Creighton’s Supporting Cast Appears Up to the Task

Posted by Walker Carey on February 14th, 2014

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Thursday night’s game between Creighton and Butler in Indianapolis.

When Creighton basketball has been mentioned over the past several seasons, Doug McDermott has rightfully been the primary focus of conversation regarding the Blue Jays. As a senior this season, McDermott has emerged as the heavy favorite for every national player of the year award. He is averaging over 25 points per game along with seven rebounds per contest for a 20-4 Creighton squad that is right in the thick of things in the race for the Big East crown. If the Blue Jays win the Big East and if they make noise in the NCAA Tournament will have a lot to do with the supreme talent of Doug McDermott; however, the team’s success has not and will not be only because of McDermott’s heroics. Creighton not only has arguably the best player in college basketball, but it also has a very capable supporting cast of role players that has been very essential to the team’s success.

McDermott is the Show, but Creighton is More Than Their Star (Getty Images).

McDermott is the Show, but Creighton is More Than Their Star (Getty Images).

The most heralded member of Creighton’s supporting cast this season has been senior forward Ethan Wragge. After spending his first three seasons of eligibility in a reserve role for the Blue Jays, Wragge has stepped up his production with his entry into the starting lineup. His scoring average has gone from 7.7 points per game as a junior to 11.6 points per game as a senior. Wragge also grabbed plenty of national attention after he exploded for 27 points on nine made three-pointers in Creighton’s blowout victory at Villanova on January 20. The program has recognized the senior’s contributions and honored its bearded sharpshooter with Lumberjack Night at the CenturyLink Center when it hosted DePaul on February 7.

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St. John’s Showing Real Signs of Improvement

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 10th, 2014

It was not even a month ago, 24 days to be exact, that St. John’s was sitting at the very bottom of the Big East at 0-5 in league play along with Butler. At 9-8 overall and winless in the conference, panic was starting to set in amongst the fan base and some media folks who thought this year’s St. John’s team could contend for a high conference finish and make the NCAA Tournament. Fast forward to approximately 9:15 pm EST on Sunday night at Madison Square Garden and St. John’s had flipped the script after upsetting Creighton and moving to 15-9 overall and 5-6 in conference play after its sixth win in seven games.

Steve Lavin's Group May be Turning the Corner (AP)

Steve Lavin’s Group May be Turning the Corner (AP)

The Red Storm locked down defensively in the second half, holding National Player of the Year candidate Doug McDermott (25 points, 10-18 FG) without one single shot attempt over the final eight minutes and 41 seconds of the game. “They did a good job of fronting him to make his catches tough,” said McDermott’s father and Creighton head coach Greg McDermott. St. John’s sophomore JaKarr Sampson did most of the heavy lifting for the Red Storm when it came to guarding McDermott, using his length, quickness and athleticism to frustrate the nation’s best player for most of the evening. “My mindset was to focus on defense,” Sampson told reporters after the game. Focus he did and it resulted in McDermott becoming frustrated and a non-factor down the stretch despite a hot start to the game for the Creighton senior. “Their length and their athleticism…it distracts you,” said Doug McDermott. “They did a great job of taking me away.”

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RTC Top 25: Week Twelve

Posted by Walker Carey on February 3rd, 2014

This past week of college basketball was highlighted by a plethora of upsets – especially over the weekend when we saw six top 10 teams fall victim to the upset bug. Starting at the top, previously unbeaten and top-ranked Arizona suffered its first setback of the season Saturday evening when it was bested on the road by California. Previously 4th-ranked Kansas was also a road victim earlier in the day, as the Jayhawks were thoroughly outmanned in a defeat at the hands of Texas. Previously 6th-ranked Michigan State, a team that is suffering through well-documented injury issues, started its week off with a bang by winning in overtime at Iowa. But that victory proved to be the Spartans’ only positive tally of the week, as they fell to unranked Georgetown on Saturday in a non-conference game played at Madison Square Garden. Previously 7th-ranked Michigan entered Sunday’s game at Indiana as one of the hottest teams in America — the Wolverines had won 10 consecutive games and sat atop the Big Ten standings with an 8-0 record. None of that mattered in Bloomington though, as John Beilein’s team struggled offensively throughout a 63-52 defeat. Previously 9th-ranked Oklahoma State suffered what was probably the most puzzling loss of the week, as the Cowboys were bested at home on Saturday by a Baylor team that had lost six of its last seven games prior to Saturday. With February now in full swing, there is really not much that can be considered unexpected – especially with how this season has played out thus far – so you should expect even more shocking upsets moving forward as teams jockey for March position. The quick n’ dirty analysis of this week’s poll is after the jump.

rtc25 02.03.14

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What’s Trending: Missed Memphis Dunks, #BBN in Trouble, Flutie Plays the Drums

Posted by Nick Fasulo on January 31st, 2014

Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Nick Fasulo (@nickfasuloSBN) is your weekly host. 

