RTC Weekly Primer: Who Can Make a Run in March?

Posted by Henry Bushnell on February 24th, 2015

It happens every year. Every single year. Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but more often than not, there comes a time in a college basketball season when the entire hoops world witnesses the birth of something. It can begin with a bang; but it can also begin innocuously. It can occur in plain sight; but it can also be the tree in the middle of a deserted forest. This birth, of course, is the preliminary stage of a postseason run. And the run, of course, is the one that in a few weeks time will be the talk of college basketball. Back in 2011, it was Shelvin Mack, Brad Stevens and Butler. In 2012, it was Lorenzo Brown and NC State. In 2013, it was very nearly Marshall Henderson and Ole Miss. A season ago, it was Jordan McRae and the upstart Tennessee Volunteers. NCAA Tournament runs usually don’t just appear out of thin air. Typically, there’s a backstory. In 2015, the time has come for those backstories to develop. Next month’s headlines will start formulating themselves right now.

Most Every Team is Looking For Its Butler Moment (USA Today Images)

Most Every Team is Looking For Its Butler Moment (USA Today Images)

Who will those headlines be written about this year? Who will be the team that sees everything come together at the right time? Who will be that team? It’s time to start considering some possibilities:

  • Georgetown – The Hoyas aren’t exactly in the same category as the Butlers and Ole Misses of years past, but they seem to be flying somewhat under the radar. Georgetown has the pieces to make a run. The Hoyas are a top-20 defensive team, boast an occasionally dominant post presence in senior center Josh Smith, and have a guard in D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera who can take over a game. After getting smoked by Villanova a couple weeks ago, they’ve now won three straight and have the week off to prepare for St. John’s in Madison Square Garden on Saturday. That’s the kind of win that could propel the Hoyas to a #4 or #5 seed and their first Sweet Sixteen (or better) run since 2007.
  • Indiana – Another team that is solidly in the NCAA Tournament, the Hoosiers certainly will never be considered a Cinderella story. But most projections have them as a #8 or #9 seed right now, meaning they aren’t being discussed as a legitimate contender either. This team has notable flaws in its personnel and it has a coach who many have questioned in recent years. But it’s also arguably got the most lethal backcourt in the country — just the type of thing that can carry a team on a surprising journey through March. The Hoosiers, which have struggled on the road but have been dynamite at home, travel to Northwestern on Wednesday night before a two-game home swing featuring Iowa and Michigan State. It’s really the perfect slate to build some March momentum.

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Weekly Big East Postseason Outlook

Posted by Justin Kundrat on February 16th, 2015

With just three weeks remaining in conference play, most Big East teams have started rounding into postseason form. For some units like Butler and Providence, this means steady improvement with an eye on seeding and positioning. For others like Seton Hall and St. John’s, it means clinging to NCAA Tournament hopes that seemed much more secure a month ago. As we approach March, we’ll run down the status of each Big East team’s postseason prospects in this weekly look. As of today, the league appears to have six solid NCAA teams, with the remainder in the discussion for NIT bids.

Villanova (23-2, 10-2)
Up Next: Monday vs. Seton Hall, Saturday at Marquette
RPI: 4 SOS: 28

Darrun Hillard (USA Today Images)

Darrun Hillard Kept Villanova in Contention for an NCAA #1 Seed Saturday (USA Today Images)

On Track For: NCAA, No. 1 or No. 2 seed. Villanova boasts one of the strongest resumes of any team in the country: 5-1 vs RPI Top 25; 9-1 vs RPI Top 50; and its two losses were on the road to Georgetown (#21) and Seton Hall (#70). Even accounting for another loss the rest of the way, Villanova should still find itself locked in as a No. 2 seed this season, with an outside chance at a No. 1 seed if it can win out. Regardless, this team’s numbers classifies it as an elite team that is poised to run away with the Big East regular season crown. Yet some of the same knocks will be made as last season: Who is Villanova’s go-to guy; can it compete against more athletic opponents; and has it been tested enough? Only time will tell, but Jay Wright’s team looks like its on the right track.

