NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.21.15 Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on March 21st, 2015

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March Madness is finally upon us, and we here at RTC are here to make everything a little bit easier for you. From the First Four until One Shining Moment, we’ll be dropping daily tidbits of knowledge regarding the teams in each region.

Midwest Region

Goodness Gracious. (USA Today Images)

Goodness Gracious. (USA Today Images)

  • Kentucky expected more out of itself in Thursday night’s win over Hampton. It is possible that the Wildcats need the edge back from last year when they advanced to the national title game as a #8 seed?
  • Cincinnati interim coach Larry Davis traces his roots back to Kentucky.
  • After earning a thrilling victory over Buffalo on Friday afternoon, West Virginia coach Bob Huggins acknowledged in his postgame remarks that he does not understand ESPN analyst Jay Bilas’ Young Jeezy-inspired Twitter schtick.
  • Maryland walk-on defensive specialist Varun Ram saved the day for the Terrapins on Friday when he locked down on Valparaiso guard Keith Carter and produced a turnover as the buzzer sounded to ensure  a 65-62 Maryland win.
  • Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew will always have his March Madness memories from his miracle run as a player in 1998, but he was unable to produce new memories as a coach in Friday’s narrow loss to Maryland.
  • Butler coach Chris Holtmann acknowledged Friday that junior forward Roosevelt Jones will play Saturday night against Notre Dame after suffering a knee injury in Thursday’s win over Texas.
  • Notre Dame coach Mike Brey is expecting senior captain Pat Connaughton to have a big game Saturday night when the Irish take on Butler.
  • Indiana showed that it has talent on the perimeter in Friday’s close loss to Wichita State, thus it seems like the next move for the Hoosiers is to find a big man capable of leading the team to greater heights.
  • With Friday’s victory over Indiana, Wichita State earned its shot to play Kansas – a shot the program has been craving for years.
  • Kansas forward Perry Ellis said his previously injured knee “felt great out there” in Friday’s sizable victory over New Mexico State.

West Region

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NCAA Game Analysis: Third Round, Saturday

Posted by RTC Staff on March 21st, 2015

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The last time this crew of programs laced up the sneakers, they provided us with a slate to remember. From last-second thrillers to overtime upsets that came out of left field, Thursday was quite simply one of the most electric opening days in NCAA Tournament history. Could history repeat itself? Here are eight previews of Saturday’s games.

#11 UCLA vs. #14 UAB — South Region Third Round (at Louisville, KY) — 12:10 PM ET on TBS.

Regardless of how they did it, Thomas Welch and UCLA are one step away from the Sweet 16. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Regardless of how they did it, Thomas Welch and UCLA are one step away from the Sweet Sixteen. (Andy Lyons/Getty)

Steve Alford has finally figured out this NCAA Tournament thing. All you have to do is put together an entirely mediocre season, inexplicably make the Tournament field (and avoid the First Four while you are at it), have the refs blow a call in the final 20 seconds of your opener that propels your team to victory, then find a #14 seed waiting for you in the third round. That’s all! What a charmed five days it was for the Bruins, whose season suddenly has meaning. Thursday wasn’t so bad for UAB, either, as the Blazers toppled Iowa State in what should go down as the biggest upset of the second round (apologies to Georgia State). Two double-digit seeds now face off with a bid to the Sweet Sixteen on the line. UCLA does not play as quickly as Iowa State does (the Bruins are 113th in the country in possessions per game), but UAB will try to recreate the muddle that was Thursday’s game with the Cyclones. The Blazers dominated the glass (outrebounding Iowa State by 15), enabling them to survive their unimaginative offensive (41% field goal shooting and 3-of-18 shooting from three-point range). UCLA’s Kevon Looney and Tony Parker are unlikely to submit to a similar assault on the backboards in this game, so Jerod Haase’s team may have to promote other strengths. The problem for the Blazers is that there really aren’t many. They don’t shoot the ball well from the field, turnovers are frequently an issue, and their work on the defensive end has been average at best this season. All this isn’t intended to make UCLA out to be an unbeatable monster of a team (they aren’t), but at least on paper, UAB just is not that great a team. They did find a way to get it done against a team better than UCLA on Thursday, and the Bruins, as mentioned, are very far from perfect themselves. But while anything is possible, a return to expectation (albeit a smaller one than we had two days ago) should be in the cards here. Steve Alford and UCLA, say hello to the Sweet Sixteen.

