Otskey’s Big East Observations: 02.12.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 12th, 2016

One of the interesting things about a long and grueling conference season is the subtle changes that teams undergo, both good and bad. For a Xavier team that remains in solid position for a top-two Big East finish and a top-three seed in the NCAA Tournament, an issue may be developing. Despite a 9-2 record since losing at Villanova, Xavier has been trending down in efficiency metrics (with both KenPom and others). Defense is the main culprit, specifically on the interior. Wins against St. John’s and Marquette were much closer than they should have been and Chris Mack’s team followed those up with a disappointing loss at Creighton, a game in which it was blitzed from the opening tip. The Musketeers have allowed six of its last seven opponents to shoot better than 50 percent from two-point range. What’s shocking is this had only happened six times in the preceding 23 games. While the better competition in Big East play is certainly a factor, the trend is undoubtedly still alarming. It’s no coincidence that the three teams to beat Xavier have all shot better than 60 percent from inside the arc. Given the makeup of this Musketeers team, the porous interior defending is especially surprising.

Jalen Reynolds and Xavier are scuffling a bit defensively.

Jalen Reynolds and Xavier are struggling a bit defensively. (AP)

Xavier not only has one of the better frontcourts in the nation, but it also has a stockpile of guards and wings with length and athleticism. Mack’s 1-3-1 zone has been incredibly disruptive at times this season, particularly in limiting penetration by the opponent. Given all this, it’s hard to decipher the exact problem for the X-men, but they would be wise to find a way to stop this trend. It will be notable if the poor defending continues down the stretch, as this team is faced with a brutal late February schedule. The Musketeers have been a complete team on both ends of the floor for most of this season and have a legitimate chance to make a deep NCAA Tournament run. It would be a shame if porous interior defense derails this dream season. Read the rest of this entry »

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Overrated/Underrated Teams: February Edition

Posted by Will Ezekowitz on February 3rd, 2016

As we enter February and March looms large, the identities of teams begin to crystallize both on the floor and in our minds. Sure, things can always change, but with over 20 games for most teams already in the books, it’s safe to say we know who these teams are. But those assumptions aren’t always right. Due to scheduling oddities, injuries or just plain poor judgment, the conventional wisdom on certain teams isn’t necessarily correct. So here is a rundown of several teams that are likely to be exposed as either underrated or overrated as we enter the stretch run of the regular season.

Overrated

Dunn's Rise Has Been Meteoric (USA TODAY Sports)

Kris Dunn’s rise has been meteoric, but has his team followed? (USA TODAY Sports)

  • Providence (18-5), ranked #11 — The AP Poll will tell you that the Friars are #11 in the country. Joe Lunardi will tell you they’re a #4 seed. But we’re here to tell you they aren’t that great (ed. note: this was written before last night’s loss at DePaul). For a team led by the great Kris Dunn, Providence is a shockingly bad offensive team, with an offensive efficiency that ranks just 118th nationally. Moreover, of its six Big East wins, five have been by four points or fewer or came in overtime. That probably means that Dunn is clutch and the Friars know how to win close games, but it also means that they’re keeping games closer than a borderline top 10 team should. This is reflected in the Friars’ low KenPom ranking of #47 (it was #39 prior to the DePaul game). Besides, as talented as this team is, Ed Cooley has never lacked for talent. What he has lacked is success. Don’t be surprised if that trend continues down the stretch.
  • Pittsburgh (17-4), unranked — Three weeks ago, the Panthers were 14-1, ranked #20 in the national polls and had the nation’s fourth most efficient offense. Six games later, that offense has fallen to 19th in efficiency and the Panthers are simultaneously falling off the map. Aside from an 18-point loss at Louisville, Pitt has yet to play any of the ACC elites, and should count itself extremely lucky to be 6-3 including close wins against Georgia Tech and Florida State. However, the good teams are coming. The Panthers will play Virginia, North Carolina, Miami, Duke and Louisville in February. Their current best win is one of games at home to Syracuse or at Notre Dame, but more wins are going to be hard to find down the stretch. The Panthers could see themselves on the bubble very soon.

