Ten Questions to Consider: Conference Tests, Busting Trends, and the Quest to Remain Perfect

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 24th, 2020

The first standalone weekend for college basketball is finally upon us. Without football on the calendar over the next three days, eyes shift even more to the hardwood. It’s a weekend that includes tests within conference play in addition to between power conferences. Here are 10 questions I have for the games to come.

  1. Can Texas Tech guard Kentucky without sending the Wildcats to the free throw line? (Kentucky @ Texas Tech, Saturday, 6 PM EST, ESPN) Kentucky heads to Lubbock with an offense that gets to the free throw line at a rate north of 42 percent, a figure that ranks among the top 10 nationally. In Texas Tech’s six losses on the season, the Red Raiders have given up an average of 25.4 free throw attempts, an average of 10.8 more attempts than they have taken in those games.
  2. Which streaky Big East club picks up a key win to begin the weekend? (Marquette @ Butler, Friday, 9 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) Marquette began league play by dropping three of its first four games, but since then, the Golden Eagles have now won three straight. On the other side of things, Butler began Big East play 3-0 but has since lost three straight of its own. In order for Butler to turn things around, it begins with trying to slow Markus Howard, who comes in averaging 35 points per game over his last five outings.
  3. What impact will the midweek melee have on Kansas? (Tennessee @ Kansas, Saturday, 4 PM EST, ESPN) The Jayhawks will be without both Silvio De Sousa and David McCormack this weekend, forcing Bill Self’s hand into a more small-ball oriented lineup alongside Udoka Azubuike. Isaiah Moss and Christian Braun are two players who could see more consistent minutes in this type of lineup.
  4. Can Florida get enough defensive rebounds to potentially upset #1 Baylor? (Baylor @ Florida, Saturday, 8 PM EST, ESPN) While Baylor sits at 16-1 with a top five defensive efficiency ranking, it is a squad, however, that has an effective field goal percentage below the national average. In order for Florida to pull the upset, the Gators will have to limit second-chance opportunities. In their last game, Mike White’s team allowed 15 offensive rebounds to LSU.
  5. Will the quick turnaround to their second game against one another lead to a different result in the Big Ten? (Michigan State @ Minnesota, Sunday, 3 PM EST, Fox) Entering play on Thursday, Big Ten home teams have won 44 of 54 conference games, with five of those losses coming from bottom dwellers Nebraska and Northwestern. A little more than two weeks after losing in East Lansing, Minnesota hosts Michigan State. Xavier Tillman was a force for the Spartans in the last game, scoring 19, grabbing 16 rebounds and blocking five shots.
  6. Will Richmond be able to slow Dayton down and keep its hot A-10 start going? (Dayton @ Richmond, Saturday, 6 PM EST) The Spiders have held five of their six Atlantic 10 opponents to under 65 points. That will be a daunting challenge against a Dayton squad that owns the nation’s best effective field goal percentage and two-point percentage. In last season’s only match-up, the Flyers shot 73.7 percent from inside the arc in what was an easy 24-point win.
  7. How will Memphis look coming off of a 40-point loss? (SMU @ Memphis, Saturday, 4 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) In the Tigers’ recent lopsided loss at Tulsa, Memphis shot 2-of-21 from beyond the arc and turned the ball over 20 times. Freshman guard Boogie Ellis began the season by making 9 of his first 21 three-point attempts, but since then, Ellis has shot just 9-of-42 (21.4%). One difference between now and then, of course, is the absence of James Wiseman.
  8. Can Kihei Clark find his groove and help rescue Virginia’s season? (Virginia @ Wake Forest, Sunday, Noon EST, ACC Network) ACC play has not been kind to Virginia’s third-leading scorer. The sophomore guard is shooting just 33 percent from inside the arc and just 28.6 percent from beyond it during league play. Over his last five games, Clark has missed a terrible 26 of his 37 two-point attempts.
  9. Will San Diego State pass its latest test in Las Vegas? (San Diego State @ UNLV, Sunday, 4 pm EST, CBS Sports Network) In 68 prior match-ups between these squads, each team has won 34 times. While the Aztecs have won five of the past eight in Las Vegas, four of those have come by two points or fewer. San Diego State has done a tremendous job all season in creating turnovers, an area of which UNLV has struggled mightily all year.
  10. Can DePaul find a way to end its slump in Big East play? (St. John’s @ DePaul, Saturday, 2 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) DePaul began the year 12-1 but has since run into the Big East buzzsaw, having lost five of its first six league games. In the Blue Demons’ loss to St. John’s on January 11, center Paul Reed was held to a season-low four points. Over the three games since, Reed is averaging 21 points and 12 rebounds per game.