The RTC Certified Pick: UCLA

#1 Kentucky vs. #8 Cincinnati – Midwest Region Round of 32 (in Louisville, KY) – at 2:40 PM EST on CBS

Karl-Anthony Towns was an absolute force to be reckoned with Thursday evening. Will Cincinnati's frontline fair any better? (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Karl-Anthony Towns was an absolute force to be reckoned with Thursday evening. Will Cincinnati’s frontline fair any better? (Andy Lyons/Getty)

Unbeaten Kentucky was not at its best Thursday, but it did not really matter as it still cruised to a 79-56 victory over Hampton. While Kentucky — as a whole — was a bit uneven against the Pirates, freshman forward Karl-Anthony Towns turned in a phenomenal performance. Towns was clearly the best player on the court all evening, finishing with 21 points (8-of-12 FG), 11 rebounds, and three blocks in just 25 minutes of action. Sophomore guard Andrew Harrison and freshman guard Tyler Ulis were also very good in the victory, as they totaled a combined 25 points, eight rebounds, and six assists. Even though Hampton is not considered an offensive juggernaut, Kentucky’s defensive performance was still impressive. The Pirates were held to just a 17-of-59 (28.8%) shooting performance, and only one player converted more than two field goals. Meanwhile, Cincinnati showcased its great resiliency in its win over Purdue on Thursday. The Bearcats trailed by seven with with 48.5 seconds to play before going on a 10-3 run to force overtime where they ultimately prevailed with a 66-65 victory. Cincinnati does not have any stars, but it received strong contributions from sophomore guard Troy Caupain (10 points and four assists), junior guard Farad Cobb (14 points), and junior forward Coreontae DeBerry (13 points). The Bearcats frustrated Purdue with tenacious defense all night, as the Boilermakers were just 26-of-72 (36.1%) from the field, including 4-of-26 (15.4%) from the perimeter. Cincinnati has played hard all season under some less than ideal circumstances, and its coaches and players deserve credit for making it this far. Unfortunately for them, this run will come to an end at the hands of Kentucky on Saturday. The Wildcats just have way too much talent across the board for this to really even be all that close. Expect Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein to establish themselves early and lead Kentucky to the Sweet 16 with a comfortable victory.

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Bracket Prep: Midwest Region Analysis

Posted by Walker Carey on March 17th, 2015

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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, Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) breaks down the Midwest Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC Midwest Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCMWregion).

Midwest Region

Favorite: #1 Kentucky (34-0, 18-0 SEC). The unbeaten Wildcats enter the NCAA Tournament as not only the favorites in the Midwest Region but also for the entire tournament. John Calipari’s squad has been able to reach 34-0 due to its star power combined with its ability to play tremendously well as a unit. It will be utterly shocking if Kentucky is tripped up before reaching the Final Four. The reason why the Wildcats are such a lethal team is that they possess top-flight talent at each position. Their backcourt is loaded with sophomores Aaron Harrison and Andrew Harrison and freshmen Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis. The insanely long and athletic front line is led by junior Willie Cauley-Stein, sophomores Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee, and freshmen Trey Lyles and Karl-Anthony Towns. Toss in the fact that Kentucky’s veteran players have Final Four experience from a season ago and you will understand why the Wildcats are the overwhelming favorite to advance to Indianapolis.

