Big East M5: 12.19.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on December 19th, 2013

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  1. In joining the Big East, Creighton hoped that the better competition and brand-name league would help raise the program’s status, and vault successful Bluejays outfits to more advantageous seeding come March. While the Big East is undoubtedly an upgrade in many regards from Creighton’s old home, the Missouri Valley, the league hasn’t quite panned out as many had hoped thus far. ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi only has four teams from the Big East currently in his field, including Marquette, the league’s preseason favorite, in a play-in game. While no Big East team is truly out of the running yet this year, fans would have probably hoped for more from the top of the conference, but today Villanova is really the only squad really making a name for itself on a national scale. 
  2. While Creighton has dropped a few games it would like to have back, the team seems to be building depth behind star Doug McDermottEthan Wragge and Will Artino have swapped positions in the starting five, with Wragge entering the lineup as the Bluejays’ second leading scorer at 12.5 points per game and Artino more effective as a reserve, totaling 27 points in his last three games (after 40 through his first seven). Avery Dingman and Devin Brooks have also stepped up as of late, each filling the scorebook in a win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Coach Greg McDermott was effervescent in his praise of the two players, who have made great strides in recent weeks: “Avery Dingman has had three of the best days as a Bluejay as he’s ever had. His last two days of practice and today’s game, he’s shown more confidence and urgency to his play… Devin is getting better every single day. There’s no question from the start of practice until today, he’s our most improved player… I’m really proud of him, and that’s a credit to him.”
  3. Rysheed Jordan was the crown jewel in Steve Lavin’s freshman class at St. John’s, but until the last few games, he had yet to find himself in the college game. Sunday’s match-up with New York rival Syracuse and one of the nation’s top freshman point guards, Tyler Ennis, brought out the best in Jordan, who scored a season-high 13 points. Jordan followed this game up with another strong performance — 10 points and four assists — against San Francisco on Wednesday night. St. John’s is among the most talented teams in the Big East, and if Jordan can break out to go along with established players like JaKarr Sampson, D’Angelo Harrison, and Phil Greene IV, the Johnnies will be quite dangerous in time for postseason play.
  4. Red Storm head coach Steve Lavin has put together an incredibly diverse, eclectic staff with men of all ages and backgrounds, including 77-year old college basketball legend Gene Keady as a special advisor. Keady, who helped launch Lavin’s coaching career by putting him on his staff at Purdue, brings a great deal of knowledge and experience to the group, and players and coaches agree that his basketball acumen has paid off. Forward JaKarr Sampson describes the impact that Keady has on everyone in the program: “Whenever he talks, everybody listens, even Coach Lav. With Coach Lav, I feel like he’s still learning from him. It’d be foolish not to listen to what he’s got to say.”
  5. Providence has been playing this season under a cloud of injuries and suspensions, and it is still uncertain when freshmen Brandon Austin and Rodney Bullock will be allowed to suit up for the Friars. Without the highly touted Austin, the scoring burden for the Friars has fallen to veteran Bryce Cotton, whose importance to his team grows with every game that his team spends without the freshmen. According to head coach Ed Cooley, he is taking this leadership responsibility in stride: “What everybody has to know is our team has really taken on the heartbeat of Bryce. I have seen him grow unbelievably in the last two, three weeks. Vocally, his spirit, his energy. We knew he’d play well today based on how he prepared. I’m really proud of the man he is becoming. He has grown so much.”
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Otskey’s Observations: Episode VI

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on December 18th, 2013

Battle For Iowa Lived Up To Its Billing

For my money, the best game in recent days was Iowa State’s thrilling win over Iowa on Friday night at Hilton Coliseum. This game was the true essence of what college basketball is all about. It was a heated in-state rivalry between two quality teams in a crazy atmosphere, smack dab in the middle of a basketball-crazed state. It is simple: This was a fun game, period. Although Fred Hoiberg’s Cyclones came away victorious, you may be somewhat surprised to find out that my biggest impression taken from this game was just how good Iowa is. I actually thought the Hawkeyes were the better team for most of this contest. Don’t get me wrong, Iowa State played really well. After all, it beat a team I thought was very impressive so that should tell you something about the Cyclones as well. I thought Iowa had a terrific game plan and evidence of top-notch coaching and scouting was present throughout the game.

