Big East Conference Preview: DePaul, Providence, St. John’s, Marquette

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 7th, 2016

The Big East microsite will be rolling out previews on all 10 teams this week, sorted into three tiers. Today we review the projected bottom tier of teams — DePaul, Providence, St. John’s and Marquette.

#10: DePaul

Eli Cain Wonders When DePaul Will Ever Get Over the Hump (USA Today Images)

Eli Cain Wonders When DePaul Will Ever Get Over the Hump (USA Today Images)

Roster turnover begets roster turnover in Chicago, where the Blue Demons have continually struggled to build upon any success. Now entering his senior year, Billy Garrett Jr.‘s potential never truly materialized so many have turned their attention to sophomore Eli Cain — a long, 6’6 slasher who relentlessly attacks the rim while also connecting on a healthy 42.5 percent of his three-point shots. But while backcourt mates Garrett and Cain should keep DePaul’s offense moving forward, the starting frontcourt has completely dissolved. The first attempt at a solution will be Levi Cook, a 6’10″ transfer who originally committed to West Virginia before a knee injury hampered his recruiting process. The second attempt will be forward Tre’Darius McCallum, a JuCo transfer with two years of eligibility remaining. But until either newcomer demonstrates an ability to compete at a high-major level of basketball, the offense will remain predominantly backcourt-oriented. This might suffice if Cain can improve in finishing around the rim and fourth-year transfer Chris Harrison-Docks supplies a scoring punch off the bench, but winning teams are generally built on two-way players and DePaul hasn’t ranked among the top half nationally in defensive efficiency in six years. Strong defensive units require roster continuity and Dave Leitao clearly needs more time.

#9: Providence

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Marquette’s Troubles Begin With Its Pace

Posted by Justin Kundrat on January 29th, 2016

Marquette may have already matched last season’s win total, but conference success has been hard to come by. A once-dominant, perennial contender in the Big East has fallen by the wayside following the departure of Buzz Williams. And while expectations have been tempered for first-time head coach Steve Wojciechowski, the frustration is already evident. On its face, the Golden Eagles’ frontcourt pairing of Indiana transfer Luke Fischer – an experienced junior with a plethora of post moves – and highly touted freshman Henry Ellenson forms the core of the best offensive frontcourt in the conference. Unsurprisingly, the team is sporting both its best two-point field goal percentage offense and defense of the last 15 years. Marquette has thrived when working through the post, a reality made even more evident when the Golden Eagles shot 54.8 percent inside the arc against Villanova, a team that usually holds opponents to 41.9 percent two-point shooting (16th nationally).

Yet for a team that plays so well in the paint (Fischer and Ellenson shoot a combined 70% at the rim), the team’s offense has been undermined by an odd plan of attack. Entry passes or pick-and-roll plays that have commonly resulted in easy Golden Eagles points are scarcely used; instead, Wojciechowski’s team is playing at an unsustainably quick pace, averaging just 15.7 seconds per possession on offense. The team’s average offensive possession length has decreased from 18.6 seconds (198th nationally) to 15.7 (34th nationally) over the course of one season. This figure is undoubtedly distorted by a high turnover rate and low rebounding rate, but those two issues also plagued last year’s team, and to a similar extent. Perhaps as a result of the relative inexperience of its backcourt players, the quickened pace has Marquette turning the ball over on 20.5 percent of all its possessions, which puts them 296th nationally in the category.

Marquette's Henry Ellenson Plays a Perimeter-Oriented Game (USA Today Images)

Marquette’s Henry Ellenson Plays a Perimeter-Oriented Game (USA Today Images)

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What to Watch For: Key Big East Preseason Storylines

Posted by Justin Kundrat on October 26th, 2015

College basketball is just around the corner. Finally. It seems like ages ago since we last discussed Big East basketball. Maybe that’s because the league had no deep NCAA Tournament runs outside of a Sweet Sixteen appearance from Xavier; or perhaps the droll of mid-summer baseball wasn’t enough to hold us over. Not to worry though, the hibernation period is over. For those who have distanced themselves from offseason news about the Big East for the last six months, here’s your handy primer. There are several key storylines worth monitoring as we approach the start of the regular season.

