Big East Key Offseason Questions: Part I

Posted by Justin Kundrat on April 12th, 2016

The NCAA Tournament is now behind us and the days of transfers, NBA Draft declarations and coaching moves are upon us. April signals yet another ending, as we tear down everything we knew and build anew. The offseason has a way of inspiring hope that a new season will bring about improvement, that maybe this time things will be different. Consider where the Big East’s very own Villanova was just one year ago this spring. That unknown is why the offseason is such an intriguing time. Below is a list of key questions that each Big East team will attempt to solve over the coming six months.

ButlerWho will replace the scoring void left behind by Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones?

Kellen Dunham, Butler's third all-time leading scorer, won't be easily replaced. (Photo: Getty)

Kellen Dunham, Butler’s third all-time leading scorer, won’t easily be replaced. (Photo: Getty)

Butler has appeared in several “way too early” Top 25 rankings with little explanation as to why. The team will lose four of its seven rotation players, with Dunham and Jones having accounted for 38 percent of its scoring output this season. Rising junior hybrid forward Kelan Martin (15.7 PPG) will assume the duty of primary scorer, having already demonstrated an ability to do so numerous times. The question marks come next. Forward Andrew Chrabascz seemingly regressed as the season proceeded, although his potential as a stretch forward within Butler’s offense is intriguing. The remaining offensive responsibility will fall on George Washington transfer Kethan Savage and senior Tyler Lewis, with the hope that incoming freshman Joey Brunk can also contribute.

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Big East Tournament Takeaways: Thursday Evening Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 11th, 2016

A great day at Madison Square Garden ended in exciting fashion with Seton Hall’s gutty victory over Creighton in the nightcap. A long day of basketball yesterday sets up two terrific semifinal matchups tonight when No. 1 Villanova faces No. 4 Providence and No. 2 Xavier meets No. 3 Seton Hall.

Marquette (20-13): The result of Marquette’s game with Xavier was clear after the first few minutes, as the Golden Eagles looked out of gas after a grueling game on Wednesday night and never matched the Musketeers’ intensity. Marquette has been a work in progress all year with so many young players to integrate into the program, and that remains true heading toward what may become a NIT bid. Any extra games this year will be good for a group lacking in any sort of postseason experience.

Xavier's Intensity Far Outpaced Marquette (Photo: USAT Sports)

Xavier’s Intensity Far Outpaced Marquette (Photo: USAT Sports)

Xavier (27-4):  Chris Mack’s team was fired up from the start last night and never relented. It was an impressive offensive display from a Xavier team that has been well-balanced all season. Trevon Bluiett (24 points on 14 shots) led the way offensively, but the most important takeaway here may be the energy Xavier stored for use in the rest of the tournament. The Musketeers didn’t have to use nearly as much effort as its next opponent, Seton Hall, or even possible championship game opponents Villanova and Providence. When you’re playing the same number of games as days in the event, conservation of energy is important. Xavier may reap the benefits of yesterday’s easy victory in providing a stockpile for the next two nights.

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2016 Big East Tournament Preview

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 9th, 2016

Here we are again. March is upon us, this time with 70 degree weather in New York City and four straight days of Big East basketball in the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden. The conference is likely to follow up last season’s six-bid NCAA Tournament mark with five teams, all of which will be vying for better seeding this week. The other five teams are looking at a frenzied series of as many as four straight games, their only avenue to the Dance via what would be a surprising run to the Big East Championship. Often the most vulnerable teams are the most comfortable teams, so the target on Villanova’s back as the defending champ as well as this season’s regular season winner is bigger than ever.

