Four Big Ten Offseason Storylines to Follow

Posted by Brendan Brody on April 27th, 2017

Now that the 2016-17 college basketball season has been put to bed, it’s time for hoopheads to peer into the future and prepare for the 2017-18 season. There is a fair amount of intrigue attached to how the Big Ten will look next season, so here’s a quick look at the biggest stories to consider within the league over the next several months.

The draft decision of Miles Bridges set the bar for the 2017-18 Big Ten championship. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

  • The Return of Miles Bridges: Michigan State’s uber-talented forward decided to stay in school for his sophomore season, making the Spartans the clear favorite to win the Big Ten and enter next season ranked among the nation’s top five. Plenty of solid pieces were already slated to return to East Lansing next season — sophomores Nick Ward, Cassius Winston, and Joshua Langford — but having the future lottery pick back means Tom Izzo is smiling this offseason.

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Point Guard Play Already an Issue at Georgetown

Posted by Mike Knapp on November 16th, 2016

Coming into this season, the biggest question surrounding Georgetown was whether it would finally let go of the Princeton offense. While head coach John Thompson III has experienced considerable success — including a 2007 trip to the Final Four — running the patient, half-court oriented system, last season’s 15-18 overall record (7-11 Big East) seemed to have been something of a breaking point. In the Hoyas’ first game this season against South Carolina Upstate, Georgetown pushed the ball in transition, fill the lanes on the fast break, and pressed after made baskets. It was refreshing to a see a Thompson team play with so much freedom, especially given the athleticism he currently has on his roster.

Georgetown Pushed the Ball in (USA Today Images)

Georgetown Pushed the Ball Against Maryland When the Referees Let Them Play (USA Today Images)

Tuesday night’s one-point loss to Maryland was a different story. The Hoyas tried to establish the frenetic pace they had showcased in their season opener, but an astonishing 56 foul calls between the two teams prevented either from finding much of an offensive rhythm. Despite the stagnant nature of the game’s flow, the loss also revealed a major flaw for the Hoyas’ plan to push the ball this season. It takes a competent point guard to keep up the pace, and Thompson’s early season choice to start freshman Jagan Mosley at the position (59 percent of the point guard minutes) is already causing problems. Despite having great size at 6’3″ and possessing many point guard intangibles, Mosley never played consistent minutes there in high school. Junior Tre Campbell has also seen minutes at the position (20%) so far this season, but he has been plagued by the same indecisiveness that hurt him last year — including a late turnover against Maryland. Junior college transfer Jonathan Mulmore has seen a few minutes in the spot as well, but he did not yet look ready for the big stage on Tuesday night — also committing a critical turnover down the stretch.

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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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Behind a Cloudy Georgetown Start Emerges a Shining Sophomore

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 23rd, 2015

As with any Georgetown game over the past two seasons, all eyes were focused on the All-Big East First Team nominee. Opponents watched his every move as he came off ball screens, flared behind the three-point line or looked to score with the ball in his hands. After all, the 6’3″ combo guard has been held below 10 points just three times in his last 34 games. So it comes as a bit of a surprise that such a highly regarded, attention-grabbing player has played in such an under-the-radar fashion so far this year. Four games into his senior season, D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera is averaging only 13.6 PPG and shooting just 41.3 percent from the field, his lowest marks since his freshman year. He played better against Duke on Sunday — tallying 14 points and six assists — but Smith-Rivera has certainly left much to be desired as the team’s go-to scorer. His coach, John Thompson III, however, remained unfazed: “I’m not worried about D’Vauntes, he’ll be just fine.”

Isaac Copeland is getting it done on both ends of the court. (AP)

Isaac Copeland is getting it done on both ends of the court. (AP)

After playing what might be the toughest schedule in the country through four games, Georgetown stands at a less than desirable 1-3 mark. What that record doesn’t reveal is that, while Smith-Rivera has struggled, we are simultaneously witnessing the development of the next Hoyas’ star. A jump in productivity as a sophomore is a common phenomenon, especially in Georgetown’s system centered around perimeter passing and backdoor cuts. So when Isaac Copeland scored 21 points on 7-of-14 shooting and grabbed a team-high six rebounds against Duke, it was hard not to notice. The 6’9″ forward had shown flashes of ability last season but mostly played a complementary role behind leading offensive threats Smith-Rivera and Joshua Smith. In the offseason, Copeland saw the opportunity and he pounced. “I think the main thing is he worked extremely hard,” said Thompson III. “Freshman year he spent some time trying to figure things out, now he understands and has settled in not thinking and now playing.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Big East Season Preview: The Contenders (#1-#3)

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 11th, 2015

Over the last two days, we covered the group of Big East teams that are likely to be on the outside looking in (#7-#10) followed by the group of dark horses that could go either way (#6-#4). Today’s group falls under the “almost certain to win” category — in other words, the contenders. While it’s true that there are some strong teams within the middle-tier category as well, a clear, distinctive line exists between the groupings. All three of the league contenders should be in the Top 25 on a weekly basis, and each one has a strong case for winning the conference.