Will John Calipari Be Smiling This Time Next Week? (AP)

John Calipari and the Wildcats have had a lot to smile about this season. (AP)

Should They Falter: #3 Notre Dame (29-5, 14-4 ACC). The ACC Tournament champion Fighting Irish enter the NCAA Tournament fresh off playing some of their best basketball of the year. Notre Dame possesses an elite offensive attack with multiple options that makes it a very tough team to defend. That attack is led by senior star guard Jerian Grant, an All-American senior who has the ability to take over a game each night out. Grant is the alpha dog star of Mike Brey’s team, but senior Pat Connaughton and sophomores Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia all strongly contribute to the Irish’s success. It will be a stunner if Kentucky loses at any point in this region, but if it does, look for Notre Dame to take home the Midwest Region trophy and advance to the Final Four.

Grossly Overseeded: #8 Cincinnati (22-10, 13-5 AAC). The Bearcats enjoyed a solid season but their résumé suggests that they should have been a double-digit seed. While Cincinnati had good victories over SMU (twice), San Diego State and NC State, it also had head-scratching losses to Nebraska, East Carolina and Tulane. The Bearcats finished the AAC season tied for third in the conference standings. Temple — the team they were tied with, and Tulsa, the team that finished one spot ahead of them — did not even earn bids to the NCAA Tournament. That’s not to suggest that Cincinnati didn’t deserve inclusion in the NCAA Tournament, but a #8 seed is very generous.

Grossly Underseeded: #7 Wichita State (28-4, 17-1 MVC). The Missouri Valley Conference does not provide many opportunities to pick up marquee victories, but Wichita State was able to pick up one on February 28 though when Gregg Marshall’s team got revenge from an early-season loss by topping Northern Iowa. The rest of the Shockers’ résumé was not very exciting, but they managed to win 28 games overall and only stumbled once in conference play prior to the MVC Tournament. Wichita State’s core is essentially the same (minus Cleanthony Early) as the one that started 34-0 last season. Gregg Marshall’s team is too talented and experienced to be a #7 seed and it would not be surprising at all to see it make a run to the second weekend.

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Big East Season Superlatives

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 10th, 2015

The Big East had an outstanding season, finishing the regular season ranked as the second-best conference in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings as well as the RPI. Let’s take a look at some of the best players and teams from a league that will likely send six teams to the Big Dance on Sunday.

Player of the Year

Kris Dunn, So, Providence (15.5 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 7.4 APG, 2.8 SPG) – This award could have easily gone to Villanova’s Darrun Hilliard or Dunn’s Providence teammate LaDontae Henton, but the Friars’ sophomore point guard has dazzled us all year long on one of the Big East’s top teams. Originally a part of Providence’s 2012 recruiting class, Dunn had been beset by injuries up until this season. Finally healthy, he played in all but one regular season game and led the country in assist rate at 49 percent. Also an outstanding defender, Dunn ranks fifth nationally in steal percentage. His best performance of the year came in a home win over DePaul on January 29 when he posted a triple-double (27 points, 13 rebounds, 11 assists) — it was the first triple-double ever posted by a Providence player in a Big East conference game.

It wasn't an easy choice, but Kris Dunn earns the nod as RTC's Big East POY. (USA TODAY Sports)

It wasn’t an easy choice, but Kris Dunn earns the nod as RTC’s Big East POY. (USA TODAY Sports)

All-Conference

First Team

  • Kris Dunn, So, Providence (15.5 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 7.4 APG, 2.8 SPG) – Our RTC Big East Player of the Year.
  • Darrun Hilliard, Sr, Villanova (14.2 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.8 SPG) – As is the case with all of his Villanova teammates, the statistics don’t tell the entire story. The best player on the best team in this league.
  • LaDontae Henton, Sr, Providence (20.1 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 1.4 SPG) – Joined Ryan Gomes as the only other Providence player to score at least 2,000 points and grab at least 1,000 rebounds over his career.
  • D’Angelo Harrison, Sr, St. John’s (17.8 PPG, 5.5 RPG) – The Red Storm’s leading scorer led an experienced team to what is likely to be an NCAA Tournament bid.
  • Sir’Dominic Pointer, Sr, St. John’s (13.7 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 2.0 SPG, 2.5 BPG) – Perhaps the best defender in the conference, Pointer was all over the floor in an impressive senior season.

