Big East Notebook: Recapping Thursday’s Quarterfinals

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 9th, 2018

Two days of Big East Tournament action are already in the books with two more days of marquee match-ups still come. The most likely outcome will ultimately be a third showdown between Villanova and Xavier, with championship hardware as well as potential #1 seed placements on the line. Here are several key takeaways from Thursday’s quarterfinals from Madison Square Garden.

Just Another Night in the Big East Tournament (USA Today Images)

  • St. John’s spoiler attempt fell short. It’s always a lot to ask from a team to win four games in four days, but Chris Mullin‘s group assumed the role of Cinderella in this tournament after a late season push coupled with a healthy home crowd. Nonetheless, a 12:00 pm ET tip time just 15 hours after knocking off Georgetown did the Red Storm no favors, particularly with only six, maybe seven, true rotation players on the roster. With three seasons at the helm now characterized by a failure to eclipse even a .500 record, questions about Mullin’s tenure will continue to loom — particularly since this was the year many observers expected St. John’s to turn the corner.
  • Providence locks up an NCAA Tournament bid. It wasn’t a must-win game for the Friars, per se, but their win over Creighton in overtime last night tips the scale and sets them up for a great opportunity to improve their seeding. Notably, Ed Cooley went small against the Bluejays, opting to slot 6’8″ Rodney Bullock into the center position to more effectively space the floor with his shooting and slashing abilities. The likes of Alpha Diallo (19 points) and Kyron Cartwright (13 points) were then able to attack the basket and draw fouls or generate offensive rebounding opportunities. Sixteen Providence offensive rebounds helped offset a 5-of-22 three-point shooting performance and kept Creighton out of transition.

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Big East Tournament Preview

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 7th, 2018

Villanova was finally dethroned from its string of four consecutive Big East regular season titles. With a 15-3 conference record, Xavier now stands in its place. But per KenPom and Las Vegas, the Wildcats remain a prohibitive favorite to capture the tournament crown this week. Let’s break down what to expect during this week’s action at Madison Square Garden.

Who will win: Villanova. Yes, the Wildcats have had their fair share of stumbles that included several head-scratching perimeter shooting performances: 8-of-33 in a loss to St. John’s; 3-of-20 in a loss to Providence; 8-of-36 against Seton Hall. Per barttorvik.com though, that recent trend looks like an anomaly.

The above chart details Villanova’s per-game three-point shooting over the course of the season. The gray dotted line is a five-game moving average, which drops off significantly over the last 10 games and is now reverting to the team’s historical mean. Perhaps Big East opponents became more conscious of chasing the Wildcats off the perimeter during that stretch, or maybe players simply became too content in standing around and letting it fly. Whatever the case, it appears to be correcting itself. Jay Wright‘s group derives a healthy 38.8 percent of its points from the perimeter (29th nationally) and very much depends on those looks to space the floor. On the defensive end, Villanova continues to mix its full court press and zone, and the return of Phil Booth from injury has helped close down the driving lanes. The Wildcats will be the outright favorite in each game this week and, should the potential #1 seeds eventually meet, their exceptional ball movement has picked Xavier apart time and time again.

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Big East Bubble Watch: Volume I

Posted by Justin Kundrat on February 13th, 2018

With about one month remaining until Selection Sunday, the race to secure an NCAA Tournament bid is on. The Big East as a whole has exceeded preseason expectations thus far and is on pace for six or seven bids despite its ongoing intra-league cannibalism. RPI and strength of schedule (SOS) figures are from RPIForecast.com and the NCAA Nitty Gritty Report.

Locks

Could Villanova and Xavier Both Receive #1 Seeds? (USA Today Images)

  • Villanova: 23-2 (10-2); RPI: 3; SOS: 31
  • Xavier: 23-3 (11-2); RPI: 2; SOS: 10

Analysis: These two teams have made things pretty easy for themselves — even losing out would not diminish their NCAA Tournament hopes. Villanova is at this point a near-lock for a #1 seed with a 23-2 overall record and the #3 RPI. On the other hand, Xavier has also climbed to the #1 seed line with Duke’s recent struggles and several losses for the other top teams.

