Big East Weekend Wrap: Vol. IV

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 16th, 2014

The Big East Weekend Wrap will cover news and notes from the weekend’s games.

With only two weeks left before conference play gets under way, eight Big East teams remain squarely in contention for an NCAA Tournament bid. While it might be too early to draw any definitive conclusions, it’s something to monitor as the season progresses. Currently both Joe Lunardi and Jerry Palm project six Big East teams into their fields, with two others — Creighton and Providence — on the outside of the bubble. Coming off a light weekend of Big East action, below are three key takeaways.

Butler Failed to Close Things Out at Tennessee Over the Weekend (USA Today Sports)

Butler Failed to Close Things Out at Tennessee Over the Weekend (USA Today Sports)

  1. Butler and DePaul both lost their edge in the closing minutes. It was a tough Sunday for two teams in drastically different situations. Butler brought its #15 ranking into Knoxville – a difficult environment for any visiting team – while DePaul tried to prove that its 6-3 start was for real. Butler showcased its defensive stinginess in the first half versus the Vols, only to give away a 12-point lead and crumble in the final minutes. Roosevelt Jones and Alex Barlow struggled as perimeter defenders against Tennessee’s longer, more athletic guards, allowing them access into the lane time and time again. But if Tennessee’s 59.3 percent second half shooting wasn’t enough of an issue, Kellen Dunham’s tendency for poor decision-making made matters worse. The junior took 11 of his 14 field goal attempts from beyond the arc and then proceeded to use the second half to pass up open looks and dribble into traffic. If the Bulldogs can’t generate consistent stops, they turn into a much less effective team too dependent on getting Dunham open looks. On another note, it might be in Chris Holtmann’s interest to give rising freshman Kelan Martin more playing time; the 6’6″ wing is averaging just as many points as Jones (10.8 PPG) but in half the time (16.1 MPG). Meanwhile, DePaul managed to commit enough turnovers in the closing minutes of its game on Sunday to blow a solid lead against Illinois State. To be honest, the Blue Demons’ starting lineup is remarkably competent on the offensive end; Myke Henry has emerged as a true leader, with Jamee Crockett and Tommy Hamilton IV adding wing and inside dimensions. But as with prior years, many of the same issues remain: turnovers and defense. Oliver Purnell will have to find a way to fix at least one of those weaknesses before the program takes another step forward. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East Stock Watch: Butler and Seton Hall Rising

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 4th, 2014

It’s been close to three full weeks since the season tipped off, and despite most teams only playing between six and seven games, some of the results have been drastic enough to change some of the predictions that were made at the start of the season. Some teams have won games they weren’t expected to; others have lost games that they should have won. But at the end of the day, a team will only go as far as its talent takes it. Below is a list of Big East candidates whose outlook has been revised, for better or for worse.

Stock Up

Kellen Dunham and Friends

Kellen Dunham and Friends Have Two High-Quality Wins on Their Resume Already

Butler: The word outperform can’t be used in a discussion about Big East teams without first mentioning Butler. Butler was originally pegged to finish seventh in the league standings, tied with Marquette and just three votes ahead of ninth. Instead, through seven games, the Bulldogs find themselves at 6-1 with neutral floor wins over both North Carolina and Georgetown. So, why the discrepancy from prediction to performance? Without the scoring of graduated Khyle Marshall (14.9 PPG) and transferred Elijah Brown (6.8 PPG), many thought that the team’s already inefficient offense would go from bad to worse. As a primary example, Butler shot 31.4 percent from three (306th in the country) and 65.6 percent from the line (311th) last season, marking the second lowest effective field goal percentage the Bulldogs have had in their last 13 seasons. Everyone knew Roosevelt Jones, who played such an integral part in the team’s 27-9 season two years ago, would be back from injury, but he had always served as more of a play-maker than a true scorer. Kellen Dunham, the team’s leading scorer, was the only returning player who averaged more than 7.5 PPG.

