St. John’s Shiny Record Belies Some of the Same Old Problems

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 30th, 2018

St. John’s may be 6-0 on the season but its undefeated record does not tell the whole story. Rather, the program seems to be carrying the heavy weight of expectations for a breakthrough season. With all the stars aligned, this was pegged to be the year: Future NBA draftee Shamorie Ponds passed up the league to return for his junior season; impact transfer Mustapha Heron was cleared to play; some promising new faces around campus brought needed depth; and head coach Chris Mullin, entering his fourth season, would be turning a corner as head coach. And with the program’s best start since 2010 already in the books, some observers may be lured into the false premise that things are going according to plan. But a closer look underneath the hood reveals many of the same issues from last season — issues that are likely to manifest against stiffer competition.

The Legends Classic Champions May Be a Paper Tiger (USA Today Images)

First is the simple over-reliance on Ponds to create offense and score. The junior ranked 18th nationally (32.0%) in usage rate last season, often forced into difficult shots because of the dearth of reliable secondary scorers on the roster. And while Heron’s 18.2 PPG have certainly eased his offensive burden, the fact that Ponds’ hero ball was required to salvage victories against VCU and California cannot be comforting. Clever and electric as he is, it’s hard to imagine that this is a good possession, particularly given how many Red Storm players are open once VCU’s defenders collapse into the paint:

In both of those Legends Classic games, the 6’1″ guard accounted for 40 percent of his team’s points. Although the ultimate result may have been what Mullin wanted, the underlying process of getting there was lacking. St. John’s showed minimal ball movement, poor defense and a street ball feel to the game. The last comment brings up the next point: A leaky perimeter defense, which plagued the Red Storm all of last season, is still a problem. Not only is St. John’s allowing countless open shots from the perimeter, but it is yet again fouling at an astronomical rate. While some of this may be driven by personnel, the below table shows a clear correlation between defensive foul rates and Mullin’s assumption of the head coaching position in 2015-16.

Unnecessary fouls are often the result of lackluster communication, bad spacing, or poor tendencies such as recklessly attempting a steal or block. While the Red Storm’s defense has been adept at forcing turnovers, the number of easy points they are giving up at the line will continue to haunt them. So while St. John’s enters December standing tall with an unblemished record, its near-losses to the likes of Bowling Green and California could have shaped an entirely different narrative. With a pool of talent on the floor in Ponds, Heron, sophomore LJ Figueroa and plenty of role players, it’s high time for this team to fully turn the corner and stop peaking around it.

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Big East Weekly Takeaways: Vol. I

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 13th, 2018

Week one is already in the books and there’s more than enough to talk about around the Big East. This is the first introduction of a weekly takeaways post that discusses and analyzes all of the conference’s happenings.

Eric Paschall at the Five Presents All Kinds of Problems for Opponents (USA Today Images)

  • Villanova may not have the same degree of firepower as it has had over the last few seasons, but the Wildcats’ superb offensive dynamic has remained unchanged. First, the Wildcats are currently posting 1.17 points per possession (fourth nationally), with six players averaging more than 9.0 PPG. Second, with do-it-all forward Eric Paschall at the five position, head coach Jay Wright can again roll out a lineup of shooters at every position. Third, there are a plethora of interchangeable Wildcat wings to help with the needs of any rotation, whether those are attacking in transition, rebounding or spacing the floor. Lastly, with four rock solid guards on the roster, Wright has no shortage of ball-handlers available to keep his offense humming. There is still a good degree of rawness on Villanova’s bench, but it’s fun to watch the team now if only to have a frame of reference for its progress come March. The one under-reported surprise thus far has been 6’8″ freshman Saddiq Bey, who poured in 16 points in his debut by scoring in a variety of ways. Bey has been an ideal additional scoring threat on the wing while filling the “Mikal Bridges” role on the defensive end of the floor.
  • This season might turn out to be a down year for the conference, but it is already projecting as one of the best in recent years for talented big men. Villanova’s Eric Paschall has been uncontainable both on the perimeter and around the basket, averaging 18.5 PPG and 7.5 RPG through two games. Georgetown’s Jessie Govan has continued his sharp upward trajectory since Patrick Ewing took over the head coaching role at his alma mater. The 6’10” senior is getting to the line more and posting career high statistics in blocks and field goal percentage. Tyrique Jones at Xavier has had a somewhat unexpected junior breakout season thus far, currently posting averages of 18.0 PPG and 13.0 RPG that includes a 20-rebound (!) effort against Evansville over the weekend. Jones looks springier around the basket while maintaining his patented “draw contact at all costs” style of play. Butler’s Joey Brunk debuted this season with a career-high 17 points and six rebounds on 7-of-7 shooting. Even Marquette, which seemingly hasn’t had a threatening low post option in years (Davante Gardner in 2014?) has witnessed growth in sophomore bowling ball Theo John (9.5 PPG, 7.0 RPG). These clashes in the low post will be exciting come conference play.

