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.

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Conference Season Begins

As teams close out the first part of their season and prepare for conference play in their respective conferences, I share who my favorites are to win each conference and who can expect to challenge for the top spot.

America East

The Vermont Catamounts are quietly putting together a solid campaign.  The Albany Great Danes are the most likely to push Vermont and end up stealing their spot in the tournament come March.

American Athletic

The AAC has been disappointing this year and that’s an understatement. The only threat to make noise in the tournament is a tough Cincinatti team. Most other teams in the conference fall into the middle to low tier when comparing them to other major conferences. The biggest challenger to the Bearcats is SMU. After having one of the best records and not going to the tournament due to serving NCAA violations, SMU can be the second best team to make the tournament.

Atlantic 10

This conference is always so interesting as it can produce a wide range of tournament berths from year to year. The Dayton Flyers are my favorite, but it will be a close race to the top with the likes of Rhode Island, VCU, and even Davidson. Dark horses to challenge the top contenders are St. Bonaventure and La Salle. My top 6 is any variation from these teams, but I expect Dayton and Rhode Island to vie for the top spot.

ACC

Oh the ACC…I honestly believe there is a better chance for a 4-way tie for first than an outright winner.  Duke, Virginia, Louisville, and North Carolina, I think, end up in a tie for first place at the conclusion of conference play.  I think Duke has the better players out of those four teams which would give them edge, if they figure out how to play together.  Since introducing the three stellar freshman to the floor, Duke has struggled somewhat.  Grayson Allen is a major distraction to the team and I think has a negative effect as Duke transitions into conference play.  His actions and how he carries himself seem more isolating than anything.  I believe the ACC has the potential to send 8 or 9 teams to the NCAA tournament with the final conference standings projected as follows:

  1. Duke
  2. North Carolina
  3. Virginia
  4. Louisville
  5. Notre Dame
  6. Clemson
  7. Florida State
  8. Virginia Tech
  9. Miami FL
  10. Syracuse
  11. Wake Forest
  12. Pittsburgh
  13. NC State
  14. Georgia Tech
  15. Boston College

Atlantic Sun

I have Florida Gulf Coast is the favorite to win this one-bid league.  I don’t see any team challenging FGCU for the bid to the NCAA tournament unless a major upset occurs in the conference tournament.

Big 12

This is a very tough choice to make, mainly because I don’t want to pick against history. Kansas has won the regular season title 12 straight years.  I’d love to pick Kansas to win because they are so consistent during the regular season. They will have a strong challenge from West Virginia.  The Mountaineers are slightly more efficient in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings.  I’m excited to watch their matchups when they play each other.  Baylor has a legitimate chance to make some noise based on their body of work early in the season.  I don’t foresee other teams in this conference finishing in the top 3, but I do think the Big 12 sends at least 5 or 6 teams to the tournament.

Big East

The Villanova Wildcats are the favorite to win the Big East this year. It won’t come easy due to the upper half of the conference playing very well. Creighton has been the dark horse to this point, with an unexpected, yet impressive, undefeated non-conference. The Blue Jays issues will be on the defensive end, as they aren’t as efficient in protecting the rim as Butler, Xavier, Providence, or Villanova. Expect Villanova to be pushed in games against Xavier, Creighton, and Butler. Butler is still looking for their first win over Villanova – January 4th at Hinkle Fieldhouse is their best opportunity this year.

Final standings

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

Big Sky

This is an odd conference to try and predict.  The most efficient team on offense in the conference is almost the least efficient on defense (and in the nation).  That title belongs to Eastern Washington.  Because of that, I see them finishing in the middle of the pack in their conference.  North Dakota is my favorite to win this conference and they will feel pressure from both Weber State and Montana to become conference champions.

Big South

I see the Big South as a horse race between Winthrop and UNC Asheville.  I think UNC Asheville has the edge in this race, but we’ll see how that prediction holds through conference play.

Big Ten

The Big Ten will be fun this year mainly from the state of Indiana perspective because both Indiana and Purdue have great opportunities to win.  However, throw in the Wisconsin Badgers into that mix to win the conference.  I give Wisconsin a slight edge to win out, but both the Hoosiers and Boilermakers will be nipping at the heels of the Badgers.

