Big East M5: 02.20.14 Edition

Posted by George Hershey on February 20th, 2014

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  1. St. John’s has been rolling, winning again in a rout of Butler on Tuesday, but they got some bad news prior to that game. Chris Obekpa, a shot-blocking machine, will be out for between 10-14 days due to an injured ankle he suffered in practice and will miss crucial games against Villanova and Xavier. Head coach Steve Lavin said about the matter: “Chris is a central part of what we do on both ends of the court. Our team will have to step up collectively in his absence.” The team will obviously miss his inside defensive presence, but with the way the Johnnies have been playing, they can still pull out two big wins in the coming week. The team has plenty of depth and God’sgift Achiuwa and Orlando Sanchez can fill in down low as capable replacements.
  2. Butler continues to struggle and Tuesday’s loss was another tough defeat to swallow for Brandon Miller’s team. After leading at the half by three, they were run out of the gym by the Red Storm, ultimately losing by 25 points. The team began conference play with a string of losses, but they were still fighting (several games went to overtime). Now, however, the Bulldogs are getting blown out in nearly every outing.  Zak Keefer takes a look at what has gone wrong with this storied program. Kameron Woods was suspended prior to Tuesday’s game and Rene Castro declared he would be transferring away from the program last week. There is considerable instability within and surrounding this program right now, a major cause for concern. Miller has respect from his peers, but losing seasons don’t wear very well at Butler, even given the uptick in competition.
  3. Villanova took another team’s best shot and responded with a double-overtime victory on the road at Providence on Tuesday. ESPN.com‘s Eamonn Brennan takes a look at the team’s response to getting ripped apart by Creighton for the second time this seasson. As one of the premier teams in the Big East, the Wildcats are often going to get their opponents’ best shot. Jay Wright’s team has yet to lose a game this season to a team not named Creighton or Syracuse, something that should help them a great deal on Selection Sunday.
  4. Villanova’s big win was Providence‘s tough loss. In great need of a profile-boosting win, the Friars fought for 50 minutes but simply didn’t have enough to outlast the Wildcats. A win likely would have pushed them well into the projected field of 68, but instead they will have to be nearly perfect down the stretch if they want to play in the NCAA Tournament. Fortunately for Friars fans, coach Ed Cooley is moving on and ready to keep fighting. He said after the loss: “We can put our heads down and feel sorry for ourselves, but at the end of the day we have to get back up and get ready for Butler on Sunday. I know a lot of people are disappointed. I know our fans wanted to win, everybody wanted to win. But you’re playing a top 10 team coming off a loss. Give them credit. They’re a great team.” The Friars have three very winnable games with Butler, Seton Hall, and Marquette coming up, but their season finale at Creighton could be the one that solidifies a postseason berth.
  5. It has been a rollercoaster season for Marquette and head coach Buzz Williams has turned to a number of different lineup combinations to try to find the players who can consistently score. Paint Touches wrote about the lineup that has been most effective for the team this season. Williams turned to that group on Saturday in a big win over Xavier, but unfortunately, the Golden Eagles followed up that win with a tough loss to Creighton Wednesday night. The lineup is equal parts positives and negatives. Derrick Wilson and Jake Thomas have their bright spots but usually do not contribute much offensively. Todd Mayo and Jamil Wilson are solid offensive players, but they are both inconsistent and prone to silly mistakes. Davante Gardner is the team’s best player, but he struggles on the defensive end of the floor. Together the group seems to fit well and complement each other’s strengths, but Marquette, like Butler, isn’t used to being in this position.
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Creighton’s Supporting Cast Appears Up to the Task

Posted by Walker Carey on February 14th, 2014

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Thursday night’s game between Creighton and Butler in Indianapolis.

When Creighton basketball has been mentioned over the past several seasons, Doug McDermott has rightfully been the primary focus of conversation regarding the Blue Jays. As a senior this season, McDermott has emerged as the heavy favorite for every national player of the year award. He is averaging over 25 points per game along with seven rebounds per contest for a 20-4 Creighton squad that is right in the thick of things in the race for the Big East crown. If the Blue Jays win the Big East and if they make noise in the NCAA Tournament will have a lot to do with the supreme talent of Doug McDermott; however, the team’s success has not and will not be only because of McDermott’s heroics. Creighton not only has arguably the best player in college basketball, but it also has a very capable supporting cast of role players that has been very essential to the team’s success.

