Butler v Marquette

Marquette searches for a rival in new Big East


Digging for basketball stories in the offseason is tough sledding. Oddly enough, as the first games draw closer, news gets even harder to find, and the reason is a familiar one for college hoop-heads: football done stole all our candy.

Any newspaper that covers college sports extensively is talking kickoff this week, so I’m going to take this opportunity to dig into a question of great interest to schools in the new Big East – the one without big time pigskin.

One of my favorite team-specific blogs is Paint Touches. It’s a Marquette site that eschews the easy storyline and goes for the deep dirt every time, often with an assist from tempo-free stats. Currently, editor Andrei Greska is looking forward to the announcement of the league slate, which should happen sometime in the upcoming week. His focus falls on the new/old league’s announcement that they will protect one “natural rivalry” for each school, pairing teams in unbreakable grudge matches.

I’ll focus on the one Greska thinks is most likely, and the one that sounds the most interesting. He ranked the perceived likelihood of each partner on a scale of 1-9, with 9 being the most likely to occur.

Pros: Closest school in proximity; easy for fanbases to travel; long history of playing against each other with over 100 games played; basically two home games for Marquette as more students go to MU from Illinois than any other state, including Wisconsin; gives announcers plenty to work with (Al vs Meyer)
Cons: Inferior quality the past decade leading to lopsided results; no bad blood
Likelihood: 9

Pros: Two fantastic games last season; similar scrappy/tough style; relatively close in distance;
Cons: New kids on the block; Brad Stevens is gone will the magic be as well?; Rotnei Clarke is gone
Likelihood: 7

Now, the physical proximity of Marquette and DePaul makes a ton of sense, and it is likely the league will pair the two. But god, what a stinkeroo. Honestly, DePaul and anyone is a stinkeroo right now. If anything, it’ll be a nice way for Buzz Williams to get some easy face time and swipe some Windy City recruits out from under Oliver Purnell’s nose.

The one that sounds exciting is Butler-Marquette. Rather than create a rivalry out of mutual disinterest, why not play on the visceral appeal of last season’s clashes between the Bulldogs and Golden Eagles? Two scrappy teams that build contenders out of players who don’t fit into any mold? Sign me up.

We’ll keep an eye out for that schedule announcement. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for some creative thinking on those rivalries.

POSTERIZED: Wyoming’s Josh Adams takes flight

Josh Adams
Associated Press
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Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.

After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.

Video credit: Wyoming Athletics

Defensive progress will determine No. 4 Iowa State’s ceiling

Monte Morris
Associated Press
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Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.

Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.

Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.

Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.

Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.

But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.