Big East Preseason Player Awards

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 10th, 2017

The season is finally upon us, with eight Big East teams taking the floor tonight. Here is the Big East microsite’s preseason Honor Roll.

  • Player of the Year: Trevon Bluiett, Xavier. This award could end up with a number of players depending on how the season turns out, but it’s hard to argue that any single Big East player has as much of an impact on his team as Bluiett. The 6’6″ senior was unstoppable last March, averaging 25.0 PPG in the NCAA Tournament before the Musketeers finally fell to Gonzaga in the Elite Eight. He’s arguably the conference’s best scorer and the Musketeers averaged eight more points per 100 possessions with the versatile wing on the floor. The Xavier offense will be increasingly reliant on his ability to draw the attention of opposing defenses, particularly without the services of Edmond Sumner this year. Provided Bluiett finishes the season as advertised, it’s difficult to imagine many conference players posting punchier stat lines.

Jay Wright will be happy to have Omari Spellman playing this season (Mark Konezny/USA TODAY Sports)

  • Newcomer of the Year: Omari Spellman, Villanova. Before being ruled ineligible, Spellman garnered plenty of attention last offseason as one of Villanova’s highest-rated recruits of the last decade. Now that he has been cleared to play in his second year with the program, the 6’9″ freshman is one of the team’s lone legitimate post presences. Barring foul trouble, Spellman should receive plenty of playing time, making his role as a scorer and low-post defender critical for a team that lacks depth in those areas. There will be plenty of freshmen in the Big East who will make an impact come March, and perhaps several who earn starting roles along the way, but the spotlight will naturally follow the conference’s front-runner, Villanova.

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Introducing the RTC Preseason All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on November 8th, 2017

With the season tipping off on Friday, there’s no better time to roll out our 2017-18 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 writers provided their ballots over the last week and this is where we ended up.

First Team All-Americans

  • Jalen Brunson, Villanova – There are few things more daunting in college basketball than a talented team with a heady, veteran playmaker at the point guard position. Brunson certainly fits that bill, as he enters the season with great expectations following a sophomore campaign where the point guard earned unanimous all-Big East honors while averaging 14.7 points and 4.1 assists per game. Villanova is the preseason favorite to win the Big East title — and if that prediction comes true, it will be Brunson’s third in three years running the show for Jay Wright’s squad. Factoid: Many players with Brunson’s pedigree would at least test the NBA Draft waters either after their freshman or sophomore seasons, but Brunson is different, stating, “The NBA is not going anywhere. I can wait. I can still get better. I can still get my degree. That’s the approach I had. I talked it over with my parents, and they’re just 100 percent fully supporting me. So that’s where I am.”
  • Allonzo Trier, Arizona – Arizona experienced some offcourt drama late in the offseason when longtime assistant Book Richardson was arrested by the FBI on charges of bribery, corruption, conspiracy, and fraud stemming from improper conduct on the recruiting trail. That news figures to overshadow much of Arizona’s early season — which is a real shame, as the Wildcats are projected to be among the nation’s best teams. A major reason for that is the return of Trier for his junior year. The talented wing returned from a 19-game performance enhancing drug suspension during his sophomore season to lead the Wildcats to the Pac-12 regular season and tournament titles. Many were surprised when Trier opted to return to Tucson in lieu of entering the NBA Draft, but he has acknowledged that last season’s suspension definitely factored in his decision to come back to school. Factoid: Trier was the subject of a New York Times Magazine feature when he was in sixth grade that highlighted his precocious basketball ability at a young age with an introduction to the AAU scene.
  • Michael Porter Jr., Missouri – A coaching change can often make a massive difference in a program’s fortunes. That was definitely the case with Missouri when the Tigers fired Kim Anderson in March after an underwhelming tenure and replaced him with Cal’s Cuonzo Martin, a coach who has long enjoyed a sterling reputation for his ability to recruit at a high level. Martin hiring paid off almost immediately when he secured the services of Porter, who was listed by 247Sports as the third-best player in the Class of 2017. The 6’10” forward will provide Missouri with scoring on the wing and has the versatility to defend a variety of positions. The Tigers are projected as one of the most improved teams in the country — and with Porter now in the fold, it will be intriguing to see just how far they can advance in the postseason. Factoid: It is a family affair for the Porters in Columbia this year, as Michael Porter, Sr. is an assistant coach, Jontay Porter reclassified to play with his brother, sisters Bri and Cierra Porter play for the women’s team, and aunt Robin Pingeton is the head coach of that women’s team.
  • Miles Bridges, Michigan State – Michigan State was the recipient of one of the best offseason surprises when the sure-fire lottery pick Bridges decided to return to East Lansing for his sophomore year. Once the national shock of the decision wore off, it became clear the Spartans would be one of the teams to beat in college basketball this season. Bridges will look to build on a terrific freshman year where he averaged 16.9 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. With a strong supporting cast in tow and uncertainty with many teams in the Big Ten, the star sophomore should lead the Spartans to a prosperous season on both the conference and national landscapes. Factoid: Like most of us, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo assumed Bridges would be a one-and-done player, going so far as to joke about how Bridges will have to carry bags this year as an NBA rookie. In response, Bridges may have hinted at his ultimate decision by questioning, “Coach, why you always trying to get rid of me?”
  • Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame – It is not a stretch for anyone to reference Colson as the most unique player in college basketball. After a turn as a significant role player on Notre Dame’s Elite Eight teams in 2015 and 2016, Colson became The Man in South Bend during his junior season. Standing at just 6’6″, Colson was the only ACC player last year to average a double-double — 17.5 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. Notre Dame currently finds itself in one of the most successful stretches the program has ever had, and with the talented and experienced Colson as its go-to guy, look for the Irish to continue that run this season. Factoid: Throughout Colson’s career, he has stayed true to two beliefs: play hungry and stay humble. The ACC Preseason Player of the Year vows that will not change as he enters his senior season as one of the country’s top players.