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Otskey’s Big East Observations: 01.15.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 15th, 2016

Early conference results can sometimes be deceiving. While the Big East is one of only two major conferences with a true round-robin format, the start to conference play for Butler and Georgetown has been quite different. These teams currently sit at 1-3 and 4-1, respectively, even though the Bulldogs are widely regarded to be the better team. While Georgetown was handed a soft opening stretch to conference play, one that included two games with DePaul, one with St. John’s and a home tilt against Marquette, Butler has had to play the likes of Xavier, Providence and Villanova right off the bat. Everything will even out eventually, but sometimes a tough start to league play can take away momentum created in the non-conference, something Butler (11-1 non-conference record) did quite well. But should there be concern now that the Bulldogs are heading in the wrong direction? Absolutely. Chris Holtmann’s team ranks a dismal No. 157 in adjusted defensive efficiency for the season and dead last in the 10-team Big East when considering conference games only. Butler has struggled all season with adjusting to life without Kameron Woods, who was a dominant rebounder last season. The Bulldogs are undersized in the frontcourt and need to figure out a way to rebound and defend if they are going to bounce back from a rough start to league play.

Chris Holtmann and Butler were dealt no favors by the Big East schedule makers. (AP)

Chris Holtmann and Butler were dealt no favors by the Big East schedule makers. (AP)

We will find out a lot more about Georgetown in the coming weeks. The Hoyas now begin a stretch of six straight games against KenPom top 50 teams after their soft open to the Big East schedule. Turnovers, rebounding and perimeter defense remain issues for this team, and the loss of Paul White for the rest of this season hurts its depth. Georgetown showed glimpses of strong play in the non-conference, but when you remember the good with the bad — head-scratching losses to some legitimately bad teams — it is difficult to make a confident judgement on the team. One thing that is a safe bet: The Hoyas will go as far as D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera can take them.

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Checking In On… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on January 6th, 2016

Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference.

Three Things We Learned in the First Weekend

  1. Davidson won’t repeat as the regular season champion. The Wildcats are 1-4 away from the Belk Arena so far, including their 97-85 loss to St. Bonaventure on Saturday. With away games still to come versus Dayton, George Washington, VCU, Richmond and Fordham, along with tough home games against VCU, Saint Joseph’s and George Washington, Davidson could lose as many as eight conference games over the next two months.

    Despite his elite coaching prowess, it doesn't look like Bob McKillop and Davidson will repeat at conference champs this time around. (Tim Cowie/DavidsonPhotos.com)

    Despite his elite coaching prowess, it doesn’t look like Bob McKillop’s team will repeat at conference champs this time around. (Tim Cowie/DavidsonPhotos.com)

  2. A strong defense, some unanticipated player development and a favorable conference schedule means Saint Joseph’s should follow its 6-1 December with a 7-2 January. The players appear to be “getting it” — meaning head coach Phil Martelli’s approach to the game — and it shows in the Hawks’ defense and team-oriented approach to offense. St. Joseph’s field goal shooting still needs to improve, but the team is already showing up in a number of midseason brackets. If all goes well this month, February’s schedule features a handful of more difficult games that will ultimately determine whether the team is a legitimate contender for the conference title.
  3. It was a 69-63 loss, but Fordham’s players and fans are optimistic. The road venue was the Smith Center in Washington, D.C., and the Rams, down 15 at the half, managed to climb back in and stay within three possessions of the Colonials through the remainder of the game. The players are buying into what first year coach Jeff Neubauer is selling, as Fordham carried a 9-2 record into conference play and is on track to win between six to eight Atlantic 10 games. If the Rams hit inside that window, they will post their first winning season since 2006-07. A winning program in the New York City metropolitan area provides a huge boost to the conference’s overall profile, and correspondingly, Neubauer’s recruiting. Read the rest of this entry »
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RTC Top 25: Week Seven Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on January 4th, 2016

The end of 2015 and beginning of 2016 in college basketball was marked by some important developments in the Big East. On New Year’s Eve, #7 Villanova showed it is still the top dog in the conference with a dominant 95-64 win over previously unbeaten #9 Xavier. Later that day, #11 Providence proved it was for real with an eye-opening 81-73 triumph at #20 Butler. What made that Friars’ victory so impressive was that they rebounded from an 11-point halftime deficit to outscore the Bulldogs by 19 points in the game’s second stanza. When Saturday came around, Xavier displayed no ill effects from its previous shellacking, as the Musketeers handed Butler its second Big East defeat in a comfortable 88-69 win. It is only just one week into the conference season, but statements have already been made. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

W7 RTC25

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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Evalutating the Midseason National Player of the Year Candidates

Posted by Andy Gripshover on January 1st, 2016

In the spirit of the New Year and the start of conference play, this post will count down the top candidates for National Player of the Year to this point in the season. It’s a diverse list that features a couple players who are putting up strong traditional numbers for low-major teams, a couple of teammates who are putting up fantastic efficiency numbers on one of the top teams in the country, and a few of the standouts that you’ve already heard so much about this season.

