Big East M5: 03.06.14 Edition

Posted by George Hershey on March 6th, 2014

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  1. Xavier survived a scare on Monday night when Center Matt Stainbrook went down wailing in pain as his knee buckled. Stainbrook will be out tonight against Villanova, but Chris Mack’s team does not have to play again until next Thursday in the Big East Tournament, giving Stainbrook some time to recover. The team is unsure if he will be ready by then, but Stainbrook is optimistic saying, “I’m feeling a ton better, even small strides from yesterday to today. I’m pedaling the bike saying, ‘There’s no pain today.’” Xavier will probably have trouble without their top interior player and will definitely need him in the NCAA Tournament if they want to advance past their first game. The Musketeers seem to be a lock at this point, giving them some breathing room, and Stainbrook’s injury will allow freshman Jalen Reynolds to slide into his starting spot after playing very well in the past two weeks.
  2. Creighton and Isaiah Zierden were not as lucky as the freshman is out indefinitely. The school sent out a statement saying, “X-rays done today showed no fractures or bone chips in Isaiah’s right knee, but he did suffer a medial collateral ligament injury at the time of his patellar dislocation during Saturday’s game at Xavier. He will undergo an MRI on Monday in Washington, D.C. that will determine if any other possible injuries were suffered and help determine whether or not surgery is needed. He is out indefinitely.” Zierden had started to see more consistent minutes recently and was contributing outside shooting as well as giving a ton of effort defensively. There is still a chance he can come back which would strengthen Greg McDermott’s bench with little rest between tournament games.
  3. Coming into the season, everyone who had seen Doug McDermott play knew he was a rare talent. Even though he had tremendous success up to that point, there were still questions about whether he could continue to put up big numbers in a power conference. Doug has far exceeded what most envisioned him doing this season. He passed the legendary Danny Manning to move into ninth all time for points scored in his career and he has the Bluejays positioned for a run in the NCAA Tournament. McDermott is still humble and taking everything as it comes, telling the Associated Press, “When college is over, I’ll definitely realize how special it was. I’m just living in the moment right now. If I were the national player of the year, that would be really cool, something that has never been in my wildest dreams. Everything is a bonus from here on out.” It is great to see a star not making everything about himself and enjoying his time in college.
  4. McDermott is considered the favorite to win the National Player of the Year award, but Jim Donaldson argues that someone else should win Big East Player of the Year. Donaldson says that Providence senior Bryce Cotton is the most valuable player in the league and possibly the nation. Cotton played incredibly on Tuesday night in a double overtime win against Marquette on his senior night, putting up a line of 25/9/7 in 50 minutes. Fans in Omaha strongly disagree, arguing that McDermott is the easy choice, and most would agree. Donaldson may have an argument because of how many minutes Cotton plays compared to McDermott. After playing 50 on Tuesday, his average rose to 40.2 minutes per game, a truly remarkable stat. He has missed three minutes in 17 conference games including four double overtime games. McDermott “only” averages 33 minutes, but it is pretty easy to see he will win every award he is eligible, including Big East POY.
  5. Markel Starks has had quite the career at Georgetown and he capped it off emphatically on Tuesday night. In his final home game, he led the Hoyas to a much-needed upset of Creighton. Starks and company had to fend off a comeback from the Bluejays after leading by as much as 16, taking each punch and throwing enough back to hold on. Starks finished with 17 points and a career-high 11 assists, making a tough step back jumper to help put Creighton away. The win helped propel the Hoyas NCAA Tournament chances after having little chance. A trip to Philadelphia to play Villanova will give them a big chance to solidify their resume before heading to New York for the Big East Tournament.
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Markel Starks Leaves Senior Night Fighting, As Always

Posted by Alex Moscoso on March 5th, 2014

On Tuesday night in Washington DC, Markel Starks sat in the press conference room inside the Verizon Center for the final time. In one of the final questions from reporters, Starks was asked if he had mixed feelings about his final home game, specifically coping with the fact that Georgetown has had a disappointing season under his stewardship as the senior leader. His (and John Thompson III’s) response: “there’s still time”. After Georgetown’s surprising 75-63 upset of Creighton, where Starks himself had 17 points and 11 assists, they indeed bought themselves more time. More time to reconcile this season as they now have a puncher’s chance at an NCAA Tournament bid; which would be the appropriate send off for the fiesty senior point guard.