Devyn Marble

Devyn Marble and his mates were outstanding. But Iowa State was just a little bit better. (AP)

One specific example of great scouting came late in the first half when Roy Devyn Marble got in the middle of a dribble hand-off by Georges Niang and broke it up, leading to two Iowa points on the other end. Marble read the play perfectly and it paid off for his team. Fran McCaffery’s squad excelled in transition and got almost anything it wanted offensively on the low block with Aaron White leading the charge. Iowa ran some beautiful half-court sets that resulted in plenty of clean looks, especially for White and Marble. The Hawkeyes dominated the glass (but did not take full advantage of it) and answered the bell nearly every time Iowa State put together a charge, except for the final minute where it wound up costing them the game. Iowa simply didn’t make the plays it needed to win late, highlighted by Mike Gesell’s two missed free throws. McCaffery and his team can learn a lot from this game but in the end it is on the players to step up and lead down the stretch. Whether that’s Marble (most likely), White, Gesell, or someone else, Iowa needs someone to be “the man” in order to take the next step and contend at the very highest level in the Big Ten.

Michigan Back On Track?

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Big East M5: 12.06.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on December 6th, 2013

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  1. Marquette is struggling a bit this year, having lost three of six games heading into this weekend’s intrastate rivalry game with Wisconsin. ESPN.com’s Myron Metcalf believes that the Golden Eagles and the Big East as a whole could really use a big non-conference win to boost their bona fides: “Marquette is approaching desperation in its quest for the resume-boosting non-conference victories that will pay off on Selection Sunday… A series of mishaps in holiday tournaments diminished the Big East’s buzz. The conference’s contenders failed in recent non-conference match-ups that would have enhanced their respective NCAA tournament hopes/seeds.” Don’t expect this to be the most beautiful game of hoops that anyone has ever watched — Marquette has struggled to score against quality opponents while undefeated Wisconsin is coming off a match-up where they surrendered only 38 to a solid Virginia squad.
  2. St. John’s and Fordham play almost every year, but is the annual New York City game a true rivalry? Rumble in the Garden examined the series, in which the Johnnies have been victorious in all but two of the last 23 meetings. The last few seasons have seen a number of close games, and interestingly enough Fordham’s last win was in 2010 when they overcame two significant deficits to upset a St. John’s team that ended the year with an NCAA Tournament berth. Fordham looks like it may be a feisty mid-major this year while St. John’s has been up and down so far this season, so Big Apple fans may be in for another close one on Saturday.
  3. The intrastate rivalry theme continues, as Providence managed to hold off nearby URI for a 50-49 win last night. The Rams’ E.C. Matthews had a final shot to win the game, but he was unable to knock it down, giving the Friars the victory. Tensions were reportedly high in the Ryan Center, as head coaches Ed Cooley and Dan Hurley had to be separated at one point after Cooley took exception to Hurley’s position far away from the Rams bench.
  4. Seton Hall must be happy to come away with a win against LIU-Brooklyn last night, but not all was positive in South Orange after the game. The Pirates’ top player Fuquan Edwin left the game with a sprained ankle just two minutes after tip-off, an injury that may sideline him for a few weeks. Without Edwin in the lineup, veterans Brian Oliver and Gene Teague were the obvious players for the Pirates to lean on and they performed well. Oliver went 8-of-17 with all of his shots coming from beyond the arc, finishing with 26 points. Teague added 17 points and 16 rebounds, and was a presence on the interior that LIU-Brooklyn struggled to match. Seton Hall will faces rival Rutgers on Sunday for the first time as a non-conference opponent since the split of the Big East, and without Edwin, the team will need Oliver and Teague to continue their strong recent play.
  5. As previously discussed hereCreighton is going through a rebranding of its program in conjunction with the move to the Big East, and they will take another big step this weekend with the unveiling of the new “Billy Bluejay” before the team’s game with Nebraska.  Details have been scarce, although according to Omaha.com, Creighton has described the new-look Billy as “vibrant,” “more athletic,” and released this photo of the mascot’s new kicks.
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Last Week’s Villanova and Marquette Tournament Runs Spurred by Freshmen

