The Big East Fell Flat, or Did It?

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 25th, 2015

A curtain of despair has suddenly fallen over the Big East’s 10 members. After starting off with an unblemished 4-0 record in the first day of the NCAA Tournament, five of the league’s six invited teams peeled off over the remaining three days, save Xavier (which played Cinderella story, Georgia State). What was considered the second-best conference from top to bottom now stands at just 5-5 with the Musketeers facing a significant battle against Arizona on Thursday night in Los Angeles. Even the conference’s biggest proponents can’t mask their disappointment with how things have played out. A whopping 60 percent of the league’s teams qualified — five of which were granted a #6 seed or better — and yet here we are, with only one school advancing past the first weekend. So what happened? Is this a problem with the conference as a whole or simply those individual teams? Or is it a problem at all?

Villanova Piccolo Girl Signified the Disappointment of an Entire League

Villanova Piccolo Girl Signified the Disappointment of an Entire League

To preface this examination, I had set the over/under at 2.5 for the number of Big East teams advancing to the Sweet Sixteen. This was under the presumption that Villanova was a near-lock and that two of the remaining schools would receive favorable enough draws to break through. The results were not ideal but the league’s overall performance cannot be blamed on the quality of the conference itself. Anyone who thinks that the Big East didn’t have talented players or deserve its six bids hasn’t watched the league this season. Sure, it wasn’t as top-heavy as the ACC but nearly every game was competitive and served to battle-test each team. Still, a team’s ability to achieve postseason success does not necessarily correlate with regular season scheduling. Teams likes Wichita State, Butler, Davidson, Northern Iowa and Gonzaga have had successful postseasons in years past despite playing softer conference schedules.

The Big East’s under-performance this March lies in individual games where opponents exploited weaknesses and exposed mismatches. No specific team other than Villanova lost a game it truly had no business losing. The results alone start to appear bad when we examine the conference as a whole. Let’s dig into each team’s situation:

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Circle of March: Vol. XX

Posted by rtmsf on March 22nd, 2015

This is our 20th Circle of March, which means we’re getting there. After eight more eliminations in the first half of the Round of 32, we’re down to 24 total teams vying for the 2015 National Championship. Here’s today’s CoM.

2015_CircleofMarch_V20

Eliminations (03.21.15)

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Rushed Reactions: #5 Utah 75, #4 Georgetown 64

Posted by rtmsf on March 21st, 2015

rushedreactions

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Utah (USA Today Images)

Larry Krystkowiak’s Group Headed to Its First Sweet Sixteen in a Decade (USA Today Images)

  1. Efficient and Balanced Basketball. Utah was in for quite the battle but the Utes were able to eventually pull away from Georgetown behind its multiple offensive options, nearly every one of whom understands the difference between a good shot, a better shot and the best shot (see Larry Krystkowiak’s quotes below for more on this). Against a Hoyas’ defense that shuts down the interior at the expense of giving up open looks from the perimeter, Krystkowiak’s bunch capitalized on its opportunities in both ways. The Utes connected on 14-of-24 shots from within the arc (58%) and 8-of-14 shots from behind it (57%). Their 38 shot attempts marked the second consecutive game where Utah had taken that relatively low number, but it is making up for that lost offense in spades with trips to the foul line (53 attempts over two games). Furthermore, six players scored between nine and 14 points tonight. A highly efficient offensive attacked that is diversified by multiple scoring options is a tough unit to beat, and Utah is playing like it has no interest in heading home just yet.
  2. Georgetown’s Hot Start Was Fool’s Gold. The Hoyas came burning out of the gates with five threes in the first seven minutes of action. As head coach John Thompson, III, said after the game, the hot start probably made his team a little too reliant on jump shots moving forward. A 35 percent shooting team from distance on the season, the Hoyas only made four more for the rest of the game, with three coming in the second half (and one of those when the game was all but over). Utah probably wasn’t going to be beaten tonight, but the early run allowed Georgetown — a team that can often go through long offensive funks — to stay essentially even with Utah until the final four minutes of the game.
  3. Utah’s Program Turnaround. Utah is a proud basketball program with a long history of success, but the rebuild that Krystkowiak has enabled in Salt Lake City over the past four seasons has been phenonemal. His first team, a complete laughingstock in its first season in the Pac-12, won a total of six games. But the next season his Utes were competitive, winning 15 and making a mini-run in the Pac-12 Tournament. Last season was the breakthrough year, with Utah notching 21 wins and a trip to the NIT. In year four, a trip to the Sweet Sixteen. It’s unlikely that the Utes are headed beyond Houston this year, but given the preparation and efficiency with which Utah plays, it’s not easy to count the team out.

