Big East Bubble Watch: Volume II

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 2nd, 2017

A positive resulting from the recent struggles of Creighton and Xavier is the opportunity it has afforded the conference’s bubble teams. At the beginning of the season, five was a fair benchmark for possible NCAA Tournament bids coming out of the Big East this season. Now, with just one regular season game remaining for each team, as many as seven teams could hear their names called on Selection Sunday. At the expense of quality seeding has come quantity, which might prove to be a boon given the unpredictable nature of March Madness. Here is where those seven teams stand as we head into of the final weekend of the regular season. RPI and strength of schedule (SOS) figures are from RPIForecast.com.

Locks

  • Villanova: 27-3 (14-3); RPI: 1; SOS: 24
  • Butler: 23-6 (12-5); RPI: 10; SOS: 11
  • Creighton: 23-7 (10-7); RPI: 24; SOS: 44

Analysis: These three teams have made things pretty easy for themselves — even losing out would not be enough to destroy their NCAA Tournament hopes. Villanova is a virtual lock for a #1 seed, probably in the East Region; Butler has climbed its way up to the #3 seed line; and Creighton should find itself in the #5 to #6 range. With the right match-ups, all three are Sweet Sixteen contenders.

Should Be In

Xavier Has Lost Six Games in a Row and is Reeling as March Arrives (USA Today Images)

  • Xavier: 18-12 (8-9); RPI: 35; SOS: 7

Analysis: The Musketeers’ awful slide has continued with the once 18-6 team having now lost six games in a row. A home loss to Marquette does not help matters but it alone is not yet enough to knock the Musketeers to the fringe. Xavier has gone 0-6 vs. the RPI top 25 this season, but it has avoided any bad losses and still boasts a total of eight top 100 wins. The concern for Chris Mack‘s team at this point isn’t so much its seeding but just how poorly it might perform in the NCAA Tournament. The Musketeers’ last six games have been a disaster on the defensive end.

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Big East Bubble Watch: Volume I

Posted by Justin Kundrat on February 23rd, 2017

Selection Sunday is fast approaching and remaining schedules provide dwindling opportunities to make the cut line for the NCAA Tournament. Given how wide open the Big East has been this season (thanks in large part to a number of injuries affecting Xavier and Creighton), there is an unusually large number of conference teams still with a fighting chance. Here is where those teams stand as we head into one of the final weekends of the regular season. RPI and strength of schedule (SOS) figures are from RPIForecast.com.

Locks

Villanova and Butler are Two of the Big East’s Mortal Locks (USA Today Images)

  • Villanova: 26-3 (13-3); RPI: 2; SOS: 29
  • Butler: 22-6 (11-5); RPI: 11; SOS: 12
  • Creighton: 22-6 (11-7); RPI: 26; SOS: 48

Analysis: These three teams have made things pretty easy for themselves — even losing out would not be enough to diminish their NCAA Tournament hopes. Villanova is a near-lock for a #1 seed even after last night’s home loss to Butler, while the Bulldogs and Bluejays should find themselves on the #4 or #5 seed lines.

Should Be In

  • Xavier: 18-10 (8-7); RPI: 22; SOS: 8

Analysis: Even accounting for the season-ending injury to Edmond Sumner, Xavier shouldn’t have needed to worry about which tournament it would take part in at the end of the regular season. But an ankle injury to leading scorer Trevon Bluiett has changed that perspective. Bluiett was back in action on Wednesday night, but the Musketeers regardless dropped their fourth consecutive game in ugly fashion at Seton Hall, and their upcoming schedule isn’t favorable. Still, three more losses would put Chris Mack‘s team at 18-13 with an RPI of ~38, which likely means squarely in the field. On the plus side, Xavier has been getting much better contributions from its post players, especially RaShid Gaston, which was a major concern earlier this season.

