What’s Trending: The 2019-20 Season Is Underway!

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on November 11th, 2019

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

College basketball is back and all is right in the sports world again. The season began with the highly anticipated Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden last Tuesday. The battle of #1 vs. #2 was a tight game, but it was the play of Kentucky’s Tyrese Maxey which proved to be the difference-maker. Here is exhibit A of Maxey’s heroics…

Earlier in the night, Duke’s new dunking sensation Cassius Stanley showed off his vertical in the Blue Devils’ win over Kansas. This was a game in which Kansas turned the ball over 18 times in the first half and 28 times overall.

While Maxey and Stanley were starring at the Garden, North Carolina’s Cole Anthony set the Dean Smith Center afire in his debut….

It was also an opening night which included plenty of ACC match-ups. Syracuse and Virginia battled their way through a “first to 40” type of game. Afterward, Jim Boeheim expressed his displeasure in opening the season with a conference game…

It has been an opening week of action which has included plenty of surprises…

There was the record setting night in Salt Lake City where Utah beat Mississippi Valley State by a whopping 94 points…

There were upsets everywhere at the bottom of the Big Ten, including Merrimack getting it’s first win at the D-I level…

…and then there was Southern Utah getting the best of Nebraska in double-overtime.

https://twitter.com/marchmadness/status/1193288254679912448

The opening week also included a wild couple of hours in Memphis.

First there was the news that freshman phenom James Wiseman was ruled ineligible by the NCAA…

…and then there was the news less than an hour later that a restraining order would allow Wiseman to remain on the floor, at least for now…

Thus ultimately setting up what is sure to be a contentious battle between Memphis/Wiseman vs. the NCAA

It was an opening week which included an impactful injury.

And it was an opening week which included moments that players and fans will never forget.

In Wisconsin, there was this moment with Jerrell Moore being announced to the crowd as part of the Badgers staring lineup…

https://twitter.com/marchmadness/status/1192977717861474304

In Austin there was the career-high 20 point performance from Andrew Jones

https://twitter.com/br_CBB/status/1191938373184839686

And in Kent, Ohio, there was this moment with Kent State freshman Kalin Bennett

Then there was a showing of love and support for Michigan State All-American, Cassius Winston, who lost his brother to a tragic train accident on Saturday night.

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Introducing the RTC Preseason All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on November 1st, 2019

With the season tipping off next Tuesday, there’s no better time to roll out our 2019-20 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 RTC writers provided their ballots over the last week and this is where we ended up.