Player of the Game. Brandon Taylor, UtahThere was no single player who stood out above the rest tonight, but Taylor’s 14 points and five assists seem as good as any. In particular, he hit a couple of second half threes that gave Utah breathing room twice as Georgetown was pushing forward, so his timeliness more than anything else was worthy of this award.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Third Round, Saturday

Posted by RTC Staff on March 21st, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

The last time this crew of programs laced up the sneakers, they provided us with a slate to remember. From last-second thrillers to overtime upsets that came out of left field, Thursday was quite simply one of the most electric opening days in NCAA Tournament history. Could history repeat itself? Here are eight previews of Saturday’s games.

#11 UCLA vs. #14 UAB — South Region Third Round (at Louisville, KY) — 12:10 PM ET on TBS.

Regardless of how they did it, Thomas Welch and UCLA are one step away from the Sweet 16. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Regardless of how they did it, Thomas Welch and UCLA are one step away from the Sweet Sixteen. (Andy Lyons/Getty)

Steve Alford has finally figured out this NCAA Tournament thing. All you have to do is put together an entirely mediocre season, inexplicably make the Tournament field (and avoid the First Four while you are at it), have the refs blow a call in the final 20 seconds of your opener that propels your team to victory, then find a #14 seed waiting for you in the third round. That’s all! What a charmed five days it was for the Bruins, whose season suddenly has meaning. Thursday wasn’t so bad for UAB, either, as the Blazers toppled Iowa State in what should go down as the biggest upset of the second round (apologies to Georgia State). Two double-digit seeds now face off with a bid to the Sweet Sixteen on the line. UCLA does not play as quickly as Iowa State does (the Bruins are 113th in the country in possessions per game), but UAB will try to recreate the muddle that was Thursday’s game with the Cyclones. The Blazers dominated the glass (outrebounding Iowa State by 15), enabling them to survive their unimaginative offensive (41% field goal shooting and 3-of-18 shooting from three-point range). UCLA’s Kevon Looney and Tony Parker are unlikely to submit to a similar assault on the backboards in this game, so Jerod Haase’s team may have to promote other strengths. The problem for the Blazers is that there really aren’t many. They don’t shoot the ball well from the field, turnovers are frequently an issue, and their work on the defensive end has been average at best this season. All this isn’t intended to make UCLA out to be an unbeatable monster of a team (they aren’t), but at least on paper, UAB just is not that great a team. They did find a way to get it done against a team better than UCLA on Thursday, and the Bruins, as mentioned, are very far from perfect themselves. But while anything is possible, a return to expectation (albeit a smaller one than we had two days ago) should be in the cards here. Steve Alford and UCLA, say hello to the Sweet Sixteen.

The RTC Certified Pick: UCLA

#1 Kentucky vs. #8 Cincinnati – Midwest Region Round of 32 (in Louisville, KY) – at 2:40 PM EST on CBS

Karl-Anthony Towns was an absolute force to be reckoned with Thursday evening. Will Cincinnati's frontline fair any better? (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Karl-Anthony Towns was an absolute force to be reckoned with Thursday evening. Will Cincinnati’s frontline fair any better? (Andy Lyons/Getty)