Butler (18-7, 8-4)
Up Next: Monday at Creighton, Saturday at Xavier
RPI: 24 SOS: 20

On Track For: NCAA, No. 4 or No. 5 seed. Perhaps the biggest surprise this season has been the play of Butler under interim-turned-head coach Chris Holtmann. Junior Kellen Dunham has provided consistent scoring while a number of other players — Alex Barlow, Kelan Martin and Andrew Chrabascz — have given the Bulldogs better offensive versatility and defensive tenacity. Butler’s November win over North Carolina is still impressive, and while the Bulldogs are just 7-7 vs. the RPI Top 100 and 2-5 vs. the RPI Top 25, their lone loss outside of the top 30 was at Tennessee (#80). The Bulldogs have played a challenging schedule and have won nearly every game they were supposed to have won.

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Providence’s Kris Dunn is Criminally Underrated

Posted by Justin Kundrat on February 10th, 2015

Providence hasn’t received much national media attention this season despite a 17-7 overall (7-4 Big East) record with a neutral floor win over Notre Dame on its resume. And until a recent 27-point outburst, sophomore point guard Kris Dunn worked in relative obscurity while LaDontae Henton — the Big East’s leading scorer at 20.4 PPG — received much of the credit for the team’s success. Henton accounts for a whopping 31.7 percent of Providence’s shots and 29.1 percent of its points this season, and while the senior has been a steady offensive contributor for the Friars, the primary driver behind the team’s season performance has been the play of Dunn.

Kris Dunn (USA Today Images)

Kris Dunn Drives the Providence Bus and Deserves More Credit For It (USA Today Images)

Dunn was the second-best point guard in the Class of 2012 and ultimately chose Providence over the likes of Georgetown, Louisville and UConn. There was a tremendous amount of hype surrounding his delayed arrival — he played in 25 games starting in mid-December of his freshman year — followed by disappointment upon his season-ending shoulder injury just a few games into last season. At 6’3″, Dunn has proven he can get by and shoot over his defenders, but despite a solid average of 15.0 points per game this season, he isn’t drawing attention because of his scoring ability. The redshirt sophomore instead brings tremendous value with his unheralded court vision, enabling him to dish no-look passes to open teammates or throw lead passes 40 feet down the court for easy lay-ups. His stellar passing ability is highlighted by his 7.5 assists per game, which ranks third-best in the country, and his assist rate of 50.9 percent, where he is easily first.

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Morning Five: 02.09.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on February 9th, 2015

morning5

  1. The word legend is overused, but college basketball lost a legend on Saturday night as Dean Smith passed away at the age of 83. Smith, who belongs on any Mount Rushmore you want to make for the sport, was a universally loved and respected figure in the game, which is a rarity. Some of that may have to do with the way he comported himself, but it also has do with his off-the-court work including being a vocal advocate of integration not only in the ACC, but also in the state of North Carolina. We won’t rehash all of his accomplishments, but would  highly recommend that you read some of the pieces that are being written about him now particularly the ones that talk about his work outside of basketball.
  2. The second biggest news from this weekend happen in Charlottesville where Virginia junior Justin Anderson fractured a bone in his left hand. He underwent surgery yesterday and is expected to miss at least three weeks, but could be out for as long as six weeks. Exactly how long he will be out could be a big factor in determining how far the Cavaliers will go in the NCAA Tournament. Anderson’s emergence as a consistent outside threat makes the Cavaliers a legitimate NCAA title threat. They still could conceivably when the title without him or even with him not at full strength, but the task would be significantly tougher.
  3. Normally the NIT is a forgettable event that we only watch if we happen to accidentally stumble upon it. This year promises to be different (ok, we probably still won’t watch it) as they will be experimenting with various rule changes. The most prominent of these changes is trying a 30-second shot clock that is already proving to be controversial. The other significant move will be to increase the size of the restricted area, which could reduce the number of questionable charges that are called. We will wait after the event is over before passing judgement on either change, but can’t see a downside to increasing the restricted area (within reason). We just hope that the powers that be are paying attention.
  4. Providence coach Ed Cooley was briefly hospitalized at a Cincinnati hospital after feeling ill during their game against Xavier. Very little information regarding the hospitalization was released, but it seems like they observed him for hypertensive urgency although his reported symptoms wouldn’t necessarily fit with that diagnosis. From what we have read this does not appear to be a chronic/recurrent problem for Cooley, which is reassuring. Cooley, who left the team with an 8-point lead that they surrendered immediately with Xavier going on an 18-2 run, is planning on returning for the team’s next game, which is on Wednesday against Villanova.
  5. Mike Krzyzewski has company in the 1000-win club. Less than two weeks after Krzyzewski became the first coach to win 1,000 men’s college basketball games, Philadelphia coach Herb Magee won his 1000th game too. While Magee generated much less attention doing it at the Division II level, it is still a remarkable accomplishment particularly when you realize that Magee did it all at one school. During Magee’s 48 years at the school, he has led them to a national championship (1970) and has already been inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011. Regardless of the level of competition, Magee’s longevity and consistent success is remarkable.
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RTC Weekly Primer: At Long Last, It’s Basketball Season