First Team All-Americans

  • Cassius Winston, Michigan State (unanimous) – The reigning Big Ten Player of the Year raised some eyebrows when he bypassed early entry into the 2019 NBA Draft to return to East Lansing for his senior season, but the NBA’s loss is Michigan State’s gain. Winston’s return gives a loaded Spartans roster a proven floor general as it tries to repeat as Big Ten champions and return to the Final Four. While Winston’s greatest strengths are probably his leadership and basketball IQ, he also possesses a knack for being an elite playmaker in huge moments. This was never more evident than in both of Michigan State’s regular season victories over intrastate rival Michigan last year. Winston averaged 25 points per game in those wins and got the best of Michigan point guard Zavier Simpson, who has a well-earned reputation as one of the county’s best defenders. The Spartans have sky high expectations this season, but with Winston back to lead the squad, it would not be surprising to see Michigan State once again be among the nation’s top teams. Factoid: Michigan State defeating Division III Albion by 35 in its exhibition opener will be a footnote in its 2019-20 season, but it will certainly be much more memorable for Winston, as his younger brothers Khy and Zach suit up for Albion. When Spartans’ head coach Tom Izzo heard about the possibility of setting up the game with Albion, he jumped at the chance, knowing it would give the Winston family a memory that will last a lifetime.
  • Myles Powell, Seton Hall – Seton Hall begins this season with as much hype surrounding the program as it has in decades. The biggest reason for all the hoopla is Powell returning to the Pirates for his final go-around. The senior guard is an elite scorer — 23.1 points per game as a junior — who has a great ability to punish opponents from both the perimeter and by taking the ball to the basket. Powell’s best performance as a junior came in a March home win over Marquette — on a night when Seton Hall needed a marquee win to confirm its status as a lock to make the NCAA Tournament. The playmaking guard finished the victory with 34 points and contributed 10 of those to the 18-0 run the Pirates used to overpower the Golden Eagles and leave the game with the important result. Factoid: At Big East Media Day, Powell was named the Big East Preseason Player of the Year — becoming the first Seton Hall player to earn that honor since Terry Dehere prior to the 1992-93 season.
  • Markus Howard, Marquette – Marquette was dealt a blow early in the offseason when forwards Sam and Joey Hauser decided to leave the team. Losing two key contributors would be debilitating for most programs, but most programs do not return a player like Markus Howard. Howard returns to the Golden Eagles for his senior season after completing a junior campaign that saw him average 25 points per game and tally 40+ points in a game three separate times, highlighted by a 53-point performance in a January win at Creighton. If Marquette is to return to the NCAA Tournament in 2020, it will need Howard to once again shoulder the scoring load. Judging on past experience, he seems more than capable. Factoid: It was a mild surprise when Powell was named the Big East Preseason Player of the Year over Howard, but the senior took it in stride, stating, “I think it is definitely unique to have a conference with two of the really prolific players in the country. For us to be in the same conference and able to compete two or three times every year is something unique to have as competitors.”
  • Jordan Nwora, Louisville – It is possible that no player in the country elevated his play as much last season as Nwora did for the Cardinals. The standout forward went from averaging just 5.7 points and 2.2 rebounds in only 12 minutes per game to putting up 17 points and 7.6 rebounds in 31.9 minutes per game. For the time being, it appears the tumultuous times at Louisville have come to an end and the Cardinals look primed to have a big season. Chris Mack has brought steadiness to the sideline and players like Nwora stayed committed to the program when it would have been understandable to seek greener pastures. Factoid: Nwora spent his summer playing for Nigeria in the FIBA World Cup. His father, Alex, serves as the team’s coach. This made history, as they were the first father-son player-coach to represent Nigeria at such a high level in any sport.
  • James Wiseman, Memphis – There may not be a more intriguing team in the country this season than Memphis. Penny Hardaway begins his second season at his alma mater with the number one recruiting class in the country enrolled. The crown jewel of that group is Wiseman. The Memphis native enters the Tigers program, fresh off a senior season at Memphis East High School that saw him average 25.8 points and 14.8 rebounds per game en route to being named the 2018-19 Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year. Memphis is projected to earn its first NCAA Tournament bid since 2014 and if it is able to make good on that projection, it will likely be due to the star power provided by Wiseman and the rest of the much ballyhooed freshman class. Factoid: Wiseman has yet to take the floor for Memphis. He was sidelined for both exhibition games with a right ankle injury. Hardaway hopes his star freshman will be able to play when the Tigers open their regular season on November 5 against South Carolina State.

Second Team All-Americans

  • Devon Dotson, Kansas – Last season marked the first season since 2004 where a team other than Kansas won the Big 12 regular season title, as the Jayhawks were plagued by injuries, inexperience and inconsistent play. Despite the disappointing season, Kansas discovered Dotson has the tools to be potentially become the next great Jayhawks point guard. That was never more evident than when Dotson tallied 25 points to go with 10 rebounds and five assists as Kansas overcame a blown second half lead to notch a road win over TCU. Bill Self’s group projects to get back to the top of the Big 12 this season and having who figures to be the best point guard in the league should greatly assist in making that a reality. Factoid: The sophomore point guard gave Kansas fans a bit of a scare in the preseason when he showed up at Big 12 Media Day in a walking boot and missed the first exhibition game nursing an ankle injury. Self put that all to rest though when responding, “He’s fine. He’ll be ready to go,” after being asked about Dotson’s status.
  • Cole Anthony, North Carolina – Anthony arrives at North Carolina following a decorated prep career that saw him average a triple double as a senior at Oak Hill Academy and be named the MVP of the 2019 McDonald’s All-American Game. The super athletic point guard who can drive, pass, shoot, dunk and defend will use what will likely be his only season in Chapel Hill to try to go down as a legendary Tar Heels’ point guard. The freshman got off to a solid start in North Carolina’s annual “secret scrimmage” where he poured in 28 points as the Tar Heels split four separate periods of play against Villanova. Factoid: The hype surrounding Anthony appears to be warranted, as North Carolina guard Garrison Brooks noted at the team’s media day, “He [Anthony] is already one of the best players in the country and he hasn’t played a game. I think that’s a lot to say.”
  • Tre Jones, Duke – Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish all left Duke for the NBA after a freshman season that culminated in an Elite Eight appearance. After much consideration, Jones decided not to join that group and returned to Durham for a second tour as point guard of the Blue Devils. Known as a defensive stalwart — with an ACC All-Defensive honor already in hand — Jones has also shown capable as an offensive weapon, most notably by tallying a career-high 22 points in Duke’s win over Virginia Tech in the Sweet Sixteen. Factoid: Jones’ introduction at Duke’s Midnight Madness last month took on a special meaning when he brought his mother Debbie Jones onto the court with him to honor her fight to ultimately becoming cancer-free earlier in October.
  • Kerry Blackshear Jr., Florida – The most sought-after graduate transfer of this offseason will begin his lone season at Florida after a very successful run at Virginia Tech. The skilled big man did a little bit of everything for the Hokies. He is a load in the paint; he can step out and hit a jump shot; and he has enough of a handle to effectively drive to the basket. The Gators figure to be strong on the perimeter with sophomore Andrew Nembhard being joined by star recruits Scottie Lewis and Tre Mann, but Blackshear will give Mike White’s squad a legitimate post presence who will provide the physicality necessary for SEC play. Factoid: White’s recruiting strategy when convincing Blackshear Jr. to go to Gainesville revolved around how the forward would instantly become a key leader for the Gators. This resonated with Blackshear, as he noted, “Just understanding I had a big role was really fun for me. It made me understand I had to be one of the leaders this year.”
  • Udoka Azubuike, Kansas – The Kansas big man returns to Lawrence for a senior season where he will look to avoid the injury bug that has plagued much of his collegiate career. Azubuike was limited to just 11 games as a freshman in the 2016-17 season and only nine games as a junior last season. When healthy, Azubuike has been a load in the paint for opponents and he has showcased an elite ability to finish around the rim. In the 2017-18 season – Azubuike’s only healthy season – the big man led the county with a 77 percent field goal percentage. Factoid: Even with all the time Azubuike has missed, the Big 12 coaches still tabbed the big man as the league’s preseason player of the year. If that holds and Azubuike puts up the numbers to earn the postseason player of the year honor, he will be the first Kansas big man to win the award since Thomas Robinson took it home following the 2011-12 season.

