Big East Preview Part I: Key Questions for DePaul & Georgetown

Posted by Justin Kundrat on October 19th, 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.

#10 DePaul – Is this the year the Blue Demons finally embrace perimeter-oriented basketball?

DePaul’s Dave Leitao Needs a Good Season (USA Today Images)

DePaul hasn’t had a team that finished among the top 100 in three-point shooting in 13 years. That’s right, the last time the Blue Demons posed any sort of perimeter threat was the same year Connecticut’s Emeka Okafor was embarrassing opponents in the post. Last year’s squad had just one player shooting better than 35 percent from deep, and he graduated. So it should come as no surprise that DePaul has struggled mightily on the offensive end of the floor, relying on a hard-to-watch “free throws and rebounding” offense, to which most teams responded by simply packing the paint. Thankfully help is on the way in the form of a pair of wings who have the potential to reshape the offense. The first is Max Strus, a 6’6″ Division II standout sporting a career 35.7 percent mark from deep. The second is Ohio State transfer Austin Grandstaff, a player who saw little court time with the Buckeyes but was a highly-touted perimeter shooter coming out of high school. Both will see significant minutes on the wing alongside leading scorer Eli Cain. The hope is that these three will provide enough spacing and production for the Blue Demons to run a perimeter-oriented offense. Moreover, 6’10” graduate transfer Marin Maric, the team’s only post player with any real experience, shot 46.9 percent on two-point jumpers last season, which is better than all but one of Dave Leitao‘s players. Big men who can consistently knock down shots out of pick-and-rolls don’t grow on trees. Bottom line here: There is a variety of shooting threats on the roster, so perhaps this is finally the year in which DePaul starts to run an efficient half-court offense. Let’s not go any further than that just yet.

#9 GeorgetownWill Patrick Ewing’s legacy at Georgetown carry over to coaching?

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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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College Hoops Luminaries Take Center Stage at Hall of Fame Inductions

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 19th, 2016

To some degree, the National Collegiate Basketball Hall Of Fame will always live in the shadow of the Naismith Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts, which celebrates the game at every level around the world. If you were a great pro, chances are you were also great in college, so why not just cover it all in one fell swoop? That thinking ignores the reality that there will always be highly accomplished college players who, for one reason or another, couldn’t replicate their success at the next level, but that doesn’t mean those NCAA careers shouldn’t get their due somewhere. This Hall of Fame serves those players and coaches as well as the lucky few who were fortunate enough to reach the pinnacle of the game at both levels. On Friday night, eight storied inductees joined the ranks among the best collegians ever. Let’s take a look at each.

Dominique Wilkins, Georgia

Dominique Wilkins put Georgia basketball on the map in the early 80's with his relentless athleticism and thunderous dunks. (SI)

Dominique Wilkins put Georgia basketball on the map in the early 1980s with his relentless athleticism and thunderous dunks. (SI)

The Bulldogs aren’t exactly relevant right now, but they were even less so until the early 1980s when The Human Highlight Film arrived in Athens and changed everything, if only for a short time. In just three seasons, Wilkins scored 1,688 points — including many in intense, dazzling, electrifying fashion — and won SEC Player of the Year in 1981. Alhough the Bulldogs didn’t make the NCAA Tournament in any of ‘Nique’s three seasons, he brought enough attention to the program in the eyes of recruits for Georgia to make three appearances by the end of the decade, including a surprising run to the Final Four in 1983.
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Big East Conference Preview: DePaul, Providence, St. John’s, Marquette

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 7th, 2016

The Big East microsite will be rolling out previews on all 10 teams this week, sorted into three tiers. Today we review the projected bottom tier of teams — DePaul, Providence, St. John’s and Marquette.