Unbeaten Kentucky was not at its best Thursday, but it did not really matter as it still cruised to a 79-56 victory over Hampton. While Kentucky — as a whole — was a bit uneven against the Pirates, freshman forward Karl-Anthony Towns turned in a phenomenal performance. Towns was clearly the best player on the court all evening, finishing with 21 points (8-of-12 FG), 11 rebounds, and three blocks in just 25 minutes of action. Sophomore guard Andrew Harrison and freshman guard Tyler Ulis were also very good in the victory, as they totaled a combined 25 points, eight rebounds, and six assists. Even though Hampton is not considered an offensive juggernaut, Kentucky’s defensive performance was still impressive. The Pirates were held to just a 17-of-59 (28.8%) shooting performance, and only one player converted more than two field goals. Meanwhile, Cincinnati showcased its great resiliency in its win over Purdue on Thursday. The Bearcats trailed by seven with with 48.5 seconds to play before going on a 10-3 run to force overtime where they ultimately prevailed with a 66-65 victory. Cincinnati does not have any stars, but it received strong contributions from sophomore guard Troy Caupain (10 points and four assists), junior guard Farad Cobb (14 points), and junior forward Coreontae DeBerry (13 points). The Bearcats frustrated Purdue with tenacious defense all night, as the Boilermakers were just 26-of-72 (36.1%) from the field, including 4-of-26 (15.4%) from the perimeter. Cincinnati has played hard all season under some less than ideal circumstances, and its coaches and players deserve credit for making it this far. Unfortunately for them, this run will come to an end at the hands of Kentucky on Saturday. The Wildcats just have way too much talent across the board for this to really even be all that close. Expect Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein to establish themselves early and lead Kentucky to the Sweet 16 with a comfortable victory.

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Bracket Prep: South Region Analysis

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 17th, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

Throughout Tuesday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (10:00 AM), South (11:00 AM), Midwest (1:00 PM), West (2:00 PM). Here, Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) 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 Duke (29-4, 16-4 ACC). The top-seeded Blue Devils are rightful favorites in the South region. Not only are the Blue Devils REALLY good (they are a #1 seed for a reason), but they were fortunate enough to avoid a region with Arizona or Virginia in a year where six teams could stake legitimate claims to #1 seeds. Ignore Duke’s ignominious recent NCAA Tournament history: The Blue Devils are favorites to book the flight from Houston to Indianapolis.

Justise Winslow and Jahlil Okafor have to wonder which way Duke is heading after a tumultuous week (sportingnews.com)

Justise Winslow, Jahlil Okafor and Duke are the favorites to get out of the region. (Getty)

Should They Falter: #3 Iowa State (25-8, 15-6 Big 12). We’ll leap the second-seeded Zags to label Iowa State as the next most likely team to win this region. Frank Hoiberg’s club finished with a flourish, knocking off Kansas in the Big 12 championship game to put the finishing touches on a tidy resume. The bulk of this Cyclones core were contributors when they lost to eventual champion Connecticut in the Sweet Sixteen a year ago. There are some flaws here, particularly on the defensive end, but Hoiberg is undoubtedly anxious to push a team deep into the NCAA Tournament. This bunch could be the one to do it.

Grossly Overseeded: #4 Georgetown (21-10, 13-7 Big East). The Big East got a lot of respect this Selection Sunday. Four of the six league teams to make the field were seeded at least a line above Joe Lunardi’s final projection, while the other two (Villanova and St. John’s) were at the number Lunardi projected. Georgetown received a #4 seed from the committee (two lines above the #6 Lunardi expected) and there’s little about the Hoyas – both on the resume and on the court – that indicates they are that deserving. Their best non-conference victory came in overtime on a neutral court against Indiana. Big East work, although headlined by a defeat of Villanova, was only marginally more impressive. John Thompson III guided the Hoyas to a solid bounce-back season after missing the NCAA Tournament a year ago, but they are overvalued at this seed line. Read the rest of this entry »

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Big East Teams

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 15th, 2015

In terms of the bubble, there was little surprise about the six Big East teams that were going to make the Dance. The biggest outstanding question was how the draws would play out. For a number of the middle-seeded teams, the first weekend matchups mean everything for their postseason success. Below is a review of how the selection process played out for each Big East team and what they should expect for the first few rounds of the NCAA Tournament.

