Big East Perspective and Butler Preview vs. Providence

A large portion of the Big East conference play has come and gone.  Unfortunately, I have not been graced with the free time to cover the conference as I would have liked.  That said, I’m looking forward to giving more in depth views and perspectives of not only the Big East but also the landscape of all college basketball when the calendar turns to March.

The Big East continues to be a difficult task for any team to play through.  According to kenpom, as a conference, the Big East ranks 3rd in tempo, 3rd in turnover percentage, 2nd in effective field goal percentage, 3rd in assists per field goals made, 3rd in 3-point percentage, 3rd in 2-point percentage, and 1st in free throw percentage.  It’s been fun seeing scores come through week in and week out because every team is getting to the basket and scoring at a high clip.  The stats above are all areas that influence offense.  Which such high numbers, the defenses must not be as stout as coaches would like, but there’s time to improve.  As we enter the final four or five games for Big East teams, here are the current standings:

  1. Xavier (24-3, 12-2)  Xavier needs to win at home against Villanova and avoid a loss in their last three games to Providence, Georgetown, or DePaul to claim the Big East regular season title.  The Musketeers have all the pieces to make a Final Four run, but here’s another way to look at it: Xavier has 10 wins by 7 points or less this season.  If the ball rolls out rather than in, we may be looking at a team that isn’t on the one seed line at the moment.

2. Villanova (23-3, 10-3)  The Wildcats are in an odd position at this point in the year having lost to Providence, Butler, and last place St. John’s.  Their defensive efficiency is great, but not the elite level we’ve come to know in recent years.  It’s time for Villanova to respond because their one seed may be slipping.

3. Creighton (19-7, 8-5)  Creighton losing Martin Krampelj was a hit to their squad, yet the team has responded positively by beating the teams they should have and pushing Xavier to the end at home.  Creighton moves the ball very well and because of that, they frequently get open looks within 3 feet of the basket (See highlights when they hosted Butler earlier this season).  The Blue Jays currently rank 2nd in the NCAA in 2-point percentage.

4. Providence (17-9, 8-5)  The Friars pulled off a welcome upset against Villanova and claim stake to fourth place in the conference at this point.  The Friars have a tough close to the end of the season where Kenpom has them in what should be a battle each game.  If things fall their way, Providence will be as high as a three seed in the Big East tournament.  However, if things play out, they could be playing

5. Butler (17-10, 7-7)  The Bulldogs are frustrating to watch.  So much talent to compete at a high level, yet the team possesses Jekyll and Hyde characteristics.  I discuss more of the perspective of these inconsistent showings from game to game below.  The Bulldogs need to win out the rest of the season and win a game in the Big East tournament.

6. Seton Hall (17-9, 6-7)  The Pirate’s record is a head scratcher.  With a team that has experience on it’s side that is combined with talent, it’s a wonder how they have not won a few more games down the stretch.  I’m concerned that this is now a Seton Hall team that can be an upset for a midmajor squad in the NCAA tournament.

7. Marquette (14-11, 5-8)  The Golden Eagles can light up the scoreboard quickly.  With as quick they can score, they can fall cold.  Their defense is not elite nor great.  I don’t see Marquette doing much the rest of the season.  It will be a win if they win one game in the Big East tournament come March.

8. Georgetown (15-10, 5-9)  Georgetown seems to have made improvements as they have played with confidence as of late.  We can go a few avenues with the narrative on the Hoyas.  Looking at how they have fared since their double overtime win at home against St. John’s, they lost by one to DePaul, then by eight at Creighton, by five at Xavier in overtime, and by four at Providence.  In three of those losses, Georgetown had opportunities where the ball didn’t fall their way.  Close wins against Seton Hall and at Butler give Georgetown confidence as they look to stay hot through the remainder of the season.  They shot a blistering 68% in the first half at Butler and still ended at 64% for the game.

9. DePaul (10-15, 3-10)  DePaul seems to have most of the pieces.  I watched them play in the new Wintrust Arena and it is a beautiful, modern take on a home for a basketball team.  With the addition of Max Strus, DePaul has been in many more games than they have in previous seasons.  They have not been able to finish games off, or this would be a different narrative being written.

10. St. John’s (14-13, 3-11)  St. John’s looked like it was on its way to one of the worst outings in Big East play, but then Duke stopped by Madison Square Garden where Shamorie Ponds and the Red Storm dropped then #4 Duke.  To demonstrate it wasn’t a fluke, Ponds and Co went to then #1 Villanova and upended the Wildcats.  Maintaining their winning streak, St. John’s beat Marquette and DePaul.  Heading into the final few weeks, the Johnnies have an outside shot at winning out and somehow finishing 7-11.  I don’t think it will happen, but as the hottest team in the league, it’s tough to pick against them.

 

Butler Basketball Update

Success and failure seem to stem from the ability to make shots.  The Bulldogs are shooting just over 40% on mid-range jumpshots according to Haslemetrics.  That isn’t a poor number, as it slots the Bulldogs at 63rd in the country.  However, the decision making as of late has not been great.  Questionable decisions from Kamar Baldwin and Kelan Martin have seen them dribble into traffic to make a play rather than pass.  Their dribbling turns generally turns into taking a contested shot only to see the ball hit the rim and the defense grab a rebound for a quick outlet pass.  Both players have combined for 13 turnovers in the last 3 games.  Another telling number is Baldwin and Martin were a combined 1-13 on three-pointers against the Hoyas; the team 5-22.  Knowing that they are part of something larger, The Butler Way, will hopefully reinforce the “Team over self” narrative and reintroduce the idea of passing the ball effectively over the course of the regular season.

