College basketball experienced its first true upset weekend and this week’s RTC25 reflects the madness that took place on the court. Let’s run through the carnage. Fresh off a hard-thought ACC/Big Ten Challenge victory over Syracuse, previously-#15 Michigan was stunned at home by NJIT. What made the upset so stunning is that the Wolverines are the reigning Big Ten regular season champions, while NJIT is the lone remaining Division I independent because its former conference folded and it has yet to find a new league willing to offer an invitation. This defeat along was stunning enough to cause Michigan to fall completely out of this week’s RTC25. #23 Miami (FL) also suffered an upset loss at home to Green Bay over the weekend. The previously unbeaten Hurricanes were ice cold from the field, shooting just 32.8 percent from the field in the defeat. Poor shooting was also the theme for #16 San Diego State on Sunday, as the Aztecs shot just 20.5 percent in a road loss at Washington. College basketball is often where the unexpected becomes the ordinary, and that was certainly on display over the weekend.
Feast Week has come and gone, and it once again did not disappoint. Top teams #2 Wisconsin and #4 Arizona showed the nation why they are thought of as some of the nation’s best. The Badgers took home the Battle 4 Atlantis title after scoring victories over UAB, Georgetown, and #16 Oklahoma. Sean Miller’s Wildcats took home the title at the Maui Invitational with wins over Missouri, Kansas State, and #13 San Diego State. #9 Villanova also turned in an impressive week. Jay Wright’s squad was victorious at the Legends Classic, as it secured notable wins over #23 VCU and #15 Michigan. With the ACC/Big Ten Challenge set to take place this coming week, expect a lot more great action on the court and even more fluidity in the RTC25.
The Big East Weekend Wrap will cover news and notes from the weekend’s games.
After a long week of preseason tournaments, which often featured days of consecutive games for a team, the Big East has just two undefeated teams remaining: Villanova and Seton Hall. The conference at a whole has continued to play competitively and currently stands at 48-12, ranking 4th in Kenpom’s conference rankings. Below is a list of four key takeaways from the past week of Big East action.
JayVaughn Pinkston Came Up With the Defensive Play of the Year in CBB (USA Today Images)
Villanovafinally showed up to play. After their first three games, some had already begun to question whether Villanova truly deserved their preseason #12 ranking. The team as a whole struggled mightily with its outside shooting – something they relied upon heavily last season – and up until last week, held unconvincing wins over Lehigh and Bucknell that weren’t decided until the closing minutes. Yet when the national spotlight was on, the Wildcats came through. The team handily defeated #14 VCU with quick, effective ball movement and a penchant for taking care of the ball. Then, following their statement win was a gripping victory over #19 Michigan, in which the Wildcats escaped after several lead changes in the last few minutes. Finally, they capped off the week with a 31 point rout over Delaware. Junior center Daniel Ochefu should be the frontrunner for Most Improved Player in the Big East. The 6’11 center has shown a newly developed array of post moves that have added a frontcourt dimension unseen in previous Villanova teams. In a league without much talent disparity, Villanova has established themselves as the top dog, head and shoulders above the rest. They will be playing with a target on their backs all season as every opponent will be seeking a resume building victory when they step onto the floor to face the Wildcats.
Save for a few hiccups and misfires on the recruiting trail, Jay Wright has kept Villanova in tournament contention throughout his entire 14-year coaching tenure with the team, a track record matched by few. Many remember his success from the tenacious four-guard lineups in 2005 and 2006 or the Scottie Reynolds-led final four team in 2009, and while recent years have been filled with early tournament departures, the Wildcats have continually remained in the picture. His success can be attributed to a number of factors, but above all its his adaptation to changing personnel. While the team has made the NCAA tournament in nine of the previous 10 seasons, the playing style has been remarkably different. Wright has transitioned the team from a fast-paced drive and dish offense centered around guard play and outscoring opponents to one centered around team defense and a balanced, unselfish scoring attack. For the past several seasons, Villanova has not had what NBA scouts would categorize as a star player. There are no one-and-done’s, no lottery pick athletes. Instead, Wright has recruited a group of hard working four-year players who bring a variety of skillsets and offer multi-positional diversity. What this does is build a brand of basketball built around teamwork, help defense and selflessness, and its success can be seen through the Wildcats’ play over the last two games at the Legends Classic.