3. Butler

Andrew Chrabascz will be looking to improve upon a breakout sophomore campaign. (Butler Athletics)

Andrew Chrabascz will be looking to improve upon a breakout sophomore campaign. (Butler Athletics)

The Bulldogs fall into a strikingly familiar predicament as Xavier, only the impact of their losses is less significant. Gone are starters Alex Barlow and Kameron Woods, both of whom provided a strong defensive presence but neither a game-changing impact. In come two transfers and a 6’10” freshman, Nate Fowler. What does this mean for Butler? Perhaps predictably, more of the same old “grind-it-out” basketball that the program is known for. Leading scorers Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones are back for their senior seasons and center Andrew Chrabascz will be looking to improve upon a breakout sophomore campaign. Moreover, Tyler Lewis, NC State’s former starting point guard, is eligible and should elevate Butler on the offensive end of the floor. Given the team’s experience and offensive versatility at every position, it seems that just about all of the pieces are in place for a successful season. The Bulldogs enter the season nationally ranked (#24) and with two preseason conference first teamers (Dunham and Jones), but it seems as if they’re still being overlooked. Head coach Chris Holtmann will undoubtedly use this to his advantage, but there should be no doubt that shotmaker extraordinaire Dunham and his helter-skelter counterpart Jones will keep Butler in contention all season long. Read the rest of this entry »

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After a Long Climb, Georgetown Once Again Atop the Big East

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on January 22nd, 2015

Monday night was it, “it” being the capstone moment of Georgetown’s slow rise to the Big East mountain top that began when the Florida Gulf Coast debacle happened and was followed by Otto Porter’s subsequent departure to the NBA. What made that night so special? The Hoyas hosted #4 Villanova – an original Big East member, longtime conference rival, and the unquestioned dominant team in the league – with first place in the conference standings at stake. Just two days before, Georgetown had fended off pesky Butler from giving the Hoyas their second home loss of the season (the first was to Kansas), avenging an earlier loss to the Bulldogs in the Battle 4 Atlantis. In Monday night’s dominant 20-point win over the Wildcats, Georgetown notched the program’s best victory in over three years and showed once and for all that Hoyas basketball is indeed back.

Students celebrate after Georgetown routed Villanova for first place in the Big East.

Students celebrate after Georgetown routed Villanova for first place in the Big East (USATSI).

After a successful 2012-13 regular season when Georgetown won a share of the Big East regular season title, head coach John Thompson III had to regroup with Porter leaving to become a lottery pick and it becoming clear that Greg Whittington would not remain a part of the program. To kickstart the rebuilding process, Thompson convinced Joshua Smith to transfer from UCLA and also inked a top-15 recruiting class full of talented players who are likely to stay within the program for several years. What’s been the result two years hence is that four of the five players among that group of freshmen play significant minutes for a team that is now evenly dependent on veterans and young players. Thompson has done a laudable job in meshing the roles between the two and has his team improving with each passing game.

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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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Paul White’s Emergence is Another Step in the Right Direction for Georgetown

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 8th, 2014

It was than less two weeks ago when Georgetown reintroduced itself to the college basketball world as a team to be feared. Its win over Florida in overtime and near-defeat of national title contender Wisconsin in the Battle 4 Atlantis demonstrated as much. Despite finishing the event with a disappointing loss to Butler (and a 1-2 record), it was not enough to dissuade what experts had seen with their own eyes, which was a poised team with a healthy mix of veteran and talented young players. This was expressed succinctly by ESPN’s Jay Bilas when he said “Georgetown hoops is back!” during its run at the Badgers. One of Georgetown’s budding stars is Paul White, who scored 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting in the Hoyas’ 78-46 win against Towson on Sunday afternoon at the BB&T Classic. White has scored in double-figures during the last four games and represents the depth of Georgetown’s potential that impressed so many pundits two weeks ago.

paul white

Freshman Paul White has scored double-figures for Georgetown in their last four games. (Tim Aylen/AP Photo).

White is a Chicago native who played for Whitney Young, a virtual incubator for high-major talent — his teammates in high school were Duke’s Jahlil Okafor and current Hoya L.J. Peak. Despite being a top 75 recruit himself, White got overshadowed as the Chicago media focused most of its attention on the more captivating pursuits of Okafor and Kansas’ Cliff Alexander. Coming into this season, it was his teammates Peak and Isaac Copeland who were expected to make an immediate impact for John Thompson’s team, but White was presented an opportunity to distinguish himself given Georgetown’s relatively shallow bench. The lanky forward initially stayed within the comfort zone of jump shots, earning him only 10 points over the first three games. But since the trip to the Bahamas, White has been more amenable to absorbing contact on his drives, leading to nine free throw attempts in his last four outings (when he previously had none). By getting to the charity stripe regularly, White averaged 10.0 PPG during the Battle 4 Atlantis, more than double what he had averaged coming into the islands.

