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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The X-Factor: Breaking Down Xavier’s 1-3-1 Zone

Posted by Chris Stone on February 22nd, 2016

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.

Xavier's hectic 1-3-1 defense helps the Musketeers fluster opponents. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Xavier’s hectic 1-3-1 defense helps the Musketeers fluster opponents. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

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 of Luke 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.

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Big East Season Preview: The Dark Horses (#4-#6)

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 10th, 2015

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 ship. (USA TODAY Sports)

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 saviorIsaiah 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 »

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Will the Big East Have Six NCAA Teams? A Mid-Season Review

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 31st, 2014

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)

Villanova Has Lived Up to Its Expectations This Season (USA Today Images)

  1. Villanova
  2. Georgetown
  3. Xavier
  4. St. John’s
  5. Providence
  6. Seton Hall
  7. Butler
  8. Marquette
  9. Creighton
  10. DePaul

Biggest Overperformers

  • 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.

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Big East Weekend Wrap: Vol. V

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 22nd, 2014

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.

The Good

  • 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)

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.

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Big East Weekend Wrap: Vol. IV

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 16th, 2014

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 Failed to Close Things Out at Tennessee Over the Weekend (USA Today Sports)

  1. 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 »
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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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One on One: A Big East Preview with Jon Rothstein

Posted by Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) on November 3rd, 2014

RTC interviews one on one

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 and Company. (Getty)

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?

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Who’s Got Next? Trevon Bluiett to Xavier, Kevon Looney Going West, and More…

Posted by Sean Moran on November 4th, 2013

whosgotnext

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 Foul dedicated 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 rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Note: Scout.com used for all player rankings.

Trevon Bluiett Now Off to Xavier

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.

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