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Five Questions: Big East Midseason

Posted by Justin Kundrat & Brad Cavallaro on January 15th, 2020

It feels like just yesterday that the season was tipping off and we were examining the biggest questions each Big East team would face this season, trying to fit new players into the puzzle, and evaluating offseason departures. But here we are at the midpoint of the season, and while there has been plenty of clarity around the conference’s contenders, the questions continue to pop up faster than the answers. Below, Big East microsite writers Justin Kundrat and Brad Cavallaro attempt to tackle the biggest ones at this point of the year.

1. Providence is off to a surprising 3-1 start. Is it too little too late or can you see a path for a tournament bid?

Where Does Providence Go From Here? (USA Today Images)

BC: Unfortunately, I think it’s too little too late for Providence. Despite an impressive 3-1 start that includes two road wins, the Friars likely need to get to 12-6 to make up for their awful non-conference start. Their schedule will only get tougher from here — providing more opportunities — but will also expose their inconsistent offense. Tonight’s game versus St. John’s is basically a must-win at this point because it may be their easiest remaining game on the schedule. Providence needs more contributions from AJ Reeves and Luwane Pipkins, who combined to shoot 1-of-11 against Butler last Friday.

JK: The best part about the Big East is that there’s no shortage of opportunities for quality wins. I’ve seen a record of 12-6 quoted on Providence’s message boards as the golden record, and honestly, it probably gets them there. That puts the Friars at 19-12 overall, ranked among in the top three of the conference standings, and presumably includes eight or so wins over NCAA Tournament teams. The home game loss against Butler last Friday was definitely a missed opportunity, but the Friars have definitely turned a corner. Alpha Diallo is finally getting (creating) good looks around the hoop; guard Maliek White has found consistent scoring; and the defense was successful in forcing opponents to take tough shots. A four-game winning streak featured some of the best two-point defense all season. That said, it’s an uphill climb to get to 12-6 — this team can’t afford any missed opportunities.

2. Marquette and Xavier are squaring off tonight and both stand at 1-3 heading into that game. Which team is more likely to right the ship and continue on the Tournament track?

JK: This is tough. Both teams have significant holes (interior offense for Marquette; shooting for Xavier) but Marquette probably has the higher ceiling and is therefore more likely to right the ship. Xavier is awkwardly constructed by lacking a true point guard, and aside from KyKy Tandy, you more or less know what you’re getting with this team. On the other hand, with Markus Howard consistently putting up 25-30 points per game, there’s a floor for Marquette that hopefully encourages more production from Brendan Bailey or Koby McEwen. But most of all, the team desperately needs Theo John to give something — anything — in the post. The 6’9″ big man has been saddled with foul trouble and awkwardly low efficiency around the hoop, contributing to an offense that ranks 338th (!) nationally in field goal conversions at the rim. No matter how much the defense has improved this season, interior offense is going to hold this team back.

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Ten Questions: Teams Looking to Overcome Trends

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on December 20th, 2019

As the non-conference slate begins to reach its final days, the trends around college basketball are starting to become more clear. This is a weekend where I have questions on teams who are looking to break or reinforce the trends that have formed over the first month and a half of the season.