Third Team All-Americans

  • Tyrese Haliburton, Iowa State – Haliburton did not light the world on fire during his freshman season in Ames — he only averaged 6.8 points, 3.6 assists, and 3.4 rebounds per game — but with Talen Horton-Tucker and Mariel Shayok now departed, the sophomore guard will likely expand his production and play a bigger role for the Cyclones. Even in his limited role last season, Haliburton showcased a two-way ability that made him a player to watch for NBA scouts. Factoid: Haliburton saw his stock rise this summer when competing for the United States. In victories over New Zealand and Lithuania, the guard averaged 14.5 points, eight assists, and three steals.
  • Jarron Cumberland, Cincinnati – It is a new era of Bearcats basketball with Mick Cronin departed for UCLA and John Brannen coming up from Northern Kentucky to take over the Cincinnati program. Amid all the chaos that can come with a coaching change, though, is Cumberland returning to the fold following a junior season where he was named AAC Player of the Year. The honor was greatly deserved as Cumberland averaged 18.8 points per game and was a big part of the Bearcats earning a ninth straight NCAA Tournament bid. Factoid: Memphis has been the most talked about AAC team of the preseason, but Tigers coach Penny Hardaway maintains Cincinnati is still the team to beat in the conference with his reasoning being, “It doesn’t hurt to have Jarron Cumberland. When does he graduate anyway?”
  • Killian Tillie, Gonzaga – Entering last season, it seemed like it was Tillie’s turn to become the next great Gonzaga big man. He averaged 12.9 points and 5.9 rebounds per game as a sophomore and shot a very strong 47.9 percent from the perimeter. Unfortunately for Gonzaga and Tillie, he was limited to just 15 games during his junior campaign with a stress fracture and a tear in his ankle. Mark Few has built a spectacular program in Spokane, so the Bulldogs were able to overcome Tillie’s shaky health, but if Tillie is able to be fully healthy this season, Gonzaga’s ceiling will be even higher. Factoid: The start of Tillie’s senior season might be delayed, as he underwent a minor knee procedure in early October and is currently listed as questionable for the season opener.
  • Jalen Smith, Maryland – The Terrapins received good news early in the offseason when Smith decided to bypass the NBA Draft and return to College Park for his sophomore season. The decision to go back to school came as a bit of a surprise, as Smith was very good in the NCAA Tournament, averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds in the Terrapins’ two games. Expectations are high for Maryland this season and if Smith can replicate what he did last March, the Terrapins could very well challenge Michigan State in the Big Ten race. Factoid: Smith goes by the nickname “Stix,” which is a reference to his slim 6’10”, 225 pound figure.
  • Kaleb Wesson, Ohio State – The Buckeyes lost their final three games of the 2018-19 regular season. That was notable because those defeats were suffered without Wesson, who was serving a brief suspension for violation of an athletic department policy. Those three defeats resulted in Ohio State’s NCAA Tournament seed taking a hit. Luckily for Chris Holtmann’s team though, Wesson was back for the NCAA Tournament, and riding his 21 points and 12 rebounds, the 11th-seeded Buckeyes were able to knock off sixth-seeded Iowa State in the first round. Factoid: Wesson approached this offseason with a much more serious approach and that resulted in the junior big man dropping 34 pounds in an effort to increase his athleticism and endurance.

