After a dominant 88-70 road win over Georgetown in Washington, DC on Saturday, Xavier is now 24-3 on the season (9-3 in the Big East). The Musketeers are currently ranked sixth in the RPI and are projected to be a top-two seed in the NCAA Tournament according to Bracket Matrix, a site that aggregates bracket projections from across the Internet. They are ranked 13th on KenPom, 13th in the Sagarin Ratings, and 17th on Team Rankings. But despite the gaudy win total and solid computer numbers, Xavier has generally flown under the radar nationally all season.
The Musketeers have a legitimate top scoring option in sophomore Trevon Bluiett, who averages 15.3 points per game. Freshman Edmond Sumner also has the ability to score in bunches; he did so on Saturday, scoring a career high 22 points against the Hoyas. However, it’s Xavier’s defense, specifically its ability to switch between man-to-man and a 1-3-1 zone, that makes the Musketeers so dangerous. The zone, which has been mentioned in multiple iterations ofLuke Winn’s Power Rankings over at Sports Illustrated, is Xavier’s X-factor. While Winn has noted that the Musketeers have gone to the zone a bit less during Big East play, the 1-3-1 has still been an effective way for Xavier to speed up opponents and force them into tough shots or turnovers.
Part two of the Big East season preview highlights three teams that could be dark horses this year. All return key pieces from last season and figure to compete at a high level throughout the regular season. While the contenders (profiled tomorrow) look like near-locks to lead the pack and the outsiders (profiled yesterday) are likely going to stay near the bottom, this is the group (plus Marquette) whose season could go in either direction.
6. Seton Hall
Isaiah Whitehead will be given the keys to the Seton Hall ship. (USA TODAY Sports)
Nobody can deny that the losses of Sterling Gibbs and Jaren Sina hurts Seton Hall, because they most certainly do. Gibbs in particular provided a scoring punch nearly impossible to replace; his decision to transfer to Connecticut was yet another blow to Kevin Willard’s efforts to build cohesion. It leaves the Pirates in the hands of three sophomores with undeniable talent and an encouraging amount of chemistry. Former high school All-American (and savior) Isaiah Whitehead will assume leadership duties, with Willard hoping he can play a bit less frenetically and run a more efficient offense. Joining him in the backcourt is breakout guard Khadeen Carrington, who surprised many last season by showing an uncanny ability to finish around the rim. Rounding out the trio is Angel Delgado, Big East Freshman of the Year and the league’s leading rebounder. The Pirates also add two transfers, welcome a few recruits (including, most notably, the versatile Veer Singh) and return some fringe contributors, but those three sophomores are expected to take on significant responsibility this season. Given the collective talent on the roster, Whitehead’s impending NBA departure and Willard’s hot seat, this is a make or break year in South Orange. Read the rest of this entry »
With the arrival of conference play comes a critical juncture for teams looking to separate themselves from the rest of the pack. Those that have overperformed against their preseason expectations — teams like St. John’s and Seton Hall — will seek to establish an early footprint in the increasingly competitive Big East, whereas the likes of Marquette, Xavier and Creighton look to re-emerge after a handful of non-conference woes. Today we will examine the top Big East overperformers and underperformers to this point, followed by an early look at the NCAA Tournament bubble as it relates to each team. But before discussing team performance, my preseason Big East rankings were as follows:
Villanova Has Lived Up to Its Expectations This Season (USA Today Images)
St. John’s (11-1) has made a serious case as the second best team in the Big East. Sporting a defense that ranks fourth nationally in defensive efficiency and third in block percentage, the Red Storm have received a great deal of attention following wins at Syracuse and versus Minnesota. Sure, they were fourth in my preseason rankings, but the envisioned gap between the Johnnies and Xavier/Georgetown was large and has proven so far to be completely off base. Ranked #15 in the latest AP Poll, Steve Lavin has built a team featuring an incredibly talented group of quick, athletic guards with senior D’Angelo Harrison (19.0 PPG) shouldering the offensive load while do-it-all forward Sir’Dominic Pointer and shot-blocker Chris Obekpa wreak defensive havoc. At this point, St. John’s has looked superior to every other Big East team outside of Villanova, and although its inconsistent outside shooting (266th nationally) and offensive execution in the half-court leave much to be desired, the Red Storm have been the single biggest conference surprise this season.
The Big East Weekend Wrap will cover news and notes from the weekend’s games.
What is basketball, or any sport for that matter, except for a continuous stream of results and changing expectations? We only know as much about a team as their body of work, and with that, we attempt to make judgments about their future performances and outcomes. With more data comes more information and hopefully, more informed opinions. The Big East got off to an incredibly hot start in its first six weeks, but the last few days of action have brought most of its teams back down to earth. Whether they recover remains to be seen.
