Xavier’s Weakness Becomes Apparent

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 1st, 2016

Media pundits are always quick to jump on bandwagons and it happened again on Wednesday night. The chatter around Xavier’s perceived ceiling has been around all season, but it picked up considerably following the team’s win over #1 Villanova. Those claiming Xavier has Final Four potential aren’t wrong by any means; Chris Mack’s team is deep, athletic and extremely tough on the boards — a combination that usually makes for a tough out. Moreover, a 7-2 record against the RPI top 50 has erased any doubts about its ability to compete against Tournament-level teams. Below the surface, however, lurk some unpleasant memories, remnants of what are unquestionably ugly losses. A 31-point blowout at Villanova, a pair of brutally inefficient losses to Georgetown and Creighton, and most recently, a clunker at Seton Hall. The losses themselves aren’t the least bit concerning — Xavier’s four total losses is the second fewest of any team in the country — it’s the way they’ve lost.

Chris Mack is Safe For Now But Shouldn't 'Get too Comfortable (Getty)

Chris Mack and Xavier are legit contenders, but do have some things to work out. (Getty)

The Musketeers have a number of options — Trevon Bluiett, Myles Davis and JP Macura prime among them — when it comes to perimeter scoring, but these players aren’t relied upon for lights-out shooting as much as they are pure spacing. With a lightning-quick point guard in Edmond Sumner, Xavier can usually penetrate to get high quality looks around the rim because teams are forced to respect the array of shooters around Sumner. It doesn’t necessarily matter who is making shots, so long as they connect on a high enough percentage to keep defenses honest. The Xavier wings are also adept at making entry passes to the low post, a place where the Musketeers are converting at a high rate, as the presence of numerous shooters and slashers helps stop opponents from doubling on the interior. Xavier post options Jalen Reynolds and James Farr also both rank in the top 100 in offensive rebounding, helping the X-men corral 35.7 percent of its missed shots. Partially as a result of the attack of the offensive glass, Xavier attempts 40.3 percent of its shots at the rim and gets to the free throw line at an exceedingly high rate (29th nationally). Read the rest of this entry »

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Otskey’s Big East Observations: 03.01.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 1st, 2016

As the regular season comes to a close, a pair of Big East teams are fighting for their NCAA Tournament lives. For Butler and Providence, nothing will come easy over the next two weeks. The Bulldogs in particular sit squarely on the bubble as the Big East conference tournament looms. A huge chance awaits Butler tomorrow night when they host a surging Seton Hall team. Chris Holtmann’s group has matched up quite well with the Pirates over the last few seasons, and is the only team to beat them since January 23. A middling RPI, poor non-conference strength of schedule and a 5-8 record versus the RPI top 100 are all resume items conspiring against Butler at this moment. Given those deficiencies, you have to think a wins on Wednesday and Saturday (Marquette) to close the regular season are necessary for Butler to stay in the Tournament mix. Butler passes the so-called “eye test,” but its resume needs an immediate boost to prevent a trip to the NIT.

Andrew Chrabascz and Butler need a strong finish. (USA Today Sports)

It is crunch time for Andrew Chrabascz and Butler. (USA TODAY Sports)

After picking up a massive road victory at Villanova on January 24, Providence stood at 17-3 overall and looked like a sure-fire NCAA Tournament team. Who could have thought that Georgetown would be the only team the Friars would defeat in the month that followed? Providence swept the Hoyas but went 0-6 against every other team it played between January 26 and February 25. While the resume is good enough to merit a bid at this point, a loss to either Creighton or St. John’s would severely damage the Friars’ chances of holding on to an at-large bid. Star point guard Kris Dunn has been fighting an illness over the last week but head coach Ed Cooley said on Monday that the team is now healthy. As they did Saturday in dispatching DePaul, the Friars need to take care of business this week. No excuses if they fail to get the job done. Read the rest of this entry »

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RTC Top 25: Week Fifteen Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on February 29th, 2016

Another wild week of college basketball was accompanied by another helter-skelter poll in which each of our seven pollsters remain significantly divided on team placement within the RTC25. This week was notable in a Big East where #5 Xavier finally shook the monkey off its back to defeat #4 Villanova on Wednesday, only to follow that up with each team responding to the result in an equal and opposite way. Villanova recovered with a win at Marquette on Saturday while Xavier was dominated in a loss at Seton Hall on Sunday. Villanova still leads the Big East and is in good position to take home the regular season conference title. But with the parity in college basketball this season, the Big East Tournament in Madison Square Garden could be defined by inherent uncertainty. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty is after the jump.

