Big East Burning Questions: Butler & Creighton

Posted by Justin Kundrat on October 18th, 2018

The NBA season tipped off earlier this week, which makes it the perfect time to roll out some new Big East content to drown out the monotony of early-season professional basketball. Over the coming weeks, the Big East microsite will be previewing all the teams, players and key storylines to watch as we approach tip-off. Be sure to follow @RTCBigEast and its contributors Justin Kundrat and Brad Cavallaro to get your fix.

In the spotlight today will be (alphabetically) Butler and Creighton.

Butler: Can Kamar Baldwin take on the role of alpha dog?

Can Kamar Baldwin Shoulder Butler’s Offensive Load? (USA Today Images)

A number of publications and season previews have penciled in the 6’1″ junior as the Big East Player of the Year given his expected role on the contending Bulldogs and demonstrated play-making abilities on both sides of the ball. What’s being overlooked in that analysis, though, is the inefficient and inconsistent method in which he played offensively last season. The Butler offense was actually 0.05 PPP better without Baldwin on the floor, and his 104.1 KenPom Offensive Rating was the second worst among the Bulldogs’ rotation players. He fared well as a distributor and two-level scorer, but often struggled with his shooting (33.1% from deep) and witnessed his efficiency succumb to higher volume and more defensive attention. With Kelan Martin’s 21.2 PPG now off the roster, the spotlight will inevitably turn to Baldwin to buoy the offense alongside a flurry of outside shooters – Paul Jorgensen (10.2 PPG), Sean McDermott (43.1% 3FG) and Duke transfer Jordan Tucker. If he can put up enough points while maintaining his notorious defensive tenacity, LaVall Jordan‘s group should have no problem finishing in the top three of this league, but there’s an if.

Creighton: How quickly will its sophomores grow up?

Greg McDermott Has a Lot to Replace This Season (USA Today Images)

Creighton joins Seton Hall, Xavier, Villanova and just about every other Big East team in losing the majority of its scoring output from last season. In addition to Marcus Foster (19.8 PPG) and Toby Hegner (8.4 PPG), what really stings is the early departure of junior Khyri Thomas to the NBA. All told, Greg McDermott lost north of 60 percent of last season’s scoring and is now attempting to replace it with a mix of freshmen, sophomores, redshirts and transfers. Will his team end up in the NCAA Tournament for a third consecutive year? Doubtful, but it should be fun to watch this eclectic group of players slowly form a cohesive unit over the season. Leading the way are a trio of sophomores — Mitch Ballock (7.3 PPG), Ty-Shon Alexander (5.5 PPG) and Jacob Epperson (6.3 PPG) — each of whom showed well in spurts last season. Ballock is the biggest breakout candidate of the bunch (and my pick for most improved): After spending most of last season under the radar, he posted a team-leading 16 points and eight rebounds in the Bluejays’ NCAA Tournament loss to Kansas State. It will take time for each of these players to adjust to a heightened role, but when that happens and versatile forward Martin Krampelj returns from injury, the March version of this team will look nothing like November’s.

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Ten Questions to Consider: End of Season Edition

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on April 23rd, 2018

With the season now well in the rear view mirror, it’s time to look at the long, hot summer ahead. Here are 10 questions to consider this offseason.

Arizona’s No-Show in the NCAA Tournament Capped Off a Frustrating Season in Tucson (USA Today Images)

  1. What will come of the FBI investigation? The uncertainty of what is still to come from the FBI investigation sits at the forefront of this offseason’s key storylines. The drama that unfolded at Arizona late in the season has created great uncertainty for at least one powerful program, but it is only a matter of time before the college basketball world is dealt another blow in this ongoing saga.
  2. Will the NBA change the one-and-done rule? While the FBI holds the key to one significant component of the college basketball offseason, the NBA is likely to also greatly affect the future of the sport. If the NBA rids itself of the one-and-done rule, top recruits will likely be able to make the jump — somewhere — immediately. At the same time, could college basketball adopt amateurism models similar to those of the Olympics, baseball or hockey? A change to the current system seems imminent.
  3. Which player would have the biggest impact if he pulls out of the NBA Draft? While Villanova’s exalted trio of Mikal Bridges, Jalen Brunson and Donte DiVincenzo are the easy picks here, Creighton’s Khyri Thomas would ultimately have the biggest impact. The Bluejays will be without Marcus Foster’s scoring output next season, meaning that a Thomas back in Omaha can fill the role of primary scorer along with being a defensive stalwart — remember that he was the Big East’s Defensive Player of the Year last season. The rising senior might be better suited to return to a featured role next season.
  4. Which coach is under the most pressure to succeed heading into next season? Planes flying around Westwood have returned as UCLA’s Steve Alford enters next season in a position where a trip to the Sweet Sixteen might not be enough success to keep his job. Recruiting victories must better translate to regular season and postseason success, beginning in a Pac-12 where the Bruins should be among the preseason favorites with Arizona facing a period of vulnerability. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East Conversation: Opening Weekend Takes

