Diagnosing a Broken Villanova

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 19th, 2018

The loss of four key contributors meant that Villanova would be having a down year… by Villanova standards. And Villanova standards were a #9 ranking in the preseason AP Poll and a unanimous selection to win the Big East. Villanova fans had become spoiled, you could say, with the expectation that the program would be a perennial championship contender regardless of changes to personnel. So when Jay Wright‘s group posted a 27-point loss to Michigan in its highly-anticipated rematch of the National Championship game, there was a divergence in opinions. Some felt such a lopsided defeat was just a blip — that the freshmen and other newcomers just needed some time to gel. Others thought it was a signal of things to come. Now, with Saturday’s home overtime loss to Furman piling on, the needle has moved strongly towards the latter camp.

Furman Flexing on Villanova’s Home Court is a Signal (USA Today Images)

So what’s been the biggest driver of the Wildcats’ under-performance? Glad you asked:

  1. Phil Booth and Eric Paschall have to this point both embraced hero ball. It partly makes sense given that the pair are the only returning significant contributors from last season’s NCAA Tournament run. But at the same time, increased usage has driven their shot quality down to staggering levels. Booth’s effective field goal percentage has dropped from 55.3 to 47.5 percent and Paschall’s from 60.0 to 41.1 percent — both replete with forced drives into traffic and unnecessary three-point shots. It’s time for Wright to return to the success of a more balanced offense, even if that means involving less trusted, developing players.
  2. Villanova’s newcomers have underwhelmed. Joe Cremo, the heralded graduate transfer from Albany who averaged 17.8 PPG a season ago, was supposed to provide a big scoring punch but has yet to do so — his 6.7 PPG includes just two points on two shots against Michigan. Jahvon Quinerly, the McDonald’s All-American replacement for Jalen Brunson, has witnessed his minutes dwindle from 17 to 16 to eight to a DNP-Coach’s Decision against Furman. Whether he’s battling an injury or Wright simply feels he isn’t ready, his lack of contribution has been perplexing. Combining this with inconsistent showings from the likes of Jermaine Samuels and the rest of the freshmen class has diminished the Wildcats’ offensive output.
  3. Team shooting has been horrid. The absurdly efficient three-point shooting that defined Villanova teams of recent past has been nonexistent thus far this season. In fact, the Wildcats’ 32.0 percent clip is on pace to be the team’s worst outside shooting performance since 2012 (and everyone remembers that year), and the second worst in Wright’s head coaching history. We know there are plenty of potent shooters on this team, but their shot selection and floor spacing to date has left a lot to be desired.
  4. It’s November. It’s an annoying excuse but a valid one, particularly with the number of fresh faces on the floor this season. Wright has said that people need to give this team time and there’s a good chance this group looks entirely different come March.

It’s hard to watch Villanova and believe that it hasn’t been underwhelming, if not outright disappointing, so far this season. But it’s worth sticking around and watching Wright develop his talent because Villanova has shown time and time again what it is capable of when the pieces begin to align.

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What’s Trending: A First Win, a Major Upset & Plenty of Highlight Moments

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on November 19th, 2018

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Matthew Eisenberg (@matteise) is your weekly host.

This season marks the first year of Division I competition for Cal Baptist and North Alabama. Down a pair in the closing seconds last week against Oral Roberts, the Lancers walked away a winner after this miraculous half-court shot dropped in.

https://twitter.com/marchmadness/status/1062747837702815744

On the topic of a big-time shot from a particular spot on the court, Villanova head coach Jay Wright gave Andy Katz a tour of the remodeled Finneran Pavilion, including his first look at the Final Four floor Villanova brought in with the spot of Kris Jenkins‘ game-winner memorialized forever.

https://twitter.com/marchmadness/status/1062495273837101056

After James Akinjo led Georgetown to a nice win over Illinois, Hoyas’ head coach Patrick Ewing had a tongue slip when it came to describing the “ONIONS!” of his player’s performance…

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Let’s Not Panic About the Big East Just Yet

Posted by Brad Cavallaro on November 16th, 2018

After splitting the Gavitt Games in the first three years of its existence, the Big Ten has dominated in year four. The pair of teams projected at the top of the Big East this season — Villanova and Marquette — provided little resistance against Michigan and Indiana earlier this week. Meanwhile, Xavier and Creighton dropped home games to Wisconsin and Ohio State while Seton Hall proved to be no match for Nebraska. As it turns out, Georgetown and DePaul are the only Big East teams to win thus far, knocking off Illinois and Penn State (but both were without one of their top two players).

