Three Up, Three Down in the Big East

Posted by George Hershey on November 21st, 2014

The Big East has gotten off to a strong start this season, having lost only one game among all 10 teams and heading into next week with tests which will help determine how it stacks up against some of the nation’s best. Here are three positives and three negatives from the opening week in Big East basketball.

Three Up

Blueitt has produced from the get go for the Musketeers (Frank Victores/USA Today Sports)

Trevon Blueitt has produced from the get go for the Musketeers
(Frank Victores/USA Today Sports)

  1. Xavier Freshmen – Chris Mack brought in a highly-ranked group of freshmen to restock the Musketeers, and they have produced from the get-go. In Tuesday night’s win over Long Beach State, Trevon Bluiett and JP Macura led the team in scoring, with 20 and 17 points, respectively. Both shot the ball well from three, combining to connect five times, and Bluiett especially had a phenomenal game, stuffing the stat sheet with eight rebounds and five assists to boot. With a strong group of experienced players led by Matt Stainbrook and Myles Davis, Mack does not need his freshmen to lead every night, but their demonstrated ability to score in bunches is helpful for any team over the course of a season.
  2. DePaul Transfers – This DePaul team is not your typical DePaul team. That might be said nearly every preseason, but after a couple of games, it appears that this could be the team that finally breaks through. Oliver Purnell returns two sophomore studs in Billy Garrett Jr. and Tommy Hamilton IV, but he also brought in four transfers to turn the program around. Myke HenryAaron Simpson, and the injured Rashaun Stimage have returned home to Chicago, and Darrick Wood arrives by way of junior college in Kansas. In Tuesday’s win over Drake, Henry contributed 13 points, six rebounds and three assists, while Simpson and Wood both contributed five points each. Stimage and Henry are athletic bigs which will pair nicely with big-bodied Hamilton, while Simpson and Wood can handle the ball and provide a spark off the bench when Garrett needs a break. Purnell needs smart players who buy into the system, and all signs point to his group of newbies doing just that. Read the rest of this entry »
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Losing Cleveland Melvin Could be a Long Term Positive for DePaul

Posted by George Hershey on February 15th, 2014

Last week DePaul announced that senior forward Cleveland Melvin was no longer enrolled in school. Melvin had not played in two weeks because of a suspension and it appears that whatever he was supposed to do to become reinstated didn’t get done. He was undoubtedly the Blue Demons’ best player, leading the squad in scoring (16.7 PPG) and rebounds (6.4 PPG) this season. After starting off with a 2-3 Big East record, DePaul has struggled mightily since Melvin’s suspension, losing seven in a row. At this point, there are six more games to play and wins will be tough to find. Still, although the loss of Melvin hurts their chances of winning games this season, it is actually a huge positive for the team going forward.

Oliver Purnell will get a great look at his young players for the remainder of the year. (Getty)

Oliver Purnell will get a great look at his young players for the remainder of the year. (Getty)

Head coach Oliver Purnell needs to be focused on the future of his program for the remainder of the season. In the next six games, it would be smart to play the underclassmen who will gain valuable experience against some of the Big East’s best teams. Freshmen Billy Garrett Jr. and Tommy Hamilton have played major roles this year, both averaging more than 25 minutes per game. They need to continue getting major minutes as they will be the face of the program going forward. There is another group of players who need to see extended time over the next few weeks as well. R.J. Curington leads that list, as the freshman has gone from the end of the bench to a solid scorer and contributor in the past five games. He has plenty of confidence and can shoot the ball well, but needs more real game experience to become comfortable and a smarter player. He is sometimes overconfident in his abilities and sets his mind on scoring, even if the opportunities aren’t there.

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Three Up, Three Down in the Big East

Posted by George Hershey on February 4th, 2014

There was plenty of action this past week in the Big East. Here is a look at three of the biggest improvements and three of the biggest regressions from the past week.

Three Up

Oliver Purnell might've found a gem in A. (Chicago Tribune)

Oliver Purnell might’ve found a gem in RJ Curington (Chicago Tribune)