The Bulldogs lacked fire and, I’d say even go as far as to say, valor in their most recent outing at home against Georgetown.  They played to not lose instead of playing to win.  There was an observed hesitant approach to the game plan which made Butler look like they were a step behind on most plays.  If the Bulldogs wish to see successful play here on out, they will need to play with an edge.

There are a few players that have had large swings of productivity over the course of the season.  Tyler Wideman, Nate Fowler, and Paul Jorgensen can all play at a high level and have shown they are capable of doing so at different points during the season.  Before Paul scored a few off balance layups in the game against Georgetown, he had grown a three game shooting stretch to just 3 – 20 (15%).  I feel like understanding yourself as a player would translate to taking smart shots.  I think Paul is taking good shots, but the ones he is taking look rushed.  Fowler, a tall center for the Bulldogs, seems to find a way to make shots more difficult than they need to be.  At some point, he needs to go to the hoop strong with two hands and put the ball through the hoop without giving the entire Bulldog fan base a heart attack.  Finally, Tyler Wideman is a stud, but the lack of involvement is concerning.  Yes, Butler plays smaller in the middle.  However, Tyler possesses immense power where he should feel comfortable going up strong, taking the hit, and ultimately earning a trip to the free throw line.  Each of the three players I just spoke of are great guys.  I have faith that the coaching staff and players figure this out while they find their mojo again.

I need to be fair.  Butler currently ranks 8th in the nation in free throw percentage, hitting at 78%.  Butler has not been shooting that well compared to the entire nation since 2007 when they finished 13th.  They are highly efficient on offense, with a comprehensive effective field goal percentage of 54.3%.  The Bulldogs keep most opponents off the glass, limiting offensive rebounds on less than 25% of their opponents possessions.

Preview Against Providence

On Saturday, Butler hosts the Providence Friars in the second of two meetings during regular season play.  The Friars won the first game at the Dunkin’ Donuts center.

Expect Butler to come out of the locker room and play with an edge.  In the midst of a three game losing streak, the Bulldogs will look to end the slide and beat a good Providence team that I expect to make the tournament.  Beyond just the emotion that can play a role in this game, Butler has a much more efficient offense than Providence does.  Both teams seem to be equal on defense.  One of the keys is Butler limiting the amount of fouls allowing the Friars to get to the line.  Kyron Cartwright moves so quickly and sees the floor so well that it will be a tough ask to slow him down.

Both teams share an impressive statistic.  Both have beat Villanova this year.  Butler did so at home on December 30th and Providence more recently at home on February 14th.

Advertisements

Field of 68 Projection – February 16, 2018

The 1’s: Virginia, Xavier, Purdue, Villanova

The 2’s: Auburn, Kansas, Cincinnati, Michigan State

The 3’s: Duke, Texas Tech, Clemson, Tennessee

The 4’s: Ohio State, North Carolina, Arizona, West Virginia

The 5’s: Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Gonzaga, Texas A&M

The 6’s: Wichita State, Kentucky, Creighton, Florida

The 7’s: Seton Hall, Arizona State, Miami (FL), St. Mary’s (CA)

The 8’s: Alabama, Nevada, TCU, Missouri

The 9’s: Michigan, Arkansas, Butler, Florida State

The 10’s: Virginia Tech, Houston, Providence, Louisville

The 11’s: NC State, Washington, UCLA, Kansas State, Texas, Syracuse

The 12’s: Loyola – Chicago, Vermont, Middle Tennessee, New Mexico State

The 13’s: Louisiana – Lafayette, Buffalo, South Dakota State, East Tennessee State

The 14’s: Belmont, Montana, College of Charleston, UC Santa Barbara

The 15’s: Florida Gulf Coast, Bucknell, Rider, Northern Kentucky

The 16’s: Nicholls State, Wagner, Penn, Savannah State, NC-Asheville, Arkansas Pine-Bluff

 

The next Field of 68 update will be on Tuesday, February 20th.  You can read an update on the landscape of Big East basketball heading into the final few weeks of the regular season here: Big East Perspective and Butler Preview vs. Providence

January Month in Review

College basketball began conference play furiously with a series of unexpected upsets.  Initial favorites in major conferences struggled, but over the course of the month, most of those favorites righted the ship.  That didn’t leave statistical outliers hanging though!  In fact, we were graced with one of the oddest performances in modern college basketball history – a triple overtime game between the Siena Saints and Saint Peter’s Peacocks which saw Siena win 59-57.  At halftime, Saint Peter’s held, what looks like in hindsight, a commanding 26-16 lead.  By the end of regulation, the score was tied at 40.  5 points for each team in each of the first two overtimes saw the teams knotted at 50.  An explosion of offense saw Siena squeak by.  The details in the numbers of this game are even more revealing in how odd this game was.