What changed has been the contributions of everyone else on the floor. Senior Alex Barlow has been a tough, fearless point guard on the defensive end alongside forwards Kameron Woods and Andrew Chrabascz, each of whom has more than held his own on the low block against bigger opponents. Despite ranking in the bottom third nationally in effective height, the Bulldogs are 58th in limiting opponents’ offensive rebounding percentage. Additionally, Butler has been adept at forcing turnovers and playing physical interior defense, forcing teams to beat them with outside shooting (which they haven’t, at least not yet). Above all though, the biggest surprise has been the play of 6’6″ freshman forward Kelan Martin. Martin received a handful of offers at the D-I level, mostly from mid-major and mediocre high-major schools, but he was not touted as a difference-maker coming into this season. Yet the freshman has shattered all reasonable expectations: In just 16.3 minutes per game, he has averaged 10.9 points and 3.1 rebounds per contest. Butler has historically used short rotations, but Martin has proven his worth by playing both inside and outside. With Dunham and Jones in foul trouble against North Carolina, for example, it was Martin who stepped up in the second half, chipping in 17 points and six rebounds. At this point, nobody can question Butler’s talent as they have played themselves into the Top 25. Its biggest question marks will remain on the offensive end, where foul trouble has sometimes depleted the team’s proven scorers in an already limited rotation.

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Big East Weekend Wrap: Vol. I

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 17th, 2014

The Big East Weekend Wrap will cover news and notes from the weekend’s games.

After an 11-game slate of games for the Big East’s 10 teams,  the league remains perfect. While none of those 11 games were against top competition, wins are wins at this point in the season and losses here can really damage a team’s NCAA Tournament resume. Despite the relative talent imbalance between most of the Big East teams and their opponents, some of these games were shockingly close and may have provided wake-up calls for teams and players who were still stuck in preseason mode. For others, it could be a sign of things to come. Below is a list of five key takeaways from the weekend’s Big East action.

Villanova Made Enough Twos to Make Up for a Cold Shooting Night From Three

Villanova Made Enough Twos to Make Up for a Cold Shooting Night From Three

  • Villanova came out flat, shooting 3-of-23 from deep in the first half before finishing 8-of-33 (24.2%) on the night. Those off nights were a major concern for this team last season when the offense sputtered and failed to create easy baskets when the three-point shot wasn’t falling. Starting guards Dylan Ennis and Ryan Arcidiacono combined for 10-of-28 shooting from the floor while senior wing Darrun Hilliard shot just 4-of-18 and 1-of-9 from deep. The Wildcats forced enough turnovers (28) and got enough points in transition to put Lehigh away, but the win was not a comfortable one by any means. The Wildcats’ shooting numbers are worth watching moving forward.
  • Creighton swept its weekend slate, finishing 2-0 against Central Arkansas and Chicago State by a combined 45 points. The biggest question for the Bluejays coming into this season was how the team would respond without its offensive centerpiece, Doug McDermott. While neither of the above teams was strong enough defensively to provide an answer to this question, the offense continued to fire on all cylinders. Creighton hoisted up a whopping 56 three-point shots in the two games, making just 19 of them, which is disappointing for a team that led the country in this category at 41.5%. Yet the offense was the same free-flowing, unselfish and pass-heavy one we saw last season. Senior center Will Artino was highly efficient with his touches in the paint in limited minutes, with sophomore Isaiah Zierden providing strong scoring output off the bench. Look for Toby Hegner to make a name for himself this season: the 6’9 freshman contributed 17 points and seven rebounds, including 3-of-6 shooting from deep.

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Big East Conference Preview: Seton Hall, Providence & St. John’s

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 12th, 2014

The Big East microsite will preview each Big East team in tiers in preparation for the season’s tipoff on Friday. The bottom tier was released yesterday; it can be found here. Today: Seton Hall, Providence and St. John’s make up the middle tier of the conference.

