Rushed Reactions: Creighton 75, Xavier 72

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 10th, 2017

RTC’s Justin Kundrat (@justinkundrat) is providing on-site coverage of the Big East Tournament all week long.

Marcus Foster’s Big Shot Carried Creighton to the Finals (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Consistent play from Justin Patton is a major determinant of Creighton’s postseason success. He’s gotten some flak lately for inconsistent scoring and sub-par defense but the numbers don’t lie. With the 7’0″ freshman on the floor, Creighton allows just 0.95 points per possession — when he’s on the bench, this number stands at 1.06. For a 70-possession game, this amounts to a difference of seven points allowed per game. Moreover, Patton’s impact on the offensive end as a catch-and-finish rim threat and capable three-point shooter have been long admired by scouts, and Friday night’s output was a perfect showcase: Patton poured in a highly efficient 21 points on 10-for-13 shooting.
  2. Xavier’s inexperience at the point guard position is overblown. Obviously, the injury to Edmond Sumner does more harm than good, but freshman Quentin Goodin has come a long way in averaging 7.4 points and 5.2 assists per game in his absence. There are many similarities to their games, notably the ability to channel well-timed passes to the post and a tendency to attack the basket, making Goodin an ideal substitute. As such, while the freshman isn’t nearly the same finisher as his counterpart, his recent bout of confidence has given Chris Mack‘s four-out perimeter offense much more room to run with results following.
  3. Tonight marked a revival of two struggling offenses. Xavier’s turnaround got underway earlier this week after a string of poor performances marked by questionable shot selection and decision-making. Meanwhile, Creighton broke a three-game skid of sub-32 percent three-point shooting, an unusual slump for a team that is averaging 40 percent on the season. Needless to say, confidence plays a vital role in offensive efficiency and both teams are turning things around at the right time.

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Marquette’s Offense Drives the Golden Eagles Into March

Posted by Mike Knapp on February 25th, 2017

Marquette has had an up-and-down season to this point. The Golden Eagles are 17-10 (8-7 Big East) with a resume that includes nice wins over Villanova and Creighton as well as head-scratching losses to St. John’s and Georgetown. Their most glaring flaws are on the defensive end of the floor (where they rank 138th nationally, per KenPom), but their inconsistency can also be attributed to a lack of an offensive go-to option. Marquette’s top players — who, it should be noted, are clearly buying into the team concept — cannot individually match the output provided by First Team All-Big East contenders such as Josh Hart (Villanova), Marcus Foster (Creighton) or even Trevon Bluiett (Xavier). What head coach Steve Wojciechowski lacks in star power, however, he has in depth, which makes the Golden Eagles a dangerous squad to face in March.

Marquette is Going to Create Some Problems in March (USA Today Images)

Marquette currently has six players averaging between 10.1 and 12.5 points per game, five of whom stand between 5’10” and 6’6” and are virtually interchangeable in the Golden Eagles’ up-tempo, three-point happy offense. That offense is the team’s driver, ranking first nationally in three-point shooting at 41.9 percent and among the top quarter of the sport in adjusted tempo. Four of Wojchiechowski’s rotation players – Katin Reinhardt, Andrew Rowsey, Markus Howard and Sam Hauser – are shooting at least 38 percent from beyond the arc, making an average of two or more per contest. The Golden Eagles’ pronounced ability to spread the floor with multiple shooters makes them nearly impossible to guard in the half-court, but what really rounds out the Marquette offense is its anchor in the post. Senior big man Luke Fischer leads the team in player efficiency, rebounding and blocked shots, and his offensive game is as diverse as it is proficient. The 6’11” center can play with his back to the basket, possessing great touch around the rim, but he is also capable of acting as the roll man off screens. He may not be the most athletic big man in the Big East, but he makes up for it with his meticulous shot selection and skill set – Fischer currently ranks 21st nationally in effective field goal percentage.