Final Standings

  1. Wisconsin
  2. Indiana
  3. Purdue
  4. Michigan
  5. Northwestern
  6. Minnesota
  7. Maryland
  8. Ohio State
  9. Michigan State
  10. Illinois
  11. Iowa
  12. Nebraska
  13. Rutgers
  14. Penn State

Big West

There’s not much to say here.  This is a bad conference and Long Beach State has not lived up to its darling, upset minded projection assigned to them at the beginning of the season.  I think they end up winning the conference, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if UC Irvine claims that crown as they have the best defense in the league.

Colonial Athletic Association

This will be a fun conference to follow over the conference season.  UNC Wilmington should win the regular season title with some distance between them and second place.  This conference does include Northeastern, the team that has won at Connecticut, Vermont, Michigan State, and Oakland.  Vermont and Oakland will vie for a conference championship.  I’m curious to see how Northeastern’s conference play pans out.

Conference USA

Conference USA is another odd study in which it may be tough to choose an absolute winner.  I think the favorite to pick is Middle Tennessee.  They have pushed themselves in non-conference play and play relatively efficient basketball on both offense and defense compared to other teams in their league.  It will be a tight race for second if teams don’t beat Middle Tennessee.  Old Dominion, Louisiana Tech, Rice, and Marshall all have legitimate chances at snagging the 2 seed when the conference tournament begins.  How they acquire it will be interesting.  Old Dominion is horrific on offense, but nearly compensate because they have such a great defense. Marshall can expect to be in most games because they run the floor and have a large number of possessions each game.  Louisiana Tech has a balanced team on offense and defense, it is just less efficient than Middle Tennessee is.  Rice is the opposite of Old Dominion.  They have an efficient offense and an abysmal defense.

Horizon League

The Horizon League is another conference with a two team race to win the conference.  Valparaiso and Oakland will be the two teams to beat.  I think Valparaiso wins the regular season with Oakland close behind.

Ivy League

Expectations have changed for the Ivy League this year since having aspirations of sending two teams to the tournament to begin the season. The Princeton Tigers are my favorite to win the conference and automatic bid. The closest challenger is Yale and has a decent shot if they can beat Princeton head-to-head.

MAAC

Monmouth doesn’t get snubbed this year as they dominate their conference.  I expect them to beat decent competition from Iona and Siena to make it to the tournament, a place they should have been last year as well.

Mid-American

In the MAC East Division, I have Akron winning the division over Ohio.  In the MAC West Division, it should be a tighter race between Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, and Toledo.  I think Eastern Michigan wins the West Division because they take care of the ball better, match each of the offenses well to those two teams, and have a better defense.

MEAC

This is a bad conference and the only inkling of goodness that comes from this conference is North Carolina Central’s average defensive efficiency.  Because the teams in this conference are so bad, I wouldn’t be surprised if most of them finish within a game of .500 and North Carolina Central “runs away” from the rest of the pack because they don’t play as poorly as the other teams.

Missouri Valley

Loyola Chicago has really impressed and surprised me this year.  They are my dark horse to win the conference, but Wichita State is my favorite.  The Shockers have fallen off a bit in my opinion, but I think they beat out Illinois State for the conference.  I really would like to see Loyola do well. Northern Iowa also seems to have fallen off a bit as well.  Is the MVC losing some of its oomph?

Mountain West

The Mountain West should be fun this year.  After reviewing numbers from Ken Pomeroy’s website, I’ve found that a team with a more potent offense than a stingy defense tends to be the winner in a game.  If this is true, Nevada has the upper hand over San Diego State.  SDSU hasn’t produced like they have in recent years and I would expect Nevada to take this conference, albeit in a very tight race.

Northeast

This is another conference where each team is mostly bad and that will result in a lot of teams at or within 1 game of .500.  Two teams that will duke it out are Wagner and Mount St. Mary’s.  Both teams have poor records right now, but will end up with winning records after beating up their conference foes.

Ohio Valley

Ah, the Ohio Valley.  This will be fun because in the East Division, there will be a fun race to follow between ever-present Belmont and up and coming Tennessee State.  I think Belmont wins out because they have better offensive firepower.  In the West Division, Murray State is my favorite to win with UT-Martin as a possible option to knock Murray State out of the 1 seed for their division.