Markel Starks is a major reason the Hoyas have not fallen apart.

Markel Starks is a major reason the Hoyas have not fallen apart.

While Starks, and JTIII, tried to put a positive spin things, the essence of the reporter’s question was true; this is probably not how Starks played out his senior season in his mind. Outside events occurred, that were well out of his control, and took a toll on the Hoyas’ season. First, Greg Whittington, probably the most talented player on the roster, tore his ACL last summer and was dismissed from the team at the end of November. In January, the Hoyas lost their lone scoring option down low, Joshua Smith, for the remainder of the season due to academic issues. Finally, as if they weren’t thin enough already, they also lost the services of Jabril Trawick for a couple of weeks from a broken jaw. So their season suffered, and it was up to the backcourt, Starks and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, to make lemonade and carry the team on their backs.

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Three Up, Three Down in the Big East

Posted by George Hershey on February 4th, 2014

There was plenty of action this past week in the Big East. Here is a look at three of the biggest improvements and three of the biggest regressions from the past week.

Three Up

Oliver Purnell might've found a gem in A. (Chicago Tribune)

Oliver Purnell might’ve found a gem in RJ Curington (Chicago Tribune)

  1. The rise of R.J. Curington – You might be wondering who this is, but Curington is a name that will become well-known around the league over the next three years. The DePaul freshman guard had played 24 total minutes in the entire season, with 12 games where he did not see any time at all. Yet with DePaul’s lineup decimated by suspensions and injuries to its key contributors, head coach Oliver Purnell has turned to Curington to play more minutes. In the last two games he has shown his promise, playing 23 and 30 minutes, respectively, in losses to Seton Hall and Providence. Against Seton Hall he helped keep the game respectable with 15 points and five rebounds, but on Saturday he blossomed, scoring 22 points to lead DePaul on a comeback that came up just short. The freshman was confident and did not back away from the pressure, taking 15 shots and going 3-of-8 from three with a clutch jumper to tie the game late. He also attacked the basket forcefully, getting to the line six times. Curington was not a big-time recruit and he barely played earlier this season, but he appears to be a very good offensive player who will complement fellow freshman Billy Garrett Jr. and Tommy Hamilton IV going forward.
  2. St. John’s getting on a roll – It was only three weeks ago when St. John’s was the laughingstock of the Big East, starting 0-5 including a loss to DePaul. Since then the Red Storm have gone 4-1, with the only loss coming on the road to Creighton, which needed a deep Doug McDermott three to win. The defense has hunkered down and they displayed it with a dominant performance over Marquette at Madison Square Garden over the weekend. Marquette could not get any good looks and the Golden Eagles’ frustration was evident all night. Steve Lavin’s offense has also played much better, showing a chemistry and cohesion that was not there before. Earlier in the season, the team was settling for too many contested jump shots, but they have begun to move the ball around better. D’Angelo Harrison hit six threes Saturday, and most of those were wide open because of better spacing and ball movement. This team’s talent has been well-publicized and criticized for its play thus far, but they have finally begun to fulfill the potential and just a few more wins will get them onto the bubble. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East M5: 02.03.14 Edition

