Big East All-Conference Team

One knows college basketball is ready to begin when the preseason all-conference lists are published. There are several players who could have merited inclusion in either of the three teams, but the presence of lingering question marks pushed them to receive an honorable mention. Continue reading “Big East All-Conference Team”

Big East Breakout Candidates in 2013-14

It was difficult to winnow down the possibilities for breakthrough candidates in the new-look Big East. The conference is stocked with teams that lost crucial elements of their roster following last season, and since there is no definitive favorite for the preseason title, there are countless players whose roles could substantially shift. One key, though, was limiting the list to those who have used one season of playing time, even if that player was redshirting and the PT was spent on the practice squad.

Daniel Ochefu (Villanova): Though Mouphtaou Yarou never truly developed into a dominant offensive threat, the 6’10” Yarou did evolve into a fantastic defender. A reason why Villanova made the NCAA tournament last season was their miniscule defensive two-point field goal percentage, fueled by Yarou’s ability to shrink the interior and force opposing bigs to take off-balanced shots. Without Yarou and Maurice Sutton, the defensive onus now falls on Daniel Ochefu — the sophomore is the only returning member of the Wildcats’ frontcourt. Jay Wright’s squad showed success using hard hedges to disrupt an opponent’s offense. Ochefu has demonstrated the necessary foot speed to show high and then quickly get back to his man to prevent an easy bucket, but he will now have to combine that footwork with crashing the glass to prevent second chances (Yarou grabbed more than 20% of opponents’ misses). Nova’s offense should click this season — the improvement of Ryan Archidiacano mixed with Dylan Ennis, a guard capable of breaking defenders down off the dribble, bodes well for VU’s offensive efficiency — but Ochefu’s play (and his 4.7% block rate) will be crucial to anchor the squad’s frontcourt and frustrate Big East teams in the paint.

Matt Stainbrook (Xavier): When Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons ran Xavier’s offense, the two guards heavily relied on Musketeer bigs to set picks and create clear looks (and lanes) at the basket. Nearly 15% of Xavier’s 2012 offensive sets were pick and rolls, a percentage that dipped below ten percent due to the arrival of Semaj Christon, a 6’3″ guard with a quick enough first step that he didn’t need a pick to turn the corner on a defender. However, now that Matt Stainbrook, a Western Michigan transfer, is eligible, Xavier’s offense could resume relying on P&Rs. When he last took the court, Stainbrook converted almost 60% of his twos, posting an offensive rating of 114, and the 6’9″ Stainbrook spent his redshirt season working on his game and slimming down his body. The combination of Stainbrook’s soft touch and conditioning indicates that Stainbrook-set picks on Christon’s defender might be commonplace at the Cintas Center next season. Even if he doesn’t receive a pass, the rolling Stainbrook would be in ideal position for offensive boards, and the big scores more than one point per second chance possession. An added bonus is Christon’s ability to draw fouls at a rapid pace when he gets into the lane — the guard drew 5.8 fouls per 40 minutes, a rate that is tops of any returning Big East guard.

Jamal Branch (St. John’s): It is unclear how Steve Lavin will organize his lineups this season, but he has mentioned two potential possibilities: using three guards — Rysheed Jordan, Jamal Branch, and D’Angelo Harrison — and a Johnny like Max Hooper at the 4, or going ‘big’ and taking advantage of SJU’s frontcourt depth. Branch, a junior guard, will be a key element in either lineup. It is unfair to evaluate Branch’s sophomore season — he didn’t take the court until after the first semester and he was clearly limited following an MCL sprain in early February. Branch is best when creating, getting into the lane and either locating open Johnnies, and based on how he performed during the team’s European trip, Branch’s offensive orchestration will allow further freedom to both Harrison and Jordan.

Sterling Gibbs (Seton Hall): The loss of Aaron Cosby was predicted weeks before the end of Seton Hall’s 2013 season, but coach Kevin Willard had a waiting starter in Sterling Gibbs, a transfer who is eligible this season. What is uncertain is how seamlessly Gibbs, who barely saw playing time at Texas, handles both the starting role and the Pirates’ offense. Seton Hall returns a talented core — Fuquan Edwin is a potential player of the year candidate, and Willard can lean on a better in-shape Eugene Teague and now-healthy Brandon Mobley – which will lessen Gibbs’ scoring responsibility and allow him to solely focus on playmaking. But Gibbs isn’t offensively inept, and his shooting will force opponents from sagging off the 6’1″ guard: although he only attempted 35 threes in the Big 12, Gibbs made 37.1% of those shots.