Posted by Henry Bushnell on February 3rd, 2015

It’s basketball season. At long last, it’s basketball season. It’s a shame that the general sports-loving public takes so long to realize that’s the case, but regardless of their failures and inadequacies, it’s time to look ahead. Football is finally and definitively over, and it’s time for the roundball and the hardwood floor to take center stage on the American sports landscape. The Super Bowl was awesome — one of the greatest of all-time, and a phenomenal advertisement for the competitiveness of the NFL — but as always, it was a bit anti-climactic. After two weeks of buildup, it’s all over; and just like that, there is a major void on the sports scene.

There's No Better Environment That Those in College Basketball (USA Sports Images)

There’s No Better Environment That Those in College Basketball (USA Sports Images)

College basketball must fill that void. For the dedicated fans, it undoubtedly will. But a frequently posed question in recent years has been whether college basketball has become a “niche sport”? According to a recent Harris poll, the game has indeed declined in popularity. Currently only three percent of American sports fans identify college hoops as their go-to game — down from five percent in 2011, and 10 percent in 1989 — and only a seismic shift in popularity could see the sport return to its peak levels in the 1980s and 1990s. Does that matter? For those who attach themselves to the overall health and growth of the game, yeah, it does. But at least in the short run from now until April 6, no poll will inhibit the joy we derive from the on-court action of college basketball. “Niche” can be viewed as a demeaning word when it is used in this context, but niche is fine so long as it can produce compelling games like Duke-Virginia in Charlottesville on Saturday and atmospheres like Kansas-Iowa State in Allen Fieldhouse last night.

Three for the Money

  • West Virginia at Oklahoma | Tuesday, 8:00 PM EST, ESPN2. After an explosive Big Monday of important (if not competitive) games, it’s a rather slow work week in the world of college hoops. But before we jump ahead to the weekend’s action, let’s not lose sight of this one on Tuesday night in Norman. It’s time to focus on the season that West Virginia is putting together. All of a sudden, the Mountaineers at 6-2 appear to be the biggest threat to Kansas in the Big 12 race. Bob Huggins has done a spectacular job in rebuilding this team after a couple of down years. He has possibly the conference’s best player in senior Juwan Staten but his true value with this year’s group has been molding them into a new identity featuring pressure defense all over the floor. Four West Virginia players rank among the nation’s top 100 in steal percentage, and the team prides itself on turning opponents over and getting out in transition. Tonight’s game could go either way. Oklahoma could get sucked into West Virginia’s traps and come out on the wrong end of a helter-skelter contest; or the Sooners could constantly be in attack mode, using the fast tempo and a raucous home crowd to play right into their hands.

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Big East Weekend Wrap: Vol. VII

Posted by Justin Kundrat on January 13th, 2015

The Big East Weekend Wrap covers news and notes from the previous weekend’s games.