#6: Seton Hall

The Kevin Willard era hasn't been great so far, but this might be his most talented team. (Getty)

The Kevin Willard era hasn’t been great so far, but this might be his most talented team. (Getty)

The Kevin Willard era at Seton Hall has not been a successful one by any stretch of the imagination. After a 21-10 season at Iona in 2010, Willard’s Pirates have continually found themselves outmatched by Big East opponents, producing just one subsequent season above .500 during his tenure. Yet you can’t argue with his recruiting results of late: In 2013, Willard brought in four-star point guard Jaren Sina, a highly-skilled passer and shooter who was coveted coming by many, with offers from the likes of Memphis, Villanova and Pittsburgh. This year Willard brings in a top-tier recruit in shooting guard Isaiah Whitehead, who ranks #2 in the country at his position. Couple him with a 6’8″ four-star power forward in Angel Delgado, a strong rebounder for his size, and four other three-star recruits and Willard’s latest recruiting class was ranked 12th nationally as a result. Whitehead’s impact is expected to be immediate — the 6’4″ shooting guard was a McDonald’s All-American and has shown an ability to score in a number of different ways. It should come as no surprise that the media pegged him as the favorite to win this season’s Big East Freshman of the Year award. His talent, in addition to the return of backcourt mates Sterling Gibbs and Sina, will without question force opponents to play small in order to contest the Hall’s perimeter attack and stop transition buckets. However, the Pirates also lose three senior starters and junior forward Patrick Auda, and their collective loss of leadership will not go unnoticed. Rising senior Brandon Mobley will also need all the frontcourt help he can get from Delgado and redshirt freshman Rashed Anthony. The Pirates are expected to feature some three-guard sets, and should boast one of the best backcourts in the conference — the key will be finding ways to mask their relative lack of size in the paint, which wasn’t as big of a problem with Gene Teague. An NIT berth is certainly not out of the question for this young, talented squad, and it will completely depend on how well the backcourt gels over the course of the season. Read the rest of this entry »

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Seven Sweet Scoops: A Viewer’s Guide to the McDonald’s All-American Game

Posted by Sean Moran on April 2nd, 2014

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Seven Sweet Scoops is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you seven notes from the high-stakes world of college basketball recruiting. We also encourage you to check out his contributions at The Intentional Fouldedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Note: Scout.com used for all player rankings.

Tonight the top high school players in the country gather to participate in the 37th annual McDonald’s All-American game held at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. Twenty-four of the top ranked high school seniors will provide the college basketball world with a glimpse of what can be expected from the next touted class of youngsters on ESPN at 9:30 PM ET. The high school class of 2014 might not have the star power similar to last year in a game that featured the likes of Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, Jabari Parker and Aaron Gordon, but there are still several good storylines and match-ups to keep an eye on during tonight’s contest.

1. Chicago Natives At Home

There are three McDonald’s All-Americans from Chicago this year, including two of the top five players in the country. Five-star center Jahlil Okafor and five-star power forward Cliff Alexander will suit up for the East and West squads, respectively. The two played together on the AAU circuit this past summer and faced off in high school action several times over the last three years. Okafor is considered the No. 1 player in the country and is headed to Duke next year, while Alexander is ranked No. 5 and has committed to Kansas. Alexander put together a monster senior campaign, but it was Okafor who won the Illinois state title. Okafor and Alexander excel with different styles although they are both low post scorers. The 6’11” Okafor has the more refined post game and is almost impossible to stop in a one-on-one situation while Alexander is a DeAndre Jordan clone who looks to dunk and block everything in sight. While these two might not match up in tonight’s game, you can be certain that they will both have the hometown crowd on their feet. To go along with the Windy City twin towers, there is also diminutive 5’9” point guard Tyler Ulis (#29). The four-star prospect is headed to Kentucky and will be the quickest player on the court. The floor general is great at beating his man off the dribble and creating easy shots for his teammates. Ulis will suit up on the East squad along with Okafor, while Alexander will play for the West.

2. Where Will Myles Turner Go?

There is only one prospect in the game that remains uncommitted and he is 7’0” center Myles Turner, who is also the No. 2 ranked recruit in the country. This time last year the Texas native wasn’t even considered a top 100 player, but after a meteoric rise last summer he is now the hottest commodity in high school. Turner just recently took an official visit to Texas after previously visiting Ohio State, Duke, Oklahoma State and Kansas. He has also taken unofficial visits to SMU and Texas A&M, and is also reportedly considering Arizona and Kentucky. It’s been a whirlwind journey for Turner, who plans to sit down with his advisers and family after the Jordan Brand Classic to discuss his choice of suitors.