Saint Peter’s was called for 29 fouls compared to Siena’s 18, a difference so large that Saint Peter’s had 3 of their players foul out. Two others players for the Peacocks had 4 fouls.  Without looking at the box score, a basketball fan can infer that there was a lot of time spent at the free throw line.  And you are correct!  Between the two teams, sixty free throws were attempted.  Saint Peter’s shot 12-21 (57%) at the charity stripe and Siena was 24-39 (62%).  The unfortunate shooting night from the free throw line bled elsewhere on the floor.  Both teams hit 5 three-pointers during the 55 minute game.

 

Slowest Games of the Month

  1. Davidson 75 – Fordham 45 (52 possessions)
  2. Dayton 65 – Davidson 64 (55 possessions)
  3. Notre Dame 51 – Syracuse 49 (55 possessions)
  4. Bradley 72 – Missouri State 52 (55 possessions)
  5. Saint Louis 66 – Massachusetts 44 (55 possessions)

 

Fastest Games of the Month

  1. Savannah State 103 – Hampton 101 (93 possessions)
  2. Ball State 111 – Akron 106 (2 Overtimes, 94 possessions)
  3. Wyoming 104 – Nevada 103 (2 Overtimes, 95 possessions)
  4. Lipscomb 110 – USC Upstate 106 (2 Overtimes, 98 possessions)

Field of 68 – February 12, 2018

27 days from now, we will have the bracket revealed to us.  Tomorrow, however, insight into the top 16 seeds will provide a teaser of where teams lay and who has work to do in obtaining a top 4 seed.  As of now, here are the seeding lines for the body of work to this point in the season:

 

The 1’s: Virginia, Xavier, Villanova, Purdue

The 2’s: Auburn, Kansas, Clemson, Michigan State

The 3’s: Duke, Texas Tech, Cincinnati, Tennessee

The 4’s: Ohio State, North Carolina, Oklahoma, West Virginia

The 5’s: Arizona, Rhode Island, Alabama, Seton Hall

The 6’s: Miami (FL), Kentucky, Butler, Gonzaga

The 7’s: Florida, Arizona State, Nevada, TCU

The 8’s: Wichita State, Florida State, St. Mary’s (CA), Creighton

The 9’s: Michigan, Texas, Texas A&M, Louisville

The 10’s: Providence, Missouri, Washington, Arkansas

The 11’s: Houston, NC State, USC, Boise State, Virginia Tech, Kansas State

The 12’s: Loyola – Chicago, Buffalo, Middle Tennessee, New Mexico State

The 13’s: Louisiana – Lafayette, Vermont, South Dakota State, East Tennessee State

The 14’s: Northern Kentucky, Belmont, Montana, College of Charleston

The 15’s: Bucknell, Rider, UC Santa Barbara, Stephen F. Austin

The 16’s: Florida Gulf Coast, Wagner, Penn, Radford, North Carolina A&T, Arkansas Pine-Bluff

 

Next updated bracket will be on February 16, 2018

Butler Versus Xavier Preview

Tonight, the Butler Bulldogs host the Xavier Musketeers in an I-74 rivalry.  Over the past 20 years, both teams have seen sustained success in multiple conferences.  Once former members of the Midwestern City Conference, the extensive history of these two teams has seen Xavier hold a winning advantage 39 of the 59 times they have played.  The consistent meetings of the two teams ended in the mid-1990’s as teams left the MCC for other conferences.  Eventually, the MCC rebranded into the Horizon league in 2001.  Prior the rebranding, it had been renamed the Midwestern Collegiate Conference in 1985, keeping the same initials.  In 2012, Butler joined Xavier in the Atlantic 10 Conference before both teams were brought into the Big East.  Since joining the Big East, the Musketeers own an 8-3 record over the Bulldogs.

What can be expected in tonight’s matchup:

It’s difficult to beat the Bulldogs in Hinkle Fieldhouse.  Butler is 12-1 this season with the lone loss coming to a Seton Hall team loaded with experience.  In that game, Butler gave up an 11 point lead.  Recently, the Bulldogs have seen success on both ends of the floor, bringing both their offensive and defensive efficiency into the top 35 according to Kenpom.com.  Xavier, though efficient on offense, struggles in interior defense.  That seems odd because Kerem Kanter and Tyrique Jones rebound the ball at a high rate on both the offensive and defensive ends.  Look for the Bulldogs to drive the basketball.  If the shots begin to fall, playing the inside-out game will be a determiner in the result of this game.

Turnovers:  Xavier has committed turnovers on 16% of their possessions during Big East play, a number most coaches would like to see lower.  The Bulldogs force a turnover on 17% of the possessions that their opponent has the ball on offense.

Running the floor:  Xavier plays an uptempo game, averaging just over 15 seconds per possession.  Butler comparatively takes over 17 seconds per possession.  It may seem slight, but a few seconds here and there can change things quickly.

 

How Butler wins tonight:  If the Bulldogs expect to win,  they will have to continue to get back on defense, make shots in the paint early on, and find a way to allow Paul Jorgensen and Tyler Wideman to contribute.  When both of them are able to find ways to score, it’s difficult for opponents to beat Butler. I think Butler wins this in a close finish, 81-78.

Random notes:  A lot of people that cover college basketball have bumped Xavier up to the 1 seed line as a projection for Selection Sunday.  That makes two Big East teams, Villanova being the other, as 1 seeds.  Butler visit’s Villanova Saturday for a noon tip-off.

After being ranked 42nd in Kenpom just over two weeks ago, the Bulldogs are up to 19th.

