Big East M5: 03.04.14 Edition

Posted by George Hershey on March 4th, 2014

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  1. Xavier got a huge win on Saturday against Creighton, leading some pundits to say they were safely into the NCAA Tournament. Things were looking good until last night when they visited the Prudential Center to play Seton Hall. Within 10 minutes, Matt Stainbrook went down in a heap screaming and was  unable to return the rest of the game. Chris Mack did not know what the prognosis is for Stainbrook, telling the media, “I won’t know for sure until he sees our doctor. We’re hopeful that it’s maybe just an MCL strain.” That would be a crucial blow to the Musketeers as they were rising and were in the 7/8 seed range if they finished the year well. They struggled the rest of the night and fell to the Pirates. They host Villanova on Thursday to close the year before heading to New York. They will likely need to win at least one more game this year to be safe, but if Stainbrook misses the rest of the year, the team is going to struggle to adapt so quickly.
  2. Steve Lavin’s squad has been short-handed lately. Orlando Sanchez missed a game to be with his wife for the birth of their child two weeks ago and Chris Obekpa missed time at the end of February with an ankle injury. On Sunday the team was without freshman point guard Rysheed Jordan as he mourned the loss of his aunt. This is a crucial time for St. John’s as they sit as the third team out according to Joe Lunardi’s bracketology. They survived a scare from DePaul on Sunday and close the regular season against Marquette, on the Golden Eagles senior day. This team has had an epic turn around, but still has work to be done if they want to be dancing.
  3. Georgetown will break ground on construction for a new athletic facility this summer. The facility will be named after famed coach John Thompson Jr. and is scheduled to be completed in 2016, costing $60 million. Georgetown Athletic Director said in a statement, “We’re very excited to be able to have the opportunity to recognize the career of John Thompson Jr. in this way. Coach Thompson’s legacy as a leader, a teacher and a coach are unparalleled in college athletics. Having his name on this building is a fitting honor.” Hopefully this helps the coaching staff lure some big recruits and give the players more resources to develop.
  4. Two sixth-year seniors were in some great articles recently. Chris Otule, Marquette’s singing big man, talked to Eric Prisbell of USA Today about his long career, full of injuries and hardships. It has been well-publicized that Otule was born with glaucoma and has had to live with a prosthetic eye. He has played in three straight sweet sixteens with vision in only one eye, a feat most of us cannot even imagine. After coming to Marquette, he broke his right foot and the next year broke his left foot, missing both seasons. Two years ago as the Golden Eagles got out to a 10-0 start, Otule’s leg buckled at Madison Square Garden, leading to a torn ACL and another missed season. What separates him is his personality, leading to being awarded Marquette’s first lifetime achievement award, before he even left. Grant Gibbs is also in his sixth season and spoke with Sean Brennan. He transferred from Gonzaga after suffering a shoulder and knee injury in his first two years. Then he struggled with his knee as he waited to play for the Bluejays. He eventually got healthy and the rest is history as he has led the team alongside Doug McDermott. Both players struggled, but displayed great perseverance to continue their careers.
  5. Seton Hall senior Fuquan Edwin almost did not get to play in his final home game last night against Xavier after hurting his thumb last week. After sitting out the team’s last game, he was fortunately able to suit up and help lead the team to a nice upset. Brendan Prunty of The Star Ledger sat down with Edwin and talked to him about his journey to Seton Hall and his legacy. Edwin has some great quotes including speaking about his childhood, growing up in a rough neighborhood and deciding to go to Paterson Catholic to stay out of trouble and  staying with current Cincinnati player Shaquille Thomas. When talking about his legacy Edwin said, “I think my legacy is going hard out there, 100 percent. I think what I’ll be remembered for is playing hard. I didn’t think about that when I came here, but I came here and wanted to do something special.” Edwin hopes to make it onto an NBA roster after he finishes a great career in South Orange.
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Breaking Down the Big East Bubble Teams

Posted by Todd Keryc on February 25th, 2014

Last week we examined the two-horse race between Creighton and Villanova to determine the Big East regular season champion. Today we take a look at the teams on the cusp of the NCAA Tournament, those who currently sit on what is commonly referred to as the bubble. As crazy as it seems, the two co-leaders are the only Big East teams currently assured of making the NCAA Tournament. At the other end of the spectrum, teams such as Butler, DePaul and Seton Hall can only get in by winning the conference tournament. That leaves five teams — half of the league — sitting in various positions ranging from “in but not out of the woods” to “we have to run the table.” Let’s take a look at the status of each.