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Who’s Got Next? Top McDonald’s All-American Match-Ups

Posted by Sean Moran on February 3rd, 2014

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Who’s Got Next? is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you an overview of what’s going on in the complex world of recruiting, from who is signing where among the seniors to discussing the recruitments of the top uncommitted players in the country. We also encourage you to check out his contributions at The Intentional Foul dedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Note: Scout.com used for all player rankings.

This past week 24 of the top high school seniors in America were selected for the most prestigious prep event in the country, the McDonald’s All-American game. After moving around to different spots for a number of years, this game is now held each year at the United Center in Chicago and gives college basketball fans a chance to catch the soon-to-be top incoming college freshman. NBA general managers and front office staff also descend on the Windy City in order to watch the team practice sessions held the two days prior in order to assess the prospects that will start to enter the NBA Draft in 2015 and beyond. This year’s event features many interesting personnel match-ups that will take place in the practice sessions and in the nationally-televised game. There were also several surprise selections to the rosters and a few noticeable omissions, all of which we’ll cover below.

Top Game Match-Ups

1) Jahlil Okafor, 6’11”, C (#1 overall) vs. Myles Turner, 7’0”, C (#2 overall)

The top two players in the country will face-off at opening tip on April 2. The two big men matched up back in August during the championship of the Adidas Nations tournament in Long Beach, California, but this time around the stage will be much brighter. Jahlil Okafor, the hometown favorite, has been groomed for this day from the time he first stepped on the court for Whitney Young (IL) as a freshman. Myles Turner, on the other hand, was not even a top 100 prospect one year aga, but a scintillating summer and high school season vaulted him up the recruiting rankings and to the top of many NBA Draft boards. Okafor’s game is based on power and a soft touch close to the basket while Turner is a long, lean and versatile center. Okafor has been frustrated this season with the constant double- and triple-teams and will finally face a man-to-man defense when going up against the superb shot-blocker, Turner. Okafor committed to Duke in the fall and Turner is the top uncommitted prospect in the country with the Blue Devils in his final six along with Kansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma State, Ohio State and Texas.

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Big East M5: 01.31.14 Edition

Posted by George Hershey on January 31st, 2014

bigeast_morning5(2)

  1. Creighton and Villanova have shot up the rankings this season with great guard play and effective outside shooting. ESPN‘s John Gasaway wrote an article recently looking at the teams with the highest percentage of attempts that come from behind the arc. Creighton takes 43.1 percent of its shots from deep, but Gasaway points out how effective they have become at shooting two-pointers (54.8 percent of their twos in conference action) and how their defense is also much improved (surrendering 1.02 points per possession). Villanova has a similar profile in all three aspects. They take 42.7 percent of their shots from three, making 54 percent of their twos and allowing 1.04 points per possession. It’s interesting just how similar the two best teams in the league are and we will probably see a much closer game the second time these teams meet in Omaha. 
  2. Former Ohio State walk-on and current Grantland writer Mark Titus may not have the most accurate power rankings out there, but he definitely has the funniest. Titus likes to make jokes, but he is also very smart about basketball and makes compelling points along the way. This week he has Creighton Doug McDermott in his eighth national spot. Although he jokes about McDermott and his impressive recent play, he has a great quote about Creighton as a team, saying, “The Bluejays have become appointment viewing. If their shooting outburst against Villanova wasn’t enough to convince you of this, McDermott’s heroic effort should cement their status. No matter who they’re playing, you can turn on a Creighton game and be pretty sure you’re going to be thoroughly entertained for two hours.” The team’s ability to go off at any time and McDermott’s NPOY-level play has truly made this team a can’t-miss viewing appointment. 
  3. Buzz Williams must have been listening to all the Marquette writers and fans this week. With articles from Cracked Sidewalks, Anonymous Eagle, and Paint Touches all calling for the underclassmen to get more playing time, Williams put JaJuan Johnson and Deonte Burton into the starting lineup in last night’s impressive win, with John Dawson coming off the bench early. All three played at least 10 minutes while Burton led the trio with nine points and six rebounds. The key with the freshman is to remain aggressive while staying under control and understanding the situation. They showed their confidence attacking the rim and being pesky on defense, but also forced a few unnecessary shots. It seems like Williams likes the energy and production they bring which should help them get more comfortable with the college game in preparation for next season.
  4. Seton Hall has its first McDonald’s All-American since Andre Barrett and Eddie Griffin arrived in 2000. Coney Island native Isaiah Whitehead was named to the team on Wednesday as he finishes up an outstanding high school career. Zach Braziller at the New York Post talked to Whitehead after the announcement, as he follows in the footsteps of Lincoln High School legends Stephon Marbury, Sebastian Telfair and Lance Stephenson. This is a great honor for Whitehead and his arrival next year should excite Seton Hall fans as he leads a stellar class of New York and New Jersey local products.
  5. With the losses of Brandon Austin, Kris Nunn, and Rodney Bullock, Providence guard Josh Fortune has had to consistently play almost the entire game throughout conference play. He has played at least 30 minutes in all but one game, and even played 50 (!) against St. John’s. While Fortune has played a key role for the Friars as Bryce Cotton’s backcourt mate, he has had to focus on basketball while his mother is stationed 6,000 miles away as a colonel in the Army. Kevin McNamara writes about life off the court and how Fortune has to deal with the intermittent communication with his mother. Fortunately for head coach Ed Cooley, Fortune has stepped up and been a consistent producer all season, helping Providence battle for what appeared to be an unlikely NCAA Tournament berth.
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Who’s Got Next? Justin Jackson in Chapel Hill Along With Desi Rodriguez and Malik Marquetti