  1. Will Villanova have enough defense to stop Kansas? (Kansas @ Villanova, Saturday, Noon EST, Fox) Jay Wright’s Villanova squad comes into this weekend’s action ranked 86th in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency, the worst ranking of any of his Wildcat teams. This group also has the worst-ranked effective field-goal percentage defense and opponent two-point field-goal percentage ranking of any Villanova team of the past 10 years.
  2. What impact might the absence of Matt Haarms have on Purdue (Butler @ Purdue, Saturday, 2:30 PM EST, Big Ten Network) The Boilermakers got by Ohio without Haarms in the lineup, but have a much tougher test looming this weekend against Butler. Haarms, second on the team in points per game and rebounds per game, is also a defensive anchor, ranking among the nation’s top 10 in block rate. Butler’s highly efficient offense will test Purdue.
  3. Is it time to panic in Lexington? (Ohio State vs. Kentucky, Saturday, 5:15 PM EST, CBS) The Wildcats were outplayed for much of their recent game against Utah, even if a late rally gave Kentucky a chance to overcome the Utes. This Kentucky squad has the worst team three-point percentage (27.5%) of any Big Blue team of the past 20 years. If they can’t figure things out against Ohio State, they’ll take a two-game losing streak into next weekend’s huge match-up with Louisville.
  4. Who wins the battle at the rim? (Colorado vs. Dayton, Saturday, 6:30 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) Defensively, Colorado’s defense is strongest on the interior, where according to Hoop-Math, the Buffaloes own the nation’s 12th-best defensive field-goal percentage at the rim. Dayton star Obi Toppin gets more than half of his field goal attempts at the bucket, where he shoots a staggering 83.9 percent.
  5. Will Utah State pick up another win over an SEC opponent? (Utah State @ Florida, Saturday, 2:30 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) The Aggies were victorious over LSU earlier this season and now will get a shot at Florida. The Gators are a team that have struggled when unable to create turnovers from their opponents, which could prove a challenge against a Utah State squad that is ranked among the worst 50 teams nationally in turnover rate.
  6. How will Arizona State react to its midweek thrashing? (Creighton @ Arizona State, Saturday, 8:30 PM EST, Pac-12 Networks) Arizona State’s 40-point loss to Saint Mary’s on Wednesday was the Sun Devils’ worst loss since a Kentucky beatdown in 2016. In Wednesday’s defeat, only three Sun Devils scored, with 43 of the team’s 56 points coming from Alonzo Verge off the bench.
  7. Experience vs. Inexperience: Which backcourt shines brightest? (VCU @ Wichita State, Saturday, Noon EST, ESPN2) VCU starts a pair of senior guards in Marcus Evans and De’Riante Jenkins. Wichita State’s backcourt is made up of freshmen Grant Sheffield, Tyson Etienne and sophomore’s Jamarius Burton and Erik Stevenson. This VCU squad is forcing turnovers at a clip over nine percent better than the national average. How will the young Wichita State guards hold up against the pressure?
  8. Will San Diego State’s three-point defense keep them undefeated? (San Diego State vs. Utah, Saturday, 6:30 PM EST, Pac-12 Network) The Aztecs have a three-point defense that ranks among the top 20 in the nation, six percent better at 26.9 percent than last year’s mark that ranked 93rd nationally. Brian Dutcher’s team will be tested by a Utah team that made 8-of-15 from deep in its recent win over Kentucky.
  9. Can a St. John’s team looking to push the pace survive against a Nico Mannion led Arizona team? (Arizona vs. St. John’s, Saturday, 10 PM EST, ESPN2) St. John’s adjusted tempo of 75.4 possessions per game is the highest of any Mike Anderson coached team in the KenPom era. While the Red Storm have an effective field-goal percentage of 53.6 percent in transition, it falls short of Arizona’s even-better 59.4 percent field-goal percentage in transition.
  10. Will Markus Howard make Marquette history? (North Dakota State @ Marquette, Friday, 9 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) After making 6-of-10 from deep against Grambling State, Markus Howard has now made 349 three-pointers at Marquette. With just five more makes, Howard will tie Steve Novak for the most triples in Marquette history. North Dakota State has allowed an average of just five made three-pointers over its last five games.