Villanova posted an impressive rally. The Wildcats struggled to penetrate the Syracuse zone for the first 25 minutes of action and trailed for nearly the entire game before rallying to send it to overtime in the final 17 seconds. The offensive balance that propelled the team in past victories was gone, as three players scored over 20 and nobody else on the team scored more than six points. However ugly, Villanova found a way to win. It exemplified the team’s resiliency and also demonstrated a sense of senior leadership that was missing earlier this season. Darrun Hilliard posted 23 points, five rebounds and four steals while JayVaughn Pinkston scored 25 and added 10 rebounds of his own. With the Wildcats’ perimeter shooting nowhere to be found, both seniors found ways to score down the stretch by attacking the rim and creating for themselves. The gap between Villanova and the rest of the pack appears to be widening; the target on their back has never been bigger.
Despite some early struggles, Jay Wright’s crew eventually cracked the Orange’s zone and found a way to eek out an impressive victory. (Getty)
Other Big East teams were not so fortunate…
Butler went 0-for-2 in resume-building games. The Bulldogs have fallen in the past week about as quickly as they rose in November. Chris Holtmann’s squad had two good chances to build on their 8-1 start: the first was at Tennessee, a game in which they broke down in the final 10 minutes as discussed here. The second was Saturday on a neutral floor against a similarly athletic team in Indiana. Here, Butler again played well in the first half before crumbling, scoring just 12 points in the final 8:38. The game was close the entire way, but the Hoosiers’ second half adjustments worked to slow Kellen Dunham and no other Bulldog was able to put together an efficient shooting performance. The defense was effective (held leading scorer James Blackmon – 19.2 PPG prior – to 5 points), yet to the surprise of many, the rebounding was not. The Hoosiers grabbed 15 offensive rebounds and only gave up 11 turnovers, preventing the run outs that kick start Butler’s offense. The offensive struggles remain: Roosevelt Jones and Alex Barlow are defensive-minded players that have not proven to be consistent scorers, and the Bulldogs are in desperate need of one to complement Dunham. The hope is that freshman Kelan Martin will eventually emerge.
The Big East Weekend Wrap will cover news and notes from the weekend’s games.
With only two weeks left before conference play gets under way, eight Big East teams remain squarely in contention for an NCAA Tournament bid. While it might be too early to draw any definitive conclusions, it’s something to monitor as the season progresses. Currently both Joe Lunardi and Jerry Palm project six Big East teams into their fields, with two others — Creighton and Providence — on the outside of the bubble. Coming off a light weekend of Big East action, below are three key takeaways.
Butler Failed to Close Things Out at Tennessee Over the Weekend (USA Today Sports)
Butler and DePaul both lost their edge in the closing minutes. It was a tough Sunday for two teams in drastically different situations. Butler brought its #15 ranking into Knoxville – a difficult environment for any visiting team – while DePaul tried to prove that its 6-3 start was for real. Butler showcased its defensive stinginess in the first half versus the Vols, only to give away a 12-point lead and crumble in the final minutes. Roosevelt Jones and Alex Barlow struggled as perimeter defenders against Tennessee’s longer, more athletic guards, allowing them access into the lane time and time again. But if Tennessee’s 59.3 percent second half shooting wasn’t enough of an issue, Kellen Dunham’s tendency for poor decision-making made matters worse. The junior took 11 of his 14 field goal attempts from beyond the arc and then proceeded to use the second half to pass up open looks and dribble into traffic. If the Bulldogs can’t generate consistent stops, they turn into a much less effective team too dependent on getting Dunham open looks. On another note, it might be in Chris Holtmann’s interest to give rising freshman Kelan Martin more playing time; the 6’6″ wing is averaging just as many points as Jones (10.8 PPG) but in half the time (16.1 MPG). Meanwhile, DePaul managed to commit enough turnovers in the closing minutes of its game on Sunday to blow a solid lead against Illinois State. To be honest, the Blue Demons’ starting lineup is remarkably competent on the offensive end; Myke Henry has emerged as a true leader, with Jamee Crockett and Tommy Hamilton IV adding wing and inside dimensions. But as with prior years, many of the same issues remain: turnovers and defense. Oliver Purnell will have to find a way to fix at least one of those weaknesses before the program takes another step forward. Read the rest of this entry »
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.
Trevon Blueitt has produced from the get go for the Musketeers (Frank Victores/USA Today Sports)
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.
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 Henry, Aaron 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 »
Posted by Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) on November 3rd, 2014
Rush the Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you throughout the preseason with previews of each of the major conferences.
With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview with the Big East, RTC correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the pleasure of speaking with a Big East expert in CBS Sports Network College Basketball Insider Jon Rothstein (@jonrothstein)
Rush the Court: Villanova enters the season as the pretty clear favorite to win the league. The Wildcats return four starters from a team that went 29-5 last season. What are some reasonable expectations for Jay Wright’s squad this season?