Posted by Sean Moran on December 31st, 2013

http://rushthecourt.net/mag/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/whosgotnext.jpgWho’s Got Next? is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you an overview of what’s going on in the complex world of recruiting, from who is signing where among the seniors to discussing the recruitments of the top uncommitted players in the country. We also encourage you to check out his contributions at The Intentional Foul dedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Note: Scout.com used for all player rankings.

Justin Jackson is Ready for Chapel Hill

The top prospect in Roy Williams’ No. 4 rated recruiting class of 2014 is a rather unorthodox Top 10 recruit. Small forward Justin Jackson has been on the national radar since his freshman year in high school, a year that included a Sports Illustrated feature as a 15-year old. But he won’t be labeled a one-and-done prospect the minute he puts on a Carolina jersey like many of his highly-touted classmates. Standing at 6’8” and only 180 pounds, the No. 9 ranked player in the country has a slender build that belies a diverse skill set. In the summer of 2011 Jackson was primarily known as a three-point specialist on the Houston Hoops AAU team that was comprised of kids two years older than him. Now in his senior year, Jackson is anything but a long-range specialist, instead relying heavily on his strong mid-range game.

Justin Jackson is headed to North Carolina. (Bart Young/USA Basketball)

Justin Jackson is headed to North Carolina. (Bart Young/USA Basketball)

A rarity in the analytics age of close shots around the basket and corner threes, his patented shot is a floater from eight to 12 feet along with a soft one-dribble jump shot. During the spring and summer of 2013, Jackson teamed up with two other Top 10 prospects in Kelly Oubre (#6 overall – 2014) and Justise Winslow (#10 overall – 2014) to become one of the most efficient players on the AAU circuit. He averaged 17.1 points and 5.6 rebounds per game while shooting 58 percent from the field. He also shot 40 percent from the three-point line, but only attempted 37 treys in 24 games. Previously just an outside shooter, it seemed as though Jackson was not as confident in his jumper entering his senior season and discussed areas for improvement with Scout.com‘s Evan Daniels. “Definitely get stronger and just getting my three-point shot back,” Jackson said. “I’ve been working on it.” Ten games into his senior season, he is averaging 31.7 points per game and was recently named the Most Outstanding Player at the High School OT Invitational held in Raleigh, North Carolina. Read the rest of this entry »

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Who’s Got Next? Isaiah Whitehead and an Under the Radar Jalen Hudson

Posted by Sean Moran on December 24th, 2013

http://rushthecourt.net/mag/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/whosgotnext.jpgWho’s Got Next? is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you an overview of what’s going on in the complex world of recruiting, from who is signing where among the seniors to discussing the recruitments of the top uncommitted players in the country. We also encourage you to check out his contributions at The Intentional Foul dedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Note: Scout.com used for all player rankings.

