Butler Basketball 2018-2019 Season Preview – Part III

With a busier part of the year for work, I have not been able to look closely at the next few teams Butler will play in the next ten days.  I have had the time to look at Northern Illinois, however, and this could be a closer game than Bulldog fans may initially anticipate.

Northern Illinois, 2017-2018 Record: 13-19 ; series record Butler leads 5-3   Last meeting: February 2, 1997

Kenpom Ranking: 148

Background

The Huskies come into Hinkle Fieldhouse this afternoon toting an effective offense and lackluster defense.  As bad as Butler has been to start the season with perimeter defense, Northern Illinois has been worse, allowing their opponents nearly 40% from beyond the 3-point arc.  Opponents look like they are having their way inside too because the Huskies are allowing over 52% made on 2-point baskets one month into the season.  As poor as the Huskies are at defending the three pointer, their ability to score from beyond the arc is on the opposite end of the shooting spectrum.  Northern Illinois shoots nearly 42% from three, yet they don’t take many threes.

Players to watch

Northern Illinois touts a veteran team composed of mostly juniors and seniors.  Eugene German is the go-to guy that takes about one-third of the Huskies shots each game.  German does turn the ball over, about one in every five times he possess the ball.  Levi Bradley is another large contributor for Northern Illinois.  Bradley handles the ball well and he adds another dimension for the Huskies because of his ability to shoot the perimeter.  Currently, Bradley shoots above 50% from beyond the arc.  An interesting visit from the nation’s leading efficiency ranked player (according to Kenpom.com) in sophomore Rod Henry-Hayes will be a treat.  He is ranked so high because he has not turned the ball over and, to this point in the season, has made most of the three pointers he has taken.  In fact, Northern Illinois boasts three of the most efficient players in the nation.  German currently ranks eleventh for players who are used on at least 28% of possessions during a game.

Expected Outcome

Northern Illinois plays at a lethargic tempo, working their half-court offense a majority of their possessions.  German, when provided the opportunity, will take shots from beyond the arc.  Although the Huskies shoot threes at a successful clip, three-point baskets don’t make up a large portion of how they score.  Butler’s perimeter defense has improved over the past month, however that is in large part due to playing below average teams.  The Huskies have three players averaging double figures.  Eugene German leads Northern Illinois with 21.8 points per game.  In two of his last three games, he has scored 30 and 33 points.  Limiting German and Levi Bradley will be keys to Butler’s success.

In their most recent game, the Bulldogs outplayed Brown in the first half with what looked like an uptempo offense.  It seemed clear the message from the coaching staff was to speed the offense up and get shots off quicker in the shot clock.  By halftime, the Bulldogs had grown their lead 36-17.  A couple positives in the result were the seven turnovers and thirteen assists on twenty-four made baskets.  Keeping the number of turnovers in single-digits is a great sign of growth.  Hopefully the Bulldogs continue great play today against the visiting Huskies, a slightly more formidable opponent than Brown.  I have the Bulldogs winning at home 75-67.

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Early Season Basketball Tournaments

As fans, we were treated to a terrific opening few days of college basketball.  The unexpected upsets of Baylor and Wichita State to the obliteration that Duke laid on Kentucky made for one of the most memorable opening days of college basketball.  That was followed up by exciting games played throughout the week like Buffalo going on the road to West Virginia and winning in overtime.  The loss the Mountaineers incurred was the first home opening loss since the 1989 season.

The growth of early season tournaments in college basketball has rocketed in the past decade.  In quick succession of beginning the season, teams have only played a few games before they ship off to various destinations to compete in early season basketball tournaments.   It seems that this time of year has now becoming saturated with an outlandish number of tournaments.  In this write up, attention will be given to tournaments that have more at stake for the participating teams.  Tournaments where teams that are likely to make the NCAA tournament or those that I anticipate to be on the bubble will be discussed below.

Listed below are just a few of bracketed early season tournaments.  There are an equal amount of non-bracketed early season tournaments as well.  As far as previewing the tournaments, I have mentioned the dates games are played and the location.  For a majority of the tournaments, agreements were made that some teams participating will visit schools that are actually traveling to the tournament site.  Therefore, I have not listed every team that is participating in the actual tournament, only the teams that are traveling to the tournament site.

I look at potential match ups, likely results, and dark horses to win each tournament below.  You will also see a link you may click on that will take you directly to the tournament bracket.