McDermott is the Show, but Creighton is More Than Their Star (Getty Images).

McDermott is the Show, but Creighton is More Than Their Star (Getty Images).

The most heralded member of Creighton’s supporting cast this season has been senior forward Ethan Wragge. After spending his first three seasons of eligibility in a reserve role for the Blue Jays, Wragge has stepped up his production with his entry into the starting lineup. His scoring average has gone from 7.7 points per game as a junior to 11.6 points per game as a senior. Wragge also grabbed plenty of national attention after he exploded for 27 points on nine made three-pointers in Creighton’s blowout victory at Villanova on January 20. The program has recognized the senior’s contributions and honored its bearded sharpshooter with Lumberjack Night at the CenturyLink Center when it hosted DePaul on February 7.

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New Big East Members Proving Doubters Wrong

Posted by George Hershey on December 31st, 2013

Before the season began, many pundits thought that the carry-over members of the Big East would do the heavy lifting as the new league got its feet wet. CBSSports.com, for example, predicted Creighton to finish third, Xavier sixth, and Butler eighth. ESPN.com picked Creighton to finish atop the league, but had Butler sixth and Xavier eighth. As just one example, one writer said about the Bulldogs: “New head coach Brandon Miller is left with a depleted roster in a new conference… the roster as a whole certainly does not reflect an NCAA Tournament team.” It was an understandable position — after losing its fantastic head coach, two best players to graduation, and top returning player to injury, Butler had major question marks. As for Creighton, the Bluejays brought back one of the best players in the nation in Doug McDermott, but there were doubts about their step up in competition from the Missouri Valley Conference, especially on the defensive end. Xavier too returned a great player in Semaj Christon, but the rest of the team was a major unknown and coming off a disappointing 17-14 season by Musketeers’ standards.

Xavier heads into conference play after an impressive start (Frank Victores/USA Today)

Xavier heads into conference play after an impressive start
(Frank Victores/USA Today)

Even though there were doubts and concerns from many of the experts, all three teams are making a case for an NCAA Tournament spot come March. Heading into the start of conference play on New Year’s Even, Creighton has only lost two games, back-to-back defeats to San Diego State and George Washington while at the Wooden Classic in Southern California. They have been very impressive otherwise, with the second-best adjusted offense according to Ken Pomeroy, and an improved, if not elite, defense (ranking 16 spots higher than last season at #64). McDermott, as expected, has been a strong NPOY candidate, and the rest of the team has shot the ball very well, making 44 percent of their threes (the third-best mark in the nation).

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Three Thoughts as Butler Overpowered Richmond

Posted by WCarey on January 16th, 2013

Walker Carey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Wednesday night’s game between Richmond and Butler. You can follow him at @walkerRcarey.

Butler has not lost a game since falling to Illinois in the championship game of the Maui Invitational on November 21, but the Bulldogs did suffer a loss this past Saturday when leading scorer Rotnei Clarke experienced a sprained neck in the team’s win at Dayton. It became known Monday night that Clarke would miss two games — Wednesday versus Richmond and Saturday night against #9 Gonzaga — as he recovers from the injury. In tonight’s game with Richmond, the Bulldogs proved there was a lot more to their team than just Clarke as they led the whole game on their way to a dominant 62-47 victory. The following are three thoughts from Wednesday’s game:

  1. Butler completely outworked Richmond on the boards (and that might be an understatement) – Butler outrebounded Richmond by a 53-20 margin tonigh — think about that. Butler had as many offensive rebounds as Richmond had total rebounds. The Bulldogs effectively held the Spiders to just six offensive boards. Those 20 offensive rebounds by the Bulldogs led to 21 second-chance points. Butler’s inside presence, led by starters Andrew Smith and Roosevelt Jones along with reserve Kameron Woods, grabbed a total of 26 rebounds while also playing hard-nosed defense that prevented the Spiders from getting anything going in the post. On a night where the Bulldogs shot just 37.5% from the field, they used their dominant rebounding effort to pave the way to an important conference victory.