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Rushed Reactions: #6 Villanova 68, #18 Butler 65

Posted by Walker Carey on February 14th, 2015

Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday night’s game between Villanova and Butler in Indianapolis.

Three Key Takeaways.

Darrun Hillard (USA Today Images)

Darrun Hilliard Blew Up Butler on Saturday (USA Today Images)

  1. Darrun Hilliard picked a great night to turn in a career-best performance. Villanova’s leading scorer took his game to another level against Butler, finishing with a career-high 31 points on 9-of-16 shooting (8-of-13 from three) to go along with eight rebounds. Hilliard really got things going in the second half, as he hit 5-of-7 from three and 5-of-5 from the charity stripe in the game’s second stanza. He also showcased his knack for knocking down the big shot after Butler swingman Roosevelt Jones tied the game with 18 seconds to play. With teammate Ryan Arcidiacano double-teamed at the top of the key, Hilliard called for the ball from the right free throw line extended and drained a wide open three to give the Wildcats a 68-65 lead with just 1.2 seconds to play. At 23-2 on the season, Villanova is currently in the discussion for a potential #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. If the Wildcats can get similar performances from Hilliard for the remainder of their Big East slate, they could easily be on that top line when Selection Sunday arrives.
  2. Both teams were great defensively in the first half and great offensively in the second half. Throughout the first half, this game looked like it was going to be a slow-paced and physical slugfest. Villanova held a 27-22 lead at the break and neither team put up strong offensive numbers in the opening 20 minutes. It might have been their way of paying homage to the frigid conditions outside, but Villanova shot just 36.7 percent from the field while Butler made just 30.8 percent of its attempts. The offensive end of the court was much kinder to both teams in the second half with both teams topping 40 total points (Butler outscored Villanova 43-41 in the second half) and 50 percent shooting (Villanova shot 60 percent and Butler shot 56.5 percent). It was almost like the first half and second half were two completely different games. With that being said, it was clear as day that both Villanova and Butler have the ability to get it done on both ends of the court.
  3. Villanova pretty much locked up its second straight regular season Big East title with the victory. With Saturday evening’s victory, Villanova moved its Big East record to 10-2. That conference mark gives the Wildcats a two-game lead in the conference standings and the schedule the rest of the way is very favorable for Jay Wright’s squad. Villanova will go on the road three more times, but games at Marquette, Xavier and Creighton are certainly winnable. It is definitely reasonable to believe that the Wildcats will finish the regular season with a 29-2 overall record and a 16-2 mark in Big East play.

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Butler Regains Its Old Identity in the New Big East

Posted by Justin Kundrat on January 14th, 2015

After years of sustained success under head coach Brad Stevens, the Bulldogs joined the revamped Big East in 2013 and immediately plummeted. New head coach Brandon Miller inherited a group that returned rising star Kellen Dunham, but despite a 27-9 record in the program’s only Atlantic 10 season, Butler struggled with the adjustment. First, junior guard Roosevelt Jones suffered a broken wrist that forced him to miss the entire season, and then the offense bottomed out at the start of Big East play. This resulted in the team losing 15 of its last 19 games to finish the season at 14-17 and a ninth-place Big East finish, just one game ahead of DePaul. Some questioned whether Butler had flown too close to the sun — whether the program could rediscover its identity in a conference where it would never be the biggest name on the marquee. But under the tutelage of interim-turned-head coach Chris Holtmann this season, Butler is back to its old ways — the Butler way — sporting a mix of hard-nosed, physical defense and a tempo designed to emphasize efficiency over pace.