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Angel Delgado is Keeping Seton Hall Afloat

Posted by Mike Knapp on February 9th, 2017

Despite winning its last two games in overtime to keep its postseason hopes alive, Seton Hall’s season has not gone quite the way it had hoped. Coming off a campaign that included a Big East Tournament championship and a top-20 final ranking, the Pirates were probably expecting something slightly better than a 15-8 (5-6 Big East) record heading into the home stretch. The team has without question missed the play-making brilliance of all-Big East guard Isaiah Whitehead — who bolted South Orange for the NBA — but four upperclassman starters returned, including a player in junior center Angel Delgado who has emerged as one of the best big men in the country.

Angel Delgado is Responsible For Seton Hall’s Recent Surge (USA Today Images)

After earning all-Big East honorable mention last season while averaging a near-double-double (9.9 PPG; 9.3 RPG), Delgado came into this year in better shape and as determined as ever. And although the junior averaged a very healthy 14.3 points and 11.4 rebounds per game in non-conference play, his uptick in production during Big East play has been outstanding. In 11 conference games, Delgado is averaging 15.7 points and an astonishing 14.7 rebounds per game – 5.0 of which come on the offensive end. That translates to a superb 28.9 percent defensive rebounding rate, far and away the best in the Big East, and also a stellar offensive rebounding percentage of 14.5 percent – fifth in the league.

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Seton Hall Surging Despite Offensive Limitations

Posted by Mike Knapp on December 13th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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Big East Feast Week in Review

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 29th, 2016

There was plenty of Feast Week action involving Big East teams over the last week as a number of conference members took part in various events and tournaments. Four teams squared off in multiple games over a handful of days, gathering valuable experience and, in some cases, resume-enhancing wins. Below is a summary of Feast Week takeaways from Butler, Seton Hall, St. John’s and Providence.

Butler (Las Vegas Invitational)

Butler (USA Today Images)

Butler (USA Today Images)

Butler entered Feast Week as a borderline Top 25 team with a number of questions about production on the offensive end. In just two days in the desert, many of those questions were answered. A formerly shaky interior scoring team has completely revamped itself into one of the most efficient offensive squads in college basketball. The Bulldogs have outside shooters in Avery Woodson (45.7%) and Sean McDermott (38.9%), as well as a number of patient rim-attacking options in Kelan Martin, Andrew Chrabascz and Kamar Baldwin. Baldwin has been the biggest surprise for Chris Holtmann’s group, as the hyperactive freshman has been a crucial piece in generating turnovers and applying help defense in the zone to slow penetration. Most importantly, Butler has transformed from a positionally confined team to one that can size up or size down to match the opposition. The additions of 6’10” Nate Fowler and 6’11” Joey Brunk gave the Bulldogs enough frontcourt depth to match the Power 5 size of Arizona and Vanderbilt in holding both teams below 1.00 point per possession. The Bulldogs’ championship game win over #8 Arizona spells out a Top 25 ranking for Butler heading into December.

Seton Hall (AdvoCare Invitational)

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Big East Conference Preview: Georgetown, Butler, Seton Hall

Posted by Mike Knapp on November 9th, 2016

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

#6: Georgetown

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

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

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

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

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Even Without Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall is Here to Stay

Posted by Justin Kundrat on October 25th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Big East’s Burning Questions: NCAA Tournament Edition

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 16th, 2016

With five NCAA Tournament teams seeded anywhere from #2 to a #9, the expectations for the Big East this season are all over the map. Let’s take a look at the single biggest question surrounding the postseason success of each program heading into the first weekend.

Is this the year Jay Wright and company finally make their long awaited run to the Final Four? (Getty)

Is this the year Jay Wright’s group finally makes another run? (Getty)

VillanovaCan the Wildcats finally break through to the Sweet Sixteen? This narrative has seemingly lasted forever. After a number of exits in the Second Round, many pundits are writing off Jay Wright‘s squad. The reasons are all over the place: a lack of true NBA-level talent; a lack of interior depth; limited athleticism; over-reliance on the three-pointer. But what the narrative fails to capture is that the team’s dynamic continues to evolve with each passing year — players gain experience, develop new skill sets and build cohesion. People desperately wanted to craft the three-point shooting storyline around this year’s team but it simply hasn’t held up. Yes, Villanova shoots threes, but they are rarely contested. They are simply a manifestation of an offense where the primary options are to use Josh Hart in the lane or Daniel Ochefu on the low block. Iowa isn’t the type of team to give Villanova problems, nor is an undersized and poor-shooting Temple team. Expect the narrative to finally unwind this March.

