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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After a Forgettable Regular Season, What Does Georgetown Do Now?

Posted by Chris Stone on March 7th, 2017

Sitting directly in front of the Georgetown student section during the Hoyas’ 81-55 blowout loss to Villanova on Saturday, it wasn’t difficult to hear the occasional chants regarding coach John Thompson III directed toward the school’s administration. Whether it was some variation of “Fire Thompson” or “We Want Change,” a vocal collection of students made their feelings clear — after what will likely be consecutive seasons of missing the NCAA Tournament (and three of four campaigns), they’re ready for a new regime. What’s less clear is how Thompson himself feels about those chants. When he was asked about it afterward, a school official stepped in and requested that reporters limit their questions to those related to the game. The uncertainty surrounding the Hoyas’ program, however, is something worth examining, and it starts with trying to figure out what is going to happen with Thompson.

Georgetown is in an unenviable position with regards to John Thompson III. (Matt Slocum/Associated Press)

The available evidence seems to suggest that change isn’t coming to Georgetown anytime soon. That was the conclusion of ESPN’s Jeff Goodman after speaking to four ex-players who, on the condition of anonymity, suggested that a move is necessary. But institutional inertia in support of Thompson is very strong. His father, John Thompson, Jr., built the program to national prominence in the 1980s and the school recently opened a $62 million practice facility with “Big John’s” name on it. Add in the younger Thompson’s history of success that — although starting to feel rather dated — includes a trip to the Final Four, and it becomes more understandable that Georgetown is willing to give him more time to correct course. Read the rest of this entry »

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Finding a Path For Four Teams on the Wrong Side of the Bubble

Posted by Shane McNichol on February 17th, 2017

The end of the regular season is creeping up on us. With just a little more than three weeks remaining until Selection Sunday, teams around the country are prepping for their final stretch of conference games. For schools sitting precariously on the bubble, chances to grab signature wins are dwindling. For teams on the outside looking in, the home stretch represents a do-or-die opportunity to make an at-large bid a reality. The four teams we examine today all have pathways to March Madness ahead of them, but nothing will come easy and their odds are diminishing daily.

Wake Forest

It’ll likely come right down to the wire for the Wake Forest faithful. Getty)

The Demon Deacons are 6-8 in ACC play but a losing conference record won’t be quite as damaging this season thanks to a soft mid-major bubble. Still, even if Wake manages to get to 8-10, some conference losing records will be viewed much better than others. The biggest issue for Danny Manning’s team is that it has yet to beat any top-tier ACC squads this season. The Deacs have a favorable RPI at #36, but close losses against Duke and Notre Dame simply aren’t enough. With four games remaining, Wake Forest must top Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech to remain on the bubble, but to truly make some waves, the Deacs need a win at Duke or against Louisville. Stealing either of those games would result in a 9-9 ACC record and a legitimate, perhaps even likely, chance at an at-large bid. Read the rest of this entry »

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It’s Time to Modernize Georgetown’s Offense

Posted by Justin Kundrat on January 25th, 2017

On the heels of a 15-18 season in 2015-16 and currently in the midst of a 10-10 campaign featuring a 1-6 record in conference play, the criticisms of Georgetown‘s offense far outweigh the viable solutions. Yes, the Hoyas do not have a true point guard, but their assist to field goal ratio (60.7%) ranks among the top 30 in college basketball. Sure, Georgetown is lacking in high volume shooters, but its three-point field goal percentage of 36.9 percent ranks in the top 100. John Thompson III‘s team might not be a very good defensive rebounding team this year, but the 28th-tallest team nationally did not simply forget how to rebound (the Hoyas were much better at cleaning the defensive glass last season). Is the Princeton offense broken? No, but without player buy-in, understanding, cohesiveness or whatever you want to call it, the pieces at Georgetown will not fit into the greater puzzle. Without good team chemistry and trust in the process, all those backcourt cuts that require a heavy reliance on spacing and timing will become a turnover-fueled hodgepodge. So, what are the Hoyas to do?