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Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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Big East Bubble Watch: Volume III

Posted by Justin Kundrat on February 26th, 2016

Another week, another Big East team falls by the wayside. Last week, we watched Georgetown fail to seize wins in two must-needed opportunities. This week, the team exiting the bubble fray is Creighton. Given such low preseason expectations, a 17-11 (8-7 Big East) record is nothing to be ashamed of, but it’s a tally inflated by a relatively sub-par schedule. On Wednesday, Greg McDermott’s squad dropped a home game against Marquette, one it simply couldn’t afford to lose. Even the best case end of the regular season scenario (3-0 with wins over St. John’s, Providence and Xavier) would be likely to leave the Jays’ RPI in the 60s or 70s heading into the Big East Tournament. So for now, we bid you adieu, Creighton. For the Big East teams still on this list, NCAA Tournament dreams are very much alive. Here’s the latest installment of the Big East Bubble Watch. RPI and SOS figures are from RPIForecast.com.

Locks

  • Villanova: 24-4 (13-2); RPI: 2; SOS: 9
  • Xavier: 25-3 (13-3); RPI: 3; SOS: 32

Analysis: Once again, no justification needed here. And after Xavier’s mettle-testing mid-week victory over the Wildcats, a sometimes-maligned Big East may now be in line for two #1 seeds. Even if that scenario fails to manifest itself, one thing has been clear for quite awhile: these two teams have put together remarkable seasons.

J.P. Macura And Xavier Are Rolling (Photo: AP)

J.P. Macura And Xavier Are Rolling (Photo: AP)

Should Be In

Seton Hall: 20-7 (10-5); RPI: 37; SOS: 70

Analysis: Fueled by the ever-improving play of sophomore Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall has continued to build momentum. There was a major scare in a near loss at St. John’s on Sunday, but the Pirates prevailed and then backed it up with a convincing home win over Providence on Thursday, adding a 3rd top 50 win to its resume. This win should all but punch the Hall’s ticket, but with three games on the schedule, it feels a tad too soon to declare them a lock. There’s an upcoming home game against Xavier that should present more as opportunity than test — it’s essentially a no-lose situation. For a team that was picked to finish 7th in the conference, the Pirates and their wiser, calmer sophomore leader have come a long ways. Outside of Kris Dunn, Whitehead might be the most exciting player to watch in this conference. Keep an eye on him this March.

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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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RTC Top 25: Week Fourteen Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on February 22nd, 2016

The unpredicatability of this college basketball season was in full effect last week as 15 of the RTC25 suffered defeats. For example, archrivals #8 North Carolina and #11 Duke both experienced the thrill of victory and agony of defeat in a matter of just four days. In last Wednesday evening’s showdown between the two teams, Duke stormed back from a significant second half deficit to grab an impressive road victory — all the more impressive when considering it came without the services of injured forward Amile Jefferson or guard Matt Jones, who left the game with an ankle injury. The Blue Devils, however, could not keep the winning ways going, falling at #16 Louisville on Saturday. On the other hand, North Carolina bounced back from its defeat in a major way, dominating #17 Miami (FL) from start to finish. Just another week in a wacky season. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

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Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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Big East Bubble Watch: Volume II

Posted by Justin Kundrat on February 19th, 2016

Sorry Georgetown, but it’s time to say goodbye to the NCAA Tournament. An 0-2 week against Providence and Seton Hall means that the Hoyas are now just 14-13 overall and 3-10 against the RPI top 50. The opportunities have been there, but they simply haven’t seized them. Even the most fervent Hoya fans would be willing to admit that this demotion has been rightfully earned. For the rest of the Big East as a whole, however, little has changed. This is the second installment of the Big East Bubble Watch, with RPI and SOS figures from RPIForecast.com.

Locks

  • Villanova: 23-3 (12-1); RPI: 2; SOS: 13
  • Xavier: 23-3 (11-3); RPI: 5; SOS: 34

Analysis: No justification needed here. Both teams are firmly in the RPI top 10 and could be looking at #1 or #2 seeds. At this point, even a prolonged losing streak wouldn’t be enough to keep them out.

Should Be In

Ben Bentil, Kris Dunn And The Friars Should Be Good To Dance...If They Keep Avoiding Bad Losses (Photo: USA Today Sports)

Ben Bentil, Kris Dunn And The Friars Should Be Good To Dance…If They Keep Avoiding Bad Losses (Photo: USA Today Sports)

Providence: 19-8 (7-7); RPI: 37; SOS: 44

Analysis: Providence is one of those teams whose computer ratings have always trailed its AP ranking and public perception. Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil have been one of the best one-two combinations in college basketball, accounting for 51 percent of the team’s points this season. But inconsistent play from the Friars’ supporting cast has proven difficult to overcome, and this was especially evident last week as Providence went 1-1 with an expected win over Georgetown and an expected loss at Xavier. The Georgetown win matters only in the sense that the Friars avoided a bad loss — an important exercise at this time of year. But with a healthy Bentil — the Big East’s leading scorer with 20.3 PPG — leading the way, Providence should be good to go for the remainder of the year. The key will be whether Rodney Bullock or Ryan Fazekas can produce more to take a great deal of pressure off the killer combo — both in the Friars’ pursuit of the NCAA Tournament and their efforts once there.