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Big East Preview Part IV: Key Questions for Providence & Xavier

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 2nd, 2017

With the season just a week 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 Providence and Xavier.

#4 Providence – How will the Friars fare with heightened expectations?

How Will Ed Cooley’s Group Handle Success? (USA Today Images)

For the past few years it seemed like the Friars, even with Kris Dunn, entered each season as an overlooked group with a chip on its shoulders. This perceived slight seemingly served as motivation, paving the way for four straight 20-win seasons with corresponding NCAA Tournament berths. But now, after several years playing the underrated role, Ed Cooley‘s team in projected among the top tier of the Big East and even finding itself in several preseason Top 25 polls. And rightfully so. The Friars return every key contributor from last season’s 20-13 squad, although starting forward Emmitt Holt is out indefinitely with an abdominal issue. More importantly and regardless of the circumstances, the Providence program under Cooley has regularly exceeded expectations and addressed any uncertainties come March. Leading scorer Rodney Bullock (15.7 PPG) demonstrated an ability to shoulder the scoring load despite being the focal point of opposing defenses last season. Kyron Cartwright seamlessly stepped into the lead guard role vacated by Dunn, finishing fourth nationally in assists per game (6.7 APG). And Cooley’s deliberate pace (270th nationally) has played to the team’s strengths, letting Cartwright execute half-court sets while forcing opponents to churn the shot clock. So now that those questions have been answered, the key factor this season comes down to whether the Friars can take the next step up the ladder and play consistently enough from January to March to compete for the Big East regular season crown.

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Rushed Reactions: #11 Xavier 73, #2 Arizona 71

Posted by rtmsf on March 24th, 2017

RTC is providing coverage from start to finish of the NCAA Tournament for the next three weeks.

Xavier’s Cinderella Dance Continues for a Couple More Days. (USA Today Images)

Key Takeaways.