Pac 12

I can’t wait to see how this conference pans out this year.  There are promising teams that haven’t been relevant in a while from the Pac 12.  UCLA is my favorite to win the league, replacing Arizona from my original choice.  Arizona doesn’t seem to have found their identity due in large part to injuries.  I think Arizona, Oregon, and USC give UCLA good competition, but it’s hard to beat a team that is so efficient and fast paced every time they take the floor.  My dark horse for the Pac 12 is Colorado.

Patriot League

Remember, last year, when Holy Cross finished ninth in the conference and won 4 straight away games to earn the bid for the NCAA tournament?  I don’t expect most to remember.  Those are the stories I love about college basketball.  I don’t think it will happen again in this conference for a long time (but boy I hope I’m wrong).  This will be a fun conference to watch because Lehigh, Bucknell, and even Boston has a chance to win this conference.  I think Lehigh and Bucknell are more consistent teams and eventually Lehigh wins the conference.

SEC

Amazingly, the SEC only sent 3 teams to the tournament last year: Kentucky, Texas A&M, and an undeserved Vanderbilt team.  This year, I think the conference can send 5 teams – Kentucky, Florida, South Carolina, Texas A&M, and possibly Arkansas.  Here’s how I see the SEC standings at the conclusion of the regular season.

  1. Kentucky
  2. Florida
  3. South Carolina
  4. Texas A&M
  5. Arkansas
  6. Georgia
  7. Tennessee
  8. Vanderbilt
  9. LSU
  10. Auburn
  11. Mississippi
  12. Alabama
  13. Mississippi State
  14. Missouri

Southern

There are two very good teams that can be dangerous to play in the tournament should either get there in March.  This conference is, yet again, a two team race to the top between Chattanooga and East Tennessee State.  I think Chattanooga wins the conference with ETSU finishing second.

Southland

Stephen F. Austin’s reign as the dominant team in the Southland Conference has come to an end.  At one point, the Lumberjacks had compiled an outrageous 69-3 conference record over a 3 year period.  Unfortunately, there is not a real replacement as Sam Houston State looks the most promising to win the conference.

SWAC

On Ken Pomeroy’s standings, the SWAC ranks as the worst league.  I think Texas Southern has the best opportunity to win the conference due to them having the “best” offense compared to their conference opponents.  Their current record would lead you to think otherwise as they sit at 4 wins to 9 losses.  However, knowing that two of their conference opponents are currently winless and the rest don’t have more than 3 or 4 wins, they won’t have much trouble.

Sunbelt

It is fun to see this conference doing so well.  The top 5 or 6 teams have the capability to win on any night regardless of who they play during conference play.  This is the same conference that sent RJ Hunter and his father into the tournament that took down 3 seeded Baylor and gave Xavier a good scare.  It’s the same conference that sent Little Rock to the tournament and took down 5 seeded Purdue in double overtime.  This year, I’m most impressed with UT-Arlington.  I think they win the conference with Georgia State, Little Rock, and Louisiana Lafayette fighting for 2nd place.

Summit

My favorite to win the Summit this year is Fort Wayne.  Their closest competition is IUPUI and North Dakota State.  The Summit League tends to have some great matchups.  I had a blog post in early November that included a player to watch, Mike Daum.  He plays for South Dakota State, a team that has a decent offense, but they are abysmal on defense.  I’m disappointed in how their season has panned out and don’t expect much from them in conference play.

West Coast

The West Coast Conference has been dominated by Gonzaga.  However, St. Mary’s, and BYU have taken turns closing the gap to Gonzaga over the past few seasons.  St. Mary’s has a legitimate chance to win the WCC this year, but it will require them to beat Gonzaga.  Their home loss to UT-Arlington is a bit concerning because St. Mary’s wasn’t really in contention to win for a majority of the game.  I think Gonzaga ultimately wins the conference, but St. Mary’s puts up a good fight and that both make the tournament this year.

WAC

I see three possible teams winning this conference: New Mexico State, Cal State Bakersfield, or Grand Canyon.  I never thought I would list the third candidate, but here I am!  Grand Canyon is a decent team and, having only been in Division 1 since the 2013-2014 season, its impressive work by Dan Majerle to lead the team to a 27-7 record last season.  They are on pace for another great year and will push the others for that automatic bid in March.  I think New Mexico State wins the conference, but Grand Canyon stays with them until the end.

 

Well, I’ll monitor the landscape of each conference and can’t wait to see how things change over the next three months!  I hope to see some unexpected teams turn their season around and challenge at the top.