Big East Season Superlatives

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 10th, 2015

The Big East had an outstanding season, finishing the regular season ranked as the second-best conference in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings as well as the RPI. Let’s take a look at some of the best players and teams from a league that will likely send six teams to the Big Dance on Sunday.

Player of the Year

Kris Dunn, So, Providence (15.5 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 7.4 APG, 2.8 SPG) – This award could have easily gone to Villanova’s Darrun Hilliard or Dunn’s Providence teammate LaDontae Henton, but the Friars’ sophomore point guard has dazzled us all year long on one of the Big East’s top teams. Originally a part of Providence’s 2012 recruiting class, Dunn had been beset by injuries up until this season. Finally healthy, he played in all but one regular season game and led the country in assist rate at 49 percent. Also an outstanding defender, Dunn ranks fifth nationally in steal percentage. His best performance of the year came in a home win over DePaul on January 29 when he posted a triple-double (27 points, 13 rebounds, 11 assists) — it was the first triple-double ever posted by a Providence player in a Big East conference game.

It wasn't an easy choice, but Kris Dunn earns the nod as RTC's Big East POY. (USA TODAY Sports)

It wasn’t an easy choice, but Kris Dunn earns the nod as RTC’s Big East POY. (USA TODAY Sports)

All-Conference

First Team

  • Kris Dunn, So, Providence (15.5 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 7.4 APG, 2.8 SPG) – Our RTC Big East Player of the Year.
  • Darrun Hilliard, Sr, Villanova (14.2 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.8 SPG) – As is the case with all of his Villanova teammates, the statistics don’t tell the entire story. The best player on the best team in this league.
  • LaDontae Henton, Sr, Providence (20.1 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 1.4 SPG) – Joined Ryan Gomes as the only other Providence player to score at least 2,000 points and grab at least 1,000 rebounds over his career.
  • D’Angelo Harrison, Sr, St. John’s (17.8 PPG, 5.5 RPG) – The Red Storm’s leading scorer led an experienced team to what is likely to be an NCAA Tournament bid.
  • Sir’Dominic Pointer, Sr, St. John’s (13.7 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 2.0 SPG, 2.5 BPG) – Perhaps the best defender in the conference, Pointer was all over the floor in an impressive senior season.

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Battered and Bruised, D’Angelo Harrison Makes a Case for Big East POY

Posted by Justin Kundrat on February 23rd, 2015

Senior guard D’Angelo Harrison stepped off the floor of Carnesecca Arena for the last time in his career on Saturday, and a long round of applause followed by chants of “D-Lo” ensued. It would be hard for St. John’s fans to fail to appreciate everything Harrison, along with fellow seniors Sir’Dominic Pointer, Phil Greene IV and Jamal Branch, have brought to this program in spite of countless transfers, early departures and other off-court issues. Although this season too has had its ups and downs, St. John’s, at 18-9 overall and 7-7 in Big East play, is knocking at the door of the NCAA Tournament. Harrison claims he wants nothing more than to get there for the first time in his four years on campus, and he has assured Red Storm fans that it will occur. A player of his magnitude — currently averaging 18.3 PPG and sitting at third all-time in St. John’s scoring history behind only Chris Mullin and Malik Sealy — would be hard pressed to let that claim fall short.

D'Angelo Harrison (USA Today Images)

D’Angelo Harrison Has His Eyes on the NCAA Tournament (USA Today Images)

Earlier this month, Harrison broke the 2,000-point mark without even knowing it. “I didn’t know until Phil and Dom told me when I got into the locker room. I don’t like to know stuff like that. I like looking at stuff like that after the season.” He is the quintessential team leader, the face of the franchise, and perhaps the strongest candidate league-wide for the Big East Player of the Year award. The race for the Big East’s top honor has been a hotly contested one this season. Georgetown junior D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera appeared likely to run away with it in the early going. When his shooting suffered, the consensus soon shifted to Seton Hall’s Sterling Gibbs, whom the Pirates had rallied around in their surprising march to the Top 25. Following his team’s dramatic collapse and ensuing elbow incident, the front-runner with two weeks left in conference play is not so clear. Some are pointing to either of Providence’s Kris Dunn or LaDontae Henton, both of whom have shared the leadership responsibilities for the Friars’ 19-8 season. Others believe that one of Villanova’s stars — perhaps Darrun Hilliard or Daniel Ochefu — should get the nod if the Wildcats run away with the league title. But if the Red Storm can make a push down the stretch, it could be Harrison who has the best case of any.