XAVIER

Chris Mack is Safe For Now But Shouldn't 'Get too Comfortable (Getty)

Chris Mack is Safe For Now But Shouldn’t ‘Get too Comfortable (Getty)

Current Status: In But Be Careful. The Musketeers are the likeliest third Big East team in the field. They have 18 wins and sit tied for third in the conference standings. They have a strong early-season win over Cincinnati but that is their only RPI top 50 victory. On the flip side, they only have one loss against a team outside of the RPI top 150 and only two total against teams below the top 100. Xavier also has wins against fellow bubble-mates Tennessee, St. John’s, Providence, Georgetown and Marquette. Of course, they’ve also lost to all of those teams except St. John’s.

Looking Ahead: Crunch Time. There are two ways of looking at Xavier’s remaining schedule. One is that they have several chances to register big wins that could seal their bid. The other way is to say they have a very difficult schedule down the stretch. The Musketeers get both Creighton and Villanova at home, which gives them a huge chance to score a second marquee win and lift their RPI into the top 50. They also have St. John’s on the road in a bubble game and Seton Hall in a chance for revenge after the Pirates beat them in Ohio earlier this season.

Prediction: In. Xavier has the kind of home court advantage that could pull off one, if not both, of the big upset chances remaining on their schedule. Look for them to upset a Big East big boy and big-time it back to the Big Dance.

ST JOHN’S

Current Status: Square on the Bubble. The Johnnies have used a recent run to work their way very much into NCAA Tournament consideration. They have won nine of their last 11 games and the only losses are at Creighton by three and at Villanova by three. Next to the dynamic duo at the top of the Big East standings, the Red Storm have been the best team over the last month. However, their RPI sits in the 50s, they are only 1-5 against the RPI top 50, and they have losses to Penn State and DePaul sitting as black eyes on their resume. What they have going for them is a terrific win against Creighton and they have been red hot (pun intended) over the last month of action.

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Two Weeks Remaining: Assessing Big East Regular Season Title Contenders

Posted by Todd Keryc on February 21st, 2014

The latest NCAA Tournament bracket projections put somewhere in the neighborhood of four to six Big East teams in the Big Dance. Xavier is on the inside looking out for the moment, with help from a big non-conference win over Cincinnati. Providence, St. John’s and Georgetown are all hovering on the bubble, their respective fates certain to be determined over the season’s final few weeks. Creighton and Villanova are the only total locks, each heading for top four seeds and possible protected first-week locations barring a late collapse.

For both Doug McDermott and James Bell, much is still up for grabs for Creighton and Villanova.

For both Doug McDermott and James Bell, much is still up for grabs for Creighton and Villanova.

While many eyes are focused solely on the Big East bubble (which will ultimately make or break the realigned conference’s debut) the regular season champion remains very much in doubt. It’s all but certain that either Creighton or Villanova will claim it, but they are about to begin a two-week sprint to the finish. Sure, teams are remembered for what they do in the NCAA Tournament but a banner will be hung somewhere for winning the Big East regular season, so let’s assess which team has the advantage down the stretch. In the preseason poll, the pair were picked to finish third and fourth, respectively — yet they have dominated this maiden Big East season. Villanova is 11-2 in conference play, with both losses coming against Creighton. The Bluejays are 12-2, with only a pair of road losses, as well as the clear conference (and likely national) Player of the Year, Doug McDermott, and that pair of dominant performances against Villanova.

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Who Won the Week? Wahoos, BYU, Lumberjacks, But Not Hoosiers or Hoyas

Posted by rtmsf on February 21st, 2014

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Who Won the Week? is a regular column that outlines and discusses three winners and losers from the previous week of hoops. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game. That’s tough to do when the closest game in the week is two states away. There’s four schools, in four different conferences, within 90 minutes of his house. Figure it out, schedule-makers.

WINNER: Virginia

The Cavaliers picked off a pair of pesky road games, winning at a bubble-bound Clemson and pesky rival Virginia Tech, and  – thanks to timely losses from Syracuse and Duke – have the inside track on their first outright ACC title since 1980-81, when Ralph Sampson was a sophomore. In Saturday’s 63-58 win against the Tigers, four Virginia players scored in double digits, led by senior guard Joe Harris’ 16. Tuesday’s 57-53 win over the Hokies was a little uglier, with sophomore guard Malcolm Brogdon leading the team with 12 points, but he and Harris combined to shoot 5 for 21 from the field. The molasses-slow Hoos haven’t crested 70 possessions in a game this season, but their 10-game winning streak dates back to a 69-65 loss at Duke on Jan. 13, their only stumble in conference play. Their last four games are Notre Dame, Miami and Syracuse at home before a road trip to Maryland.