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Preseason Rankings May Reveal Final Four Destiny

Posted by William Ezekowitz on February 12th, 2016

With March right around the corner, teams that rank highly in the Top 25 are daring to dream of a magical run to the Final Four in Houston. Because the NCAA Tournament is so matchup-based, it makes sense that most observers can’t realistically pick their favorites until Selection Sunday. But what if there were data that allowed us to eliminate a few upstarts before we even saw the brackets? Well, there are ways to do that. One oddity of college basketball is how important and even predictive the preseason rankings are. Nate Silver uses them as one of the tools in his formula for picking winners, a fact that should nearly legitimize them by itself. But the argument behind it makes sense: Preseason rankings are a good way of measuring the overall roster talent of a team (because what else are we going to rank teams on before we see them play?), so teams that were ranked in the preseason Top 25 should generally be accepted as talented teams. But how predictive are they when it comes to the Final Four?

Using data stretching back to the 2003 Final Four, we looked at the average Preseason and Pre-Tournament rankings of every Final Four team. For the purposes of getting an actual number for an average, we changed “not ranked” to “35,” which was somewhat arbitrary but seemed about right given that several teams just missed out in the “also receiving votes” category, while others came totally out of nowhere (Note: if we had used a higher number, the averages and standard deviations would have both been slightly higher, but not much would have otherwise changed). Here are the results:

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Shockingly, preseason rankings appear to be just as predictive of which teams will make the Final Four as pre-Tournament rankings. This makes us wonder why we even bother with that pesky regular season! But are preseason rankings truly destiny? Iowa, Xavier, Oregon and West Virginia all figure to be in and around the top 10 for the rest of the season, but none of that group were in the Top 25 when the season started. Could teams like these make the Final Four? The short answer, according to historical trends, is probably not. Since 2002, only four teams have ever made the Final Four after being unranked in the preseason but ranked after the regular season (this distinction is important, as it eliminates such Cinderellas like George Mason and VCU), and only one team has done it since 2006. In fact, since the 2012 NCAA Tournament, there have been just seven teams to achieve the rare feat of being unranked in the preseason but in the top 10 at Tournament time — interestingly, none of those teams has made it past the Sweet Sixteen.

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Otskey’s Big East Observations: 02.12.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 12th, 2016

One of the interesting things about a long and grueling conference season is the subtle changes that teams undergo, both good and bad. For a Xavier team that remains in solid position for a top-two Big East finish and a top-three seed in the NCAA Tournament, an issue may be developing. Despite a 9-2 record since losing at Villanova, Xavier has been trending down in efficiency metrics (with both KenPom and others). Defense is the main culprit, specifically on the interior. Wins against St. John’s and Marquette were much closer than they should have been and Chris Mack’s team followed those up with a disappointing loss at Creighton, a game in which it was blitzed from the opening tip. The Musketeers have allowed six of its last seven opponents to shoot better than 50 percent from two-point range. What’s shocking is this had only happened six times in the preceding 23 games. While the better competition in Big East play is certainly a factor, the trend is undoubtedly still alarming. It’s no coincidence that the three teams to beat Xavier have all shot better than 60 percent from inside the arc. Given the makeup of this Musketeers team, the porous interior defending is especially surprising.

Jalen Reynolds and Xavier are scuffling a bit defensively.

Jalen Reynolds and Xavier are struggling a bit defensively. (AP)

Xavier not only has one of the better frontcourts in the nation, but it also has a stockpile of guards and wings with length and athleticism. Mack’s 1-3-1 zone has been incredibly disruptive at times this season, particularly in limiting penetration by the opponent. Given all this, it’s hard to decipher the exact problem for the X-men, but they would be wise to find a way to stop this trend. It will be notable if the poor defending continues down the stretch, as this team is faced with a brutal late February schedule. The Musketeers have been a complete team on both ends of the floor for most of this season and have a legitimate chance to make a deep NCAA Tournament run. It would be a shame if porous interior defense derails this dream season. Read the rest of this entry »

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Otskey’s Big East Observations: 01.15.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 15th, 2016

Early conference results can sometimes be deceiving. While the Big East is one of only two major conferences with a true round-robin format, the start to conference play for Butler and Georgetown has been quite different. These teams currently sit at 1-3 and 4-1, respectively, even though the Bulldogs are widely regarded to be the better team. While Georgetown was handed a soft opening stretch to conference play, one that included two games with DePaul, one with St. John’s and a home tilt against Marquette, Butler has had to play the likes of Xavier, Providence and Villanova right off the bat. Everything will even out eventually, but sometimes a tough start to league play can take away momentum created in the non-conference, something Butler (11-1 non-conference record) did quite well. But should there be concern now that the Bulldogs are heading in the wrong direction? Absolutely. Chris Holtmann’s team ranks a dismal No. 157 in adjusted defensive efficiency for the season and dead last in the 10-team Big East when considering conference games only. Butler has struggled all season with adjusting to life without Kameron Woods, who was a dominant rebounder last season. The Bulldogs are undersized in the frontcourt and need to figure out a way to rebound and defend if they are going to bounce back from a rough start to league play.

