NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.27.15 Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on March 27th, 2015

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March Madness is finally upon us, and we here at RTC are here to make everything a little bit easier for you. From the First Four until One Shining Moment, we’ll be dropping daily tidbits of knowledge regarding the teams in each region.

Midwest Region

These guys absolutely rule the college basketball world at the moment. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

These guys absolutely rule the college basketball world at the moment. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

  • West Virginia’s Daxter Miles talked the talk but it was Kentucky that walked the walk. After Miles declared that Kentucky would be “36-1″ after playing the Mountaineers, the Wildcats proceeded to beat his team into submission by 39 points. The Kentucky players had some responses to share with the world via Twitter.
  • Last night, Kentucky showed what it could do when you make the Wildcats angry. After a historic Sweet Sixteen  beatdown of West Virginia, Ben Cohen asks the question we’ve been asking all year long: Can anyone beat Kentucky?
  • Not only did Daxter Miles‘ team lose the game despite guaranteeing victory, but he finished with no points and just one rebound. Tough day.
  • Notre Dame gained control early and took every punch Wichita State threw at it en route to an 11-point victory last night.
  • Notre Dame could have the offensive firepower to keep up with Kentucky if the Irish are able to hit their threes. But will it be enough to give the Wildcats’ their only loss of the season?
  • Could Gregg Marshall have just coached his last game at Wichita State? Having done wonders for the Shockers’ program over the last several years, will Marshall leave for a bigger job this off-season?

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Arizona 68, #6 Xavier 60

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on March 27th, 2015

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Three Key Takeaways.

Despite Early Struggles, Senior Point Guard T.J. McConnell Came Up Large Late (Greg Wahl-Stephens/AP)

Despite His Early Struggles, T.J. McConnell Came Up Large Late (Greg Wahl-Stephens/AP)

  1. Wake-up Time. About 30 minutes into tonight’s game, Xavier led by four points and looked very much like the better team. The Musketeers were quicker to most loose balls. They were controlling the paint. They were running their offense through Matt Stainbrook with impunity. Dee Davis was beating his man (T.J. McConnell) off the bounce just about whenever he wanted, and McConnell, the Wildcats’ senior leader, looked nothing like the gutsy, scrappy veteran that we’ve gotten accustomed to. Arizona looked lost on offense and disinterested on defense. The large number of Arizona fans in Staples Center was quiet. And then, against Xavier’s tough 1-3-1 zone, T.J. McConnell found himself with a good-looking 15-foot baseline jumper. He missed it, but the Musketeers couldn’t corral the defensive rebound. The senior recovered it and banked in a hoop, prompting Chris Mack to call a timeout. A couple possessions later, Kaleb Tarczewski grabbed an offensive board and put it back in. On the other end of the court, he helped trap a Musketeer ball-handlers near midcourt, forcing a timeout. Following that timeout, McConnell swiped a steal from Myles Davis and, in the blink of an eye, the momentum of this game had shifted, Arizona fans were back into it, and the rest is history. A 21-9 game-closing run for the Wildcats following that McConnell second-chance bucket sealed the game.
  2. Zone Defense. The bad news is that Arizona again struggled mightily against a zone defense for large stretches of a game against a team from Ohio. Nobody but Gabe York could knock in the occasional long-range jumper. McConnell looked confused and frustrated. And whoever the Wildcats tried to turn into a play-maker in the middle of the zone had trouble finding open teammates. So, again, that’s the bad news. Here’s the good news: It is very likely that the Wildcats have seen their last zone defense for the year. Wisconsin isn’t going to zone them. There’s not a chance Kentucky would zone them. And we’d have to see the matchup in the final but it’s probably unlikely. Xavier stayed in the game tonight by throwing as many as four or five different defensive looks at Arizona. It uglied things up for the ‘Cats, but, hey, survive and advance.
  3. Kaleb Tarczewski. Of all the players in college basketball, there are very few that take the kind of abuse from average college basketball fans (even including Arizona fans) that Tarczewski does. But as Sean Miller puts it, “he just does his job.” Xavier’s Matt Stainbrook seemed to be getting the best of him early, using a number of pretty post moves against his single coverage on the way to a double-double of 17 points and 10 boards. But Miller views Tarczewski’s ability to guard frontcourt bigs like Stainbrook one-on-one as a key to the Wildcats’ defensive success. “Stainbrook had his moments, but he had one offensive rebound. And one of the strategies for us is we didn’t want him to provide 10 to 20 points for his teammates. Because they do a great job of throwing it into him and he’s such a terrific passer that all of a sudden, the floodgates open from three or they get the ball moving and the reason it starts to move is because you had to help on Stainbrook. And then it’s both: He’s not only scoring inside, but their perimeter attack is thriving because of him. The reason we won, in my opinion, is Kaleb’s double-double and his very good defense. He did what we asked him to do.” To summarize: Tarczewski limited Stainbrook on the offensive glass, grabbed his own offensive boards on the other end, and because he was able to battle the Xavier big man to an individual draw, stifle Xavier’s half-court offense.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen Thursday

