Ten Questions to Consider: A Weekend of Statement Games

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 18th, 2019

This weekend features road tests for the two remaining undefeated teams, intrigue across the power conferences, and match-ups involving squads looking to end recent trends. Here are 10 questions I have for this weekend’s games.

Tony Bennett is Ready to Take On Duke Again (USA Today Images)
  1. Can Duke do what few can and solve Virginia’s defense? (Virginia @ Duke, Saturday 6 PM EST, ESPN) Prior to last season’s win by Virginia at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke had beaten the Cavaliers in the teams’ previous 17 games in Durham. Duke’s offense to date has been held under one point per possession just one time this year (Texas Tech), while Virginia has held 13 of its 16 opponents under that threshold. To beat Virginia, Duke will have to improve upon its three-point shooting, though, as the Blue Devils are hitting only 22.8 percent from behind the arc over their last eight games.
  2. Can Wisconsin find enough production off of its bench to hand Michigan its first loss? (Michigan @ Wisconsin, Saturday Noon EST, ESPN) In the Badgers’ three Big Ten wins, their bench has averaged 18.7 points per game; but in the Badgers three conference losses, their bench has averaged just 7.7 points per game. The trio of Ethan Happ, D’Mitrik Trice and Brad Davison will need help from the reserves in scoring to beat the Wolverines.
  3. Will Ashton Hagans continue to shine as both Kentucky and Auburn try to avoid a second conference loss? (Kentucky @ Auburn, Saturday 4 PM EST, ESPN) After scoring no more than eight points in a single game during his first 11 outings as a Wildcat, Kentucky’s Ashton Hagans is averaging 15.6 points per game over the last five. Hagans will be dealing with an Auburn defense, however, that leads the country in forced turnover rate (27.8%).
  4. Can Kansas State avoid looking ahead to an upcoming game against Texas Tech when TCU comes to town? (TCU @ Kansas State, Saturday 4 PM EST, ESPN2) After starting Big 12 play 0-2, the Wildcats have subsequently rattled off three straight wins. While Kansas State has an elite defense, its offensive efficiency ranks outside of the top 175. As a team, the Wildcats shoot a mere 63.8 percent from the free throw line, a number that could haunt them if they get caught looking ahead to Texas Tech.
  5. Would keeping Maryland off of the free throw line be enough for Ohio State to end its recent three-game losing streak? (Maryland @ Ohio State, Friday 6 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) According to KenPom‘s database, the average rate at which Big Ten teams are sending opponents to the free throw line in conference play is 32.9 percent. Through five conference games, Ohio State’s defense is sending its opponents to the line at a rate of 53.6 percent. During the Buckeyes current three-game losing streak, their opponents have made 20 more free throws than Chris Holtmann’s team has attempted.
  6. Can Texas Tech find any sort of offensive rhythm? (Texas Tech @ Baylor, Saturday 6 PM EST, ESPN2) While the Red Raiders continue to own the nation’s best defense, their offensive efficiency ranks ninth among Big 12 teams in conference play. Texas Tech has made just 29.6 percent of its three-point attempts over the last eight games.
  7. Might Syracuse get stuck looking back at its huge win on Monday when Pittsburgh comes to the Carrier Dome? (Pittsburgh @ Syracuse, Saturday 2 PM EST) Jim Boeheim’s squad is coming off of a marquee win against Duke in which the Orange shot 11-of-25 from distance while the Blue Devils went 9-of-43. Syracuse now hosts a Pittsburgh team that is led by the freshman backcourt duo of Xavier Johnson and Trey McGowens.
  8. How will Marquette fare against Providence if Markus Howard is unable to play? (Providence @ Marquette, Sunday Noon, CBS Sports Network) Markus Howard left Marquette’s most recent game after playing just three minutes with a sore back. Without Howard in the lineup, Sam Hauser stepped up and scored 31 points while making 4-of-9 from beyond the arc. Hauser is now shooting 29.4 percent from three-point range in five Big East games — last season, however, Hauser led the Big East from distance at an incredible 53.7 percent.
  9. Who will walk away from the Red River Rivalry game with a win? (Oklahoma @ Texas, Saturday 8 PM EST, Longhorn Network) Both Oklahoma and Texas sit at 2-3 in Big 12 play, but Texas has lost three consecutive games and Oklahoma has lost three of its last five.
  10. Can Oregon State make a statement in the desert? (Oregon State @ Arizona, Saturday 10 PM EST, Pac 12 Network) Oregon State began this week as one of three Pac-12 teams undefeated in conference play — it lost to Arizona State last night and Arizona has since lost to Oregon. The Beavers will have an opportunity to salvage a split against the Wildcats on Saturday night. Keep in mind that Oregon State has lost 33 of its last 34 games against Arizona in Tucson.