Gildan Charleston Classic

Thurs-Friday and Sunday, Nov. 15-16 and 18 in Charleston, South Carolina. Bracket

Teams participating: Alabama, Appalachian State, Ball State, Davidson, Northeastern, Purdue, Virginia Tech, Wichita State.

As far as quarterfinal games that are of interest, the Alabama/Northeastern final may be a surprise.  Northeastern has a solid squad.  Their season opening loss at home to Boston University does raise some question marks.

Virginia Tech should handle a Ball State team that may surprise some people in the Mid American Conference this year.  The Hokies match up well against both Alabama and Northeastern and I see them moving onto the final against Purdue.

The possible match up between Purdue and Wichita State in the semifinals could be interesting.  However, with the way Wichita State has started the year, I will be surprised if they hang around with Purdue.

Ultimately, the Boilermakers have more play-makers than Virginia Tech does, and with Carsen Edwards leading Purdue, it will be a tough ask to slow him and his supporting offensive cast down.

Favorite to win: Purdue

Dark Horse: Northeastern

U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam

Friday – Monday, November 16-19 in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands  Bracket

Teams Participating: Eastern Kentucky, Kansas State, Kennesaw State, Missouri, Old Dominion, Oregon State, Penn, Northern Iowa

There is a clear favorite in this field and it is Kansas State.  Missouri and Old Dominion are the two teams that could challenge Kansas State, but I think that those two teams are a tier below.  Northern Iowa is in a down year, and the likes of Eastern Kentucky, Kennesaw State, Penn, and Oregon State are weak teams.

I think a semi final game between Old Dominion and Missouri would turn out to be a close game with the winner advancing to the final against Kansas State.

Favorite to win: Kansas State

Dark horse to win: Old Dominion

Cayman Islands Classic

Monday-Wednesday, November 19-21 George Town, Grand Cayman  Bracket

Teams Participating: Akron, Boise State, Clemson, Creighton, Georgia, Georgia State, Illinois State, St. Bonaventure

The two teams that are favorites heading into this tournament are Clemson and Creighton.  I anticipate both teams meeting each other in the winners bracket final.  There are a couple opportunities for Clemson or Creighton to slip up to their competition though.  If Clemson meets Illinois State in the semifinal, the Redbirds have a good chance of beating Clemson.  Likewise, Georgia State may sneak up on Creighton depending on how well the Panthers prepare for that game.  (It also means they beat St. Bonaventure).  Creighton shouldn’t struggle against either team due to their length and pace of play.

Favorite to win: Clemson

Dark horse: Illinois State

Maui Invitational

Monday-Wednesday, November 19-21 in Lahaina, Hawaii   Bracket

Teams Participating: Arizona, Auburn, Duke, Gonzaga, Illinois, Iowa State, South Dakota State, Xavier

This should turn out to be an exciting few days of games.  In fact, regardless of who wins or loses games, every match up should be entertaining.  We’ll get a great look at what the Xavier Musketeers look like during this three day stretch.  Their opening game against Auburn will be a great test.  The winner of that game will likely play Duke in the semi-final.

Duke has demonstrated their value after their throttling of Kentucky on opening night.  Their semifinal opponent, whomever they play, will want to keep the game close.  That’s really all they can do at this point until trends develop in what coaches can find in Duke to attack their weak areas.

I think Gonzaga has an easy time with Illinois and meets Iowa State in the semi-final after the cyclones take care of a fumbling Arizona squad.

Duke shouldn’t struggle with either Xavier nor Auburn.  One of Duke’s strengths is their uncanny ability to finish in transition.  It will be unwise for either opponent to try and up their tempo.  I think Duke moves on to meet Gonzaga in the final.  Gonzaga, at least for mid-west and east coast college basketball fans, quietly put together another strong squad worthy of being ranked in the top 10.  Mark Few prepares his teams well for each opponent.  I think if Gonzaga and Duke play in the final, Gonzaga will give Duke more of a challenge for the full 40 minutes.

Favorite to win: Duke

Dark horse: Auburn

Battle 4 Atlantis

Wednesday-Friday, November 21-23 in Paradise Island Bahamas    Bracket

Teams Participating: Butler, Dayton, Florida, Middle Tennessee, Oklahoma, Stanford, Virginia, Wisconsin

The first game between Florida and Oklahoma looks to be closer than anticipated prior to the season beginning.  I mention that because of the drubbing Florida State put on Florida.  The Gators are comprised of a talented group of players, but they looked lost against Florida State.  If Oklahoma keeps the game close, they’ll likely face Wisconsin in the semi-final.