Myles Davis (Xavier): If Christon and Stainbrook are both covered on the drive and the roll, one potential outlet for Christon will be Myles Davis. The redshirt freshman entered college with a reputation as a shooter and has reportedly worked on his shot and his conditioning last season, giving coach Chris Mack the option to utilize a three-guard lineup (with Dee Davis) in 2014. Despite the presence of Brad Redford, Xavier was not proficient from deep; Redford, whose eligibility has since expired, was the only Musketeer to attempt more than 100 threes, and though Davis showed improved range (his percentage — 37% — jumped significantly over the course of two seasons), the team rarely relied on three-pointers. That could change with Davis’ arrival.

Derrick Wilson (Marquette): Marquette would be the runaway preseason top pick in the Big East absent a glaring unknown at the point guard spot. Junior Cadougan wasn’t perfect — an offensive rating of 96.1 and a penchant for turnovers aren’t ideal for a team’s starting point — but the departed Cadougan possessed an innate understanding of Buzz Wiliams’ offense. Williams is loathe to play freshmen immediately, so even though the Golden Eagles have a top-ranking group of frosh, including guard Duane Wilson, the task of replacing Cadougan will fall to Derrick Wilson. Wilson’s sample size is small — he barely played during his first two seasons at MU — but if he can continue to limit turnovers (an assist rate of just 3% during Big East and postseason play), Williams will likely turn to Wilson to direct MU’s interior-heavy attack — nearly 30% of the squad’s offense in 2013 came as a result of paint touches.

D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera (Georgetown): Expect the role of D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, a sophomore guard, to expand greatly since coach John Thompson III needs to find another Hoya to pair with Markel Starks. Smith-Rivera thrived as an additional option last year, serving as highly efficient alternative when defenses focused on Starks or Otto Porter, but without Porter or Greg Whittington, a forward who tore his ACL this offseason and could likely miss the entire season, Smith-Rivera continued evolution as a scorer is imperative. As evidenced by his percentage of field goals assisted at the rim — 56% — Smith-Rivera is capable of creating his own offense, and there could be more set plays involving Smith-Rivera coming off screens or using a pick to either shoot from deep (34%), drive to the bucket, or put an onus on defenders to foul. One indication Smith-Rivera is ready for the extra touches was Georgetown’s mid-February win over DePaul, a game where Porter only played 20 minutes and the 6’5″ Smith-Rivera scored 33 points in an offensively dominant display.

Kris Dunn (Providence): Vincent Council was arguably the most underrated point guard in the BCS conference ranks last season. If the Friars are indeed this season’s emerging contender (as most have pegged Ed Cooley’s team), sophomore Kris Dunn has to undergo a tremendous leap in his development. Though Dunn struggled with turnovers, an invitation to the trials for the U19 World Championship Team might serve to boost the guard’s performance (and confidence). Dunn did record 41 assists in conference play and his now seasoned ability to find Friars the moment they shake free from their defender could raise last season’s mundane offensive efficiency rating. The team’s core — Kadeem Batts, Bryce Cotton, and LaDontae Henton — were reliant on Council to find the trio in scoring position, a duty Dunn must quickly master. An intriguing aspect of Dunn’s game, and one worth watching, is his rebounding — at 6’3″, Dunn has an advantage on the interior, and since Cotton typically bombs away from the perimeter, Dunn is free to troll for rebounds — roughly 10% of his possessions ended with an second chance opportunity — and not worry about preventing a fast-break.

Will Artino (Creighton): The big has so far spent his time in Omaha camped on the interior, grabbing a copious amount of rebounds in his very limited minutes, but the departure of Gregory Echenique means an expanded role for Will Artino. He’ll still have to crash the glass — coach Greg McDermott has said his lineup choices will largely depend on how the Bluejays rebound, and Artino, who sported offensive and defensive rebounding percentages that hovered around 20% last season, will likely be a focal point in those lineups — but Artino’s interior defense and pick-setting will be crucial for the squad. Other than Artino, Doug McDermott is the only returning Bluejay who is taller than 6’8″.