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16 Questions About Thursday’s First Round Games

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 20th, 2019

With tip-off of the First Round of the NCAA Tournament just around the corner, here are 16 questions to get you ready for all the action on Thursday.

Here We Go… (USA Today Images)
  • 1) Gonzaga vs. 16) Fairleigh Dickinson: Will Gonzaga spring back to life after its surprising loss to Saint Mary’s? The Zags shot 2-of-17 from beyond the arc in the WCC championship game, but a deep Tournament run will require better shooting from the likes of Zach Norvell, Josh Perkins, and Corey Kispert (collectively, 37.3 percent on the season).
  • 2) Kentucky vs. 15) Abilene Christian: When Kentucky misses shots, will Abilene Christian be able to keep the Wildcats off of the glass? Abilene Christian’s leading rebounder is 6’6″ Jaren Lewis, who averaged 6.2 boards per game. Kentucky’s duo of PJ Washington and Reid Travis could be in line for huge games on the interior for the Wildcats.
  • 2) Michigan vs. 15) Montana: Will Michigan’s size dominate this game? Even without leading scorer Jamar Akoh down the stretch, Montana went 10-2 behind a balanced attack which includes three other players who average at least 13 points per game. For the Grizzlies to win, though, the size of Ignas Brazdiekis and Jon Teske will be a lot to overcome.
  • 2) Michigan State vs. 15) Bradley: Will Michigan State avoid the early exit it took the last time it was a #2 Seed? Bradley managed to beat a Big Ten team (Penn State) earlier this year, but the Braves are going to have their hands full with Michigan State’s Nick Ward in the post.
  • 3) LSU vs. 14) Yale: How focused will LSU be with all the distractions surrounding the Will Wade situation? The Tigers will be without head coach Will Wade as they begin their NCAA Tournament run against a Yale team that likes to get up and down the floor. Each squad has four players who average double-figure points per game.
  • 3) Purdue vs. 14 Old Dominion: Which Carsen Edwards shows up for the Boilermakers? While Edwards shot 33.5 percent from behind the arc on the season, he’s shooting just 22.5 percent in Purdue’s last 11 games. Another shaky performance from the Boilermakers’ star guard could send Purdue home early.
  • 4) Kansas vs. 13) Northeastern: While Northeastern’s Vasa Pusica is grabbing the buzz, is Shawn Occeus the Huskies’ most important player? Occeus was the CAA Defensive Player of the Year in 2018, so if he can lock down the Jayhawks’ perimeter options tomorrow, a lot of pressure will fall on to the shoulders of Dedric Lawson.
  • 4) Florida State vs. 13) Vermont: In a one-game setting, does depth and size win over star power? The Seminoles leading scorer is the 6’10” Mfiondu Kabengele, who puts in 12.9 points per game. In addition, Leonard Hamilton’s team has seven other players who average six or more points per game. Vermont is led by the 21.4 points per game of unanimous America East Player of the Year, Anthony Lamb. The Catamounts only have three other players who average six or more points and just one player in the rotation who stands 6’7″ or taller.
  • 5) Auburn vs. 12) New Mexico State: Which strength brings the bigger advantage? Auburn’s defense leads the nation in turnover rate, while New Mexico State is among the nation’s best in grabbing offensive rebounds. This game could come down to which side is able to get the most out of those two areas.
  • 5) Marquette vs. 12) Murray State: Will Marquette’s sometimes porous transition defense be a deciding factor? The Golden Eagles’ defense sits in the bottom 20 percent in college basketball when it comes to the percentage of shots an opponent takes in transition. The Racers are one of the nation’s best at getting and finishing in transition, led by none other than All-American Ja Morant.
  • 6) Maryland vs. 11) Belmont: Can Belmont’s duo of Nick Muszynski and Dylan Windler hold up against the Maryland frontcourt of Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith? While Windler struggled against Temple offensively, he was a force on the glass. Muszynski returned to the court after missing the OVC championship game and chipped in 16 points. They will be tested against the large Terrapins’ tandem that can wreak havoc on opponents.
  • 6) Villanova vs. 11) Saint Mary’s: Who wins the battle of the three-point line: Villanova’s offense or Saint Mary’s defense? Only three teams took three-point attempts at a higher rate than Villanova this season, while the Gaels sat in the top 10 nationally in terms of running teams off of the three-point line.
  • 7) Louisville vs. 10) Minnesota: Can Minnesota find enough points to get the Pitino family revenge against Louisville? The Golden Gophers averaged 14.3 fewer points per game on the road than they did at home this year. Minnesota’s offense could find it difficult to score against the highly-efficient Louisville defense.
  • 7) Nevada vs. 10) Florida: Which senior will make the biggest impact? In a sport dominated by freshmen, this game will include a plethora of seniors on both sides including the likes of Nevada’s Caleb Martin, Jordan Caroline and Florida’s Ke’Vaughn Allen and Jalen Hudson.
  • 7) Wofford vs. 10) Seton Hall: Will this game come down to which star has a better game? If Ja Morant vs. Markus Howard is must-see matchup #1A, this game’s battle of Fletcher Magee and Myles Powell is must-see match-up #1B. Both players average more than 20 points per game and have taken nearly 500 field goal attempts on the season.
  • 8) Syracuse vs. 9) Baylor: Will the “Boeheim zone” reign supreme again? The Syracuse zone once again led to plenty of three-point attempts for opponents, so Baylor will need a better showing than the 34 percent it shot from distance on the year. Syracuse must also find ways to slow a Bears’ team that finished the year with the second best offensive rebounding rate in college basketball.
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Big East Burning Questions: NCAA Tournament Edition