Posted by George Hershey on December 4th, 2013

The college basketball world was amazed by Villanova’s surprising run to the Battle 4 Atlantis championship last weekend. After having a relatively easy start to the season, the Wildcats landed in the Bahamas and beat USC prior to a match-up with the #2 ranked team in the nation, Kansas, followed by a battle against #23 Iowa in the title game. Seasoned veterans James Bell, JayVaughn Pinkston and Ryan Arcidiacono helped lead the team on its stunning run, but the play of freshmen Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins, especially in the championship game, was instrumental and a major reason the Wildcats came out on top.

Josh Hart helped secure the Battle 4 Atlantis Championship (Tim Aylen/AP)

Josh Hart helped secure the Battle 4 Atlantis Championship
(Tim Aylen/AP)

Marquette also made a run to the championship game of the Wooden Legacy tournament in California. Although the Golden Eagles lost to San Diego State in a tight championship game on Sunday night, leading scorer Davante Gardner played with the flu and Derrick Wilson looked to have hurt his groin, rendering him mostly incapable of playing in the second half. Despite those problems, Buzz Williams’ team was able to make it a close game and had a chance to win at the end because of the remarkable play of freshman Deonte Burton. Fellow freshman JaJuan Johnson also was instrumental in beating Cal State Fullerton and played well against Arizona State in the other two games.

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Big East M5: 12.04.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on December 4th, 2013

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  1. What was supposed to be a promising season for a young, talented Providence team has gone off the rails a bit as suspensions and injuries have reared their ugly heads. Ed Cooley lost Kris Dunn to injury for Sunday night’s showdown with national power Kentucky, while freshmen Brandon Austin and Rodney Bullock remain suspended indefinitely. All three players, especially Dunn and Austin, were expected to be major contributors for a Friars squad looking for an NCAA berth, but for now Cooley has to dance with the players that brought him: “I’m going to coach the team that’s on the bus.”
  2. So Feast Week was fun, right? Well next year’s slate of exotic star-studded tournaments should also be a good one. Georgetown and Butler have signed on to play in next year’s Battle 4 Atlantis, where they will have a chance to face North Carolina, UCLA, Florida, Wisconsin, Oklahoma and UAB.  This is the second straight year where there will be some potential for all-Big East tournament match-ups, after Creighton and Marquette nearly faced off in the finals of this year’s Wooden Legacy. Conference realignment is the gift that keeps on giving, it appears. While UNC, Florida, UCLA and the like are tough potential opponents, one Casual Hoya commenter looked on the bright side of this slate:gtown NE atlantis
  3. God’sgift Achiuwa hasn’t made a huge impact for St. John’s on the court this season — the forward is averaging 1.4 points in 7.7 minutes per game for the Red Storm — but he’s doing great things off the court in his community. ‘Gift’ is among 201 nominees for the 2014 Allstate NABC and WBCA Good Works Teams. A St. John’s release further details all of the great things that Achiuwa and the rest of the Red Storm are involved in around New York City:”In 2012-13 Achiuwa and members of the men’s basketball team participated in more than 131 hours of community service, volunteering their time at the St. John’s Bread and Life Soup Kitchen, the San Francisco Food Bank, the annual Red Storm Dribble For The Cure benefiting the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation, the St. Nicholas of Tolentine Men’s Shelter and in the Community Mayor program. The 2013 Dribble For The Cure raised $70,000 for pediatric cancer research in the New York area bringing its three-year total to $120,000.”