Villanova, #1 seed, East region. No surprise here. After winning the Big East Tournament and ending its season on a 15-game winning streak, Villanova was all but locked in for a #1 seed. After Duke and Virginia both suffered early defeats in ACC Tournament, Villanova moved up and claimed regional preference, providing the Wildcats with the opportunity to play in Syracuse should they advance. After presumably moving past Lafayette in the first round, Villanova will take on either LSU or NC State next. LSU is incredibly turnover prone, which would feed right into the Wildcats’ push for transition baskets. NC State could potentially be more problematic, having beaten Duke, North Carolina and Louisville this season, but they are an extremely inefficient team in scoring around the basket and at the line. It’s unclear why CBS’ Clark Kellogg predicted an LSU upset over Villanova; let’s not get carried away here.

Villanova Dominated the Big East From Start to Finish This Season (USA Today Images)

Villanova Dominated the Big East From Start to Finish This Season (USA Today Images)

Georgetown, #4 seed, South region. While quite surprising to see the Hoyas move up to a #4 seed following their recent struggles, the bigger issue here is their draw. Eastern Washington is third in the country in PPG (80.8) and is led by sophomore guard Tyler Harvey, who also leads the nation in points per game (22.9). Additionally, the Eagles take good care of the ball, potentially cutting out a source of points for Georgetown’s sometimes-sputtering offense. The biggest upside is that Eastern Washington is a very small team that doesn’t rebound the ball very well, so look for the Hoyas and Josh Smith to dominate the glass inside. To keep up with what will likely be a fast-paced game, the Hoyas will need to put some points on the board in this one.

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Rushed Reactions: Xavier 65, Georgetown 63

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 14th, 2015

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

Another Disappointing March Moment for the Hoyas (USA Today Images)

Another Disappointing March Moment for the Hoyas (USA Today Images)

  1. Xavier is putting everything together at the right time. With a championship game against Villanova coming up and the NCAA Tournament on the horizon, Xavier has played as well as any team in the conference. The Musketeers’ post defense still continues to struggle with interior positioning but shifting to a zone has helped Chris Mack’s team better contest jump shots and get into the passing lanes. This tweak in defensive approach has kept Xavier competitive in their games against top-tier defensive clubs like Butler and Georgetown. Both Matt Stainbrook and sophomore big man Jalen Reynolds have been playing their best basketball of the season, forcing opposing defenses to collapse on the duo and leaving the shooters open.
  2. Xavier is a matchup nightmare for Georgetown. Xavier had an inconsistent Big East season, going 9-9 in conference play and sweeping just two of the nine teams it faced. And while the Musketeers lost games to DePaul, Creighton and Seton Hall, one of those two season sweeps was over Georgetown, which they defeated by an average of 15 points per game. In tonight’s third matchup of the year, the result was more of the same until a late Georgetown run closed the gap in the last eight minutes of play. Stainbrook and Reynolds in particular were a handful for Georgetown’s big men and the team’s rapid ball movement around the perimeter left the Hoyas out of position on numerous plays. For whatever reason, Georgetown failed to successfully attack Xavier’s zone for the first 30 minutes of the game and a 21-point deficit ultimately proved insurmountable.
  3. Georgetown’s Big East Tournament performance left something to be desired. The recent stretch for Georgetown hasn’t been pretty. After struggling to knock off Seton Hall last weekend, the Hoyas pieced together a scrappy win over Creighton in the final minute yesterday before falling way behind against Xavier. Yes, the Hoyas put on a late run when it found a number of good shots, but the overall trend isn’t encouraging. It’s a bad time to be faltering and there are numerous concerns about Georgetown on the offensive end of the floor. D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera has had too many cold stretches; Joshua Smith picks up too many fouls; and the rising freshmen have a tendency to disappear. Is Georgetown facing another embarrassing opening round NCAA Tournament defeat next week?