Steve Wojchiechowski is in the midst of a rebuild at Marquette. (Mark Hoffman/The Journal Sentinel)

On paper, these match-ups looked fairly even, but the Big Ten has proved to be the superior conference at this early point. Normally, these conference challenges need to be taken with a grain of salt as they are only one benchmark to compare conference strength. However, after the Big Ten’s beat-down of the Big East this week, not many reasonable people would think the Big East is the superior league. If St. John’s falls to Rutgers on Friday evening, it will cap off an embarrassing week for the conference.

Even though this has been a horrible start, it is still not time to panic. Even if the Big Ten is the better league, that does not mean the Big East won’t improve. Earning 28 NCAA Tournament berths in the last five years gives it the benefit of the doubt. Villanova has won two National Championships in the last three seasons; Xavier has an Elite Eight appearance under its belt: Providence has made five straight NCAA Tournaments; and Butler has consistently advanced in the postseason. These are great basketball programs that have proven resilient time and time again.

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Ten Questions: Mid-November Intrigue

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on November 16th, 2018

While this weekend’s schedule is a little light as teams prepare for the nonstop action of Feast Week, here are 10 questions to consider as the season settles in.

Is Michigan Due For a Letdown? (USA Today Images)

  1. How will St. John’s fare in its only road non-conference game? (St. John’s at Rutgers, Friday 7 PM EST, BTN) St. John’s only road non-conference game takes place just down the road in New Jersey against local rival Rutgers. In Mustapha Heron‘s  first two games as a member of the Red Storm, he is averaging over 20 points per game.
  2. Will Arizona State avoid an upset in a potential trap game? (ed. note: this game was canceled last night because of smoke issues related to wildfires) (Arizona State @ San Francisco, Friday 10 PM EST, Pac-12 Network) Before Arizona State heads to Las Vegas to take on a ranked Mississippi State team, they will take on the Dons in San Francisco. After falling behind by 15 points early, San Francisco was only outscored by three points in the final 30 minutes of last season’s match-up in the desert.
  3. Has Stanford found Reid Travis 2.0 in KZ Okpala? (Wofford at Stanford, Friday 10 PM EST, Pac-12 Network) When Reid Travis decided to transfer to Kentucky, Stanford had to fill a large gap in its offense. Sophomore KZ Okpala has seen his scoring average explode from 10.0 as a freshman to 22.7 PPG through the first three games of the season.
  4. Will early season turnover woes be the deciding factor? (South Carolina vs. Providence, Saturday 2:30 PM EST, ESPN 3) Through three games South Carolina has committed 44 turnovers while Providence has committed 46 turnovers. Both the Gamecocks and Friars are forcing turnovers at a rate better than the national average, so winning the turnover battle will be crucial in this game.
  5. Can Charleston stay perfect with a win in Stillwater? (Charleston @ Oklahoma State, Sunday 4 PM EST) Coming off a 26-8 record last season, Charleston was picked second in the preseason CAA media poll. The Cougars feature two of the conference’s best players in Jarrell Brantley and Grant Riller. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State is struggling, having lost to #299 Charlotte already this season. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East Weekly Takeaways: Vol. I

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 13th, 2018

Week one is already in the books and there’s more than enough to talk about around the Big East. This is the first introduction of a weekly takeaways post that discusses and analyzes all of the conference’s happenings.

Eric Paschall at the Five Presents All Kinds of Problems for Opponents (USA Today Images)