Field of 68 – February 5, 2018

I thought I’d dabble in what the projected field looks like about 5 weeks away from Selection Sunday.  I don’t possess the credentials of a bracketologist, but it’s always fun to see how much a team can change over the course of 5 weeks in the lead up to the field being revealed.  I will mention that recency has a role in seeding.  Yes, good wins early in the season still have merit, but a team’s look changes over the course of three months.  So, here we go!  I intend to update this twice per week leading up to conference tournaments, with a final go before the bracket is revealed.

The 1’s: Virginia, Villanova, Purdue, Kansas

The 2’s: Duke, Xavier, Auburn, Oklahoma

The 3’s: Clemson, Michigan State, Cincinnati, Texas Tech

The 4’s: Arizona, North Carolina, Tennessee, Ohio State

The 5’s: Kentucky, West Virginia, Seton Hall, Wichita State

The 6’s: Rhode Island, Florida, TCU, Miami (Fl)

The 7’s: Gonzaga, Creighton, St. Mary’s(CA), Butler

The 8’s: Nevada, Louisville, Michigan, Alabama

The 9’s: Arizona State, Texas, Arkansas, Florida State

The 10’s: Texas A&M, Providence, NC State, Kansas State

The 11’s: Houston, Missouri, USC, Washington, Marquette, Virginia Tech

The 12’s: Loyola – Chicago, Buffalo, Middle Tennessee, New Mexico State

The 13’s: Louisiana – Lafayette, Vermont, South Dakota State, East Tennessee State

The 14’s: Northern Kentucky, Belmont, Montana, Northeastern

The 15’s: Bucknell, Rider, UC Santa Barbara, Stephen F. Austin

The 16’s: Florida Gulf Coast, Wagner, Penn, Radford, North Carolina A&T, Arkansas Pine-Bluff

Seton Hall Preview

As the Bulldogs prepare to play against their third consecutive Top 25 opponent today, what should Butler and their fans expect going into this game against Seton Hall?

In the 9 previous meetings, Butler owns a 7-2 record with every game being played since the conference realignment.

Seton Hall is led by a trio of seniors, Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez, and the team’s centerpiece, Angel Delgado. Junior Michael Nzei and Senior Ismael Sanogo tend to replace one another in the lineup. Sophomore Myles Powell will be one to watch along the three-point arc today. He is shooting 43% beyond the arc to this point in the season. With the struggles Butler has had guarding the three-point line this year, the Bulldogs will be forced to come out to the perimeter, allowing easy entry passes into Delgado. That means Tyler Wideman and Nate Fowler will have to be poised in the post and force the Pirates into making difficult passes. If there are mismatches in height down low, Seton Hall will go over the top for an easy basket.

The Pirates will be tactful in transition as they rank in the top 80 in average length of possession according to Kenpom.com. If Butler wants to force Seton Hall into uncomfortable situations, they’ll have to play sound defense and force the Pirates into third and fourth options for scoring when in half court sets.

Butler will need to be aggressive as Seton Hall struggles with fouling. As a team, the Pirates are poor from the free throw line.

For the first time in the history of the program, Butler played top 5 teams in back to back games, playing 1 Villanova and 5 Xavier. The Bulldogs look to continue a somewhat surprisingly good start to Big East play against a well coached Seton Hall team.

Admittedly, I have been wrong about the Bulldogs this season. I figured Butler would be in close games and end up losing as other teams pulled away. They looked lost early in the season with stagnant ball movement and poor shot selection. The reliance of individuals making a play off a halfhearted ball screen is never going to work longterm.

Kamar Baldwin and Kelan Martin will need to get others involved if the Bulldogs wish to win today. The current line has the Bulldogs as a two point favorite at home. Nate Fowler and Paul Jorgensen will factor into the result today. Jorgensen’s confidence has grown and it seems as if that has carried over to other players on the floor.

Prediction: I think the Bulldogs win today but are pushed until the end. I think Delgado goes for another double-double. Kelan Martin has nearly averaged a double-double against the Pirates and I do think he can get one today. Butler 85-Seton Hall 79

December Month in Review and Conference Play Preview

Another month of college basketball, another month filled with random outliers and fun statistical surprises.  Apologies for the delay in sharing this with everyone.  The holiday season brought a lot of time with friends and family.  As a consequence, my timeliness in sending this out before all conferences began their play was poor.  I’m excited to offer that I will be more diligent in sharing conference updates weekly towards the end of January!

Fastest Games of December

  1. Wyoming 96 – Drake 89 (2OT) [95 Possessions]
  2. Portland State 94 – Loyola Marymount 85 [93 Possessions]
  3. Colorado 112 – San Diego State 103 [92 Possessions]

Slowest Games of December

  1. Saint Mary’s 69 – Dayton 54 [56 possessions]
  2. Utah 66 – Oregon 56 [55 possessions]
  3. La Salle 58 – Holy Cross 54 [54 possessions]

Conference Play is Upon Us – What Should We Expect?

With conferences changing up how their schedule is laid out because of when conference tournaments are played, some teams have already begun their conference play. I’m saying this because the results do adjust how I perceive the conference play will turn out.  I’ve gone ahead and ranked teams how I predict they will finish based on what I’ve seen, rankings/ratings of statisticians, and other factors like personnel injuries.  Due to the amount of time it has taken me to complete this write up, I have not ranked a few conferences or only mentioned ones that have a legitimate chance of winning the conference.