  1. Xavier Just Kept Coming. After starting the game down 7-0… after finding itself facing an eight-point deficit with 3:44 remaining… even after missing the front end of a one-and-one that could have salted the game away with 22 seconds remaining… Xavier kept coming. And it figures, given that this group of Musketeers — left virtually for dead after losing star guard Edmond Sumner to a season-ending injury at the end of January — have stared adversity in the face and laughed. Arizona desperately tried to put Xavier away in the second half, but Chris Mack’s club would never quite allow enough separation. That relentless nature of continually applying pressure ultimately caused Arizona to crack, sending the Wildcats back to the desert without a trip to the Final Four in Glendale attached.
  2. Arizona’s Home Stretch OffenseSay what you want about how Xavier put itself into great position to win with its relentlessness and its clever offensive sets — all true — but Arizona did not help itself by completely forgetting about Lauri Markkanen inside (his last shot came at 11:12 remaining in the second half) and over-relying on the hot hand of Allonzo Trier to carry them home. For an eight-minute period from 13:28 to 5:26 remaining in the game, Trier was cooking with some gas. He nailed six of his seven shots, including three three-pointers, in contributing 15 straight points for the Wildcats. He missed his final three attempts, all of which were jumpers. The problem with the strategy of letting Trier do his thing is that it basically killed the Arizona offense. The Wildcats’ final stretch included several awful possessions, including a post-up by Dusan Ristic that started behind the basket and a handful of other drives that turned into bad misses. During a point in the game when Arizona should have been executing to get fouls to hold its lead, it reeked of desperation to hold on for dear life. It was as if they were trying to wish the clock away rather than continuing to play.
  3. Sean Miller’s Early Career Legacy. There will be a lot written about this topic in Arizona and beyond — some fair, some not — but the fact remains that Sean Miller’s early career at Arizona has been filled with great regular season success, multiple high NBA Draft picks, and a painful legacy in the regionals. Despite receiving some favorable draws in terms of location within the West Region geographic footprint — allowing for its formidable crowd to turn neutral-site arenas into Tucson West or North — it hasn’t seemed to help. Some will argue that Miller’s losses to the likes of Wisconsin in 2015 or Connecticut in 2011 were to outstanding teams that simply were not going to be denied. While a fair point, the fact remains that three of Miller’s four best teams (2011, 2014, 2017) have had the ball with the final possession yet still fell short. In all three of those games, late execution was a factor. At a certain point, a series of close devastating losses begin to weigh on a program as well as a head coach — it’s safe to say that we’re to that point in Tucson. The Wildcats played tight in the final four minutes today, and the fans all around the building could sense it.

Star of the Game. Trevon Bluiett, Xavier. Bluiett carried the Musketeers in the first half, scoring 18 of his game-high 25 points on 7-of-8 from the field including a pair of threes. He was quieter in the second half, but he hit the big three to keep Xavier alive after they had gone down by eight points with just under four minutes remaining. He’s been outstanding in the NCAA Tournament, averaging 25.0 PPG and knocking down 47.8 percent of his three-point shots.

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NCAA Regional Reset: West Region

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 21st, 2017

Rush the Court is providing comprehensive coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish over the next three weeks.

New Favorite: #1 Gonzaga (34-1). If the Zags were the West region favorite before play started last Thursday, there’s no reason they shouldn’t continue to maintain that status. Sure, there were slow points in each of Gonzaga’s two victories over the weekend — namely, the first half against South Dakota State and the second half versus Northwestern – but Mark Few‘s team ultimately emerged from each unscathed. With West Virginia and possibly Arizona awaiting in San Jose, the road stiffens from here, but there’s no reason Gonzaga shouldn’t still feel like the front-runner.