Posted by Walker Carey & Andrew Murawa on March 26th, 2015

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While the early round upsets and Cinderella stories are what make the NCAA Tournament unique to any other sporting event in the country, there is always something to be said about the best competing against the best. No more might that be true than this season’s Sweet 16, which feature arguably a legitimate “Top 16″ team pool … and it all gets started today. Here are four previews of Thursday’s games:

#3 Notre Dame vs. #7 Wichita State – Midwest Region Sweet 16 (from Cleveland) – at 7:15 PM EST on CBS

Compared to the Pantheon of coaches, Gregg Marshall and Mike Brey aren't often thrown in the discussion. But, both have their teams playing at the highest of levels at the moment. (AP & Getty)

Compared to the Pantheon of coaches, Gregg Marshall and Mike Brey aren’t often thrown in the discussion. But, both have their teams playing at the highest of levels at the moment. (AP & Getty)

The Irish and Shockers will meet Thursday night in what should be a very entertaining battle between two of the country’s best perimeter teams. Notre Dame and its four-guard lineup boasts one of the best scoring offenses in the country. USBWA first-team All-American Jerian Grant is one of the best offensive guards in the country. His scoring ability and ball distribution skills definitely makes him a player to watch each time he takes the court. For Notre Dame, sophomore point guard Demetrius Jackson and sophomore guard Steve Vasturia have each made a name for themselves this season. Jackson has greatly matured as Notre Dame’s floor leader on offense and his ball pressure on defense has been a greatly under appreciated facet of his game. Vasturia is the only Irish starter that does not have a scoring average in double figures, but his knack for hitting big shots coupled with some tenacious defense against some very good players (see his performance from last Saturday against Butler’s Kellen Dunham) has contributed to Notre Dame reaching its first Sweet 16 since 2003. When you think of the great glue guys in the country, Irish swingman Pat Connaughton has to be one of the first players who comes to mind. The captain has been an essential asset all season from his three-point shooting to his defensive rebounding to his overall leadership, Connaughton has been the heart of the Irish attack.

Wichita State is equally as talented on the perimeter. Junior point guard Fred VanVleet has had as good of an NCAA Tournament as anyone thus far, as he thoroughly outplayed Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell in the round of 64 before having his way with Kansas guards’ Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham in the round of 32. The other two Shockers perimeter players — Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton — each bring a unique skill set that have lifted the team all season. Baker has a knack for leading the scoring effort and hitting big shots. Cotton is an elite defender and his athleticism results in him constantly being a slashing threat on the offensive end. This is going to be a very fun game and you have to figure that both team’s perimeter groups will get theirs. Read the rest of this entry »

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.21.15 Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on March 21st, 2015

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March Madness is finally upon us, and we here at RTC are here to make everything a little bit easier for you. From the First Four until One Shining Moment, we’ll be dropping daily tidbits of knowledge regarding the teams in each region.