The Next Brooklyn Star: Isaiah Whitehead

With an alumni list that includes Stephon Marbury, Sebastian Telfair, and Lance Stephenson it’s safe to say that Brooklyn’s Lincoln High has produced its fair share of talented and hyped prospects. Next up on the list is five-star senior shooting guard Isaiah Whitehead. At 6’4” and 200 pounds, Whitehead currently is rated the No. 12 player in the country and top overall shooting guard; however the Seton Hall recruit has seen his fair share of ups and downs over the past four years. Highly touted as Brooklyn’s next big thing when he entered high school, Whitehead was physically more advanced than most of his classmates at the time. While others continued to grow and get stronger, Whitehead hit a plateau. Despite leading Lincoln to a PSAL (Public Schools Athletic League) AA title as a junior, he entered the 2013 spring AAU season as a four-star recruit and the No. 8 shooting guard in the country. Playing for the Juice All-Stars, an AAU program run by his high school coach Dwayne “Tiny” Morton, Whitehead started off hot in April and never cooled off. He played on both the Under Armour and Nike AAU circuits, along with various camps and showcase tournaments. He averaged 16.3 points per game in Nike play while shooting 38 percent from the three point line and in each setting he came away with awards and accolades while steadily climbing up the recruiting rankings. In his last event of the summer, Whitehead received co-MVP honors in the Elite 24, a nationally televised all-star game played under the Brooklyn Bridge which featured numerous top players throughout the country.

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Big East M5: 11.18.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on November 18th, 2013

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  1. Villanova is off to a strong start, and the bloggers over at Big East Coast Bias got together to discuss the Wildcats. The writers are all impressed by senior James Bell, who is off to a torrid start this season, averaging 18 points and 8.5 rebounds per game through three contests. They also delve into Villanova’s standing among the “City 6,” the team’s non-conference slate heading into the Battle 4 Atlantis later this month, and the overall Big East play so far this season (hint: Doug McDermott is good).  The roundtable is a good read for anyone just getting caught up with this early season.
  2. Speaking of Doug McDermott, he flashed some early season heroics in an 83-79 win over a good Saint Joseph’s team, giving the Bluejays the lead with a late jumper and drawing a foul to secure a victory for the Bluejays in a come-from-behind victory. While McDermott will get a lot of credit for the win, and deservedly so with 20 points on 7-of-14 shooting, Ethan Wragge, Devin Brooks and Grant Gibbs all played huge roles in the victory as well. Wragge led the way for the Bluejays with 21 points, while Brooks scored 16 in just 21 minutes of play. McDermott has never really been a question for Creighton, but many wonder how the rest of the team will respond to the increased competition in the Big East; this win over Saint Joseph’s may have gone a long way towards assuaging some of those concerns.
  3. In college basketball recruiting, there are a few selector schools, and the rest of the nation is usually fighting an uphill battle against them when it comes to landing the true blue-chip prospects that define the sport. As a major program in a basketball hotbed like Chicago, one would think that DePaul would be a player in the local recruiting battles, but they are all too often left standing at the altar. The most recent example is Cliff Alexander, the third-ranked player in ESPN’s Top 100, had both the Blue Demons and another in-state program, Illinois, on his final list, before ultimately choosing Kansas. Chicago Sun-Times writer Ken Morrissey was none too impressed, calling the signing event “a funeral.” “I feel bad for Illinois coach John Groce and DePaul coach Oliver Purnell. When Mike Krzyzewski or John Calipari loses a stud recruit, he shrugs and signs another McDonald’s All-American. For Groce, there is no shrugging. I’m guessing there’s something that looks a lot like dry heaving. A player of Alexander’s skills can make all the difference in the world to an Illinois. Or he can bring a program to its knees. I believe Illinois was kneeling Friday.”
  4. In happier Big East recruiting news, Seton Hall‘s lauded 2014 recruiting class is all signed and ready to go. The class, which is currently ranked ninth by 247sports.com, includes top shooting guard prospect Isaiah Whitehead, four star power forward Angel Delgado, guard Khadeen Carrington, and forward Ismael Sanogo. The class is expected to be a transformative one for a Seton Hall program that hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2006 and has gone without a conference title for 20 years. The class also makes a strong mark for the Pirates in their local recruiting areas, with Whitehead and Carrington coming from Brooklyn and Sanogo making the short trip to campus from Newark.
  5. Much has been written about the Seton Hall-Niagara 102 free throw game and what it means for a game that is taking a large step to eliminate the hand-checking that we’ve seen slow down the game in recent years, but that wasn’t the only game with a Big East team that was hugely affected. Marquette-Ohio State, a rematch of last season’s aircraft carrier game that wasn’t, devolved into a brutal slugfest of a game, ending in a 52-35 Buckeye win, a game so hard to watch that it put CBS Sports‘ Matt Norlander to sleep: “I have no shame — in fact, I think this feeling is pride — in telling you that I passed out on my couch for 20 minutes while attempting to get through this one, knowing full well I had to write about it once it was over.”  Many of these games and free throw shooting contests have been hard to watch, but as a fan of the game I still hold onto hope that this is a good thing in the long run. Ugly games in November are a small price to play for exciting, clean basketball come March.
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Big East M5: 11.04.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on November 4th, 2013