The Big East marched along last week, continuing its ascent up the rankings of the power conferences. It reached the #1 ranking for overall conference RPI for a bit before bowing to the Big 12 (only slightly), and the conference now stands at second overall with a sizable gap between itself and the rest. Even more impressively, the Big East has the highest average RPI among its conference members thanks to DePaul’s 3-0 start. As of this writing, the league lists nine of its 10 members among the top 100. Below is a list of four key takeaways from the last weekend’s action.

LaDontae Henton

LaDontae Henton’s Team Has a Legitimate Case to Rank Among the League’s Top Three Teams

Providence makes its push for the top of the standings. As I wrote in an earlier article, Providence has a legitimate case as a top three team in the Big East even though the Friars had largely fallen off the radar in non-conference play. They made a strong push last week, picking up a road win at Butler and then defeating Georgetown in overtime. Neither result was necessarily pretty — the Friars won both by a combined seven points — but the pair of wins catapulted Providence to the top of the league standings with a 3-1 record. Kris Dunn and LaDontae Henton continue to carry the load on the offensive end, with Dunn doing a much better job of staying out of foul trouble and remaining on the floor. The duo lead the conference in assists and points per game, respectively.

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Providence: The Big East’s Darkhorse

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 23rd, 2014

With Villanova grabbing national headlines, St. John’s maintaining a Top 25 ranking, and both Butler and Georgetown wavering in and out of the polls, much of the focus on the Big East this season has naturally shifted towards them. Meanwhile, Ed Cooley has quietly pieced together a 10-3 season with five Top 100 wins, most notably against Notre Dame and Miami. While Providence found themselves in the Top 25 earlier this season, an unsurprising 20-point loss at Kentucky knocked them out, and a shocking home loss to Brown has kept them out. But college basketball, and the tournament selection process, are about a team’s body of work. Led by LaDontae Henton, the Big East’s leading scorer with 20 points per game, the Friars deserve more respect than they are getting.

With Henton Leading Them, Providence Is A Contender In The Big East

A quick review of Providence’s schedule shows the team has apparently gone through a number of phases. The first was the Henton-dominated early season schedule, where the Friars knocked off Florida State, Notre Dame, and Yale in just one week and Henton scored a combined 91 points in those games. Then came a down phase in which Henton scored just 28 points combined in the next three contests, all of which the team lost. Now, following a win over the previously-ranked Miami, the Friars appear to be back on the upswing. It’s a dangerous recipe, relying on one player to shoulder the scoring load, but the Bryce Cotton-led tournament team from last year would beg to differ. Henton is a dynamic player with an array of post moves and outside shooting as well as a lethal combination of strength and quickness makes him a mismatch on the perimeter and in the post. This versatility causes a tough match-up for any team, and his cold shooting nights this season appear to be more a function of his own doing and less one of getting flustered by defenses.

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Big East Weekend Wrap: Vol. III

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 8th, 2014

The Big East Weekend Wrap will cover news and notes from the weekend’s games.

Another week of games, another week of wins for the Big East. As we move into the last few weeks of the non-conference schedule, these games gain additional significance; they represent a team’s last few chances to stockpile resume-enhancing wins before the conference gauntlet begins. A number of Big East teams were able to do just that last week. Below is a list of four key takeaways from the past week of action.

St. John's Stunned Syracuse in the Carrier Dome on Saturday (credit: Syracuse.com)

St. John’s Stunned Syracuse in the Carrier Dome on Saturday (credit: Syracuse.com)

St. John’s steals a win at the Carrier Dome. Syracuse rarely goes down easy at the Carrier Dome, but the Orange’s streak of 55 consecutive non-conference home game victories came to an end on Saturday as D’Angelo Harrison and Phil Greene IV taught the Orange a few things about three-point shooting. In the past, the Johnnies had seemingly always managed to lose these key games down the stretch by way of turnovers or poor shot selection. But this time, the more experienced group played under control and found ways to score over the 2-3 zone inside. While Harrison paced the team throughout the game, hitting timely threes or mid-range shots, it was Greene who helped to close it out, scoring 11 points in the final 4:08 of action. Forwards Chris Obekpa and Sir’Dominic Pointer were largely neutralized on the offensive end, but Harrison and Greene converted with stunning efficiency, combining for a white-hot 8-of-14 shooting night from beyond the arc. After failing to capitalize on their chance to take down Gonzaga, St. John’s made the most of its chance this time around. The historically volatile group of unbelievably athletic guards and forwards seems to be calming down and coming together this season, at long last.