JayVaughn Pinkston Came Up With the Defensive Play of the Year in CBB (USA Today Images)
Despite struggling against the likes of Lehigh and Bucknell, everything seems to have clicked on Monday night when Villanova took on VCU and the HAVOC defense that has make Shaka Smart famous. But when reviewing the box score, there isn’t a single player that can be pointed to for the reason behind the team’s 24 point rout of VCU. Villanova as a team dished out 20 assists on 29 made baskets and committed just nine turnovers in the process, against a team that had forced a remarkable 60 turnovers in the three contests before it. Four players scored in double figures and the team’s leading scorer is averaging 12.5 points, accounting for a mere 16.2% of the team’s total scoring output. The balanced offense is complemented with a balanced defense. The Wildcats are not particularly quick, or tall, but the team has a number of interchangeable parts, allowing them to effectively switch on ball screens or play help defense in the lanes.
Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vtbnblog) on November 25th, 2014
Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog. Joe filed this report after Villanova’s 77-53 victory over VCU Monday evening.
When Villanova and Virginia Commonwealth faced off in the first round of the Legends Classic at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn last night, a trail of questions about these two dynamic teams followed them onto the court. Both had great success last season, winning their respective conference regular season titles while compiling a combined record of 55-14 (Villanova was 29-5 while VCU was 26-9) but each saw their seasons expire with a sigh that betrayed what they had worked for. VCU had run up a 24-7 record even before the conference tournament, securing no worse than an at-large place in the NCAA field as the Atlantic 10 Conference garnered a record-breaking six bids. They burned through Richmond and NCAA-worthy George Washington by 20 points apiece before bowing to a senior-heavy Saint Joseph’s squad, 65-61. But it was the two-point loss to Stephen F. Austin (77-75) that stung. Had HAVOC run its course? If the defensive turnover machine of seasons past could not produce, the Rams’ open court offense was reduced to their half court set which yielded far fewer points (and possessions). Like Gonzaga, Butler and George Mason before them, the Rams were no longer the hunters, they had become the hunted.
Smart’s club started off well, but tailed off against an equally talented Villanova squad in Brooklyn. (US Presswire)
In “the old” Big East a 28-3 regular season record capped with a 16-2 conference record would have heralded the Wildcats as an elite team and Final Four contender even before the conference tournament. For Villanova and “the new” Big East however, double-figure losses to Syracuse and Creighton (twice) appeared to undermine the Wildcats’ — and the Big East’s — attempts to write a new chapter. Villanova dropped their first round conference tournament game to Seton Hall (64-63), secured a #2 seed in the NCAAs, then dropped their second round game to former conference mate Connecticut (77-63). The Big East garnered four bids and no conference team made it to the Sweet Sixteen. Read the rest of this entry »
Week one is in the books and what a week it was. One of the great things about college basketball is that many of the elite teams play other elite teams early in the season, and that is what happened at the Champions Classic in Indianapolis last Tuesday. First, #2 Duke led the entire way in scoring a comfortable 11-point victory over #19 Michigan State, and in the nightcap, #1 Kentucky showed everyone why it will be the story of the year in college basketball, as the Wildcats thoroughly dismantled #11 Kansas. Duke’s win over Michigan State paired with its weekend victories over Temple and Stanford have the Blue Devils all the way up to the second slot in this week’s RTC25. #1 Kentucky remains in the top spot, but its style points in demolishing a talented Kansas squad earned the Wildcats every one of our pollsters’ number one votes. Outside of Kentucky, the team of the week had to be #7 Gonzaga, who rose from #11 after it impressively handled previously-#22 SMU and dominated its way to a 52-point thrashing of Saint Joseph’s.
The Big East Weekend Wrap will cover news and notes from the weekend’s games.
After an 11-game slate of games for the Big East’s 10 teams, the league remains perfect. While none of those 11 games were against top competition, wins are wins at this point in the season and losses here can really damage a team’s NCAA Tournament resume. Despite the relative talent imbalance between most of the Big East teams and their opponents, some of these games were shockingly close and may have provided wake-up calls for teams and players who were still stuck in preseason mode. For others, it could be a sign of things to come. Below is a list of five key takeaways from the weekend’s Big East action.