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 20th, 2019

If a down year for the conference means four bids, then the conference certainly has nothing to complain about. All four Big East clubs were slotted roughly in line with expectations heading into Sunday and each has a winnable First Round game (or a play-in game for St. John‘s). Below are the burning questions facing each team as it prepares for the NCAA tournament:

Marquette: Will Markus Howard get back on track?

Marquette Will Go as Far As Markus Howard Can Take Them (USA Today Images)

As good of shooters as the Hauser brothers and Sacar Anim are, there’s no question the Marquette offense runs through Markus Howard. His red-hot shooting (40.8% 3FG) and ability to draw fouls (seventh-highest fouls drawn per 40 minutes) keep the Golden Eagles humming and give much needed spacing to his teammates. Tertiary scorers such as Joey Hauser and Anim are less efficient when Howard is not on the floor and the Marquette offense as a whole scores 10 fewer points per 100 possessions without him. That drops Marquette from an elite offense (23rd nationally) to a strikingly average one. In the team’s recent six-game stumble, Howard’s effective field goal percentage plummeted to 42.2 percent, compared with 53.5 percent in the games preceding it. So it’s no surprise then that some of the team’s worst performances correlate directly with an off night from their 5’11” star. Coupling these recent struggles with news of Howard’s hand injury is definitely cause for concern.

Villanova: How will the Wildcats perform on an off shooting night?

By this point, everyone knows that Villanova relies heavily on the three-pointer, having ranked among the top 40 nationally in three-point attempt rate for each of the last six seasons. This season, Jay Wright has taken that ambition to an extreme, with three-pointers accounting for 53.5 percent of Villanova’s shot attempts, good for third nationally. When they connect, defenses are forced to adjust, which opens up driving lanes and creates better spacing. But Villanova is decidedly average in its long-range accuracy this season, making the slumps feel that much longer when the shots continue to be fired. In the Big East Tournament, the Wildcats did a good job generating points at the line and around the basket during those inevitable cold spells, but it wasn’t always pretty and felt somewhat unsustainable. Wins are wins, but in the NCAA Tournament, the question will be whether Wright’s club can find offense when their shooting dries up. The rim-attacking abilities of Saddiq Bey and Jermaine Samuels will be critical.