#10: DePaul

Eli Cain Wonders When DePaul Will Ever Get Over the Hump (USA Today Images)

Eli Cain Wonders When DePaul Will Ever Get Over the Hump (USA Today Images)

Roster turnover begets roster turnover in Chicago, where the Blue Demons have continually struggled to build upon any success. Now entering his senior year, Billy Garrett Jr.‘s potential never truly materialized so many have turned their attention to sophomore Eli Cain — a long, 6’6 slasher who relentlessly attacks the rim while also connecting on a healthy 42.5 percent of his three-point shots. But while backcourt mates Garrett and Cain should keep DePaul’s offense moving forward, the starting frontcourt has completely dissolved. The first attempt at a solution will be Levi Cook, a 6’10″ transfer who originally committed to West Virginia before a knee injury hampered his recruiting process. The second attempt will be forward Tre’Darius McCallum, a JuCo transfer with two years of eligibility remaining. But until either newcomer demonstrates an ability to compete at a high-major level of basketball, the offense will remain predominantly backcourt-oriented. This might suffice if Cain can improve in finishing around the rim and fourth-year transfer Chris Harrison-Docks supplies a scoring punch off the bench, but winning teams are generally built on two-way players and DePaul hasn’t ranked among the top half nationally in defensive efficiency in six years. Strong defensive units require roster continuity and Dave Leitao clearly needs more time.

#9: Providence

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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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One Game at a Time: Georgetown’s Season Continues

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 10th, 2016

It’s probably too little, too late, but don’t tell that to Georgetown. For a team that was projected to finish second in the Big East, this season has not gone according to plan. The Hoyas’ record certainly isn’t good (15-17 overall; 8-11 Big East), but the decidedly downward trajectory of the program is even more alarming for Georgetown fans. Its season-opening loss to Radford was quickly forgotten following a pair of near-wins against Maryland and Duke, and things appeared to be back on track after handling Wisconsin and Syracuse. Those victories turned out to represent false hope, though, as the undoubtedly talented Hoyas’ lineup never got control of things in conference play. The team limped to the finish line by losing nine of its last 10 games, so suffice it to say that the bar was set very low for John Thompson III‘s squad entering this year’s Big East Tournament.

D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera And The Rest Of The Hoyas Extended Their Season Wednesday Night (Photo: Getty)

D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and the Rest of the Hoyas Extended Their Season Wednesday Night (Photo: Getty)

A portion of those late season woes can be attributed to an injury to senior center Bradley Hayes. The seven-footer provided a presence on the glass and served as an underrated passer in the team’s Princeton offense, a role that freshman center Jessie Govan is still working to master. Hayes’ return to the starting lineup in Georgetown’s tournament opener versus DePaul on Wednesday night made the Hoyas feel like an entirely different group. Within minutes, Hayes had established himself as a threat on the low block, scoring off hook shots and playing physical interior defense. With the post foundation established, Georgetown’s offense began to flow more naturally than it had in weeks, maybe even months. “It was a huge difference [having Bradley back],” Thompson acknowledged afterward. “It goes above and beyond what shows up on the stat-sheet. He gives his teammates confidence and they feel safe when he’s on the court.”

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Big East Tournament Takeaways: Wednesday Evening

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 10th, 2016

The Big East Tournament officially tipped off on Wednesday night with two opening round games in New York City. The first game between Georgetown and DePaul was a tight battle until the second half, when the Hoyas used their 50 percent shooting to pull away for a 70-53 win. The second game featured a wild swing of events, with Marquette relinquishing a 17-point lead over St. John’s before escaping with a win. Here are some quick takeaways for each of the Big East Tourney’s opening day participants.

Georgetown Lives to Fight Another Day (USA Today Images)

Georgetown Lives to Fight Another Day (USA Today Images)

Georgetown (15-17): Senior center Bradley Hayes was back in action after missing six games and the impact was felt almost instantly. Last night’s win was only Georgetown’s second in its last 11 games, but after suffering a number of close losses this season, the Hoyas’ record doesn’t do the team much justice. The key takeaway last night was that, with Hayes back in the lineup and the team facing a season-ending loss, Georgetown finally played with a sense of urgency. The Hoyas’ defense was rock-solid, holding DePaul to just 0.79 points per possession, and D’Vauntes-Smith Rivera put together one of his most efficient games of the season. Things might not be too rosy for Georgetown in its upcoming test against Villanova, but at least John Thompson, III’s squad will head into that game with some confidence.