    While basketball is why we’re all here at Rush the Court, it’s always great to hear about the human stories and incredible acts of charity that so many of these players are involved with.

  4. Butler wasn’t picked by many to finish very high in the Big East this season, but the Bulldogs have done a great job managing a tough schedule thus far. Indy Star took a look at how each of the Big East teams have fared so far this season, and how the Bulldogs stack up, relatively speaking. At 5-2 with the ‘2’ being a two-point overtime loss to LSU and a near take-down of a star-laden Oklahoma State team, Butler has impressed: “Butler accomplished something in Orlando, even if it won’t show up in their season record: They proved they can play with anyone in the country. Simply put, they looked like an NCAA Tournament team, and that’s something few expected to hear about this Bulldog team.”
  5. Villanova is the talk of the conference right now coming off an impressive Battle 4 Atlantis win over a possible national championship contender in Kansas and another ranked team in Iowa. The Wildcats have a deep group of talented perimeter players, headlined by Kansas-game hero Ryan Arcidiacono and swingman James Bell, who is having a breakout season, but Jay Wright believes it is Rice transfer Dylan Ennis who has made all the difference for his club: “He shocked me. He played with great composure. He didn’t force shots. He was really impressive.” Ennis averaged 12 points, three rebounds, and two assists at Atlantis — his first three games of the season — and was especially effective from long range, knocking down eight of his 12 three point attempts.  Nova’s schedule now becomes very Philly-centric, with games against Penn, Saint Joseph’s, and La Salle over the next few weeks, but the biggest match-up for Ennis comes on December 28 when he travels to the Carrier Dome for a showdown with his little brother Tyler, who has been excellent so far this season as the starting point guard for the Orange.
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College Basketball By The Tweets: Upsets and Titles Abound Over Holiday Weekend

Posted by David Harten on December 2nd, 2013

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The word of the weekend is upset: U-P-S-E-T. That pretty much sums up the last few days in college basketball, where there seemed to be a lesser-team (at least on paper) beating a seemingly better team (again, at least on paper) in every time slot. If your team had a ranking next to it, chances are they were threatened at one point or another in their latest game or two. Along with those upsets came titles. This weekend marked the unofficial end of the early-season tournaments until a handful of Christmas tourneys come around, with winners being crowned in the Old Spice Classic, the Wooden Legacy and the Battle 4 Atlantis. Even when there wasn’t a trophy up for grabs, the games were just as compelling. Just ask North Carolina (making “upset Sunday” a regularity) or Creighton (which lost in a third-place game). Their losses weren’t softened by knowing that hardware wasn’t on the line.

First, it was Villanova having arguably the best time anyone had in the Caribbean. Initially, the Wildcats pulled off an upset of #2 Kansas 63-59 in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis on Friday night. The Jayhawks shot just 18.9 percent from three-point range.

That’s good, but how do you validate it? Go out and beat no. 23 Iowa in the finals, winning the whole thing on Saturday, 88-83 in overtime. James Bell had 20 in the win.

Jay Wright may submit his application for consideration of a team’s best weekend in college basketball at any time.

On Sunday, the first eye-opener came when pupil beat student as Jarod Haase and UAB welcomed Roy Williams and North Carolina, and sent them packing with a 63-59 loss. Chad Frazier might be the best junior college newcomer in all of college basketball, finishing with 26 points in the win and averaging 18.4 points in his first eight games on campus. Read the rest of this entry »

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Four Thoughts on Marquette, Creighton, SDSU & GW at the Wooden Legacy

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) on November 30th, 2013

The Wooden Legacy created a lot of buzz on Friday night during its action. Here are four thoughts on what happened last night in Fullerton.

