NCAA Basketball Tournament - Murray State v Marquette

Sweet 16 Previews: Why Crowder will be so valuable vs. Florida

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Ed Isaacson of contributed to this post.

Jae Crowder is Marquette’s most important player, and based on the fact that he won Big East Player of the Year of Kevin Jones, the West Virginia power forward that led the conference in scoring and rebounding, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that he was the most important player in the league.

The problem is that most people don’t understand that. They don’t see what he provides this team beyond the box score. (And he gives the box score plenty, averaging 17.4 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 2.1 apg, 2.5 spg and 1.0 bpg while shooting 35.3% from three.) They don’t see why he is going to be the most difficult matchup when No. 7 Florida takes the against the third-seeded Golden Eagles on Thursday night.

What makes Crowder so dangerous is his ability to play multiple positions on the floor. He’s big and strong enough to finish around the rim and make a move in the post when he has a smaller defender on him, but his quickness, mobility and skill with the ball allows him to play on the perimeter when he has a power forward (which is the norm, he plays the four for Marquette) guarding him.

It goes beyond the simple ability to make a play on the perimeter. Take a look at this example from the Golden Eagle’s opening round game with BYU. You’ll see Junior Cadougan running off of a high ball-screen set by Jamil Wilson. Crowder is in the far corner:


Cadougan is able to turn the corner on the screen and get all the way to the rim in large part because Noah Hartsock, BYU’s power forward that was guarding Crowder, was late to help. He couldn’t leave Crowder open:


Erik Murphy is likely going to be given the task of guarding Crowder, at last early in the game. It will be interesting to see if he can keep up with Crowder 20 feet from the basket.

That is far from the only area that Crowder contributes to Marquette’s offensive attack. The Golden Eagles love to get out an run. They are 16th nationally in pace, according to Kenpom, with 21.3% of their possessions coming in transition. Only two teams in the country (Iona and Alabama A&M) have a higher percentage of possessions in transition.

There are a couple of ways Crowder adds to Marquette’s ability to run. The first is, well, his ability to run. In this example, you’ll see Crowder guarding Tyler Olander of UConn, who is setting a ball-screen for Jeremy Lamb:


Lamb ends up driving and finishing a layup, but notice the clock and look at where Crowder (No. 32) is located is relation to Olander (No. 10 in white) and Andre Drummond (No. 12 in white):


Crowder beat them both down the floor for a layup and an immediate answer to Lamb’s basket:


Marquette’s ability to score quickly can be demoralizing for an opponent. When their transition game is working well, a misstep defensively and you get burned. Here, you see Crowder — who was playing safety in Marquette’s press — grab a rebound in traffic at one end of the floor. Notice the time on the clock:


Crowder throws a picture-perfect outlet pass to Cadougan — in stride as he heads the other direction:


And in just five seconds, Wilson is finishing a lob at the other end of the floor:


It happens that quickly. Even when he’s barely involved in the play, Crowder plays a huge role in Marquette’s ability to get up and down the floor.

The other part of Crowder’s game and deserves to be noted is his versatility defensively. He can defend in the paint and he can guard on the perimeter. In this example, you’ll see Crowder win the battle for position with BYU’s Brandon Davies on one side of the court:


He then wins the battle again on the other side of the floor, forcing BYU’s star center to catch the ball 18 feet from the rim:


When Davies tries to back Crowder down, he “pulls the chair” — he steps back so Davies momentum makes him fall — and creates a turnover:


But as you can see in this example, Crowder can keep the quickest guards in the country in front of him as well. Here, you see Crowder step up and stop the head of steam that UConn’s Ryan Boatright had in transition:


Boatright realizes he has a power forward on him, so he pulls the ball out and tries to dribble by Crowder:


But Crowder is quick enough laterally that Boatright is forced to take, and miss, a tough, step-back jumper:


Florida is going to have to pick their poison when it comes to Crowder. He will be able to defend anyone that they can throw at him at the four spot. Crowder is also the reason that Florida’s mismatch — Murphy, who is a 6’10” sharpshooter at the power forward spot — will be nullified. Crowder can help and recover onto Murphy like he’s guard, but Murphy won’t be able to take advantage of the matchup in the paint. Using freshman Bradley Beal likely won’t be all that much better. Beal will be overwhelmed by Crowder in the paint without being able to blow-by him on the perimeter.

It’s amazing. Crowder can single-handedly ruin the way that Florida’s offensive attack creates matchup problems.

And you wonder why he’s so valuable?

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Brunson scores 18 points, No. 8 Villanova beats Stanford

Jalen Brunson
Associated Press
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NEW YORK (AP) Villanova struggled to score and rebound on Thursday night.

The Wildcats’ defense was good enough to still get a win.

No. 8 Villanova compensated for offensive and rebounding struggles by forcing 23 turnovers in a 59-45 victory over Stanford in the semifinals of the NIT Season Tipoff.