One of Thompson’s first initiatives in the offseason was to instill a faster offense — as a result, the Hoyas’ average length of possession this season has fallen from a middling 17.3 to a top-quintile 16.0 seconds. But this strategic shift hasn’t made Georgetown’s offense more efficient — it’s actually worse — and its transition rate of scoring is only marginally higher. In effect, the “faster pace” scheme can be distilled to “taking shots earlier in the shot clock,” which, if anything, runs against the overarching theory of finding the best shot. There’s nothing wrong with the way Georgetown’s lineup is constructed. It generates plenty of firepower from the backcourt, has floor-stretching, big wings, and experienced big men. The attack instead needs to be focused on improved shot selection and methods of scoring. Currently, as the above table shows, an outsized proportion of Hoyas’ offense comes from the free throw line (14th nationally). It’s a plausible strategy in theory, but it is also one that relies heavily on the whimsy of officiating. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big East Power Rankings: New Year’s Edition

Posted by Justin Kundrat on January 4th, 2017

With conference play just getting under way, it feels like an appropriate time to re-establish a hierarchy within the Big East. Let’s take a look at the first Big East Power Rankings of 2017.

#1 Villanova. Forget all the Josh Hart talk for a minute — let’s instead pay tribute to Jalen Brunson, who tallied a career-high 27 points last weekend in Villanova’s biggest test to date at Creighton. With a short seven-man rotation and spotty scoring contributions from a number of those players, the Wildcats had seemed to be over-relying on Hart for their production. But Brunson’s tremendous feel for tempo and timing might be the most under-appreciated facet of the team’s elite offense. A major reason why Villanova won the game was because it successfully slowed the pace down the stretch and reduced the quick outlet passes that Creighton uses to generate high percentage shots.

Villanova and Josh Hart Just Keep Rolling (USA Today Images)

Villanova Just Keeps On Rolling (USA Today Images)

#2 Creighton. It was terrible timing for the Bluejays to log their worst three-point shooting performance of the season against Villanova. Creighton came into the game connecting on a blistering 45 percent of its perimeter shots on the year, but only managed a paltry 6-of-24 outing on Saturday. Off night aside, freshman center Justin Patton continues to build on his stellar play in the non-conference season. The seven-footer notched 18 points on 9-of-12 shooting and gives the Bluejays a consistent scoring threat in the post to complement their numerous outside shooters.

#3 Xavier. Without the steadying hands of point guard Myles Davis, the Musketeers have experienced a roller coaster of a season. Evaluating Xavier without his presence in the lineup doesn’t do Chris Mack’s team justice. Trevon Bluiett and JP Macura can score in bunches and Edmond Sumner has steadily grown into a sure-handed ball-handler, but the Musketeers need Davis. Per HoopLens, no player on Xavier’s roster last year had a bigger offensive impact.

His 38 percent shooting from deep undoubtedly spaced the floor, but his more important contributions were in ball movement and facilitation — Xavier’s assist rate is currently the lowest it has been in four seasons.

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It’s a Make or Break Week for the Pac-12

Posted by RJ Abeytia on November 30th, 2016

After a sizzling opening weekend followed by some Feast Week struggles, the Pac-12 finds itself facing a potential do or die week in terms of its national perception. Three teams will be front and center this week under the bright lights of ESPN and CBS, and after 71 games and even with all of December left, chances are it will be this week’s main events that set the tone for the Pac-12 come March. Part of the concentration on these games stems from factors out of the league’s control. Oregon’s injury issues have left it a shell of the team most expected it to be come March — the Ducks have already dropped games to Baylor and Georgetown without the services of Dillon Brooks (and have looked shaky even with him back). While the committee will factor Oregon’s injuries into its analysis, that doesn’t help the Pac-12’s overall profile. And that brings us to this week, starting this evening on the Peninsula.

St. Mary’s at Stanford: Wednesday 11/30 8:00 PM PT (Pac-12 Bay Area)

So far, so good for Jerod Haase and Stanford. (Tahoe Daily Tribune)

Jerod Haase and Stanford have a monster week ahead of them, including a trip to Haase’s alma mater where dreams tend to fade. (Tahoe Daily Tribune)

Not only is the Pac-12 counting on Stanford — the team picked to finish 10th in the league standings this season — but the Cardinal actually have two games with national ramifications this week. First, Randy Bennett’s St. Mary’s bunch (11th nationally, per KenPom) comes to Maples Pavilion tonight. The Gaels may not yet be a nationally-renowned name, but they drilled Stanford last season and will be a contender in a league (WCC) that has been quite the thorn in the side of the Pac-12 in recent years. This is one of two big Pac-12/WCC showdowns this week, and while it’s definitely the undercard, it’s still a big game for both teams and conferences.

UCLA at Kentucky: Saturday 12/3 9:30 AM PT (CBS)

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Big East Conference Preview: Georgetown, Butler, Seton Hall

Posted by Mike Knapp on November 9th, 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 middle tier of teams — Georgetown, Butler, and Seton Hall. RTC’s previous bottom tier preview can be found here.