  1. As of today, more than three months from the NCAA Tournament, it remains to be seen just how good Marquette really is. There are some serious question marks about this team, mostly offensively, including just exactly who on this team, aside from specialist Jake Thomas, is going to hit some outside shots. But, we could probably think back to last year about this time and come up with some similar questions. And the year before. And the year before that. But still, Buzz Williams’ teams have wound up experiencing plenty of success in each of those years (just to remind you, they’ve been in at least the Sweet Sixteen for three years running), despite those weaknesses never getting fully resolved. Why? A lot of it is because his teams have taken on the personality of their coach: humble, intense, blue collar, and hard-working. A great example of the fire that Williams brings out and celebrates in his team came with under a minute to go Friday afternoon in the waning moments of a Marquette blowout. With George Washington refusing to give up the ghost despite a 16-point deficit, the Golden Eagles did the same, fighting to the final buzzer. And there was that aforementioned specialist Thomas, diving on the floor for a loose ball, thinking of calling for a timeout on an otherwise meaningless possession, but then, from the seat of his pants, finding his bulldog point guard Derrick Wilson for a breakaway layup. It was a play that caused the entire Marquette bench, Williams included, to erupt with a passion normally reserved for a tight game. Distill that play, bottle it and you’ve got the very essence of “Marquette basketball” under Williams. Williams on that play: “That’s a Marquette play. You can argue as a fan that maybe it wasn’t a meaningful possession. You can argue that mathematically the game was over. But for Jake to dive on the floor with both feet and both hands and come up with the loose ball, and then to pitch it ahead to Derrick for a layup, I hope that that’s a reflection not only of him and of our current team, but also our program.”

    Marquette Basketball Has Come To Embody Many Of The Same Characteristics As Their Head Coach, Buzz Williams (MJS/R. Wood)

    Marquette Basketball Has Come To Embody Many Of The Same Characteristics As Their Head Coach, Buzz Williams (MJS/R. Wood)

  2. George Washington did not play particularly well on Friday afternoon, and head coach Mike Lonergan was the first to admit it. But, this is a team that, again, as Lonergan admitted, probably didn’t expect to be playing for a championship on Sunday anyway. They knew they were going to be in for a battle every game this tournament, and the fact that they have a chance to be playing for third place on Sunday is a boon for them. Meanwhile, for Creighton, it is a disappointment. If Creighton isn’t careful, they’re liable to suffer a letdown on Sunday, especially playing in the cavernous Honda Center in front of a sparse crowd rather than the band box Titan Gym where the first two rounds were played. And if that happens, a GW team with shooters on the wing like Maurice Creek and Nemanja Mikic, grinders in the middle and nothing to lose, could make the Bluejays earn their lunch on Sunday, something Greg McDermott alluded to in his postgame press conference: “I’m not looking too much down the road, because I think George Washington is a heck of a basketball team and we’re going to need to be ready to play on Sunday or we’re going to be in big trouble.” Read the rest of this entry »
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Feast Week Mission Briefing: Arizona State in the Wooden Legacy

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on November 27th, 2013

With Feast Week already in high gear, we’re outlining the roads ahead for prominent Pac-12 teams involved in neutral site events this week.

What They’ve Done So Far: Don’t look now, but Arizona State may have, to date, the best resume in the Pac-12. They’ve taken care of business against the dregs of their schedule; they scored a solid road win over an underachieving UNLV team; and they grabbed a good win over Marquette earlier this week. With Jahii Carson and Jermaine Marshall making for a great one-two punch in the backcourt and with nearly everybody else on the roster performing better than average thus far, this is one fearsome offensive team.

