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.

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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.

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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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Rushed Reactions: #11 Dayton 66, #6 Providence 53

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 21st, 2015

rushedreactions

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Dayton gave Providence fits on Friday night. (Paul Vernon, Associated Press)

Dayton gave Providence fits on Friday night. (Paul Vernon, Associated Press)

  1. Dayton had home-court advantage, and it clearly mattered. After beating Boise State on Wednesday in Dayton, the Flyers barely had to trek one hour east for tonight’s game in Columbus. Same went for their fans, who showed up in full force to Nationwide Arena. When the shots starting falling and the lead began to build, so did the volume, helping Archie Miller’s undermanned and undersized club maintain its level of energy and confidence against the bigger, deeper Friars. And the story should be much the same against Oklahoma on Sunday, which begs the question: Has a #11-seeded, First Four participant ever been in a better situation?
  2. The Flyers are impervious to fatigue. This was Dayton’s fifth game in eight days, which might not be so bad were it not for the fact that it ranks 343rd nationally in bench minutes. Unlike last year, when Miller played 11 guys a night, only six or seven Flyers see significant time on the court this season. Moreover, none of those players stand taller than 6’6”, meaning their effort and activity on the defensive end – especially against a frontcourt as massive as Providence’s – must to be at a maximum on every possession in order to compete. And yet they never seem to tire, routinely overcoming mismatches and attacking opposing defenses like it’s the middle of November instead of the third week of March. Conventional logic and scouting reports don’t seem to apply to this group, which is why it could wind up in the Sweet 16 for the second year in a row.
  3. Providence’s Ed Cooley should not have received a technical foul. Cooley is a smart, level-headed coach who was clearly trying to motivate his team when he tipped over a chair during the under-4 timeout in the second half. But he received a technical for it, which John Adams, the NCAA’s national coordinator of officials, said was supported by Officiating Manual Rule 10, Section 3, Article 2 – “Bench personnel committing an unsportsmanlike act.” – and further supported by another section pertaining to “a negative response to a call/no-call.” I understand that rules are rules, but considering the situation – 3:42 left in an eight-point game – it seemed completely unwarranted.

Star Player: Kyle Davis (six points, nine rebounds, five steals). Dyshawn Pierre led the team statistically with 20 points and nine rebounds, but Davis – the quick-handed sophomore guard – was a force on the defensive end, beating Providence’s Kris Dunn at his own game (swiping the basketball) and using his speed for a few timely buckets.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Friday Evening

Posted by RTC Staff on March 20th, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

In what was certainly one of the most competitive and jam-packed “opening” days in NCAA Tournament history, Friday’s slate of games will have a hard time following Thursday’s remarkable act. However, today offers a fair share of fascinating matchups as well. Here is a preview of Friday’s evening games.

#8 Oregon vs. #9 Oklahoma State – West Region First Round (at Omaha, NE) – 6:50 PM ET on TBS.

The game plan is simple when playing Oregon: Stop Joe Young. (USA TODAY Sports)

The game plan is simple when playing Oregon: Stop Joe Young. (USA TODAY Sports)

For the Ducks, it all begins and ends with Pac-12 Player of the Year Joseph Young. A deadly shooter, Young is stroking it at 36.1% from three (a career-low), 50.3% from two and 92.6% from the free throw line. He’s adept as a pull-up shooter from deep, a catch-and-shoot guy coming off a screen or on the bounce and on the attack. He’s scored 20 or more 17 different times this season. In other words: stop Young, stop the Ducks. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, they don’t appear to have a ready-made matchup for Young, unless they put 6’6” Le’Bryan Nash – ostensibly a power forward on this team – on him. On the other end of the court, the Ducks can throw a combination of Dwayne Benjamin, Elgin Cook and Dillon Brooks at Nash – the ‘Pokes leading scorer – and feel relatively comfortable, while they’ll let Young, or any of their other fresh guards, chase Phil Forte off screens and try to limit his clean three-point looks. In the end, the Cowboys are more reliant on three-point shooting, while the Ducks can score in all three ranges. Unless Forte and senior Anthony Hickey get super hot from deep, the Ducks should have the edge

The RTC Certified Pick: Oregon

#1 Duke vs. #16 Robert Morris – South Region Second Round (at Charlotte, NC) – 7:10 PM ET on CBS.

