BROOKLYN — In the end, UNC Asheville could have mixed up every type of zone imaginable, but Villanova was going to make their shots as they cruised to a 86-56 victory in the NCAA tournament at Barclays Center. Continue reading
We are entering the month of February, the heart of conference play, where it’ll be easier to discern which teams are pretenders and which have a chance to make a dent in the postseason. Continue reading
One knows college basketball is ready to begin when the preseason all-conference lists are published. There are several players who could have merited inclusion in either of the three teams, but the presence of lingering question marks pushed them to receive an honorable mention. Continue reading
It was difficult to winnow down the possibilities for breakthrough candidates in the new-look Big East. The conference is stocked with teams that lost crucial elements of their roster following last season, and since there is no definitive favorite for the preseason title, there are countless players whose roles could substantially shift. One key, though, was limiting the list to those who have used one season of playing time, even if that player was redshirting and the PT was spent on the practice squad.
Daniel Ochefu (Villanova): Though Mouphtaou Yarou never truly developed into a dominant offensive threat, the 6’10” Yarou did evolve into a fantastic defender. A reason why Villanova made the NCAA tournament last season was their miniscule defensive two-point field goal percentage, fueled by Yarou’s ability to shrink the interior and force opposing bigs to take off-balanced shots. Without Yarou and Maurice Sutton, the defensive onus now falls on Daniel Ochefu — the sophomore is the only returning member of the Wildcats’ frontcourt. Jay Wright’s squad showed success using hard hedges to disrupt an opponent’s offense. Ochefu has demonstrated the necessary foot speed to show high and then quickly get back to his man to prevent an easy bucket, but he will now have to combine that footwork with crashing the glass to prevent second chances (Yarou grabbed more than 20% of opponents’ misses). Nova’s offense should click this season — the improvement of Ryan Archidiacano mixed with Dylan Ennis, a guard capable of breaking defenders down off the dribble, bodes well for VU’s offensive efficiency — but Ochefu’s play (and his 4.7% block rate) will be crucial to anchor the squad’s frontcourt and frustrate Big East teams in the paint.
Matt Stainbrook (Xavier): When Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons ran Xavier’s offense, the two guards heavily relied on Musketeer bigs to set picks and create clear looks (and lanes) at the basket. Nearly 15% of Xavier’s 2012 offensive sets were pick and rolls, a percentage that dipped below ten percent due to the arrival of Semaj Christon, a 6’3″ guard with a quick enough first step that he didn’t need a pick to turn the corner on a defender. However, now that Matt Stainbrook, a Western Michigan transfer, is eligible, Xavier’s offense could resume relying on P&Rs. When he last took the court, Stainbrook converted almost 60% of his twos, posting an offensive rating of 114, and the 6’9″ Stainbrook spent his redshirt season working on his game and slimming down his body. The combination of Stainbrook’s soft touch and conditioning indicates that Stainbrook-set picks on Christon’s defender might be commonplace at the Cintas Center next season. Even if he doesn’t receive a pass, the rolling Stainbrook would be in ideal position for offensive boards, and the big scores more than one point per second chance possession. An added bonus is Christon’s ability to draw fouls at a rapid pace when he gets into the lane — the guard drew 5.8 fouls per 40 minutes, a rate that is tops of any returning Big East guard.
Jamal Branch (St. John’s): It is unclear how Steve Lavin will organize his lineups this season, but he has mentioned two potential possibilities: using three guards — Rysheed Jordan, Jamal Branch, and D’Angelo Harrison — and a Johnny like Max Hooper at the 4, or going ‘big’ and taking advantage of SJU’s frontcourt depth. Branch, a junior guard, will be a key element in either lineup. It is unfair to evaluate Branch’s sophomore season — he didn’t take the court until after the first semester and he was clearly limited following an MCL sprain in early February. Branch is best when creating, getting into the lane and either locating open Johnnies, and based on how he performed during the team’s European trip, Branch’s offensive orchestration will allow further freedom to both Harrison and Jordan.