Honorable Mentions: Ayo Dosunmu (Illinois), Anthony Edwards (Georgia), Anthony Cowan (Maryland), Andrew Nembhard (Florida), Tyrese Maxey (Kentucky), Ashton Hagans (Kentucky), Xavier Tillman (Michigan State), Lamar Stevens (Penn State), Isaiah Stewart (Washington), Charles Bassey (Western Kentucky), Anthony Lamb (Vermont), Reggie Perry (Mississippi State), Yoeli Childs (BYU), Kellan Grady (Davidson).

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Big East Key Questions: Seton Hall & St. John’s

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 1st, 2019

Seton Hall: Is there enough roster improvement here to warrant a Top 25 ranking?

Myles Powell Dives Back Into Big East Play as a Preseason All-American (USA Today Images)

A recent article over at Three Man Weave highlighted an interesting conundrum: Decent teams with high minutes continuity from the previous season rarely make a big leap. Just two of the 47 data points containing teams with 80%+ minute continuity that finished the prior season between #41-#80 on KenPom finished in KenPom’s top 15 the next year. In other words, the most likely outcome for this year’s Seton Hall team is last season’s result, which would be a huge letdown for a fanbase thirsty for postseason success. Michael Nzei is the only meaningful contributor lost from last year’s squad, and the addition of 7’0″ transfer Ike Obiagu should go a long way in shoring up the Pirates’ lackadaisical post defense. But outside of that, the onus will likely fall on Myles Cale and Jared Rhoden to provide consistent scoring alongside the 23.1 PPG fire hose that is All-American Myles Powell. Cale alternated between a confident, slashing 6’6″ wing who could pour in 20+ points in numerous ways and a forgotten standstill shooter who couldn’t find his mark. Rhoden, on the other hand, is a rising 6’6″ sophomore who demonstrated his tremendous potential in flashes and has the makings of a legitimate breakout candidate with more minutes. Nonetheless, we know what last season’s Seton Hall team was capable of — the question is whether a corner can be turned this season. Let’s see if those players can make the leap.

St. John’s: Can newly minted head coach Mike Anderson bring some defense to Queens?

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What’s Trending: Conference Week Madness is Underway!

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 11th, 2019

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

Let the NCAA Tournament ticket punching begin!

https://twitter.com/br_CBB/status/1104579515672678401

Jon Rothstein eloquently describes the month of March perfectly. It’s time to sit back and enjoy all that college basketball will bring us…

After 14 consecutive years at the top of the Big 12, Kansas‘ reign as the conference’s top team finally came to an end. In an era of college basketball where anything is possible, the longevity of the Jayhawks’ streak was beyond remarkable…

I
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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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Seton Hall Surging Despite Offensive Limitations

Posted by Mike Knapp on December 13th, 2016

Seton Hall may have put together a dream season in winning the Big East Tournament last season but the Pirates relied upon the playmaking prowess of super sophomore Isaiah Whitehead and a top-10 defense to get there. That team’s Achilles Heel often came on the offensive end of the court, as ball movement sometimes had a tendency to stagnate. The Pirates assisted on just 51 percent of their makes — 203rd in the nation, per KenPom — while relying heavily on the all-Big East guard for the majority of their playmaking. As a result, there were two competing schools of thought about Kevin Willard‘s team coming into this season. One was that the Pirates’ offense would flow better without a ball-stopper — even a gifted one like Whitehead — in the lineup; the other was that they would stagnate even more offensively with their only true playmaker now in the NBA.