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  1. Headlined by national player of the year candidate Doug McDermott, Creighton is probably the most intriguing new member of the Big East, and with the season fast approaching, they want everyone to know that they are not afraid of the spotlight.  Fox Sports‘ Reid Hargrave went in depth on the Bluejays, and their fit within the new-look conference, coming away under the impression that Creighton should fit in just fine: “Just watch these kids play, spreading the floor and using non-stop ball screens and attacking from the perimeter with deadly shooting and always looking for the extra pass. This isn’t grind-it-out Big East basketball. This is the finesse game you’re more likely to see in Europe… But there’s nothing traditional about this new Big East, a conference still searching for its basketball identity.” Hargrave believes that the team’s offensive prowess takes credit away from what should  be a sound defensive unit, even when stacked up against a deeper lineup of conference rivals than what they are accustomed to. The story also includes this note — which should terrify the rest of the league — from head coach Greg McDermott on his superstar son: “But being with him every day, there’s no question he’s getting that shot off quicker.”
  2. A lot of the questions surrounding Creighton have to do with the schedules that they’ve faced in the past.  Doug McDermott thinks that recent history shows that the Bluejays are not afraid of playing high major competition, and the league that they’re coming from had quality teams similar to what they will face this winter. McDermott cites a stat that Creighton’s only losses in 11 recent games against power conference foes have been to the likes of Duke and North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament. Omaha.com‘s piece also brings up 2013 Final Four participant, Wichita State – a team from the Missouri Valley with high-major type talent that Creighton faced annually. The major adjustment in schedules for Creighton, Butler and Xavier will come in the consistent talent and athleticism that they will face on the floor, even from lesser Big East competition like DePaul and Seton Hall.
  3. The new Big East is quite attractive because of the basketball focus of the league. While most schools would love to have remained in a conference with the Syracuses, Louisvilles and UConns of the world, getting away from the myriad of issues surrounding college football is a good thing for the basketball-focused Big East programs, and  the league’s coaches, like Georgetown’s John Thompson III, seem to agree: “The identity is basketball is our religion. It’s a basketball conference.”  The three schools joining the “Catholic Seven” –  Butler, Creighton, and Xavier – definitely share the sentiment, as evidenced by the environments in which they play. Creighton is a regular among top-10 attendance lists, as the Bluejay faithful pack CenturyLink Center, while Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse is one of the toughest places to play in the country. The Big East may not send 11 teams to the NCAA Tournament anymore, or have a handful of top 10 teams at any given moment, but it is back to being all about the hoops.
  4. There is a lot that is new about DePaul basketball this year. The school is in a new league, the staff has added two new coaches, and the roster features eight new players this season. This isn’t a bad thing, as the Blue Demons have struggled to get the program jump-started and have gone without an NCAA Tournament bid since 2004. Oliver Purnell returns a few established players in Cleveland Melvin and Brandon Young who he hopes can guide a young roster back towards the pack in the Big East. Despite being chosen at the bottom of the conference, with two established star players returning, the Blue Demons may surprise some teams yet.
  5. Villanova blog VU Hoops took a look at recruiting in the Big East and how the 10 teams compare with one another and other power conferences across the nation. Seven of the programs have at least one four-star recruit verballed already, with schools like Georgetown, Marquette  and Seton Hall — who has arguably landed the biggest name in guard Isaiah Whitehead — controlling the coveted rankings. The article goes on to compare the Big East to the rest of the recruiting landscape: “When it all shakes out, the new conference will most likely trail the SEC, ACC and Big Ten in terms of the number of commits ranked in the top 150 but not by much. Considering the Big East has fewer teams than each of those conferences, I think the numbers are very impressive and a good sign as the conference moves into the future.”
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Seton Hall’s Fishy Recruiting Tactics