Midwest Region

Goodness Gracious. (USA Today Images)

Goodness Gracious. (USA Today Images)

  • Kentucky expected more out of itself in Thursday night’s win over Hampton. It is possible that the Wildcats need the edge back from last year when they advanced to the national title game as a #8 seed?
  • Cincinnati interim coach Larry Davis traces his roots back to Kentucky.
  • After earning a thrilling victory over Buffalo on Friday afternoon, West Virginia coach Bob Huggins acknowledged in his postgame remarks that he does not understand ESPN analyst Jay Bilas’ Young Jeezy-inspired Twitter schtick.
  • Maryland walk-on defensive specialist Varun Ram saved the day for the Terrapins on Friday when he locked down on Valparaiso guard Keith Carter and produced a turnover as the buzzer sounded to ensure  a 65-62 Maryland win.
  • Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew will always have his March Madness memories from his miracle run as a player in 1998, but he was unable to produce new memories as a coach in Friday’s narrow loss to Maryland.
  • Butler coach Chris Holtmann acknowledged Friday that junior forward Roosevelt Jones will play Saturday night against Notre Dame after suffering a knee injury in Thursday’s win over Texas.
  • Notre Dame coach Mike Brey is expecting senior captain Pat Connaughton to have a big game Saturday night when the Irish take on Butler.
  • Indiana showed that it has talent on the perimeter in Friday’s close loss to Wichita State, thus it seems like the next move for the Hoosiers is to find a big man capable of leading the team to greater heights.
  • With Friday’s victory over Indiana, Wichita State earned its shot to play Kansas – a shot the program has been craving for years.
  • Kansas forward Perry Ellis said his previously injured knee “felt great out there” in Friday’s sizable victory over New Mexico State.

West Region

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NCAA Game Analysis: Third Round, Saturday

Posted by RTC Staff on March 21st, 2015

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The last time this crew of programs laced up the sneakers, they provided us with a slate to remember. From last-second thrillers to overtime upsets that came out of left field, Thursday was quite simply one of the most electric opening days in NCAA Tournament history. Could history repeat itself? Here are eight previews of Saturday’s games.

#11 UCLA vs. #14 UAB — South Region Third Round (at Louisville, KY) — 12:10 PM ET on TBS.

Regardless of how they did it, Thomas Welch and UCLA are one step away from the Sweet 16. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Regardless of how they did it, Thomas Welch and UCLA are one step away from the Sweet Sixteen. (Andy Lyons/Getty)

Steve Alford has finally figured out this NCAA Tournament thing. All you have to do is put together an entirely mediocre season, inexplicably make the Tournament field (and avoid the First Four while you are at it), have the refs blow a call in the final 20 seconds of your opener that propels your team to victory, then find a #14 seed waiting for you in the third round. That’s all! What a charmed five days it was for the Bruins, whose season suddenly has meaning. Thursday wasn’t so bad for UAB, either, as the Blazers toppled Iowa State in what should go down as the biggest upset of the second round (apologies to Georgia State). Two double-digit seeds now face off with a bid to the Sweet Sixteen on the line. UCLA does not play as quickly as Iowa State does (the Bruins are 113th in the country in possessions per game), but UAB will try to recreate the muddle that was Thursday’s game with the Cyclones. The Blazers dominated the glass (outrebounding Iowa State by 15), enabling them to survive their unimaginative offensive (41% field goal shooting and 3-of-18 shooting from three-point range). UCLA’s Kevon Looney and Tony Parker are unlikely to submit to a similar assault on the backboards in this game, so Jerod Haase’s team may have to promote other strengths. The problem for the Blazers is that there really aren’t many. They don’t shoot the ball well from the field, turnovers are frequently an issue, and their work on the defensive end has been average at best this season. All this isn’t intended to make UCLA out to be an unbeatable monster of a team (they aren’t), but at least on paper, UAB just is not that great a team. They did find a way to get it done against a team better than UCLA on Thursday, and the Bruins, as mentioned, are very far from perfect themselves. But while anything is possible, a return to expectation (albeit a smaller one than we had two days ago) should be in the cards here. Steve Alford and UCLA, say hello to the Sweet Sixteen.

The RTC Certified Pick: UCLA

#1 Kentucky vs. #8 Cincinnati – Midwest Region Round of 32 (in Louisville, KY) – at 2:40 PM EST on CBS

Karl-Anthony Towns was an absolute force to be reckoned with Thursday evening. Will Cincinnati's frontline fair any better? (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Karl-Anthony Towns was an absolute force to be reckoned with Thursday evening. Will Cincinnati’s frontline fair any better? (Andy Lyons/Getty)