“We played pretty good defense but couldn’t rebound with them,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “It was one of those nights we couldn’t make shots but hung in there defensively. Their rebounding was almost a difference maker but thank God it wasn’t.”

The Wildcats (5-0) advanced to face Georgia Tech in the championship game Friday.

Villanova won despite shooting 30.6 percent and getting outrebounded by a 55-35 margin against an opponent starting three players 6-foot-8 or taller. The Wildcats started one player taller than 6-6 but compensated for the size differential by holding Stanford to 26 percent from the floor.

“I didn’t think it would be this ugly on the boards but if we could have made a couple of shots it might not have been as ugly,” Wright said. “But I was proud the guys really grinded defensively.”

Freshman Jalen Brunson was one of few Wildcats not to struggle offensively and scored a career-high 18 points. Josh Hart added 10 points but was 4-for-13 shooting and combined with Ryan Arcidiacono to shoot 6 of 24, including 1 of 15 from 3-point range.

“I was doing what I always do,” Brunson said. “I try to play aggressive all the time. I saw they were backing off me a little bit so there is time for me to shoot and time for me to make other plays.”

Leading scorer Marcus Allen had 12 points but was 3 for 12 for Stanford (2-3). Dorian Pickens added 11 points and 10 rebounds.

Stanford lost its third straight by double digits and will face Arkansas in the consolation game. The Cardinal missed their first 15 shots of the game and their first eight attempts of the second half while falling behind by 16.

Stanford was within seven on a basket by Reid Travis with 6:34 remaining, but Villanova scored the next six points and finished the game with a 13-6 run.

“They’re a very good defensive team, they’re active and they made a lot of plays,” Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said. “The thing we did most was we turned the ball over 23 times, so that was disappointing.”


Villanova: Seven of Villanova’s school-record 33 wins came in New York last season. The Wildcats won twice in the Legends Classic at Barclays Center, beat St. John’s and Illinois during the regular season at Madison Square Garden and won three games there for the Big East Tournament championship. … Guards Arcidiacono and Hart combined to miss their first 11 3-point attempts. Arcidiacono came into the game shooting 44 percent from 3-point range while Hart entered at 45 percent. … Darryl Reynolds tied a career high with 19 minutes, getting most of those in the second half after Daniel Ochefu picked up his fourth foul.

Stanford: Thursday was Stanford’s 13th game in New York since 2011-12. Last year, the Cardinal appeared in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, beating UNLV and losing to eventual national champion Duke. … Stanford faced Villanova for the second time. The other meeting was a 96-70 Cardinal loss on Dec. 23, 1970. … Stanford missed 12 layups and tip-ins during the first half. … Allen hit his head on the court trying to deflect the ball on a layup by Hart. Dawkins said Allen was a little dizzy but didn’t think the junior would miss any time.


Villanova: Georgia Tech in the championship game on Friday.

Stanford: Arkansas in the consolation game on Friday.

Justin Robinson, Monmouth knock off No. 17 Notre Dame

King Rice
Associated Press
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Less than two weeks after they opened their season with an upset win at UCLA, Monmouth picked up its first-ever win over a team ranked in the AP Top 25.

Two Justin Robinson free throws with 3.6 seconds remaining proved to be the difference as King Rice’s Hawks upset No. 17 Notre Dame at the Advocare Invitational in Orlando, and the diminutive point guard was a problem for the Fighting Irish all night.

Robinson scored 22 points, with 14 of them coming from the foul line as Notre Dame’s guards struggled to keep the quick guard contained off the dribble. He was one of three Hawks to score in double figures, and their combination of depth and athleticism proved problematic for Mike Brey’s team. All five Notre Dame starters scored in double figures, with Demetrius Jackson’s 20 leading the way, but the lack of depth proved problematic as the game wore on.

Notre Dame didn’t get a single point from its bench, with Matt Farrell and Matt Ryan combining to play 28 minutes. That lack of depth not only cost Notre Dame Thursday night, but it’s something they’ll have to figure out if they’re to be a contender in the ACC. Jackson and Steve Vasturia ran into foul trouble against Monmouth, and the lack of a bench option capable of picking up the slack led to Monmouth building up a ten-point lead in the second half.

Notre Dame tried to account for that by slowing down the tempo, but in doing so they struggled to find quality looks against the Monmouth defense. And given the players at Rice’s disposal, it’s tough to slow the game down against a team that can get after you on both ends of the floor.

Monmouth entered this season with expectations of contending for a MAAC title alongside the likes of perennial favorites Iona and Manhattan, and their start to the season backs up that belief. With two players in Robinson and Deon Jones who have earned all-conference honors during their careers and a host of contributors that includes guards Je’lon Hornbeak and Micah Seaborn, this is a group to keep an eye on as the season wears on.

Because if they can earn a bid, Monmouth’s non-conference schedule will have them prepared for the NCAA tournament.