On Sunday, the young Chicagoan continued to show the versatility of his game against Towson, making a career-high three three-pointers on four attempts. For the season, White now has a true shooting percentage of 63.8 percent and an offensive rating of over 110.0 (more than 130.0 in the last three games). Hoyas’ fans are hoping that this was a prelude for what’s to come from him in the team’s match-up against Kansas (and Alexander) on Wednesday night. If the young stretch forward can keep playing at an efficient level, and Josh Smith remains on the floor, and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera continues to fill the stat sheet, the Hoyas should have a great chance to secure the marquee non-conference win that they let slip through their hands against Wisconsin. In the long term, White’s emergence will speed up the maturation process for the team as a whole by reducing the load that the others will have to carry, resulting in a more diversified offense that can get the Hoyas back to where they belong — in the NCAA Tournament.

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Freshmen Consistency Will Key Success For Georgetown

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on November 19th, 2014

It was obvious when John Thompson III inked his consensus top 15 recruiting class that he would be relying on those five recruits to make an immediate impact on his program. While there is no transcendent player who headlines the class, the group is talented enough to the point where JTIII can play each of them significantly — 36 percent of all available minutes through two games, to be exact — and put as many as three freshmen on the floor at the same time. On Saturday, his assuredness paid off as freshmen carried Georgetown to an easy victory against St. Francis (NY) by scoring 42 of the Hoyas’s 83 total points. But on Tuesday night in the team’s 78-62 win over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, the Hoyas’ head coach was forced to deal with some of the inconsistency that comes with youth. Against the Islanders, his heralded corps of rookies only chipped in 16 of the 78 total points. This issue of consistency will need to be addressed if Georgetown hopes to crack the Top 25 and get the national attention that they’re used to.

JTIII will need L.J. Peak to be aggressive every night to win the Big East (Jonathan Newton/Washington Post).

JTIII will need L.J. Peak to be aggressive in every outing to win the Big East (Jonathan Newton/Washington Post).

The group that was so impressive over the weekend was far less so on Tuesday night, taking a number of bad shots and committing half of the team’s 16 turnovers. L.J. Peak, a wing from Gaffney, South Carolina, and the only starter from his class, led all scorers with 23 points on 8-for-8 shooting in Georgetown’s season opener, but he struggled to contribute 10 points on 3-of-10 shooting on Tuesday. Three others — Isaac Copeland, a power forward from Wolfeboro, New Hampshire; Paul White, another power forward from Chicago, Illinois; and Tre Campbell, the only Washington DC native — all played significant minutes in both games. But their performances in each were in stark contrast with one another – as a collective, the trio went from 19 points over the weekend to a mere six on Tuesday. The decline was felt systematically, as the Hoyas went into the half tied with the Southland Conference team. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Freshman 15: Preseason Freshman of the Year Watch List

Posted by Alex Joseph on November 12th, 2014

The 2013-14 NCAA freshman class was packed with stars. Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid, Aaron Gordon, Julius Randle and Noah Vonleh were all top 10 picks in the 2014 NBA Draft. Not far behind that group were Zach LaVine (No. 13), James Young (No. 17) and Tyler Ennis (No. 18). Will the 2014-15 NCAA freshman class deliver nine first-round draft picks? While it’s doubtful, it’s certainly possible. This is a deep class full of talented players with completely different skill sets. RTC has compiled a list of 15 hopeful freshmen that have a solid shot at winning this upcoming season’s INTEGRIS Wayman Tisdale Freshman of the Year award.

Let’s start with the player most pundits believe will hold up the trophy at the end of the season.

The Favorite

Duke's Jahlil Okafor is the favorite (left) but the guys on the right (Arizona's Stanley Johnson,

Duke’s Jahlil Okafor is the favorite (left) but the guys on the right (Arizona’s Stanley Johnson, Kansas’ Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre and UNLV’s Rashad Vaughn) will also be right in the mix.

Jahlil Okafor, Duke – 6’11”, 272 pounds: If it weren’t for Emmanuel Mudiay (who chose to play overseas in lieu of a year of college), Okafor might be the consensus No. 1 NBA draft pick in 2015. Okafor has the size and length (7’5” wingspan) to not only be an interior force on offense, but he’s going to be a solid rim-protector on defense. Don’t be fooled by his weight, either. At 272 pounds, Okafor has surprisingly great mobility and athleticism. His ability to run the floor and his soft hands will make him a prime candidate to receive transition lobs on the fast break. As of now, Okafor is strictly a back-to-the-basket player who needs to develop a consistent mid-range jumper to round out his game. He also needs to work on his free throw shooting, as he figures to spend a lot of time there this season.

In the Discussion

  • Stanley Johnson, Arizona – 6’7”, 235 pounds: Johnson might actually be the most complete player in this class. He is a polished, two-way player and an above-average ball-handler for his size. He uses his high motor skills and never-ending energy to produce in transition, absorbing any and all contact as he makes his way to the rim. The knock on Johnson right now is that he needs to become a more consistent shooter and develop more range. Depending on what Arizona head coach Sean Miller wants to do with him, Johnson could find himself as the starting shooting guard in the Wildcats’ lineup. His versatility allows him to play multiple positions, but if he starts at the two, then he is going to need to become a floor-spacer with consistency. It will be interesting to see how Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson play next to each other, as they have very similar size and playing styles.

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