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What’s Trending: A Markus Howard Barrage and More…

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on December 26th, 2018

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Matthew Eisenberg (@matteise) is your weekly host.

As the temperature drops as winter overcomes us, Marquette shooting guard Markus Howard brought plenty of warmth to the Fiserv Forum in a win over Buffalo last week…

https://twitter.com/SportsCenter/status/1076485136974340097

Those that bet on Duquesne +5.5 against Penn State were feeling pretty good as the clock approached zero. Then chaos ensued…

The Buffalo Bulls: Kings of New York…

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Big East Reset: Analyzing Some of the Key Storylines Thus Far

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 5th, 2018

With nearly a month of Big East basketball already in the books, there has been no shortage of action in a non-conference schedule full of surprising upsets and gut-wrenching defeats. For those who haven’t been following very closely, you may have been surprised to see preseason bottom dweller Creighton nearly toppling #1 Gonzaga or the defending national champs dropping a home game to Furman. So as we inch closer to the holidays and conference play, below are some of the key Big East takeaways from the last few weeks.

Furman Logged One of the Upsets of the Early Season at Villanova (USA Today Images)

  • There isn’t a bad team in the conference. DePaul has made its name over the last decade as the Big East’s doormat, finishing among the bottom three in the standings in every season back to 2008. While the Blue Demons are still far from conference contention, Dave Leitao‘s group has raced off to an early 5-1 start that includes an overtime win over a solid Penn State club. The offseason delivered the two things DePaul needed most: shooting and size in the forms of transfers Jalen Coleman-Lands (Illinois) and Femi Olujobi (North Carolina A&T). Now, with a balance of size, experience and backcourt play, the Blue Demons’ offense finally has some cohesiveness. Expect this team to easily surpass its 4-14 conference win total from last season.
  • Creighton’s offense didn’t regress as expected — rather, it might be just as good, if not better, than last season. This claim might seem far-fetched given that the Bluejays lost 60 percent of their scoring output, but they are right on pace at 1.16 points per possession eight games into the season. Interestingly, the blazing fast offense that attempted 29.4 percent of its shots in transition a season ago (seventh nationally) is now content to play in the half-court, with a middle-of-the-road tempo that ranks 155th in transition frequency. Neverthetheless, between sophomore guard Ty-Shon Alexander’s explosion onto the scene (the clear front-runner for the Big East’s most improved player) and the steady improvements of Damien Jefferson and Marcus Zegarowski, Greg McDermott’s team is the biggest surprise in the conference so far this season.

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Let’s Not Panic About the Big East Just Yet

Posted by Brad Cavallaro on November 16th, 2018

After splitting the Gavitt Games in the first three years of its existence, the Big Ten has dominated in year four. The pair of teams projected at the top of the Big East this season — Villanova and Marquette — provided little resistance against Michigan and Indiana earlier this week. Meanwhile, Xavier and Creighton dropped home games to Wisconsin and Ohio State while Seton Hall proved to be no match for Nebraska. As it turns out, Georgetown and DePaul are the only Big East teams to win thus far, knocking off Illinois and Penn State (but both were without one of their top two players).