Kameron Woods (Butler): The offseason injury to Roosevelt Jones forces new coach Brandon Miller to depend on other Bulldogs to carry Jones’ expected offensive load, and Woods, a 6’8″ junior, is primed to receive more touches. Entering a college-level strength and conditioning program has greatly helped the big; while his percentage of minutes played hasn’t changed much over the course of Woods’ two seasons, there have been drastic jumps in both his offensive rating (105.2) and two-point field goal percentage (55.8%). Woods is much more confident catching the ball in the paint and finishing — he scored more than one point per offensive rebound and pick and roll possession last season — and shied away from taking ill-advised threes.

Matt Giles is a reporter for New York Magazine and has contributed to College Basketball Prospectus 2012-13, ESPN the Magazine, ESPN Insider, the New York Times, BuzzFeed, and Salon. You can follow Matt on Twitter @HudsonGiles.

Top Big East Non-Conference Games in 2013-14

Ah, the joys of realignment. Creighton’s addition to the Big East means a potential match-up between the Bluejays and Marquette in the Wooden Legacy final. Villanova already plays Xavier twice during conference play but could tip off against Chris Mack’s squad in the Battle 4 Atlantis. And since NYC taxis still feature advertisements proclaiming the Orange as “New York’s College Team,” it feels weird to include Syracuse as a non-conference foe of both the Wildcats and St. John’s.

Losing Pittsburgh, Louisville, Syracuse, and Notre Dame dimmed the Big East’s luster, so the importance of a challenging non-conference slate has been enhanced this season. Creighton and Marquette have several high-profile games on the schedule, and Georgetown will play the potential top team in both the Pac-12 (Oregon) and Big 12 (Kansas). Some Big East squads, though, scheduled as though the conference was still the nation’s toughest, and could suffer if they stumble.

Neutral site tournaments
Creighton in the Wooden Legacy, November 28-December 1: Creighton starts off with Arizona State, and should the Bluejays contain Jahii Carson, the squad faces a loaded field that includes Marquette, San Diego State, George Washington, Miami, and Charleston. A good primer for coach Greg McDermott’s squad.

Georgetown in the Puerto Rico Tip Off, November 21-24: Georgetown is on the wrong side of the tournament. Northeastern, a top team in CAA, is an interesting opening round tilt, but the other two teams — Charlotte and Kansas State — are not expected to make much noise in their respective conferences. If the Hoyas can advance to the final, their chances improve for a marquis game — either Michigan or VCU should roll through that bracket to the championship.

Villanova and Xavier in Battle 4 Atlantis, November 28-30: When this tournament was announced, the attending teams seemed much stronger, but as the season approaches, it appears that demand is less than expected. The resort where the games are being held is offering steep discounts on visits during those three days, and reading between the lines of the recent announcement that North Carolina, Georgetown, UCLA, Florida, Wisconsin, and Butler (among others) will all trek to the Bahamas next year means that the organizers are likely not thrilled with the 2013 participants. A Xavier win against Iowa would certainly boost the Musketeers’ OOC profile, and should Villanova stymie Dunk City, a game against Kansas will help their standing.

Seton Hall in the Coaches vs. Cancer, November 22-23: There aren’t many contests on Seton Hall’s schedule that will protect the team if they falter in Big East play, so the Pirates’ two games in the Coaches vs. Cancer, held at the Barclays Center, are essential. SHU opens with Oklahoma, and coach Kevin Willard has to hope Michigan State defeats Virginia Tech to reach the final — a close game, or a win, against the Spartans would help balance a slate tilted with Mercer, Eastern Washington, and NJIT.

Butler in the Old Spice Classic, November 28-December 1: There are so many unknowns surrounding Butler — what is Brandon Miller’s coaching style? Can a backcourt of Rene Castro, Alex Barlow, and Kellen Dunham run the offense? How much will losing Roosevelt Jones hamstring Butler’s scoring output — that wins against potentially Oklahoma State, Memphis, and LSU would quickly settle those uncertainties.

Notable games
Marquette, Creighton, and DePaul vs. Arizona State (November 25, 28, and December 6, respectively): Herb Sendek’s squad is popular with the Big East as a non-conference opponent — ASU matches up with Creighton again and potentially Marquette in the Wooden Classic. If the Sun Devils justify the hype that has preceded them this preseason and finish amongst the top of the Pac-12, it will be a scheduling bonus for the trio. However, if ASU topples — other than Jahii Carson, ASU has many offensive unknowns — a win becomes questionable and a loss belies a team’s strength.

