Trick-or-Treat: Burning Questions for Five Big East Teams, Part II

Posted by Joe Papandrea on October 30th, 2015

Happy Halloween! Yesterday Part I of our “Trick or Treat” piece was published where we asked and answered a burning question for five teams in the Big East. Today it’s time for the top half of the league, as projected by the conference’s coaches. Let’s get right to it!

Providence: Will the Friars find a sidekick to join their Batman Kris Dunn?

Ben Bentil might be that key player for the Friars to compliment their star. (Getty)

Ben Bentil might be that key player for the Friars to complement their star. (Getty)

Treat: Kris Dunn was ridiculous last season and he is a consensus preseason First Team All-American after spurning the riches of the NBA. He will be Ed Cooley’s Batman, but in order to punch a third straight NCAA Tournament ticket this season, the Friars will need a Robin to step into that number two role previously held by LaDontae Henton. The smart money is on Ben Bentil. The 6’9” sophomore averaged a modest 6.4 points and 4.9 rebounds per game last year, but showed flashes of being a force in the paint. The power forward had back-to-back double doubles in the Big East Tournament, going for 14 points and 13 boards against St. John’s in the quarterfinals and then 12/10 against Villanova. Look for that strong finish to carry over to this year and for Bentil to help alleviate some of the pressure off of his star point guard’s shoulders.

Xavier: Can the Musketeers find a point guard to replace Dee Davis?

Trick: Chris Mack has proved his worth at his alma mater in his first six seasons by boasting a 65.4 percent winning rate. Only once in his career has Xavier won fewer than 20 games in that span so it is foolish to bet against him. However, with Dee Davis’ graduation, this team is severely lacking a floor general. Davis played just under 33 minutes per game and averaged 6.0 assists to only 2.4 turnovers per game. This year’s squad will look to fill the hole with three guys: Myles Davis, Larry Austin Jr., and Edmond Sumner. Davis is a natural two, Austin Jr. only played 4.3 minutes per game last year; and Sumner missed 25 games with knee injuries. If Sumner, a former top 100 recruit, can stay healthy, he seems to be the best fit for Mack, but that is a big if when you are dealing with knee issues. Read the rest of this entry »

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Four Teams in the Preseason Top 10: Banner Year for the ACC?

Posted by Brett Thompson on November 12th, 2014

The Atlantic Coast Conference looks poised to have a dominant season among basketball’s top conferences, boasting four of the nation’s preseason top 10 teams in Duke, North Carolina, Virginia and Louisville. After a short one-year stint in the American Athletic Conference, Louisville is the latest former Big East team to join the ACC, while the Blue Devils, Tar Heels and Cavaliers are ACC mainstays — each hopes to carry the conference banner to the finish line in March. Virginia wants to defend its conference title and prove last season wasn’t a fluke; Louisville hopes to send a message in its ACC debut; and the Tobacco Road teams are hoping to make it back to their rightful place in the Sweet Sixteen and beyond. Simply put, the ACC is going to be a war at the top of the standings, and each team has a major driver pushing it this year.

Virginia's ascendance will only help the ACC's argument that it's the premier basketball conference (USA Today Sports)

Virginia’s ascendance will only help the ACC’s argument that it’s the premier basketball conference (USA Today Sports)

This season marks the third time since 2002 that a conference has had four teams in the preseason top 10. Ironically, both of these instances came courtesy of the Big East. In 2011, the conference placed Connecticut and current ACC members Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Louisville within the top 10; and in 2008, Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Louisville, and another current ACC member, Notre Dame, topped the list. In each of those years, the ACC’s only two representatives were — who else? — Duke and North Carolina. This definitely speaks to the prestige of the basketball programs that the ACC has added in recent years, and it’s not implausible to think the ACC could place even more than four squads in the top 10 in coming seasons.

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Previewing the New Big East Tournament

Posted by George Hershey on March 12th, 2014

The Big East Tournament kicks off tonight and it will be the first year without original members Syracuse and Connecticut. Taking their place are new members Creighton, Xavier, and Butler, which are expected to have plenty of fans making the trip to NYC. Listen to RTC’s Big East Tournament Edition podblast featuring Brian Otskey for a great preview.

Big East Bracket

What to Expect: Villanova and Creighton lead the group as the top two seeds, but the 3-7 seeds are looking to make a run that could secure their spot in the NCAA Tournament. Villanova could secure a #1 seed if they win, while Creighton also is fighting for a top seed. Xavier, St. John’s, Providence, and Georgetown need some wins this week to strengthen there resume, but with several of the bubble teams playing each other early, their hopes of dancing next week will wither. Fans of the Big East are probably hoping that Villanova and Creighton do not win so that the conference gets another team in the tournament, but it will not be easy for any of those bubble teams. Fox Sports 1 will televise every game with  Gus Johnson, Bill Raftery,and Erin Andrews on site to report all the action, which is sure to bring plenty of excitement and drama after a great regular season.