Posted by George Hershey on February 3rd, 2014

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  1. Butler forward Andrew Chrabascz has gone from being a lightly-used freshman to a starter in his freshman year at Butler. Indy Star‘s Zak Keefer wrote an interesting article about Chrabascz’s relationship with Chris Herren. Herren is well known for his rise from Portsmouth to Boston College and Fresno State, and eventually being drafted by the Boston Celtics. Herren had trouble with drugs and eventually it caught up with him as his basketball career ended badly. After getting his life together he began to coach in the area and he became a mentor to Chrabascz as he began to get offers from prep schools and colleges. Currently, Chrabascz is earning the trust of his coach and teammates as he sees his role grow, while Herren has turned his life around completely, as he gives speeches and mentors kids around the nation. Chrabascz’s energy and hustle is evident every minute of the game as he is all constantly working. He has a bright future ahead as he grows his game alongside several other underclassmen.
  2. As DePaul struggles through another season, Big East Coast Bias asks if a new arena can save DePaul basketball. A team that was once well respected and made the 1979 Final Four, has failed earn a bid to the big dance since 2004. The construction of a new arena has been discussed at length recently and Mayor Rahm Emanuel seems to be behind the arena. As BECB notes, a new arena could triple student attendance and help bring in some top recruits. Although the team has struggled, their are some bright spots on the team. Chicago natives Billy Garrett Jr. and Tommy Hamilton IV as well as R.J. Curington have emerged as solid contributors this year and will be the rocks that the team builds off of going forward. They were one of Cliff Alexander’s final choices and if they can go out and get one or two of Chicago’s best players, the momentum should start to swing in DePaul’s favor.
  3. While Doug McDermott and Ethan Wragge get the spotlight for Creighton, Chris Novak of Big East Coast Bias points out that their future in the frontcourt is bright. Jahenns Manigat is graduating this year, so several less experienced players will have to take over next season. Luckily those players are Devin Brooks, Austin Chatman, and Isaiah Zierden. All three have contributed and have shown their great potential, albeit it sporadically. Chatman is averaging a stat stuffing 7.2 points, 4 rebounds, and 4.2 assists each game. He does not jump out when you watch games, but he is a key cog and his experience will help him next season. Brooks and Zierden have been up and down, with some greats performances mixed with average ones. Both have scored the ball at a high level at times and Brooks can rebound and pass well. Many may worry how the Bluejays will survive without McDermott, but their are pieces there that forecast a bright future.
  4. After Marquette’s lifeless loss at the hands of St. John’s at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, Buzz Williams talked about the tough turn around playing 40 hours after beating Providence 900 miles away. Anonymous Eagle takes a look at what Buzz Williams called “competitive inequities in the schedule.” It is never easy to play with only one day off between games, especially when your opponent had three days to rest, but Fox Sports 1 is paying the league a huge amount to broadcast the games, and the network needs to fill its spots. While it is more difficult to win in those situations, it is what teams face every year in the NCAA Tournament, and Williams knows that well, making the Sweet Sixteen the past three seasons. He will have to get his team ready for the beginning of March when they play two games on the road in three days, potentially with a team fighting for a spot on the bubble.
  5. Georgetown hopefully turned their season around on Saturday at Madison Square Garden with their win over Michigan State. After losing five straight with Joshua Smith ineligible, it looked like the Hoyas were headed to a losing season, but this win will give the team confidence and hopefully a light bulb went off for the players. While D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and Markel Starks have done the heavy lifting offensively, Nate Lubick was a key component in the win. Ben Standig takes a look at Lubick’s game on Saturday after he rarely looked to score most of the season. Lubick is a smart player and rebounds and defends well, but he was a liability on offense as he would never shoot outside of five feet from the basket. He only scored eight points, but he got to the line four times, showing increased aggression. The guards cannot do all the scoring, so Lubick’s contributions will help them find better shots and not have to make every play, leading to a more balanced and better team.
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Three Up, Three Down in the Big East

Posted by George Hershey on January 27th, 2014

Every Big East team played on Saturday. Some had impressive outing, while others fell flat and disappointed. Here we highlight some of the positives and negatives from the weekend’s action with Three Up, Three Down.

Three Up

The Providence Role Players, Including Denton, Are Stepping Up

The Providence Role Players, Including Denton, Are Stepping Up

  1. Providence’s Supporting Cast. Coming into the season the emphasis was placed on senior scoring machine Bryce Cotton. In the non-conference slate, the team fared well but started with a poor 0-2 mark in conference play with a bad home loss to Seton Hall and a blowout defeat to Villanova. In those early losses, players like LaDontae Henton, Kadeem Batts, Tyler Harris and Josh Fortune had rough performances. They turned the ball over too much — 15 from the starters vs. Villanova — played poor defense, and failed to make the key plays that win games. More recently, Providence has been on a roll and these players are the primary reason for the difference. In the Friars’ win on Saturday against Xavier, four starters had at least 10 points with Henton dropping 23, Harris and Batts scoring 12 each, and Fortune hitting a key three as he was fouled to stymie a Xavier run. Carson Desrosiers was also very impressive on the defensive end, with six blocks against the Musketeers. Providence has now won five in a row to move to 5-2 in league play, good for third place in the conference standings. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking The Panic Meter: Which Teams Should Really Worry About Their January Swoons?