The Return of the… Freshmen?

(Ralph Thompson/maxpreps)

Jalen Brunson is the one to watch this season. (Ralph Thompson/maxpreps)

Three key players headline the list of Big East recruits this season, and all come at opportune times for their respective teams. The first is Jalen Brunson, recipient of the preseason Big East Freshman of the Year award and a star on the USA FIBA U-19 team over the summer. Brunson is a budding star and arguably the best point guard in his class, setting high expectations that he can provide an immediate scoring punch and carve out a starting role in Villanova’s loaded backcourt. Henry Ellenson, a 6’10″ forward who chose Marquette over the likes of Kentucky and Michigan State, will assume an immediate starting role in the Golden Eagles’ frontcourt alongside returning junior Luke Fischer. Ellenson is a big-bodied forward whose style more closely resembles a Brad Miller/Dirk Nowitzki type than a traditional back-to-the-basket player. And while Brunson might be the bigger household name following his summer breakout, Ellenson should have the larger impact on a resurgent Marquette team that desperately needs his size. Last is Georgetown recruit Jesse Govan, a 6’10″, 260-pound center who truly plays like one. His presence around the rim is game-changing on the defensive end, and as a result, the freshman should see immediate playing time following the departures of Joshua Smith and Mikael Hopkins. Read the rest of this entry »

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Steve Wojciechowski Quietly Rebuilding Marquette With Young Talent

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 7th, 2015

The path to a head coaching position at a high major university is not a beaten one; many of today’s coaches ascended different ladders to get to their current positions. Some coaches got there by taking little-known schools to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament; others took an open position at the same school when their boss moved on; while still others first served as high-profile assistants to established coaches in more prestigious programs. Marquette’s first-year head coach, Steve Wojciechowski, falls into the latter category with a pedigree few others can boast. After a successful four-year playing career at Duke, he spent 15 years apprenticing for one of the best to ever coach the sport, Mike Krzyzewski. But despite the unimpeachable regard everyone holds for his former coach and mentor, success at the highest levels has not been guaranteed for Krzyzewski’s acolytes. Now that Wojciechowski is the leader of one of the most tradition-rich programs in the country, he’s hoping to start a tradition of his own in Milwaukee. On Tuesday night in Washington, DC, he came very close to getting the first truly big win of his young career when Marquette battled the Hoyas to a tight six-point loss.

Steve Wojciechowski's first job as a head coach is to rebuild a proud Marquette program.

Steve Wojciechowski’s first job as a head coach is to rebuild a proud Marquette program (Gary Porter).

When the 38-year old accepted the Marquette job last spring, the program was not in the same shape as it had been when it made eight straight NCAA Tournaments from 2006-13. After a disappointing 17-15 season, former head coach Buzz Williams downgraded to Virginia Tech because of the uncertainty of the athletic director’s position (currently being filled by interim AD, Bill Cords), and a general concern about the new Big East’s visibility in moving from ESPN to Fox Sports 1 as its primary television carrier. Another factor in his departure may have been the stark realization that his current roster simply was not all that competitive. After Shaka Smart and Cuonzo Martin passed on the Marquette job, this opened the door for Wojciechowski to become a first-time head coach at a respected basketball program with an opportunity to rebuild it in his own image.

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Big East Weekend Wrap: Vol. VI

Posted by Justin Kundrat on January 6th, 2015

The Big East Weekend Wrap covers news and notes from the previous weekend’s games.