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Five Things We Learned in the Big East this Weekend

Posted by George Hershey on February 17th, 2014

Another weekend of Big East basketball is in the books, so are five key takeaways as we move into the stretch run of the regular season.

Rysheed Jordan has helped spark St. John's  (Andew Theodorakis/ New York Daily News?

Rysheed Jordan has helped spark St. John’s
(Andew Theodorakis/ New York Daily News?

  1. Creighton is in line to win the regular season title, but it will not come easy: With a half game advantage over Villanova and owning the tie-breaker, the Bluejays are favorites to win the league, but they have a tougher road ahead than Villanova. The Bluejays play three games on the road to finish the year, traveling to Marquette Wednesday, and Xavier and Georgetown the first week of March. Villanova on the other hand only has one road game, at Xavier. Both teams are going to get every team’s best shot, but even though Creighton has owned Villanova this year, don’t be surprised if the Wildcats end as regular season champions.
  2. No reason to worry for Villanova: Even though Villanova was bullied by Creighton both times they played, there shouldn’t be too much concern over it. They have yet to lose to any other team in the conference and have only been beaten by two teams the entire season, Syracuse and Creighton. The Bluejays are simply a tough matchup for Jay Wright’s team as every team struggles against a certain style. Creighton spread the ball out and Wright could not find anybody to defend Doug McDermott to at least hold him somewhat in check. The Wildcats have played remarkably all year and a strong finish should leave them in prime position to make a run to the Final Four. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East NCAA Bracket Watch

Posted by George Hershey on February 6th, 2014

With a little over five weeks to go until Selection Sunday, most Big East teams have about eight games left before the Big East Tournament to solidify their standing for the NCAA Tournament. Eight teams have somewhat realistic hopes of making it into the 68-team field, but all but two still have plenty of work to do if they want to impress the selection committee. Here we will take a look at each of the 10 teams with a quick snapshot of what they have done, where they are, and what they need to do to hear their name called on March 16.

Steve Lavin and company have lots of work to do if they want to be dancing in March. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)

Steve Lavin and company have lots of work to do if they want to be dancing in March.
(AP Photo/Al Behrman)

#6 Villanova, 20-2 (8-1)

  • Key Stats: #4 RPI, #7 Pomeroy, #7 BPI, #14 Strength of Schedule
  • Projections: Lunardi #2 seed; RTC #2 seed; Bracket Matrix #2 seed
  • Good Wins: #8 Kansas, #17 Iowa, Providence, Xavier
  • Bad Losses: None

Villanova is all but a lock at this point. The Wildcats started the season with two huge wins in the Bahamas against Kansas and Iowa and they continued their great play into conference play. Their only two losses are understandable — at Syracuse and against a Creighton team that could have beaten the Knicks that night. They have rolled through conference play and look like they will have no problem the rest of the way. The one game remaining that can help solidify a #2 seed will be at Creighton on February 16. Going 8-1 or even 7-2 with a potential loss to St. John’s or Providence should be enough to finish with no worse than a #3 seed, leaving the Wildcats in a great position for March.

#12 Creighton, 18-3, (8-1)

  • Key Stats: #8 RPI, #3 Pomeroy, #12 BPI, #27 SOS
  • Projections: Lunardi #3 seed; RTC #3 seed; Bracket Matrix #3 seed
  • Good Wins: @ #6 Villanova, California, Arizona State, Xavier
  • Bad Losses: None

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Big East M5: 01.31.14 Edition