Unbeaten Kentucky was not at its best Thursday, but it did not really matter as it still cruised to a 79-56 victory over Hampton. While Kentucky — as a whole — was a bit uneven against the Pirates, freshman forward Karl-Anthony Towns turned in a phenomenal performance. Towns was clearly the best player on the court all evening, finishing with 21 points (8-of-12 FG), 11 rebounds, and three blocks in just 25 minutes of action. Sophomore guard Andrew Harrison and freshman guard Tyler Ulis were also very good in the victory, as they totaled a combined 25 points, eight rebounds, and six assists. Even though Hampton is not considered an offensive juggernaut, Kentucky’s defensive performance was still impressive. The Pirates were held to just a 17-of-59 (28.8%) shooting performance, and only one player converted more than two field goals. Meanwhile, Cincinnati showcased its great resiliency in its win over Purdue on Thursday. The Bearcats trailed by seven with with 48.5 seconds to play before going on a 10-3 run to force overtime where they ultimately prevailed with a 66-65 victory. Cincinnati does not have any stars, but it received strong contributions from sophomore guard Troy Caupain (10 points and four assists), junior guard Farad Cobb (14 points), and junior forward Coreontae DeBerry (13 points). The Bearcats frustrated Purdue with tenacious defense all night, as the Boilermakers were just 26-of-72 (36.1%) from the field, including 4-of-26 (15.4%) from the perimeter. Cincinnati has played hard all season under some less than ideal circumstances, and its coaches and players deserve credit for making it this far. Unfortunately for them, this run will come to an end at the hands of Kentucky on Saturday. The Wildcats just have way too much talent across the board for this to really even be all that close. Expect Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein to establish themselves early and lead Kentucky to the Sweet 16 with a comfortable victory.

The RTC Certified Pick: Kentucky Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #6 Xavier 76, #11 Ole Miss 57

Posted by Matt Patton on March 19th, 2015

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Matt Stainbrook came to play against Mississippi. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Matt Stainbrook came to play against Mississippi. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

  1. Xavier should have been up more at the half. But it didn’t matter. It felt like Chris Mack’s team was up 20 points heading into the half, but in reality it was only 12. The reason it didn’t matter is because Xavier came out and shot 56 percent from the field in the second half. Some of that might have had to do with tired Ole Miss legs from their back-and-forth game two nights ago against BYU. But the Musketeers did a great job executing regardless of that. They didn’t get rattled when the Rebels hit a three or rocked the rim. They played with a confidence that comes from knowing you’re the better team. MJ Rhett picked up two fouls in the first two minutes of the game, causing Andy Kennedy to bench him for the next eight minutes which is where Xavier built its lead.
  2. Matt Stainbrook is unstoppable. Don’t let his skinny shirt, cylindrical shape, goggles, or knee braces fool you. Matt Stainbrook can flat-out play. He’s the Uber-driving assassin. Dee Davis is why Xavier went up big in the first place, but Stainbrook quietly dominated the game. He was unstoppable on offense (passing and shooting) and cleaned up on the boards. When it looked like Andy Kennedy’s team might make a run, Stainbrook answered the bell. He finished 8-of-10 from the field with 20 points, nine rebounds, five assists and two steals. He also got a technical for taunting. What I’m trying to say is Matt Stainbrook might be Batman.
  3. Ole Miss is better than the score indicates. This team was always destined for bizarre final scores because the Rebels were just too reliant on jump shots all season. When those shots were falling, they could hang with Kentucky. When they weren’t, they could lose to anyone. It didn’t look like tired legs were too much of a problem, but you never know if that played a role in the unkind rims today. Their pressure defense gave Xavier a little bit of a problem at times during the first half (something to watch out for against Georgia State tomorrow), but the Musketeers just had too many answers.

Star of the Game: Dee Davis battling RJ Hunter is going to be a show Saturday. Davis did whatever he wanted (even if his stat line doesn’t show it). He knocked down big shots, finishing with 17 points and three assists. He ceded his role to Stainbrook in the second half when he sat with four fouls, but the reason Xavier got off to such a good start and stayed out front was Davis’ ability to carve up Andy Kennedy’s defense.

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Rushed Reactions: Xavier 65, Georgetown 63

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 14th, 2015

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Three Key Takeaways.

