Ten Questions to Consider: Welcome to Conference Play!

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on December 30th, 2017

As 2017 comes to a close, conference play gets underway all across the country. Here are 10 questions for a busy weekend of conference games.

Is Arizona Turning the Corner on This Season (USA Today Images)?

  1. Can Arizona State beat Arizona? Arizona State is winless in seven trips to the McKale Center since 2011, and a defensive efficiency that ranks outside of the top 100 this year certainly gives Bobby Hurley reason for concern. Still, in their one true road game at Kansas, the Sun Devils won despite allowing the Jayhawks to shoot a robust 62.1 percent inside the arc. While Arizona State ranks second in the nation in free throw rate, the Pac-12 last year logged the lowest such metric among all 32 conferences during conference play.
  2. Is TCU’s Big 12 opener a must-win game? TCU opens conference play against Oklahoma this afternoon, and that game is followed by a trip to Baylor and a home game against Kansas. TCU could potentially be looking at an 0-3 start with a back-to-back at Texas and Oklahoma looming. The Horned Frogs’ non-conference perfection could very quickly turn into a conference disaster given the next couple weeks’ schedule. TCU should expect to see Sooners’ wunderkind Trae Young put up huge numbers — the freshman is averaging 31.4 PPG and 10.8 APG in his last eight games — but they must also find a way to slow down the accompanying pair of Christian James and Brady Manek. The duo have combined for 30 or more points in each of Oklahoma’s last four games.
  3. What must Villanova do to avenge a pair of losses to Butler from last season? Villanova was 14-0 last season before losing at Butler. While Jalen Brunson had games of 23 and 24 points against the Bulldogs, Mikal Bridges and Donte DiVincenzo only combined to score a measly 14 points in 120 minutes of action. After scoring just 20 or more points once last season, Bridges has reached that mark six times this season and he will need to do so again to ensure a Villanova victory.
  4. Duke vs. Florida State: Which strength wins out? Duke comes into this weekend’s game against the Seminoles ranked as the most efficient offense in college basketball. The Blue Devils match up against a Florida State defense that ranks among the top 20 in efficiency, opponents’ effective field goal percentage and three-point defense. In two games against the Seminoles last season, Duke guard Grayson Allen contributed only 11 total points in a split of the two games.  Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East Notebook: Recapping Feast Week

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 28th, 2017

With a seemingly infinite number of early season tournaments this year in college basketball, Thanksgiving week becomes one of the sport’s busiest of the year. So in case you missed some of the action while you were busy with family and friends, here is a recap of several of the Big East’s key Feast Week storylines.

Villanova Celebrates Its Battle 4 Atlantis Win (USA Today Images)

  • Villanova hasn’t skipped a beat. This may never have been a real concern but any team that loses three starters will face some degree of uncertainty. That said, while both Purdue and Arizona were busy laying massive eggs in the Bahamas over the weekend, the Wildcats steamrolled its resulting competition to win the Battle 4 Atlantis. One reason for that is that junior Mikal Bridges continues to develop his offensive repertoire. The 6’7″ swingman, known as a highly effective defender whose limited usage masks highly efficient shooting, now takes the most shots on the team. More impressively, his effective field goal percentage is a whopping 70.6 percent this season — connecting on 50 percent of his three-point shots and demonstrating better body control when attacking the rim (66.7% 2FG). Conversely, Omari Spellman‘s freshman campaign is underway and the results to this point have been underwhelming. He is shooting just 38.5 percent at the rim and 23.1 percent from deep while accumulating a total of three points in his last two games. That shouldn’t necessarily be surprising given his relative lack of experience, but it’s worth monitoring as the team prepares for conference play.

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Introducing the RTC Preseason All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on November 8th, 2017

With the season tipping off on Friday, there’s no better time to roll out our 2017-18 RTC Preseason All-America Teams. More than anything, these three groups of outstanding players are here to foster and encourage discussion over the next four months. Our crack panel of 10 writers provided their ballots over the last week and this is where we ended up.