Chris Holtmann and Butler were dealt no favors by the Big East schedule makers. (AP)

Chris Holtmann and Butler were dealt no favors by the Big East schedule makers. (AP)

We will find out a lot more about Georgetown in the coming weeks. The Hoyas now begin a stretch of six straight games against KenPom top 50 teams after their soft open to the Big East schedule. Turnovers, rebounding and perimeter defense remain issues for this team, and the loss of Paul White for the rest of this season hurts its depth. Georgetown showed glimpses of strong play in the non-conference, but when you remember the good with the bad — head-scratching losses to some legitimately bad teams — it is difficult to make a confident judgement on the team. One thing that is a safe bet: The Hoyas will go as far as D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera can take them.

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RTC Top 25: Week Seven Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on January 4th, 2016

The end of 2015 and beginning of 2016 in college basketball was marked by some important developments in the Big East. On New Year’s Eve, #7 Villanova showed it is still the top dog in the conference with a dominant 95-64 win over previously unbeaten #9 Xavier. Later that day, #11 Providence proved it was for real with an eye-opening 81-73 triumph at #20 Butler. What made that Friars’ victory so impressive was that they rebounded from an 11-point halftime deficit to outscore the Bulldogs by 19 points in the game’s second stanza. When Saturday came around, Xavier displayed no ill effects from its previous shellacking, as the Musketeers handed Butler its second Big East defeat in a comfortable 88-69 win. It is only just one week into the conference season, but statements have already been made. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

W7 RTC25

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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Risen From the Dead: The Big East is Back!

Posted by Shane McNichol on December 30th, 2015

As we sit on the precipice of celebrating the New Year, two conferences have landed four teams in the top 16 of the AP Poll. One is, of course, the ACC, monstrous in both size and basketball dominance. A league that stretches from Miami to South Bend to Boston, with a whopping 15 members located in that absurd triangle. The other is the Big East. Yes, that Big East. The star of ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary “Requiem for the Big East”. The conference with a Wikipedia page declaring that it ended three years ago. The same Big East who inspired headlines like “The Big East is dead (or at least dying). Long live the Big East” and “How the Big East died and was dead all along.” A Google search of “Big East is dead” fetches over 68 million results. SIXTY-EIGHT MILLION!

Jay Wright's crew leads an incredibly deep Big East conference this season. (Getty)

Jay Wright’s crew leads an incredibly deep Big East conference this season. (Getty)

And yet, the current iteration would certainly beg to differ. After the “Catholic Seven” refused to let their conference go by the wayside, they’ve done more than exist or tread water. Last season, six Big East clubs reached the Big Dance. That’s more than football powers like the SEC and the Pac-12 and just as many as the giant ACC. Having a swath of teams reach the tournament says one thing about a conference. Having four teams reach the turn of the calendar highly ranked with non-delusional plans of reaching the Final Four says something more. Whether through a stroke of luck or genius, the Big East schedule opens Thursday with two nationally televised games pitting these four teams against one another. #16 Villanova hosts #6 Xavier at noon, followed by #10 Providence traveling to play at #9 Butler. Butler then turns right around and heads to Xavier on Saturday.

Consider this long holiday weekend the first foray into what is sure to be a season long battle for the conference crown between four teams all capable of deep runs in March.

Villanova

Villanova, the most familiar with tournament success among the group of four, came into the season with heavy expectations. Ryan Arcidiancono returned for his senior season, along with experienced talent in Josh Hart, Daniel Ochefu, and Phil Booth. Big name freshman recruit Jaylen Brunson joined the fold, expected to make all of his now teammates lives much easier. Thus far they’ve nearly lived up to the hype, save for losses to two highly ranked foes, Oklahoma (on a neutral court) and Virginia (on the road). The Cats’ biggest issue has been a frigid start from long range, shooting merely 31 percent on the year. The cold start has been led by Booth (49% last year) shooting 27 percent and Kris Jenkins (37% in the two prior years) firing an ugly 29 percent on nearly seven attempts per game. In Jay Wright’s dribble-drive offense, led by playmaking by Arcidiacono and Brunson, shooting on the perimeter will not only increase scoring, but will open space for slashers or Ochefu operating on the post. Read the rest of this entry »

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