10. Jameel Warney, F, Stony Brook — Warney gets the Keenan Reynolds career achievement spot on this list. He’s a four-year starter for the Seawolves who has led the team in scoring each year, going from the America East Rookie of the Year in 2013 to an honorable mention All-American last year while leading the nation in double-doubles with 24 of them. He’s back at it again this season, averaging 20.0 points and 10.8 rebounds per game and contributing a third-best nationally 3.5 blocks per game.

Fighting among the "Big Boys" - Kahlil Felder has been spectacular this season. (Oakland Athletics)

Fighting among the “Big Boys” – Kahlil Felder has been spectacular this season. (Oakland Athletics)

9. Kahlil Felder, G, Oakland — The kid known as “Kay” is the nation’s second leading scorer (26.6 PPG) and its leading assist man (9.3 APG). He’s a classic little man (5’9″) doing big things for the Golden Grizzlies. He exploded for 37 points and nine assists in last Tuesday’s overtime loss to No. 1 Michigan State and put up 30 on Wednesday night against Virginia’s vaunted defense. Greg Kampe’s breakneck offense (12th in adjusted tempo) allows Felder to get what he wants when he wants, and he can both score and set up teammates from anywhere on the floor. Read the rest of this entry »

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Risen From the Dead: The Big East is Back!

Posted by Shane McNichol on December 30th, 2015

As we sit on the precipice of celebrating the New Year, two conferences have landed four teams in the top 16 of the AP Poll. One is, of course, the ACC, monstrous in both size and basketball dominance. A league that stretches from Miami to South Bend to Boston, with a whopping 15 members located in that absurd triangle. The other is the Big East. Yes, that Big East. The star of ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary “Requiem for the Big East”. The conference with a Wikipedia page declaring that it ended three years ago. The same Big East who inspired headlines like “The Big East is dead (or at least dying). Long live the Big East” and “How the Big East died and was dead all along.” A Google search of “Big East is dead” fetches over 68 million results. SIXTY-EIGHT MILLION!

Jay Wright's crew leads an incredibly deep Big East conference this season. (Getty)

Jay Wright’s crew leads an incredibly deep Big East conference this season. (Getty)

And yet, the current iteration would certainly beg to differ. After the “Catholic Seven” refused to let their conference go by the wayside, they’ve done more than exist or tread water. Last season, six Big East clubs reached the Big Dance. That’s more than football powers like the SEC and the Pac-12 and just as many as the giant ACC. Having a swath of teams reach the tournament says one thing about a conference. Having four teams reach the turn of the calendar highly ranked with non-delusional plans of reaching the Final Four says something more. Whether through a stroke of luck or genius, the Big East schedule opens Thursday with two nationally televised games pitting these four teams against one another. #16 Villanova hosts #6 Xavier at noon, followed by #10 Providence traveling to play at #9 Butler. Butler then turns right around and heads to Xavier on Saturday.

Consider this long holiday weekend the first foray into what is sure to be a season long battle for the conference crown between four teams all capable of deep runs in March.

Villanova

Villanova, the most familiar with tournament success among the group of four, came into the season with heavy expectations. Ryan Arcidiancono returned for his senior season, along with experienced talent in Josh Hart, Daniel Ochefu, and Phil Booth. Big name freshman recruit Jaylen Brunson joined the fold, expected to make all of his now teammates lives much easier. Thus far they’ve nearly lived up to the hype, save for losses to two highly ranked foes, Oklahoma (on a neutral court) and Virginia (on the road). The Cats’ biggest issue has been a frigid start from long range, shooting merely 31 percent on the year. The cold start has been led by Booth (49% last year) shooting 27 percent and Kris Jenkins (37% in the two prior years) firing an ugly 29 percent on nearly seven attempts per game. In Jay Wright’s dribble-drive offense, led by playmaking by Arcidiacono and Brunson, shooting on the perimeter will not only increase scoring, but will open space for slashers or Ochefu operating on the post. Read the rest of this entry »