Posted by George Hershey on January 31st, 2014


  1. Creighton and Villanova have shot up the rankings this season with great guard play and effective outside shooting. ESPN‘s John Gasaway wrote an article recently looking at the teams with the highest percentage of attempts that come from behind the arc. Creighton takes 43.1 percent of its shots from deep, but Gasaway points out how effective they have become at shooting two-pointers (54.8 percent of their twos in conference action) and how their defense is also much improved (surrendering 1.02 points per possession). Villanova has a similar profile in all three aspects. They take 42.7 percent of their shots from three, making 54 percent of their twos and allowing 1.04 points per possession. It’s interesting just how similar the two best teams in the league are and we will probably see a much closer game the second time these teams meet in Omaha. 
  2. Former Ohio State walk-on and current Grantland writer Mark Titus may not have the most accurate power rankings out there, but he definitely has the funniest. Titus likes to make jokes, but he is also very smart about basketball and makes compelling points along the way. This week he has Creighton Doug McDermott in his eighth national spot. Although he jokes about McDermott and his impressive recent play, he has a great quote about Creighton as a team, saying, “The Bluejays have become appointment viewing. If their shooting outburst against Villanova wasn’t enough to convince you of this, McDermott’s heroic effort should cement their status. No matter who they’re playing, you can turn on a Creighton game and be pretty sure you’re going to be thoroughly entertained for two hours.” The team’s ability to go off at any time and McDermott’s NPOY-level play has truly made this team a can’t-miss viewing appointment. 
  3. Buzz Williams must have been listening to all the Marquette writers and fans this week. With articles from Cracked Sidewalks, Anonymous Eagle, and Paint Touches all calling for the underclassmen to get more playing time, Williams put JaJuan Johnson and Deonte Burton into the starting lineup in last night’s impressive win, with John Dawson coming off the bench early. All three played at least 10 minutes while Burton led the trio with nine points and six rebounds. The key with the freshman is to remain aggressive while staying under control and understanding the situation. They showed their confidence attacking the rim and being pesky on defense, but also forced a few unnecessary shots. It seems like Williams likes the energy and production they bring which should help them get more comfortable with the college game in preparation for next season.
  4. Seton Hall has its first McDonald’s All-American since Andre Barrett and Eddie Griffin arrived in 2000. Coney Island native Isaiah Whitehead was named to the team on Wednesday as he finishes up an outstanding high school career. Zach Braziller at the New York Post talked to Whitehead after the announcement, as he follows in the footsteps of Lincoln High School legends Stephon Marbury, Sebastian Telfair and Lance Stephenson. This is a great honor for Whitehead and his arrival next year should excite Seton Hall fans as he leads a stellar class of New York and New Jersey local products.
  5. With the losses of Brandon Austin, Kris Nunn, and Rodney Bullock, Providence guard Josh Fortune has had to consistently play almost the entire game throughout conference play. He has played at least 30 minutes in all but one game, and even played 50 (!) against St. John’s. While Fortune has played a key role for the Friars as Bryce Cotton’s backcourt mate, he has had to focus on basketball while his mother is stationed 6,000 miles away as a colonel in the Army. Kevin McNamara writes about life off the court and how Fortune has to deal with the intermittent communication with his mother. Fortunately for head coach Ed Cooley, Fortune has stepped up and been a consistent producer all season, helping Providence battle for what appeared to be an unlikely NCAA Tournament berth.
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Can Villanova Shake Its Doubters?

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on January 30th, 2014

On Monday night, Villanova came to the Verizon Center ready to play Georgetown. The Wildcats were ranked 4th in the latest AP Poll and carried one of the most impressive resumes in the country — Jay Wright’s team is 4th in RPI, has played the 15th most difficult schedule, and are 10-2 against the RPI top 100 with wins over Kansas and Iowa. Despite all this, Villanova is usually mentioned with a caveat whenever the issue of its ranking comes up; while they are certainly deserving of it given the sterling resume, most pundits do not believe the Wildcats are one of the few best teams in the nation. After a drubbing from Creighton and an escape from subpar Marquette, Villanova had an opportunity to take advantage of the hobbled and sinking Hoyas to show the doubters that they’re for real and to boost their own confidence. Instead, the Wildcats were involved in a back-and-forth game where their offense never seemed to click but ultimately doing just enough to eke out a 65-60 win. So which is the real Villanova? Is it the elite team Villanova appears to portray on paper, or the team the media is waiting to fall back to earth? I looked into the numbers to get a better handle on this question.

Jayvaughn Pinkston (Credit AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Jayvaughn Pinkston  is the biggest offensive weapon in the paint for Villanova. (Credit AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

According to KenPom, the Wildcats have an adjusted offensive efficiency of 118.0 points per 100 possessions (9th in the nation) and an adjusted defensive efficiency of 95.0 points per 100 possessions (26th). Villanova has a great inside-outside game, switching between Jayvaughn Pinkston to do work on the blocks, and a strong perimeter corps where James Bell, Darrun Hilliard and Ryan Arcidiacono can launch it from deep. Forty-five percent of Villanova’s shots come from the three-point line (where the Wildcats are shooting 34.8 percent) and thirty-five percent of their shots are coming at the rim (where they are 63.1 percent from the field). Jay Wright also has them playing excellent man-to-man defense – working in concert to make the correct switches and protecting the weak side. So, what’s the problem? What may be giving writers and talking heads some hesitation is their complete lack of size in the frontcourt and the absence of a premier player who can get buckets down the stretch.