Isaiah Whitehead Led Seton Hall to Its Best Season in a Long While (USA Today Images)

Life without Isaiah Whitehead has created new offensive issues at Seton Hall. (USA TODAY Images)

Seton Hall may be 8-2 and in the midst of a four-game winning streak that includes close wins over California and previously-unbeaten South Carolina, but the Pirates have been an even more imbalanced offensive unit through the first month of the season. That troubling assist rate has dropped even further to an incredibly low 39.8 percent (345th nationally) and the Pirates do not boast a single player with an individual assist rate over 20 percent (the only Big East team that can claim that distinction). Still, given the makeup of his current roster, Willard’s focus on isolation leading to one-on-one attacks on the basket may not necessarily be a bad thing. Junior wing Desi Rodriguez and junior guard Khadeen Carrington are particularly adept at getting into the paint and drawing fouls, and Angel Delgado, who currently ranks 21st in the country in offensive rebounding percentage at 15.7 percent, is one of the top glass-eaters in college basketball. The downside of a team that ranks 25th nationally in earning its share of points from driving the ball is that Seton Hall leaves much of its efficiency on the table as one of the worst free throw shooting teams in the country. The Pirates convert just 62.5 percent (311th) of their tries from the charity stripe, with only one regular hitting at 80.0 percent (Myles Powell). Read the rest of this entry »

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Big East Conference Preview: Georgetown, Butler, Seton Hall

Posted by Mike Knapp on November 9th, 2016

The Big East microsite will be rolling out previews on all 10 teams this week, sorted into three tiers. Today we review the projected middle tier of teams — Georgetown, Butler, and Seton Hall. RTC’s previous bottom tier preview can be found here.

#6: Georgetown

John Thompson III Needs a Good Season at Georgetown (USA Today Images)

John Thompson III Needs a Good Season at Georgetown. (USA TODAY Images)

The Hoyas lost leading scorer D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera to graduation but bring back all of their other key pieces from a disappointing 15-18 season. Georgetown has great depth at forward with juniors LJ Peak and Isaac Copeland  both of whom finished strong last season — and Robert Morris transfer Rodney Pryor will see significant minutes on the wing. The team also features a formidable two-pronged attack at center with the return of reliable graduate-senior Bradley Hayes and sophomore Jessie Govan. While Govan had an inconsistent freshman year, he showed flashes of his well-rounded offensive skill set and looks to be a perfect fit in John Thompson III’s Princeton offense.

Georgetown still lacks consistent three-point shooting, but their main question mark coming into this season is at point guard. Junior Tre Campbell underwhelmed for most of last season as the floor general, only scoring in double figures twice. Their only other reasonable option is junior college transfer Rodney Mulmore. While the Allegany College import put up impressive numbers last season, the Maryland Junior College Athletic Conference is a far cry from the rigors of the Big East. The Hoyas will need either Campbell or Mulmore to step up at point guard to have a shot at returning to the NCAA Tournament this season. Read the rest of this entry »

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Even Without Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall is Here to Stay

Posted by Justin Kundrat on October 25th, 2016

Things took a turn for Seton Hall in the offseason when Isaiah Whitehead, the team’s leader and go-to scorer, opted to remain in the NBA Draft. Over the course of his two-year stint as a Pirate, the 6’4″ guard transformed from a ball-dominant, somewhat careless passer into one of the nation’s best combo guards. His 33.0 percent assist rate ranked 44th nationally and his savvy ability to get into the lane warped opposing defenses, summoning all help attention his way. In the wake of his departure, the prevailing concern is whether Kevin Willard‘s team can recoup its losses and turn in another Top 25 season. That sentiment is valid, but dropping the Pirates to a middle-of-the-pack conference contender and fringe NCAA Tournament team is overkill. There are a number of reasons why.

Isaiah Whitehead Led Seton Hall to Its Best Season in a Long While (USA Today Images)

Isaiah Whitehead is Gone But All is Not Lost at Seton Hall (USA Today Images)

1. The team’s stout interior defense will be largely unchanged from last season as forwards Angel Delgado, Ismael Sanogo and Desi Rodriguez all return. It was easy to appreciate the Pirates’ offensive prowess when Whitehead was improvising and making unfathomable plays — even if the Seton Hall offense was remarkably average from a metrics standpoint. The real backbone of the team, however, was its defense — the 10th-most efficient unit in the country and one of the very best at altering opponents’ shots.

2. Junior forward Delgado is poised for a breakout campaign. While Whitehead was the key cog in last season’s offense, Delgado’s role was also substantial. Not only was he the Pirates’ best rebounder and interior defender, but the Seton Hall offense took a remarkable hit when he wasn’t on the floor (a difference of 0.15 points per possession).

To compensate for its poor outside shooting, Seton Hall generated numerous second chance scoring opportunities from offensive rebounds. Delgado and fellow stretch forward Sanogo were two of the conference’s best at that particular skill, helping the Pirates recover 37.1 percent of its misses (37th nationally). This portion of the offense will remain intact. Without Whitehead, Delgado’s usage rate will climb and it would be wise for Willard to feature his ultra-efficient forward on the offensive end.

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