Butler's Chris Holtmann Has Gotten the Butler Way Back in Action (USA Today Images)

Butler’s Chris Holtmann Has Gotten the Butler Way Back in Action (USA Today Images)

After a road win at Seton Hall on Tuesday night, Butler is off to a 13-5 record (3-2 Big East). That record includes wins over North Carolina, Georgetown, St. John’s and Xavier, earned behind a defense that ranks 29th nationally in defensive efficiency. I did a poor job with them getting them ready to play with the aggressiveness that Butler played [with], North Carolina head coach Roy Williams said at the time. Very aggressive, and I’m not insinuating anything other than very aggressive – I didn’t say anything at all about being dirty – but it was very aggressive play. They outhustled us.

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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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Butler Off to a Rough Start in its Inaugural Big East Season

Posted by Walker Carey on January 10th, 2014

Walker Carey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Thursday evening’s tilt between DePaul and Butler in Indianapolis.

Butler‘s meteoric rise from the Horizon League to the Big East in just two years has been well-documented. While it is great to discuss how the little school from Indianapolis was able to conquer some of the country’s national powers and sustain the success that predicated the conference ascension, Butler is now in the Big East and it is now appropriate to discuss what the Bulldogs have to do in their new league to carry on the past success. After last night’s loss to DePaul in a double-overtime game where the Bulldogs gave up an 11-point lead in the final minutes of regulation, Butler sits at 0-3 in conference play and is wondering what has gone wrong.

Heads are Hanging at Butler after an 0-3 Start (AP)

Heads are Hanging at Butler after an 0-3 Start (AP)

In the preseason, Butler was viewed as an unknown commodity and was subsequently picked ninth in the Big East preseason poll. It had a new head coach in Brandon Miller and its top returnee – Roosevelt Jones – was lost for the season with a wrist injury suffered over the summer. Once the season began, the Bulldogs appeared to be better than advertised during the non-conference slate. Despite finishing 1-2 at the Old Spice Classic in late November, the Bulldogs played well in all three games – including a two-point loss to preseason top 10 Oklahoma State, and a two-point overtime loss to an LSU squad that entered the season with high expectations. If you removed the three games in Orlando, the Bulldogs went a perfect 10-0 in non-conference play. Along the way, sophomore guard Kellen Dunham and senior forward Khyle Marshall began to emerge as a legitimate high-low combination with standout potential.

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The Best Of 2013 In College Basketball

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 31st, 2013

With 2013 winding to a close, it’s time to take a look back at the year that was in college basketball. There were too many memorable moments to recount ‘em all, but here’s our honor roll for the last calendar year — a list laced with games, plays, and performances that will long struggle to escape our memory banks.

Best Game: Michigan vs. Kansas, NCAA Tournament, Sweet Sixteen

Trey Burke's Last-Gasp Sweet-16 Heroics Will Surely Be One Of 2013's Prevailing Memories

Trey Burke’s Last-Gasp Sweet-16 Heroics Will Surely Be One Of 2013’s Prevailing Memories

Gonzaga-Butler may have given us the best final seconds of regulation (see below), and Louisville-Notre Dame definitely donated the most riveting 25 minutes of action after regulation, but when talking games of the year, Michigan vs. Kansas was simply unmatched when it came to elevated stakes and elite talent. We won’t soon forget Trey Burke’s comeback-capping, game-tying three to force overtime, but it would be a shame if that’s all that lived on from this classic. Sweet Sixteen match-ups between national title contenders don’t come around every March; would you have bet against Kansas to get to Championship Monday if Burke’s three hadn’t found the bottom of the net on that Friday night?

Honorable Mention: Gonzaga at Butler, Louisville at Notre Dame.

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Kellen Dunham and Khyle Marshall Have Emerged For Butler

Posted by Walker Carey on November 20th, 2013

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed his report after Tuesday’s game in Indianapolis between Butler and Vanderbilt.