Sterling Gibbs (Seton Hall): The loss of Aaron Cosby was predicted weeks before the end of Seton Hall’s 2013 season, but coach Kevin Willard had a waiting starter in Sterling Gibbs, a transfer who is eligible this season. What is uncertain is how seamlessly Gibbs, who barely saw playing time at Texas, handles both the starting role and the Pirates’ offense. Seton Hall returns a talented core — Fuquan Edwin is a potential player of the year candidate, and Willard can lean on a better in-shape Eugene Teague and now-healthy Brandon Mobley – which will lessen Gibbs’ scoring responsibility and allow him to solely focus on playmaking. But Gibbs isn’t offensively inept, and his shooting will force opponents from sagging off the 6’1″ guard: although he only attempted 35 threes in the Big 12, Gibbs made 37.1% of those shots.
Myles Davis (Xavier): If Christon and Stainbrook are both covered on the drive and the roll, one potential outlet for Christon will be Myles Davis. The redshirt freshman entered college with a reputation as a shooter and has reportedly worked on his shot and his conditioning last season, giving coach Chris Mack the option to utilize a three-guard lineup (with Dee Davis) in 2014. Despite the presence of Brad Redford, Xavier was not proficient from deep; Redford, whose eligibility has since expired, was the only Musketeer to attempt more than 100 threes, and though Davis showed improved range (his percentage — 37% — jumped significantly over the course of two seasons), the team rarely relied on three-pointers. That could change with Davis’ arrival.
Derrick Wilson (Marquette): Marquette would be the runaway preseason top pick in the Big East absent a glaring unknown at the point guard spot. Junior Cadougan wasn’t perfect — an offensive rating of 96.1 and a penchant for turnovers aren’t ideal for a team’s starting point — but the departed Cadougan possessed an innate understanding of Buzz Wiliams’ offense. Williams is loathe to play freshmen immediately, so even though the Golden Eagles have a top-ranking group of frosh, including guard Duane Wilson, the task of replacing Cadougan will fall to Derrick Wilson. Wilson’s sample size is small — he barely played during his first two seasons at MU — but if he can continue to limit turnovers (an assist rate of just 3% during Big East and postseason play), Williams will likely turn to Wilson to direct MU’s interior-heavy attack — nearly 30% of the squad’s offense in 2013 came as a result of paint touches.
D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera (Georgetown): Expect the role of D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, a sophomore guard, to expand greatly since coach John Thompson III needs to find another Hoya to pair with Markel Starks. Smith-Rivera thrived as an additional option last year, serving as highly efficient alternative when defenses focused on Starks or Otto Porter, but without Porter or Greg Whittington, a forward who tore his ACL this offseason and could likely miss the entire season, Smith-Rivera continued evolution as a scorer is imperative. As evidenced by his percentage of field goals assisted at the rim — 56% — Smith-Rivera is capable of creating his own offense, and there could be more set plays involving Smith-Rivera coming off screens or using a pick to either shoot from deep (34%), drive to the bucket, or put an onus on defenders to foul. One indication Smith-Rivera is ready for the extra touches was Georgetown’s mid-February win over DePaul, a game where Porter only played 20 minutes and the 6’5″ Smith-Rivera scored 33 points in an offensively dominant display.
Kris Dunn (Providence): Vincent Council was arguably the most underrated point guard in the BCS conference ranks last season. If the Friars are indeed this season’s emerging contender (as most have pegged Ed Cooley’s team), sophomore Kris Dunn has to undergo a tremendous leap in his development. Though Dunn struggled with turnovers, an invitation to the trials for the U19 World Championship Team might serve to boost the guard’s performance (and confidence). Dunn did record 41 assists in conference play and his now seasoned ability to find Friars the moment they shake free from their defender could raise last season’s mundane offensive efficiency rating. The team’s core — Kadeem Batts, Bryce Cotton, and LaDontae Henton — were reliant on Council to find the trio in scoring position, a duty Dunn must quickly master. An intriguing aspect of Dunn’s game, and one worth watching, is his rebounding — at 6’3″, Dunn has an advantage on the interior, and since Cotton typically bombs away from the perimeter, Dunn is free to troll for rebounds — roughly 10% of his possessions ended with an second chance opportunity — and not worry about preventing a fast-break.