Expectations are High for Jay Wright’s Villanova Team (Getty)
Jon Rothstein: I think reasonable expectations are to win the Big East title, have a chance at winning the Big East Tournament title, and get another high seed in the NCAA Tournament. Villanova was terrific last year in close game situations. I think there is a real possibility that Villanova could be a better team this year than it was last year, but have a worse record because its non-conference schedule is that much more difficult. What makes Villanova so good this year is that it does not lose 50/50 balls. Every ball that is being contested seems to go Villanova’s way almost every time. A big reason for that is Josh Hart. Hart is a guy who can go on a tear for Villanova this year, as he will step into a more enhanced role with the departure of James Bell. I think right now if there is one person who epitomizes Villanova’s culture and brand, it is Josh Hart.
RTC: Georgetown had a below average season last year [just 18-15 overall and 8-10 in conference]. There are no two ways around that. Does John Thompson III’s team have enough firepower to ensure a more successful campaign this season?
Who’s Got Next? is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you an overview of what’s going on in the complex world of recruiting, from who is signing where among the seniors to discussing the recruitments of the top uncommitted players in the country. We also encourage you to check out his contributions at The Intentional Fouldedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at email@example.com.
It’s been a whirlwind two months for four-star forward small forward Trevon Bluiett. On September 3, the No. 12 ranked small forward and No. 41 overall in the class of 2014, announced his commitment to UCLA. One month later on October 3, Bluiett decided to re-open his recruitment and look for a college closer to his hometown of Indianapolis. On Saturday, Bluiett ended his recruitment for a second time and chose to play for the Xavier Musketeers. The commitment gives Xavier one of its top overall recruiting classes along with a big-time scorer.
Bluiett stands at 6’5” and 185 pounds and is one of the top wing scorers in the class of 2014. This past summer, Bluiett played on the Nike EYBL AAU circuit and averaged 19.3 points per game while shooting 38.4 percent from the three-point line and 80.4 percent from the free throw line. He scored 20-plus points in 10 of his 22 games; including one where he went off for 41 points. Not only can Bluiett put the ball in the basket but he also contributes in other ways shown by his 4.4 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game.
With Bluiett’s announcement, Xavier now has five commitments from the senior class. Bluiett is the headliner, but the class also includes four-star power forward Makinde London (#71 overall, #17 PF) and four-star shooting guard J.P. Macura (#89 overall, #20 SG) to go along with three-star center Sean O’Mara (#25 center) and three-star shooting guard Edmond Summer (#27 SG). The additions of Bluiett, Macura, and Summer will help tremendously with the Musketeers’ outside shooting. Last season only three Musketeers hit 10 or more three-pointers, and only one of those, junior guard Dee Davis will be around when this renowned recruiting class arrives on campus.
Looney Heading West to UCLA
While Steve Alford might have lost four-star recruit Trevon Bluiett just one month after his commitment in September, he offset that loss this past week with another player from the Midwest in five-star forward Kevon Looney. Just last Thursday, Looney committed to UCLA from his Hamilton (WI) High School in a decision that caught most everyone by surprise. The No. 14 ranked player in the country chose the Bruins over Tennessee, Duke, Florida, Michigan State, and Wisconsin.
As we enter Opening Week of the 2013-14 college basketball season, we want to make everyone aware of all the cross-platform offerings we have available this year at RTC. Longtime readers are already familiar with our eight microsites focused on each of the major basketball conferences (click on the round conference buttons in the top right corner of the page). We also want to make you aware of our TumblRTC page, dedicated as the site’s “eyes and ears,” where we’ll be sharing interesting hoops-related things we find throughout the season. We’re also unveiling Rush the Court TV, our own YouTube channel devoted to capturing the best videos that the sport has to offer. Poke around over there for a while — you’ll find video streams for each major conference, this year’s Midnight Madness events, a bunch of oddball clips among other things, and of course, all the best RTCs. On the social media front, we hope that you’ll continue to follow us on Twitter and Facebook, as we plan on doing some really cool and creative things through those platforms this season, but we’ve also got a new Instagram account and hope you’ll engage with us there too (read: send us pics!). Welcome back.
Over the weekend there were plenty of exhibition games including several that featured highly ranked teams nearly getting beaten by unknown programs, but as we have often said the only thing notable that can happen in these games is somebody getting injured. Unfortunately for Providence it appears that happened to them with starting point guard Kris Dunninjuring his right shoulder in an exhibition win over Rhode Island College. The extent of the injury is not known at this time, but it is particularly concerning for Providence as it is the same shoulder that he tore last year that forced him to miss the first month of the season. The Friars open up at home against Boston College on Friday night, but based on what Ed Cooley is saying it seems unlikely that Dunn will play in that game.