Villanova Made Enough Twos to Make Up for a Cold Shooting Night From Three
Villanova came out flat, shooting 3-of-23 from deep in the first half before finishing 8-of-33 (24.2%) on the night. Those off nights were a major concern for this team last season when the offense sputtered and failed to create easy baskets when the three-point shot wasn’t falling. Starting guards Dylan Ennis and Ryan Arcidiacono combined for 10-of-28 shooting from the floor while senior wing Darrun Hilliard shot just 4-of-18 and 1-of-9 from deep. The Wildcats forced enough turnovers (28) and got enough points in transition to put Lehigh away, but the win was not a comfortable one by any means. The Wildcats’ shooting numbers are worth watching moving forward.
Creighton swept its weekend slate, finishing 2-0 against Central Arkansas and Chicago State by a combined 45 points. The biggest question for the Bluejays coming into this season was how the team would respond without its offensive centerpiece, Doug McDermott. While neither of the above teams was strong enough defensively to provide an answer to this question, the offense continued to fire on all cylinders. Creighton hoisted up a whopping 56 three-point shots in the two games, making just 19 of them, which is disappointing for a team that led the country in this category at 41.5%. Yet the offense was the same free-flowing, unselfish and pass-heavy one we saw last season. Senior center Will Artino was highly efficient with his touches in the paint in limited minutes, with sophomore Isaiah Zierden providing strong scoring output off the bench. Look for Toby Hegner to make a name for himself this season: the 6’9 freshman contributed 17 points and seven rebounds, including 3-of-6 shooting from deep.
The Big East microsite will preview each Big East team in tiers in preparation for the season’s tipoff. The bottom tier was released earlier this week; it can be found here. Yesterday: the middle tier of the conference. Today: the top tier, including Xavier, Georgetown and Villanova.
Xavier’s Matt Stainbrook is a Load on the Blocks
Xavier’s projected top three finish is less a testament to the team being talented and more a statement about the lack of quality, NCAA-caliber teams in the Big East this season. But that’s not to say the Musketeers will be a bad team. Senior Matt Stainbrook, arguably the conference’s most talented big man, will play a crucial role in serving as the team’s go-to scorer and anchor in the paint. While the 6’10” center has not been considered a primary option in his career, he has started in almost every game dating back to his first two years at Western Michigan. Coming off a season in which he averaged 10.6 points on 55.6 percent shooting (second in the Big East) and 7.4 rebounds (5th in the Big East) in just 24.4 minutes per game, head coach Chris Mack knows what he has in Stainbrook. With the departure of leading scorer Semaj Christon to the NBA, Stainbrook will be the team’s number one option. Also gone from last year’s NCAA Tournament team are two additional starters: junior forward Justin Martin (transfer) and senior forward Isaiah Philmore (graduation), who together combined for 29 percent of the team’s total points per game.
Yet the Musketeers still find themselves with a projected third place finish. Aside from Stainbrook, there are two reasons for this. First, point guard Dee Davis is back for his senior season. Davis has shown over his career that he can run an offense, averaging 4.7 assists per game last season (second in the Big East) with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.5-to-1. Second, Xavier brings in guard Remy Abell, an Indiana transfer, and six new freshman in an incoming class that ranks as one of the best in the program’s history. Headlining this list is 6’5 forward Trevon Bluiett, who could very well be the conference’s second best freshman behind Isaiah Whitehead. Bluiett is a big time scorer at the wing, and he will most likely see immediate playing time in the starting lineup as the Musketeers’ depth at the wings is limited. Additionally, the development of rising sophomores Jalen Reynolds and Myles Davis, who round out the starting lineup, will be instrumental in determining Xavier’s postseason success. Both players have shown flashes coming off the bench, but will need to find consistency if Xavier is to push for another NCAA Tournament bid. Given the team’s relatively weak non-conference schedule this season, the Musketeers will have to capitalize on their games versus projected conference front-runners Georgetown and Villanova.