Should Be In

  • Creighton: 18-7 (8-5); RPI: 23; SOS: 48. Analysis: Creighton narrowly avoided what would have been its first bad loss (Quadrant 3/4) of the season last Wednesday, riding a 29-point performance from Marcus Foster to a one-point victory at DePaul. Yes, surrendering 23 points to the Blue Demons’ Marin Maric poses questions about the Bluejays’ interior defense, especially following the season-ending injury to Martin Krampelj. But we have yet to see in what form Greg McDermott‘s team is going to take given an extremely limited frontcourt rotation. The alternative is that with Toby Hegner at the five, Creighton can have five legitimate outside shooting threats on the floor at one time. Despite narrowly missing out on a signature win over Xavier on Saturday, the Bluejays are 8-7 against Quadrant 1/2 teams and should have no problems earning a 10-8 or better conference record.

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What’s Trending: Bracket Preview

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on February 12th, 2018

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Matthew Eisenberg (@matteise) is your weekly host.

With less than 30 days to go until Selection Sunday, we were given an early look at what the top 16 NCAA Tournament seeds would look like as of now…

While the bracket preview gives us a sneak-peek look inside the process, Jay Bilas was quick to express his views that the bracket preview only gives us an early look into an incredibly flawed system…

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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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Ten Questions to Consider: Welcome to Conference Play!

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on December 30th, 2017

As 2017 comes to a close, conference play gets underway all across the country. Here are 10 questions for a busy weekend of conference games.

Is Arizona Turning the Corner on This Season (USA Today Images)?

  1. Can Arizona State beat Arizona? Arizona State is winless in seven trips to the McKale Center since 2011, and a defensive efficiency that ranks outside of the top 100 this year certainly gives Bobby Hurley reason for concern. Still, in their one true road game at Kansas, the Sun Devils won despite allowing the Jayhawks to shoot a robust 62.1 percent inside the arc. While Arizona State ranks second in the nation in free throw rate, the Pac-12 last year logged the lowest such metric among all 32 conferences during conference play.
  2. Is TCU’s Big 12 opener a must-win game? TCU opens conference play against Oklahoma this afternoon, and that game is followed by a trip to Baylor and a home game against Kansas. TCU could potentially be looking at an 0-3 start with a back-to-back at Texas and Oklahoma looming. The Horned Frogs’ non-conference perfection could very quickly turn into a conference disaster given the next couple weeks’ schedule. TCU should expect to see Sooners’ wunderkind Trae Young put up huge numbers — the freshman is averaging 31.4 PPG and 10.8 APG in his last eight games — but they must also find a way to slow down the accompanying pair of Christian James and Brady Manek. The duo have combined for 30 or more points in each of Oklahoma’s last four games.
  3. What must Villanova do to avenge a pair of losses to Butler from last season? Villanova was 14-0 last season before losing at Butler. While Jalen Brunson had games of 23 and 24 points against the Bulldogs, Mikal Bridges and Donte DiVincenzo only combined to score a measly 14 points in 120 minutes of action. After scoring just 20 or more points once last season, Bridges has reached that mark six times this season and he will need to do so again to ensure a Villanova victory.
  4. Duke vs. Florida State: Which strength wins out? Duke comes into this weekend’s game against the Seminoles ranked as the most efficient offense in college basketball. The Blue Devils match up against a Florida State defense that ranks among the top 20 in efficiency, opponents’ effective field goal percentage and three-point defense. In two games against the Seminoles last season, Duke guard Grayson Allen contributed only 11 total points in a split of the two games.  Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East Notebook: Recapping Non-Conference Play

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 20th, 2017

Conference play in the Big East is a mere week away, which means most teams are quietly wrapping up the non-conference portion of their schedules and looking ahead to the good stuff. Currently ranked third by KenPom’s adjusted efficiency metrics, the conference as a whole has fared in line with expectations thus far. But not every team in the Big East can proclaim a strong start; there has certainly been a reshuffling of the pecking order in the middle of the standings. Here is a recap of several key conference takeaways from over the last few weeks.