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Ranking the Top 50 Big East Players, Part III: #16-#1

Posted by Brad Cavallaro on November 7th, 2018

Here are the top 16 players in the Big East to conclude the series. Part I can be found here and Part II can be found here.

Markus Howard is one of the More Interesting Players in College Basketball (USA Today Images)

  • 16. Eli Cain, DePaul, SR, Wing. Cain experienced decreased scoring and efficiency as a junior, a decline that coincided with his move from the wing to the point guard position. But last year’s lead guard experiment should ultimately benefit the senior as he was able to diversify his skill set. As Cain returns to his natural position this season as a secondary ball-handler, expect a bounce-back campaign. He averaged 11.7 PPG and 4.7 APG last year.
  • 15. Emmitt Holt, Providence, SR, PF. Holt missed all of last season with an injury/illness, but he should make a substantial impact in his return to the Providence lineup this year. The 6’7’’ senior played almost exclusively at center two seasons ago, but he will now see more time at power forward, correspondingly reducing his quickness advantage over opposing big men. Holt can score with his back to the basket, attack from the high post, and hit three-point jumpers, which makes him a very dangerous offensive player.
  • 14. Naji Marshall, Xavier, SO, Wing. Marshall broke into the starting lineup midway through last season and showed great potential as a freshman. The 6’7’’ wing can play both the three and the four positions and should be in position to break out in replacement of Trevon Blueitt. He averaged 7.7 PPG and 4.4 RPG a season ago, but he could easily approach 15.0 PPG in his new role. The versatile and athletic Marshall is certainly a player to watch over the next few seasons.
  • 13. Quentin Goodin, Xavier, JR, Guard. Goodin was forced into major minutes as a freshman at Xavier when Edmund Sumner suffered an injury. There was a steep learning curve for him at that point, but he ultimately benefited from being thrown into the fire because he has developed into one of the best players in the conference. He is a big physical guard who can attack the basket, defend at a high level, and facilitate for his teammates. Goodin shot 40 percent from three-point range in Big East play last season, and if he can replicate that accuracy, he will be rightly considered a top-tier point guard in college basketball.
  • 12. Max Strus, DePaul, SR, Wing. Strus made the jump from D-II look effortless last year with a seamless transition to high-major basketball. The 6’6’’ wing is a knockdown shooter who should become one of the top scorers in the Big East this season. He averaged 16.8 PPG, 5.6 RPG, and hit 81 three-pointers as a junior.
  • 11. Justin Simon, St. John’s, JR, Guard. Simon is a stat sheet stuffer who impacts the game in a variety of ways. The versatile 6’5’’ guard averaged 12.2 PPG, 7.1 RPG and 5.1 APG last season. Between his size and defensive ability, Simon is an ideal fit next to Shamorie Ponds in the St. John’s backcourt. If he can replicate his 42 percent three-point shooting from a season ago, he will become an NBA Draft pick.
  • 10. Sam Hauser, Marquette, JR, Wing. Hauser is one of the best three-point shooters in college basketball and is a prototypical stretch four. It will be interesting to see if he is asked to be more of a creator now that Andrew Rowsey has graduated, and if that impacts his efficiency. The savvy junior averaged 14.1 PPG, 5.7 RPG, and shot an incredible 49 percent from three-point range last year.