Malcolm Brogdon Has Helped the Cavs Turn the Corner (Photo: Joe Robbins/Getty)

Malcolm Brogdon Has Helped the Cavs Turn the Corner
(Photo: Joe Robbins/Getty)

(Related winners:  Virginia coach Tony Bennett, who coaches the best basketball you don’t ever want to watch. Related losers: Duke, which after losing to rival North Carolina cannot win the conference unless Syracuse and Virginia to both lose each game they play not against each other; Syracuse, no longer undefeated and now the only top-20 team with a loss to a team outside the top 150 of the RPI.)

LOSER: Indiana

It’s tough to tell which is falling apart faster: the Hoosiers’ season or Assembly Hall. Indiana got smoked by in-state rival Purdue 82-64 for its third straight loss and now sits at 14-11 and 4-8 in Big Ten play. Cold shooting did the Hoosiers in, with a 39 percent effective field goal rate against a team that usually gives up nearly 48 percent effective shooting. Oh, and Tuesday’s game against Iowa was postponed when a large piece of metal came unfastened from storied Assembly Hall’s roof, falling into the seats. Since then, more pieces of the ceiling have been found to be unsound, so who knows what’s going to happen in that regard. But as poorly as the Hoosiers are playing, maybe any distraction is welcome. Read the rest of this entry »

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“Super Saturday” Results Give Hope to St. John’s and Georgetown

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 2nd, 2014

Brian Otskey (@botskey) attended the “Super Saturday” doubleheader at Madison Square Garden yesterday and filed this report.

When this year’s college basketball schedule was released, many people circled February 1 on their calendars as it would feature a doubleheader at Madison Square Garden on the day before the Super Bowl involving three quality Big East teams and a national championship contender from the Big Ten. Fast forward to the actual game day and the storylines coming in to Saturday’s games were a lot different. Marquette, picked to finish first in the new look Big East, was looking to get its season back on track after losing nine games before February and posting just a .500 mark in Big East play. St. John’s, a trendy surprise preseason pick, had stumbled badly and came into yesterday’s game with a 2-6 league record. Georgetown, picked right behind Marquette in the preseason poll, entered the weekend with an 11-9 overall record and in the midst of a five-game losing streak. The only storyline that hadn’t changed from the preseason was Michigan State is still a national title contender, although the Spartans are currently playing without two injured starters in Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson.

Georgetown's Jabril Trawick and Mikael Hopkins got the best of Gary Harris and Michigan State on Saturday. (Credit: Anthony Gruppuso--USA Today)

Georgetown’s Jabril Trawick and Mikael Hopkins got the best of Gary Harris and Michigan State on Saturday. (Credit: Anthony Gruppuso–USA Today)

So much for that. Those storylines flipped once again after the games were played, as St. John’s blasted Marquette in a game that wasn’t remotely close, and Georgetown pulled a huge upset in knocking off the Spartans in the day’s second game. For Steve Lavin’s team, the win was further proof that the Red Storm are beginning to find their identity. The win was the fourth in five games with the only loss coming by three points at Creighton last Tuesday. St. John’s is playing better basketball and a lot of folks are starting to take notice. “Everything’s moving in the right direction,” said D’Angelo Harrison, who led the Johnnies with a game-high 27 points on 6-of-11 shooting from three-point land. “We’re buying into the process.” Lavin, while downplaying the win when a media member asked if it may represent a turning point, echoed Harrison’s comments. “The kids took another positive step forward. Since halftime of the Georgetown game, this team just keeps getting better,” said the fourth-year Red Storm head man. “I see it in practice, I see it in games. I haven’t had a group that fights back like this group.”

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Saturday Preview: Entering February, Stakes Are Raised

Posted by Bennet Hayes on February 1st, 2014

Hello February! College hoops welcomes you into 2014’s second month with a mouth-watering slate of action. You may be sold at “Duke-Syracuse,” but there will be plenty of games that don’t set Carrier Dome attendance records worth watching. That’s not to say that your college basketball fan credentials will be confiscated if you aren’t settling in to your couch for some ACC on ESPN action at 6:30 PM ET today – because they will be – but here are some other storylines to watch on the first day of February.

Perfection Will Be Tested

All Three Unbeatens Are In Action Saturday. With Visitors From Durham In Town, C.J. Fair And Syracuse Look To Be The Most Vulnerable Of The Trio.