Player of the Game. Matt Stainbrook, Xavier. The 6’10” senior had 14 points at halftime, including a buzzer-beatin tip-in, and finished the game with 20 points and nine rebounds. Few opposing big men have successfully conquered Georgetown in the post, but Stainbrook used his crafty hook shot to successfully score over Mikael Hopkins and Joshua Smith. Post presence has been a major contributor to Xavier’s success at MSG this week, routinely providing balance to the outside shooting of the Dee Davis, Remy Abell and JP Macura. After tallying a highly efficient 13 points and 10 rebounds against Butler, Stainbrook showed no sign of backing down against the bigger Hoyas and entered into all-out takeover mode for several key stretches of tonight’s game. There is no question that he will be a significant x-factor in the championship game against Villanova.

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Weekly Big East Postseason Outlook

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 9th, 2015

Regular season Big East play has finished and it appears that six of the 10 conference members will secure bids for the NCAA Tournament next weekend. The league might not be top-heavy this season, but nobody can argue with its overall strength and nightly competitiveness. Only the Big 12 is in position to match the Big East in terms of 60 percent of its members making the Tournament. That said, there are still some potential shifts ahead with respect to postseason seeding and the Big East Tournament will serve as the deciding factor.

Villanova (29-2, 16-2)

  • Up Next: Thursday vs. Marquette/Seton Hall
    RPI: #3 SOS: #45
  • On Track For: NCAA, No. 1 or No. 2 seed. Provided that the Wildcats win out, they will be a lock for a #1 seed in the NCAAs, likely sliding in behind Kentucky and either Duke or Virginia on the overall strength curve. This would represent a major feat for a program that continues to raise the bar and maintain a national spotlight on the Big East as a whole. Winning the Big East Tournament this week will be no easy task, however, and the parity between the assembled teams cannot be emphasized enough. Villanova will be the favorite to win the crown, but Georgetown, Butler, Providence and St. John’s will all be strongly in the mix.
This guys has had a lot to smile about this season. (Getty)

This guys has had a lot to smile about this season. (Getty)

Butler (20-8, 12-6)

  • Up Next: Thursday vs. Xavier
    RPI: #25 SOS: #41
  • On Track For: NCAA, No. 5 or No. 6 seed. The injury to Andrew Chrabascz undoubtedly set it back, but Butler remained competitive and recently trumped Providence on its home floor. The absolute best case scenario would be a #4 seed if the Bulldogs were to win the conference tournament, but the more likely seeding is a #5. Depending on its NCAA draw, Butler makes for a fantastic sleeper pick as the Bulldogs have largely flown under the radar this season.

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Morning Five: 03.09.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 9th, 2015

morning5

  1. The first automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament were handed out over the weekend. The first school to earn an automatic bid was Belmont, which upset Murray State on Saturday night to receive the Ohio Valley automatic bid. Yesterday, they were joined by North Florida (Atlantic Sun), Coastal Carolina (Big South), and Northern Iowa (Missouri Valley). There will be three other automatic bids handed out later today with the Colonial, Mid-American, and Southern Conference all awarding their titles. If you are looking for a handy although not real-time infographic showing who is remaining in the field check out our Circle of March feature, which is updated daily.
  2. On Friday, NCAA handed down its sanctions against Syracuse after looking into the school for eight years (full 98-page report here). The headline of the sanctions is that Jim Boeheim will have to sit out for half of next year’s ACC regular season (nine games) and have 108 wins vacated from his record (moving him from 2nd to 6th on the all-time Division I men’s wins list for the time being), but the other sanctions and the stain it will leave on the program and those around it will probably have a more significant long-term effect. The scholarship reductions and limitations on the number of assistants who can go on recruiting trips could significantly impact the program for years to come. On an individual level, this will also make it more difficult for Mike Hopkins (the long-time coach-in-waiting) to succeed Boeheim and will also make it more difficult for him to get hired. The level of penalties (and the decision by the NCAA to only prosecute violations starting a few weeks after Syracuse won its only national title–very convenient…) should also make other schools–like one in particular in North Carolina–nervous.
  3. Speaking of NCAA violations, based on a report from Yahoo! Sports, Cliff Alexander is being investigated by the NCAA because his mother received a loan from a company that typically makes loans to professional athletes and agents. While it is not unusual for college athletes (or their families) to receive these type of loans it is usually after the athlete has finished competing in college as such a loan would be a NCAA violation. According to the report, both the NCAA and Kansas are trying to move the investigation along, but that Alexander’s legal counsel might be slowing it down. Given what we have read about the situation we doubt that we will see Alexander in a Kansas uniform again (at least until they need him for a promotional photo).
  4. The coaching carousel is starting to heat up. As of Sunday night, the two newest positions to open up are at Holy Cross where Milan Brown was fired and Penn where Jerome Allen will step down (a nice way of saying he was fired). We doubt that either is big enough to attract a big name candidate both positions should attract attention from mid-major coaches although there is a possibility that someone who is out of coaching might use one of the positions as a stepping stone to get back in. During his five seasons at Holy Cross, Brown went 69-83 with only two winning seasons (15-14 in 2011-12 and 20-14 in 2013-14). Allen, a former star at Penn who was a 2nd round pick in the 1995 NBA Draft, is 66-103 in six seasons heading into his final game on Tuesday.
  5. Senior nights are special in a lot of ways, but Georgetown’s senior night on Saturday stands out for the return of Tyler Adams, who has been sidelined since his freshman year due to an arrhythmia. While Senior Nights are typically reserved for individuals who remained on the team, John Thompson III, who has kept Adams on scholarship despite not playing for the team, decided to start Adams and ran the first play for Adams, which he dunked. Even though there were a lot of highlights from the weekend this moment will stick with us for the class that Thompson and Seton Hall showed giving Adams one last moment as a player as he enters the next phase of his life.
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In Beating Georgetown, St. John’s Well-Positioned For an NCAA Bid