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Introducing the RTC Preseason All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on November 2nd, 2018

With the season tipping off next Tuesday, there’s no better time to roll out our 2018-19 RTC Preseason All-America Teams. More than anything, these three groups of outstanding players are here to foster and encourage discussion over the next four months. Our crack panel of 10 RTC writers provided their ballots over the last week and this is where we ended up.

First Team All-Americans

  • Carsen Edwards, Purdue (unanimous) – Purdue has plenty to replace this season with former mainstays Vincent Edwards and Isaac Haas now gone from West Lafayette. Luckily for Matt Painter’s Boilermakers, Edwards opted to return to Purdue for his junior season. The standout point guard will look to build on what has been a dynamic collegiate career. Following a freshman season where Edwards showed he belonged in the Big Ten, he took a big step forward in his sophomore campaign, averaging 18.5 points per game and shooting a commendable 40.6 percent from the three-point line. The Boilermakers lose nearly 50 points per game from last season’s Sweet Sixteen team, but it would not be surprising to see the play-making floor general take Purdue back to the second weekend next March. Factoid: Edwards participated in the NBA Draft combine last spring before deciding to return to Purdue. A noticeable change since his return has been in his physical stature, as he added around 10 pounds to his frame. Purdue men’s basketball strength and conditioning coach Gavin Roberts attributes Edwards’ strength gain to a “professional” demeanor in the weight room.
  • R.J. Barrett, Duke – Duke bringing in a star-studded recruiting class is certainly nothing new, but you would be hard-pressed to find another time when such a unique talent as Barrett descended on Durham. At 6’7″, the incoming freshman can handle the ball, create his own shot and relentlessly attack the basket. His size and athleticism will also allow him to effectively defend multiple positions and contribute on the boards.  The Blue Devils figure to once again be an offensive juggernaut, and it is fair to speculate that Barrett will be their most productive component. Factoid: Hailing from Canada, Barrett has a unique connection to basketball lore. He is the godson of two-time NBA MVP — and fellow Canadian — Steve Nash.
  • Caleb Martin, Nevada – Nevada exploded onto the scene last season, as the Wolf Pack won the regular season Mountain West title and earned the program’s first Sweet Sixteen berth since 2004. Expectations are now sky high for Eric Musselman’s group entering this season, as his team is already ranked #8 in the preseason AP Top 25. A major reason for all the lofty hopes in Reno is that Martin decided to put the NBA on hold in returning for his senior season. The rangy forward will look to build on a junior campaign when he averaged 18.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. If Martin can once again put up dominant numbers, the preseason hype encompassing the Wolf Pack will likely prove to be warranted. Factoid:In addition to the RTC All-America team, Martin was named a preseason first team All-American by the AP, becoming the first player in program history to receive the honor.
  • Luke Maye, North Carolina – There might not be a player in the country that has had as unique of a collegiate career as the North Carolina senior. Recall that Maye did not have a guaranteed scholarship in place when he originally committed to the Tar Heels in high school, and while playing time was difficult to earn through a majority of his first two seasons in Chapel Hill, his breakout finally came in the 2017 Elite Eight when he scored 17 points and buried a game-winning jumper to beat Kentucky. Maye followed up those heroics with a junior season averaging 16.9 points and 10.1 rebounds per contest while earning first team All-ACC honors. The Tar Heels have a lot of new faces in place this season, but the transition should be relatively seamless with double-double machine Maye on the blocks. Factoid: Maye joined rarefied North Carolina air last season with a 32-point, 18-rebound performance against Boston College and a 33-point, 17-rebound effort against NC State. Those two performances made him only the fourth player in program history with multiple 30/15 games in a season.
  • Ethan Happ, Wisconsin – Last March represented the first time since 1998 that Wisconsin did not earn an NCAA Tournament bid. The young Badgers battled injuries and inconsistency throughout the season as they sputtered their way to a 15-18 overall record. Despite the lost season, Happ still managed to contribute very productive numbers. Building on impressive freshman and sophomore campaigns, the junior forward tallied 17.9 points and 8.0 rebounds per game on his way to becoming a first team all-Big Ten player. Assuming Happ takes another step forward during his final season in Madison, it is likely Wisconsin will find its way back to the NCAA Tournament. Factoid: Happ was so distraught about Wisconsin not making the NCAA Tournament lats year that he kept the TV in his apartment from showing anything about March Madness.