The 2013-14 season is supposed to be a transition year for Butler as it entered its first season in the new Big East. For starters, the team lost key offensive weapons Rotnei Clarke and Andrew Smith to graduation after last season. With the team’s personnel already in a bit of a rebuilding phase, things took a stunning turn in early July when Brad Stevens left Butler to take the head coaching job with the Boston Celtics. With assistant Brandon Miller replacing Stevens, things got even dicier for the Bulldogs in August when top returnee Roosevelt Jones was lost for the season after suffering a wrist injury during the team’s summer trip to Australia. Entering the season then, a Butler program that had developed a reputation for stability over the last several years was suddenly searching for an identity. Through the first three games of that search, Butler has found a semblance of what it is looking for in the play of sophomore guard Kellen Dunham and senior forward Khyle Marshall.

Khyle Marshall Was Outstanding Tuesday Night (IndyStar)

Khyle Marshall Was Outstanding Tuesday Night (IndyStar)

As a freshman last season, Dunham experienced a lot of the ups and downs that goes along with being a freshman. He put up a respectable 9.5 points per contest – which was good for fifth-best on the team – but he only shot 37.5 percent from the field. Stepping into the void left by the departed Clarke, Dunham has upped his level of play thus far in his sophomore season. After putting up a solid 13 points in a season-opening 89-58 blowout victory over Lamar, the sharpshooter had a career-best performance in this past Saturday’s narrow 70-67 triumph over Princeton. In Tuesday evening’s overtime defeat of Vanderbilt, Dunham set the tone early for Butler by scoring 10 of his 16 points in the first half. As Vanderbilt fought back to force overtime, the sophomore showed great resolve in effectively facilitating the Butler offense and providing excellent defense against a Commodore attack that valiantly battled back from a 14-point second half deficit.

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Introducing the RTC Big East Preseason Power Rankings

Posted by Dan Lyons (@Dan_Lyons76) on November 8th, 2013

College basketball is back! Seven Big East teams open their seasons tonight, including a few big match-ups like St. John’s vs. Wisconsin and Georgetown vs. Oregon. There is no better time to unveil the Big East microsite’s preseason rankings, with comments and analysis from our group of Big East writers:

Marquette Needs to Go Inside Against Davidson

Marquette tops Rush the Court’s preseason Big East rankings.

10. DePaul

  • Dan Lyons – With Cleveland Melvin and Brandon Young heading into their senior years, this might be DePaul’s best chance to get out of the Big East basement, but I’m definitely taking a wait and see approach with the Blue Demons.
  • George Hershey – It’s DePaul… They have some talent in Melvin and Young, but they don’t play defense.
  • Todd Keryc – It doesn’t matter what league they play in or who else is in it, the poor Blue Demons are destined for the cellar almost every year.
 9. Butler
  • DL – With the injury to Roosevelt Jones, Butler is without a returning double-figure scorer this season. I’m not one to bet against the Bulldogs, with or without Brad Stevens, but this inaugural Big East campaign isn’t shaping up too well for this Cinderella.
  • GH – They lose many pieces from last year’s team. Roosevelt Jones’ injury really hurts, but they are Butler and they always surprise everyone. Expect Kellen Dunham to have a big year.
  • TK – Bad timing for the Bulldogs. They ride two straight national title appearances into two straight conference upgrades, only to see their boy wonder coach Brad Stevens leave for the NBA.