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 1st, 2015

Sitting at 14-8 overall and 3-6 in the Big East after a blowout loss at Butler on February 3, the NCAA Tournament was the last thing on the mind of the players at St. John’s. The pressure was mounting on Steve Lavin and his senior-laden team, a group that had not earned a ticket to the Big Dance in their collegiate careers. Fast forward to the end of February and this same Red Storm team is sitting pretty at 20-9 and 9-7 in the Big East after a convincing victory over Georgetown in front of more than 13,000 lively supporters at Madison Square Garden on Saturday. This victory was Lavin’s 25th win in the month of February as the head coach of the Johnnies, and the February rise has almost become an annual tradition for St. John’s under his leadership. In 2011, the Red Storm won seven of eight games in February to lock up an NCAA bid. Just last season, St. John’s put together a six-game winning streak to get itself onto the bubble, only to eventually fall a game or two short of dancing. Lavin’s team has again appeared to turn the corner, going 6-2 in the second calendar month of the year to put itself in prime position for a trip to the NCAAs.

Steve Lavin's Group (USA Today Images)

Steve Lavin’s Group Has Used the February Rise to Get Back Into the NCAA’s Good Graces (USA Today Images)

“Our upside is the most intriguing part of our team,” Lavin said afterward. “I don’t think we’ve played our best basketball yet.” If he is right, the rest of the Big East should be put on notice. Playing on its home floor in just over a week, St. John’s should enter the Big East Tournament as one of the hottest teams in the league and a dark horse threat to take home the title. The seniors on this team are playing at a high level, starting with Sir’Dominic Pointer. Including his 24-point performance against the Hoyas, Pointer has averaged a robust 20.0 PPG over his last six games, fueling the team’s late season surge. Pointer was all over the floor on both ends, utilizing his energy, quickness and athleticism to flummox Georgetown all game long. Hoyas center Joshua Smith fouled out in only eight minutes of action, unable to keep himself in front of Pointer. With Smith constantly out of position, St. John’s repeatedly got to the rim, especially in transition. As a result, that opened up the perimeter where fellow senior Phil Greene IV could take advantage. The Chicago product poured in 26 points and made six of his seven three-point attempts on the night. “You have to limit them. You have to make them score in the half-court,” said Georgetown head coach John Thompson III. “We had too many breakdowns defensively when we needed to get stops.”