Posted by Bennet Hayes on January 24th, 2014

As Brian Otskey noted earlier this week, January losing streaks have caused a number of once-top teams to tumble down, and in some cases, out of the polls. The rigors of conference play have deflowered those gaudy late December records, prompting a number of far-sooner-than-expected reality checks. Past history will tell you that some of these January slumps will be reduced to mere blips on the radar by March (e.g., the defending champion Louisville Cardinals lost three in a row in the first month of 2013), while others are indeed the beginning of a fade into college hoops oblivion. Wondering about future prospects for fading powers? Here’s a look at where the panic meter should be (10=High Panic, 1=Nothing to worry about) for five of college basketball’s most downward-trending squads.

Georgetown: Panic Meter=10

John Thompson III, Markel Starks And Georgetown Suddenly Have Their Backs Against The Wall

John Thompson III, Markel Starks And Georgetown Suddenly Have Their Backs Against The Wall

With Jabril Trawick not expected back anytime soon (broken jaw), and Josh Smith out indefinitely due to academics (don’t forget that Greg Whittington’s “indefinite” academic suspension a year ago eventually caused him to miss the Hoyas’ final 19 contests), Georgetown is clearly undermanned right now. D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera has been brilliant, and Markel Starks intermittently so, but finding offensive contributions from players who aren’t 6’2” guards has proven impossible since Smith‘s suspension began. With the 10-day forecast looking especially gloomy — top-15 teams Creighton, Villanova and Michigan State are up next for JT3’s club – Georgetown’s season could be very close to finished by the time Super Bowl Sunday arrives. Even if the Hoyas can get Smith and Trawick back by early February, a challenging closing stretch awaits: Six of Georgetown’s final seven opponents are currently ranked in KenPom’s top 75. It’s probably not the way Georgetown wanted to find March peace, but Hoyas’ fans may finally avoid their annual NCAA Tournament heartbreak.

Wisconsin: Panic Meter= 1

If you play basketball in the Big Ten, you are going to lose games. The league is simply too strong top-to-bottom to cruise the entire winter without resistance. Yes, Michigan and Michigan State – losses are coming for you as well (beginning for one of the two on Saturday). In any case, Wisconsin should be just fine. Aside from some struggles from three-point range (likely temporary), the uber-efficient Badgers’ offense has continued to roll, even through their current three-game losing streak. The defense could stand to improve marginally (55th nationally in defensive efficiency), but there is just too much offensive firepower in Madison for Bucky’s train to go too far off the tracks.

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Georgetown in Bad Shape Without Joshua Smith

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on January 22nd, 2014

Back in December, I wrote how Joshua Smith’s inability to play full starter minutes is an opportunity cost to Georgetown. Now a month later, John Thompson III and the rest of his staff are just wishing they could get those partial minutes back from their big man. The junior center has missed the last five games due to academic issues, which has — in addition to the indefinite loss of Jabril Trawick (broken jaw) — caused the Hoyas to go 1-4 in Big East play including Monday night’s 80-72 overtime loss to Marquette. Without Smith available, Markel Starks and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera are the only viable scoring options for the Hoyas and teams have adjusted by clamping down on both players. To their credit, each has stepped up his efforts by scoring more than half of the team’s points in nearly full-time minutes during this five-game stretch. But it is this over-reliance that has caused Georgetown to give up leads at the end of games and why the Hoyas find themselves in their current troublesome state.