BigEastbracket2016

Here’s a printable version of the bracket: 2016 Big East Tournament Bracket

And the Winner is: Villanova

It’s a boring pick, but given the Wildcats’ continuing success, it’s hard to build an argument against them winning this thing again. Villanova posted a 16-2 Big East record this season and has no shortage of experienced players on its roster. Junior Josh Hart played his way into the Big East Player of the Year discussion as one of the league’s best all-around players; Kris Jenkins has developed into a deadly sharpshooter; and seniors Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu continue to provide their typical steady contributions. The team’s balanced, inside-out attack utilizes a heavy dose of screening that keeps opponents off-balance and sets up quality outside looks. But even on bad shooting days, Jay Wright’s club can grind out wins with tremendous team defense. Should the favorite somehow falter this week, Xavier and Seton Hall are the most likely candidates to supplant Villanova as the Big East Tournament champion. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big East Bubble Watch: Volume III

Posted by Justin Kundrat on February 26th, 2016

Another week, another Big East team falls by the wayside. Last week, we watched Georgetown fail to seize wins in two must-needed opportunities. This week, the team exiting the bubble fray is Creighton. Given such low preseason expectations, a 17-11 (8-7 Big East) record is nothing to be ashamed of, but it’s a tally inflated by a relatively sub-par schedule. On Wednesday, Greg McDermott’s squad dropped a home game against Marquette, one it simply couldn’t afford to lose. Even the best case end of the regular season scenario (3-0 with wins over St. John’s, Providence and Xavier) would be likely to leave the Jays’ RPI in the 60s or 70s heading into the Big East Tournament. So for now, we bid you adieu, Creighton. For the Big East teams still on this list, NCAA Tournament dreams are very much alive. Here’s the latest installment of the Big East Bubble Watch. RPI and SOS figures are from RPIForecast.com.

Locks

  • Villanova: 24-4 (13-2); RPI: 2; SOS: 9
  • Xavier: 25-3 (13-3); RPI: 3; SOS: 32

Analysis: Once again, no justification needed here. And after Xavier’s mettle-testing mid-week victory over the Wildcats, a sometimes-maligned Big East may now be in line for two #1 seeds. Even if that scenario fails to manifest itself, one thing has been clear for quite awhile: these two teams have put together remarkable seasons.

J.P. Macura And Xavier Are Rolling (Photo: AP)

J.P. Macura And Xavier Are Rolling (Photo: AP)

Should Be In

Seton Hall: 20-7 (10-5); RPI: 37; SOS: 70

Analysis: Fueled by the ever-improving play of sophomore Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall has continued to build momentum. There was a major scare in a near loss at St. John’s on Sunday, but the Pirates prevailed and then backed it up with a convincing home win over Providence on Thursday, adding a 3rd top 50 win to its resume. This win should all but punch the Hall’s ticket, but with three games on the schedule, it feels a tad too soon to declare them a lock. There’s an upcoming home game against Xavier that should present more as opportunity than test — it’s essentially a no-lose situation. For a team that was picked to finish 7th in the conference, the Pirates and their wiser, calmer sophomore leader have come a long ways. Outside of Kris Dunn, Whitehead might be the most exciting player to watch in this conference. Keep an eye on him this March.

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Big East Bubble Watch: Volume II

Posted by Justin Kundrat on February 19th, 2016

Sorry Georgetown, but it’s time to say goodbye to the NCAA Tournament. An 0-2 week against Providence and Seton Hall means that the Hoyas are now just 14-13 overall and 3-10 against the RPI top 50. The opportunities have been there, but they simply haven’t seized them. Even the most fervent Hoya fans would be willing to admit that this demotion has been rightfully earned. For the rest of the Big East as a whole, however, little has changed. This is the second installment of the Big East Bubble Watch, with RPI and SOS figures from RPIForecast.com.

Locks

  • Villanova: 23-3 (12-1); RPI: 2; SOS: 13
  • Xavier: 23-3 (11-3); RPI: 5; SOS: 34

Analysis: No justification needed here. Both teams are firmly in the RPI top 10 and could be looking at #1 or #2 seeds. At this point, even a prolonged losing streak wouldn’t be enough to keep them out.