The Wisconsin Badgers will tip off against Stanford in the second quarterfinal of the day.  The Badgers look to Ethan Happ as their leader with strong offensive and defensive play this season.  They shouldn’t struggle with a weaker Stanford team.

Butler and Dayton square off in the first evening quarterfinal game.  Dayton had an up and down year last year, not winning nor losing more than two consecutive games in a row.  With LaVall Jordan at the helm of a Butler Bulldogs squad that looks to continue their success from last year, this will be an interesting game.

In the last quarterfinal of the day Virginia and Middle Tennessee will play what should be a decided outcome by halftime.  Virginia seems to be in midseason form already with allowing few points, yet not putting many points up themselves.  I see Virginia moving on to play Butler.

In the first semi final game of the winners side of the bracket, I think Wisconsin has a more put-together team at the moment which sees them advance to the final.

In the second semi final game on the winners side, I think Virginia moves on.  Butler’s experience with their coach and on court savvy to attack the zone defense is too much to overcome.  It will be a learning experience that they can take advantage of.  If they do win, it will be because they made a large percentage of the 3-pointers they shot and they didn’t settle for long 2-point jump shots.

I think Oklahoma beats Stanford in the semi final on the losers side of the bracket, and Dayton beats Middle Tennessee State.

Finally, I think Stanford leaves without a win and loses to MTSU and Dayton beats Oklahoma.

I believe the overall winner will be Virginia after a close game with Wisconsin.  Tony Bennett has developed a system that works so well with the players he recruits that he will consistently have a high winning percentage every season.

Favorite to win: Virginia

Dark horse to win: Wisconsin

NIT Season Tip-Off

Wednesday and Friday, November 21 and 23, in Brooklyn, New York    Bracket

Teams Participating: Kansas, Louisville, Marquette, Tennessee

The match up between Louisville and Tennessee should be great.  With Louisville still feeling the after effects of the FBI probe, recent sanctions, and introduction of new head coach, Chris Mack, it’s amazing to think that the Cardinals can still compete.  This will be a “down year” relatively speaking, but they will play teams tough during the entirety of the game.  I think Tennessee wins by single digits.

In the second game, Kansas is heavily favored to beat Marquette.  The Jayhawks will give Marquette trouble with their height, length, and their guard play.  However, Marquette is set to have one of their most successful seasons in years.  If the Golden Eagles are hitting their threes, win the rebounding battle, and play the transition game well, I think they will play Tennessee in the final.  That isn’t likely so I have Kansas moving on.

Favorite to win: Kansas

Dark horse to win: Marquette

Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational

Thursday and Friday, November 22-23 in Las Vegas, Nevada    Dates and Game Times

Teams Participating: Michigan State, North Carolina, Texas, UCLA

I couldn’t locate a bracket, but did find game times.  UNC and Texas will play in the first game followed by UCLA and Michigan State.  Winners of both games will play each other.  Losers will play against each other.  Michigan State showed some resolve against a deep Kansas team during their Champions Classic game.  Indy native, Kris Wilkes has put up impressive numbers for the Bruins.  I think that the Tom Izzo led Spartans triumph and take on North Carolina in the second game.

Texas saw a wonderful story unfold in seeing Andrew Jones return to the court after being diagnosed with and then beating leukemia.  Shaka Smart needs results as the coach of the Longhorns.  He’s muddled in the Big12 Conference the past few years.  I don’t see him beating North Carolina in their first game, however.  Texas is likely to depart Las Vegas with two losses.

In the championship, I expect a close game, one that the Tar Heels eventually win by single digits.  The key for the Spartans is to remain out of foul trouble.

Favorite to win: North Carolina

Dark Horse: UCLA

College Basketball Season Preview

College basketball is back today!  The first official tip-off is this afternoon at 12:30pm between Wisconsin Lutheran at Green Bay.  What a lot of college basketball fans will focus their attention on is this evenings double-header at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in downtown Indianapolis, Indiana where Kansas plays Michigan State and Duke plays Kentucky.  As far as the beginning of the season, conversation and debates tend to gravitate toward  conference predictions, who are sleepers and cinderellas to wreak havoc come tournament time, and players to watch.  I will briefly touch on each of those topics in this post!