    Brad Stevens Knows How To Direct His Team

  2. Andrew Smith’s production has been key to Butler’s success – In Butler’s December 15 win over Indiana, Smith went toe-to-toe with National Player of the Year candidate Cody Zeller and held his own – even outplaying him for stretches of the upset victory. Smith has proven that his performance was no fluke, as he has become a very important part of the team’s success on both ends of the court. Since Atlantic 10 play began, Smith has taken his game to an even higher level. In the conference opener at Saint Joseph’s, he tallied 24 points and collected 10 rebounds. In the Bulldogs’ win at Dayton, Smith’s senior leadership along with his 13 points helped lead the team through the adversity of Clarke’s injury to another important road win. Against Richmond, Smith turned in another quality performance by controlling the paint and tallying 15 points and seven rebounds. The Atlantic 10 is going to provide the Bulldogs with stiff competition each night, so they are going to need Smith to remain a strong inside presence in order to keep winning. Read the rest of this entry »
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RTC Conference Primers: #13 – Horizon League

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 24th, 2011

Jimmy Lemke of PantherU.com is the RTC correspondent for the Horizon League. You can find his daily ramblings @PantherU or @JimmyLeMKE on Twitter.

Reader’s Take I

Last season, the Horizon League put four teams in the postseason — can it do it again?


Top Storylines

  • Eli Holman’s Leave of Absence: The Detroit big man is easily the best returning post player in the H-League, but whether or not he will return is a big question. Holman was placed on “indefinite leave” from the team at the end of September to handle some legal issues drawn from an incident at a fraternity house earlier in the month. Big Ten fans will remember Holman as the player who left Indiana after getting into a confrontation with then new coach Tom Crean.  Without Holman, the Titans have a big hole in the post and would have to rely more heavily on Nick Minnerath and LeMarcus Lowe to pick up the pieces of a broken inside game.  They still have some of the best talent in the league, but without that dominant force, who knows what they’ll get.
  • Kaylon Williams In Trouble:  Milwaukee got some bad news as well, with starting point guard Kaylon Williams getting pulled over in Iowa and blowing a .228 BAC.  What makes matters worse for Williams is that he fled the scene on foot, although he was picked up shortly afterward.  No official word has come down from the university on punishment besides a short statement from head coach Rob Jeter. “We are aware of the situation involving Kaylon Williams.  We are disappointed and will take appropriate action as we gather more information and the legal process runs its course.”  This is Williams’ first offense and it is unclear how much, if any, time he will miss.  Last season, Milwaukee had difficulty with Williams off the floor, but prepared for further uncertainty by recruiting junior college player Paris Gulley and high school point guard Shaquille Boga.

It Says Here That Matt Howard Was the Difference Maker at Butler

  • Butler’s Back Again: Obviously, the college basketball world is familiar with the recent NCAA Tournament dominance of Butler.  “Familiar” might not be the word; “obsessed” may be closer.  In any case, Butler came a 50-footer from the title in 2010 when no one thought they would make it. They suffered a poor shooting night in 2011 to keep the Bulldogs from that elusive title when no one thought they’d be back.  Is it so crazy to say that they could make another run to the Final Four?  The answer is yes.  While losing Gordon Hayward and some key players from the previous year’s team didn’t spell the end for them in 2010-11, 2011-12 will be a different story.  Forget Shelvin Mack, Hayward, and even Brad Stevens.  To me, the one person that deserves the most credit for both of these runs is Matt Howard.  We all knew from day one that he was a special player, and what lack of NBA athleticism (he’s still athletic) he had was made up big time in his skill, determination, and intelligence. To me, he’s the best leader-by-example in basketball that I have ever seen, and his graduation means someone else at Butler will have to try and pick up that torch.  You can replace Shelvin Mack’s scoring and Zach Hahn’s knack for the timely three-pointer, but you can’t replace Matt Howard’s… Matt Howard.
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