The opening week of Big East play featured some crazy results: the home teams went 9-1; the favored teams went 5-5; every ranked team lost at least once; and DePaul is 2-0. If nothing else, these results show the level of parity in the Big East this season. Talent aside, teams succeeded in defending their home floor as the only two unbeaten teams in conference play are the ones that have yet to play on the road. Below are five key takeaways from the Big East’s opening weekend:

  1. Seton Hall has been nothing short of impressive. Not only did the Pirates win two conference games without Isaiah Whitehead, but they did so against what was believed to be the league’s top two teams. After trouncing St. John’s behind 10-of-23 shooting from three, Kevin Willard’s group took it to Villanova, jumping out to an early 17-3 lead before relinquishing it all and then ultimately winning in overtime. It goes without saying that junior guard Sterling Gibbs, who led the team with a combined 45 points, has made his way into all-Big East first team discussions. Stripped of his backcourt mate and second leading scorer, Gibbs took the scoring and passing duties into his own hands, easily creating his own shot off the dribble and putting teammates in scoring situations. Alongside Gibbs, three freshmen — Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguz and Angel Delgado – stepped up at different times to propel the Pirates.

    Sterling Gibbs has played his way into Big East first-team discussions. (Getty)

    Sterling Gibbs has played his way into Big East first-team discussions. (Getty)

  2. DePaul has done its best to counter every prediction about a last place finish. Following a string of six straight brutal losses — including defeats to the likes of Ohio and Loyola Marymount —  DePaul appeared to be right on track for its annual January plunge into the Big East abyss. Yet this time, Billy Garrett Jr. decided he’d rather not. In front of their usual half empty arena, the Blue Demons dashed the hopes of both Marquette and Xavier, handing three-point losses to both. By slowing each game down to a crawl (64 possessions each), it didn’t matter that Oliver Purnell’s team is playing defense that ranks among the worst 50 teams in the country or that both of their opponents ranked in the top 40 in two-point field goal percentage. DePaul won by forcing turnovers (30 over the two games) and with Garrett breaking out of his shooting slump — the 6’6″ sophomore played under control, shooting 12-of-16 from the field over both games and matching his career high 10 assists against Xavier. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East Weekend Wrap: Vol. III

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 8th, 2014

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

Another week of games, another week of wins for the Big East. As we move into the last few weeks of the non-conference schedule, these games gain additional significance; they represent a team’s last few chances to stockpile resume-enhancing wins before the conference gauntlet begins. A number of Big East teams were able to do just that last week. Below is a list of four key takeaways from the past week of action.

St. John's Stunned Syracuse in the Carrier Dome on Saturday (credit: Syracuse.com)

St. John’s Stunned Syracuse in the Carrier Dome on Saturday (credit: Syracuse.com)

St. John’s steals a win at the Carrier Dome. Syracuse rarely goes down easy at the Carrier Dome, but the Orange’s streak of 55 consecutive non-conference home game victories came to an end on Saturday as D’Angelo Harrison and Phil Greene IV taught the Orange a few things about three-point shooting. In the past, the Johnnies had seemingly always managed to lose these key games down the stretch by way of turnovers or poor shot selection. But this time, the more experienced group played under control and found ways to score over the 2-3 zone inside. While Harrison paced the team throughout the game, hitting timely threes or mid-range shots, it was Greene who helped to close it out, scoring 11 points in the final 4:08 of action. Forwards Chris Obekpa and Sir’Dominic Pointer were largely neutralized on the offensive end, but Harrison and Greene converted with stunning efficiency, combining for a white-hot 8-of-14 shooting night from beyond the arc. After failing to capitalize on their chance to take down Gonzaga, St. John’s made the most of its chance this time around. The historically volatile group of unbelievably athletic guards and forwards seems to be calming down and coming together this season, at long last.

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One on One: A Big East Preview with Jon Rothstein

Posted by Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) on November 3rd, 2014

RTC interviews one on one

Rush the Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you throughout the preseason with previews of each of the major conferences.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview with the Big East, RTC correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the pleasure of speaking with a Big East expert in CBS Sports Network College Basketball Insider Jon Rothstein (@jonrothstein)

Rush the Court: Villanova enters the season as the pretty clear favorite to win the league. The Wildcats return four starters from a team that went 29-5 last season. What are some reasonable expectations for Jay Wright’s squad this season?