Conference Predictions

The Big 12 boasts the deepest conference.  They are capable of sending a majority of their teams to the tournament and make it to the second weekend.

Big 12 Conference Prediction:

  1. Kansas
  2. West Virginia
  3. Kansas State
  4. Texas
  5. TCU
  6. Iowa State
  7. Texas Tech
  8. Baylor
  9. Oklahoma
  10. Oklahoma State

The ACC is second on my list.  This may be rather bullish, but I think the ACC can send 7, possibly 8 teams to the NCAA Tournament this year.  Four teams in Kenpom’s top 10 preseason ratings is telling, but does not reflect the body of work in the first couple months.  It will be interesting to see how things shake out in the non-conference schedule.

ACC Conference Prediction:

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

The Big East may have lost some talent at the top of the conference, but I think that view is a bit shortsighted.  The bottom half of the conference is loaded and each conference game will be a battle.  Also, Villanova has consistently proved that they effectively prepare their players to play at a high level annually.  It may be a rougher start to the season for the Wildcats, but I am confident Jay Wright will have sorted things out by the time the first week of Big East play begins.

Big East Prediction:

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

The Big Ten is strong at the top of the conference with Michigan State, Purdue, Wisconsin, Michigan, and I’ll include Indiana in the mix too.  But with Illinois and Rutgers associated in the same group, that drags the conference down for me.

Big Ten Prediction:

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

The SEC has five strong teams that I think will make the NCAA tournament, yet after those five, there isn’t much to write home about.  I do think that LSU will surprise fans this year.

SEC Conference Prediction:

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

Sleepers and Cinderellas

Buffalo didn’t just beat Arizona, they absolute wiped the floor with the Wildcats.  The scary thing is that five of the top six scorers are back after a 27 win season.  The Bulls will be a pick to make the second weekend in the NCAA tournament this year.

If St. John’s doesn’t perform well this year, then I don’t know what the future looks like for Head Coach Chris Mullins.  Preseason Player of the Year, Shamorie Ponds, will continue to draw attention for the numbers he puts up in the scoring column, but the addition of Mustapha Heron and Sedee Keita bring depth to the Johnnies roster.  Big East conference play will be telling how St. John’s will participate in the postseason, but I expect they will join 67 other teams in the NCAA tournament.

Few seem to be talking about them currently, but the Saint Louis Billikens are on the verge of making noise this season.  They are an athletic team that has phenomenal rebounding, especially in their guards.  Offensive rebounding will keep the Billikens in games in addition to their physical bigs.  They have a deep roster that does not give up much when the rotation goes 8, 9, or 10 deep.

Loyola Chicago won the hearts of college basketball fans as they methodically made their way to the Final Four last year.  Although they lost three players from last year’s team, they bring back potential All American Clayton Custer.  The Ramblers will have to compete with a reloaded Illinois State team in the Missouri Valley Conference this season for the top spot.  I’m on the fence if this conference has the possibility to get two teams into the tournament this season.

The Nevada Wolf Pack is loaded with talent after bringing back an experienced group of players.  They are a likely pick to win out their conference and make it past the second weekend in March.

Western Kentucky brought in a five-star recruit in Charles Bassey.  His off court issues may be the hurdle that stymies the Hilltoppers season.  However, if Bassey keeps his focus on school and basketball, teammates Taveion Hollingsworth and Lamonte Bearden are set to be reliable scoring options for Bassey.

Players to Watch

South Dakota State’s Mike Daum has reached his senior season.  He will produce offensively for his squad.  He will need to average just under 25 points per game to reach 3000 career points – a feat achieved by only eight other players.  The most recent NCAA player to score 3000 career points was Doug McDermott from 2010 to 2014.  If there’s one reason that SDSU makes it back to the NCAA Tournament, it’s because of Daum and his ability to draw defenders to him and shoot accurately at a high clip.

Carsen Edwards from Purdue is a do-everything type of player.  His speed, ability to shoot the ball, and distribute to teammates effectively makes him a player to watch.  As a sophomore Edwards averaged 18.5 points a game.  Relying on him as an upperclassman invites the idea that he will be productive this season.

Duke has a plethora of freshmen to watch.  If you want rim-rocking dunks, Zion Williamson is more than willing to provide that entertainment.  However, R.J. Barrett is the savvy lefty that is versatile on both ends of the floor.  He distributes the ball at a high level and has a feel for the game that is unmatched by nearly all other NCAA college basketball players.