Jahii Carson And Arizona State Should Have A Wildly Entertaining Thanksgiving Night (Jeff Gross, Getty Images)

Jahii Carson And Arizona State Should Have A Wildly Entertaining Thanksgiving Night (Jeff Gross, Getty Images)

First Round Preview: Fittingly, the Sun Devils kick off play in Fullerton on Thanksgiving Day against arguably the most fearsome offensive team in the nation, Doug McDermott’s Creighton squad. Now in his senior year and even with opponents going out of their way to game plan for him, McDermott just keeps marching along — knocking down threes, scoring in the paint, getting to the line and just generally making buckets — he’s scored more than 30 points in half of his games this season and is averaging 27.5 PPG on the season. But while McDermott is clearly the straw the stirs the Bluejays’ drink, there are plenty of other options to keep opponents honest. Fellow senior Ethan Wragge has drilled 14 of his 25 (56%) attempts from behind the arc. Junior point guard Austin Chatman has knocked down 58.3 percent of his threes and is third on the team in scoring with an 11.0 PPG average despite mostly looking to get teammates involved. And senior Grant Gibbs is once again the glue guy for this squad, averaging just four points a game but handing out almost six assists per night and providing the best individual defense on the team. However, we’ve seen this story from Creighton before: great O, poor D. For the Bluejays to really be considered a threat on the national stage, they’ve got to step it up defensively, and in this area the Sun Devils will give them quite a test. Ideally, as a college basketball fan, you’d want to see this game turn into a second half shootout, with McDermott and Carson trading blows on opposite ends of the floor. But from a coaching perspective, both Greg McDermott and Herb Sendek will be more interested in how their respective defenses compete against elite offensive competition. Either way, avoid the turkey hangover to tune in for the nightcap on Thursday evening.

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Big East M5: 11.27.13 Edition

Posted by George Hershey on November 27th, 2013

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Happy Thanksgiving from the RTC Big East microsite!

  1. After Patrik Auda re-injured his right foot last week, many thought he was definitely gone for the season. After being examined on Monday, it appears that Auda could return as early as one month from now. Coach Kevin Willard said “In a nutshell, he didn’t do anything major to the screw or re-break the bone. What he did was aggravate the area that got repaired. In essence he kind of planted wrong. It’s good that he didn’t break it; if he broke it, that would have been the season.” This is great news for Auda and Seton Hall as it would be terrible to see Auda miss two seasons in a row for the same reason. Seton Hall will be very happy to have him back for the majority of the conference schedule. Hopefully they survive the next month and Auda’s absence could become a positive if a player uses the extra playing time to impress the coaching staff and turn into a major role player.
  2. St. John’s coach Steve Lavin reinstated Rysheed Jordan after suspending him indefinitely last Friday. Jordan played well and contributed  eight points and  four assists in his best game so far. Jordan violated team rules according to Lavin, but it is good to see that Jordan is back and playing so quickly. With the Johnnies struggling to score at times last night, they can use all the playmakers and scorers they can get. Jordan figures to be an important role player this season, preparing to lead the team next season.
  3. Marquette was without junior guard Todd Mayo in their loss Monday night at Arizona State. Mayo suffered a sprained ankle in practice, but luckily for him it is apparently nothing serious. Mark Strotman of PaintTouches.com points out that Buzz Williams used a three-guard lineup for almost all of the second half, when Marquette went on a big run and stopped their offensive incompetency. This lineup is similar to what they have used in recent seasons and had the most success with. The backcourt is more experienced and talented, but the three guard lineup works best in Williams’ system. With Derrick Wilson, freshman JaJaun Johnson, and Jake Thomas having breakout games, Williams may be more inclined to increase their minutes and trust them to score more. Mayo is a proven scorer and should find plenty of minutes with three guards on the floor, as long as he chooses his shots wisely, an area of weakness in the past.
  4. Big East teams hauled in tremendous recruiting classes this year. Adam Finklestein of ESPN.com graded each of the teams -besides St. John’s because they didn’t sign anybody- and the Big East would end up with a very high GPA. Xavier, Seton Hall, and Georgetown received A’s while Marquette and Providence were given A-‘s.  All five of these schools brought in stellar players and several should have instant impacts. Seton Hall’s future point guard Isaiah Whitehead is a personal favorite and one of the most exciting players you will watch play. Xavier has the best ranked class with three top 100 recruits. The Musketeers, Seton Hall, and Providence are not known as recruiting powers, but their great classes should help increase the popularity and visibility of the programs. Not to be forgotten, Villanova (B+), Butler (B), Creighton (B-), and DePaul (C+) each have signed a player or two who will become important players, but will probably not be instant contributors.
  5. Thanksgiving is best known for sports fans as a big day for NFL football, but college basketball may have the best games of the day. Five Big East teams play on Thursday with Creighton and Marquette playing in the Wooden Legacy Tournament, Villanova and Xavier going to the Bahamas for the Battle for Atlantis, and Butler travels to Orlando for the Old Spice Classic. A full preview of the weekends big games will be up later today, but this weekend will begin to weed out the contenders from the pretenders in the Big East. All the fields have great teams so if you find yourself tired from eating turkey, stuffing and pie, sit back and enjoy some top notch basketball.
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RTC Big East Microsite Week in Review