Should Be In

Ben Bentil, Kris Dunn And The Friars Should Be Good To Dance...If They Keep Avoiding Bad Losses (Photo: USA Today Sports)

Ben Bentil, Kris Dunn And The Friars Should Be Good To Dance…If They Keep Avoiding Bad Losses (Photo: USA Today Sports)

Providence: 19-8 (7-7); RPI: 37; SOS: 44

Analysis: Providence is one of those teams whose computer ratings have always trailed its AP ranking and public perception. Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil have been one of the best one-two combinations in college basketball, accounting for 51 percent of the team’s points this season. But inconsistent play from the Friars’ supporting cast has proven difficult to overcome, and this was especially evident last week as Providence went 1-1 with an expected win over Georgetown and an expected loss at Xavier. The Georgetown win matters only in the sense that the Friars avoided a bad loss — an important exercise at this time of year. But with a healthy Bentil — the Big East’s leading scorer with 20.3 PPG — leading the way, Providence should be good to go for the remainder of the year. The key will be whether Rodney Bullock or Ryan Fazekas can produce more to take a great deal of pressure off the killer combo — both in the Friars’ pursuit of the NCAA Tournament and their efforts once there.

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Geoff Groselle: The Fuel For Creighton’s Offense

Posted by Justin Kundrat on February 17th, 2016

Greg McDermott‘s teams at Creighton have never played particularly fast, as the Bluejays have run classically patient offensive sets capitalizing on efficiency more than speed. In each of the last six seasons, Creighton has ranked among the top 65 in offensive efficiency, three times finishing in the top 10. So upon learning that the team’s average offensive possession length catapulted from 18.4 seconds (167th nationally) last season to 15.8 seconds this year (34th), you might be concerned that the team’s scoring productivity has suffered from a shift in approach. It hasn’t. Instead, the increased tempo has afforded McDermott’s team (17-10 overall; 8-6 Big East) even more opportunities to boost its offensive output.

Geoffrey Groselle (USA Today Images)

Geoffrey Groselle Keeps the Creighton Offense Flowing (USA Today Images)

Creighton’s revamped offense has been sparked by junior transfer Maurice Watson Jr., whose ball-handling and quickness have made him incredibly difficult for opponents to contain. Aside from his raw speed, what makes the diminutive guard so incredibly dangerous is his decision-making. He often keeps his dribble alive when getting into the lane and his court vision enables him to establish multiple scoring threats using Creighton’s pick-and-roll sets. Watson certainly deserves the attention that has accompanied his breakout season, but it’s been another Bluejay –senior Geoffrey Groselle — who has done the dirty work to keep the offense flowing. Groselle is a 7’0″, 240-pound center who was used sparingly during his first two seasons with the team. He became a minor contributor last year in averaging 12 minutes per game, but graduating players offered an opportunity for advancement. Groselle has taken the challenge and excelled this year, averaging 10.3 PPG and 5.7 RPG on 67.5 percent shooting (12th nationally in field goal percentage). But it isn’t Groselle’s scoring that enables Creighton’s potent and balanced offense (the Bluejays have eight players averaging more than 6.0 PPG) — rather, it’s his movement without the ball that makes things work. This skill is best demonstrated with video analysis.

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Otskey’s Big East Observations: 12.18.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 18th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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Otskey’s Big East Observations: 12.03.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 3rd, 2015

One season removed from sending six of its 10 teams to the NCAA Tournament, the Big East has again started the season with a bang. To date, the conference has amassed an 18-13 record against teams currently ranked in the top 100 of Ken Pomeroy’s ratings, with only Creighton, DePaul and St. John’s not yet in the win column. Against Power Five conference opponents, the league as a whole sports a 16-12 record. With a strong start under its belt, the question will inevitably turn to how many teams the Big East can place in the NCAA Tournament this year? It is probably safe to say that a minimum of four will go with a good chance for a fifth given the way Providence has been playing. However, it is still early and a lot of things can happen between now and March. As far as a sixth team, the odds are not as great but there is something of a chance. Marquette, Seton Hall and Creighton could very well fight for the sixth and final Big East NCAA berth when all is said and done in this league.

