Big East Notebook: Recapping Feast Week

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 28th, 2017

With a seemingly infinite number of early season tournaments this year in college basketball, Thanksgiving week becomes one of the sport’s busiest of the year. So in case you missed some of the action while you were busy with family and friends, here is a recap of several of the Big East’s key Feast Week storylines.

Villanova Celebrates Its Battle 4 Atlantis Win (USA Today Images)

  • Villanova hasn’t skipped a beat. This may never have been a real concern but any team that loses three starters will face some degree of uncertainty. That said, while both Purdue and Arizona were busy laying massive eggs in the Bahamas over the weekend, the Wildcats steamrolled its resulting competition to win the Battle 4 Atlantis. One reason for that is that junior Mikal Bridges continues to develop his offensive repertoire. The 6’7″ swingman, known as a highly effective defender whose limited usage masks highly efficient shooting, now takes the most shots on the team. More impressively, his effective field goal percentage is a whopping 70.6 percent this season — connecting on 50 percent of his three-point shots and demonstrating better body control when attacking the rim (66.7% 2FG). Conversely, Omari Spellman‘s freshman campaign is underway and the results to this point have been underwhelming. He is shooting just 38.5 percent at the rim and 23.1 percent from deep while accumulating a total of three points in his last two games. That shouldn’t necessarily be surprising given his relative lack of experience, but it’s worth monitoring as the team prepares for conference play.

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Rushed Reactions: #22 Baylor 65, Creighton 59

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 22nd, 2017

RTC is providing coverage of The Hall Of Fame Classic in Kansas City.

Three Key Takeaways.

Baylor Showed Impressive Poise in Winning the HOF Classic Tonight (USA Today Images)

  1. Jo-Lual Acuil brought the intensity on the defensive glass. Creighton wasn’t known as a gifted rebounding team coming into tonight’s championship game and Baylor’s Jo Lual-Acuil ensured that would remain the case tonight. While the senior’s extreme length gives him an inherent advantage nearly every night out, his lack of bulk in the form of a 225-pound body on a 7’0″ frame and corresponding effort isn’t always there. This means that he can be too easily moved off the blocks by other high-level forwards like Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ. For at least one night, however, Lual-Acuil flipped the script in pulling down 15 of his team’s 38 total rebounds to deny Creighton a number of opportunities for second chance points.
  2. Both teams turned up the defense. After allowing 1.06 points per possession to UCLA on Monday night, Creighton head coach Greg McDermott stressed the need for his team to improve its defense. As a result, the Bluejays put the clamps on Baylor’s offense by hard-hedging screens at the point of attack, preventing the smallish Manu Lecomte from locating defenders over the top. On the other end of the floor, Baylor tightened things up after giving up several Creighton drives in the first half. The Bears were much more active defensively down the stretch, holding the Bluejays to just 29 percent shooting after the half.
  3. Marcus Foster is going to want tonight’s effort back. Creighton needed a spark in the second half but the senior guard hurt his team more than he helped in shooting a frosty 5-of-17 from the floor, including a ghastly 1-of-9 dud from the three-point line. Foster’s last two misfires, a pair of corner threes during the final minute, sealed Creighton’s fate and allowed the Bears to leave town with the Hall of Fame Classic title.

Player of the Game. King McClure, Baylor. The Bears were offensively starved for most of the night, but the junior stepped up in an impressive manner, scoring 15 of his game-high 19 points after the intermission. Mixing several tough drives with a pair of three-pointers, McClure showed the ability that has made him such a valued part of Scott Drew‘s unit over the last two seasons.

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Rushed Reactions: Creighton 100, #23 UCLA 89

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 20th, 2017

RTC is providing coverage of The Hall Of Fame Classic in Kansas City.

Three Key Takeaways.