ACC – After watching Boston College through November, I thought the Golden Eagles had a fighting chance to upset a good Duke Blue Devils team. Turns out that Duke’s sustained underachieving defense and transition defense is liable to good three-point shooting teams. Boston College made their long distance shots and that turned out to be the significant difference in the game. Duke kept it close which is encouraging for the Blue Devils. How should we expect the conference expect to shake out over the course of the winter?

Big Ten – Well this seems like a down year for the Big Ten after what they’ve shown in non-conference play. Minnesota and Northwestern have been disappointing in my opinion. They are great teams that have shown long stretches of consistent play. However, there are droughts of scoring or continued mistakes on defense that have allowed opponents to walk away with victories. The biggest surprise? Ohio State was predicted to finish last in the conference this year, but after going to Wisconsin and playing at home against Michigan, the Buckeyes are sitting atop the conference at 2-0. Chris Holtmann’s first year as head coach of the Buckeyes can be considered an overachievement already in my opinion. Having eight scholarship athletes and developing a new structure of offense and defense for these players takes time. I’m not surprised at all. Holtmann demonstrates time and again a unique ability to connect with athletes he coaches far beyond the court. His understanding of strengths and playing to them is what got him to Ohio State and will keep him there for a long time. By the time the Big Ten tournament comes around, this is how I see the Big Ten shaking out during conference play:

  1. Michigan State – The Spartans have the talent to win the whole tournament this year. What’s surprising is the lack of discussion about this team since they lost to Duke back in November. They will be challenged by Purdue.
  2. Purdue – The Boilermakers have the makeup of a dark horse and have the pieces to make it to the Elite 8. They have shown signs of weakness, allowing teams to make runs at them. However, their ability to play their brand of basketball and not rush has been key to them maintaining a strong resume to this point of the season.
  3. Michigan – Coach Beilein has his Wolverines operating at a high level defensively. Their defense will carry them when they lose their shooting touch during games.
  4. Ohio State – After a pleasant start to this season, the Buckeyes look to make some noise in the Big Ten. I’m already impressed with the road win at a down Wisconsin side and a home win against the Michigan Wolverines. If they continue to surprise with results, they have the potential to be a top 4 Big Ten team!
  5. Minnesota – The Wildcats have been disappointing to this point, not winning games they should have because they bring back nearly their entire team that made it to the NCAA tournament last year. They need to figure things out if they wish to repeat their success last year.
  6. Maryland – After a good start to the season, the Terrapins have fallen off a bit. If they wish to be a lock into the tournament in March, they’ll have to do some work in the Big Ten. Right now, I have them sitting as one of the last teams in.
  7. Penn State – Always a team that has at least one surprisingly impressive win most seasons, the Nittany Lions look to fight to call themselves one of the most c
  8. Ohio State –
  9. Indiana – Archie Miller has had an up and down start to the season and looks like it will continue that way. Playing closely against Duke at home and beating Notre Dame in an overtime game in Indianapolis gives a positive outlook, yet home losses to Indiana State and Fort Wayne show how much the Hoosiers have to continue to build.
  10. Wisconsin – Stagnant scoring and injuries will unfortunately play a large role in the Badger’s season. After taking a loss to Ohio State at home, this Big Ten season does not look great for Wisco.
  11. Nebraska – Perennial bottom tier basketball team continues to wallow in the depths of this conference. They could maybe win 5 or 6 games this season.
  12. Illinois – I thought this team had a great chance at surprising people this season and I still do. Brad Underwood’s tenure at Illinois looks like it can be great after pulling in some highly touted recruits. Mr. Basketball for Illinois will play a huge role in how the Fighting Illini go this season.
  13. Iowa – Fran McCaffrey’s Hawkeyes will try their best to not fall into the basement of the Big Ten this season, but I’m expecting lackluster play from this squad. Their offense was held up by the crutch of Peter Jok last season. He’s graduated and no one seems to have filled his place.
  14. Rutgers – Rutgers is getting better, but in a conference like this, it isn’t as noticeable. Don’t be surprised if they take down one or two top tier Big Ten teams.

 

Big East – Well, Villanova has found a way to continue to play an unrelenting consistent style of basketball. They are currently sitting ranked 1st in the polls. The nonconference season saw a few oddities judging from the predictions of how Big East teams were expected to fair this year. Providence struggled mightily at times, even needing a buzzer beater to win at home against Belmont. Creighton has been a pleasant surprise and the consistent play of St. John’s and Seton Hall elevates the conference. Transfer Max Strus from DePaul has been electric for the Demon Deacons, putting up as many as 30 points in a game. With the cushy schedule Georgetown played, I was surprised how close they were to beating Syracuse. Here’s how I foresee the Big East teams shaking out at the end of conference play:

 