Yesterday the microsite rolled out the first half of our AAC non-conference schedule rankings, listing teams from #11 to #6 based on the competitiveness of their schedules. Today’s rankings of the top five are a bit more interesting, primarily because a lot of these games are projected to have NCAA Tournament implications and are therefore deserving of a closer look. Here are the top five non-conference schedules in the conference, starting from the easiest to the hardest:
#5 Cincinnati: We have frequently used this space to blast Cincinnati for its soft non-conference schedule and it seems like Mick Cronin is finally listening. Last season’s slate featured four games against teams ranked #300 or lower, whereas this season only Eastern Illinois comes into the season lower than that mark, and the rest of the Bearcats’ schedule should give the team ample opportunities to pile up resume-enhancing wins. The Emerald Coast Classic could result in a match-up with Creighton or Mississippi, and the team also welcomes San Diego State and VCU to Fifth Third Arena before the end of 2014. And even though the game will be played in February this season, don’t forget about the Crosstown Classic against Xavier either. If the Bearcats can win a couple of those games and follow that up with double-digit victories in the conference, it will be tough to keep Cincinnati out of the NCAA Tournament.
Josh Pastner’s team will have an early chance to answer how good they can be. (USA TODAY Sports)
#4 Memphis: No team in the conference plays a more difficult season opener than the Tigers, which are headed to South Dakota for a prime-time showdown with Wichita State. That’s a great opportunity, but aside from the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational in which Memphis will play Baylor and perhaps Illinois, the non-conference schedule looks comparable to last season’s 151st-best slate in the country. The only other game worth paying attention to is the December 13 return game home date with Oklahoma State. If Memphis is on the bubble in February, it will be worth remembering that the Tigers opted to play Prairie View A&M and Western Illinois as part of their non-conference schedule this season.
Welcome to conference preview season. In this, our fourth of eight conference preview RTC Podblasts that we’ll be rolling out before the dawn of the season, RTC columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) joins us to discuss the key storylines, teams and players to watch among the 10 teams of the Big East. As always, Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114) hosts the podblast, and the full rundown of topics is below. Make sure to tweet at us (@rushthecourt) if you have any opinion on which team should be the gang’s new favorite heading into the 2014-15 season.
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 recruitment of the top uncommitted players in the country. We also encourage you to check out his contributions atThe 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.
Over the past two weeks four highly rated high school seniors from the Midwest have committed to their colleges. Despite calling the states of Illinois, Ohio, Michigan and Minnesota home, however, only one of the four elite players decided to stay at home and play in the Big Ten. Could this exodus spell trouble down the road for one of the premier power conferences in the land?
Jay Wright Lands Top Point Guard in Class of 2015
The point guard position is fairly weak in the Class of 2015, but Villanova recently locked up five-star prospect Jalen Brunson, who is considered the No. 1 point guard in the class and No. 16 player overall. The lefty from the northern Chicago suburbs is the son of former Temple star and NBA journeyman Rick Brunson, and chose the Wildcats over the in-state Illini. The 6’2” point guard plays for one of the top high schools in Illinois as well as for the Mac Irvin Fire, which is known for suiting up Jabari Parker, Jahlil Okafor, and Cliff Alexander in recent years. During the Nike EYBL, Brunson averaged 17.2 points and 6.9 assists per game.
Brunson plays the game with an old school flair. While definitely not an elite run-and-jump athlete, he is a master at running the offense, using the pick-and-roll, and knocking down jump shots from all parts of the floor. He uses his strong upper body to get by defenders and has NBA range on his three-point shot — which he displayed during the Nike Global Challenge in August. Off the pick-and-roll, Brunson can calmly knock down a three or get into the lane for a soft teardrop floater. He is a smart passer and gets the ball to teammates in a position to score and knows how to feed the post. This past winter, Brunson led his team to the Illinois state semifinals just one year after leading them to the state finals as a sophomore. In 2013 Brunson’s team came up short against a senior Jabari Parker’s Simeon powerhouse. Last year Brunson scored a remarkable 56 points in a losing effort against Jahlil Okafor’s state champs at Whitney Young. With his strong junior season, Brunson racked up a host of awards and also outplayed Kentucky’s freshman point guard Tyler Ulis in a notable head-to-head battle.