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Big East Burning Questions: Seton Hall & St. John’s

Posted by Brad Cavallaro on October 29th, 2018

Over the coming weeks, the Big East microsite will be previewing all the teams, players and key storylines to watch as we approach season tip-off. Be sure to follow @RTCBigEast and its contributors Justin Kundrat and Brad Cavallaro to get your fix. In the spotlight today will be (alphabetically) Seton Hall and St. John’s

Seton Hall: Can Seton Hall’s pair of transfers fill the gigantic void left by its departed senior class?

Raise Your Hands if Seton Hall Will Miss These Guys (USA Today Images)

Seton Hall has enjoyed a recent period of success in large part because of its stellar 2014 recruiting class. The group of Angel Delgado, Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez, Ish Sanogo (and Isaiah Whitehead for two years) have transformed the team’s national perception in leading the Pirates to three straight NCAA Tournament appearances. Unfortunately for head coach Kevin Willard, these key players have exhausted their eligibility, leaving holdover Myles Powell as the team’s only returning starter. The junior guard appears poised to take a significant step forward this season, ready to become Seton Hall’s locker room leader and one of the best players in the Big East. In support of Powell, sophomore wing Myles Cale is an obvious candidate to put together a breakout season after his strong finish a season ago — 7.0 PPG in his last seven games — but Seton Hall’s season will ultimately come down to the performance of their two incoming transfers, Taurean Thompson and Quincy McKnight.

Thompson started as a freshman at Syracuse and put up solid offensive numbers there (9.2 PPG on 55% FG shooting), but he often drew the ire of fans with his defensive indifference and tendency to settle for contested mid-range jumpers. Scoring seems a strong suit, but will his defense, rebounding and overall floor game satisfy Willard? McKnight did it all for a terrible Sacred Heart team in averaging 18.9 PPG two seasons ago, but his assist-to-turnover ratio was putrid (0.65 ATO). He will need to upgrade his decision-making with the ball to stay on the floor against Big East competition, but hopefully last year spent practicing with a very talented team has allowed him to shore up that weakness.

Analyst rankings of Seton Hall this preseason seem to correlate with views on Thompson and McKnight. Those who think that both will become outstanding Big East players have Seton Hall returning to the Big Dance; those who have lukewarm feelings on the pair place the Pirates in the NIT; and those who are down on the duo have Willard’s club missing the postseason entirely. I have some optimism that Thompson and McKnight will become capable starters for this squad, but not necessarily good enough to push Seton Hall back into the NCAA Tournament. Expect a mid-level season for the Pirates.

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Where 2018-19 Happens: Reason #9 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on October 29th, 2018

As RTC heads into its 12th season covering college hoops, it’s time to begin releasing our annual compendium of YouTube clips that we like to call Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball. These 30 snippets from last season’s action are completely guaranteed to make you wish the games were starting tonight rather than 30 days from now. Over the next month you’ll get one reason per day until we reach the new season on Tuesday, November 6. You can find all of this year’s released posts here.

#9 – Where Johnnies Uprising Happens.

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-112011-122012-132013-142014-15, 2015-16, 2016-17  and 2017-18 preseasons.

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ACC Non-Conference Games: Ten Worth Watching

Posted by Matt Auerbach on October 23rd, 2018

Even in the face of fervent anticipation, the start of the college hoops season has a way of sneaking up on us. Now only two weeks away and with the brutal gauntlet of a full conference slate coming seven weeks after that, it feels like a good time to preview the 10 most compelling non-conference match-ups that ACC members will encounter during the upcoming campaign. This list excludes preseason tourneys (Duke heading to Maui, for example, among others) and the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge, which we will preview in more depth ahead of those events. Here we go, in calendar order, starting with the Champions Classic on opening night.