Posted by Chris Johnson on September 20th, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.

There will be some measure of disbelief the first time you see it. Don’t hesitate to look, just know that when you start scratching your head, trying to think of an explanation, your eyes do not deceive you: the above link takes you directly to a list of Seton Hall’s 2014 recruiting class, which now counts three top-100 commitments, including Thursday’s huge addition: Lincoln High School (NY) shooting guard Isaiah Whitehead, a consensus five-star prospect ranked well within the top 40 of any recruiting database, ended his high profile recruitment Thursday when he committed to the Pirates. Whitehead, an explosive 6-foot-3 shooting guard with possible one-and-done designs, received offers from Indiana, Kentucky, Louisville, UCLA, Syracuse, and other big-name high-major programs. Before Thursday’s decision, Whitehead was believed to have narrowed his lengthy list to two schools: St. Johns (who Whitehead visited Wednesday, and thus the school many expected Whitehead to choose) and Seton Hall. As word of the five-star guard’s announcement circulated, it was easy for one’s mind to wander: what led Whitehead to choose Seton Hall, a long-dormant program under Kevin Willard, over the Steve Lavin-led Red Storm? Was there something behind Whitehead’s decision not made apparent at his announcement? That seemed to be the implication from a New York Post report divulging the imminent hiring of Dwayne “Tiny” Morton, Whitehead’s middle school teacher and high school coach (and founder of Juice All-Stars, Whitehead’s AAU team), to Seton Hall’s staff. The sequence of events did not really leave much room for interpretation: Whitehead appeared to be a “package” deal.

If Seton Hall can't compete with top programs for high-level recruits, bundling players assistants is a legal, yet questionable, workaround (Photo credit: Under Armour/Mary Kline)

If Seton Hall can’t compete with top programs for high-level recruits, bundling players assistants is a legal, yet questionable, workaround (Photo credit: Under Armour/Kelly Kline)

I’ll answer the question that surely popped into your brain sometime over the last five seconds: No, there is nothing illegal about Seton Hall’s reported decision to hire Morton. The NCAA instituted a rule last season prohibiting the hiring of third-parties connected to recruits to any position other than one of the three assistant spots allotted to each team. Morton is expected to become one of the Pirates’ three assistants, making his new position perfectly valid – in the eyes of the NCAA. How the rest of the college hoop world (fans, rival coaches, and players) feel about this is another story entirely. Before you make a conclusive judgment, there is a pattern of repeated behavior worth discussing that might influence your opinion. Whitehead may be the latest package deal in Seton Hall’s 2014 class, but he’s not the only one. It was just over a month ago that 2014 four-star forward Angel Delgado’s commitment to Seton Hall was followed weeks later by the Pirates’ hiring of Oliver Antigua, who knew Delgado through his assistant’s role on the national program of Delgado’s native Dominican Republic. Or go back five months earlier, when 2013 point guard Jaren Sina – who reneged on his verbal commitment to Northwestern after the Wildcats replaced former coach Bill Carmody with Chris Collins – opted to join Seton Hall right around the time Fred Hill, a former Northwestern assistant instrumental to the New Jersey-based Sina’s initial commitment to the Wildcats, was added to the Pirates’ staff. That makes Morton’s potential addition Seton Hall’s third prospect-tethered hire under Willard over the past six months.

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