Who should be more embarrassed: Memphis’ Joe Jackson or California’s Justin Cobbs?

Jackson tried a windmill dunk in the middle of a close game, only to get an earful from head coach Josh Pastner. Cobbs wedged the ball between the rim and glass on a a breakaway layup.

or

Our pick? Got to go with Jackson. Up five on the road against a pesky UCF club, you take any points you can get. Cobbs’ blunder actually ended up benefiting the Golden Bears, as officials called the play a jump ball, Cal retained possession and converted a three pointer a few seconds later.

Regardless, expect the Mothership to have both these plays ranked high on their weekly #SCNotTop10 countdown this evening.

Doug McDermott plays hero with a questionable no-call?

GIFs never lie, man. Click the screen grab below to see  what “Creighton Otter” of White &Blue Review is calling a “super screen” by the Bluejays’ Isaiah Zierden to free up the NPOY candidate for his game-winning shot against St. John’s.

There really is no place like home when the game is tied in the final 10 seconds.

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College Basketball by the Tweets: #WraggeBombs, South Florida Jersey Fail & More…

Posted by Nick Fasulo on January 28th, 2014

Nick Fasulo is an RTC correspondent who writes the column College Basketball By the Tweets, a look at the world of college hoops through the prism of everyone’s favorite social media platform. You can find him on Twitter @nickfasuloSBN.

Welcome back to College Basketball by the Tweets. We promise that we’re in tune with the latest social media trends and best practices, and are happy to share such sage advice to the Nebraska Cornhuskers basketball announcers, who are still in the beginning stages of understanding hashtags.

White Kid With A Flat Top Alert

This is Utah State’s Sean Harris. He’s living proof that the flat top, which has made a profound comeback since it was popular back in the 1980s, can transcend both hair and skin color.

Our only wish right now is that we could go back and time and tell former Wisconsin forward Mike Bruesewitz to pioneer this movement.

Ethan Wragge Shoots, Does Not Dribble

It was a night were you could say with complete certainty that Creighton would have defeated any college basketball team in America, and perhaps even the Milwaukee Bucks. Against the unbeaten and then No. 4 ranked Villanova Wildcats, the Bluejays nailed 21 three pointers, nine coming from forward Ethan Wragge, who needed only six minutes to knock down his first seven.

Even more eye-popping was Wragge’s made-three-pointers-to-dribbles ratio, which isn’t even remotely close to a real statistic but something that was easy to track for the reasons noted below. Read the rest of this entry »

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RTC Top 25: Week Eleven

Posted by WCarey on January 27th, 2014

With conference play now in full force, last week was one where several teams distinguished themselves as bona fide contenders in their respective conferences. Previously #22 Creighton traveled to previously #4 Villanova last Monday and the Bluejays used an epic three-point shooting performance to throttle the Wildcats in Philadelphia, 96-68. Michigan, a team that had quietly been making a move in the RTC25, had a very impressive week as well. The previously #15 Wolverines took care of business at home on Wednesday by defeating previously #7 Iowa, 75-67. John Beilein’s squad was not done there, though, as it traveled to East Lansing on Saturday and bested a previously #3 Michigan State squad (without two starters, of course). After its high quality week, Michigan is now all alone in first place in the Big Ten standings with a sterling 7-0 record. #17 Cincinnati also continued to look like a real contender in the AAC, as it remained undefeated in league play with victories over UCF and Temple. With the month of February set to begin next weekend, more teams will begin to distinguish themselves as contenders or pretenders. The quick n’ dirty analysis of this week’s poll is after the jump.

rtc25 01.27.14  Read the rest of this entry »

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RTC Bracketology: January 27 Edition

Posted by Daniel Evans on January 27th, 2014

Daniel Evans (@bracketexpert) is Rush the Court’s resident bracketologist. He will update his brackets at least twice a week through the rest of the regular season here at RTC, but his updated brackets can be viewed daily at Bracketology Expert. As we approach March Madness, he’ll also provide occasional blind resumes. Evans has been ranked by the Bracket Matrix as the nation’s 11th-best bracketologist out of hundreds of entries. 