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What’s Trending: Conference Tournament Weekend

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 18th, 2019

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

The second week of conference tournaments began with many questions, the biggest of which focused on a certain 6’7″, 285-pound freshman in Durham, North Carolina. For the past few weeks, questions about Zion Williamson and whether he would — or should — return to play for Duke have been thrown around by nearly everyone. It took the superstar forward all of two minutes of game time to show everyone that he is indeed back…

https://twitter.com/si_ncaabb/status/1106368814206324736

The storylines involving Zion continued in Duke’s ACC Tournament quarterfinal match-up against Syracuse. In the past, it was Duke — paging Grayson Allen — as the centerpiece of any tripping story. This time, however, it was Syracuse’s Frank Howard taking his turn to extend his leg a little further than necessary…

“I love playing with Duke, I love my teammates.”

The Zion experience carried into the ACC Tournament semifinal match-up against North Carolina. The Tar Heels had dominated the first two Zion-less games, but after scoring 29 points and grabbing 10 rebounds through the first 39 minutes, it was Zion’s final two points and rebound that made the biggest difference…

https://twitter.com/espn/status/1106760367533780992

Scoring, rebounds, steals… oh, Zion can pass the ball pretty well too…

In the non-Zion Williamson category of the ACC Tournament, the basketball world was gifted a dancing Virginia Tech head coach Buzz Williams

…a frantic possession and game-winning basket by Florida State’s Terance Mann…

…and everyone’s favorite, allegations of NCAA violations…

On the topic of NCAA violations, the SEC Tournament included LSU’s Will Wade releasing a statement where he made a plea to get back on the sideline. LSU General Counsel Tom Skinner fired back with, “as a university and employer, we need to hear our employee say, ‘I didn’t do anything wrong,’ or explain the circumstances or admit he did not do something wrong. We’ve been unable to get to that point. We have no choice, in terms of institutional control, to not suspend someone.”

On the court, Tennessee’s Admiral Schofield began the Volunteers’ SEC Tournament action with a poster over Mississippi State…

https://twitter.com/SportsCenter/status/1106755627366391809

LSU’s Skylar Mays came up with a dunk that had LSU fans jumping for joy…

…but it was ultimately Florida’s Andrew Nembhard who allowed Florida to move on and send LSU home.

Florida’s run through the SEC Tournament came to an end on Saturday, literally at the hands of Auburn….

https://twitter.com/br_CBB/status/1106998122658582533

In the other semifinal, the SEC Tournament delivered a gem between Tennessee and Kentucky…

During Wednesday’s opening round of the Big Ten Tournament, Nebraska’s Tim Miles had the spotlight on him after his Huskers toppled Rutgers…

…after beating Maryland on Thursday, Miles got his shot at redemption…

After the second win in as many days, Big Ten Twitter was quick to point out this fact that fans in Bloomington, Indiana, were not happy to read…

The Big East Tournament will be remembered for this sequence in Seton Hall’s semifinal win over Marquette

https://twitter.com/CBBonFOX/status/1106760477718138881

Meanwhile, at the end of the tournament it was once again Villanova that walked away as the champion… AGAIN.

Tournament week in Las Vegas began with the West Coast Conference Tournament where St. Mary’s earned an automatic bid by getting the best of Gonzaga.

…and it continued with the Pac-12 Tournament where all eyes were on Bill Walton doing Bill Walton things…

…and it ended with Oregon winning the Pac-12 Tournament to steal a bid from a team on the bubble.

As players play for an opportunity to keep their season going, these tournaments bring up stories that need to be shared. The emotion in the face of Old Dominion headcoach Jeff Jones makes the Monarchs an easy team to root for…

While there is so much to love and appreciate with college basketball, there was one thing that continues to outshine the product on the floor. Officiating throughout tournaments leaves fans wondering…

And as painful as questionable calls can be, the monitor review process will almost assuredly come up time and time again next week. Getting the correct call is important, but too often these reviews kill any flow to a game. Add in the fact that they act as de facto timeouts for teams that often do not have any to call and you have a situation that creates more problems than it solves.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Big East Edition

Posted by Brad Cavallaro on March 17th, 2019

Here are some early reactions to each of the four Big East teams’ draws in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

Marquette Received the Highest Big East Seed in the NCAA Tournament (USA Today Images)

#5 Marquette. Marquette is slotted in the dreaded #5/#12 match-up and will face media darling Murray State as a result. The Racers are led by a future NBA lottery pick in point guard Ja Morant, an exceptional athlete, ambidextrous finisher, and elite passer. The backcourt match-up between he and Markus Howard will be worth the price of admission, but also look out for Shaq Buchanan and his 13.0 PPG on the wing. The Golden Eagles have limped to the finish, losing five of six games, but Steve Wojciechowski‘s bevy of impressive shooters should keep them in the game.