  • Villanova may not have the same degree of firepower as it has had over the last few seasons, but the Wildcats’ superb offensive dynamic has remained unchanged. First, the Wildcats are currently posting 1.17 points per possession (fourth nationally), with six players averaging more than 9.0 PPG. Second, with do-it-all forward Eric Paschall at the five position, head coach Jay Wright can again roll out a lineup of shooters at every position. Third, there are a plethora of interchangeable Wildcat wings to help with the needs of any rotation, whether those are attacking in transition, rebounding or spacing the floor. Lastly, with four rock solid guards on the roster, Wright has no shortage of ball-handlers available to keep his offense humming. There is still a good degree of rawness on Villanova’s bench, but it’s fun to watch the team now if only to have a frame of reference for its progress come March. The one under-reported surprise thus far has been 6’8″ freshman Saddiq Bey, who poured in 16 points in his debut by scoring in a variety of ways. Bey has been an ideal additional scoring threat on the wing while filling the “Mikal Bridges” role on the defensive end of the floor.
  • This season might turn out to be a down year for the conference, but it is already projecting as one of the best in recent years for talented big men. Villanova’s Eric Paschall has been uncontainable both on the perimeter and around the basket, averaging 18.5 PPG and 7.5 RPG through two games. Georgetown’s Jessie Govan has continued his sharp upward trajectory since Patrick Ewing took over the head coaching role at his alma mater. The 6’10” senior is getting to the line more and posting career high statistics in blocks and field goal percentage. Tyrique Jones at Xavier has had a somewhat unexpected junior breakout season thus far, currently posting averages of 18.0 PPG and 13.0 RPG that includes a 20-rebound (!) effort against Evansville over the weekend. Jones looks springier around the basket while maintaining his patented “draw contact at all costs” style of play. Butler’s Joey Brunk debuted this season with a career-high 17 points and six rebounds on 7-of-7 shooting. Even Marquette, which seemingly hasn’t had a threatening low post option in years (Davante Gardner in 2014?) has witnessed growth in sophomore bowling ball Theo John (9.5 PPG, 7.0 RPG). These clashes in the low post will be exciting come conference play.

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Some Final Big East Predictions

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 6th, 2018

We made it, everyone — the season is finally upon us. Who cares about blustery cold weather, 5:00 PM sunsets and the dread of holiday travel? The return of college basketball cures everything, right? Heading into a packed evening of hoops that includes no fewer than eight Big East games, here are some final conference preview thoughts and predictions.

Will Another Big East Team be in Position to Celebrate Like Villanova Next April? (USA Today Images)

  • Conference winner: Villanova. Yawn. Even suffering the loss of four key contributors, it’s hard to hand the Big East crown to any other team at this point. The Wildcats may have taken a step back in the offseason, but so did most every other club in the conference and the gap is still too wide for another team to catch up. Senior Eric Paschall is primed for a breakout season and may become must-see TV if he can brush up on his outside shooting. The onslaught of new arrivals should also be fun to watch as Jay Wright tests his rotations before tightening things up come conference play.
  • Biggest out-performer: Xavier. Being picked by Big East coaches to finish sixth in the conference standings isn’t necessarily a slight given the Musketeers’ extensive offseason roster and coaching turnover. That said, it’s hard to foresee a team that has two breakout sophomores and an excess of experienced transfers finish among the bottom half of the league. Naji Marshall and Paul Scruggs were overshadowed by Trevon Bluiett and JP Macura last season, but expect new head coach Travis Steele to unshackle the duo and put them in the open floor where they can best succeed.
  • Biggest under-performer: St. John’s. As a New York resident, I would like to see a St. John’s basketball resurgence more than anyone, but it’s difficult to bet against a string of disappointing seasons regardless of how much talent fills its roster. Guard Shamorie Ponds is electric with the ball in his hands, and the transfer additions of Mustapha Heron and Sedee Keita will add some much-needed depth, but all told, there is too much concern about size and rebounding to pronounce the Red Storm as legitimate Big East contenders. Chris Mullin‘s group finished among the bottom 60 teams nationally in both offensive and defensive rebounding last season and will have only one true big man on the roster this season (Keita). Small-ball has proven to work for plenty of teams, but the St. John’s guards are going to need to chip in on the glass.

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Where 2018-19 Happens: Reason #2 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on November 5th, 2018

As RTC heads into its 12th season covering college hoops, it’s time to begin releasing our annual compendium of YouTube clips that we like to call Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball. These 30 snippets from last season’s action are completely guaranteed to make you wish the games were starting tonight rather than 30 days from now. Over the next month you’ll get one reason per day until we reach the new season on Tuesday, November 6. You can find all of this year’s released posts here.

#2 – Where Surgical Efficiency Happens.

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-112011-122012-132013-142014-15, 2015-16, 2016-17  and 2017-18 preseasons.