Like Providence, George Washington also suffered a big loss as sophomore forward Patricio Garino fractured his finger during a practice two weeks, but the school did not release the information until late last week. Garino, a selection to the preseason Atlantic 10 All-Conference All-Defensive Team, had surgery on his finger on October 25 and is expected to be out for several weeks although there is no clear timetable on his return. As a freshman last season, Garino averaged 8.8 points, 2.1 assists, and 2.3 steals per game, but had much bigger things expected of him this season. Mike Lonergan will have to figure out a way to move players around until Garino return, but fortunately for the Colonials their schedule during November appears to be manageable.
On Friday night, less than two months after committing to play for UCLA then backing out, Trevon Bluiett to committed to play for Xavier. Blueitt’s recruitment has been particularly interesting because his initial commitment to UCLA was preceded by UCLA hiring his former high school coach, which seemed to suggest that a package deal was in place (something that is certainly not unique, but seemed unusual for a program with UCLA’s pedigree and a player of Blueitt’s caliber–a 4-star prospect). Blueitt eventually decided that Los Angeles would be too far from his home (in Indianapolis) and had narrowed down his choices to Butler, Memphis, Michigan State, and Xavier before eventually committing to Xavier.
UNLV may have lost Anthony Bennett to the NBA Draft and Mike Moser to Oregon, but that has not stopped Dave Rice, who got a commitment from Goodluck Okonoboh yesterday. Okonoboh, who is the #21 overall prospect in ESPN’s rankings, is a 6’9″ center with good defensive skills, but with a raw offensive game. We are not privy to the details of his recruitment, but are a little surprised that he chose UNLV over more established programs like Duke, Florida, Indiana, and Ohio State, which were his other finalists. If Okonoboh follows through on his commitment (see below), he would join Dwayne Morgan, a top-10 power forward, to give the Rebels an imposing frontline.
One of the many reasons that we do not get too worked up about recruitment is the inevitable early commitment/decommitment. The latest example of this is Trevon Bluiett, who backed out of his one-month-old commitment to UCLAyesterday. Blueitt’s official reason for backing out of his commitment was the distance from his home state of Indiana to UCLA, but we would not be surprised if UCLA’s surplus of wings may have played a more significant role. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Bluiett’s decision is that the Bruins has already hired Ed Schilling, Bluiett’s former high school coach, as an assistant coach. Package deals like this are not unusual in college basketball, but it is unusual to see one part of the package fall apart like this.
As we mentioned last month when he had his DUI charge reduced to a driving without a license charge, it did not take long for Connecticut to let Tyler Olander back on the team as Kevin Ollie announced yesterday that Olander, a 6’10” senior who has been arrested twice since March, was back on the team following his September arrest. We won’t pretend to know how to run a basketball team/program, but we are a bit surprised with how quickly Kevin Ollie let Olander back as he cited Olander’s “responsibility and maturity” as well as time management skills and academic work. We understand that Connecticut is in need of an inside presence, but we have a hard time believing that doing so for less than a month after his (second) arrest really demonstrates that.
When the NCAA made its controversial decision to not allow coaches to attend practices for schools that do not participate in scholastic associations we assumed it was a backhanded attempt at questioning the legitimacy of the academic credibility of those institutions. If the case of Illinois State freshman MiKyle McIntosh is any indication, they may have targeted the wrong school. McIntosh, a 6’7″ forward from Canada, was ruled academically ineligible after the NCAA determined that some of his high school coursework could not be used. Of course, this is not an infrequent occurrence, but it is notable that McIntosh spent part of his time at Christian Faith Center Academy in North Carolina, the same school that Florida State non-qualifier Xavier Rathan-Mayes attended for part of his career. We do not have access to the details of what courses these two took that the NCAA deemed unworthy of meeting its requirements as both players appear to have bounced around high schools, but much like Prime Prep in Texas when multiple players who graduated from the same high school are ruled academically ineligible you start to wonder what is going on there.
Ken Pomeroy writes some of the best publicly available analytic work available, but sometimes it takes someone else to put it into a format that makes others recognize its value. One example of this is the work of Dan Hanner who looked at two Pomeroy metrics–possessions per game and average possession length–to determine which teams had the biggest differences between perception and reality in terms of their tempo. The basis behind this is that a team that plays suffocating defense that leads to their opponent using up a large percentage of the shot clock will tend to have fewer possessions per game as their opponent will be consuming significant portions of the overall game time with their offensive possessions. We won’t get into the specifics of the analysis (you can check out the link for that), but it is interesting that teams that play faster on offense than standard metric suggest tend to be much better than teams that play slower on offense than standard metrics suggest.