#6 Villanova. Villanova has received high seeds since the formation of the new Big East six years ago, but this year will be a different situation for the Wildcats. Matched up against WCC automatic qualifier St. Mary’s, the Gaels have relatively strong metrics despite their #11 seed. They are an intriguing team — they lost to every decent opponent on their schedule with one exception — last week’s dominant performance against #1 Gonzaga. Villanova’s supporting cast will be key to how much longer Marchc continues for Jay Wright‘s club. Seniors Eric Paschall and Phil Booth are the known commodities, but the recent strong play of Jermaine Samuels and Saddiq Bey must continue for Villanova to advance very far in the NCAA Tournament.

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Thursday in NYC: Takeaways from the Big East Quarterfinals

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 15th, 2019

Hard to believe that the Big East tournament is already underway — it felt like just yesterday that Villanova was cutting down the nets at Madison Square Garden. While the conference as a whole may be down this year, the tournament to date has offered no shortage of drama. Here are some of the major takeaways from Thursday’s quarterfinals action.

Myles Powell Dropped 31 Points in Leading Seton Hall Over Georgetown (USA Today Images)
  • Villanova’s offense sputtered its way to the finish line on Thursday afternoon, but the Wildcats ultimately got the result they needed. Based on its record and metrics, Providence, however, was perhaps written off a bit too quickly. The Friars’ offense was the worst in Ed Cooley‘s tenure, per KenPom, but the defense featured ample perimeter length that gave plenty of backcourt-oriented teams problems. So it shouldn’t be surprising that Villanova struggled to generate offense, amassing just 1.00 points per possession on 10-of-31 three-point shooting. The Wildcats will face a similarly constructed team in Xavier Friday night and the result could very well be different if Villanova fails to revitalize its dribble-drive offense.
  • Speaking of the Musketeers, they were flat out terrific on the defensive end today against Creighton. The 63-61 win effectively crushed Creighton’s NCAA Tournament hopes while keeping Xavier alive for same. The game featured a contrast in styles: a guard-heavy perimeter-oriented offense versus one that bullies opponents on the glass and around the basket. While the teams split the season series, it was won on the glass today by Zach Hankins. The 6’11” big man nearly set a season high with 22 points and nine rebounds, but more impressively, the defense was suffocating and good at getting back to prevent transition baskets. Throughout the second half, Xavier excelled in denying perimeter passes to eliminate any offensive fluidity, quickly closing out on shooters and letting Hankins disrupt any attempt to attack the rim. When it was all said and done, Xavier held Creighton to 0.91 points per possession, well below its average of 1.13 PPP.
  • Following a 32-point beat-down by Marquette, St. John’s may have just played its way out of the NCAA Tournament field. After bursting onto the scene with a 14-1 start and a short-lived Top 25 appearance, the Red Storm finished 10-10 against Quadrant One/Two teams. When all is said and done, they might end up with a NET somewhere in the 70s, which simply won’t be sufficient to result in an NCAA Tournament bid. If they don’t make the cut, the seat under Chris Mullin will get awfully warm…
  • It goes without saying then that Marquette looked unstoppable tonight, shooting 11-of-23 from deep and suppressing every run the Red Storm could throw at them. Big East player of the year Markus Howard continued his theatrics with 30 points — if you see Marquette on the TV guide, turn over the channel.
  • Amid a flurry of Georgetown turnovers, Seton Hall capitalized and easily took care of business in the nightcap. If there was any doubt about whether the Pirates would be again playing in the NCAA Tournament, a resounding 16-point victory over Georgetown erased those concerns. Winners of three straight, Kevin Willard‘s group is arguably playing their best basketball of the season, and will seek to further boost their seeding with a win over Marquette on Friday night. When their defense is fueling their offense like it is now, the Pirates will be a tough out.
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Big East Bubble Watch: Volume II