St. John’s and Villanova vs. Syracuse (December 15 and 28, respectively): It is still strange to list Syracuse as a non-conference match-up. Both Villanova and St. John’s were particularly poor from deep last season, so this contest will be a good test of possible offensive growth for two teams expected to contend.

Marquette vs. Ohio State and New Mexico (November 16 and December 21, respectively): Marquette will likely be the preseason pick as the Big East’s top team, and coach Buzz Williams has scheduled accordingly. In addition to the aforementioned tilt versus Arizona State and the Wooden Classic’s challenging field, MU plays Ohio State, New Mexico, and Wisconsin. MU has significant backcourt question marks — Williams will either go with the little-tested Derrick Wilson or the raw Duane Wilson — and facing off against Aaron Craft could prove challenging, and there is an aura of intrigue surrounding the New Mexico game, specifically in the frontcourt battle of Davante Gardner and Alex Kirk. There will be no shortage of up-and-unders, spins, and baby hooks when each big takes the court.

Georgetown vs. Oregon and Kansas (November 8 and December 21, respectively): Georgetown will have trouble scoring in the paint without Greg Whittington and potentially Josh Smith, and these two non-conference tilts — the game against the Ducks will be played in Seoul! — could illuminate whether Reggie Cameron is primed to step into Otto Porter’s void. Cameron is the classic John Thompson III big: a 6’7″ forward who is comfortable to work off the bounce 15 feet from the basket but has deep range to extend defenses. It will also be interesting to observe how JTIII intends to stop either Andrew Wiggins or Wayne Selden, the nation’s two most exciting freshmen wings.

Providence vs. Kentucky (December 1): Despite the disparity in amount of top 50 recruits, Providence matches up very well with Kentucky. When Ed Cooley first arrived at PC, there were only two Friars who measured 6’9″ or taller, but now in his third season, Cooley can depend on his biggest roster. Tyler Harris and Carson Desrosiers, 6’9″ and 7′, respectively, are both eligible, and both Kris Dunn and Brandon Austin, a freshman who has drawn raves during the offseason for his athleticism and scoring ability, possess significant size advantages. There is a reason PC is steadily gaining momentum as a Big East contender, and this non-conference game could add some volume to those whispers.

Matt Giles is a reporter for New York Magazine and has contributed to College Basketball Prospectus 2012-13, ESPN the Magazine, ESPN Insider, the New York Times, BuzzFeed, and Salon. You can follow Matt on Twitter @HudsonGiles.

Assist Tracker: Dec. 22

The Northwestern – Creighton game provided plenty of fireworks and also a bunch of notable assist efforts. First I’d recommend reading this great piece by Patrick Marshall. He used some stats I collected about Doug McDermott and Grant Gibbs and ran with it using his insights from watching the Bluejays play all season. It’s really interesting stuff.

Grant Gibbs (G, Creighton) — In keeping with the theme of Marshall’s piece five of Gibbs’ 12 assists in Creighton’s 87-79 win over Northwestern were to Doug McDermott. Gibbs’ assists were mostly for threes (7), but also included two jumpers and three layups. McDermott finished the game with 27 points on 10-14 shooting from the field. Overall nine of 10 baskets by McDermott on Thursday were assisted by a teammate.

Antoine Young (G, Creighton) — That’s because Young added three more (the final one was by Ethan Wragge). Overall Young had seven assists with a relatively even breakdown between four layups and three threes. Creighton had 26 assists on 30 baskets (86.7%). The Bluejays came in having an assist on 66.3% of their baskets, 10th in the country.

Dave Johnson (G, Quinnipiac) — Johnson had 10 assists as Quinnipiac defeated Niagara 85-81. Six of the 10 assists went to Ike Azotam who went 13-18 overall and scored 32 points. Six of Johnson’s assists went for layups, three for threes and one dunk. Johnson, a junior from Jackson, NJ, also scored 13 points. He came in averaging 2.9 assists per game, so this was a bit of a surprise.

Zac Swansey (G, Tennessee Tech) — Swansey really spread his 10 assists around in the Golden Eagles’ 81-68 win over Kennesaw State. Jud Dillard got three assists and scored 16 points. Liam McMorrow also got three and scored 15 points. TTU’s leading scorer, Kevin Murphy, had 21 points, but got just one assist from Swansey in the game.