  1. The rise of R.J. Curington – You might be wondering who this is, but Curington is a name that will become well-known around the league over the next three years. The DePaul freshman guard had played 24 total minutes in the entire season, with 12 games where he did not see any time at all. Yet with DePaul’s lineup decimated by suspensions and injuries to its key contributors, head coach Oliver Purnell has turned to Curington to play more minutes. In the last two games he has shown his promise, playing 23 and 30 minutes, respectively, in losses to Seton Hall and Providence. Against Seton Hall he helped keep the game respectable with 15 points and five rebounds, but on Saturday he blossomed, scoring 22 points to lead DePaul on a comeback that came up just short. The freshman was confident and did not back away from the pressure, taking 15 shots and going 3-of-8 from three with a clutch jumper to tie the game late. He also attacked the basket forcefully, getting to the line six times. Curington was not a big-time recruit and he barely played earlier this season, but he appears to be a very good offensive player who will complement fellow freshman Billy Garrett Jr. and Tommy Hamilton IV going forward.
  2. St. John’s getting on a roll – It was only three weeks ago when St. John’s was the laughingstock of the Big East, starting 0-5 including a loss to DePaul. Since then the Red Storm have gone 4-1, with the only loss coming on the road to Creighton, which needed a deep Doug McDermott three to win. The defense has hunkered down and they displayed it with a dominant performance over Marquette at Madison Square Garden over the weekend. Marquette could not get any good looks and the Golden Eagles’ frustration was evident all night. Steve Lavin’s offense has also played much better, showing a chemistry and cohesion that was not there before. Earlier in the season, the team was settling for too many contested jump shots, but they have begun to move the ball around better. D’Angelo Harrison hit six threes Saturday, and most of those were wide open because of better spacing and ball movement. This team’s talent has been well-publicized and criticized for its play thus far, but they have finally begun to fulfill the potential and just a few more wins will get them onto the bubble. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East M5: 02.03.14 Edition

Posted by George Hershey on February 3rd, 2014

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  1. Butler forward Andrew Chrabascz has gone from being a lightly-used freshman to a starter in his freshman year at Butler. Indy Star‘s Zak Keefer wrote an interesting article about Chrabascz’s relationship with Chris Herren. Herren is well known for his rise from Portsmouth to Boston College and Fresno State, and eventually being drafted by the Boston Celtics. Herren had trouble with drugs and eventually it caught up with him as his basketball career ended badly. After getting his life together he began to coach in the area and he became a mentor to Chrabascz as he began to get offers from prep schools and colleges. Currently, Chrabascz is earning the trust of his coach and teammates as he sees his role grow, while Herren has turned his life around completely, as he gives speeches and mentors kids around the nation. Chrabascz’s energy and hustle is evident every minute of the game as he is all constantly working. He has a bright future ahead as he grows his game alongside several other underclassmen.
  2. As DePaul struggles through another season, Big East Coast Bias asks if a new arena can save DePaul basketball. A team that was once well respected and made the 1979 Final Four, has failed earn a bid to the big dance since 2004. The construction of a new arena has been discussed at length recently and Mayor Rahm Emanuel seems to be behind the arena. As BECB notes, a new arena could triple student attendance and help bring in some top recruits. Although the team has struggled, their are some bright spots on the team. Chicago natives Billy Garrett Jr. and Tommy Hamilton IV as well as R.J. Curington have emerged as solid contributors this year and will be the rocks that the team builds off of going forward. They were one of Cliff Alexander’s final choices and if they can go out and get one or two of Chicago’s best players, the momentum should start to swing in DePaul’s favor.
  3. While Doug McDermott and Ethan Wragge get the spotlight for Creighton, Chris Novak of Big East Coast Bias points out that their future in the frontcourt is bright. Jahenns Manigat is graduating this year, so several less experienced players will have to take over next season. Luckily those players are Devin Brooks, Austin Chatman, and Isaiah Zierden. All three have contributed and have shown their great potential, albeit it sporadically. Chatman is averaging a stat stuffing 7.2 points, 4 rebounds, and 4.2 assists each game. He does not jump out when you watch games, but he is a key cog and his experience will help him next season. Brooks and Zierden have been up and down, with some greats performances mixed with average ones. Both have scored the ball at a high level at times and Brooks can rebound and pass well. Many may worry how the Bluejays will survive without McDermott, but their are pieces there that forecast a bright future.
  4. After Marquette’s lifeless loss at the hands of St. John’s at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, Buzz Williams talked about the tough turn around playing 40 hours after beating Providence 900 miles away. Anonymous Eagle takes a look at what Buzz Williams called “competitive inequities in the schedule.” It is never easy to play with only one day off between games, especially when your opponent had three days to rest, but Fox Sports 1 is paying the league a huge amount to broadcast the games, and the network needs to fill its spots. While it is more difficult to win in those situations, it is what teams face every year in the NCAA Tournament, and Williams knows that well, making the Sweet Sixteen the past three seasons. He will have to get his team ready for the beginning of March when they play two games on the road in three days, potentially with a team fighting for a spot on the bubble.
  5. Georgetown hopefully turned their season around on Saturday at Madison Square Garden with their win over Michigan State. After losing five straight with Joshua Smith ineligible, it looked like the Hoyas were headed to a losing season, but this win will give the team confidence and hopefully a light bulb went off for the players. While D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and Markel Starks have done the heavy lifting offensively, Nate Lubick was a key component in the win. Ben Standig takes a look at Lubick’s game on Saturday after he rarely looked to score most of the season. Lubick is a smart player and rebounds and defends well, but he was a liability on offense as he would never shoot outside of five feet from the basket. He only scored eight points, but he got to the line four times, showing increased aggression. The guards cannot do all the scoring, so Lubick’s contributions will help them find better shots and not have to make every play, leading to a more balanced and better team.
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DePaul Suffers Alexander Heartbreak But Shouldn’t Lose Faith

Posted by George Hershey on November 16th, 2013

Yesterday DePaul’s basketball program and its fans watched closely as consensus top five class of 2014 recruit Cliff Alexander decided to attend Kansas, turning down his hometown Blue Demons and home state Fighting Illini. The Blue Demons had been in contention as long as anybody in his final grouping and were an appealing team for Alexander because of the proximity to his family. Rumors swirling around in the days leading up to the announcement suggested that he would be deciding between Illinois, Kansas and DePaul, but with top recruits Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones reportedly set to pick Duke over Kansas, there was still plenty of room for Alexander on Bill Self’s team.