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The 2018-19 RTC16: Preseason Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on November 5th, 2018

And so it begins — that wonderful time of year when we once again find our favorite teams playing college basketball. It is a glorious time, indeed. With a sizable slate of games set to commence on Tuesday evening, we are ready to officially unveil our 2018-19 preseason RTC Top 16. This initial poll will hold for the next two weeks but you can expect our weekly RTC16 to release on every subsequent Monday morning starting November 19. Along with the rankings will be the usual quick and dirty analysis that dives more deeply into trends that the poll reveals. To see how we did last year, check out our 2017-18 preseason poll — sure, we nailed a few (Villanova, Kansas and Duke), and missed on some others (USC, Notre Dame and Louisville), but we promise to do better this time around. Here is our preseason poll. Enjoy opening week!

Quick N’ Dirty Thoughts.

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Big East Burning Questions: Villanova & Xavier

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 1st, 2018

The NBA season tipped off last week, which makes it the perfect time to roll out some new Big East content to drown out the monotony of early-season professional basketball. Over the coming weeks, the Big East microsite will be previewing all the teams, players and key storylines to watch as we approach season tip-off. Be sure to follow @RTCBigEast and its contributors Justin Kundrat and Brad Cavallaro to get your fix. In the spotlight today will be (alphabetically) Villanova and Xavier.

Villanova: Is there enough firepower left to defend its throne?

Eric Paschall is Ready to Lead Villanova (USA Today Images)

The loss of four key contributors from last season’s National Champions is a mountain to overcome, even for a head coach as proficient as Jay Wright. Yes, the Wildcats bring in another heralded recruiting class and a nice transfer in Albany’s Joe Cremo, but it’s not exactly a reassuring thought that only a handful of Villanova’s rotation players are back. The program’s success in recent years has been predicated on numerous scoring options to attack the rim and space the floor, as evidenced by the fact that a robust six different players averaged double-figure scoring last season. This year’s roster features a number of capable shooters and multi-positional defenders, but offensive coordination and defensive cohesiveness don’t just happen overnight. So the question becomes a matter of how quickly Wright’s plethora of sparingly used returnees and newcomers can contribute alongside alpha dog veterans Eric Paschall and Phil Booth. Freshman Jahvon Quinerly will be the next man up in the program’s revolving door of elite point guards and the chatter around campus is that he’ll be ready to take the reins from day one. Besides, it seems silly to count this program out of the running for another title, particularly on the heels of Booth recently dropping 41 points on North Carolina in a secret scrimmage.

Xavier: Is Travis Steele ready for the Travis Steele era?

Travis Steele Takes the Helm at Xavier (USA Today Images)

So long, Chris Mack. Louisville offered the longtime Xavier head coach a handful of pretty pennies ($4 million per year for seven years), which he is presumably using to throw parties at his new $3.1 million mansion. That allowed Xavier the opportunity to promote assistant coach Travis Steele in much the same way Mack had gotten the job after Sean Miller’s departure to Arizona nearly a decade ago. Steele certainly has some big shoes to fill in following Mack’s 215-97 record that included eight NCAA Tournament appearances and four trips to the second weekend. Moreover, the Musketeers lost three scorers who accounted for more than 50 percent of their scoring output a season ago. On the bright side, Steele secured three experienced graduate transfers and can work with a promising set of sophomores in Paul Scruggs and Naji Marshall, which is a better hand than most new head coaches are dealt. Both wings showed promise in spurts last season and will now have to do it with consistency this season. The 2018-19 season may shape up as something of a rare transition year for the program, but if Steele can come close to replicating Mack’s typical performance, Xavier will find itself making travel arrangements yet again on Selection Sunday.

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Where 2018-19 Happens: Reason #9 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on October 29th, 2018

As RTC heads into its 12th season covering college hoops, it’s time to begin releasing our annual compendium of YouTube clips that we like to call Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball. These 30 snippets from last season’s action are completely guaranteed to make you wish the games were starting tonight rather than 30 days from now. Over the next month you’ll get one reason per day until we reach the new season on Tuesday, November 6. You can find all of this year’s released posts here.

#9 – Where Johnnies Uprising Happens.

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-112011-122012-132013-142014-15, 2015-16, 2016-17  and 2017-18 preseasons.

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