Expectations are high for Jay Wright and Company. (Getty)

Expectations are High for Jay Wright’s Villanova Team (Getty)

Jon Rothstein: I think reasonable expectations are to win the Big East title, have a chance at winning the Big East Tournament title, and get another high seed in the NCAA Tournament. Villanova was terrific last year in close game situations. I think there is a real possibility that Villanova could be a better team this year than it was last year, but have a worse record because its non-conference schedule is that much more difficult. What makes Villanova so good this year is that it does not lose 50/50 balls. Every ball that is being contested seems to go Villanova’s way almost every time. A big reason for that is Josh Hart. Hart is a guy who can go on a tear for Villanova this year, as he will step into a more enhanced role with the departure of James Bell. I think right now if there is one person who epitomizes Villanova’s culture and brand, it is Josh Hart.

RTC: Georgetown had a below average season last year [just 18-15 overall and 8-10 in conference]. There are no two ways around that. Does John Thompson III’s team have enough firepower to ensure a more successful campaign this season?

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Big East M5: 01.15.14 Edition

Posted by George Hershey on January 15th, 2014

bigeast_morning5(2)

  1. Georgetown will be playing undermanned tonight when the Hoyas travel to Cincinnati to play Xavier. Joshua Smith is still battling academic issues and Jabril Trawick will miss his second straight game after he broke his jaw against Providence last week. The Hoyas were impressive in their overtime victory at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Saturday, but Xavier poses a tougher test as they are 8-1 in their last nine games after a loss to Creighton on Sunday. Xavier has a very good frontcourt and will likely look to exploit Georgetown’s relative lack of size. Moses Ayegba and Reggie Cameron will have to step up and play more than the 10 minutes they have averaged so far this season. Markel Starks and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera must continue their own exceptional play, but not having their big men to help space the floor will make finding open shots more difficult.  
  2. Xavier lost its first game after an eight-game winning streak, but the Musketeers are ready to face Georgetown after taking away several positives from their close loss to Creighton. They had trouble guarding Doug McDermott and didn’t shoot their free throws well (59%), but the team was happy about the perseverance they showed throughout. Center Matt Stainbrook said, “it [showed] a ton of resiliency and the fact that we can all have short-term memories. You learn from your mistakes, but when it comes to misses or stuff that’s not favorable for us, we have a really short-term memory.” Going forward in conference action, Xavier will need that short memory to keep fighting when momentum is not on their side, like they experienced on Sunday when Creighton was simply unconscious from deep.
  3. Luke Fischer‘s transfer was officially announced on Monday when he began classes at Marquette; yesterday he spoke to the media. He has already begun practicing and assistant coach Jerry Wainwright sounded excited about working with the new big man. Fischer has 11 months until he can suit up, but Wainwright says he will have an instant impact on the Golden Eagles. Fischer will match up against Davante Gardner and Chris Otule in practice, giving the centers a break from each other and a new challenge on both ends. The league has several centers similar to Fischer, but few like Gardner and Otule, so they will have a player to practice against that will more closely replicate games. In other Marquette news, Paint Touches takes a look at the freshmen so far, discussing those who are coming into their own and becoming significant contributors. Cracked Sidewalks has five charts that show why Marquette should be better than it has shown this season. The Golden Eagles seem to be rounding the corner every other game, but have yet to beat a team ranked higher than themselves.
  4. The Big East may not be as strong at the top this season with only two teams currently in the Top 25, but the league has tremendous depth. While Villanova and Creighton have moved up to #6 and #20 in the latest AP poll, the rest of the league may not be ranked but there are no really bad teams this year. In years past, teams like Syracuse and Louisville were national title contenders, but the league also suffered South Florida, DePaul, Rutgers, and Providence perennially struggling to win more than a few games. As of last night, seven of the 10 conference teams were ranked in the top 70 in Ken Pomeroy’s latest rankings, and DePaul was the lowest at #130, a number likely to rise after beating St. John’s. So far, the league has only had six blowout wins, showing the relative parity among all of the teams. This had led to a ton of excitement on numerous Big East campuses this season.
  5. ESPN had a series of posts on the best venues in college basketball, and not surprisingly, Hinkle Fieldhouse, home to the Butler Bulldogs, was included. Eamonn Brennan wrote about the history of the building, including most famously being where the “Milan Miracle,” the game that inspired the making of the movie, Hoosiers, occurred, and the incredible atmosphere in the building. He gives a great description, “You ascend the same blue-tinged concrete concourse to find your seat. You see the same afternoon sunlight shine down at the same angle through the same windows on the same, original wooden floor, the oldest in college basketball.” Hinkle seems to be a magical place as there constantly outstanding games there, including five overtime periods already this season. The Big East has some great venues with the Cintas Center, Bradley Center, and CenturyLink Arena among them drawing some of the largest crowds in the nation.
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Big Ten M5: 01.06.14 Edition