Gonzaga is two wins away from the program’s first ever Final Four appearance (Photo: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports)

Horse of Darkness: #4 West Virginia (28-8). The Mountaineers enter the Sweet Sixteen as a scary team. Depth and pressure — two West Virginia hallmarks — carried it through early round victories over #13 Bucknell (86-80) and #5 Notre Dame (83-71). Now those strengths will be relied upon to harass #1 Gonzaga into an uncharacteristically turnover-heavy game. The Zags rank 26th in the country in lowest turnover percentage, but Notre Dame also led the nation in that category before the Irish turned the ball over on 21 percent of their possessions against Press Virginia (seven percent higher than their season average). Gonzaga is also just an average offensive rebounding team, which limits its ability to take advantage of West Virginia’s biggest weaknesses — collecting defensive rebounds behind the press. The match-up is solid, the team is capable, and Bob Huggins is on the bench — in sum, the Mountaineers have a chance to surprise in San Jose.

Biggest Surprise (First Weekend): #11 Xavier (23-13). Less than three weeks ago, Xavier was a sub-.500 Big East team that had lost six straight games. Its star point guard was lost for the season and hopes of another NCAA Tournament appearance flickered with each outing. Now, on March 21, the Musketeers are fresh off a 25-point Second Round rout of Florida State and is back in the Sweet Sixteen. Xavier is a fantastic piece of proof that things can change quickly in March, but the verdict on this Musketeers’ season won’t be altered negatively from here on out: A remarkable turnaround last weekend saved a season.

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Rushed Reactions: #11 Xavier 91, #3 Florida State 66

Posted by Walker Carey on March 18th, 2017

Rush the Court is providing NCAA Tournament coverage from start to finish over the next three weeks.

Xavier Did What Xavier Does in the Postseason (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Xavier’s outside shooting was incredible. There are games when teams just catch fire from the outside and an opponent can do nothing to stop it. That occurred tonight with Xavier, as the Musketeers finished the game hitting a scorching 64.7 percent from the three-point line. What made this performance so impactful is that it was not just one guy who caught fire — the entire team contributed. Five different Musketeers connected from long range with reserve freshman forward Kaiser Gates leading the way with four conversions. Xavier’s marksmanship thus far in the NCAA Tournament — 50 percent through two games — is completely unexpected, as the Musketeers finished the regular season ranked 211th nationally at just 33.0 percent. It will be interesting to see if Xavier is able to keep up the hot shooting next week in San Jose.
  2. Florida State’s performance left plenty to be desired. Las Vegas made Florida State a 7.5-point favorite entering tonight’s game with good reason. The Seminoles have legitimate NBA talent across the roster in guards Dwayne Bacon and Xavier Rathan-Mayes, along with forward Jonathan Isaac. Having that kind of talent advantage did not do them any good, though, as Xavier dominated the game for the entire 40 minutes. Florida State looked ill-prepared on both ends of the court, as it took bad shot after bad shot on one end and allowed the Musketeers open looks on the other. It also seems dumbfounding how the Seminoles have a player like Isaac — currently projected to be the ninth pick in this summer’s NBA Draft — manage only seven shot attempts. Florida State was a bit on an enigma for the entire season, and many doubted its ability win away from Tallahassee, so losing in blowout fashion to a #11 seed proves that those concerns had merit.
  3. Xavier’s chance in the Sweet Sixteen should not be discounted. A lesson the NCAA Tournament has taught college basketball fans since its inception is to never discount a hot team. Right now, despite being an overlooked #11 seed that lost six of its last seven regular season games, the Musketeers certainly qualify. Bluiett has been excellent in the NCAA Tournament, while supporting players such as guard J.P. Macura and forwards Tyrique Jones and Sean O’Mara have provided terrific complementary performances. Chris Mack has shown time and time again that he should be considered among the country’s best tacticians, and despite losing point guard Edmond Sumner for the season in late January, his team regrouped and found a way to advance to the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend.

Player of the Game. Trevon Bluiett, Xavier. The junior forward turned in another star performance in the victory, finishing the night with 29 points on a very efficient 8-of-14 shooting. Bluiett’s length in Xavier’s 2-3 zone also bothered Florida State’s offense all night, which aided with the Seminoles only shooting 40 percent for the game. Bluiett has been a standout player for much of his career at Xavier, but he has taken his game to another level in this year’s NCAA Tournament.