Posted by Dan Lyons on November 26th, 2013

Happy holidays everyone! Feast Week is upon us, and the Big East has been performing pretty well across the board so far this season. There appears to be a lot of parity in the conference, and a few surprise teams like Xavier and Providence look like they may be real contenders this season. Let’s jump into the previous week of action.

Power Rankings

Xavier is Creeping up the Power Rankings Behind Semaj Christon

  • 10.) DePaul (3-2), LW (10): DePaul looks like it might be a solid step up from where it has been the last few seasons, but last night’s game against Wichita State shows there’s still a lot of opportunities for improvement.
  • 9.) Seton Hall (4-2), LW (8): The Pirates have a penchant for close games. Four of their six games have been decided by single figures, including both of their losses: a 77-74 double-overtime heartbreaker to Mercer, and an 86-85 loss to Oklahoma.
  • T-7.) Butler (4-0), LW (9): Butler is still undefeated by the narrowest of margins, winning an overtime thriller against Vanderbilt and a one-point game against Ball State last week. Khyle Marshall and Kellen Dunham are keeping the Butler offense afloat, each by averaging 15.8 points per game.
  • T-7.) St. John’s (3-1), LW (5): Phil Greene IV had a big week for the Johnnies, scoring 16 and 22 points in tight wins over Bucknell and Monmouth, respectively. Greene’s contributions in the backcourt have been very important for a St. John’s team that is struggling to score.
  • 6.) Providence (6-1), LW (6): The Friars had as good of a week as anyone, winning three games over solid competition before dropping last night’s Paradise Jam championship to Maryland. The frontcourt combination of Kadeem BattsLaDontae Henton and Tyler Harris has been as effective as any in the league in the early part of the season. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East M5: 11.22.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on November 22nd, 2013