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on January 6th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. Indiana’s center, Luke Fischer, will be transferring to Marquette – a move that will get him closer to home. “I am excited to say I will be transferring to Marquette University to play for Coach (Buzz) Williams and the Golden Eagles,” Fischer said on Twitter. Even though he only averaged 2.8 points per game this season, he will be missed over the next three years in Bloomington. It is likely that Noah Vonleh will enter the NBA Draft after his freshman season, which could have opened the door for Fischer to step into the role as the starting center for Tom Crean. Without Fischer, Hanner Perea will likely take a bigger role next season after the potential departure of Vonleh.
  2. As if Gary Harris‘ 26 points against Indiana in Bloomington wasn’t enough, Tom Izzo promises that the fans can expect more from the sophomore over the next three months. “He’s a special player, and I promise he’s not even close to where he’s going to be,” Izzo said. Harris, who has been plagued with health issues, may slowly be coming back to 100% health, but should eventually improve his game with more practice. His offensive versatility was on full display at Bloomington as he shot 5-10 from beyond the arc and was active defensively with five steals. A healthy and active Harris will be the main offensive option in March when Michigan State needs to put up points against tougher competition.
  3. Before Illinois‘ game against Penn State in Champaign on Saturday, the Flyin’ Illini were honored because it is their 25th anniversary of their Final Four run in 1989. They are, arguably, the best team in Illini history, but the 2005 squad with Dee Brown, Deron Williams and Luther Head could give them a run for their money. Mark Tupper discusses which team might be the best team in Illini history. My stance on this topic: the 2005 team was about 30 seconds (close losses to Ohio State and North Carolina) away from being the first undefeated team since the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers squad, so I’ll take them over the electrifying Flyin’ Illini. Regardless, it will be tough to surpass either of these teams in the history books.
  4. After disappointing decisions by Quentin Snider and Cliff Alexander, John Groce‘s recruiting took a brief hit over the last two months. However, he landed a commit from four-star guard, Aaron Jordan, for the 2015 recruiting class. The 6’4″ guard will provide much needed three-point shooting for an Illini squad that doesn’t have a designated gunner on their roster. Even though Jon Ekey is shooting 38% from beyond the arc, the Illini need at least one guard to shoot 42% from the long-range to diversify their offensive sets in the future.
  5. Jarrod Uthoff‘s transfer issues have been documented fairly well over the past year and half or so. In brief, he wanted to transfer to Iowa, but there were a few issues in getting the transfer approved by head coach Bo Ryan. Uthoff is averaging 10.9 points per game as a Hawkeye, but one has to wonder if there is any friction between Ryan and Fran McCaffery over the transfer. When asked about this topic on Big Ten Media Day, Ryan responded, “I don’t even know why that would be a question, I don’t understand the question.” Setting this topic aside, both of these teams match up fairly well and both of the games should be excellent match-ups this season. Uthoff’s entrance into the game on Sunday night in Madison didn’t really trigger many boos from the crowd.
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Big East M5: 01.06.14 Edition