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Rushed Reactions: #11 Xavier 76, #6 Maryland 65

Posted by Walker Carey on March 16th, 2017

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is in Orlando this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Xavier Looked Like the Better Team All Day Today (USA Today Images)

  1. A hot Trevon Bluiett is nearly unstoppable. There are some players who just need to see the ball go in the net once for their games to completely turn on a dime. That situation happened with Xavier junior forward Trevon Bluiett in tonight’s victory, as he was able to shake off a poor first half (just three points on 1-of-8 shooting) and completely dominate the second stanza in his team’s favor. Bluiett scored 18 of his game-high 21 points after the break, reaching a point where everyone in the gym knew anything he shot was likely going in. Bluiett’s second half tear carried over from his performance at last week’s Big East Tournament when he scored 44 of his 58 points after halftime. Xavier will undoubtedly take Bluiett warming up after halftime if it means more victories, but the Musketeers have to wonder what it would mean if Bluiett was hot for an entire game.
  2. Sean O’Mara came off the bench to provide Xavier a consistent post presence. It would make sense if Sean O’Mara had not been a key component of Maryland’s incoming scouting report. The junior big man entered today’s contest averaging a modest 5.5 points and 2.8 rebounds per game, as Xavier is far better known for its perimeter attack than its interior play. You better believe Maryland knows a lot about O’Mara now after he turned in a career-best performance in the 11-point victory. O’Mara finished the game with 18 points (5-of-6 FG and 8-of-9 FT) and seven rebounds. The Terps had no answer for his work in the post, as big man Damonte Dodd struggled all evening and was exploited by the far more athletic O’Mara.
  3. Maryland was overseeded. It is easy in hindsight to point to problems with how certain teams were seeded, but anyone who watched today’s game will tell you that Maryland was not worthy of a #6 seed. The Terrapins were disjointed for much of the game on both ends of the court, and it often appeared that they were just waiting around for junior guard Melo Trimble to make a play. This was a questionable strategy because Trimble struggled all night, finishing with 13 points on just 5-of-15 shooting. The bracket cannot be changed in retrospect, but you have to think the NCAA Tournament may have been a little better if the Terrapins were actually placed where they belonged.

Player of the Game. Trevon Bluiett, Xavier. The game changed for the Musketeers when Bluiett got going in the second half. The junior Indianapolis native finished the game with 21 points (7-of-15 FG and 5-of-10 3FG) and made his presence felt on the defensive end by nabbing three steals. Bluiett was the best player on the floor throughout the second 20 minutes and Xavier’s win would not have been possible without him coming alive.

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Marquette’s Offense Drives the Golden Eagles Into March

Posted by Mike Knapp on February 25th, 2017

Marquette has had an up-and-down season to this point. The Golden Eagles are 17-10 (8-7 Big East) with a resume that includes nice wins over Villanova and Creighton as well as head-scratching losses to St. John’s and Georgetown. Their most glaring flaws are on the defensive end of the floor (where they rank 138th nationally, per KenPom), but their inconsistency can also be attributed to a lack of an offensive go-to option. Marquette’s top players — who, it should be noted, are clearly buying into the team concept — cannot individually match the output provided by First Team All-Big East contenders such as Josh Hart (Villanova), Marcus Foster (Creighton) or even Trevon Bluiett (Xavier). What head coach Steve Wojciechowski lacks in star power, however, he has in depth, which makes the Golden Eagles a dangerous squad to face in March.