Will Artino (Creighton): The big has so far spent his time in Omaha camped on the interior, grabbing a copious amount of rebounds in his very limited minutes, but the departure of Gregory Echenique means an expanded role for Will Artino. He’ll still have to crash the glass — coach Greg McDermott has said his lineup choices will largely depend on how the Bluejays rebound, and Artino, who sported offensive and defensive rebounding percentages that hovered around 20% last season, will likely be a focal point in those lineups — but Artino’s interior defense and pick-setting will be crucial for the squad. Other than Artino, Doug McDermott is the only returning Bluejay who is taller than 6’8″.
Kameron Woods (Butler): The offseason injury to Roosevelt Jones forces new coach Brandon Miller to depend on other Bulldogs to carry Jones’ expected offensive load, and Woods, a 6’8″ junior, is primed to receive more touches. Entering a college-level strength and conditioning program has greatly helped the big; while his percentage of minutes played hasn’t changed much over the course of Woods’ two seasons, there have been drastic jumps in both his offensive rating (105.2) and two-point field goal percentage (55.8%). Woods is much more confident catching the ball in the paint and finishing — he scored more than one point per offensive rebound and pick and roll possession last season — and shied away from taking ill-advised threes.
Matt Giles is a reporter for New York Magazine and has contributed to College Basketball Prospectus 2012-13, ESPN the Magazine, ESPN Insider, the New York Times, BuzzFeed, and Salon. You can follow Matt on Twitter @HudsonGiles.
Ah, the joys of realignment. Creighton’s addition to the Big East means a potential match-up between the Bluejays and Marquette in the Wooden Legacy final. Villanova already plays Xavier twice during conference play but could tip off against Chris Mack’s squad in the Battle 4 Atlantis. And since NYC taxis still feature advertisements proclaiming the Orange as “New York’s College Team,” it feels weird to include Syracuse as a non-conference foe of both the Wildcats and St. John’s.
Losing Pittsburgh, Louisville, Syracuse, and Notre Dame dimmed the Big East’s luster, so the importance of a challenging non-conference slate has been enhanced this season. Creighton and Marquette have several high-profile games on the schedule, and Georgetown will play the potential top team in both the Pac-12 (Oregon) and Big 12 (Kansas). Some Big East squads, though, scheduled as though the conference was still the nation’s toughest, and could suffer if they stumble.
Neutral site tournaments
Creighton in the Wooden Legacy, November 28-December 1: Creighton starts off with Arizona State, and should the Bluejays contain Jahii Carson, the squad faces a loaded field that includes Marquette, San Diego State, George Washington, Miami, and Charleston. A good primer for coach Greg McDermott’s squad.
Georgetown in the Puerto Rico Tip Off, November 21-24: Georgetown is on the wrong side of the tournament. Northeastern, a top team in CAA, is an interesting opening round tilt, but the other two teams — Charlotte and Kansas State — are not expected to make much noise in their respective conferences. If the Hoyas can advance to the final, their chances improve for a marquis game — either Michigan or VCU should roll through that bracket to the championship.
Villanova and Xavier in Battle 4 Atlantis, November 28-30: When this tournament was announced, the attending teams seemed much stronger, but as the season approaches, it appears that demand is less than expected. The resort where the games are being held is offering steep discounts on visits during those three days, and reading between the lines of the recent announcement that North Carolina, Georgetown, UCLA, Florida, Wisconsin, and Butler (among others) will all trek to the Bahamas next year means that the organizers are likely not thrilled with the 2013 participants. A Xavier win against Iowa would certainly boost the Musketeers’ OOC profile, and should Villanova stymie Dunk City, a game against Kansas will help their standing.