Posted by Brian Otskey & Justin Kundrat on March 20th, 2018

With NCAA six teams in action this past weekend, Big East fans have a lot to talk about this week. Big East microsite writers Justin Kundrat and Brian Otskey discuss what’s on their minds following a full slate of games.

Brian Otskey: Villanova is now the sole flag bearer remaining for the Big East. The Wildcats are the best team left in the field but their draw isn’t easy. How do you see them matching up with what is clearly the tougher side of the remaining bracket?

Villanova Looked Fantastic Last Weekend (USA Today Images)

Justin Kundrat: Villanova‘s path might have been the easiest when the bracket was announced, but now the Wildcats have one of the more difficult ones. Given how haphazardly this year’s bracket has shaken out, trying to predict future match-ups beyond this round seems futile. They are undoubtedly going to be the favorite in their region to make the Final Four, but each of the teams left in the draw is stylistically different. Against West Virginia, the key will not only be taking care of the ball (although the Wildcats rank 11th nationally in turnover rate), but in the effectiveness of big men Eric Paschall and Omari Spellman. The Mountaineers are an elite shot-blocking group behind 6’8″ Sagaba Konate, which definitely threatens the drive-and-kick nature of Villanova’s offense. That means Paschall and Spellman will have to knock down perimeter shots to drag Konate away from the rim. As for the Elite Eight, Villanova matches up better with a backcourt-dominant team like Texas Tech than it does with Purdue. The Boilermakers’ Matt Haarms was wildly effective against Butler and will be a handful should he face Villanova’s undersized frontcourt. All told, though, Villanova’s versatility and balance should be enough to get them to San Antonio.

BO: Did most people underestimate the impact of Martin Krampelj’s injury on Creighton? Aside from the Villanova win, the Bluejays struggled over the final two months of the regular season and did not play well against Kansas State.

JK: I’m not sure underestimate is the right word. Everyone knew that the impact was severe and there was no replacement for a player like him. At 6’9″, he was the team’s best post defender and rebounder, and he moved around the floor better than most guys his size. It’s no surprise that Greg McDermott loved using him in pick-and-roll sets because he could spread the floor or glide to the rim. The other two bigs on the roster are 6’10” Toby Hegner, who was basically a spot-up shooter, and 6’11” freshman Jacob Epperson, who had flashes of brilliance but couldn’t string together much consistency. So his loss turned what was already backcourt-dominant team into one that overrelied on one or two guards to generate offense.

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Rushed Reactions: #9 Kansas State 69, #8 Creighton 59

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 16th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) is in Charlotte this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Bruce Weber and Kansas State shut down the potent Creighton offense.
(Ray Martinez/The Mercury)

  1. Creighton’s offense never got untracked. Boasting the nation’s 23rd-best offense, according to KenPom, the Bluejays suffered through one of their worst offensive nights of the season. Much of the credit for that goes to Kansas State. The Wildcats were aggressive throughout, limiting penetration while also defending the three-point line. For the game, Creighton shot just 33.8 percent from the field and only connected on 9-of-34 from deep. The Wildcats also forced the Bluejays into 13 turnovers — Creighton came into the game among the nation’s best in ball security, but couldn’t handle the Kansas State pressure at times.
  2. Kansas State used a small lineup to offset the loss of Dean Wade. When Wade couldn’t play — it was a game-time decision due to a foot injury — Bruce Weber needed multiple players to step up and that’s exactly what happened. Weber went with a four-guard lineup for much of the night and the Wildcats made it work on both ends. Their added quickness on the floor successfully contained Creighton’s guards, and on the offensive side, it created spacing and driving lanes. The biggest surprise among the supporting group was freshman guard Mike Mcguirl. Despite appearing in only eight prior games and scoring a total of 13 points all year, Mcguirl exploded for 17 points and sank 3-of-5 from behind the three-point line.
  3. Marcus Foster had a tough night. It’s hard to say how much of it was caused by the odd situation of this matchup — Foster was dismissed from Kansas State’s program after two years in Manhattan — but Kansas State’s defense deserves a lot of credit too. Foster went scoreless for almost the first 30 minutes of action and finished with just five points on 2-of-11 shooting. When Foster came out of the game in the closing seconds, Weber was very gracious in going over to shake his hand and give him a hug.