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RTC Top 25: Week Six Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on December 28th, 2015

The most important development of the holiday week in college hoops was two RTC top 10 teams finding a way to win without the services of a key contributor. On Tuesday night, #1 Michigan State had to fend off a pesky Oakland team in a very hard-earned 99-93 overtime victory. The Spartans were of course without star player Denzel Valentine, who will miss 2-3 weeks after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. #8 Kentucky had to showcase some resiliency of its own in a big rivalry win over #18 Louisville on Saturday after freshman guard Isaiah Briscoe suffered an ankle injury during pregame warm-ups. He is expected back soon. Injuries are part of the game, but as we head into the start of conference play this week, teams generally can’t afford to be banged up. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 1.40.39 AM

Quick n’ Dirty Analysis.

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What Makes Kris Dunn Unique Isn’t His Offense

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 4th, 2015

Providence’s Kris Dunn is a special kind of player. How many times have we heard that this season? His ascent to stardom came at an almost unprecedented rate, going from “good player who plays a supporting role to LaDontae Henton” to Big East Player of the Year in just one season. In the ensuing offseason, Dunn found himself in discussions as not just the best player in the conference, but the best player in the entire country. He’s seen his draft stock rise from completely off the board (DraftExpress on 12/3/2014) to surefire lottery pick in just 12 months’ time.

Dunn's Rise Has Been Meteoric (USA TODAY Sports)

Dunn’s Rise Has Been Meteoric (USA TODAY Sports)

But while much of the national media spotlight has been focused on Dunn’s flashy passing and bevy of offensive moves, his instinct on the defensive end of the floor hasn’t received proper attention. What many of those fail to realize about the junior All-American is that much of his playmaking ability is driven by the havoc he creates on defense.

Without much interior size, Providence fares poorly in defensive field goal percentages across the board. The Friars are allowing opponents to shoot 35 percent from three (222nd nationally), 51 percent from two (220th), and allowing offensive rebounds on 29 percent of opponents’ possessions (134th). Combining that with an average shooting offense might lead you to believe that this is a team struggling to stay afloat. Instead, Providence currently sits at 7-1 with significant wins over Evansville and Arizona along with a tightly contested loss to Michigan State. How is this possible, you ask? The answer is through an unusually prescient defense led by the prolific play of its superstar, Dunn.

As a team, Providence forces a turnover on nearly 24 percent of opponents’ possessions, ranking 26th nationally in this category. This turnover-hungry defense kickstarts an offense that converts on shot attempts in transition at a 54 percent clip (compared with 48 percent in non-transition settings). It also helps to explain why teams have only been scoring 68 points per game (seven fewer than the national average) in spite of the Friars’ poor field goal defense. Spearheading this defense is Dunn, who ranks second nationally in steal percentage at 6.5 percent. How does he do it? Let’s examine what makes Dunn such a great defender and how that propels the Friars’ offense.

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Checking in on… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on December 1st, 2015

Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference.

Feast Week Feedback

With St. Bonaventure’s 77-73 win over Canisius last Tuesday, the Atlantic 10 pushed its non-conference record to 44-11, pushing its winning percentage over 80 percent for the second time this season. Senior guard Marcus Posley scored 37 points, including the two free throws that broke the tie that put the Bonnies up for good. So started Feast Week, but unfortunately momentum stalled as A-10 teams tallied a good but not spectacular 21-10 record in games spanning the Thanksgiving Holiday. Still, the league’s composite record on Monday, November 30, is 58-20 (0.774) — terrific by any measure. Should the conference keep up this pace through December, the Atlantic 10 should have at least six NCAA Tournament candidates with several others drawing attention for other postseason tournaments.