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Replacing Maurice Watson Hasn’t Come Easy For Creighton

Posted by Chris Stone on January 26th, 2017

As if the college basketball world needed yet another reminder, this week has emphasized just how difficult it is to win on the road. On Tuesday night, Kansas, Kentucky and Villanova all came up short in away conference battles, followed up last night with Georgia Tech blowing out Florida State and USC outlasting UCLA, both on the road. Perhaps the most concerning loss of the week — because replacing talent is more difficult than adjusting tactics — may have taken place in the nation’s capital where Creighton suffered its second straight defeat, 71-51 to Georgetown, without injured point guard Maurice Watson, Jr. The senior’s absence is being felt across the board. “He made the game easier for coach [Greg McDermott], me and all my other teammates,” freshman center Justin Patton said after the game.

Creighton is still working out how to play without Maurice Watson Jr. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Watson’s injury created a large offensive void for the Bluejays — in addition to using 24.5 percent of the team’s possessions, he also assisted on 43.0 percent of its made baskets while contributing 17.3 points per 40 minutes. As his head coach noted, that translates to a massive statistical impact. “We’ve lost a big part of our offense,” McDermott said, while also noting that many of his players will need to step into roles they may have never played before. In some ways, that may not prove too difficult. Creighton — one of the fastest per-possession teams in college basketball — continued to push the pace against the Hoyas last night, often throwing a pass ahead to whichever guard was available. Those players need to improve their decision-making in those quick-hit scenarios, but that will come with time and repetition. There are other areas, however, where it’s simply not clear if the Bluejays can replace Watson. Read the rest of this entry »

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Projecting the Effect of Maurice Watson’s Injury on Creighton’s Offense

Posted by Eugene Rapay on January 19th, 2017

After suffering an apparent knee injury in Creighton’s Monday afternoon game against Xavier, Maurice Watson, Jr. has been dealt a crushing blow. An MRI later revealed that the senior point guard has a torn left ACL, preemptively ending both his season and career in one cruel swoop. Creighton is not even halfway through Big East play, but now the Bluejays will have to figure out a solution for moving on without Watson’s on-court leadership and skill set. These are big shoes to fill. According to KenPomcollege basketball’s assist leader (8.5 APG) paced the team in minutes and was used in over 28 percent of his team’s possessions. Greg McDermott‘s team isn’t completely doomed without him, but he was one of the primary catalysts in helping the program reach its highest-ever ranking in the national polls.

With Maurice Watson Jr. now out with an ACL injury, the Bluejays have turned to Isaiah Zierden to run the point. (Chris Machian/The World-Herald)

The good news in Omaha is that Creighton has other weapons. Kansas State transfer Marcus Foster (18.1 PPG, 49.3% FG) has completely reinvented himself as a scoring threat in his first year in the Big East, posting career-high numbers in shooting (55.6% eFG) and taking care of the ball (11.5% TO rate). Then there’s Justin Patton (13.8 PPG, 72.7 FG%), the freshman center who has already exceeded everyone’s expectations with his astronomical conversion rate and corresponding ability around the basket. While Creighton still has its top two offensive weapons, the new facilitator working in place of Watson will make the Bluejays’ offense look very different. Read the rest of this entry »

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Breaking Down Creighton’s Powerful Offense

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 27th, 2016

As Mo Watson‘s National Player of the Year campaign has gained momentum and Marcus Foster is making the most of his second chance with multiple 20-point outings, Creighton has catapulted up the national rankings. The preseason #22 team sports a flawless 12-0 record with notable drubbings of Wisconsin and NC State on its way to a current top 10 ranking in the national polls. Occasional lapses of defense have generated some concern, but the well-oiled machine that is Greg McDermott‘s offense is keeping the ship very much afloat. Through the first third of the season, the Bluejays rank ninth nationally in offensive efficiency, a measure of effectiveness supported by what might be the most well-balanced scoring unit in the country. For Creighton, its offensive efficiency is the what, but it is the how that makes this team so intriguing.

Creighton is an Offensive Juggernaut (USA Today Images)

Creighton is an Offensive Juggernaut (USA Today Images)

The first component of the how is Creighton’s proficient outside shooting — McDermott’s team connects on a nation-leading 45.5 percent of its long-range shots. What kills opponents, however, has less to do with accuracy than with every player in the core rotation being a legitimate threat from deep. That includes 6’10” Toby Hegner and 7’0″ freshman Justin Patton.