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A Column of Enchantment: The Mystery of Steve Lavin’s Future

Posted by Joseph Nardone on February 5th, 2015

(Ed. Note: quotes may or may not be verbatim. Or accurate.) 

It is not another typical day at the St. John’s campus. Something seems different. Maybe it is the dark clouds that hover in the air, or the students walking around, seemingly faceless and unhappy. Possibly it is the basketball team that is strutting around aimlessly, daydreaming about the things that could have been. Nevertheless, something is strange at 8000 Utopia Parkway, Jamaica, NY. Some will say it shouldn’t be that way. St. John’s is a fine school. It enrolls nearly 21,000 kids despite only accepting about half of the people who apply to attend such a fine university. Still, there’s whispers of a big change coming. Not from an academic standpoint, though. A possible looming change could be what is making everyone seem, if not on edge, a bit too sad.

—————–

A man named Steve Lavin is the current face of St. John’s. Steve typically wears fine suits with a pair of sneakers because he treasures comfort as much as he does style. Slicked back hair, slightly pudgy but certainly not fat, Steve has been helping mold young minds at the program for nearly five years. He came to St. John’s after years as a TV personality and before that as a molder of young minds over on the West Coast. Steve is a very likable fellow. He has always had a reputation of getting the best of the best to enroll at whatever school he was affiliated with at that particular moment, but things haven’t quite worked out that way since joining the big New York university. Sure, Steve has shown some glimpses of brilliance that made the people within the university fall in love with him in the first place, yet that era of him being all that and a bag of recruiting potato chips has seemingly passed.

St. Johns coach Steve Lavin

Steve Lavin and Chris Monasch in Happy Times (NY Post)

He isn’t a broken man, though. No one keeps a good guy like Steve down. Few people have been through as much as he on a personal level over the last few years. Still, St. John’s brought him in to do a specific job and he hasn’t lived up to his end of the bargain. It wasn’t always that way. When Steve first took over the basketball program he had a slew of kids brought in by another man, Norm Roberts. Norm and Steve could not have been any different — Steve coming from a high-profile program and gig while Norm coming from the land of lesser known places of higher education. However, where Norm failed to bring St. John’s, Steve did in his very first year with the program. All in all, because of Steve’s immediate success. many thought their basketball program was on the way back up.

——————–

There’s a note on Steve’s desk this morning. It reads: “Steve, we need to talk. Sincerely, Chris Monasch.” Chris is the boss. The head honcho of all things related to sports at St. John’s. Often mentioned as a kind man, who by all accounts really likes Steve and wants him to succeed if for no other reason than Steve being a good person, Chris has been under a different kind of pressure than the head basketball coach. People are starting to implore Chris, through newspapers, new media and social media, to look at the future of the St. John’s basketball program through a different lens. It is that pressure from the outside which has resulted in such a note landing on Steve’s desk.

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Big East Weekend Wrap: Vol. IX

Posted by Justin Kundrat on January 27th, 2015

The Big East Weekend Wrap covers news and notes from the previous weekend’s games.

The Big East now finds itself squarely in second place of KenPom’s rankings, and the reason lies in the sheer depth of the conference. Eight teams are ranked among the top 100 and seven can be found in the top 50. With DePaul (5-2) pulling its own weight this season and both Creighton and Marquette playing increasingly competitive basketball, there have been only a handful of games in conference play that were blowouts. Of the 37 conference games played to date, 13 (35%) have either gone to overtime or been decided by four points or fewer, ranking the Big East first overall for competitiveness. Given that fact, every weekend’s action features close, down-to-the-wire finishes. Below are three key takeaways from the past weekend of Big East action.