First Team All-Americans

  • Jalen Brunson, Villanova – There are few things more daunting in college basketball than a talented team with a heady, veteran playmaker at the point guard position. Brunson certainly fits that bill, as he enters the season with great expectations following a sophomore campaign where the point guard earned unanimous all-Big East honors while averaging 14.7 points and 4.1 assists per game. Villanova is the preseason favorite to win the Big East title — and if that prediction comes true, it will be Brunson’s third in three years running the show for Jay Wright’s squad. Factoid: Many players with Brunson’s pedigree would at least test the NBA Draft waters either after their freshman or sophomore seasons, but Brunson is different, stating, “The NBA is not going anywhere. I can wait. I can still get better. I can still get my degree. That’s the approach I had. I talked it over with my parents, and they’re just 100 percent fully supporting me. So that’s where I am.”
  • Allonzo Trier, Arizona – Arizona experienced some offcourt drama late in the offseason when longtime assistant Book Richardson was arrested by the FBI on charges of bribery, corruption, conspiracy, and fraud stemming from improper conduct on the recruiting trail. That news figures to overshadow much of Arizona’s early season — which is a real shame, as the Wildcats are projected to be among the nation’s best teams. A major reason for that is the return of Trier for his junior year. The talented wing returned from a 19-game performance enhancing drug suspension during his sophomore season to lead the Wildcats to the Pac-12 regular season and tournament titles. Many were surprised when Trier opted to return to Tucson in lieu of entering the NBA Draft, but he has acknowledged that last season’s suspension definitely factored in his decision to come back to school. Factoid: Trier was the subject of a New York Times Magazine feature when he was in sixth grade that highlighted his precocious basketball ability at a young age with an introduction to the AAU scene.
  • Michael Porter Jr., Missouri – A coaching change can often make a massive difference in a program’s fortunes. That was definitely the case with Missouri when the Tigers fired Kim Anderson in March after an underwhelming tenure and replaced him with Cal’s Cuonzo Martin, a coach who has long enjoyed a sterling reputation for his ability to recruit at a high level. Martin hiring paid off almost immediately when he secured the services of Porter, who was listed by 247Sports as the third-best player in the Class of 2017. The 6’10” forward will provide Missouri with scoring on the wing and has the versatility to defend a variety of positions. The Tigers are projected as one of the most improved teams in the country — and with Porter now in the fold, it will be intriguing to see just how far they can advance in the postseason. Factoid: It is a family affair for the Porters in Columbia this year, as Michael Porter, Sr. is an assistant coach, Jontay Porter reclassified to play with his brother, sisters Bri and Cierra Porter play for the women’s team, and aunt Robin Pingeton is the head coach of that women’s team.
  • Miles Bridges, Michigan State – Michigan State was the recipient of one of the best offseason surprises when the sure-fire lottery pick Bridges decided to return to East Lansing for his sophomore year. Once the national shock of the decision wore off, it became clear the Spartans would be one of the teams to beat in college basketball this season. Bridges will look to build on a terrific freshman year where he averaged 16.9 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. With a strong supporting cast in tow and uncertainty with many teams in the Big Ten, the star sophomore should lead the Spartans to a prosperous season on both the conference and national landscapes. Factoid: Like most of us, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo assumed Bridges would be a one-and-done player, going so far as to joke about how Bridges will have to carry bags this year as an NBA rookie. In response, Bridges may have hinted at his ultimate decision by questioning, “Coach, why you always trying to get rid of me?”
  • Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame – It is not a stretch for anyone to reference Colson as the most unique player in college basketball. After a turn as a significant role player on Notre Dame’s Elite Eight teams in 2015 and 2016, Colson became The Man in South Bend during his junior season. Standing at just 6’6″, Colson was the only ACC player last year to average a double-double — 17.5 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. Notre Dame currently finds itself in one of the most successful stretches the program has ever had, and with the talented and experienced Colson as its go-to guy, look for the Irish to continue that run this season. Factoid: Throughout Colson’s career, he has stayed true to two beliefs: play hungry and stay humble. The ACC Preseason Player of the Year vows that will not change as he enters his senior season as one of the country’s top players.

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Breaking Down Villanova’s Enhanced 1-2-2 Zone Press

Posted by Justin Kundrat on April 1st, 2016

Jay Wright’s teams have long employed a 1-2-2, three-quarter-court press as a variant to its standard halfcourt man-to-man defense. This has been partly used as a way to force turnovers, but it also helps the Villanova defense by burning valuable time off the shot clock. Its efficacy largely hinges on its personnel. Villanova has always had talented backcourts with proven abilities to score, but the necessary buy-in on the defensive end has only occurred in recent years. As a result, the zone press has experienced a significant uptick in usage — a testament to both Jay Wright‘s acknowledgement of its success and increased practice time in mastering its implementation. But the biggest development in this defensive scheme hasn’t been just added practice time — rather, the arrival of freshman Mikal Bridges has drastically improved the defensive scheme. Bridges gives Villanova a deceptively long, athletic wing with above-average foot speed who can wreak havoc within this extended defense.

The set-up of the 1-2-2 is as follows. The most important position is the player circled in red at the top, whose job it is to force the opposing ball-handler to one side of the floor.

Some of the more aggressive variations of the 1-2-2 press will attempt to trap the ball-handler in his own backcourt. While that strategy may force more turnovers, the downside is that it leaves the press exposed on the other end of the floor — especially true if the opponent has multiple ball-handlers. Wright’s adjustment is that Villanova presses in a more passive manner. The first objective is to bait the dribbler into throwing a pass, whereby players 1 -3 will aggressively pursue anything thrown over the top.

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