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RTC Bracket Prep: South Region

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 13th, 2018

Yesterday and today we will be rolling out our region-by-region analysis for the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Here, Tommy Lemoine (@hoopthink) breaks down the South Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC South Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCSouthRegion).

South Region

Favorite: #1 Virginia (31-2, 17-1 ACC). Oh, how far Virginia has come. After beginning the season outside of both the AP and USA Today/Coaches Poll Top 25, the Cavaliers have won a school-record 31 games en route to the the #1 overall seed on Selection Sunday. In the process, they posted the second-best adjusted defensive efficiency mark in the KenPom era and didn’t allow a single opponent to break 70 points. This is also Tony Bennett’s second-most efficient offensive team since arriving in Charlottesville in 2009, thanks in large part to sharpshooter Kyle Guy (14.1 PPG, 39.5% 3FG). The notion that Virginia would be overwhelmed by Kentucky or Arizona’s athleticism seems particularly far-fetched considering that the Cavaliers beat Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium and handled North Carolina twice this season. The idea that a stout defensive club like Cincinnati or Tennessee would out-grind the ACC champs seems equally questionable. Virginia is the South Region favorite, and there’s no really no argument otherwise.

Kyle Guy and the Cavaliers are the best bet to reach San Antonio. (Photo: Geoff Burke, USA TODAY Sports)

Should They Falter: #2 Cincinnati (30-4, 16-2 AAC). Were it not for Virginia, Cincinnati’s defense would have probably received a lot more national recognition this season. The Bearcats held opponents to just over 0.86 points per possession, a mark which — not adjusting for competition — hasn’t been topped since 2008-09 Memphis. Mick Cronin’s team is tough in every sense of the word, just as willing to pound the offensive glass (third nationally in Offensive Rebounding rate) as it is to grind opponents down on the other end. In senior Gary Clarke (13.0 PPG, 8.5 RPG), Cincinnati has a player who manages to serve as both its star and its “glue guy,” the type of scrappy weapon you want on your team when the game’s on the line in March. The Bearcats don’t have many great wins this season, but fresh off of beating Wichita State on the road and winning the AAC title, Cronin’s team looks primed for a deep March run.

Grossly Overseeded: #8 Creighton (21-11, 10-8 Big East). While the seeding was fairly well done in this region, Creighton’s landing spot at #8 came as quite the surprise. Most bracketologists had pegged the Bluejays as a #9 or #10 seed, with some placing them as low as a #11. Its home win over Villanova notwithstanding, Creighton finished just 1-9 against Quadrant 1 opponents this season and failed to win a single road game against teams that finished above .500. Then again, perhaps the Bluejays actually got a raw deal when you consider that instead of a possible Second Round matchup against #2 Cincinnati, they’ll have to face Virginia.

Criminally Underseeded: #13 Buffalo (26-8, 15-3 MAC). According to BracketMatrix.com, the vast majority of projections had atabbed Buffalo as a #12 seed (average: 12.08). Instead, the 26-win Bulls were given a #13 seed and tasked with handling future #1-overall NBA Draft pick DeAndre Ayton way out in Boise. And if you think seeding at this level doesn’t matter, consider this: Historically, #12 seeds have a 35.6 percent chance of advancing to the Second Round compared with just 19.7 percent for #13 seeds.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Big East Teams

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 11th, 2018

Below is a review of how the selection process concluded for each Big East team and what they should expect in the first few rounds of the NCAA Tournament.