Markus Howard’s 52 point performance that included 11 3-pointers wasn’t the ah-ha moment fans began to pay attention to Howard’s scoring ability.  He’s always had it, but that performance drew more attention.  Howard will provide numerous sparks for Marquette throughout the season.  His role should help guide this Marquette squad to the second weekend and possibly beyond.

The loudest cheers for Indiana’s first game may not be during the actual game itself.  It may likely be when freshman Romeo Langford’s name is announced.  His shooting will excite and his level-headed persona will surprise.  Langford has potential to lead the Big Ten in scoring this season.  I’m most excited to see Marquette and Indiana play each other in what should be a game that does not lack offensive scoring.

It is always enjoyable to invite conversation and discussion as another college basketball season begins.  As this is an opinion piece, I would love to hear which teams and players you are excited to watch this year.  In the following weeks, be sure to look for updates on early season tournaments!  Happy first day of college basketball!

Big East Tournament 2018 Predictions

 

Updated March 9 9:26 a.m.

 

 

We are in the midst of Championship Week, the height and conclusion where all college basketball teams will, for the most part, know if they are going dancing in the NCAA tournament.  The Big East begins their first round tournament games this evening at Madison Square Garden for the the thirty-sixth consecutive year.

First Round

St. John’s – Georgetown:  St. John’s is playing in their home away from home.  This can essentially be considered a home game for the Johnnies.  That gives them an advantage.  However, Georgetown’s size will stretch the Red Storm into taking awkward, more difficult shots.  If those shots are falling, St. John’s moves onto the Quarterfinals.  Give me St. John’s in this one.

Marquette – DePaul:  Marquette has one of the best shooting back courts in America – if they are firing on all cylinders.  DePaul has made leaps and bounds progress as a team since last year, keeping most of their Big East conference games competitive.  The Golden Eagles have been so up and down, it’s difficult to choose a winner in this one.  During the season, Marquette won at home by 18, DePaul won at home by 8.  I think this one is close and DePaul comes out on top.

Quarterfinals

St. John’s – Xavier: The Johnnies pulled out a win over an athletic and skilled Georgetown team.  They’ve gone toe-to-toe against Xavier too.  The Red Storm has shown they are capable of taking down high caliber teams.  I don’t see them dismantling Xavier.  Musketeers move on.

Creighton – Providence:  This game will be interesting played out on a neutral court.  It was a drubbing against Providence when they visited the Bluejays.  The Friars held their own when Creighton visited.  The Friars are 2-3 in their last 5 games.  I’m going with Creighton.  Their uptempo, share the ball first mindset carries them to a date with Xavier.

Marquette-Villanova: The Wildcats were pushed in both conference games against the Golden Eagles this season, winning 100-90 and 85-82.  If Marquette’s three-headed attack of Andrew Rowsey, Markus Howard, and Sam Hauser are firing on all cylinders, they have a chance to end Villanova’s conference tournament run much earlier than expected.  The consistent, level-headed play by the Wildcats has me picking them to move on, however.

Seton Hall – Butler: For the second time since the new-look Big East formed, Butler and Seton Hall finished the regular season playing each other and then meet one another in the first round of the conference tournament.  Butler was not grounded defensively in their final regular season match-up, which has been the case over the course of the season.  Seton Hall will have all four seniors back, a different look than last Saturday when two were out for the game.  The Bulldogs are favored to win, but it depends on which team shows up for them.  The Bulldogs are 2-5 in their last 7 games.  I think  the Pirates move on.

Semifinals:

Xavier – Providence: This season saw these two teams split the home and home match up, both winning on their own floor.  Providence will have to move the ball to get open looks.  I think the Friars have what it takes today to take down Xavier.  The Musketeers play an uptempo brand of basketball which makes it difficult to guard them, especially in transition.  I think Providence keeps it close enough where they eek out a win.

Villanova – Butler: Butler is going to need consistent shooting in this one coupled with stout defense if they’d like to move on.  Last night’s inspiring win over Seton Hall shows the Bulldogs can play at a high level.  They need to string together a full game to be in this one against Villanova.  The Wildcats displayed great shooting and sharing the ball in their win over Marquette yesterday.  To be fair, Marquette is abysmal on defense.  It’s no wonder the Wildcats had so many open shots.  The Golden Eagles rank 176 out of 351 division-I teams according to Kenpom.  Nova ranks first in the nation in effective field goal percentage.  Villanova moves on.

This article will be updated.