#6: Georgetown

John Thompson III Needs a Good Season at Georgetown (USA Today Images)

John Thompson III Needs a Good Season at Georgetown. (USA TODAY Images)

The Hoyas lost leading scorer D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera to graduation but bring back all of their other key pieces from a disappointing 15-18 season. Georgetown has great depth at forward with juniors LJ Peak and Isaac Copeland  both of whom finished strong last season — and Robert Morris transfer Rodney Pryor will see significant minutes on the wing. The team also features a formidable two-pronged attack at center with the return of reliable graduate-senior Bradley Hayes and sophomore Jessie Govan. While Govan had an inconsistent freshman year, he showed flashes of his well-rounded offensive skill set and looks to be a perfect fit in John Thompson III’s Princeton offense.

Georgetown still lacks consistent three-point shooting, but their main question mark coming into this season is at point guard. Junior Tre Campbell underwhelmed for most of last season as the floor general, only scoring in double figures twice. Their only other reasonable option is junior college transfer Rodney Mulmore. While the Allegany College import put up impressive numbers last season, the Maryland Junior College Athletic Conference is a far cry from the rigors of the Big East. The Hoyas will need either Campbell or Mulmore to step up at point guard to have a shot at returning to the NCAA Tournament this season. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big East Key Offseason Questions: Part I

Posted by Justin Kundrat on April 12th, 2016

The NCAA Tournament is now behind us and the days of transfers, NBA Draft declarations and coaching moves are upon us. April signals yet another ending, as we tear down everything we knew and build anew. The offseason has a way of inspiring hope that a new season will bring about improvement, that maybe this time things will be different. Consider where the Big East’s very own Villanova was just one year ago this spring. That unknown is why the offseason is such an intriguing time. Below is a list of key questions that each Big East team will attempt to solve over the coming six months.

ButlerWho will replace the scoring void left behind by Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones?

Kellen Dunham, Butler's third all-time leading scorer, won't be easily replaced. (Photo: Getty)

Kellen Dunham, Butler’s third all-time leading scorer, won’t easily be replaced. (Photo: Getty)

Butler has appeared in several “way too early” Top 25 rankings with little explanation as to why. The team will lose four of its seven rotation players, with Dunham and Jones having accounted for 38 percent of its scoring output this season. Rising junior hybrid forward Kelan Martin (15.7 PPG) will assume the duty of primary scorer, having already demonstrated an ability to do so numerous times. The question marks come next. Forward Andrew Chrabascz seemingly regressed as the season proceeded, although his potential as a stretch forward within Butler’s offense is intriguing. The remaining offensive responsibility will fall on George Washington transfer Kethan Savage and senior Tyler Lewis, with the hope that incoming freshman Joey Brunk can also contribute.

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Big East Tournament Takeaways: Thursday Afternoon

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 10th, 2016

Day two of the Big East Tournament tipped off Thursday afternoon with quarterfinal action. Villanova received more than it asked for from Georgetown before pulling away from the Hoyas in the final 10 minutes to win, 81-67. In the second game, a surging Providence team dominated a Butler squad that had been playing very well coming into the postseason. The Friars and Wildcats will meet in Friday night’s semifinals for the second straight season; it will be Providence’s third consecutive trip since the Big East was reconfigured prior to the 2013-14 season.

Ben Bentil and Kris Dunn combined for 53 points in Providence's victory over Butler. (Photo: USA Today Sports)

Ben Bentil and Kris Dunn combined for 53 points in Providence’s victory over Butler. (Photo: USA Today Sports)

Georgetown (15-18): It was a strong effort from the Hoyas for the better part of 30 minutes but in the end Georgetown just didn’t have enough to deal with Villanova’s toughness and cohesiveness. Bradley Hayes made an immediate impact in the paint, a performance that kept Georgetown in the game and especially important with Villanova center Daniel Ochefu limited to 13 minutes by a nagging injury. L.J. Peak continued his quality play with 18 points but a lack of scoring production from senior D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera was an important factor in Georgetown fading down the stretch.

Villanova (28-4): The Wildcats broke open a close game with a 14-1 run midway through the second half that was keyed by a number of hustle plays leading to transition opportunities. Josh Hart had an outstanding game with 25 points, scoring from all over the floor and especially lethal in transition. After the game, head coach Jay Wright called Hart one of the nation’s best players running the floor and it’s easy to see why after today’s performance. Ryan Arcidiacono was his usual self, diving into the MSG crowd for two lost balls and igniting his team in transition. Two pull-up threes when he didn’t have numbers were gutsy shots that allowed Villanova to create some separation.

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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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