The top of the bracket continues to fluctuate quite a bit at this point of the season. Florida and Kansas moved up to the top line in the past week, as Michigan State and Villanova both lost. The Gators were already a No. 1 seed in my previous update, but Billy Donovan’s team strengthened its position when the Spartans lost. Kansas has the nation’s strongest profile when it comes to quality wins. Bill Self’s team is used to being a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Jayhawks are the easiest team to project when doing a preseason bracket because they always play a ridiculous non-conference schedule and win their power conference. Did anyone really think a team other than Kansas would win the Big 12 this season?

Michigan is the biggest mover in this week’s bracket. On January 5, the Wolverines were a No. 11 seed. Twenty-two days later, John Beilein’s team has wins over Wisconsin, Michigan State and Iowa and are a clear No. 2 seed. At that point, the Wolverines only had wins over Florida State and Minnesota. The win over the Gophers looks better every day but beating three top 10 teams in a row is the biggest reason for their jump in the bracket. The Wolverines have without a doubt turned around their season.

There are some other teams rising too, and No. 7 Texas is among them after beating Baylor. Other teams of note include No. 9 Providence and No. 3 Creighton, both of which continue to move up seed lines. I evaluate teams every day, so changes at the bottom of the bracket are in a state of constant flux at this point. The last eight at-large teams in the bracket below are very much on the fence. The entire bracket is after the jump.

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Big East M5: 01.27.14 Edition

Posted by Jameson Fleming on January 27th, 2014

bigeast_morning5(2)

  1. Things aren’t going well for Georgetown as demonstrated by this sad fan which may be the funniest college basketball meme of the season. The Hoyas have lost five of six games to fall to 11-8 on the season and are on the outside looking in with respect to the NCAA Tournament. That stretch began with Joshua Smith’s first missed game (and he’ll miss the rest of the season), and Jabril Trawick only played in the first loss to Providence. Those two certainly have their flaws, but they’re significantly better than the other players who remain in John Thompson III’s frontcourt. It appears that it will be a long 2014 for the Hoyas and Sad Scott is only going to get sadder over the next two months.
  2. Creighton is fully embracing Ethan Wragge‘s status as a three-point shootin’ lumberjack. More importantly, Wragge has also adopted the persona as depicted in an excellent Omaha.com profile about the nation’s best shooter. Wragge revealed in the article that at one time he considered transferring from Creighton, but thankfully for Bluejays’ and college basketball fans everywhere, he stuck around. Wragge currently leads the nation in effective field goal percentage at 73.4 percent and true shooting percentage at 74.1 percent, and his 50 percent three-point stroke makes him a key part of the top offense in college hoops this season.
  3. Xavier coach Chris Mack thought he had escaped LaDontae Henton when the Providence wing picked the Big East’s Friars over the Atlantic 10’s Dayton during his recruitment. Then the Musketeers joined the Big East and Mack was stuck facing Henton, who had 23 points in the Friars’ win on Saturday, anyway. Henton’s improvement is one of the primary reasons why Providence has been able to weather a storm of player injuries and suspensions to be in a position to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004.
  4. Butler‘s Big East struggles culminated over the weekend with a 17-point home loss to St. John’s. The Bulldogs, a team that had already dropped six of seven conference games heading into the Saturday match-up, may have finally hit rock bottom according to IndyStar.com writer Zak Keefer. With three road games in a row coming up next, Butler is likely to find itself looking up at DePaul in the league standings for the rest of the season. This could turn out to be the first year that the Blue Demons don’t finish last in Big East play since 2008.
  5. Are things already going sour for Steve Lavin at St. John’s? The Red Storm only have one NCAA Tournament appearance in four years under the head coach and they likely aren’t headed to the Big Dance once again this year. The pressure may be on Lavin after a recent report suggested his relationship with the school is going south. He’s already denied the report, of course, but Lavin needs to start winning with the tremendous amount of talent he keeps bringing into this Big East staple.
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Award Tour: Can Anyone Challenge Doug McDermott?

Posted by Jameson Fleming on January 24th, 2014

AwardTour

Jameson Fleming is an RTC columnist who also works for CBSSports.com as the site’s social media editor. You can follow him on Twitter @JamesonFleming.

While most players need the Jaws of Life to pry the Player of the Year award from Doug McDermott right now, the race to be named in the top 10 continues to be heated. Russ Smith fell out of the rankings after two more turnover-prone, poor-shooting performances. Casey Prather had two solid outings after returning from an injury against Auburn and Alabama. Gary Harris and Keith Appling have remained impressive during big man Adreian Payne’s absence. Xavier Thames seems to improve with each game and hasn’t been held to single figures since scoring five points against McNeese State a month ago.