Marquette is Going to Create Some Problems in March (USA Today Images)

Marquette currently has six players averaging between 10.1 and 12.5 points per game, five of whom stand between 5’10” and 6’6” and are virtually interchangeable in the Golden Eagles’ up-tempo, three-point happy offense. That offense is the team’s driver, ranking first nationally in three-point shooting at 41.9 percent and among the top quarter of the sport in adjusted tempo. Four of Wojchiechowski’s rotation players – Katin Reinhardt, Andrew Rowsey, Markus Howard and Sam Hauser – are shooting at least 38 percent from beyond the arc, making an average of two or more per contest. The Golden Eagles’ pronounced ability to spread the floor with multiple shooters makes them nearly impossible to guard in the half-court, but what really rounds out the Marquette offense is its anchor in the post. Senior big man Luke Fischer leads the team in player efficiency, rebounding and blocked shots, and his offensive game is as diverse as it is proficient. The 6’11” center can play with his back to the basket, possessing great touch around the rim, but he is also capable of acting as the roll man off screens. He may not be the most athletic big man in the Big East, but he makes up for it with his meticulous shot selection and skill set – Fischer currently ranks 21st nationally in effective field goal percentage.

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Xavier Has a Big Man Problem

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 6th, 2016

Like every other reasonable college basketball coach, Chris Mack assembles his lineups to best match his roster. For example, this meant spreading the floor last season around an adept big man who could rebound, pass out of the low post, and convert around the rim. With a similarly constructed backcourt this time around, Mack has implemented the same strategy, opting to let the play-making abilities of his three-headed monster of wings shine while others perform the dirty work. When it works, the Musketeers dominate the glass and generate countless offensive opportunities via putbacks, kickouts and free throws. But the inverse is a slogging half-court offense that cannot generate enough spacing to propel its interior-focused point of attack. While the results don’t quite reflect this, there is a clear disconnect between the two years of offensive output and it starts with Xavier’s big men and ends with putting the ball in the basket.

The obvious problem is that neither James Farr nor Jalen Reynolds is on this year’s team. Both were consistent in averaging just shy of double figure scoring and combining for nearly 15 rebounds per game, but neither was a go-to guy. The rebounding void has been filled this year by transfer RaShid Gaston and freshman Tyrique Jones, but while both might be tenacious on the glass, neither newcomer is very adept on the offensive end.

 

Below is Xavier’s shot chart against Baylor. Subpar perimeter shooting aside, the Musketeers missed an astounding number of shots within three feet of the basket:

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The Best of the Big East: Creighton, Xavier, Villanova

Posted by Eugene Rapay on November 11th, 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 top tier of teams — Creighton, Xavier and Villanova. RTC’s bottom and middle tier previews were published earlier this week.

#3: Creighton

Maurice Watson Jr leads a Creighton team poised to make some noise. (AP)

Maurice Watson Jr leads a Creighton team poised to make some noise. (AP)

Since joining the Big East, Creighton has mainly been on the outside looking in. Yes, the Bluejays’ first year in the league was great with NPOY Doug McDermott leading the way, but Creighton has yet to be the same since he departed Omaha. That’s bound to change soon as the Bluejays are poised to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2013-14 season. They’ll do so behind the play of point guard Maurice Watson, Jr. Not only is Watson a very good scorer, averaging a team-high 14.4 points per game last season, but he’s also a tremendous distributor. His 6.5 assists per game led the Big East and represented the 12th-highest assist rate (38.8%) in college basketball. Teammates flourish off of Watson’s setups.

Unlike those McDermott teams, last year’s Creighton squad excelled at scoring inside. The Bluejays sported the 14th best two-point shooting percentage (54.5%) in America, but fell around the middle of the pack in shooting from three-point range (35.5%). Creighton hopes to improve on its perimeter shooting weakness with the eligibility of Kansas State transfer Marcus Foster and freshman Davion Mintz. Foster in particular hopes to replicate the success he had during an all-Big 12 freshman year when he made nearly 40 percent of his three-point shots. Aside from the issue with perimeter shooting, the Bluejays also need to replace highly efficient center Geoffrey Groselle, a big man who averaged 11.2 points and 6.1 rebounds per game last season while shooting at a 70 percent clip. Creighton recruited a four-star forward in Justin Patton, who is likely to be tested early as Toby Hegner nurses an injury that will sideline him for the beginning of the season. Can head coach Greg McDermott make the new pieces jibe?

#2: Xavier

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