Seton Hall in the Coaches vs. Cancer, November 22-23: There aren’t many contests on Seton Hall’s schedule that will protect the team if they falter in Big East play, so the Pirates’ two games in the Coaches vs. Cancer, held at the Barclays Center, are essential. SHU opens with Oklahoma, and coach Kevin Willard has to hope Michigan State defeats Virginia Tech to reach the final — a close game, or a win, against the Spartans would help balance a slate tilted with Mercer, Eastern Washington, and NJIT.
Butler in the Old Spice Classic, November 28-December 1: There are so many unknowns surrounding Butler — what is Brandon Miller’s coaching style? Can a backcourt of Rene Castro, Alex Barlow, and Kellen Dunham run the offense? How much will losing Roosevelt Jones hamstring Butler’s scoring output — that wins against potentially Oklahoma State, Memphis, and LSU would quickly settle those uncertainties.
Marquette, Creighton, and DePaul vs. Arizona State (November 25, 28, and December 6, respectively): Herb Sendek’s squad is popular with the Big East as a non-conference opponent — ASU matches up with Creighton again and potentially Marquette in the Wooden Classic. If the Sun Devils justify the hype that has preceded them this preseason and finish amongst the top of the Pac-12, it will be a scheduling bonus for the trio. However, if ASU topples — other than Jahii Carson, ASU has many offensive unknowns — a win becomes questionable and a loss belies a team’s strength.
St. John’s and Villanova vs. Syracuse (December 15 and 28, respectively): It is still strange to list Syracuse as a non-conference match-up. Both Villanova and St. John’s were particularly poor from deep last season, so this contest will be a good test of possible offensive growth for two teams expected to contend.
Marquette vs. Ohio State and New Mexico (November 16 and December 21, respectively): Marquette will likely be the preseason pick as the Big East’s top team, and coach Buzz Williams has scheduled accordingly. In addition to the aforementioned tilt versus Arizona State and the Wooden Classic’s challenging field, MU plays Ohio State, New Mexico, and Wisconsin. MU has significant backcourt question marks — Williams will either go with the little-tested Derrick Wilson or the raw Duane Wilson — and facing off against Aaron Craft could prove challenging, and there is an aura of intrigue surrounding the New Mexico game, specifically in the frontcourt battle of Davante Gardner and Alex Kirk. There will be no shortage of up-and-unders, spins, and baby hooks when each big takes the court.
Georgetown vs. Oregon and Kansas (November 8 and December 21, respectively): Georgetown will have trouble scoring in the paint without Greg Whittington and potentially Josh Smith, and these two non-conference tilts — the game against the Ducks will be played in Seoul! — could illuminate whether Reggie Cameron is primed to step into Otto Porter’s void. Cameron is the classic John Thompson III big: a 6’7″ forward who is comfortable to work off the bounce 15 feet from the basket but has deep range to extend defenses. It will also be interesting to observe how JTIII intends to stop either Andrew Wiggins or Wayne Selden, the nation’s two most exciting freshmen wings.
Providence vs. Kentucky (December 1): Despite the disparity in amount of top 50 recruits, Providence matches up very well with Kentucky. When Ed Cooley first arrived at PC, there were only two Friars who measured 6’9″ or taller, but now in his third season, Cooley can depend on his biggest roster. Tyler Harris and Carson Desrosiers, 6’9″ and 7′, respectively, are both eligible, and both Kris Dunn and Brandon Austin, a freshman who has drawn raves during the offseason for his athleticism and scoring ability, possess significant size advantages. There is a reason PC is steadily gaining momentum as a Big East contender, and this non-conference game could add some volume to those whispers.
Matt Giles is a reporter for New York Magazine and has contributed to College Basketball Prospectus 2012-13, ESPN the Magazine, ESPN Insider, the New York Times, BuzzFeed, and Salon. You can follow Matt on Twitter @HudsonGiles.