Butler (USA Today Images)

Butler Easily Dispatched the Hall Over the Weekend (USA Today Images)

  1. Seton Hall continues its stumble, posting a 20-point blowout loss to Butler. After racing off to a hot start in Big East play, the Pirates have come crashing down in a manner similar to St. John’s, dropping three straight games and four of their last five. If it wasn’t for a Sterling Gibbs game-winner at Creighton, the Pirates would be on a brutal five-game losing streak following their monumental home court win over Villanova. There are a number of reasons for the Hall’s recent struggles, the biggest being the absence of freshman Isaiah Whitehead, whose playmaking ability is sorely missing when Gibbs struggles to find his shot. Additionally, Jaren Sina and Brandon Mobley have provided inconsistent scoring, putting the onus on the freshmen to step up. Seton Hall was once a top 10 team nationally in three-point shooting, but in conference play they are now a Big East-worst 27.2 percent. The good news is that the season is far from over and Kevin Willard has repeatedly stated that Whitehead is on pace for a full recovery. Read the rest of this entry »
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St. John’s Bent But Not Broken With Duke Looming

Posted by Justin Kundrat on January 22nd, 2015

St. John’s fans expected a regular NCAA Tournament team by now. When head coach Steve Lavin was brought in five years ago to revive the Red Storm program from the woeful Norm Roberts era, there were high expectations based on his recruiting connections and player development abilities. Playing with a senior-laden roster in his first season at the helm, the Red Storm went on to make the NCAA Tournament before bowing out in the first round. Since then, however, Lavin’s teams have fallen well short, either striking out completely or wavering on the bubble (50-48 from 2012-14). Despite having a talented core of players ranging from the Big East’s second-leading scorer, D’Angelo Harrison (20.0 PPG), to the nation’s third-leading shot blocker, Chris Obekpa (3.5 BPG), depth, largely driven by recruiting misses, has been a problem. Highly-acclaimed recruits Adonis DeLaRosa and Keith Thomas, for example, have yet to see playing time after failing to meet academic standards, and Rysheed Jordan, the third-ranked point guard of his class, has not meshed well into the system, frequently cited for attitude problems both on and off the court. Needless to say, the fans are getting restless, and understandably so. After starting this season off strong and making its way back into the Top 25 (at one point as high as #15), St. John’s has fallen off in dramatic fashion. An 11-1 team with good wins over Minnesota and at Syracuse came into Wednesday night’s game versus Marquette having dropped four of its last five games and looking to get back on track.

Steve Lavin (USA Today Images)

Steve Lavin Needs to Turn Things Around Quickly (USA Today Images)

For such an important game, it was remarkably sluggish. Harrison shot a dismal 3-of-18 from the field; Phil Greene and Rysheed Jordan struggled to navigate Marquette’s zone defenses; and Obekpa, while strong on the shot-blocking front, contributed little in the way of scoring. Yet the Red Storm’s defense was sufficient and vital in keeping the team afloat, grabbing 10 steals and holding Marquette to 33.9 percent shooting on the evening. The bottom line is that it was a necessary win for Steve Lavin’s squad, although an unconvincing one. “When you have a stretch where you feel snake-bitten, it’s good to have a win and get some momentum,” he said after the game. With Harrison unable to find the basket, concerns have arisen and postseason expectations have warped. “It’s clear his injury is bothering him… it’s rare for him to have back-to-back games like that,” Lavin added. A usually reliable scoring threat, there is no question Harrison will eventually find his rhythm. But the when needs to be now, as the team gears up for a huge game against Duke on Sunday. One game at a time should be this group’s mantra with its biggest test of the season just a few days away. “The Duke game presents a big opportunity for us on our home court against a very talented team. We’ve got a couple of days to prepare here and get ready. To beat Duke it’s going to be a collective effort,” Lavin said.

For a St. John’s team that appears wobbly and shaken, a midseason non-conference tilt against Duke offers the greatest of opportunities to refocus some of the negative energy that has once again started to creep into this program’s psyche.

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Big East Weekend Wrap: Vol. VII

Posted by Justin Kundrat on January 13th, 2015

The Big East Weekend Wrap covers news and notes from the previous weekend’s games.

The Big East marched along last week, continuing its ascent up the rankings of the power conferences. It reached the #1 ranking for overall conference RPI for a bit before bowing to the Big 12 (only slightly), and the conference now stands at second overall with a sizable gap between itself and the rest. Even more impressively, the Big East has the highest average RPI among its conference members thanks to DePaul’s 3-0 start. As of this writing, the league lists nine of its 10 members among the top 100. Below is a list of four key takeaways from the last weekend’s action.

LaDontae Henton

LaDontae Henton’s Team Has a Legitimate Case to Rank Among the League’s Top Three Teams

Providence makes its push for the top of the standings. As I wrote in an earlier article, Providence has a legitimate case as a top three team in the Big East even though the Friars had largely fallen off the radar in non-conference play. They made a strong push last week, picking up a road win at Butler and then defeating Georgetown in overtime. Neither result was necessarily pretty — the Friars won both by a combined seven points — but the pair of wins catapulted Providence to the top of the league standings with a 3-1 record. Kris Dunn and LaDontae Henton continue to carry the load on the offensive end, with Dunn doing a much better job of staying out of foul trouble and remaining on the floor. The duo lead the conference in assists and points per game, respectively.