It’s Always Must-See College Basketball when Duke Meets Kentucky (USA Today Images)

  • November 6- Duke vs. Kentucky (Champions Classic, Indianapolis). In a very off-brand, sensible decision, the NCAA has stopped burying the season’s annual tip-off on a pedestrian Friday night and instead will utilize the grand stage of the Champions Classic to get things going. In the nightcap game of the Indianapolis event, two teams with legitimate championship aspirations and talent galore will meet once again. For Duke, the nation’s top-rated incoming class features do-everything wing R.J. Barrett along with explosive man-child Zion Williamson, Cam Reddish and Tre Jones (brother of Tyus Jones, the 2015 NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player). In an unusual turn of events, it will be Kentucky that is armed with the more experienced roster, as the Blue Devils’ leading returning scorer will be junior big man Marques Bolden (3.9 PPG), while the Wildcats retained sophomores Quade Green, P.J. Washington and Nick Richardsfrom last year’s Sweet Sixteen squad.
  • November 6: Florida at Florida State. This annual tussle will serve as the rivals’ season opener this year, as the Gators look to avenge a home thrashing by the Seminoles last season. Florida State returns seven of its top nine scorers, including leading man Phil Cofer, from a squad that was within a whisker of the Final Four a year ago. The cupboard is not bare for Mike White, either, as Florida features a dynamic, experienced tandem on the wings in seniors KeVaughn Allen and Jalen Hudson. Numerous explosive athletes on both sides of the floor will make this game worth flipping to during the commercial breaks of the Duke/Kentucky tilt.
  • November 15: Connecticut vs Syracuse (Madison Square Garden). Two old Big East foes will rekindle their long and storied rivalry at a familiar venue in New York City. The Orange return all of their top pieces from last year’s Sweet Sixteen squad, including the ACC’s third-leading scorer, Tyus Battle. He will be joined by a pair of exciting rising sophomores in Oshae Brissett and Marek Dolezaj along with freshmen Jalen Carey and Buddy Boeheim, giving Syracuse a roster that should easily result in a top-half ACC finish. New Connecticut head coach Danny Hurley will begin the process of getting this proud program back on track after consecutive sub-.500 seasons that led to the ouster of onetime championship coach Kevin Ollie.

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Predicting a Breakout Star From Each Power Conference

Posted by Ryan O'Neil on October 19th, 2018

In every Power 6 conference, there’s an established hierarchy in which the league’s most notable teams comfortably reside. In the ACC, there’s Duke, UNC, and Virginia. The Big East championship has in recent years gone through the Villanova Wildcats. In the Big Ten, Michigan State, Michigan, and Purdue have controlled the conference since former Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan’s retirement a few years back. Kansas has won the Big 12 regular season championship 14 years in a row. Arizona, Oregon, and UCLA have had a relative stranglehold on the Pac-12 for seemingly decades. In the SEC, Kentucky has been without question the league’s best team since John Calipari arrived in Lexington. But with the new season comes the possibility that the traditional powers may be toppled.  In this article, I’m going to identify one player from every power conference league who has the ability to lead his team to a surprise finish in the standings.  There’s just one rule — he can’t be a freshman.

ACC

Ky Bowman (USA Today Images)

  • Ky Bowman, Boston College. Boston College’s junior point guard often looked like the Eagles’ best player last season, even though he played in the same backcourt as eventual lottery pick Jerome Robinson. Bowman, an under-recruited prospect from North Carolina, is a great athlete whose best game last year included 30 points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists against Duke. He’s dynamic in the pick and roll, and he has the ability to score at all three levels of the floor. An athlete that makes NBA scouts salivate, Bowman is especially nasty in transition. If he can become more consistent in his approach this season, Boston College is going to surprise some teams in the ACC.