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 5th, 2019

We’re now closing in on two weeks remaining until Selection Sunday, and the Big East as a whole continues to completely cannibalize itself. All of the remaining games at this point are virtually must-watch TV and will be critical in determining which teams are dancing come March. All figures below are from WarrenNolan.com.

Only Two Big East Teams are NCAA Locks (USA Today Images)

Locks

Villanova: 22-8 (13-4); NET: 25; SOS: 14

Marquette: 23-6 (12-4); NET: 26; SOS: 38

  • Analysis: These two teams have been a mainstay in the national polls and very little could happen to knock them out of NCAA Tournament consideration over the next two weeks. Marquette is currently 9-4 against Quadrant 1 opponents, while Villanova is 4-6, and neither team has a Quadrant 3 or 4 loss on its resume. Both teams will be fighting for favorable seeding down the stretch, with a best case scenario being a #3 seed for Marquette and a #5 seed for Villanova. Despite some hiccups, a Big East championship crown should grant the above to one of these two teams.

Should Be In

St. John’s: 20-10 (8-9); NET: 61; SOS: 65.

  • Analysis: St. John’s has done everything in its power to knock itself out of NCAA Tournament contention over the last couple weeks. Since Volume I of the bubble watch, the Red Storm have gone 1-3, accumulating losses to Providence (by 19), Xavier (by 11) and DePaul (by 9). That’s certainly not the kind of performance one would expect from an NCAA-quality team, and their defensive efficiency metrics in the last two games are far and away the worst on the season. That said, St. John’s still owns six Quadrant 1 wins and a gaudy enough record to keep them above the cut line. It is imperative to win at Xavier this Saturday, or things could get interesting.
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Big East Q&A: Unpacking The Conference’s Key Questions Heading Into the Home Stretch

Posted by Justin Kundrat & Brad Cavallaro on February 26th, 2019

Time is running out in conference play and there is still much to be decided. Big East microsite writers Justin Kundrat and Brad Cavallaro teamed up this week to break down several of the conference’s key questions heading into the last couple weeks of regular season action.

JK: The biggest storyline in recent weeks has been the drastic fall of Villanova – is this simply the case of a team being gassed or is there a bigger underlying issue here?

Villanova’s Latest Loss Left Xavier Celebrating (USA Today Images)

BC: It has to be a little of both. Phil Booth and Eric Paschall are clearly tired at the end of games and the difficult contested shots that they typically hit in the first half are not falling in the second. However, the biggest underlying issue is that Villanova does not have enough offensive creators this season. If they still had Donte DiVincenzo in the lineup, they would have had plenty of firepower, but Collin Gillespie is not getting the job done. He is a good player and has played well for the most part, but he has been thrust into a major role prematurely. Saddiq Bey, Jermaine Samuels, and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree are solid role players and have bright futures ahead, but they cannot create shots for themselves. Some of these young players will need to step up immediately or Villanova could be in for a quick postseason.

JK: Much has been said about the conference’s cannibalism this season when it comes to NCAA Tournament at-large prospects. What are your thoughts on the conference’s two bubble straddlers: Seton Hall and Butler?

BC: The Big East has not done itself any favors with cannibalization this season. While Marquette, Villanova, and St. John’s all sit in good position, Seton Hall and Butler are clinging to tenuous positions. The Pirates have two amazing non-conference wins away from home (Kentucky and Maryland), which will give them a leg up on comparable bubble teams. Butler has a couple nice wins on its resume as well, but their lack of statement wins is worrisome. The Pirates should not be in position to miss the NCAA Tournament unless they lose the rest of their games, but the Bulldogs needs to accumulate more wins or else a bid thief from a smaller conference will take their spot.

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