Creighton Fans Had Some Fun at the Expense of UCLA Monday Night (USA Today Images)

  1. Creighton played with pace but also with intelligence. The Bluejays are known for their frenetic pace but every movement tonight had a purpose, and that purpose was to find smart shots. Greg McDermott‘s team attacked the paint relentlessly, resulting in easy buckets and numerous trips to the free throw line (31 FTA). Creighton also turned the ball over on only 9.4 percent of their possessions, meaning that they got at least one shot up on practically every trip down the floor. The Bluejays’ defense wasn’t always at its best tonight, but Big East teams should be terrified by their potent combination of fearlessness and efficiency.
  2. UCLA’s lack of frontcourt depth was exposed. The Bruins had trouble containing Creighton down low all night, whether it was in the form of Marcus Foster, Ty-Shon Alexander or Khyri Thomas barging through the lane. As a result, UCLA big man Thomas Welsh picked up three personal fouls in the first half alone, and frustration set in throughout the remainder of the game as UCLA gave several hard fouls which only resulted in more easy points. A greater amount of production from Gyorgy Goloman and Alex Olesinski would have helped significantly, but both fell short tonight (four points and six rebounds combined in 35 minutes of action).
  3. Ronnie Harrell did the dirty work down low. With starting big man Toby Hegner still missing time with an ankle injury, McDermott gave the junior forward Harrell his first career start this evening. Harrell put in an effort reminiscent of Creighton alumnus and 2017 College Basketball Hall Of Fame inductee Paul Silas, pulling down 15 rebounds and denying a number of second chances to UCLA’s talented offense.

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On Northwestern: Difference Between a Tournament Team and Advancing…

Posted by Chris Hatfield on November 16th, 2017

Chris Collins spoke openly and often about leaving last season in the past. He, along with his team, wanted to move on. They talked about higher aspirations. If you believe those around the country, the ones that by and large picked Northwestern to finish as high as third in a deep Big Ten, those aspirations should include a second-weekend appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Yet in Northwestern’s first realistic test of the 2017-18 season, it looked a lot more like a team happy with its first career NCAA Tournament appearance last March than anything else. And if its 92-88 home defeat to Creighton on Wednesday night is any indication, there’s much work to be done. There’s a noted difference between teams that make the NCAA Tournament and the ones that progress in it. You can find that stark contrast in many spots from last night’s game. What does Northwestern want to be?

Northwestern Showed Some Elements of a Hangover Last Night (credit: Chicago Tribune)

You could start by looking at bench points because it told the story of the evening — 33 for Creighton and four for Northwestern. Collins lamented about his shortened bench, and he has a point. The departure of forward Sanjay Lumpkin from last season has been a big blow. It has so far loomed larger than once thought, given that his partial replacement in sophomore Aaron Falzon has been slowed by injury. Still, you know what happens to teams that advance in the NCAA Tournament? They have injuries. Players foul out. Others step up and fill voids. The answer usually isn’t four of five starters playing over 25 minutes. It typically can’t be and it wasn’t for Northwestern on Wednesday.

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Big East Preview Part III: Key Questions for St. John’s and Creighton

Posted by Justin Kundrat on October 30th, 2017

With the season just a few weeks away, Rush the Court’s Big East preview will tip off its coverage by posing season-defining key questions for each team. Today we tackle St. John’s and Creighton.

#6 St. John’s – Will new additions finally bring consistency to the Red Storm?

Chris Mullin returns a much more experienced team this year in the Big Apple. (Anthony Gruppuso/USA TODAY Sports)

Chris Mullin’s group was a fun team to watch last season, playing at one of the fastest tempos in the country and supported by a fearless backcourt duo of Marcus LoVett (15.9 PPG) and Shamorie Ponds (17.4 PPG). But their interest on the offensive end did not directly translate into an efficient half-court offense, nor did it carry over to success on the defensive end. So while the Red Storm were often competitive (7-11 in Big East play), the team’s offense came in spurts from its youthful backcourt or the sporadic contributions of junior Bashir Ahmed. That leaky defense of last season (131st nationally) often appeared to be a function of effort; the Red Storm ranked among the top 50 nationally in both steals and blocks, yet they were one of the worst in defensive field goal percentage (258th). Another year of experience for the youngest team in the conference will certainly bandage the consistency problem, and the biggest benefit should come in the form of its two transfers: Justin Simon (from Arizona) and Marvin Clark (from Michigan State). The duo will function as experienced plug-and-play guys at the forward spots, giving Mullin depth where he needs it most and additional scoring threats should the backcourt suffer an off night. If there’s one thing Johnnies fans have been asking for over the last several seasons, it’s an ability to sustain an occasional high level of play. With it, this team becomes a legitimate dark horse. Read the rest of this entry »

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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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