DePaul (9-22): A disappointing end to a disappointing season is the only way to put it for DePaul. The Blue Demons struggled mightily in conference play, collecting just three wins and proving uncompetitive in a number of its losses. The plus-side is that the team loses just one key contributor, with Billy Garrett Jr. presumably returning for his senior season alongside promising freshman guard Eli Cain. If there’s one key takeaway from this season, it’s the unwavering confidence that Cain demonstrated, attacking the basket at will and serving as one of DePaul’s most reliable shooters. First year head coach Dave Leitao will have plenty to do this summer as he takes a long-term view with his program.

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Big Ten Weekend Look Ahead: 12.19.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 19th, 2015

After a quiet week for the league, this weekend storms in with some great games. The centerpiece of the next two days will be the Crossroads Classic, an event that takes the four most prestigious programs from the country’s most basketball-rich state and pairs them together in Indianapolis. It’s turned into one of the premier events before conference plays begins. Here is your weekend preview:

The Crossroads Classic

The Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis is upon us once again this Saturday.

  • Northwestern at Depaul (Saturday, 2:00 PM ET, FS1). People may not have noticed, but Northwestern is 9-1 with its sole loss against North Carolina–a game which was at least competitive in the first half. Not many have jumped on the Wildcats’ bandwagon because their schedule as of today has been laughable. Only two of their wins have come from teams ranked higher than #175 on KenPom and both those wins came in overtime. A win at DePaul (5-5) wouldn’t convert many to be believers, but it would represent Northwestern’s best win of the season (given their light schedule thus far).
  • Notre Dame vs Indiana (Saturday, 2:00 PM ET, ESPN2). This is the opener to the Crossroads Classic and Mike Brey decided to turn up the heat to it when he said yesterday that Notre Dame was the most consistent program in the state, “and it isn’t close”. It’s not certain whether his statement was a direct shot at their upcoming opponents, the only blueblood program in the state, or it was just innocuous praise for himself and assistant coaches. Either way, it should be a highly entertaining and frenetic game as both these teams have Top 5 offenses paired with pedestrian defenses. The game might come down to whoever makes the most threes or who has the most transition points. Grab the popcorn before you watch this one.

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Big East Weekend Wrap: Vol. VIII

Posted by Justin Kundrat on January 20th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Justin Kundrat on January 13th, 2015

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

The Big East marched along last week, continuing its ascent up the rankings of the power conferences. It reached the #1 ranking for overall conference RPI for a bit before bowing to the Big 12 (only slightly), and the conference now stands at second overall with a sizable gap between itself and the rest. Even more impressively, the Big East has the highest average RPI among its conference members thanks to DePaul’s 3-0 start. As of this writing, the league lists nine of its 10 members among the top 100. Below is a list of four key takeaways from the last weekend’s action.

LaDontae Henton

LaDontae Henton’s Team Has a Legitimate Case to Rank Among the League’s Top Three Teams

Providence makes its push for the top of the standings. As I wrote in an earlier article, Providence has a legitimate case as a top three team in the Big East even though the Friars had largely fallen off the radar in non-conference play. They made a strong push last week, picking up a road win at Butler and then defeating Georgetown in overtime. Neither result was necessarily pretty — the Friars won both by a combined seven points — but the pair of wins catapulted Providence to the top of the league standings with a 3-1 record. Kris Dunn and LaDontae Henton continue to carry the load on the offensive end, with Dunn doing a much better job of staying out of foul trouble and remaining on the floor. The duo lead the conference in assists and points per game, respectively.

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