: evaluating teams that were without the services of a certain player because of injury or suspension. Of the myriad criteria the committee considers, no subject is more nebulous as judging a missing player’s effect on games in which he was not involved. The committee does not ignore those games nor does it consider them victories had the player been in action, but the gray area in between those two extremes is where it gets tricky. The injury bug and suspensions have hit quite a few likely NCAA Tournament teams this year, but four in particular could face some upward or downward seeding movement based on those missing players. Those four teams — Creighton, Xavier, Arizona and Duke — will be evaluated on more than just their wins and losses.

The Loss of Creighton’s Maurice Watson Makes the Bluejays a Tough Decision (USA Today Images)

  • Creighton: The Bluejays lost Maurice Watson, the nation’s assist leader and catalyst of Creighton’s high-powered offense, to an ACL injury two weeks ago. In the four-plus games since his season-ending injury, Creighton has been a mixed bag. The next two games were troublesome, with the Bluejays losing a home game to Marquette in which they gave up 102 points, followed by a blowout defeat at Georgetown. Since then, a win over lowly DePaul and an impressive victory over Butler at Hinkle Fieldhouse seems to have steadied the ship. It appears that head coach Greg McDermott is rerouting his team’s trajectory by increasing the offensive load carried by Justin Patton and Marcus Foster. Creighton’s ceiling as a Final Four contender has certainly changed, but its overall resume should be strong enough to place the Bluejays safely in the NCAA Tournament. This team’s performance in its final eight Big East games will heavily impact the committee’s seeding decision, though, especially in crucial games like a February 25 rematch with Villanova.

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It’s Time to Take Illinois State Seriously

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 29th, 2017

Trailing by four points at halftime against Southern Illinois on January 11, Illinois State coach Dan Muller provided blunt analysis coming out of the locker room. “They out-competed us to start the game. I thought they were more physical,” he said. “We gotta play tougher.” And play tougher his team did. The Redbirds promptly squashed Southern Illinois’ hopes for the home upset, holding the Salukis to just six points over the opening 10:33 of the second half. It was one of eight games this season in which Muller’s team has held its opponent to eight points or fewer over the course of a 10-minute “quarter,” a testament to Illinois State’s relentless, swarming defense. With an improved offense to boot, it’s also a reason why the Redbirds are a legitimate threat to end Wichita State’s reign in the Missouri Valley Conference.

Deontae Hawkins and the Redbirds are the real deal this season. (Jasen Vinlove – USA TODAY Sports)

Illinois State enters today 10th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, a byproduct of not allowing an opponent to score over a point per possession since December 18. During that 12-game stretch, in fact, only two opponents have mustered better than 40 percent shooting against the Redbirds from inside the arc. How has Muller’s group—a top-75 defense last season—gone from good to elite? The answer boils down to quickness, interior length and discipline. In the backcourt, guards Paris Lee and Tony Wills possess tremendous lateral quickness, preventing ball-handlers from beating them off the dribble with any kind of regularity. Lee is a two-time member of the MVC All-Defensive Team; Wills—new to the starting lineup—is considered by Muller to be among the best perimeter defenders in the country. They do a masterful job of keeping players in front of them, even on switches. The Redbirds’ frontcourt, meanwhile, excels at sealing off gaps and turning the paint into an impassible wall. Juniors MiKyle McIntosh and Deontae Hawkins provide quickness and athleticism, while sophomore contributors Phil Fayne (6’9″) and Daouda Ndiaye (7’1″) bring the size.

And yet, Illinois State isn’t a pack-line unit content with merely denying entry into the lane. Instead, they’re extremely active and aggressive both on the perimeter and near the basket, constantly slapping at the ball and often mixing up defenses to confuse opponents. The Redbirds rank among the top 40 nationally in both defensive block rate and steal rate, and Lee is college basketball’s active career steals leader. During a key stretch late in the first half against Wichita State on January 14, Illinois State switched to zone for five possessions in a row, only to switch back shortly before the half expired. The maneuver, which throw the Shockers into an offensive tailspin (seven-plus minutes without a field goal), enabled Muller’s group to build an insurmountable lead. Throwing analysis aside, Lee recently explained his team’s defensive success more simply: “We play fast. We play hard.”

