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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Breaking Down Creighton’s Powerful Offense

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 27th, 2016

As Mo Watson‘s National Player of the Year campaign has gained momentum and Marcus Foster is making the most of his second chance with multiple 20-point outings, Creighton has catapulted up the national rankings. The preseason #22 team sports a flawless 12-0 record with notable drubbings of Wisconsin and NC State on its way to a current top 10 ranking in the national polls. Occasional lapses of defense have generated some concern, but the well-oiled machine that is Greg McDermott‘s offense is keeping the ship very much afloat. Through the first third of the season, the Bluejays rank ninth nationally in offensive efficiency, a measure of effectiveness supported by what might be the most well-balanced scoring unit in the country. For Creighton, its offensive efficiency is the what, but it is the how that makes this team so intriguing.

Creighton is an Offensive Juggernaut (USA Today Images)

Creighton is an Offensive Juggernaut (USA Today Images)

The first component of the how is Creighton’s proficient outside shooting — McDermott’s team connects on a nation-leading 45.5 percent of its long-range shots. What kills opponents, however, has less to do with accuracy than with every player in the core rotation being a legitimate threat from deep. That includes 6’10” Toby Hegner and 7’0″ freshman Justin Patton.

When Creighton runs its spread offense and initiates action from dribble handoffs or pick-and-rolls, help defense is an ambitious endeavor. When defenders choose to double in the post or step in to protect the lane against Watson, someone who can knock down open jumpers is routinely left alone beyond the arc. Conversely, the spacing created from this array of outstanding shooters ultimately allows natural penetrators such as Watson or Foster to attack the rim in advantageous, one-on-one settings. Read the rest of this entry »

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2016-17 RTC Top 25: Week Four

Posted by Walker Carey on December 12th, 2016

Another week of college basketball is in the books, and with it came three previously-unbeaten squads suffering their first setbacks of the season. First, #16 Butler experienced its first loss last Wednesday when it traveled to Terre Haute to take on a feisty Indiana State squad that emerged victorious with an impressive one-point win. The Bulldogs, however, bounced back on Saturday with a nice home victory over a solid Cincinnati team. #20 Saint Mary’s was the next unbeaten to fall, as the Gaels were thoroughly outplayed in Thursday’s home loss to a pesky UT-Arlington team that already has a win over Texas. Much like Butler, the Gaels bounced back with a home victory over UC Irvine on Sunday. #22 Notre Dame was the final unbeaten of the week to fall, as Mike Brey’s squad gave #1 Villanova all it could handle before bowing out with a 74-66 defeat. There are now only seven unbeatens (#1 Villanova, #4 UCLA, #5 Baylor, #7 Gonzaga, #11 Creighton, #18 South Carolina, and #24 USC) remaining one month into the season, so keep an eye on each of these squads as we move into the holiday season and approach conference play. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty Analysis of the RTC25 is after the jump.

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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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