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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Ten Questions to Consider: Conference Races Heating Up

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on February 8th, 2019

Football season is now completely in the rear view mirror and the casual fan is welcomed to a weekend of college basketball highlighted by the #1 vs. #2 Duke/Virginia rematch along with numerous other heavyweight contests. Here are 10 questions I have for this weekend’s loaded slate of action.

It’s Part Two of Potentially Four Duke-Virginia Match-ups This Season (USA Today Images)
  1. Which elite team’s defense improves upon a lackluster performance in the first match-up? (Duke @ Virginia, Saturday 6 PM EST, ESPN) In Duke’s 72-70 win over Virginia last month, the two teams combined to shoot 67.1 percent from inside the arc. R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson, in particular, made 20 of their 28 two-point attempts that night. If interior defenses improve in round two, which team wins the three-point contest after the two teams combined for 5-of-31 shooting? This is without question the game of the weekend, and quite possibly the entire regular season.
  2. Can LSU protect its home court against a surging Auburn team? (Auburn @ LSU, Saturday 2 PM EST, ESPN2) Since losing three straight games in mid-January, Auburn has rallied back with three consecutive double-figure wins. In SEC play, no team has gotten to the free throw line at a better rate than LSU, while no team has put the opponent at the line at a worse rate than Auburn. Which matters more?
  3. Will Mississippi State’s offense show up against Kentucky? (Kentucky @ Mississippi State, Saturday 1 PM EST, CBS) The last match-up between these two teams was very one-sided as Kentucky held the Bulldogs to a season low 0.79 points per possession. Mississippi State could not buy much success either inside the arc (16-of-41) or outside it (3-of-20).
  4. Which Steven Enoch does Louisville get against Florida State? (Louisville @ Florida State, Saturday 4 PM, ESPN2) Since an early January decision to bring Steven Enoch off its bench, Louisville has gone 7-2. The big man transfer has scored 10 or more points in six of those games. On the season, Enoch averages 10.5 points per game in Cardinal wins and just 5.8 points per game in Louisville’s six defeats.
  5. Can Marquette make the Big East title race interesting? (Villanova @ Marquette, Saturday 2:30 PM EST, Fox) Marquette sits two games behind Villanova in the Big East standings heading into Saturday’s match-up. The Golden Eagles are undefeated (14-0) when holding opponents to an offensive efficiency of 100.0 or worse, but just 5-4 when opponents pass that threshold. Last season, Villanova torched the nets against Marquette, posting offensive efficiency totals of 122.2, 132.2, and 142.7 in three games.
  6. Will Ethan Happ be a dominant force against Michigan again? (Wisconsin @ Michigan, Saturday Noon, Fox) Ethan Happ scored 26 points on 12-of-22 shooting, dished out seven assists and grabbed 10 rebounds in Wisconsin’s first win over Michigan. Going back to his sophomore season, Happ is averaging 20.5 points per game on 45-of-87 shooting against the Wolverines.
  7. As bad as the Pac-12 might be, is it time to start taking Washington seriously? (Washington @ Arizona State, Saturday 10 PM EST, ESPN) After starting the season 7-4, Washington has now reeled off 11 straight victories, eight of which have been by 10 or more points. Three of the Huskies’ early season losses were at the hands of top-15 KenPom teams. If the Huskies can get through their desert trip unscathed, it might be time to consider them a dangerous, if not legitimate, Pac-12 team.
  8. What can be made of Nebraska moving forward? (Nebraska @ Purdue, 8:30 PM EST, Big Ten Network) Just a few weeks back Nebraska sat at 13-4 overall and 3-3 in conference play. Since then, the Huskers have dropped six straight games, four of which came at home. Tim Miles’ squad still sits in the top 40 in both NET and KenPom, so a win at Purdue would go a long way toward saving Nebraska’s free-falling NCAA Tournament chances.
  9. Can Houston take advantage of Cincinnati’s lackluster three-point defense? (Cincinnati @ Houston, Sunday 4 PM EST, ESPN) On the season, Mick Cronin’s Bearcats are ranked among the bottom 100 nationally in three-point defense. Their lack of success guarding the line has continued as American opponents are shooting 40.4 percent from distance against them. Houston’s Corey Davis and Armoni Brooks are both shooting better than 37 percent from downtown in conference play.
  10. Can Princeton stay in control of the Ivy League regular season race? (Princeton @ Yale, Friday 7 PM EST, ESPN+) While Yale has the Ivy League’s best NET Ranking, it is Princeton that is currently the only unbeaten team in conference play. Over its last six games, Princeton’s opponents have shot just 20.5 percent from beyond the three-point line.
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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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