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Big East Weekend Wrap

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 24th, 2014

The Big East Weekend Wrap will cover news and notes from the weekend’s games.

Continuing its hot start, the Big East finished off another strong week and as a whole, stands at 30-2. For most teams, the competition picked up after a week of tune-up type games. Sensing a higher state of importance, a number of Big East teams stepped up, pulling off upsets and recording marquee, resume-building wins (Creighton, Providence). Others, however, floundered and either lost to underwhelming competition (Marquette) or narrowly avoided ugly losses (Villanova, St. John’s). Below are four key takeaways from the past week of Big East action.

Josh Smith Has Had a Nice Start to the Season (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Josh Smith Has Had a Nice Start to the Season (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

  • Creighton might not be so bad after all. I’ll admit, I had Creighton ranked #9 in the Big East coming into this season. I thought the loss of McDermott, and three other starters, would have a monumental impact on the offense’s fluidity and efficiency. Instead, head coach Greg McDermott’s playcalling, ball movement, and overall offensive scheme appear to have remained the same. This is largely in part due to the emergence of senior point guard Austin Chatman, who has been near flawless at keeping all of the Bluejays’ newcomers on the same page (2.1 turnovers per 40 minutes). On Wednesday, Creighton squared off against the 18th ranked Oklahoma Sooners and rallied from 18 down to steal the show. Surprisingly, the Bluejays shot poorly all night, just 8-26 from three and 37.5% overall, but Isaiah Zierden and Toby Hegner are doing their best to fill the Manigat/Wragge roles on last year’s squad: finding open space on the floor and draining threes at crucial points in the game. Chatman, the lone returning starter, knows exactly how to run the offense after four years in the system, and has found success by driving and drawing defenders, and either getting to the line or dishing to open teammates. The 6’0 guard posted a 17 point, 11 rebound, six assist statline against the Sooners.
  • Kris Dunn is the real deal. Normally, Creighton would receive the top headline in the Big East for its win over #18 Oklahoma, but Dunn’s performance this week was just too impressive to ignore. Dunn’s role on the 5-0 Friars is not as a primary scorer, that’s LaDontae Henton‘s job. Instead, Dunn serves as a distributor and offensive coordinator, putting teammates in a better position to score. The 6’3 sophomore was a highly touted McDonald’s All American out of high school, but spent much of last season on the bench after a season-ending injury just two weeks into the season. Anyone can recognize how important senior LaDontae Henton is to Providence, who scored a career high 38 points in a huge win over Notre Dame today and is averaging a league-leading 19.8 points per game. But Dunn, who got off to a rough start in his first game has completely turned things around and is largely responsible for the Friars’ hot start. He is now averaging 8.0 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game with just 17 turnovers through five games, including a remarkable 14 assists against Navy. Dunn was a major question mark coming into this season, and with a depleted Friars backcourt following Bryce Cotton’s departure, his continued success will be vital to Providence’s. The Friars offense runs at a completely different rate when Dunn on the floor, and now the question will be whether he can avoid foul trouble and stay on the floor long enough in close games: he played just 21 minutes versus Notre Dame, and is averaging 3.3 fouls per game.

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Big East Conference Preview: Seton Hall, Providence & St. John’s

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 12th, 2014

The Big East microsite will preview each Big East team in tiers in preparation for the season’s tipoff on Friday. The bottom tier was released yesterday; it can be found here. Today: Seton Hall, Providence and St. John’s make up the middle tier of the conference.