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Bracket Prep: Midwest Region

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 15th, 2016

bracketprep22

On Monday and Tuesday we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: Monday (East and West); Tuesday (South and Midwest). Here, Bennet Hayes (@HoopsTraveler) 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: #2 Michigan State (30-5, 13-5 Big Ten). They aren’t the top seed in the region (more on that later), but the Spartans are as hot as any team in the nation entering the NCAA Tournament. Michigan State’s only blemish over its last 13 games is a one-point loss in overtime at Purdue, a surge that may not have earned them appropriate respect in the RPI (#11) but has done so in advanced rating systems (KenPom #3, Sagarin #2). Any Tom Izzo team is scary in March, but one led by a potential National Player of the Year (Denzel Valentine) evolves into an even more frightening tier of “opponent no team wants to face.” Oh, and their most likely challenger for the title of Midwest favorite knows this reality all too well – top-seeded Virginia has been bounced from each of the last two Tournaments by the Spartans. Michigan State is #2 in seed only in this Midwest Region.

Fresh off a Big Ten tournament title, Michigan State is as hot as any team in the field of 68. (Photo: AP)

Fresh off a Big Ten tournament title, Michigan State is as hot as any team in the field of 68. (Photo: AP)

Should They Falter: #1 Virginia (26-7, 13-5 ACC). Michigan State’s anointment as region favorite has little to do with any deficiencies exhibited by Virginia. Aside from a two-week stretch in early January in which the Cavaliers lost three of four, Tony Bennett’s team has been stellar from November to March. Like the Spartans, they too are in the top four in both the Sagarin and Pomeroy rating systems; unlike the Spartans, they have repeatedly proven capable of beating some of the nation’s best teams: Virginia owns five victories over teams that earned a #3 seed or better – four more than the Spartans. Making the Final Four could well require an exorcism of recent March demons by defeating Michigan State in the Elite Eight, but ACC Player of the Year Malcolm Brogdon, London Perrantes, and Anthony Gill form a leading trio capable of guiding the Cavaliers past any team in the field. Believe it.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Big East

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 13th, 2016

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

Villanova, #2 seed, South Region. A surprising and frustrating choice for many Villanova fans. Few expected to receive a #1 seed after losing to Seton Hall last night, but many expected the opportunity to play in the Philadelphia regional rather than being shipped to the South region. Nevertheless, Villanova’s opening pod is a favorable one. The Wildcats handily beat Temple on its own floor a few weeks ago and Iowa has struggled mightily over its last 10 games. The Hawkeyes should beat the Owls, but their guard play is weak and the team has no dominant interior presence. A matchup against Villanova would be a battle of wings against a team that isn’t particularly strong at defending the paint. On paper, Villanova should handle it well.

Villanova's Big East Title Game Loss May Have Cost Them A #1 Seed (USA Today Sports)

Villanova’s Big East Title Game Loss May Have Cost Them A #1 Seed (USA Today Sports)

Xavier, #2 seed, East Region. Xavier should be happy with this placement. Weber State won lot of games but succeeded only once over a team in KenPom‘s top 150. Looking forward, Pittsburgh and Wisconsin are the Musketeers’ possible second round opponents — both are big, physical teams that play a slower-paced game. Neither is particularly adept at forcing turnovers, a point of weakness for the Musketeers, but Wisconsin is probably the more dangerous team. Given the Badgers’ impressive recent stretch (winners of 10 of its last 13 games) and ability to control tempo, Xavier will need to bring its best game. It says here, however, that Wisconsin will struggle to shoot well enough to challenge Chris Mack’s team.

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