Villanova Will Be Looking For More Celebrations Like This (USA Today Images)

  • Villanova, #1 seed, East Region. Assuming the Wildcats knock off the #16 seed play-in-game winner between LIU and Radford, they will face the winner of Virginia Tech and Alabama in the Second Round. The Hokies are an extremely rim-focused offense (ranking fourth nationally in percentage of shots at the rim) so the onus would be on Villanova’s wings to contain the penetration of Justin Robinson and his teammates. Alabama is a similarly constructed, penetration-focused offense without the commensurate complement of shooters. They instead rely on a ball-hawking defense supported by long, athletic wings. Villanova would probably prefer Virginia Tech here.
  • Xavier, #1 seed, West Region. The Musketeers earned the committee’s respect with a #1 seed in the West Region, and barring catastrophe, will face the winner of Missouri and Florida State next weekend. Stylistically, those two teams couldn’t be more different. Florida State pushes the tempo at every opportunity, particularly off of defensive rebounds and blocked shots. Missouri plays a half-court focused offense that picks apart defenses with relentless three-point shooting. The Musketeers would be happy to play at a fast tempo against the Seminoles despite their athleticism on the perimeter. Xavier has struggled this season in preventing perimeter shooting (see: Villanova), so a Missouri team with Michael Porter getting back to full health might pose some problems.

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Big East Bubble Watch: Volume II

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 6th, 2018

With only five days remaining until Selection Sunday, things are finally starting to fall into place. The Big East as a whole has clearly exceeded preseason expectations and is on pace for six or seven bids despite its ongoing cannibalism. RPI and strength of schedule (SOS) figures are from RPIForecast.com and the NCAA Nitty Gritty Report. Projected average seed is from BracketMatrix.com.

Locks

Are Villanova and Xavier Poised to be #1 Seeds?(USA Today Images)

  • Villanova: 27-4 (14-4); RPI: 2; SOS: 13; Avg. Seed: 1.00
  • Xavier: 27-4 (15-3); RPI: 3; SOS: 11; Avg. Seed: 1.06
  • Seton Hall: 21-10 (10-8); RPI: 27; SOS: 25; Avg. Seed: 7.21
  • Creighton: 20-10 (10-8); RPI: 35; SOS: 51; Avg. Seed: 8.22
  • Butler: 19-12 (9-9); RPI: 45; SOS: 29; Avg. Seed: 9.60

Analysis: Villanova and Xavier are on pace to earn #1 seeds, while the others are comfortably in the field and likely in the #7 – #10 seed range. Seton Hall, Creighton and Butler all have strong RPIs with enough quality wins that a loss in this week’s Big East Tournament will not knock them off the bubble.

Should Be In

  • Providence: 19-12 (10-8); RPI: 43; SOS: 23; Avg. Seed: 10.72. Analysis: Things haven’t always been pretty for the Friars, but with three Quadrant 1 wins and a 5-1 record against Quadrant 2 teams, Ed Cooley‘s group has done enough to warrant a bid. Winning at Xavier last Wednesday night certainly would have secured the bid, but the key after that defeat was to avoid any further bad losses. Providence did just that on Saturday, knocking off a Shamorie Ponds-less St. John’s squad and notching yet another home win, where they are 13-4 on the season. At this point, signs are pointing towards a #11 seed or a spot in a play-in game, but the Friars would be best served by beating Creighton in the Big East Tournament on Thursday and securing another quality victory. Failure to do so might leave the door open for bid thieves from other conferences to encroach on their position. All told, Providence fans will be restless next weekend. The Friars’ offense has been woeful in recent weeks, lacking in consistent outside shooting and easy points around the rim. If they secure a bid, success will hinge on finding a team upon which it can impose its menacing tempo.

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Ten Questions to Consider: Seeding and Bubble Talk Intensifies

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on February 16th, 2018

This weekend’s slate of games will only further intensify the ongoing talk of seeding, the bubble and conference championships. Here are 10 questions heading into this weekend’s action.