  1. Villanova – The Wildcats have won 4 straight conference titles outright. With surprises by Butler in the past few years, it looks like Xavier is the closest challenger to Villanova this year.
  2. Xavier – With a strong nonconference showing, the Musketeers look to grab a high seed after earning an 11 seed last year yet making noise on their way to the Elite 8. A surprise loss to Arizona State which looks like a good loss now and struggling at home against East Tennessee State are of concern, but this team comes to play every night out.
  3. Seton Hall – A team led by reliable seniors is always fun to watch. It’s made even more fun when you have a double-double machine in Angel Delgado. This team has reliable scoring all over the place. If they stay healthy, they are a dark horse to steal the conference from the two teams listed ahead of them.
  4. Creighton – Kind of a surprise, and this is where things really get shuffled in the Big East. From fourth down to eighth is a tossup in my opinion. Creighton can run as usual, but can their shots fall? They’ve lacked the consistency they had the past few years.
  5. John’s – Chris Mullins has built what once was an eclectic, international team into a dangerous and lethal shooting team full of athleticism. The Red Storm have transitioned away from the international scene and kept it in-house, bringing in players from the New York boroughs.
  6. Butler – This finish is based on the inconsistent play that’s shown itself based on how this team executes against certain matchups. Most of the time, Butler will be the smaller team, so sharing the ball is important. The last two games, the Bulldogs have assisted on 21 and 23 baskets. They will have to be in the vicinity of those numbers if they wish to hand around the top 4 spots. I foresee close games and blowout losses for Butler this season. But it is Butler and they somehow always seem to find a way to win…
  7. Providence – The Friars have had a curious start to their season. As strong as they looked to be preseason, the numbers on paper aren’t translating to the court. I’m wary of putting the Friars higher than 6, but I think they end up at .500 in conference play.
  8. Georgetown – Thanks to the cushy nonconference schedule, playing the easiest one in the land according to Ken Pomeroy’s ratings, the Hoyas may struggle early in conference play, but don’t be surprised if they have a nice stretch of wins too.
  9. DePaul – The Demon Deacons have the firepower to put up points. They key will be defense. I think if DePaul can put things together, they can end up as high as Providence or Butler. I would love to see them get out of the cellar and feel success.
  10. Marquette – The Golden Eagles are curious. They can shoot the ball really well, but they rely on the three so much that they will struggle with the top half of the conference. I really think any of the teams 6 through 10 could finish in any one of these spots. Guess that’s how predictions go though. We’ll see how well these projections were as the season progresses.

 

Big 12 – Can Kansas make adjustments to continue their unbelievable string of consecutive regular season championships? They’ll be hard pressed by a quiet Texas Tech team and a not so quiet West Virginia squad. Oh, and Oklahoma has arguably the best point guard at the moment running the Sooners offense. Someone posed the question recently on the website reddit.com wondering if an entire conference could make it into the NCAA tournament. It’s never been done, and it likely never will, but could it happen? This year’s Big 12 Conference has every one of their teams in the top 74 in Ken Pomeroy’s ranking system. That is wild! If you take out Iowa State, the team that is ranked 74th, every team is in the top 49…As exciting as that is, I’m glad I don’t have to coach against these squads during conference play. I expect the top 6 teams to be jumbled by the end and the bottom 4 teams to be jumbled as well. Who knows what will happen this year in the Big 12. All I know is, I’m excited to see how this all plays out. TCU continues to make huge strides, a welcomed change of pace from the once bottom dweller of the conference.

  1. Kansas – Somehow, Bill Self will pull his team together and maintain control, but I think that Kansas ends up tying for a share of the conference title.
  2. Texas Tech – After a strong showing in the non-conference, this is my choice to upend Kansas. Their single loss to a good Seton Hall team isn’t of concern. Chris Beard, the former coach of the beloved Little Rock team that took down Purdue in the tournament, has a balanced team. Let’s see how high their ceiling is!
  3. West Virginia – We know the offensive prowess of a Bob Huggins team. Their lone loss in their opener to Texas A&M is excusable. Their win against Virginia was impressive. This should be a top 3 Big 12 team.
  4. Oklahoma – Freshman Trae Young is scorching the statsheet with impressive numbers. The young man is talented enough to raise his team to another level and give his teammates the confidence necessary to go into any game and believe they can win.
  5. TCU – Jamie Dixon did not waste any time in developing TCU into a dangerous team to play. With such a strong conference, I expect TCU to do some damage in the NCAA tournament this year.
  6. Texas – For as good as this team can play, they can similarly look lost and disorganized. Mo Bamba, in my opinion, has a lot of room to develop, especially in his choices of shot selection and aggression. When I saw him play in the PK80 tournament in Portland, Oregon, most of his points came off of open looks/dunks.
  7. Baylor – Baylor could finish as high as 3 and as low as 8. It all depends on the type of team that shows up for them night in and night out.
  8. Oklahoma State – They’ll give each opponent a tough go when they take the floor, but I think OK State falls short of the tournament this year.
  9. Kansas State – Bruce Weber hopes to have a winning season out in Manhattan this year. Will the Wildcats surprise some people and move up in the final conference standings? Their loss to Tulsa is considered their only blemish, but it’s not something that will keep them out of the selection process if they can win 10 games in the Big 12 this year.
  10. Iowa State – Unfortunately for Iowa State, they are in what’s been described as the third strongest conference in history dating back to the 1990 season. If

 

Pac 12

  1. Arizona – They went from number 2 in the country to falling out of the Top 25 altogether. This team is loaded with talent. They’re on the upswing and have a much more disciplined defense than who I have finishing second and third in the Pac 12.
  2. USC – Bennie Boatwright continues to guide this team to success, but there were some questionable losses during the noncon portion of the season. The Trojans lost to Princeton and Washington, both I’d consider bad losses. They’ll have to turn it around and finish in the top 3 in conference to make the tournament.
  3. Arizona State – Not sure where the Sun Devils came from and I love the surprise! It’s fun to see a team shuffle up the top 5. I think they can win the conference but they will have to beat Arizona to do so!