Steve Wojchiechowski is in the midst of a rebuild at Marquette. (Mark Hoffman/The Journal Sentinel)

On paper, these match-ups looked fairly even, but the Big Ten has proved to be the superior conference at this early point. Normally, these conference challenges need to be taken with a grain of salt as they are only one benchmark to compare conference strength. However, after the Big Ten’s beat-down of the Big East this week, not many reasonable people would think the Big East is the superior league. If St. John’s falls to Rutgers on Friday evening, it will cap off an embarrassing week for the conference.

Even though this has been a horrible start, it is still not time to panic. Even if the Big Ten is the better league, that does not mean the Big East won’t improve. Earning 28 NCAA Tournament berths in the last five years gives it the benefit of the doubt. Villanova has won two National Championships in the last three seasons; Xavier has an Elite Eight appearance under its belt: Providence has made five straight NCAA Tournaments; and Butler has consistently advanced in the postseason. These are great basketball programs that have proven resilient time and time again.

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Where 2018-19 Happens: Reason #13 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on October 25th, 2018

As RTC heads into its 12th season covering college hoops, it’s time to begin releasing our annual compendium of YouTube clips that we like to call Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball. These 30 snippets from last season’s action are completely guaranteed to make you wish the games were starting tonight rather than 30 days from now. Over the next month you’ll get one reason per day until we reach the new season on Tuesday, November 6. You can find all of this year’s released posts here.

#13 – Where Big East Record Happens.

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-112011-122012-132013-142014-15, 2015-16, 2016-17  and 2017-18 preseasons.

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Big East Burning Questions: Marquette & Providence

Posted by Justin Kundrat on October 25th, 2018

The NBA season tipped off last week, which makes it the perfect time to roll out some new Big East content to drown out the monotony of early-season professional basketball. Over the coming weeks, the Big East microsite will be previewing all the teams, players and key storylines to watch as we approach season tip-off. Be sure to follow @RTCBigEast and its contributors Justin Kundrat and Brad Cavallaro to get your fix. In the spotlight today will be (alphabetically) Marquette and Providence.

Marquette: Is there enough perimeter talent here to finally shore up the defense?

Wojo Begins His Fifth Year at Marquette With the Same Question (USA Today Images)

At this point — in year five of Steve Wojciechowski‘s tenure at the school — an exhausted narrative is to rehash Marquette’s struggles on the defensive end of the floor. But given how it continues to stymie the program’s progress as a contender in the Big East and beyond, it bears repeating. Marquette’s offense has ranked among the top 12 nationally in each of the last two seasons and figures to finish in that range again with preseason all-Big East selection Markus Howard back in Milwaukee for his junior season. But no matter how many 30-point games Howard amassed a year ago (six), a leaky defense that ranked a miserable 182nd nationally in efficiency gave it all right back. Now, things look better on paper: point guard Andrew Rowsey is being replaced by Fordham transfer Joseph Chartouny, whose steal rates are so good I had to look twice (second nationally at 5.6 percent in 2018; first in 2017; 32nd in 2016); Ed Morrow, a lanky 6’7″ transfer with a seven-foot wingspan; and the expected maturation of promising wings Greg Elliott and Jamal Cain. This group should have enough athleticism and talent to contain dribble penetration, but can Wojciechowski provide enough defensive coaching to get them there?

Providence: Is there a capable point guard on the Friars’ roster?

Providence Must Figure Out Its Point Guard Position (USA Today Images)

It’s no secret that head coach Ed Cooley loves his point guards, and as Three-Man-Weave recently pointed out, the Friars have not had a point guard finish outside the top 20 nationally in assist rate since he took over the program in 2011. The position is absolutely integral to his offense, shouldering the load as both a passing and scoring threat. So with the graduation of Kyron Cartwright from last season’s NCAA Tournament squad, who is the next man up? Junior Maliek White serviced the backup role last season but posted paltry assist numbers (11.7% Asst Rate), while rising sophomore and heralded recruit Makai Ashton-Langford was used sparingly in conference play and struggled to adjust. Another alternative for the position is incoming freshman David Duke, a highly-touted guard plucked from Providence’s backyard. The early signs point to Ashton-Langford assuming the role, but in any case, there is simply no track record of established play at this position. If Cooley can lock something down, he’ll once again have a dangerous squad.