Big East

  • Shamorie Ponds, St. John’s. Ponds was a first-team Big East performer last season for St. John’s after dropping at least 30 points on six separate occasions. Possibly no game better demonstrated his scoring ability than when he put up a whopping 44 points on a 16-of-23 shooting performance against Marquette. The arrival of Mustapha Heron from Auburn this season should take some of the offensive pressure off of Ponds by allowing him more space to operate. The Red Storm were a thorn in the side of several ranked teams last season, a trait that should become only more prominent with a more mature Ponds and Heron in the backcourt.

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Has St. John’s Figured Out an Offense?

Posted by Justin Kundrat on February 6th, 2018

Make no mistake about it, the St. John’s offense is average at best. Its 1.06 points per possession (160th nationally) showing is propped up by decent free throw shooting and a remarkably low turnover rate, but nothing else from three-point shooting to scoring inside to rebounding, is commensurate with the team’s preseason expectations. So while the Red Storm’s stout interior defense and the scoring antics of sophomore guard Shamorie Ponds (20.3 PPG) have kept St. John’s competitive, an 0-11 Big East record tells the full story of its shortcomings.

Shamorie Ponds Lit Up Duke Over the Weekend (USA Today Images)

Coming off a string of four paltry offensive performances in which the team averaged 0.88 points per possession, expectations were understandably low when Duke arrived in New York City on Saturday. Yet, despite a 10 percent implied win probability (per KenPom) and a projected scoring output of 73 points, Chris Mullin‘s group at one point commanded an 11-point second half lead on its way to 81 points and a four-point win. All told, St. John’s hung 1.19 points per possession on the Blue Devils, its second-best effort of the season. Yes, Duke’s defense leaves much to be desired, but it grades out at similar levels as Xavier, Creighton and Georgetown, all of which the Red Storm struggled against (averaging 0.98 PPP).

So, what changed? Was Saturday’s performance a fluke or did St. John’s flip a switch on the offensive end? The answer is probably a mixture of both. For one thing, while a 33-point scoring outburst from Ponds has happened numerous times this season, a more-than-50 percent variance from his average cannot be consistently counted upon. Second, a 47.1 percent outside shooting performance from a team that has connected on just 32.7 percent of its three-pointers is unlikely to be replicated. Looking at game film, however, shows that St. John’s found continued success in pick-and-roll sets. Those sets are the reason Ponds seemingly got to the rim at will, why Justin Simon notched seven assists, and why junior forward Tariq Owens accumulated 17 points.

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Big East Preview Part III: Key Questions for St. John’s and Creighton

Posted by Justin Kundrat on October 30th, 2017

With the season just a few weeks away, Rush the Court’s Big East preview will tip off its coverage by posing season-defining key questions for each team. Today we tackle St. John’s and Creighton.

#6 St. John’s – Will new additions finally bring consistency to the Red Storm?

Chris Mullin returns a much more experienced team this year in the Big Apple. (Anthony Gruppuso/USA TODAY Sports)

Chris Mullin’s group was a fun team to watch last season, playing at one of the fastest tempos in the country and supported by a fearless backcourt duo of Marcus LoVett (15.9 PPG) and Shamorie Ponds (17.4 PPG). But their interest on the offensive end did not directly translate into an efficient half-court offense, nor did it carry over to success on the defensive end. So while the Red Storm were often competitive (7-11 in Big East play), the team’s offense came in spurts from its youthful backcourt or the sporadic contributions of junior Bashir Ahmed. That leaky defense of last season (131st nationally) often appeared to be a function of effort; the Red Storm ranked among the top 50 nationally in both steals and blocks, yet they were one of the worst in defensive field goal percentage (258th). Another year of experience for the youngest team in the conference will certainly bandage the consistency problem, and the biggest benefit should come in the form of its two transfers: Justin Simon (from Arizona) and Marvin Clark (from Michigan State). The duo will function as experienced plug-and-play guys at the forward spots, giving Mullin depth where he needs it most and additional scoring threats should the backcourt suffer an off night. If there’s one thing Johnnies fans have been asking for over the last several seasons, it’s an ability to sustain an occasional high level of play. With it, this team becomes a legitimate dark horse. Read the rest of this entry »

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