Markel Starks scores a career-high 28 points in a losing effort to Marquette. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Markel Starks scored a career-high 28 points in a losing effort to Marquette. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

First, let’s look at the impact Smith’s absence has had on the Hoyas. Basketball numbers man Dan Hanner has an article at realgm.com where he splits the advanced metrics of team performance for Georgetown both with and without Smith. (note: these numbers do not take into account Georgetown’s game against Marquette). The numbers are staggering. The team’s Pythagorean Winning Percentage went from 0.899 with Smith to 0.435 without him — in other words, given a middle-of-the-road schedule, the Hoyas with Smith in the lineup would win around 90 percent of their games, while the same schedule played without Smith would win only 44 percent of their games. In my previous post examining Smith’s impact, I believed his contribution was more significant on offense rather than defense. What Hanner’s analysis shows is that the Hoyas have felt the sting of his loss on both ends of the court. Without him, the offense scores 11.4 fewer points per 100 possessions and the defense allows 10.5 more points per 100 possessions. As a result, the Hoyas face a structural deficit where they are allowing 2.3 points per 100 possessions more than they are scoring. Before Smith’s benching, this difference was an offensive advantage of 19.6 points per 100 possessions (a 21.9-point swing). What Hanner’s analysis shows is that the loss of Smith has had a much bigger impact on the outcomes of the Hoyas than I previously thought it would.

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Big East M5: 01.22.14 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on January 22nd, 2014

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  1. So Villanova had a rough night on Monday… The Wildcats hosted Creighton in a battle for the top of the Big East standings and were immediately blitzed by a record shooting performance from the Bluejays. Creighton knocked down nine straight threes to open the game, led by sharpshooter Ethan Wragge, who finished the game a blistering 9-of-14 from deep himself. Villanova has had a stellar season thus far and it would be easy to chalk up the loss as “one of those nights,” but Jay Wright isn’t having any of that: “I could say that but I don’t believe it. I do know we can learn from what happened, but we had our guys’ attention before. It hurts. The night you go through it hurts, but then you come back from it. The season is a journey.”
  2. St. John’s has struggled immensely this season, and Rumble in the Garden writer Norman aka Pico took a long look at the team’s defensive failings, as well as Steve Lavin’s inability to find consistent, productive rotations as the key contributors to the poor start. Last season, the Red Storm’s defense surrendered 0.98 points per possession through the Big East regular season and the NIT. This year, that number is all the way up to 1.11 PPP in Big East play, greatly outpacing St. John’s o.99 mark on offense. Norman argues that this ineffectiveness has led to a lot of lineup shuffling, and now the team is halfway through the season still needing to find an identity. The Johnnies are running out of time to find something that works, with three games scheduled over the next six days including a January 28 game with Creighton.
  3. Marquette has struggled to score all season, but in Monday’s win over Georgetown the Golden Eagles found two unexpected weapons in freshman guard John Dawson and sophomore forward Steve Taylor Jr on their bench. The two players, who came into the game averaging just over a combined 20 minutes per game, played 54 productive minutes in the overtime victory. Dawson scored 12 points and dished out four assists, while Taylor went for 14 points and eight rebounds. The two little-used players were the second and third leading scorers for a squad that desperately needed a boost in that department. Given the team’s necessity and their good outings, it will be interesting to see how Buzz Williams handles their playing time going forward.
  4. Georgetown has been in a similar, if not worse, scoring drought of late. Outside of star Hoya guards D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and Markel Starks, there are few other scoring threats on the roster, and that fact sunk John Thompson III’s squad against the Golden Eagles Monday. CSN Washington‘s Ben Standick breaks down the gory details: “The starting frontcourt of Mikael Hopkins, Nate Lubick and Reggie Cameron shot 3-of-17 from the field. Georgetown’s bench was outscored 34-8.” The Hoyas, now at 3-4 in conference play, are in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years if things don’t improve on the offensive end.
  5. We touched on Ethan Wragge‘s prolific shooting night above, and now Creighton is turning his unconscious outing into a marketable moment. Playing off of Wragge’s scruffy look and epic beard, the school is hosting “Lumberjack Night” for the February 7 showdown with DePaul. Creighton wants its fans to don flannel shirts to commemorate the occasion, and wearing Wragge-style-beards is encouraged. #Wraggebombs for everyone!
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Big East M5: 01.20.14 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on January 20th, 2014