Cliff Alexander disappointed a lot of basketball fans in the state of Illinois (The News Gazette)

Cliff Alexander disappointed a lot of basketball fans in the state of Illinois (The News Gazette)

The addition of Alexander would have been the biggest win for DePaul in decades. A player of his caliber is a program-changer for a school like DePaul. The impact goes beyond what he would have brought to the court for his one season, maybe two, in college. The excitement and publicity around the program would have brought spectators and the media out in droves to see him. It also would have helped future recruiting and increased head coach Oliver Purnell’s credibility and stature on the recruiting trail.

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Big East M5: 11.11.13 Edition

Posted by George Hershey on November 11th, 2013

bigeast_morning5(2)

  1. The college basketball season has begun! Friday night saw seven Big East teams play and the other three played on Saturday. Big East teams went 8-2 to begin and the losses were to two ranked teams, Oregon and Wisconsin. Georgetown battled with Oregon in South Korea and although the Hoyas came away with a loss, there were some positives for the team. Newcomer Joshua Smith showed his top-notch talent on the offensive end and Markel Starks took control of the offense and showed his ability to score. Smith was a beast in the post as he scored 25 points and Starks contributed 16 of his own (including the only Hoya three-pointer). Georgetown teams have gotten off to slow starts during the past few seasons, but John Thompson III typically transforms his teams into contenders by mid-season. Although they lost the game, there shouldn’t be too much concern as the Hoyas will buckle down on defense and the shooting will improve.
  2. One of the most talked about topics over the weekend was the new foul rules. The often criticized change was apparent in all the games. Games stretched well over two hours and several records for fouls in a game and free throws attempted were set. Marquette got to the line 53 times against Southern and Seton Hall and Niagara combined for 102 total attempts. Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said after the game that “it’s going to take everyone a little bit of time to adjust to. Players are going to take a little time. Refs need to take a little time. It was one of those ugly, early games, but I’m just glad we won.” In Providence‘s win over Boston College, each team had three players foul out in an important, tightly-contested game. Fans were upset throughout the night and referees heard it all over the nation. Teams are obviously going to have to adapt to the rules and modify the way they play defense, but one has to hope that big games at the end of the season don’t come down to the 10th guy on the bench shooting free throws to win the game.
  3. Providence came into the season with high hopes of a return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004. Those hopes have faded slightly in the past week. Stud sophomore Kris Dunn hurt his shoulder going after a loose ball in the Friars’ scrimmage last week. There is particular concern because Dunn missed the beginning of last season with a torn labrum in his right shoulder. Dunn was ruled questionable for Friday’s season opener and he did not play. The Friars also were without freshmen Brandon Austin and Rodney Bullock, who are suspended indefinitely for “not upholding their responsibilities as student-athletes.” Austin was supposed to have an important role from the start and earned national prominence for his dunk at Late Night Madness. Hopefully Dunn is able to return to the lineup soon and the freshmen are reinstated before Providence gets too far into the season, including a fun match-up with Kentucky in Brooklyn.
  4. Brandon Miller won his first game as Butler’s new head coach. Miller has big shoes to fill after Brad Stevens left for the Boston Celtics, but he got off to a good start with a convincing win over Lamar. Zak Keefer of the Indy Star pointed out some interesting stats after the Bulldogs’ win. Khyle Marshall was the best player on the floor Saturday, pouring in 19 points and 13 rebounds. Last year, Butler went 16-1 when Marshall scored in double figures and this year the team will probably go as far as he takes it. The team didn’t shoot the ball well, but were still able to win easily even with Kellen Dunham having an off night. The Bulldogs have a strong, well-balanced starting lineup, and if some reserves can contribute meaningful minutes, Butler could make a push in the Big East standings.
  5. One of the most surprising and impressive players this weekend was DePaul‘s freshman center, Tommy Hamilton IV. Hamilton poured in 16 points and grabbed 11 rebounds as he beat down Grambling State’s front line. The freshman has slimmed down considerably and is down to 267 pounds. He had not played in a meaningful game in two years after a knee injury derailed his junior year campaign in high school. Hamilton acknowledged he could have played better, but his performance bodes well for the Blue Demons. If Hamilton is able to play a significant amount of minutes each night at center, it will allow star Cleveland Melvin to play on the wing instead of in the post. Hamilton may have been fairly unknown coming out of high school, but his immediate contributions could be a massive help to Oliver Purnell’s squad.
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