 

SEC – The SEC is fun again because Kentucky can’t run away with the conference this year! Texas A&M looks to take the conference title this year but will be hard pressed to do so against Tennessee and difficult games ahead against good Auburn and Alabama teams.

 

Mid Major Teams to Watch

Loyola Chicago – The Ramblers went down to Florida and beat the Gators. They came home and lost to former conference foe Milwaukee – Wisconsin. Now in the Missouri Valley Conference, the Ramblers have a great opportunity to take the conference now that Wichita State exited for the American Conference.

 

Middle Tennessee – This team is so much fun to watch and they have a legitimate chance to win each game they play. With 4 losses on the season by a combined 20 points, the Blue Raiders are setting themselves up to be a dangerous opponent in the NCAA tournament again. Oh, and they have Giddy Potts – I love that name.

 

Nevada – The Wolf Pack boast a great win over Rhode Island, yet a questionable loss to San Francisco. To be fair, that was in a holiday tournament in Hawaii. Their three losses are by a combined 12 points (6 point overtime loss at Texas Tech, 4 point loss to TCU on a neutral court, and a 2 point loss to San Francisco). The Wolf Pack could run the table in conference play. Their toughest games standing between them and a perfect conference record are at Boise State on Valentines Day, at UNLV to close out February, and at San Diego State in early March.

 

Saint Mary’s – I’m hesitant to list the Gaels on here because they don’t have a signature win on the season yet. They’re going to have to be nearly perfect, taking a game from Gonzaga during the regular season and likely winning their conference tournament. I don’t feel good about them winning…

 

Rhode Island – The veteran Rhode Island team that was oh so close to making it to the second weekend in last year’s tournament brings nearly the entire squad back. With great wins against Seton Hall and Providence during nonconference play, the Rams will look to take hold of the conference and break down the wall to get further in this year’s tournament. With close losses to Nevada and Alabama, this team should be able to do some damage come tournament time.

 

St. Bonaventure – The Bonnies have been a lot of fun to watch this year, going on the road and snagging some great signature wins already! In a down year for the Atlantic 10 Conference, they’ll challenge the veteran Rhode Island team for both the regular season and tournament conference championships.

 

BYU – Playing in the same conference as Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s has to be difficult. BYU has a great win against Utah and no bad losses. They were in close games with UT Arlington and Alabama until the end of both games. The Cougars will most likely have to win the West Coast Conference to get into the tournament.

 

Boise St. – With a win over Oregon and playing a good Iowa State team close on a neutral court (that’s relative because they’re projected to finish last in the Big 12), the Broncos will have a time getting to the NCAA tournament. If they play UNLV and Nevada close, the Broncos could be upsetting a few teams come March. The key for this team is to not try and run with their opponent. They may have learned a touch lesson from an efficient SMU squad.

 

Ball State – Ball State had a rough start to their season. 4 of their first 5 games were away at Dayton, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Bucknell. All four of those teams have strong home atmospheres, making it difficult for visiting teams to win.

 

UT Arlington – The Mavericks will need to win their conference tournament, but playing Alabama, Creighton, and Northern Iowa close should be encouraging for Scott Cross’s team. With a heavily senior laden team, their experience ranks first in the nation on Ken Pomeroy’s website. I’d love to see this team make noise in March.

Butler Preview Against Youngstown State

On Saturday, December 9th, the Youngstown State Penguins visit the Butler Bulldogs in a throwback match-up from the Horizon League.  The Bulldogs own a 21-3 advantage in the series and have a perfect record at home.  Youngstown State’s last win came 2011, a 62-60 decision.  That was Butler’s last loss until they were defeated by Connecticut in the National Championship.

Youngstown State is seeking it’s first win on the road this season under first year head coach, Jerrod Calhoun.  The Penguins have struggled this year with only two wins, both over teams that are not affiliated with Division I basketball.  In fact, according to kenpom.com, the Penguins aren’t favored to win a game until the play Detroit on February 16th of next year, a 51% chance of winning that game.

Fortunately for the Bulldogs, Youngstown does not strut a lot of height on the floor, an advantage that Joey Brunk, Nate Fowler, and Tyler Wideman need to capitalize on.

A few players to watch from Youngstown include Senior Cameron Morse.  He has scored over 1500 points.  Sophomore Braun Hartfield has the ability to score in bunches, putting up 33 points in an earlier game this season.

With Butler, winner of their past four games, finding a rhythm on offense to go with their somewhat disciplined defense, will we see continued growth with ball movement?  In their last two games, the Bulldogs have 26 assists on 56 made field goals.  In their two losses and their poor outing against Ohio State that still resulted in a win, the Bulldogs had 25 assists on 67 made field goals.  Butler appears to be evolving in it’s understanding of where their strengths and weaknesses lay depending on the personnel on the floor.

Senior Kelan Martin passed Bobby Plump for 15th all-time on for career points scored at Butler.  Joey Brunk was granted a red-shirt and reclassified to freshman status for eligibility.  Sean McDermott is expected to miss 4-5 more weeks due to an ankle sprain he sustained while playing out in Portland in the PK80 tournament.