All Three Unbeatens Are In Action Saturday. With Visitors From Durham In Town, C.J. Fair And Syracuse Look To Be The Most Vulnerable Of The Trio.

For the first time since 1976, there are three teams 20-0 or better in college basketball, and all three are in action on Saturday. Wichita State shouldn’t have any issues with Evansville (3-6 in the MVC) at The Roundhouse (3:00 PM ET, ESPNU), but both Arizona and Syracuse face serious threats to their dreams of perfection. The Wildcats visit Berkeley to take on a Cal team (10:30 PM ET, P12 Nets) which had been undefeated at home up until Wednesday, when Arizona State squeezed out an overtime win over the Bears. If Mike Montgomery’s team is to add the signature victory of all signature victories to its resume, they will need senior Richard Solomon to have a big game against that impressive Arizona frontcourt. All the way across the country, Duke would be well-served to find a way to match up with the impressive frontcourt of their undefeated opponent. The Blue Devils are not a great rebounding team, but in their game with Syracuse (6:30 PM ET, ESPN), keeping the Orange (ninth nationally in OR%) off the offensive glass will be imperative for Coach K’s squad. On the other end, look for Jabari Parker to get plenty of touches out of the high post. A record crowd is expected at the Carrier Dome for this one, which obviously sounds like good news for Syracuse. Maybe not, though. The last time there was an attendance record set at the dome (last February, versus Georgetown), a do-it-all 6’8” forward named Otto Porter torched the Orange for 33 points and eight rebounds in a lopsided victory for the visitors. Can Parker induce a little déjà vu on Saturday, and end Syracuse’s perfect season while he’s at it?

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Big East M5: 01.29.14 Edition

Posted by Jameson Fleming on January 29th, 2014

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  1. Providence coach Ed Cooley is living proof that it’s never too late to positively change your life. From nearly 350 pounds down to 230, Cooley has spent the last six months redefining his eating and exercising habits in order to get healthy. CBSSports.com’s Matt Norlander detailed the incredible transformation of Cooley as he battled obesity and dealt with a house fire. He’s done all this while turning his Friars around. Providence is coming off one of its best stretches during the last decade and is closer to being a NCAA Tournament than anybody expected after some devastating early-season injuries.
  2. Are Georgetown‘s problems the fault of John Thompson III or circumstances out of his control? For FoxSports.com’s Reid Forgrave, it’s the latter. He thinks the Hoyas are just one part away from being a good team. That part could be Joshua Smith, who is now gone for the year, or Otto Porter. who went pro. It’s hard to buy that explanation because the talent at Georgetown has slowly declined since Thompson took over in the mid-2000s. He’s had a few stars come through, but for the most part the Hoyas’ depth has seemingly decreased each year. It’s come to a head in 2014 with the injuries and suspensions turning Georgetown into one of the worst teams in the Big East.
  3. Creighton’s Grant Gibbs occasionally blogs on For The Win to give college hoops fans a look inside the life of a student athlete. His latest entry gives insight over the way he bonds with his teammates, particularly Will “Big Swag” Artino. His tales about Snapchatting with “Big Swag” are a nice reminder that these college hoops players are just like many of us were in college.
  4. After Creighton thrashed Villanova for 21 three-pointers, questions about whether Villanova was going to collapse popped up. After all, Jay Wright’s clubs from 2010-2012 were a train-wreck defensively so their performance against the Blue Jays probably brought back nightmares from their awful 2012 season. Despite Villanova’s issues against Creighton, Eamonn Brennan says that loss was an anomaly thanks to two consecutive road victories.
  5. Is it time for Marquette to start thinking about next year? The Golden Eagles are 11-9 and one more loss would probably eliminate them from NCAA Tournament contention. Anonymous Eagle, SBNation’s Marquette blog, writes Buzz Williams needs to cut Jamil Wilson‘s and Jake Thomas‘ minutes. They’re both seniors and they’re both having a negative impact on the current team. Wilson is an offensive black hole–a high usage, low efficiency player–while Thomas doesn’t contribute anything except the occasional three. Anonymous Eagle wants to see more minutes going to freshmen John Dawson, Deonte Burton, and Jajuan Johnson.
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Big East M5: 01.27.14 Edition

Posted by Jameson Fleming on January 27th, 2014

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  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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Checking The Panic Meter: Which Teams Should Really Worry About Their January Swoons?