Jay Wright and Villanova have been on point. (Getty)

Jay Wright and Villanova, who sit at the top of the Big East standings at 7-0, is leading what is a tremendous conference pack so far this season. (Getty)

Right now, the edge would have to go to the Golden Eagles and Pirates. While Marquette’s (5-2) weak non-conference schedule will be an anchor, the Golden Eagles are a team that should get better as the season moves along and could win 10 games in the league. Its two wins before Thanksgiving at the Barclays Center against LSU and Arizona State were critical after starting the season with two early losses. As for Seton Hall (5-2), it has quietly picked up top-100 victories over Georgia and Mississippi and has another chance to grab a quality win at home against a banged-up Wichita State team that should get back to playing good hoops once Fred VanVleet returns. If Kevin Willard’s squad can finish the non-conference slate at 10-2 and get to 9-9 in conference, it will be right on the bubble come Selection Sunday. Creighton is in a tough position because of a non-conference schedule that provides limited opportunities for quality wins. It has already lost at Indiana, and while a game at Oklahoma later this month is certainly a top-notch opponent, it is unrealistic to think the Bluejays can win that one. After blowing a great chance for a top-100 win this week at home against Arizona State, Greg McDermott’s team will have a lot of work to do in conference play. Ultimately, five NCAA teams seems like the proper over/under for the Big East this year. Read the rest of this entry »

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Creighton Gets Key Commitment in Impact Guard Ty-Shon Alexander

Posted by Joe Papandrea on November 4th, 2015

Late last week Creighton‘s Greg McDermott got his first Class of 2017 commitment from Ty-Shon Alexander — a 6’4” guard from Charlotte, North Carolina, who currently plays for perennial high school power Oak Hill Academy (VA). Alexander, a player with great size at his position and who projects as a natural shooter, chose the Bluejays over Clemson and Virginia Tech. ESPN ranks him at #50 nationally in its 2017 Top 60, while 247Sports ranks him at #108 in its national composite.

Ty.Shon.Alexander 1

Ty-Shon Alexander is on his way to Omaha.

Since he hasn’t yet started his junior prep campaign, it is way too early to project how his game will translate to the next level when he gets to Omaha. What really stands out already, though, is his comfort using both hands to handle the ball and finish at the rim. He will have the opportunity to play with Kansas State transfer Marcus Foster, a former all-Big 12 selection who will be a redshirt senior during Alexander’s freshman campaign. That 2017-18 season will be Creighton’s fifth in a major basketball conference, and at that point the caliber of players on the roster should be completely turned over. High-level recruits such as Ronnie Harrell (Class of 2014) and Justin Patton (Class of 2015) will by then be veterans and Alexander will just be the next name to add to the list.

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Big East Weekend Wrap: Vol. VIII

Posted by Justin Kundrat on January 20th, 2015

The Big East Weekend Wrap covers news and notes from the previous weekend’s games.

Big East parity continues, as Villanova’s attempts to separate itself from the field have failed while teams like Providence, Georgetown, Butler and Seton Hall are all pushing the Wildcats. With eight of 10 league teams now carrying two or three conference losses, the next six weeks of action should be a bloodbath for those positions in the standings. Below are three key takeaways from the weekend’s (including Monday!) Big East action.

It Was That Kind of Night at Georgetown Monday (USA Today Images)

It Was an RTC Kind of Monday Night at Georgetown (USA Today Images)

  1. Marquette and Creighton remain shockingly competitive in “rebuilding seasons.” Marquette struggled defensively in the early part of the season, but the Golden Eagles seem to have figured things out since transfer Luke Fischer entered the lineup in mid-December. Steve Wojciechowski as a result has his team playing lockdown defense, mixing zone with man-to-man looks in a fashion that has confused Big East opponents. The offense, overly reliant on Matt Carlino, has still sputtered at times, but Duane Wilson and Fischer have made good progress and will serve as core contributors next season. While Marquette currently stands at 2-3 in the conference standings, their average margin of defeat in those three games has been just 4.3 points per game. At Creighton, even though the Bluejays sit at the bottom of the standings with an 0-6 record, they continue to sell out the CenturyLink center and have been competitive in every one of its league home games. They also suffered a one-point loss at Xavier, lost by two to Seton Hall and recently pushed Providence to the very end before falling. While Greg McDermott will lose a number of key seniors again after this season, the play of his youngsters such as Isaiah Zierden, Zach Hansen, James Milliken and Toby Hegner has been promising. Creighton fans are hoping that redshirt freshman sniper Ronnie Harrell, along with incoming center Justin Patton, will turn things around next season. Read the rest of this entry »
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