The big-time effort that Marcus Posley produced was just one of many standout performances from A-10 players during Feast Week. (AP)

The big-time effort that Marcus Posley produced was just one of many standout performances from A-10 players during Feast Week. (AP)

Seven conference teams (highlighted in the table in yellow below) participated in tournaments that concluded last week. Four of those teams (Dayton, George Washington, Massachusetts and Rhode Island) finished second. Richmond finished third, losing its semifinal game but beating star-studded California in the third place game. Duquesne placed fifth in the Gulf Coast Showcase, dropping its first game to Pepperdine but salvaging wins versus Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Western Kentucky. Like most of these Feast Week tournaments, the Brooklyn Hoops Classic relied on preliminary rounds played on campuses, usually prior to the semifinal and final rounds. The tournament field was held to five teams and they played a round-robin with a single round played at two “tournament site” locations. St. Louis beat three of the participating schools — North Florida, St. Francis-Brooklyn and Hartford. They also lost to Louisville by 20 points at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Table01151130

Nine Games to Catch This Week

The party is on as eight Atlantic 10 teams will face eight elite conference opponents (and a Missouri Valley Conference power in Northern Iowa) over the next seven days. Elite conference opponents represent 33 percent of the composite non-conference schedule, which is at the high end of the range for the past several seasons. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big East Season Preview: The Dark Horses (#4-#6)

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 10th, 2015

Part two of the Big East season preview highlights three teams that could be dark horses this year. All return key pieces from last season and figure to compete at a high level throughout the regular season. While the contenders (profiled tomorrow) look like near-locks to lead the pack and the outsiders (profiled yesterday) are likely going to stay near the bottom, this is the group (plus Marquette) whose season could go in either direction.

6. Seton Hall

Isaiah Whitehead will be given the keys to the ship. (USA TODAY Sports)

Isaiah Whitehead will be given the keys to the Seton Hall ship. (USA TODAY Sports)

Nobody can deny that the losses of Sterling Gibbs and Jaren Sina hurts Seton Hall, because they most certainly do. Gibbs in particular provided a scoring punch nearly impossible to replace; his decision to transfer to Connecticut was yet another blow to Kevin Willard’s efforts to build cohesion. It leaves the Pirates in the hands of three sophomores with undeniable talent and an encouraging amount of chemistry. Former high school All-American (and saviorIsaiah Whitehead will assume leadership duties, with Willard hoping he can play a bit less frenetically and run a more efficient offense. Joining him in the backcourt is breakout guard Khadeen Carrington, who surprised many last season by showing an uncanny ability to finish around the rim. Rounding out the trio is Angel Delgado, Big East Freshman of the Year and the league’s leading rebounder. The Pirates also add two transfers, welcome a few recruits (including, most notably, the versatile Veer Singh) and return some fringe contributors, but those three sophomores are expected to take on significant responsibility this season. Given the collective talent on the roster, Whitehead’s impending NBA departure and Willard’s hot seat, this is a make or break year in South Orange. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Big East Fell Flat, or Did It?

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 25th, 2015

A curtain of despair has suddenly fallen over the Big East’s 10 members. After starting off with an unblemished 4-0 record in the first day of the NCAA Tournament, five of the league’s six invited teams peeled off over the remaining three days, save Xavier (which played Cinderella story, Georgia State). What was considered the second-best conference from top to bottom now stands at just 5-5 with the Musketeers facing a significant battle against Arizona on Thursday night in Los Angeles. Even the conference’s biggest proponents can’t mask their disappointment with how things have played out. A whopping 60 percent of the league’s teams qualified — five of which were granted a #6 seed or better — and yet here we are, with only one school advancing past the first weekend. So what happened? Is this a problem with the conference as a whole or simply those individual teams? Or is it a problem at all?

Villanova Piccolo Girl Signified the Disappointment of an Entire League

Villanova Piccolo Girl Signified the Disappointment of an Entire League

To preface this examination, I had set the over/under at 2.5 for the number of Big East teams advancing to the Sweet Sixteen. This was under the presumption that Villanova was a near-lock and that two of the remaining schools would receive favorable enough draws to break through. The results were not ideal but the league’s overall performance cannot be blamed on the quality of the conference itself. Anyone who thinks that the Big East didn’t have talented players or deserve its six bids hasn’t watched the league this season. Sure, it wasn’t as top-heavy as the ACC but nearly every game was competitive and served to battle-test each team. Still, a team’s ability to achieve postseason success does not necessarily correlate with regular season scheduling. Teams likes Wichita State, Butler, Davidson, Northern Iowa and Gonzaga have had successful postseasons in years past despite playing softer conference schedules.

The Big East’s under-performance this March lies in individual games where opponents exploited weaknesses and exposed mismatches. No specific team other than Villanova lost a game it truly had no business losing. The results alone start to appear bad when we examine the conference as a whole. Let’s dig into each team’s situation:

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