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Big East M5: 10.21.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on October 21st, 2013

bigeast_morning5(2)

  1. New York Times writer Zach Schonbrun experienced a sense of relief among the various schools at last week’s Big East Media Day in Manhattan. After many seasons played under the shroud of conference realignment, culminating with the awkwardness of last season’s farewell tour for Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and Notre Dame, the Big East is now a settled, basketball-driven league focused on private schools in metropolitan markets. While the conference’s new members — Butler, Creighton, and Xavier — are all located in the Midwest, they fit into the league quite well culturally. St. John’s head coach Steve Lavin actually thinks the new schools fit in better than some of the public universities that have moved on to the American Athletic Conference, and the schools who left for the ACC for largely football-based reasons: “It’s not like a ‘Sesame Street’ deal — which one doesn’t belong… You’ve got a tree, a bush, some seaweed and then a truck. It just didn’t fit. I think now we have a league that’s more similar.”
  2. Georgetown lost an excellent player to the NBA Draft in standout forward Otto Porter, but guard Markel Starks thinks that the Hoyas are more than just one player and that his team will look to prove that this season: “We play as a unit… We play as a group. Obviously, we just lost a great player. Even still, with or without him, we play as a unit. … I think we can still be a very dangerous team.” Starks, now a senior, will probably bear much of the weight of Porter’s absence in the scoring column, after averaging 12.8 points per game last season. He will be joined in the backcourt by D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, who proved capable of exploding for big point totals last season. Smith-Rivera scored at least 14 points in three of his last four regular season games last season, and dropped 33 in 34 minutes against DePaul on February 20.
  3. One of the major changes fans will notice in the conference this year is a lack of legendary coaches on the sidelines, although the Big East will not be hurting for talent in that spot. Gone are Hall of Famers like Jim Boeheim and Rick Pitino, but rising stars like Marquette’s Buzz Williams and Georgetown’s John Thompson III are poised to lead the conference into this new era. Thompson agrees that the coaching talent in the league is very high: “If you look around the room, the quality of coaching is outstanding. Yes, we lost some Hall of Fame coaches, but I don’t think too many teams want to go up against the guys in this room. Every game is going to be a battle. That was true last year; that’s going to be true this year.” Williams also believes in the overall quality of the league, and thinks it stands up with the best conferences in college basketball: “Every coach is going to say they play in the best league, but if you objectively study the numbers, I think what this league has done the last five years speaks for itself. I think this year that will hold firm, too.”
  4. Even without the likes of Syracuse, Louisville, and UConn, many are excited about the prospects of the Big East, especially those at the league’s three new schools: Butler, Creighton, and Xavier. Between the television contract with Fox Sports 1 and the ability to play at Madison Square Garden, the Big East provides a great increase in exposure for the former Horizon League, Missouri Valley Conference, and Atlantic 10 teams. Rumble in the Garden‘s Chris Ronca caught up with Xavier’s Chris Mack and Creighton’s Greg McDermott, who were both very excited about these new possibilities. Mack says his players are excited about playing at MSG:  “Playing for your conference championship in the Mecca is an amazing opportunity for Xavier fans and players.” McDermott talked about the league’s TV contract and it’s impact on the Creighton program: “[Creighton’s] fans have longed for this for awhile.” McDermott went on to say that “with Fox [Sports] 1, it’s very exciting for the program… there’ll be a lot of new ideas with how [Creighton’s] product is shown nationally.”
  5. Sports Illustrated‘s [and RTC‘s] Chris Johnson’s “Stock Watch” series sets its gaze on the Big East, and he’s quite bullish on Villanova, while throwing a bit of shade on Butler. Johnson cites Villanova’s surge in the middle of last season, where the Wildcats knocked off top five Louisville and Syracuse outfits in a a five-day stretch, as evidence that Jay Wright’s club is very dangerous. He likes the combination of Ryan Arcidiacono, JayVaughn Pinkston, and Daniel Ochefu, and believes that if the team continues to get to the free throw line and play stingy defense, it can push for the top of the league standings. As for Butler, Johnson believes that the loss of Brad Stevens in conjunction with an increase in the difficulty of conference play will hurt the Bulldogs, as will the departures of Rotnei Clark and Andrew Smith as well as the injury to Roosevelt Jones.
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