Another Disappointing March Moment for the Hoyas (USA Today Images)

Another Disappointing March Moment for the Hoyas (USA Today Images)

  1. Xavier is putting everything together at the right time. With a championship game against Villanova coming up and the NCAA Tournament on the horizon, Xavier has played as well as any team in the conference. The Musketeers’ post defense still continues to struggle with interior positioning but shifting to a zone has helped Chris Mack’s team better contest jump shots and get into the passing lanes. This tweak in defensive approach has kept Xavier competitive in their games against top-tier defensive clubs like Butler and Georgetown. Both Matt Stainbrook and sophomore big man Jalen Reynolds have been playing their best basketball of the season, forcing opposing defenses to collapse on the duo and leaving the shooters open.
  2. Xavier is a matchup nightmare for Georgetown. Xavier had an inconsistent Big East season, going 9-9 in conference play and sweeping just two of the nine teams it faced. And while the Musketeers lost games to DePaul, Creighton and Seton Hall, one of those two season sweeps was over Georgetown, which they defeated by an average of 15 points per game. In tonight’s third matchup of the year, the result was more of the same until a late Georgetown run closed the gap in the last eight minutes of play. Stainbrook and Reynolds in particular were a handful for Georgetown’s big men and the team’s rapid ball movement around the perimeter left the Hoyas out of position on numerous plays. For whatever reason, Georgetown failed to successfully attack Xavier’s zone for the first 30 minutes of the game and a 21-point deficit ultimately proved insurmountable.
  3. Georgetown’s Big East Tournament performance left something to be desired. The recent stretch for Georgetown hasn’t been pretty. After struggling to knock off Seton Hall last weekend, the Hoyas pieced together a scrappy win over Creighton in the final minute yesterday before falling way behind against Xavier. Yes, the Hoyas put on a late run when it found a number of good shots, but the overall trend isn’t encouraging. It’s a bad time to be faltering and there are numerous concerns about Georgetown on the offensive end of the floor. D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera has had too many cold stretches; Joshua Smith picks up too many fouls; and the rising freshmen have a tendency to disappear. Is Georgetown facing another embarrassing opening round NCAA Tournament defeat next week?

Player of the Game. Matt Stainbrook, Xavier. The 6’10” senior had 14 points at halftime, including a buzzer-beatin tip-in, and finished the game with 20 points and nine rebounds. Few opposing big men have successfully conquered Georgetown in the post, but Stainbrook used his crafty hook shot to successfully score over Mikael Hopkins and Joshua Smith. Post presence has been a major contributor to Xavier’s success at MSG this week, routinely providing balance to the outside shooting of the Dee Davis, Remy Abell and JP Macura. After tallying a highly efficient 13 points and 10 rebounds against Butler, Stainbrook showed no sign of backing down against the bigger Hoyas and entered into all-out takeover mode for several key stretches of tonight’s game. There is no question that he will be a significant x-factor in the championship game against Villanova.

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Xavier: The Forgotten Big East Team

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 13th, 2015

Heading into yesterday’s Big East clash with Butler, Xavier sported a pedestrian 19-12 record with a handful of bad losses. In a league with a number of Tournament-bound teams, the Musketeers had been shockingly average. Chris Mack‘s group can look fantastic on one end, utilizing a highly efficient offense, but horrific on the other, often undone by a woeful defense. While other Big East schools this season were busy receiving recognition for their strong play, defensive prowess or prodigious talent, Mack’s team just kept humming along. There was no string of eight consecutive victories, no NBA-ready players, no Top 25 ranking.

Jalen Reynolds (left) and Xavier showed tremendous fight in their upset victory over Butler. Will the same hold true against Georgetown tonight?

Jalen Reynolds (left) and Xavier showed tremendous fight in their upset victory over Butler. Will the same hold true against Georgetown tonight? (AP)

So when Xavier drew a matchup against regional rival Butler, one of the best defensive teams in the country, the natural conclusion was that defense would triumph. For a while, yesterday’s game felt like it was heading that way. Butler played with the lead for the majority of the game, but Xavier’s offense found its groove down the stretch, throwing a wrench in a highly-anticipated Butler-Georgetown semifinal. “I’ve told these guys that everybody’s been talking about the Butler-Georgetown matchup in the semifinals, and that was a little disrespectful because [Butler] had to play us first. Then you can deal with the semifinal matchup,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said. Read the rest of this entry »

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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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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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Big East Weekend Wrap: Vol. IV

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 16th, 2014

The Big East Weekend Wrap will cover news and notes from the weekend’s games.