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  1. What’s going on, Georgetown? Losing to a good Oregon team after traveling all the way out to South Korea is one thing, but Northeastern? And it’s not even the NCAA Tournament yet? The Hoyas joined the ranks of the upset specials on Thursday afternoon, dropping their first game in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off and moving on to face Kansas State, which was knocked off by Charlotte just a few hours earlier. The Hoyas led Northeastern at the half, 36-25, but went extremely cold in the second half, especially at around the 10-minute mark when Northeastern went on a 14-0 run. D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera was the only Hoya in double figures, scoring 14 points. His backcourt mate Markel Starks was held to nine points on 2-of-12 shooting. Despite a significant size disadvantage, Northeastern really won this game on the interior. Their forward combination of Reggie Spencer and Scott Eatherton combined for 30 points and 19 rebounds, while the six frontcourt players who got playing time for Georgetown totaled just 26 points and 25 rebounds. Losing to a team nicknamed the “Huskies” which played a lot of zone can not feel good for the Georgetown faithful.
  2. With his team struggling to find playmakers, Creighton coach Greg McDermott has moved to a two point guard lineup, featuring both Austin Chatman and Devin Brooks in the backcourt, and the lineup has paid dividends so far.  Both played well down the stretch in the Bluejays’ comeback win against St. Joseph’s, sparking a 21-11 run. Chatman is a fan of what the lineup brings to the table: “I think this is a good option for us. It spreads the court more and opens things up. It makes it easier to get into the lane and find our shooters, and we have a lot of guys that can shoot it.” As the more experienced of the two, he usually moves off the ball and allows the explosive Brooks to take over at the point. The early dividends have been good, making Creighton a bit more diverse on offense: “When we’re out there together, it gives us more people to make plays on the court. I like playing with Dev. It’s fun.”
  3. Zone defenses have been becoming more en vogue for a few years now, and this season with the more heavy scrutinization of contact on the perimeter, even more teams are looking to implement zones in their defensive repertoire. One of those squads is St. John’swhich used a zone effectively down the stretch in a win over Bucknell. Down three with 10 minutes left, the Johnnies shifted to the zone and held the Bisons to 5-of-16 shooting from that point, securing a 67-63 Red Storm victory. Steve Lavin credits the defensive switch as one of the main reasons that his team was able to pull the game out: “The zone defense was the difference. It took them out of their rhythm and set up the blocks because it kept our bigs at home.”
  4. Marquette, known as one of the more staunch man-to-man teams in the nation under Buzz Williams, may also begin to incorporate more zone defense into its system this year. The Golden Eagles, who were picked to win the Big East by many, have been among the teams most affected by the way the game is being called this season, Williams admitted to Michael Hunt of the Journal Sentinel: “We were fouling with all five guys the way things are being called now.” Between the more frequent fouls called on physical defense, and the loss of a number of big playmakers from last season, the Golden Eagles are a team in a bit of flux, as was apparent in an ugly loss to Ohio State last week.
  5. Xavier has had some injury issues in this early season, and those reared their head once again in Wednesday’s 77-51 win over Miami (OH) when Isaiah Philmore was forced out of the lineup with a wrist injury. Philmore is fourth on the team in scoring at nine points per game and is not someone that Chris Mack can really afford to lose for an extended stretch, especially with a big match-up against Iowa on the horizon. Luckily, the injury seems to only be a sprain, and Philmore’s status is currently day-to-day. Here’s hoping he’s back soon.
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Otskey’s Observations: Episode II

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on November 20th, 2013

Is there anyone out there who still thinks Marcus Smart made a poor decision in returning to Oklahoma State for his sophomore season? Smart is the star player on a team capable of making the Final Four and showed last night that he’s taking his commitment to improve all aspects of his game seriously. Remember, Smart was just a 40 percent shooter overall last season and an anemic 29 percent from three-point land. His talent is obvious but fine-tuning those skills are imperative if he wants to be successful at the next level of basketball. Consider last night’s 39-point performance against an overwhelmed Memphis squad a terrific start. Smart and his Cowboys blitzed the Tigers from the opening tip while the OSU guard enjoyed perhaps the hottest 10-minute stretch of basketball I have ever seen. Smart still has to prove he can hit jumpers with regularity and work on making better decisions, but he made significant progress last night, despite some ill-advised, quick shots and a couple of poor passes. Don’t forget about him: College basketball is not just all about Wiggins, Parker and Randle.

Marcus Smart was terrific against Memphis last night.  (AP Photo).

Marcus Smart was terrific against Memphis last night. (AP Photo).

It was interesting to note that John Beilein benched freshman point guard Derrick Walton Jr. down the stretch of Michigan’s 77-70 loss at Iowa State on Sunday. Instead, Beilein went with sophomore Spike Albrecht at the point as the Cyclones managed to pull away and pick up a big win. Beilein is a highly-regarded coach but this was a questionable decision. In a November game in a tough environment, I’d prefer to see the freshman in there to get that experience, good or bad. Nobody is going to be Trey Burke so what’s the harm of seeing what your young point man can do in a pressure spot? Yes, Albrecht is still young too but Walton Jr. seems like the point guard of the future for the Wolverines. I don’t think this decision cost Michigan the game but it was something I noticed immediately. Beilein should have let it ride with his promising freshman in that situation.

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