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  1. Georgetown was once considered a favorite in the Big East, but these days they are just trying to hang on to their NCAA Tournament hopes. The Hoyas have dropped  two straight — 80-67 to Xavier and 67-57 to Seton Hall — and are really struggling to score. Long offensive droughts have doomed the Hoyas in the last two games, and outside of starting guards D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and Markel Starks, there aren’t many options available. Josh Smith and Jabril Trawick have been out for the last few games each, and Mikael Hopkins has been held to two points in three of his last five games. With Marquette on the schedule tonight, the Washington D.C. scorekeeper may not see a lot of action.
  2. Speaking of struggling Big East programs, Butler‘s inaugural Big East campaign has not started the way that Bulldogs’ faithful would have hoped with the team losing its first five Big East games. On Saturday night, however, Butler stopped the bleeding in its fourth overtime contest in six games, pulling out its first Big East win over Marquette, 67-59. Golden Eagles head coach Buzz Williams credits Butler’s culture for the program’s recent success, and says that getting back to “The Butler Way” is a path towards renewed success:

    “Maybe the reason Butler went to back-to-back Final Fours is because of the culture and who was a part of that culture, how they embraced that culture… You can’t jump to a conclusion and say, ‘We’re on Fox Sports every day, we’re sold out every game and yadda-yadda-yadda,’ and get away from how you built it. When you get away from how you built it, that’s when teams typically take a dive. You’ve got to make sure you continue to recruit guys who believe in what coach [Brandon] Miller believes, what Barry Collier is about.”

  3. Bryce Cotton continues to play all-conference caliber basketball for Providence, and his latest victim was Creighton. Cotton scored 23 points and doled out six assists to lead the Friars past the Bluejays on Saturday. Greg McDermott gave Cotton a lot of praise after the guard knocked off his team: “This is by far the lowest possession game we’ve played all year, and Cotton did a great job of controlling the tempo of that game. He’s got the ball in his hands all the time, and it’s difficult to get it out of his hands… He creates a lot of opportunities for his teammates, and he obviously made a lot of big plays tonight.”
  4. St. John’s winless Big East record has to be one of the shockers of the season, and the Red Storm had to be relieved to see Dartmouth pop up on the schedule to break up their conference slate. The Big Green held on in the first half of this colorful match-up, but the stifling Johnnies’ defense led them to a comfortable 69-55 win. Head coach Steve Lavin was relieved by the team’s effort: “The only way we’re going to solve the challenges we’re facing is looking within individually and collectively as a group and trying to support each other through a tough time. Eventually, you make your breaks by sticking to it.”
  5. In the midst of all of the struggling Big East programs, Villanova continues to shine. One of the only missing pieces for the Wildcats is a true post presence, but center Daniel Ochefu has strung together a few strong games in a row and may be poised to add that last element to Jay Wright’s already strong assembly of talents. Against DePaul, he scored 14 points while shooting 6-of-6 from the field, grabbed six rebounds, blocked three shots, and even dished out four assists. If Ochefu continues to get better, the Big East rich may just get richer.
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Big East M5: 01.15.14 Edition