The non-conference season is nearing to an end, but before NEC basketball starts up on January 3rd, Monmouth fans will be treated to the rare home appearance by a Big East team. Monmouth will host Villanova at the MAC this Saturday night at 7 PM. It’s one of the more anticipated NEC games of the non-conference season, therefore I brought in VU Hoops writer Brian Ewart for a Q&A to talk about the 7-4 Wildcats. Many thanks to Brian for giving us a better understanding of what makes Villanova tick!
Four Key Questions:
1) It seems like Jay Wright has lost a little magic in recruiting. Recently, he hasn’t found players like Scottie Reynolds, Allan Ray, Randy Foye, etc (although Ryan Arcidiacono and JayVaughn Pinkston look good). Is he having more difficultly recruiting in the Philly area? Is it bad luck that some of these recruits haven’t quite panned out or is Wright just not doing enough with his talent?
BE: Jay Wright has always had difficulty recruiting Philadelphia. Kyle Lowry was really the first Philly kid he recruited, which was four years into his tenure. Getting the local kids is a more recent phenomenon. When he first got to Villanova, he was getting a lot of kids from New York and New Jersey, he still does get some up there, but more and more he’s getting kids from schools in the DMV-area and obviously he has been getting some Philly kids as well.
It’s a combination of factors really. There have been some unfortunate injuries (James Bell has metal rods in his legs), unfortunate transfers (Malcolm Grant looked great at Miami, but Wright couldn’t hold on to him), and yes, some kids really didn’t develop as much as you might have expected when they were in high school. I think the biggest factor is that Wright had a stretch where he went after kids because they were good and not necessarily because they were a fit for his program, either physically or culturally.
2) According to KenPom, Villanova has one of the better defenses in the country. What have they done well in the early going?
BE: They’ve been winning their gamble on help-defense more often than they lose it. Moe Sutton has been huge on defense, as has Achraf Yacoubou, who have both done a great job on their defensive assignments and, in the case of Sutton, has brought some intensity inside, including his tremendous shot-blocking ability.
Wright has always stressed defense a lot from his guys and he has seemed to get through to them a bit lately. That said, they still struggle at times and a slate that has included some overmatched opponents and other struggling teams has certainly helped with the statistics.
3) What’s the best way to defend against the Wildcats’ offense? I’ve seen Columbia have some success forcing Villanova to shoot over their 2-3 zone. They’ve also struggled with turnovers, and Monmouth is one of the best in the country at turning their opponents over with their pressure defense. Does Nova have enough ball handlers on this club to combat this or will that be a major concern?
BE: Nova has struggled a lot against the 2-3 zone in recent years using it can force the ‘Cats to shoot, and though outside shooting has improved a bit from last year, they are still streaky. James Bell has had some terrible stretches shooting the ball, despite being .426 from 3pt, so if the ‘Cats are on a cold-streak, it makes sense to go to the 2-3 and force them to shoot.
That said, putting pressure on Ryan Arcidiacono seems to work well. He tries to do too much at times and is prone to turning it over when he does that. Chennault has also had some bad games, but he has protected the ball better overall. That said, all-around, turnovers have been an issue for the ‘Cats. Arch still plays a lot more because despite his turnovers, he is the better passer on the team, and the ‘Cats need to try to get the ball to Bell and JayVaughn Pinkston.
Chennault does play, however, and Yacoubou and Hilliard have decent handle as well. There was actually some talk of having Pinkston play point guard in an emergency last season while Ty Johnson was hurt. The major concern for Villanova is that a player like Arcidiacono is still young and may struggle at times breaking pressure, even with some help.
4) What’s your Big East prediction for the club, knowing what you know now. Is a NCAA bid a reasonable goal, or is that a little far-fetched?
BE: I hate to make predictions, but I don’t think Villanova has proven that it’s a team that can get into the top few of the Big East this season. The ‘Cats will hope to improve during conference play and be ready for the Big East tournament. If they continue to make improvements as the season progresses, then a run at MSG isn’t unthinkable.
They were 6-5 around this time last season and are about a win ahead of that pace this time around. The NCAA Tournament may be a reach at this point (especially without that run at MSG), but with improvement, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Villanova accept an NIT bid in March.