When Creighton runs its spread offense and initiates action from dribble handoffs or pick-and-rolls, help defense is an ambitious endeavor. When defenders choose to double in the post or step in to protect the lane against Watson, someone who can knock down open jumpers is routinely left alone beyond the arc. Conversely, the spacing created from this array of outstanding shooters ultimately allows natural penetrators such as Watson or Foster to attack the rim in advantageous, one-on-one settings. Read the rest of this entry »

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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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Kansas State’s Spring Cleaning Could Help Wildcats Grow

Posted by Chris Stone on March 25th, 2015

Kansas State announced in a statement last night that the program will undergo several roster changes that will impact the 2015-16 season. Specifically, the Wildcats dismissed sophomore Marcus Foster and freshman Tre Harris from the team. Head coach Bruce Weber was succinct when he said, “Marcus and Tre have been unable to live up to the standards that we expect of our players.” Foster had already been suspended by Weber in February for violating team rules, and even though he had expressed a strong desire to return to Manhattan next season, his head coach obviously had different plans. In addition to the dismissals of Foster and Harris, Kansas State also announced the transfer of freshman point guard Jevon Thomas. Thomas too missed the Wildcats’ regular season finale against Texas for disciplinary reasons, and even though the freshman returned for the Big 12 Tournament, he was clearly displeased with Weber after finding out about his suspension via social media.

Marcus Foster was dismissed from the Kansas State program on Tuesday evening.

Marcus Foster was dismissed from the Kansas State program on Tuesday evening. (AP)

These roster changes will have an immediate effect on the Kansas State program as it attempts to improve upon a rather disappointing 2014-15 campaign. The losses of Foster, Harris and Thomas in combination with the graduations of Thomas Gipson and Nino Williams create a massive hole on the team’s depth chart. Kansas State will lose its top four players in minutes played from this season, and Foster, Gipson and Williams were the team’s leading scorers. To put that into perspective, Kansas State, a team that averaged just 63.0 points per contest this season, stands to lose 43.5 points per game with these departures. And Foster, despite a disappointing sophomore season, proved during his freshman year that he has star power. These are substantial losses, but despite all of that lost productivity, Weber’s house-cleaning could provide Kansas State with an opportunity to grow as a program. It is clear that the head coach struggled to get through to his players this season, ultimately resulting in a frustrated plea from him after a loss to TCU. “I just want guys that care,” he said. “That is all I want, guys that care and want to play for K-State and want to play to win and will play hard.”

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Kansas State’s Tumultuous Season Ends With Questions

Posted by Chris Stone on March 12th, 2015

Kansas State last night wrapped up a disappointing season with a 67-65 loss to TCU in the opening round of the Big 12 Tournament. “The game was kind of a microcosm of our whole season,” head coach Bruce Weber said afterward, “a bunch of ups and downs and all-arounds.” The Wildcats have certainly been through the ringer this year. Questions began surrounding the team back in December after a late-game collapse at home against Texas Southern. That loss was followed by star sophomore Marcus Foster finding his way into Weber’s doghouse before returning to help his team upset Oklahoma in Norman. Foster would ultimately be suspended in February and then reinstated down the stretch as the Wildcats defeated Kansas and Iowa State to play themselves back into the NCAA Tournament conversation for a hot second before losing their final two games. In a word, the season has been tumultuous.

There's plenty of blame to go around for Kansas State's poor season. (Scott D. Weaver/K-State Athletics)

There’s plenty of blame to go around for Kansas State’s poor season. (Scott D. Weaver/K-State Athletics)

Perhaps the biggest factor in the team’s struggles has been an often volatile relationship between Kansas State’s players and their head coach. We mentioned Foster’s suspension. After the February loss at TCU, Weber pleaded with his team through the media, saying, “I just want guys that care. That is all I want, guys that care and want to play for K-State and want to play to win and will play hard.” Finally, sophomore Jevon Thomas was kicked off the team earlier this month, only to learn about his removal through social media before getting reinstated ahead of the conference tournament.