#6: Seton Hall

The Kevin Willard era hasn't been great so far, but this might be his most talented team. (Getty)

The Kevin Willard era hasn’t been great so far, but this might be his most talented team. (Getty)

The Kevin Willard era at Seton Hall has not been a successful one by any stretch of the imagination. After a 21-10 season at Iona in 2010, Willard’s Pirates have continually found themselves outmatched by Big East opponents, producing just one subsequent season above .500 during his tenure. Yet you can’t argue with his recruiting results of late: In 2013, Willard brought in four-star point guard Jaren Sina, a highly-skilled passer and shooter who was coveted coming by many, with offers from the likes of Memphis, Villanova and Pittsburgh. This year Willard brings in a top-tier recruit in shooting guard Isaiah Whitehead, who ranks #2 in the country at his position. Couple him with a 6’8″ four-star power forward in Angel Delgado, a strong rebounder for his size, and four other three-star recruits and Willard’s latest recruiting class was ranked 12th nationally as a result. Whitehead’s impact is expected to be immediate — the 6’4″ shooting guard was a McDonald’s All-American and has shown an ability to score in a number of different ways. It should come as no surprise that the media pegged him as the favorite to win this season’s Big East Freshman of the Year award. His talent, in addition to the return of backcourt mates Sterling Gibbs and Sina, will without question force opponents to play small in order to contest the Hall’s perimeter attack and stop transition buckets. However, the Pirates also lose three senior starters and junior forward Patrick Auda, and their collective loss of leadership will not go unnoticed. Rising senior Brandon Mobley will also need all the frontcourt help he can get from Delgado and redshirt freshman Rashed Anthony. The Pirates are expected to feature some three-guard sets, and should boast one of the best backcourts in the conference — the key will be finding ways to mask their relative lack of size in the paint, which wasn’t as big of a problem with Gene Teague. An NIT berth is certainly not out of the question for this young, talented squad, and it will completely depend on how well the backcourt gels over the course of the season. Read the rest of this entry »

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One on One: A Big East Preview with Jon Rothstein

Posted by Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) on November 3rd, 2014

RTC interviews one on one

Rush the Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you throughout the preseason with previews of each of the major conferences.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview with the Big East, RTC correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the pleasure of speaking with a Big East expert in CBS Sports Network College Basketball Insider Jon Rothstein (@jonrothstein)

Rush the Court: Villanova enters the season as the pretty clear favorite to win the league. The Wildcats return four starters from a team that went 29-5 last season. What are some reasonable expectations for Jay Wright’s squad this season?

Expectations are high for Jay Wright and Company. (Getty)

Expectations are High for Jay Wright’s Villanova Team (Getty)

Jon Rothstein: I think reasonable expectations are to win the Big East title, have a chance at winning the Big East Tournament title, and get another high seed in the NCAA Tournament. Villanova was terrific last year in close game situations. I think there is a real possibility that Villanova could be a better team this year than it was last year, but have a worse record because its non-conference schedule is that much more difficult. What makes Villanova so good this year is that it does not lose 50/50 balls. Every ball that is being contested seems to go Villanova’s way almost every time. A big reason for that is Josh Hart. Hart is a guy who can go on a tear for Villanova this year, as he will step into a more enhanced role with the departure of James Bell. I think right now if there is one person who epitomizes Villanova’s culture and brand, it is Josh Hart.

RTC: Georgetown had a below average season last year [just 18-15 overall and 8-10 in conference]. There are no two ways around that. Does John Thompson III’s team have enough firepower to ensure a more successful campaign this season?

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Where 2014-15 Happens: Reason #19 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on October 27th, 2014

Here we go… headfirst into another season heralded by our 2014-15 edition of Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball, our annual compendium of YouTube clips from the previous season completely guaranteed to make you wish 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 November 14. We’ve captured what we believe were the 30 most compelling moments from last season, some of which will bring back goosebumps and others of which will leave you shaking your head in astonishment. For all of this year’s released posts, click here

#19– Where Long Suffering Redemption Happens.

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-112011-122012-13 and 2013-14 preseasons.

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