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Big East Wrap-Up: Lasting Impressions and Early Rankings

Posted by Justin Kundrat on April 11th, 2018

All hail Donte DiVincenzo‘s flurry of baskets that left Michigan fans saying “who is this guy?”

Villanova Celebrates Its Second National Championship in the Last Three Years Last Week (USA Today Images)

  • Villanova has ascended into blue-blood territory. It’s a tired storyline at this point but it’s also probably the biggest one coming out of the NCAA Tournament. Winners of two championships in three years with largely a different set of players means that Jay Wright has officially assembled a dynasty. Villanova has the roster makeup that makes the rest of college basketball envious: dynamic guards that can score at multiple levels; floor-spacing big men who can shoot the three; and sufficient experience together to play cohesive team defense. The best part is that even with some expected early departures pending (Mikal Bridges, Jalen Brunson?), Villanova’s standing near the top of the national rankings isn’t likely to change, and that’s what makes this program a dynasty.
  • Goodbye, Chris Mack. Another year, another lost Big East coach to a bigger program budget and salary. Last year, it was Chris Holtmann departing Butler for Ohio State (where he excelled). This year it’s Chris Mack who packed his bags for Louisville after a nine-year tenure at Xavier that included five straight NCAA tournament appearances. In his stead is former assistant Travis Steele, promoted from a position he has held since 2008. Steele has already impressively gotten to work, quickly signing two graduate transfers in Zach Hankins (D-II National Player of the Year) and Kyle Castlin (Columbia) while being in the running for many others. On the heels of a massive graduating class in Cincinnati, Steele will have his work cut out for him next season.
  • Hello, Providence backcourt. What Ed Cooley has done with his guards during his tenure at Providence has been nothing short of amazing. From Bryce Cotton to Kris Dunn to Kyron Cartwright, there has never been a dearth of electric, play-making perimeter players on his roster. Now, though, with Cartwright graduating, the question of who is next for the Friars is bubbling up. Early signs pointed to rising sophomore Makai Ashton-Langford, but his limited end-of-season usage and errant decision-making have been confounding. Encouragingly, Cooley is also bringing in two heralded backcourt recruits in David Duke and AJ Reeves, and it’s a safe bet given recent history that at least one of the pair will emerge into the spotlight.

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Big East Notebook: Recapping Thursday’s Quarterfinals

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 9th, 2018

Two days of Big East Tournament action are already in the books with two more days of marquee match-ups still come. The most likely outcome will ultimately be a third showdown between Villanova and Xavier, with championship hardware as well as potential #1 seed placements on the line. Here are several key takeaways from Thursday’s quarterfinals from Madison Square Garden.

Just Another Night in the Big East Tournament (USA Today Images)

  • St. John’s spoiler attempt fell short. It’s always a lot to ask from a team to win four games in four days, but Chris Mullin‘s group assumed the role of Cinderella in this tournament after a late season push coupled with a healthy home crowd. Nonetheless, a 12:00 pm ET tip time just 15 hours after knocking off Georgetown did the Red Storm no favors, particularly with only six, maybe seven, true rotation players on the roster. With three seasons at the helm now characterized by a failure to eclipse even a .500 record, questions about Mullin’s tenure will continue to loom — particularly since this was the year many observers expected St. John’s to turn the corner.
  • Providence locks up an NCAA Tournament bid. It wasn’t a must-win game for the Friars, per se, but their win over Creighton in overtime last night tips the scale and sets them up for a great opportunity to improve their seeding. Notably, Ed Cooley went small against the Bluejays, opting to slot 6’8″ Rodney Bullock into the center position to more effectively space the floor with his shooting and slashing abilities. The likes of Alpha Diallo (19 points) and Kyron Cartwright (13 points) were then able to attack the basket and draw fouls or generate offensive rebounding opportunities. Sixteen Providence offensive rebounds helped offset a 5-of-22 three-point shooting performance and kept Creighton out of transition.