Villanova Has Looked Great Through the Non-Conference Season (USA Today Images)

  • Villanova has looked every bit the part of a national title contender. Not only have juniors Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson made a case for being the best one-two combination in college basketball this season, but redshirt freshman Omari Spellman has erased any doubts over about a long adjustment period after his 27-point, eight-rebound outburst against Temple last week. Any of the Wildcats’ six rotation players are capable of scoring in double figures and Wright has gotten encouraging play from of his trio of freshmen. An entire essay could be written about the many things that Villanova does well. If there any areas for future improvement, it would have to be focused on the team’s inside scoring — the Wildcats rank 132nd nationally in shots taken at the rim and 90th in field goal percentage there.
  • Providence has underwhelmed so far, but full judgment isn’t yet justified. The Friars’ 8-3 record is a bit deceiving in that it includes marginal two-possession or fewer wins over Rider, Brown and Stony Brook. Those close victories are largely because Providence’s offense has struggled mightily over the team’s last four games, posting a mere 0.92 points per possession after a 1.17 PPP mark to start the season. A major contributing factor to that decline has been injuries to three key rotation players: Kyron CartwrightAlpha Diallo, and Maliek White. The lingering injury to Cartwright is particularly damaging on the offensive end as he serves as the primarily facilitator and secondary scoring option. Meanwhile, the injured Diallo provides a great degree of defensive versatility while having come into his own as a tertiary scoring option (11.4 PPG more than doubles his scoring from last season). These injuries coupled with a season-ending injury to presumptive starting forward Emmitt Holt have been noticeable setbacks for Ed Cooley’s squad.

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Ten Questions to Consider: Hall of Fame Classic Tips Off Weekend Action

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on December 8th, 2017

The best way to start a weekend of college basketball is by having a quality triple-header on Friday night, and the Hall of Fame Classic in Los Angeles will deliver that to us.

Trae Young Headlines a Strong Group of Teams in Los Angeles Tonight

  1. Which will prevail — good offense or good defense? The Hall of Fame Classic begins this evening with a match-up between St. John’s and Arizona State. Arizona State is ranked among the top 20 nationally in offensive efficiency, three-point percentage, and two-point percentage, while St. John’s ranks among the top 20 in effective field-goal defense, turnover, block and steal rates. In their one loss, the Red Storm allowed Missouri to shoot 51 percent from distance and gave up 26 free throws.
  2. Can USC end its losing streak? The second game from the Staples Center tonight features a pair of interesting teams in Oklahoma and USC. After starting the season 4-0, USC has dropped its last two games. One area that has let the Trojans down is fairly simple — shooting the ball. In its first four games, USC shot 41 percent from beyond the arc; in losses to Texas A&M and SMU, USC shot just 27 percent from distance. If the Trojans fail to get a win tonight against Oklahoma, USC’s resume will be devoid of a quality non-conference win.
  3. How will TCU fare with the late tip-off time? Not only does TCU have to prepare for a talented and undefeated Nevada squad, but the tip-off time back home in Fort Worth will be midnight. While TCU has held three opponents to under 30 percent three-point shooting this season, the Horned Frogs tonight face Nevada’s Caleb Martin and Kendall Stephens, a pair of 6’7″ forwards who are each shooting better than 44 percent in high-volume three-point attempts. Read the rest of this entry »
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What’s Trending: November Non-Conference Games

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on November 21st, 2017

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Matthew Eisenberg (@matteise) is your weekly host.

The Sviatoslav Myhailiuk question that everyone outside of Lawrence, Kansas is curious about…

Dunk(s) of the Week

St. John’s puts the old saying “defense leads to offense” with this against Nebraska…

Baylor, with authority…

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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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