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Big East Weekend Wrap: Vol. VI

Posted by Justin Kundrat on January 6th, 2015

The Big East Weekend Wrap covers news and notes from the previous weekend’s games.

The opening week of Big East play featured some crazy results: the home teams went 9-1; the favored teams went 5-5; every ranked team lost at least once; and DePaul is 2-0. If nothing else, these results show the level of parity in the Big East this season. Talent aside, teams succeeded in defending their home floor as the only two unbeaten teams in conference play are the ones that have yet to play on the road. Below are five key takeaways from the Big East’s opening weekend:

  1. Seton Hall has been nothing short of impressive. Not only did the Pirates win two conference games without Isaiah Whitehead, but they did so against what was believed to be the league’s top two teams. After trouncing St. John’s behind 10-of-23 shooting from three, Kevin Willard’s group took it to Villanova, jumping out to an early 17-3 lead before relinquishing it all and then ultimately winning in overtime. It goes without saying that junior guard Sterling Gibbs, who led the team with a combined 45 points, has made his way into all-Big East first team discussions. Stripped of his backcourt mate and second leading scorer, Gibbs took the scoring and passing duties into his own hands, easily creating his own shot off the dribble and putting teammates in scoring situations. Alongside Gibbs, three freshmen — Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguz and Angel Delgado – stepped up at different times to propel the Pirates.

    Sterling Gibbs has played his way into Big East first-team discussions. (Getty)

    Sterling Gibbs has played his way into Big East first-team discussions. (Getty)

  2. DePaul has done its best to counter every prediction about a last place finish. Following a string of six straight brutal losses — including defeats to the likes of Ohio and Loyola Marymount —  DePaul appeared to be right on track for its annual January plunge into the Big East abyss. Yet this time, Billy Garrett Jr. decided he’d rather not. In front of their usual half empty arena, the Blue Demons dashed the hopes of both Marquette and Xavier, handing three-point losses to both. By slowing each game down to a crawl (64 possessions each), it didn’t matter that Oliver Purnell’s team is playing defense that ranks among the worst 50 teams in the country or that both of their opponents ranked in the top 40 in two-point field goal percentage. DePaul won by forcing turnovers (30 over the two games) and with Garrett breaking out of his shooting slump — the 6’6″ sophomore played under control, shooting 12-of-16 from the field over both games and matching his career high 10 assists against Xavier. Read the rest of this entry »
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Will the Big East Have Six NCAA Teams? A Mid-Season Review

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 31st, 2014

With the arrival of conference play comes a critical juncture for teams looking to separate themselves from the rest of the pack. Those that have overperformed against their preseason expectations — teams like St. John’s and Seton Hall — will seek to establish an early footprint in the increasingly competitive Big East, whereas the likes of Marquette, Xavier and Creighton look to re-emerge after a handful of non-conference woes. Today we will examine the top Big East overperformers and underperformers to this point, followed by an early look at the NCAA Tournament bubble as it relates to each team. But before discussing team performance, my preseason Big East rankings were as follows:

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

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

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

Biggest Overperformers

  • St. John’s (11-1) has made a serious case as the second best team in the Big East. Sporting a defense that ranks fourth nationally in defensive efficiency and third in block percentage, the Red Storm have received a great deal of attention following wins at Syracuse and versus Minnesota. Sure, they were fourth in my preseason rankings, but the envisioned gap between the Johnnies and Xavier/Georgetown was large and has proven so far to be completely off base. Ranked #15 in the latest AP Poll, Steve Lavin has built a team featuring an incredibly talented group of quick, athletic guards with senior D’Angelo Harrison (19.0 PPG) shouldering the offensive load while do-it-all forward Sir’Dominic Pointer and shot-blocker Chris Obekpa wreak defensive havoc. At this point, St. John’s has looked superior to every other Big East team outside of Villanova, and although its inconsistent outside shooting (266th nationally) and offensive execution in the half-court leave much to be desired, the Red Storm have been the single biggest conference surprise this season.