For the Bulldogs to win, they will have to use their size to their advantage, continue to move the ball, and not become complacent on either end of the ball.  If their shooting goes cold, Bulldog fans could be in for a long day.

Winner:  Butler

Butler Preview Against Utah

This evening’s late tip-off for the Butler Bulldogs will give insight as to how the team has grown since the beginning of the regular season.  Over the course of the first eight games, the Bulldogs have shown flashes of great basketball IQ and, unfortunately, more than frequent looks of stagnant ball movement, and looks of confusion.  In their most recent outing against the St. Louis Billikens, Butler looked like a different team.  Their passes were crisp, there was an intensity that had yet to be seen for a full forty minute game.  They had some help though.  The Billikens were without four of their players which drastically changes the identity of a team.  Last Saturday’s result has to help build confidence for the Bulldogs though, which faces a tough Utah team tonight.

Last year, the Bulldogs visited Utah in late November and came away with a win over the Utes, 68-59.  There is a new identity to both teams after they’ve seen players transition away from both programs.  So why is this game so important?  When you have the opportunity to play against an opponent from a power conference, it has rippling effects.  Although Utah is unranked at the moment, they have multiple opportunities to play great teams in their conference.  If they are able to win games against those strong teams (hopefully Oregon and Arizona step up, but definitely include Arizona State), there is a tangential effect that will help build Butler’s resume.

Utah comes to Hinkle having earned a 6-1 record to this point in the season.  Their lone loss was a 27 point drubbing to UNLV.  We can expect the Utes to play as deep as 9 players, with 6 players averaging between 8 to 14.9 points per game.  Utah possesses a staunch perimeter defense, allowing opponents less than 25% of makes on 3’s taken.  However, the Utes are only averaging just over 6 steals a game, a number that implies Butler may be able to move the ball around.  Expect Utah to run a mostly man defense this evening.  Utah and Butler resemble each other in their play this year in a number of ways.

Both teams struggle to shoot consistently from behind the three point line.  I think this game comes down to rebounds and second chance points.  With both teams shooting poorly beyond the three point line, clearing out and boxing out will be a large influence in the final score.

Where does Butler find an advantage elsewhere though?  Look for the Bulldogs to attempt to continue their success sharing the ball.  With Utah’s low rate of creating turnovers (about 10% of the time when they are on defense), Butler will need to play selflessly to create space for easy baskets.  Because Utah plays great defense around the arc, there should be cutting lanes that develop later in the shot clock.  Patience will be a factor for Butler as they run their offense.

With the preseason conversation focused on the pace of how the Bulldogs intended to play, we’ve only seem brief moments of an uptempo team.  According the kenpom.com, Butler ranks 279th out of 351 Division I teams averaging 68 possessions per game.  That implies the Bulldogs hold onto the ball much longer than most teams, which is true.  They average a shot between 17-18 seconds into the 30 second shot-clock countdown.  From the games I’ve watched this season, Butler has looked lost or stagnant on offense.  Usually, if the pass isn’t available to the big down on the block or in the lane when they initially start their offense, the big will come to set a screen for the ball handler.  The big rolls to the basket and the ball handler ends up dribbling on the wing for 3-5 seconds while everyone else is standing, watching on the wings.  Eventually, after a few passes, and little net movement of the ball, someone ends up with the responsibility of needing to make a play, usually Kelan Martin, Kamar Baldwin, or Aaron Thompson.  In the last game, Butler shared the ball well, earning 15 assists on 26 made shots.  If they want to see continued success, they will need to be decisive with their passes and confident in their shot selection.

Things to watch:

Utah’s height-  David Collette is an effective 6-10 senior that will play about 20-25 minutes today.  He’s a transfer from Utah State that has played well early this season.  Butler will have to play strong against him and force him into awkward shots or passing to have a chance to win.  Jayce Johnson is a 7-0 sophomore that plays in place when Collette is on the bench.  Butler’s deficiency in playing against height is still a work-in-progress.  I’m curious to see what coach LaVall Jordan draws up for match-ups.  The fun thing about basketball games is that they are always changing.  Fouls adjust the personnel on the floor.  If someone is having a game where their shot isn’t falling, they can play a role as a ball distributor.

Possible deep threat – The only real deep threat from beyond the three-point line is 6-6 senior Gabe Bealer.  On the season, he’s shot 16-28 from beyond the arc.  Other players from Utah that have the ability to shoot from three are seniors Tyler Rawson and Justin Bibbins.  Both men have made 11 three points apiece to this point in the season.  If Paul Jorgenson shoots well tonight, he’ll help fill the loss of Sean McDermott’s shooting.  Paul is capable of hitting a few consecutive three-points that can sway the game in a major way.

Win Streak- Last year, Butler ended Utah’s then 32 consecutive non-league home wins.  Entering tonight’s game, Butler sits 3rd in the nation with 39 consecutive non-league home wins.

I believe this will be a close game throughout regulation.  The home court advantage with the crowd will help Butler.  If Kelan Martin and Kamar Baldwin are on, it will be tough to beat the Bulldogs.  I have liked seeing Joey Brunk and Nate Fowler being utilized more frequently in games.  One thing that still gets me is the lack of ability for Butler to score on plays where they are inbounding the ball.  Brad Stevens and Chris Holtmann have it figured out.  You always need to have a play that can get you two points off of an inbound.

Winner tonight: Butler