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Big East M5: 01.15.14 Edition

Posted by George Hershey on January 15th, 2014


  1. Georgetown will be playing undermanned tonight when the Hoyas travel to Cincinnati to play Xavier. Joshua Smith is still battling academic issues and Jabril Trawick will miss his second straight game after he broke his jaw against Providence last week. The Hoyas were impressive in their overtime victory at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Saturday, but Xavier poses a tougher test as they are 8-1 in their last nine games after a loss to Creighton on Sunday. Xavier has a very good frontcourt and will likely look to exploit Georgetown’s relative lack of size. Moses Ayegba and Reggie Cameron will have to step up and play more than the 10 minutes they have averaged so far this season. Markel Starks and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera must continue their own exceptional play, but not having their big men to help space the floor will make finding open shots more difficult.  
  2. Xavier lost its first game after an eight-game winning streak, but the Musketeers are ready to face Georgetown after taking away several positives from their close loss to Creighton. They had trouble guarding Doug McDermott and didn’t shoot their free throws well (59%), but the team was happy about the perseverance they showed throughout. Center Matt Stainbrook said, “it [showed] a ton of resiliency and the fact that we can all have short-term memories. You learn from your mistakes, but when it comes to misses or stuff that’s not favorable for us, we have a really short-term memory.” Going forward in conference action, Xavier will need that short memory to keep fighting when momentum is not on their side, like they experienced on Sunday when Creighton was simply unconscious from deep.
  3. Luke Fischer‘s transfer was officially announced on Monday when he began classes at Marquette; yesterday he spoke to the media. He has already begun practicing and assistant coach Jerry Wainwright sounded excited about working with the new big man. Fischer has 11 months until he can suit up, but Wainwright says he will have an instant impact on the Golden Eagles. Fischer will match up against Davante Gardner and Chris Otule in practice, giving the centers a break from each other and a new challenge on both ends. The league has several centers similar to Fischer, but few like Gardner and Otule, so they will have a player to practice against that will more closely replicate games. In other Marquette news, Paint Touches takes a look at the freshmen so far, discussing those who are coming into their own and becoming significant contributors. Cracked Sidewalks has five charts that show why Marquette should be better than it has shown this season. The Golden Eagles seem to be rounding the corner every other game, but have yet to beat a team ranked higher than themselves.
  4. The Big East may not be as strong at the top this season with only two teams currently in the Top 25, but the league has tremendous depth. While Villanova and Creighton have moved up to #6 and #20 in the latest AP poll, the rest of the league may not be ranked but there are no really bad teams this year. In years past, teams like Syracuse and Louisville were national title contenders, but the league also suffered South Florida, DePaul, Rutgers, and Providence perennially struggling to win more than a few games. As of last night, seven of the 10 conference teams were ranked in the top 70 in Ken Pomeroy’s latest rankings, and DePaul was the lowest at #130, a number likely to rise after beating St. John’s. So far, the league has only had six blowout wins, showing the relative parity among all of the teams. This had led to a ton of excitement on numerous Big East campuses this season.
  5. ESPN had a series of posts on the best venues in college basketball, and not surprisingly, Hinkle Fieldhouse, home to the Butler Bulldogs, was included. Eamonn Brennan wrote about the history of the building, including most famously being where the “Milan Miracle,” the game that inspired the making of the movie, Hoosiers, occurred, and the incredible atmosphere in the building. He gives a great description, “You ascend the same blue-tinged concrete concourse to find your seat. You see the same afternoon sunlight shine down at the same angle through the same windows on the same, original wooden floor, the oldest in college basketball.” Hinkle seems to be a magical place as there constantly outstanding games there, including five overtime periods already this season. The Big East has some great venues with the Cintas Center, Bradley Center, and CenturyLink Arena among them drawing some of the largest crowds in the nation.
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Is the Big East Really Only a Three-Bid League Right Now?

Posted by Jameson Fleming on January 9th, 2014

The Big East survived conference realignment to become the No. 3 league in terms of conference RPI and at this point of the season. Despite those lofty rankings, the league really only has three teams that sit comfortably on the right side of the bubble as of today. How is this possible? The short answer is that while it is true that the Big East failed to pick up a bunch of notable wins, it also avoided the awful resume-killing losses which weigh down a league’s RPI rating. As a matter of fact, the Big East has just five losses against teams outside the RPI top 100 teams. Let’s take a look at where all 10 teams stand in terms of NCAA Tournament chances with two months remaining in the regular season. From first to worst:

Jay Wright Has Lost His Magic Touch at Villanova (Photo credit: H. Rumph Jr/AP Photo).