Player of the Year

10. Lamar Patterson – Pittsburgh. Last Week: 9
2013-14 stats: 17.4 PPG, 4.6 APG, 122.8 oRTG

The Panthers didn’t pass their tough road test at Syracuse, but Lamar Patterson battled Tyler Ennis as the stars in the Carrier Dome. After an early second half run by the Orange, Patterson single-handedly brought Pitt back with a trio of three-pointers from DEEP behind the line. Pitt couldn’t hold the lead, but Patterson definitely held near his spot in the Player of the Year rankings.

9. Joel Embiid – Kansas. Last Week: Not Ranked
2013-14 stats: 11.1 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 114.4 oRTG

Joel Embiid Needs to Stay on the Floor (USA Today)

Joel Embiid Needs to Stay on the Floor (USA Today)

If case you haven’t heard, Joel Embiid has only been playing basketball for a couple years. OK, now that we have the most uttered piece of trivia in college basketball out of the way, here’s the lowdown on the Kansas freshman. Embiid would be one of the favorites to win Player of the Year if he could stay on the floor longer. He’s only averaging 22 minutes per game, which trails former Kansas stars Thomas Robinson (31.8 MPG in 2012) and Jeff Withey (30.9 MPG in 2013) by a considerable margin. His per-40 minutes average for blocks is five per game, but foul trouble frequently plagues the precocious freshman. In Sports Illustrated’s Power Rankings, Luke Winn shared a stat via Group Stats about Kansas’ efficiency with and without Embiid in the lineup. The Jayhawks are 0.19 points per possession better with him on their front line. That’s a major difference-maker.

8. Nick Johnson – Arizona. Last Week: 7
2013-14 stats: 16.4 PPG, 2.4 APG, 123.1 oRTG

During the non-conference slate, nearly every member of Arizona’s rotation stood out in at least one game to give the Wildcats’ incredible balance. Now that Pac-12 play is in full swing, Nick Johnson is without a doubt their star and go-to guy in the second half. Johnson is averaging 19 points per game in his last five outings while shooting 62 percent from two-point range. Remember, he’s doing that as a guard and not a back-to-the-basket forward.

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Big East M5: 01.24.14 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on January 24th, 2014

bigeast_morning5(2)

  1. Following his amazing performance against Villanova, Creighton’s Ethan Wragge has become something of a ‘cult hero’ on the national stage. Omaha.com‘s Tom Shatel dove into Wragge’s journey to this point, and things haven’t been very easy for a fifth-year senior who struggled as an underclassman and occasionally considered transferring elsewhere. After averaging between spot duty minutes off the bench for nearly four years, Wragge has finally broken into the starting lineup and is hitting around four three-pointers (and for the most part, only three-pointers) per game at a 50 percent clip. We’ve already touched on the “Lumberjack Day” which will be held in his honor in a few weeks; finding out his full Creighton story makes him that much easier to root for.
  2. With Villanova coming to town this weekend, Marquette can use all the help it can get. Luckily, it sounds like the cavalry may arrive in the form of JaJuan Johnson, who is expected to return from a sprained his ankle he suffered in practice. Playing time won’t be guaranteed for anyone, however, as Buzz Williams expects to cut down his rotation as Marquette makes a push for the postseason. Journal-Sentinel writer Michael Hunt says it will be the veterans who carry the Golden Eagles if they are to go dancing: “If Marquette is to go to the tournament for the sixth time in Williams’ six years, it will largely be up to the four seniors to carry the team, particularly Davante Gardner, who has put together consistently good games since moving into the starting lineup five games ago, and Jamil Wilson, who is starting to get it together on a consistent basis.”
  3. Marquette and Georgetown were expected to be the standard-bearers for the Big East this season, at least until some of the newcomers got their bearings in the new league. However, both of those teams are struggling while Creighton and Xavier sit in two of the three slots in the conference standings. Omaha World-Herald writer Steve Pivovar believes that while his hometown Bluejays are a good story, the Big East needs the recognizable brand-name programs to step up: “Unfortunately, not everyone will have at their fingertips on the mountain of data that the Division I basketball tournament committee members will possess to judge the Big East fairly. That’s where having the league’s two most recognizable names — Georgetown and Marquette — at the top of the standings might help in how the Big East is perceived.”
  4. Many didn’t expect much from Xavier or Providence this season, and it’s not hard to see why on paper. The two teams are built on the backs of transcendent players in Semaj Christon and Bryce Cotton, but it wasn’t always obvious where their depth would come from. Of course, Christon and Cotton have played their parts, with Cotton as one of the conference’s most prolific scorers and Christon leading the way for a team that is only one half-game out of first place. The two teams face off this weekend in an important match-up for the Big East standings, as crazy as that may have sounded back in October.
  5. Xavier head coach Chris Mack has done a great job with the Musketeers this season, and he will now be celebrated as all top sports figures should — with a bobblehead doll. Mack gave Cincinnati.com an incredibly funny interview about the giveaway, which features some self-promotion: Each figure has Mack’s Twitter handle @CoachChrisMack etched into the base.
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The RTC Podcast: Rankings vs. Resume Edition