Three Key Stats:
- Winning the Turnover Battle: Turning the opponent over has been Monmouth’s calling card, as the Hawks are currently fourth in the country in defensive turnover rate. And wouldn’t you know it, Villanova has difficultly protecting the basketball as Brian mentioned above. If the smaller yet quicker Hawks can reek havoc on the ‘Cats and force at least 20 turnovers, there’s a respectable chance for an upset. Then again, Monmouth forced 23 Maryland turnovers in a blowout loss, so the next stat also has significant meaning.
- Progressing Back to Average Production: It’s been a putrid start to the season offensively for Monmouth, with the Hawks scoring 0.85 points per possession. That simply won’t cut it (nor will a season shooting percentage of 42.7% eFG%), therefore the offensive needs to desperately step up their level. 0.95 points per possession, as pedestrian as that may should, should be the goal. Three-point shooting has also been a major weakness, yet Villanova is allowing opponents to shoot 36.8% from behind the arc. Jesse Steele, Dion Nesmith, and Andrew Nicholas have to knock down their outside looks on Saturday. Also worth noting: When Monmouth scores at least 65 points, they are 5-1 on the season.
- Keeping it Close: This isn’t really a stat, but please just play along. Like most low mid-major teams, Monmouth has struggled to stay even remotely competitive against BCS competition, so King Rice needs to focus on keeping the game within reach heading into the second half. With the exception of their last second loss to Rider, every defeat found the Hawks in a big deficit during the game. With the Hawks’ issues offensively, playing behind is something this roster isn’t equipped to do. But if they can keep it close, keep the amped up MAC crowd involved, then you never know.
One Ken Pomeroy Prediction: Villanova 76, Monmouth 67 (Villanova listed as a 79% favorite)
I’m collecting some data on point guards for a new project I’m working on. I figured I’d share some random thoughts while looking through the RSCI’s Top 100 from 2004-2011 (or players who have had the opportunity to actually play in college).
This is the latest projected NIT bracket I have through Sunday’s results. Once again I used Jerry Palm’s projected NCAA field to figure out the at-large bids and determine where I was going with the NIT bracket. Thus if you’re wondering who to complain to about your team being in the NCAA field or the NIT talk to him. Miami (FL) and USF both scored big wins on Sunday that pushed them up near the top of the bracket. Also, my seed scrubbing was done using CBS’ team comparison feature, which made this much easier to do. I expect that there will be a ton of conference tournament upsets, so if you’re a seven or eight seed there is still work to do.
Here is the second edition of the NIT bracket using Drew Cannon’s BPI. I want to note a few things. Here are auto-bids by teams that you might be wondering where they are:
- Iona (MAAC auto, would’ve been the final at-large according to BPI)
- Akron (MAC auto, would’ve been in NIT)
- Murray State (OVC auto, would’ve been in NIT)
- Oral Roberts (Summit auto, would’ve been in NIT)
- VCU (CAA auto, would’ve been in NIT)
- Davidson (Southern auto, would’ve been in NIT)
- Cleveland St. (Horizon auto, would’ve been in NIT)
- Wagner (NEC auto, would be the 12th team into the NIT)
6. New Mexico State
2. South Dakota State
3. Colorado State
1. Mississippi State
8. Virginia Tech
5. St. Bonaventure
6. South Florida
2. La Salle
1. Northern Iowa
4. Missouri State
To be honest. This is a pretty nice and quite reasonable bracket. The first four teams left out are: Montana, Tulsa, Kent State and Duquesne. There are good match ups throughout the bracket and an intriguing potential second regional final between Xavier and Cincinnati. My guess is that a couple of these would get flipped in a true NIT bracket, for instance Arkansas would host Missouri State, South Florida would host Marshall, Stanford would host Colorado State, etc. but it seems like the right teams are getting in. It’s also worth noting that there is an 11-13 Villanova team somewhat safely into the field. It’s crazy, but the Wildcats are sitting right around the NIT bubble.