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Weekly Big East Postseason Outlook

Posted by Justin Kundrat on February 27th, 2015

With just a little over a week remaining in conference play, most Big East teams have started rounding into postseason form. For Villanova, that means pushing toward an NCAA Tournament #1 seed. For others like St. John’s and Xavier, it means staying on the right side of the bubble. As we approach March, we’ll run down the status of each Big East team’s postseason prospects in this weekly look. The league appears to have six solid NCAA candidates as of today, with the remainder still clinging to the discussion for NIT bids.

Villanova (26-2, 13-2)

Jay Wright's crew is deep, balanced, experienced and poised for a long overdue tournament run. (Getty)

Jay Wright’s crew is deep, balanced, experienced and poised for a long overdue tournament run. (Getty)

  • Up Next: Saturday at Xavier
    RPI: 4 SOS: 41
  • On Track For: NCAA, No. 1 or No. 2 seed. Villanova continued its march of dominance, clinching the Big East title and running over its opponents in the process. The Wildcats have now won their last nine games and are in decent position for a top seed if any of the other contenders falter. This team is deep, balanced, experienced and poised for a long overdue NCAA Tournament run.

Butler (20-8, 10-5)

  • Up Next: Saturday at DePaul
    RPI: 25 SOS: 34
  • On Track For: NCAA, No. 4 or No. 5 seed. Just when Butler looked like it was entering a slump following its scramble at Creighton and blowout loss at Xavier, the Bulldogs snapped back into form on Wednesday night. The loss of Andrew Chrabascz (4-6 weeks) has left open holes in areas where Butler has been strong: rebounding, interior defense and inside scoring. Expect the Bulldogs to fall a few spots in seeding before Chrabascz returns, hopefully in time for the bulk of the postseason.

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RTC Weekly Primer: Who Can Make a Run in March?

Posted by Henry Bushnell on February 24th, 2015

It happens every year. Every single year. Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but more often than not, there comes a time in a college basketball season when the entire hoops world witnesses the birth of something. It can begin with a bang; but it can also begin innocuously. It can occur in plain sight; but it can also be the tree in the middle of a deserted forest. This birth, of course, is the preliminary stage of a postseason run. And the run, of course, is the one that in a few weeks time will be the talk of college basketball. Back in 2011, it was Shelvin Mack, Brad Stevens and Butler. In 2012, it was Lorenzo Brown and NC State. In 2013, it was very nearly Marshall Henderson and Ole Miss. A season ago, it was Jordan McRae and the upstart Tennessee Volunteers. NCAA Tournament runs usually don’t just appear out of thin air. Typically, there’s a backstory. In 2015, the time has come for those backstories to develop. Next month’s headlines will start formulating themselves right now.

Most Every Team is Looking For Its Butler Moment (USA Today Images)

Most Every Team is Looking For Its Butler Moment (USA Today Images)

Who will those headlines be written about this year? Who will be the team that sees everything come together at the right time? Who will be that team? It’s time to start considering some possibilities:

  • Georgetown – The Hoyas aren’t exactly in the same category as the Butlers and Ole Misses of years past, but they seem to be flying somewhat under the radar. Georgetown has the pieces to make a run. The Hoyas are a top-20 defensive team, boast an occasionally dominant post presence in senior center Josh Smith, and have a guard in D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera who can take over a game. After getting smoked by Villanova a couple weeks ago, they’ve now won three straight and have the week off to prepare for St. John’s in Madison Square Garden on Saturday. That’s the kind of win that could propel the Hoyas to a #4 or #5 seed and their first Sweet Sixteen (or better) run since 2007.
  • Indiana – Another team that is solidly in the NCAA Tournament, the Hoosiers certainly will never be considered a Cinderella story. But most projections have them as a #8 or #9 seed right now, meaning they aren’t being discussed as a legitimate contender either. This team has notable flaws in its personnel and it has a coach who many have questioned in recent years. But it’s also arguably got the most lethal backcourt in the country — just the type of thing that can carry a team on a surprising journey through March. The Hoosiers, which have struggled on the road but have been dynamite at home, travel to Northwestern on Wednesday night before a two-game home swing featuring Iowa and Michigan State. It’s really the perfect slate to build some March momentum.

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