Posted by rtmsf on January 22nd, 2014

We’re a bit later this week because of some issues involving Richard Sherman, MLK Day and a snowstorm named Janus (seriously?), we’re back with this week’s RTC Podcast. Of course, if you were already an iTunes subscriber, you would have already listened to the recording because it dropped much earlier on Wednesday over there. We highly suggest that you make it a part of your regular podcast rotation by subscribing on iTunes. What’s the worst that could happen?

In this week’s edition, hosted by the inimitable Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114), we forgo the Rush the Takes segment in favor of really digging into the key midseason question of distinguishing between a team’s ranking and a team’s resume. And never the twain shall meet. We go back and forth on this during a discussion of several teams, and as always, have a great time doing it. The full rundown is below.

  • 0:00-7:52 – Kansas and the End of the Big 12 Title Race
  • 7:52-18:22 – Fallout From Creighton’s Three-Point Shooting Clinic in Philly
  • 18:22-23:50 – Syracuse and Pitt Have a Classic Big East Battle (in the ACC)
  • 23:50-28:59 – #RootForTheSuit and #CheerForTheEars in the Rankings
  • 28:59-33:50 – Concern for Struggling Teams
  • 33:50-38:54 – You, Me and the AP (Florida)
  • 38:54-44:13 – You, Me and the AP (Louisville)
  • 44:13-47:33 – Week Preview
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Big East M5: 01.22.14 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on January 22nd, 2014

bigeast_morning5(2)

  1. So Villanova had a rough night on Monday… The Wildcats hosted Creighton in a battle for the top of the Big East standings and were immediately blitzed by a record shooting performance from the Bluejays. Creighton knocked down nine straight threes to open the game, led by sharpshooter Ethan Wragge, who finished the game a blistering 9-of-14 from deep himself. Villanova has had a stellar season thus far and it would be easy to chalk up the loss as “one of those nights,” but Jay Wright isn’t having any of that: “I could say that but I don’t believe it. I do know we can learn from what happened, but we had our guys’ attention before. It hurts. The night you go through it hurts, but then you come back from it. The season is a journey.”
  2. St. John’s has struggled immensely this season, and Rumble in the Garden writer Norman aka Pico took a long look at the team’s defensive failings, as well as Steve Lavin’s inability to find consistent, productive rotations as the key contributors to the poor start. Last season, the Red Storm’s defense surrendered 0.98 points per possession through the Big East regular season and the NIT. This year, that number is all the way up to 1.11 PPP in Big East play, greatly outpacing St. John’s o.99 mark on offense. Norman argues that this ineffectiveness has led to a lot of lineup shuffling, and now the team is halfway through the season still needing to find an identity. The Johnnies are running out of time to find something that works, with three games scheduled over the next six days including a January 28 game with Creighton.
  3. Marquette has struggled to score all season, but in Monday’s win over Georgetown the Golden Eagles found two unexpected weapons in freshman guard John Dawson and sophomore forward Steve Taylor Jr on their bench. The two players, who came into the game averaging just over a combined 20 minutes per game, played 54 productive minutes in the overtime victory. Dawson scored 12 points and dished out four assists, while Taylor went for 14 points and eight rebounds. The two little-used players were the second and third leading scorers for a squad that desperately needed a boost in that department. Given the team’s necessity and their good outings, it will be interesting to see how Buzz Williams handles their playing time going forward.
  4. Georgetown has been in a similar, if not worse, scoring drought of late. Outside of star Hoya guards D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and Markel Starks, there are few other scoring threats on the roster, and that fact sunk John Thompson III’s squad against the Golden Eagles Monday. CSN Washington‘s Ben Standick breaks down the gory details: “The starting frontcourt of Mikael Hopkins, Nate Lubick and Reggie Cameron shot 3-of-17 from the field. Georgetown’s bench was outscored 34-8.” The Hoyas, now at 3-4 in conference play, are in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years if things don’t improve on the offensive end.
  5. We touched on Ethan Wragge‘s prolific shooting night above, and now Creighton is turning his unconscious outing into a marketable moment. Playing off of Wragge’s scruffy look and epic beard, the school is hosting “Lumberjack Night” for the February 7 showdown with DePaul. Creighton wants its fans to don flannel shirts to commemorate the occasion, and wearing Wragge-style-beards is encouraged. #Wraggebombs for everyone!
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