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Kansas State’s Season Takes Another Disappointing Turn

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 19th, 2015

To say that it’s been a down year for Kansas State would be a big understatement. The Wildcats, picked to finish fourth in the Big 12 by the conference’s coaches back in last fall’s Media Day, experienced an awful trip through non-league play with losses to the likes of Texas Southern and Long Beach State. Bruce Weber was hoping for a reset in league play, but it hasn’t come; if anything, things in Manhattan have only gotten worse. Last night’s loss at TCU dropped Kansas State to 6-8 in Big 12 play and 13-14 overall, making the Wildcats the only conference team other than Texas Tech to have a sub-.500 record. There were few signs of emotion or energy from the Wildcats in Fort Worth, as they allowed an early 19-0 Horned Frogs’ run and trailed by 20 points at halftime. Kansas State regrouped to make a brief second half run, but never got closer than six points the rest of the way and ultimately lost by 14. This problem isn’t just about wins and losses in a very competitive league, though.

In a disastrous season, Bruce Weber has struggled to get what he's needed out of his team.

In a disastrous season, Bruce Weber has struggled to get what he’s needed out of his team. (Raymond Thompson/AP)

Weber is struggling to keep his team focused and motivated. Star guard Marcus Foster has hit some game-winning shots, but he’s also been benched, suspended, benched again and, most recently, muzzled. After a 1-of-6 shooting performance in a reserve role last night, it doesn’t look like he and his head coach have come particularly close to mending their fences. Those issues have kept Kansas State from maximizing its potential, and there are varying levels of responsibility with both parties. No matter how you slice it, the best solution may be for the two to simply part ways, whether that involves Foster transferring or going pro. It isn’t just Foster who has struggled to find Weber’s good graces, though. Wesley Iwundu played 18 minutes on Wednesday, the least he has logged in any conference game this season. He hoisted 11 shots during those minutes, misfiring on all but two of his attempts. The Wildcats’ lethargy was on full display in Wednesday’s defeat, and Weber’s postgame comments revealed that his frustration with the team’s lack of consistent energy may have reached a tipping point.

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Big 12 Weekend Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 13th, 2015

As we move into mid-February, the dust in the Big 12 race may finally be starting to settle. Kansas at the head of the pack isn’t anything new, but recent games have brought us a little more clarity behind them after several weeks of volatility. Oklahoma has built a sliver of separation on Iowa State and Baylor while West Virginia‘s backloaded schedule looks like it’s starting to catch up to them. Of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Oklahoma State, which has done more in the last week to change its NCAA Tournament status than perhaps any other team in the country. Weekend #7 of conference play should continue to provide resolution, but you never know when things will get chaotic again.

Wayne Selden (left) and Brannen Greene (center) have made a living torching Big 12 opponents from deep. (Jamie Squire/Getty)

Is a reliable back-to-the-basket threat really that important when Wayne Selden (left) and Brannen Greene (center) are torching all comers from deep? (Jamie Squire/Getty)

  • Baylor at Kansas (1:00 ET) – Bill Self wants his team to shoot fewer threes, but the data suggests that it shouldn’t as Kansas ranks seventh in the country in three-point percentage (40.9%). In addition, the Jayhawks make post scoring look like pulling teeth at times, so a game against Baylor’s zone should dictate more long-range bombing. Also of note here is the development that Cliff Alexander will start consecutive games for the first time all season, so keep an eye on how he responds to the challenge of keeping the glass-eating Rico Gathers off the boards.
  • West Virginia at Iowa State (4:00 ET) – Losers of two of their last three, the Mountaineers are about to enter a scheduling gauntlet that starts tomorrow at less than full strength — sophomore Brandon Watkins availability is in question after he sprained his MCL against Kansas State. Iowa State is in a little bit of a rut themselves lately, having also lost two of their last three games. As welcome an addition as Jameel McKay has been for the Cyclones, their recent efforts on defense have been horrific, so perhaps a home game against the league’s seventh-ranked will cure what ails them.

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