Jay Wright and Villanova has bounced back nicely this season. (AP)

Villanova: 14-1, 3-0 Big East

  • Projected Postseason: Villanova is a lock to make the NCAA Tournament after an 11-1 non-conference run which featured wins against Kansas and Iowa on a neutral court. Right now, the Wildcats project to be a No. 2 seed.
  • Best Case Scenario: Jay Wright’s team gets through Big East play with no more than three losses and wins the Big East Tournament. A record of roughly 26-4 would put Villanova in contention for a N0. 1 seed. The Wildcats would need Syracuse to falter in order to earn the No. 1 seed in the East Regional hosted in New York City.
  • Worst Case Scenario: It turns out Villanova isn’t as good as its non-conference performance suggested. Villanova loses six to eight games in the Big East and winds up a No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

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Big East M5: 01.08.14 Edition

Posted by George Hershey on January 8th, 2014


  1. Only a few days after announcing his departure from the Providence basketball team, Brandon Austin has decided to transfer to Eugene to play for Dana Altman and Oregon. The impact of his loss has already been discussed, but Brendan McGair of the Woonsocket Call takes a look at Ed Cooley‘s burden after Kris Dunn was hurt in an exhibition game and the school’s administration suspended two of his players. He points out that Cooley’s job has gotten much more difficult on his quest to transform Providence back into a basketball power. Now in his third year, Cooley has shown he can recruit at a high level but his teams have failed to win enough games to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament. As if things couldn’t get any worse after a 30-point pasting at Villanova on Sunday, Cooley’s house suffered some damage after catching fire earlier this week. Luckily he and his family were safe.
  2. Villanova picked up its second commitment in the class of 2015 with Delaware shooting guard Donte DiVincenzo choosing the Wildcats over Syracuse. DiVincenzo has good size and will probably play shooting guard for Jay Wright’s squad. He can shoot the ball very well, has great athleticism, and looks like a good passer and facilitator. He is the second highly ranked player coming to Villanova next year, and he appears to be a great fit as someone who will be able to learn from Ryan Arcidiacono as a freshman.
  3. Big East teams are finally gaining some respect from Top 25 voters. Villanova rose three spots to eighth in the latest AP poll while Creighton is now 23rd in the USA Today Coaches Poll. Xavier also received some votes for the first time this season, as the Musketeers have impressed with recent wins over Cincinnati, Butler, Alabama, Wake Forest and St. John’s. Xavier hosts Marquette on Thursday and will travel to Creighton for a big tilt on Sunday. Georgetown could also work its way into the rankings over the next two weeks with upcoming games against Butler and Xavier. Reid Forgrave of thinks that the Big East will improve come March and that some teams — Creighton, Villanova — are setting themselves up nicely while others — Marquette, Seton Hall, Providence — are digging themselves holes.
  4. Creighton was able to pull out a tough win against DePaul last night, but the bigger news of the night for the Bluejays was the injuries sustained by the team’s two best players. Grant Gibbs came down awkwardly at one point and was unable to make it off the court under his own power because of what looked to be a knee injury. He did not return and the severity of the injury is still unknown, but he is expected to undergo an MRI today. Doug McDermott dealt with a shoulder problem all night after running into the Blue Demons’ Sandi Marcius; the NPOY candidate finished the game and said he was fine afterward, but he was clearly hurting throughout. Losing Gibbs for any period of time would be a huge blow to the Bluejays’ long-term success, as Gibbs as the point guard runs one of the nation’s most efficient offenses. Over the summer, Gibbs received a surprising sixth year of eligibility so losing him would be a tragedy for Greg McDermott’s team. Here’s hoping that Gibbs and McDermott both recover quickly from their respective injuries. 
  5. Seth Davis of Sports Illustrated wrote his annual Stock Report piece, taking a look at 63 teams and deciding whether to buy, sell, or hold each going forward. Davis mentions seven Big East teams in his piece. He is optimistic about all three of the league’s new members — Xavier, Butler and Creighton —  as he rates them all a buy. Davis gives Georgetown a hold as the Hoyas have a tough stretch upcoming, but they have proven capable thus far. He gives three teams a sell, with Villanova leading that group because he thinks they won’t be able to keep up their tremendous play all season. He also is selling Marquette because they have been unable to score effectively, and he thinks St. John’s has been terribly disappointing with its over-reliance on D’Angelo Harrison and several bad losses so far this season. Overall, there were some positive signs for most of the teams and this was a fun read for fans.
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