Posted by Bennet Hayes on January 24th, 2014

As Brian Otskey noted earlier this week, January losing streaks have caused a number of once-top teams to tumble down, and in some cases, out of the polls. The rigors of conference play have deflowered those gaudy late December records, prompting a number of far-sooner-than-expected reality checks. Past history will tell you that some of these January slumps will be reduced to mere blips on the radar by March (e.g., the defending champion Louisville Cardinals lost three in a row in the first month of 2013), while others are indeed the beginning of a fade into college hoops oblivion. Wondering about future prospects for fading powers? Here’s a look at where the panic meter should be (10=High Panic, 1=Nothing to worry about) for five of college basketball’s most downward-trending squads.

Georgetown: Panic Meter=10

John Thompson III, Markel Starks And Georgetown Suddenly Have Their Backs Against The Wall

John Thompson III, Markel Starks And Georgetown Suddenly Have Their Backs Against The Wall

With Jabril Trawick not expected back anytime soon (broken jaw), and Josh Smith out indefinitely due to academics (don’t forget that Greg Whittington’s “indefinite” academic suspension a year ago eventually caused him to miss the Hoyas’ final 19 contests), Georgetown is clearly undermanned right now. D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera has been brilliant, and Markel Starks intermittently so, but finding offensive contributions from players who aren’t 6’2” guards has proven impossible since Smith‘s suspension began. With the 10-day forecast looking especially gloomy — top-15 teams Creighton, Villanova and Michigan State are up next for JT3’s club – Georgetown’s season could be very close to finished by the time Super Bowl Sunday arrives. Even if the Hoyas can get Smith and Trawick back by early February, a challenging closing stretch awaits: Six of Georgetown’s final seven opponents are currently ranked in KenPom’s top 75. It’s probably not the way Georgetown wanted to find March peace, but Hoyas’ fans may finally avoid their annual NCAA Tournament heartbreak.

Wisconsin: Panic Meter= 1

If you play basketball in the Big Ten, you are going to lose games. The league is simply too strong top-to-bottom to cruise the entire winter without resistance. Yes, Michigan and Michigan State – losses are coming for you as well (beginning for one of the two on Saturday). In any case, Wisconsin should be just fine. Aside from some struggles from three-point range (likely temporary), the uber-efficient Badgers’ offense has continued to roll, even through their current three-game losing streak. The defense could stand to improve marginally (55th nationally in defensive efficiency), but there is just too much offensive firepower in Madison for Bucky’s train to go too far off the tracks.

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Big East M5: 01.24.14 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on January 24th, 2014

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  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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Otskey’s Observations: Episode IX

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on January 22nd, 2014

Each week throughout the season, RTC columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) will run down his observations from the previous week of college basketball.

Losing Streaks Not Uncommon This Time of Year

It is almost a yearly tradition: fans and the media freaking out over a previously undefeated or one-loss team losing a game or two, or three, or sometimes four, in January. This season has been no exception as the last few weeks have seen teams such as Ohio State, Oregon, Iowa State, Georgetown and Wisconsin hit the skids. The Buckeyes and Ducks have each lost four straight games after starting the season a combined 28-0. Iowa State was 14-0 before losing three straight over the course of the last week-plus. Georgetown was 3-1 in Big East play before suffering three consecutive defeats. Last but not least, Wisconsin, which had run out to an impressive 16-0 start, has suddenly dropped two in a row. There are a number of reasons why this happens. The first is statistical correction. Ohio State is a good team with a woefully inefficient offense; opponents were bound to begin figuring out the Buckeyes and hand them a few losses.

Joel Embiid and Kansas sent Iowa State to the second loss of its current three-game losing streak.

Joel Embiid and Kansas sent Iowa State to the second loss of its current three-game losing streak. (AP)

The same can be said for Oregon and its “Swiss cheese” defense getting exposed. The Ducks can score the ball for sure but it doesn’t matter much when you can’t stop quality opponents. Wisconsin is in the same boat, but not nearly to the same degree. The Badgers have not been defending nearly as well as they usually do and it cost them in recent losses to Indiana and Michigan. Speaking of scheduling, that is another reason why hot teams are prone to January slumps. As conference play takes hold, the opponents get better and there is so much more video to scout and expose teams. The schedule has caught up to Iowa State, which encountered a huge match-up problem in the frontcourt against Kansas and lost two road games to surprise Big 12 teams Oklahoma and Texas. Winning on the road is never easy, especially in conference play, as the Cyclones have found out. As for Georgetown, an injury to Jabril Trawick and an academic issue for Joshua Smith have picked apart the Hoyas’ rotation and made depth a major issue late in games. The Hoyas have blown second half leads in all three of their most recent losses. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big East M5: 01.22.14 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on January 22nd, 2014

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  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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