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Defense Provides St. John’s With an Identity

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 20th, 2014

For the Red Storm, it was never a question of talent. D’Angelo Harrison and Rysheed Jordan were All-Big East team nominees and Chris Obekpa has been one of the most intimidating shot blockers in the country. But despite being picked to finish third in the Big East this season, there was a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the team chemistry and the collective focus on the defensive end of the floor heading into the season. It was a problem that plagued talented teams of the past, and without a leader, it would continue to do so.

St. John's Defense (USA Today Images)

St. John’s Defense Gives the Red Storm an Identity (USA Today Images)

D’Angelo Harrison changed that. With 5:29 remaining in the game, the senior motioned his teammates into a huddle, drawing them away from an increasingly confrontational game against St. Mary’s. Frequently cited for attitude problems in the past, it showed signs of the team’s long-awaited maturation; a coming of age, displayed in just a matter of moments. From there, the Red Storm rallied, together as a team, to capture another home court win. However, that’s not to say the win came easily. In the first half, the Johnnies looked completely out of rhythm, reverting to their old, all too familiar “take ‘em” strategy. Like a bad habit, the problem for is one that becomes self-reinforcing over time: shoot first, think second. When it works, the perimeter tandem of Harrison, Jordan, and Phil Greene looks unstoppable, especially when Obekpa and Sir’Dominic Pointer are on the floor to grab offensive rebounds. But when it doesn’t? The team looks desperate and confused.

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One on One: A Big East Preview with Jon Rothstein

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

RTC interviews one on one

Rush the Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you throughout the preseason with previews of each of the major conferences.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview with the Big East, RTC correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the pleasure of speaking with a Big East expert in CBS Sports Network College Basketball Insider Jon Rothstein (@jonrothstein)

Rush the Court: Villanova enters the season as the pretty clear favorite to win the league. The Wildcats return four starters from a team that went 29-5 last season. What are some reasonable expectations for Jay Wright’s squad this season?

Expectations are high for Jay Wright and Company. (Getty)

Expectations are High for Jay Wright’s Villanova Team (Getty)

Jon Rothstein: I think reasonable expectations are to win the Big East title, have a chance at winning the Big East Tournament title, and get another high seed in the NCAA Tournament. Villanova was terrific last year in close game situations. I think there is a real possibility that Villanova could be a better team this year than it was last year, but have a worse record because its non-conference schedule is that much more difficult. What makes Villanova so good this year is that it does not lose 50/50 balls. Every ball that is being contested seems to go Villanova’s way almost every time. A big reason for that is Josh Hart. Hart is a guy who can go on a tear for Villanova this year, as he will step into a more enhanced role with the departure of James Bell. I think right now if there is one person who epitomizes Villanova’s culture and brand, it is Josh Hart.

RTC: Georgetown had a below average season last year [just 18-15 overall and 8-10 in conference]. There are no two ways around that. Does John Thompson III’s team have enough firepower to ensure a more successful campaign this season?

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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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St. John’s Showing Real Signs of Improvement

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 10th, 2014

It was not even a month ago, 24 days to be exact, that St. John’s was sitting at the very bottom of the Big East at 0-5 in league play along with Butler. At 9-8 overall and winless in the conference, panic was starting to set in amongst the fan base and some media folks who thought this year’s St. John’s team could contend for a high conference finish and make the NCAA Tournament. Fast forward to approximately 9:15 pm EST on Sunday night at Madison Square Garden and St. John’s had flipped the script after upsetting Creighton and moving to 15-9 overall and 5-6 in conference play after its sixth win in seven games.

Steve Lavin's Group May be Turning the Corner (AP)

Steve Lavin’s Group May be Turning the Corner (AP)

The Red Storm locked down defensively in the second half, holding National Player of the Year candidate Doug McDermott (25 points, 10-18 FG) without one single shot attempt over the final eight minutes and 41 seconds of the game. “They did a good job of fronting him to make his catches tough,” said McDermott’s father and Creighton head coach Greg McDermott. St. John’s sophomore JaKarr Sampson did most of the heavy lifting for the Red Storm when it came to guarding McDermott, using his length, quickness and athleticism to frustrate the nation’s best player for most of the evening. “My mindset was to focus on defense,” Sampson told reporters after the game. Focus he did and it resulted in McDermott becoming frustrated and a non-factor down the stretch despite a hot start to the game for the Creighton senior. “Their length and their athleticism…it distracts you,” said Doug McDermott. “They did a great job of taking me away.”

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