Are the Bonnies Bubbling? (USA Today Images)

  1. Is a win over Rhode Island what St. Bonaventure needs to get on the right side of the bubble? Sitting just outside of the current RPI top 40, St. Bonaventure has a chance for a Quadrant 1 win against Rhode Island tonight. With the Rams’ best player E.C. Matthews status unclear from a recent injury, the Bonnies could be facing Rhode Island at just the perfect time.
  2. How much is Villanova missing Phil Booth?  The Wildcats’ recent losses to St. John’s and Providence have raised questions about Villanova’s potency without the services Phil Booth. With the junior guard sidelined, Jalen Brunson’s increased playing time time has perhaps contributed to his current three-point shooting slump — 3-of-19 over his last three games.
  3. Simply put, how good is Louisville? The post-Rick Pitino era has gotten off to a good start as Louisville sits at 18-8 overall and among the top five in the ACC standings. The Cardinals have benefited from a friendly schedule thus far, however, earning seven wins against teams outside of the KenPom top 200 and just three wins against those in the top 50.
  4. How will Texas Tech deal with its unfamiliar position as the Big 12 leader? Since losing three of four games during a shaky mid-January stretch, Texas Tech has now reeled off seven straight wins. The Red Raiders travel to Waco this weekend to play a hot Baylor team which has won four straight and owns the best opponent effective field-goal percentage in Big 12 play. Read the rest of this entry »
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Ten Questions to Consider: A Weekend of Important Match-ups

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on February 9th, 2018

As the second weekend of February approaches, it also means the days until March are getting fewer. Here are 10 things I am looking at around college basketball this weekend.

Purdue Looks to Regroup After a Heartbreaking Loss to Ohio State (USA Today Images)

  1. Can Michigan State make it two losses in a row for Purdue? Michigan State and Purdue are the only two teams in America with offensive and defensive efficiency rankings among the top 20. While Sparty owns the best two-point defense in college basketball, they will be tested by Purdue’s elite three-point shooting (42.7%, first nationally). Michigan State has already allowed six Big Ten opponents to shoot 40 percent or better from distance this season.
  2. Can Creighton stay perfect at home against Xavier? Creighton is 13-0 at the CenturyLink Center this season with double-figure home wins against both Butler and Seton Hall. In the Bluejays’ loss to Xavier earlier this year, Creighton logged its season-high turnover percentage and suffered a season-low of just two points from Khyri Thomas.
  3. Will the three-point line be the difference again in North Carolina vs. N.C. State? In the recent overtime thriller between North Carolina and North Carolina State, the Tar Heels shot 4-of-19 on their three-point attempts while the Wolfpack nailed 15-of-30. The 33-point resulting difference was enough for the Wolfpack to overcome their inability to slow North Carolina from scorching shooting inside the arc (64% 2FG). Read the rest of this entry »
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Creighton’s Success Has Come from Unexpected Sources

Posted by Justin Kundrat on January 16th, 2018

Despite losing four of its top six scorers from last season’s 25-10 team, Creighton has found itself flirting with the Top 25 and comfortably above the mid-January NCAA Tournament bubble discussions. As the story was expected to go this year, backcourt mates Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas have paced the offense, accounting for 37 percent of the team’s scoring production and 40 percent of its shot attempts. And while Foster has historically been an inefficient scorer and Thomas a better defender than playmaker, the two have formed a tenacious offensive tandem this season, showcasing their abilities to score in virtually any scenario. Some observers assumed that the Bluejays’ offense would sputter or devolve into more isolation sets without the services of point guard Mo Watson or superstar big man Justin Patton, but head coach Greg McDermott has ensured that isn’t the case. The biggest offensive concern heading into this season was how the lost interior production of Patton would be replaced, but Creighton is on pace for its best offensive season since Doug McDermott was still on campus in 2014, and that unlikely success has come from an unexpected source.

Creighton’s Martin Krampelj Has Been a Huge Surprise This Season (USA Today Images)

While Foster and Thomas receive most of the offensive credit, it is actually Martin Krampelj, who averaged under six minutes per game last season, who holds the crown as the team’s most efficient player. In fact, Krampelj owns the highest effective field goal percentage of anyone in the Big East with a greater than 50 percent minute share. His 69.6 percent conversion rate is largely a product of three-quarters of his shot attempts coming right at the rim, but nevertheless, finishing those attempts at an 83 percent clip is astonishing. Krampelj’s role is important for two reasons. First, he is far and away the team’s best and only consistent source of offensive rebounds. McDermott’s system typically does not prioritize offensive rebounding (only 3.9 percent of his team’s shot attempts arise from putbacks), but they remain a highly efficient origin of points. Second, Krampelj’s inside scoring and ability to draw fouls there add offensive diversity to the team’s perimeter-oriented style of play. The 6’9″ forward accounts for nearly a quarter of his team’s shot attempts at the rim and is a huge reason why the Bluejays are having their best success there in years (see below table).

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