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Big East Tournament Preview

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 7th, 2018

Villanova was finally dethroned from its string of four consecutive Big East regular season titles. With a 15-3 conference record, Xavier now stands in its place. But per KenPom and Las Vegas, the Wildcats remain a prohibitive favorite to capture the tournament crown this week. Let’s break down what to expect during this week’s action at Madison Square Garden.

Who will win: Villanova. Yes, the Wildcats have had their fair share of stumbles that included several head-scratching perimeter shooting performances: 8-of-33 in a loss to St. John’s; 3-of-20 in a loss to Providence; 8-of-36 against Seton Hall. Per barttorvik.com though, that recent trend looks like an anomaly.

The above chart details Villanova’s per-game three-point shooting over the course of the season. The gray dotted line is a five-game moving average, which drops off significantly over the last 10 games and is now reverting to the team’s historical mean. Perhaps Big East opponents became more conscious of chasing the Wildcats off the perimeter during that stretch, or maybe players simply became too content in standing around and letting it fly. Whatever the case, it appears to be correcting itself. Jay Wright‘s group derives a healthy 38.8 percent of its points from the perimeter (29th nationally) and very much depends on those looks to space the floor. On the defensive end, Villanova continues to mix its full court press and zone, and the return of Phil Booth from injury has helped close down the driving lanes. The Wildcats will be the outright favorite in each game this week and, should the potential #1 seeds eventually meet, their exceptional ball movement has picked Xavier apart time and time again.

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Big East Bubble Watch: Volume II

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 6th, 2018

With only five days remaining until Selection Sunday, things are finally starting to fall into place. The Big East as a whole has clearly exceeded preseason expectations and is on pace for six or seven bids despite its ongoing cannibalism. RPI and strength of schedule (SOS) figures are from RPIForecast.com and the NCAA Nitty Gritty Report. Projected average seed is from BracketMatrix.com.

Locks

Are Villanova and Xavier Poised to be #1 Seeds?(USA Today Images)

  • Villanova: 27-4 (14-4); RPI: 2; SOS: 13; Avg. Seed: 1.00
  • Xavier: 27-4 (15-3); RPI: 3; SOS: 11; Avg. Seed: 1.06
  • Seton Hall: 21-10 (10-8); RPI: 27; SOS: 25; Avg. Seed: 7.21
  • Creighton: 20-10 (10-8); RPI: 35; SOS: 51; Avg. Seed: 8.22
  • Butler: 19-12 (9-9); RPI: 45; SOS: 29; Avg. Seed: 9.60

Analysis: Villanova and Xavier are on pace to earn #1 seeds, while the others are comfortably in the field and likely in the #7 – #10 seed range. Seton Hall, Creighton and Butler all have strong RPIs with enough quality wins that a loss in this week’s Big East Tournament will not knock them off the bubble.

Should Be In

  • Providence: 19-12 (10-8); RPI: 43; SOS: 23; Avg. Seed: 10.72. Analysis: Things haven’t always been pretty for the Friars, but with three Quadrant 1 wins and a 5-1 record against Quadrant 2 teams, Ed Cooley‘s group has done enough to warrant a bid. Winning at Xavier last Wednesday night certainly would have secured the bid, but the key after that defeat was to avoid any further bad losses. Providence did just that on Saturday, knocking off a Shamorie Ponds-less St. John’s squad and notching yet another home win, where they are 13-4 on the season. At this point, signs are pointing towards a #11 seed or a spot in a play-in game, but the Friars would be best served by beating Creighton in the Big East Tournament on Thursday and securing another quality victory. Failure to do so might leave the door open for bid thieves from other conferences to encroach on their position. All told, Providence fans will be restless next weekend. The Friars’ offense has been woeful in recent weeks, lacking in consistent outside shooting and easy points around the rim. If they secure a bid, success will hinge on finding a team upon which it can impose its menacing tempo.

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