Robert Morris sprung a mild upset in Dayton on Wednesday, knocking off favored North Florida in impressive fashion. To further extend their season, the Colonials will need another unexpected victory, but quite obviously, this upset may be slightly less attainable. Duke has had their share of recent struggles in the Tournament’s second round, but stubbed toes against foes such as Mercer and Lehigh can only offer RMU so much solace. Jahlil Okafor dominated small-conference foes in November and December – the Colonials, like almost every team in America, has no player capable of slowing Duke’s freshman star. Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones have proven virtually unstoppable as a duo: stopping one is possible, but forcing poor shooting nights from both is rare. The Colonials made only 4-of-16 three-point field goals against North Florida but have shot the three-ball well this season (37.7 percent). Getting hot from long range would be a great way for Andy Toole’s team to begin the task of hanging around in this game. To finish that chore — even if it ends in defeat — Robert Morris will need to pitch a perfect game. This is the life of a #16 seed, and while it’ll be Duke moving on to face the winner of San Diego State-St. John’s, Robert Morris should head home with heads held high, a proud season in the books.

The RTC Certified Pick: Duke Read the rest of this entry »

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Bracket Prep: East Region Analysis

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 17th, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

Throughout Tuesday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (10:00 AM), South (11:00 AM), Midwest (1:00 PM), West (2:00 PM). Here, Tommy Lemoine (@hoopthink) breaks down the East Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC East Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCeastregion).

East Region

Favorite: #1 Villanova (32-2, 16-2 Big East). For as good as Virginia has been this season, Villanova enters the NCAA Tournament as hot and seemingly infallible as any team outside of Kentucky. The Big East champion Wildcats are currently riding a 15-game winning streak, including 11 victories by double-figures and two drubbings – an 89-61 win over Providence and 105-68 beat-down of St. John’s – against current Tournament participants. They boast the fourth-most efficient offense in the country thanks to a balanced lineup that sees six different players average between nine and 14 points per game, and have a true inside presence and rim protector in 6’11” big man Daniel Ochefu (9.2 PPG, 8.4 RPG). And even though Jay Wright’s team relies heavily on perimeter shooting, it happens to be one of the best three-point shooting teams in America at 38.9 percent. To boot, Villanova’s defense holds opponents to well under one point per possession.

Darrun Hilliard and the Wildcats are the team to beat in the East. (AP)

Darrun Hilliard and the Wildcats are the team to beat in the East. (AP)

Should They Falter: #2 Virginia (30-3, 16-2 ACC). Virginia could have been a #1 seed and very well might play like one if Justin Anderson (12.3 PPG) rounds into form over the coming days and weeks. Since the 6’6″ wing went down with a broken hand in February, the Cavaliers’ offense has sorely missed his outside shooting (46.9% 3FG) and ability to get to the rim. The junior returned (in a limited capacity) for the ACC Tournament, however, and could be in better basketball shape by this weekend. Either way, the regular season ACC champs should be fine in the early-going, since their defense is borderline impenetrable. No team in the country – not even Kentucky – touts better adjusted defensive efficiency numbers than Tony Bennett’s guys, a product of his pack-line system which thrives on eliminating access to the paint and forcing tough shots from perimeter. Outside of Villanova, it’s hard to envision many teams in the East mustering enough offensive production to topple the Wahoos – especially if Anderson again finds his footing. Read the rest of this entry »

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Big East Teams

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 15th, 2015

In terms of the bubble, there was little surprise about the six Big East teams that were going to make the Dance. The biggest outstanding question was how the draws would play out. For a number of the middle-seeded teams, the first weekend matchups mean everything for their postseason success. Below is a review of how the selection process played out for each Big East team and what they should expect for the first few rounds of the NCAA Tournament.

Villanova, #1 seed, East region. No surprise here. After winning the Big East Tournament and ending its season on a 15-game winning streak, Villanova was all but locked in for a #1 seed. After Duke and Virginia both suffered early defeats in ACC Tournament, Villanova moved up and claimed regional preference, providing the Wildcats with the opportunity to play in Syracuse should they advance. After presumably moving past Lafayette in the first round, Villanova will take on either LSU or NC State next. LSU is incredibly turnover prone, which would feed right into the Wildcats’ push for transition baskets. NC State could potentially be more problematic, having beaten Duke, North Carolina and Louisville this season, but they are an extremely inefficient team in scoring around the basket and at the line. It’s unclear why CBS’ Clark Kellogg predicted an LSU upset over Villanova; let’s not get carried away here.

Villanova Dominated the Big East From Start to Finish This Season (USA Today Images)

Villanova Dominated the Big East From Start to Finish This Season (USA Today Images)

Georgetown, #4 seed, South region. While quite surprising to see the Hoyas move up to a #4 seed following their recent struggles, the bigger issue here is their draw. Eastern Washington is third in the country in PPG (80.8) and is led by sophomore guard Tyler Harvey, who also leads the nation in points per game (22.9). Additionally, the Eagles take good care of the ball, potentially cutting out a source of points for Georgetown’s sometimes-sputtering offense. The biggest upside is that Eastern Washington is a very small team that doesn’t rebound the ball very well, so look for the Hoyas and Josh Smith to dominate the glass inside. To keep up with what will likely be a fast-paced game, the Hoyas will need to put some points on the board in this one.

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