Posted by George Hershey on January 6th, 2014

bigeast_morning5(2)

  1. It was a rough weekend for Providence. The Friars took a beating at Villanova on Sunday night after getting news on Saturday that highly-touted freshman Brandon Austin would be transferring from the school. Austin had yet to play a single minute in a Providence uniform because he was suspended before the season (along with fellow freshman Rodney Bullock) for breaking school rules. His departure hurts the Friars’ future prospects considerably, as he was poised to take on a major role next year with the personnel losses of seniors Bryce Cotton and Kadeem Batts. This is on top of the injury to Kris Dunn, which will keep him out for the rest of the season. It is unfortunate that a year that looked so promising has turned into an 0-2 start in conference play with a postseaon berth looking increasingly unlikely.
  2. Last year’s Wisconsin Mr. Basketball, Luke Fischer, a player who decided to attend Indiana over Creighton and Marquette, decided to transfer last week. He took a few days to decide and ultimately picked Marquette over Creighton and Milwaukee as his next destination. Fischer played high school an hour away from Milwaukee and will have the chance to contribute with the Golden Eagles immediately. He will have to sit out until the end of the fall semester, but he will have two -and-a-half seasons upon his return. Anonymous Eagle breaks down the transfer details as well as the scholarship situation for Marquette, which looks like one of the someone will not be making it onto campus next year unless a current player transfers. Paint Touches breaks down the impact and importance of the transfer, as Fischer is expected to fill a big void in the frontcourt with Chris Otule, Davante Gardner and Jamil Wilson graduating.
  3. Seton Hall started Big East play with an overtime win over Providence, but senior leader Eugene Teague looks like he will be out a while dealing with effects from a concussion he suffered a week ago against Lafayette. Teague was still feeling post-concussion symptoms last Thursday, with head coach Kevin Willard saying that he “is going to be out for awhile, that’s just the way it is. He took a really hard fall, and we’re going to be extra cautious and do what’s best for him. Whether its a week, two weeks, three weeks, we just don’t know and we really have to be careful with him and do what’s in his best interest.” The senior is one of the Pirates’ best players and the lack of his presence in the post hurts Seton Hall considerably. Willard has to decide quickly whether he wants to burn freshman Rashed Anthony‘s redshirt to add a big body inside, because it is going to be difficult to play without a center with a very tough stretch against Villanova, Marquette and Georgetown coming up, all in the next two weeks.
  4. Villanova played masterfully against Providence on Sunday but survived a major scare during the blowout victory. Halfway through the second half and with the win already in the bag, Wildcats’ Ryan Arcidiacono and Dylan Ennis ran into each other, leaving the former dazed requiring help to the bench. After being examined by the trainer, he was luckily able to return to action and help the Wildcats finish off the win. Jay Wright assured everyone that “Arch” is just fine. He shot the ball well and hopes to get out of a slump so far this season. After shooting 32 percent from beyond the arc last year, he has slipped to a chilly 25 percent this season. If he can get things going with his jumper, it will be hard for teams to stop the Wildcats as they have a versatile offense that can create points in a number of ways.
  5. Creighton‘s Sports Information Director, Rob Anderson, tweeted out some very interesting stats this weekend as Omaha froze over. Greg McDermott’s program has started 12-2 or 13-1 for the third straight year, and for the fifth time since 2002-03. The only other teams to do that are Syracuse, Missouri, Illinois, Gonzaga and Louisville. To have accomplished strong starts to the season so many times speaks to the consistently high level the team has performed the past decade, joining a number of schools with great basketball history and tradition. Anderson also pointed out how well the Bluejays’ offense performed against San Diego State back in November. Creighton is the only team to score more than 65 points against them this season other than top-ranked Arizona (69), and the Bluejays averaged 1.123 points per possession in that contest. Creighton has climbed the RPI ratings as well, and now sit at 22nd in America. At 2-0 in league play and looking like a team running on all cylinders, the rest of the Big East should be on notice that this team is not going to be intimidated by anything.
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