With only two weeks left before conference play gets under way, eight Big East teams remain squarely in contention for an NCAA Tournament bid. While it might be too early to draw any definitive conclusions, it’s something to monitor as the season progresses. Currently both Joe Lunardi and Jerry Palm project six Big East teams into their fields, with two others — Creighton and Providence — on the outside of the bubble. Coming off a light weekend of Big East action, below are three key takeaways.

Butler Failed to Close Things Out at Tennessee Over the Weekend (USA Today Sports)

Butler Failed to Close Things Out at Tennessee Over the Weekend (USA Today Sports)

  1. Butler and DePaul both lost their edge in the closing minutes. It was a tough Sunday for two teams in drastically different situations. Butler brought its #15 ranking into Knoxville – a difficult environment for any visiting team – while DePaul tried to prove that its 6-3 start was for real. Butler showcased its defensive stinginess in the first half versus the Vols, only to give away a 12-point lead and crumble in the final minutes. Roosevelt Jones and Alex Barlow struggled as perimeter defenders against Tennessee’s longer, more athletic guards, allowing them access into the lane time and time again. But if Tennessee’s 59.3 percent second half shooting wasn’t enough of an issue, Kellen Dunham’s tendency for poor decision-making made matters worse. The junior took 11 of his 14 field goal attempts from beyond the arc and then proceeded to use the second half to pass up open looks and dribble into traffic. If the Bulldogs can’t generate consistent stops, they turn into a much less effective team too dependent on getting Dunham open looks. On another note, it might be in Chris Holtmann’s interest to give rising freshman Kelan Martin more playing time; the 6’6″ wing is averaging just as many points as Jones (10.8 PPG) but in half the time (16.1 MPG). Meanwhile, DePaul managed to commit enough turnovers in the closing minutes of its game on Sunday to blow a solid lead against Illinois State. To be honest, the Blue Demons’ starting lineup is remarkably competent on the offensive end; Myke Henry has emerged as a true leader, with Jamee Crockett and Tommy Hamilton IV adding wing and inside dimensions. But as with prior years, many of the same issues remain: turnovers and defense. Oliver Purnell will have to find a way to fix at least one of those weaknesses before the program takes another step forward. Read the rest of this entry »
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Three Up, Three Down in the Big East

Posted by George Hershey on November 21st, 2014

The Big East has gotten off to a strong start this season, having lost only one game among all 10 teams and heading into next week with tests which will help determine how it stacks up against some of the nation’s best. Here are three positives and three negatives from the opening week in Big East basketball.

Three Up

Blueitt has produced from the get go for the Musketeers (Frank Victores/USA Today Sports)

Trevon Blueitt has produced from the get go for the Musketeers
(Frank Victores/USA Today Sports)

  1. Xavier Freshmen – Chris Mack brought in a highly-ranked group of freshmen to restock the Musketeers, and they have produced from the get-go. In Tuesday night’s win over Long Beach State, Trevon Bluiett and JP Macura led the team in scoring, with 20 and 17 points, respectively. Both shot the ball well from three, combining to connect five times, and Bluiett especially had a phenomenal game, stuffing the stat sheet with eight rebounds and five assists to boot. With a strong group of experienced players led by Matt Stainbrook and Myles Davis, Mack does not need his freshmen to lead every night, but their demonstrated ability to score in bunches is helpful for any team over the course of a season.
  2. DePaul Transfers – This DePaul team is not your typical DePaul team. That might be said nearly every preseason, but after a couple of games, it appears that this could be the team that finally breaks through. Oliver Purnell returns two sophomore studs in Billy Garrett Jr. and Tommy Hamilton IV, but he also brought in four transfers to turn the program around. Myke HenryAaron Simpson, and the injured Rashaun Stimage have returned home to Chicago, and Darrick Wood arrives by way of junior college in Kansas. In Tuesday’s win over Drake, Henry contributed 13 points, six rebounds and three assists, while Simpson and Wood both contributed five points each. Stimage and Henry are athletic bigs which will pair nicely with big-bodied Hamilton, while Simpson and Wood can handle the ball and provide a spark off the bench when Garrett needs a break. Purnell needs smart players who buy into the system, and all signs point to his group of newbies doing just that. Read the rest of this entry »
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