Michael Bizoukas (G, Missouri State) — Even though Missouri State fell in overtime to West Virginia 70-68, Bizoukas continues to thrive with the Bears. He had 10 assists against Mountaineers. Five of them went to Kyle Weems and another four were to Caleb Patterson. Bizoukas is getting help from his teammates as seven of his assists were either on threes (4) or jumpers (3) – though to be fair three were also on dunks.

Aaron Craft (G, Ohio State) — Usually it is Craft’s defense and not his offense that’s making headlines, but in Ohio State’s 69-40 win over Miami (OH) he had nine assists and just one was to Jared Sullinger. Instead it was William Buford that benefitted the most from Craft’s passing with six of his eight baskets coming off assists from the sophomore. Buford led the Buckeyes with 18 points. Overall Craft had assists on five jumpers, three layups and one three. It’s also worth noting that the box score gives Craft for eight assists, but the play-by-play says the total was nine.

John Shurna (F, Northwestern) — Northwestern’s loss was disappointing for the Wildcats and one of the reasons is that Shurna didn’t really show up. He went 6-14 from the field and scored 18 points while mostly being a non-factor in the outcome. It’s worth noting though that Shurna did have nine rebounds and six assists. Those six assists were evenly distributed with two each to Davide Curletti, Luka Mirkovic and Drew Crawford. That means Shurna contributed to both of Mirkovic’s two baskets – another problem for the Wildcats – and two of Curletti’s four. Overall Shurna assisted on three layups, two jumpers and one three.

Two big names that didn’t do much? Junior Cadougan had just one assist in Marquette’s win over Milwaukee. He took on more of a scoring role against the Panthers, leading the team with 15 points. Shabazz Napier had five assists in Connecticut’s close win over Fairfield. Only four of them are in the ESPN play-by-play, one is a dunk by Andre Drummond.

Assist Tracker: Dec. 19

Damier Pitts (G, Marshall) — Pitts had a double-double with 19 points and 11 assists in the Thundering Herd’s 87-86 victory over Belmont. DeAndre Kane scored 29 points to lead Marshall and six of Pitts’ 11 assists went to him. Also, seven of those 11 assists were for layups.

Grant Gibbs (G, Creighton) — It’s easy to get assists when you’ve got one of the most prolific scorers in the NCAA on your team. That’s what Gibbs has to work with in Doug McDermott. Against Tulsa on Monday Gibbs had 10 assists. Seven of those assists went to McDermott. Two of Gregory Echenique’s four made baskets came from Gibbs.

Eric Atkins (G, Notre Dame) — Atkins’ nine assists against Sacred Heart came in the Fighting Irish’s 106-65 victory and he distributed them pretty evenly. There were three layups, two jumpers and four threes. Both of Alex Dragicevich’s threes came from Atkins assists.

Keith Appling (G, Michigan State) — Two of Appling’s eight assist in the Spartans’ 89-54 win went to Draymond Green, who also had seven of his own. Appling had three assists for threes. Two of them went to Brandon Wood.

Draymond Green (F, Michigan State) — None of Green’s six assists went to Appling, but he did have two to Wood and two to Branden Dawson. I find it interesting that just one of his six assists was for a three. I’d expect a post player like Green to be passing for assists, but he’s hitting cutters in the lane.

Kendall Marshall (G, North Carolina) — Marshall upped his dunk percentage in Monday’s 99-49 victory over Nicholls State. Four of his seven assists went for dunks. That’s probably the advantage of playing a team like Colonels. I believe this is the first game this season that Marshall didn’t have an assist on a jumper.

Tyshawn Taylor (G, Kansas) — Last Sunday Taylor had knee surgery. Today he was playing in Kansas’ 80-74 loss to Davidson. He had seven assists (and five turnovers) in his first game back. Those assists went to three people: Thomas Robinson (3), Elijah Johnson (2) and Jeff Withey (2). I’d really like to watch this one on ESPN3 replay if possible and see if the turnovers were committed while trying to pass to one of them, especially because Robinson and Withey are true post guys.

Doug McDermott, Ray McCallum and special cases

When a freshman steps right into a major role on a college basketball team chances are there were some special circumstances. That player is probably extremely talented and worthy of some buzz. If it happens at somewhere like Creighton or Detroit, certainly not the land of one-and-dones, it’s even more special.

For Doug McDermott and Ray McCallum there were some extenuating circumstances, for one their dads happened to coach their teams, but by the end of the season they both deserved the minutes and accolades they received.

Continue reading “Doug McDermott, Ray McCallum and special cases”