Posted by George Hershey on January 15th, 2014

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  1. Georgetown will be playing undermanned tonight when the Hoyas travel to Cincinnati to play Xavier. Joshua Smith is still battling academic issues and Jabril Trawick will miss his second straight game after he broke his jaw against Providence last week. The Hoyas were impressive in their overtime victory at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Saturday, but Xavier poses a tougher test as they are 8-1 in their last nine games after a loss to Creighton on Sunday. Xavier has a very good frontcourt and will likely look to exploit Georgetown’s relative lack of size. Moses Ayegba and Reggie Cameron will have to step up and play more than the 10 minutes they have averaged so far this season. Markel Starks and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera must continue their own exceptional play, but not having their big men to help space the floor will make finding open shots more difficult.  
  2. Xavier lost its first game after an eight-game winning streak, but the Musketeers are ready to face Georgetown after taking away several positives from their close loss to Creighton. They had trouble guarding Doug McDermott and didn’t shoot their free throws well (59%), but the team was happy about the perseverance they showed throughout. Center Matt Stainbrook said, “it [showed] a ton of resiliency and the fact that we can all have short-term memories. You learn from your mistakes, but when it comes to misses or stuff that’s not favorable for us, we have a really short-term memory.” Going forward in conference action, Xavier will need that short memory to keep fighting when momentum is not on their side, like they experienced on Sunday when Creighton was simply unconscious from deep.
  3. Luke Fischer‘s transfer was officially announced on Monday when he began classes at Marquette; yesterday he spoke to the media. He has already begun practicing and assistant coach Jerry Wainwright sounded excited about working with the new big man. Fischer has 11 months until he can suit up, but Wainwright says he will have an instant impact on the Golden Eagles. Fischer will match up against Davante Gardner and Chris Otule in practice, giving the centers a break from each other and a new challenge on both ends. The league has several centers similar to Fischer, but few like Gardner and Otule, so they will have a player to practice against that will more closely replicate games. In other Marquette news, Paint Touches takes a look at the freshmen so far, discussing those who are coming into their own and becoming significant contributors. Cracked Sidewalks has five charts that show why Marquette should be better than it has shown this season. The Golden Eagles seem to be rounding the corner every other game, but have yet to beat a team ranked higher than themselves.
  4. The Big East may not be as strong at the top this season with only two teams currently in the Top 25, but the league has tremendous depth. While Villanova and Creighton have moved up to #6 and #20 in the latest AP poll, the rest of the league may not be ranked but there are no really bad teams this year. In years past, teams like Syracuse and Louisville were national title contenders, but the league also suffered South Florida, DePaul, Rutgers, and Providence perennially struggling to win more than a few games. As of last night, seven of the 10 conference teams were ranked in the top 70 in Ken Pomeroy’s latest rankings, and DePaul was the lowest at #130, a number likely to rise after beating St. John’s. So far, the league has only had six blowout wins, showing the relative parity among all of the teams. This had led to a ton of excitement on numerous Big East campuses this season.
  5. ESPN had a series of posts on the best venues in college basketball, and not surprisingly, Hinkle Fieldhouse, home to the Butler Bulldogs, was included. Eamonn Brennan wrote about the history of the building, including most famously being where the “Milan Miracle,” the game that inspired the making of the movie, Hoosiers, occurred, and the incredible atmosphere in the building. He gives a great description, “You ascend the same blue-tinged concrete concourse to find your seat. You see the same afternoon sunlight shine down at the same angle through the same windows on the same, original wooden floor, the oldest in college basketball.” Hinkle seems to be a magical place as there constantly outstanding games there, including five overtime periods already this season. The Big East has some great venues with the Cintas Center, Bradley Center, and CenturyLink Arena among them drawing some of the largest crowds in the nation.
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Big East M5: 01.10.14 Edition