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2016-17 RTC Top 25: Week Ten

Posted by Walker Carey on January 23rd, 2017

It is that time in the college basketball season where one week can send a team into a downward spiral. This past week has given us two candidates for teams that can fall off the national landscape if there is no course correction. #15 West Virginia experienced a nightmare week. The Mountaineers first were stunningly upset Wednesday in Morgantown by a rebuilding Oklahoma team before becoming victims of the Octagon of Doom in a Saturday loss at #25 Kansas State. While West Virginia had a bad week, #19 Creighton definitely had a worse one. On paper, the Blue Jays winning at #24 Xavier on Monday looks like a quality victory, but in that win, the team lost star point guard Maurice Watson Jr. for the season due to a torn ACL. In Creighton’s first game without Watson’s services, it was upset at home Saturday by unranked Marquette. It will be worth keeping an eye on both West Virginia and Creighton moving forward to see if either team can overcome this past week and get back on course towards a fruitful finish to the regular season.

This week’s Quick N’ Dirty Analysis of the RTC25 is after the jump.

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Projecting the Effect of Maurice Watson’s Injury on Creighton’s Offense

Posted by Eugene Rapay on January 19th, 2017

After suffering an apparent knee injury in Creighton’s Monday afternoon game against Xavier, Maurice Watson, Jr. has been dealt a crushing blow. An MRI later revealed that the senior point guard has a torn left ACL, preemptively ending both his season and career in one cruel swoop. Creighton is not even halfway through Big East play, but now the Bluejays will have to figure out a solution for moving on without Watson’s on-court leadership and skill set. These are big shoes to fill. According to KenPomcollege basketball’s assist leader (8.5 APG) paced the team in minutes and was used in over 28 percent of his team’s possessions. Greg McDermott‘s team isn’t completely doomed without him, but he was one of the primary catalysts in helping the program reach its highest-ever ranking in the national polls.

With Maurice Watson Jr. now out with an ACL injury, the Bluejays have turned to Isaiah Zierden to run the point. (Chris Machian/The World-Herald)

The good news in Omaha is that Creighton has other weapons. Kansas State transfer Marcus Foster (18.1 PPG, 49.3% FG) has completely reinvented himself as a scoring threat in his first year in the Big East, posting career-high numbers in shooting (55.6% eFG) and taking care of the ball (11.5% TO rate). Then there’s Justin Patton (13.8 PPG, 72.7 FG%), the freshman center who has already exceeded everyone’s expectations with his astronomical conversion rate and corresponding ability around the basket. While Creighton still has its top two offensive weapons, the new facilitator working in place of Watson will make the Bluejays’ offense look very different. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big East Power Rankings: New Year’s Edition

Posted by Justin Kundrat on January 4th, 2017

With conference play just getting under way, it feels like an appropriate time to re-establish a hierarchy within the Big East. Let’s take a look at the first Big East Power Rankings of 2017.

#1 Villanova. Forget all the Josh Hart talk for a minute — let’s instead pay tribute to Jalen Brunson, who tallied a career-high 27 points last weekend in Villanova’s biggest test to date at Creighton. With a short seven-man rotation and spotty scoring contributions from a number of those players, the Wildcats had seemed to be over-relying on Hart for their production. But Brunson’s tremendous feel for tempo and timing might be the most under-appreciated facet of the team’s elite offense. A major reason why Villanova won the game was because it successfully slowed the pace down the stretch and reduced the quick outlet passes that Creighton uses to generate high percentage shots.

Villanova and Josh Hart Just Keep Rolling (USA Today Images)

Villanova Just Keeps On Rolling (USA Today Images)

#2 Creighton. It was terrible timing for the Bluejays to log their worst three-point shooting performance of the season against Villanova. Creighton came into the game connecting on a blistering 45 percent of its perimeter shots on the year, but only managed a paltry 6-of-24 outing on Saturday. Off night aside, freshman center Justin Patton continues to build on his stellar play in the non-conference season. The seven-footer notched 18 points on 9-of-12 shooting and gives the Bluejays a consistent scoring threat in the post to complement their numerous outside shooters.

#3 Xavier. Without the steadying hands of point guard Myles Davis, the Musketeers have experienced a roller coaster of a season. Evaluating Xavier without his presence in the lineup doesn’t do Chris Mack’s team justice. Trevon Bluiett and JP Macura can score in bunches and Edmond Sumner has steadily grown into a sure-handed ball-handler, but the Musketeers need Davis. Per HoopLens, no player on Xavier’s roster last year had a bigger offensive impact.

His 38 percent shooting from deep undoubtedly spaced the floor, but his more important contributions were in ball movement and facilitation — Xavier’s assist rate is currently the lowest it has been in four seasons.

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