Posted by George Hershey on January 10th, 2014

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  1. Creighton let out a huge sigh of relief on Wednesday. First, Doug McDermott‘s shoulder injury turned out to be a shoulder sprain. He is expected to play on Saturday and downplayed the injury, a good sign for the stud. Later, fellow senior Grant Gibbs received good news as his scary knee injury was revealed to be a dislocated kneecap. The worst case scenario some were fearing was a torn ACL, but luckily the sixth year senior will be able to play in his final year. Gibbs is expected to be out about a month, returning in time for the final month of the Big East season and postseason tournaments. The Creighton offense has been playing spectacularly and the team will feel the loss of Gibbs, but should survive without him, as several players like Jahenns Manigat, Austin Chatman, and Devin Brooks have stepped up their games this year. Each is averaging at least seven points, three rebounds and two assists per game. 
  2. Georgetown center Joshua Smith did not travel with the team to Providence due to academic reasons. The Hoyas ended up getting run out of the gym against a Friars team that started 0-2 in the Big East. The Hoyas had their worst offensive performance of the season, shooting 39.6% from the floor while committing 15 turnovers. This situation looks similar to the suspension Greg Whittington was dealt after the first semester because of grades, and he ended up not playing the rest of the year. Hopefully Smith resolves the academic issue and returns back to the lineup because the Hoyas need his offensive presence down low to open up the floor for Markel Starks and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, who is having a breakout year. 
  3. Doug McDermott is gaining traction as a leading candidate for National Player of the Year honors. With all the early season buzz about the top freshman across the country, McDermott is earning more recognition from the press for his remarkable season. Seth Davis wrote a great piece highlighting him as the top senior and SI.com‘s Brian Hamilton wrote about the star bucking the one-and-done trend to continue to hone his game,  and his relationship with his coach, who is also his father. CBSSPORTS.com‘s Gary Parrish gave Doug a ton of attention this week by looking at whether he will win his first scoring title as well as putting him at the top of his list for NPOY, pointing out the last player to have the numbers he is putting up was Kevin Durant.
  4. The world’s most famous bracketologist, Joe Lunardi, published his latest bracketology yesterday. He has four Big East teams in the field, with Villanova leading the way with a #2 seed. Creighton improved to a six seed and Xavier moved up to an eight seed. Georgetown regressed down to the 10 line after their loss to Providence. Butler was the eighth team out before they lost to DePaul, likely setting them back farther. Creighton and Xavier have impressed and should continue rising if their recent play continues. Seth Davis thinks the league will end up receiving five bids, but the rest of the league’s teams have not been helping their case. As unlikely as it seems now, don’t be surprised if Marquette and Providence make serious runs for berths as both have seemed to turn a corner and have the talent to win big resume boosting games.
  5. Seton Hall solidified their 2014 recruiting class with the addition of Northwestern transfer Chier Ajou. The Sudan native is 7’2″, but failed to see the court often while in Evanston. Ajou has a great story, coming to the United States after being held hostage in his home country. He will be eligible after the first semester next season and joins one of the nations top recruiting classes. The one missing piece for Kevin Willard’s team was at the center position, and he now will have a player in conference play to battle in the post. He has great size and physical tools, and will have the next year to get to know Willard’s system and improve his game. Ajou has the genes as his cousin is Luol Deng, but it will take more than that for him to play big minutes next year.
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D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera Ready to Become a Household Name

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on January 6th, 2014

Markel Starks is the leader; Joshua Smith is the enigma; and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera (DSR) is the scorer. These are the identities of each of Georgetown’s three best players this season. In Saturday afternoon’s blowout win against St. John’s, Smith-Rivera fulfilled his role by dropping 31 points on a remarkable 12 shots. It was a big game for the sophomore guard from Indianapolis — not only did he score in buckets, but he also grabbed six rebounds and dished out three assists. After watching Georgetown through several games, it’s hard to conclude otherwise that Starks, the senior point guard and unquestioned leader of the team, is the most important player on the Hoyas’ roster. He was the reason Smith-Rivera was able to score as much as he did, by setting him up with clean passes right as he came off screens with enough space to get his shot off. But it’s equally just as difficult to come away from the weekend game without realizing the offensive powerhouse that Smith-Rivera has become and concluding that he’s poised to join the national conversation as  an elite scorer.

D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera is JTIII's most efficient scorer. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera is JTIII’s most efficient scorer. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Smith-Rivera is part of a superb 2012 recruiting class from the state of Indiana that includes names like Yogi Ferrell, Gary Harris, Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III. Not as highly regarded as his Hoosier State peers, several Big Ten coaches recruited Smith-Rivera but did not make him a top priority. As a result, he decided to stay east, where he was attending Oak Hill Academy, ultimately committing to Georgetown. We need only look at Smith-Rivera’s performance for the season to understand the impact he’s had on the Hoyas’ offense. According to sportsreference.com, he leads the Big East in offensive efficiency (1.27 points per possession) and effective field goal percentage (59.7%). Among conference players, he is in the top five in the following categories: field goal percentage (48.2%), three-point field goals made (32), points per game (17.1), and win-shares (.231 per 40 minutes). These numbers alone would be impressive for any sophomore playing in a major basketball conference, but it is even more so from a player who’s considered a longshot to make the NBA (DSR is listed as the 74th-ranked sophomore at draftexpress.com) due to his physical shortcomings.

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