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Conference Catchups: Villanova rules again in the Big East

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College basketball is now almost two months old. League play will be kicking off in the next week. Let’s get you caught up on all you need to know with some of the country’s best conferences. 

To read through the rest of our Conference Catchups, click here.

Midseason Player of the Year: Doug McDermott, Creighton

This isn’t a hard decision to make. The two-time first-team All-American is having yet another All-American caliber season. Through the first two months of the season, McDermott is averaging 24.8 points (a career-high) to go along with 7.5 boards. He’s still got room to improve as well, as McDermott is shooting a career-low 40.5% from three.

All-Big East First Team:

  • Bryce Cotton, Providence
  • James Bell, Villanova
  • Kellen Dunham, Butler
  • JayVaughn Pinkston, Villanova
  • Doug McDermott, Creighton

Midseason Coach of the Year: Jay Wright, Villanova

In retrospect, we probably should have seen this coming with the Wildcats. Jay Wright has gotten back to his roots, recruiting a team full of tough, talented guards and undersized big men with a chip on their shoulder. Wright has rebuilt this Villanova program in the mold of his best teams, the ones that starred the likes of Randy Foye and Allan Ray and Scottie Reynolds, and it’s fun to watch.

Favorite: Villanova Wildcats

source:  Villanova is kind of the favorite by default here, as the Big East has been one of the country’s most disappointing conferences this season. They really are the only team that looks capable of winning a couple games in the NCAA tournament right now. That said, Villanova is legit. They defend as well as anyone in the country — No. 2 in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom — and they are difficult to matchup with defensively. If James Bell and Ryan Arcidiacono can get more consistent shooting the three, this will be a very, very dangerous team.

And three more contenders:

  • As long as Creighton has Doug McDermott on the roster, they will be a contender. They’ve been better defensively this season. They don’t force turnover or block shots, but they’re forcing tough shots and getting defensive rebounds.
  • You’d be foolish to count out a Buzz Williams team regardless of how many chances they whiffed on in non-conference play. Marquette has the league’s best front line and will only get better as Duane Wilson and JaJuan Johnson get more reps.
  • I’m still on the Georgetown bandwagon, but they’ll need to find a way to survive despite Josh Smith’s defensive issues. Having a third perimeter scoring option emerge would be beneficial as well.

Most Surprising Team: Butler Bulldogs

Villanova is the league’s most surprising team, but I’m going with Butler here because I can only talk about Villanova so many times. Kellen Dunham and Khyle Marshall have been just terrific this season. I’m not sure that Butler has enough to win the league, but they’ve looked good enough to make a push to finish in the top four and, potentially, play their way into an NCAA tournament bid.

Most Disappointing Team: St. John’s Red Storm

How many teams have more talent, top-to-bottom, than the Johnnies? I’ll give you a hint: none of them. But the Johnnies have looked like anything-but a title contender this season. With the amount of athleticism on this roster, it would be nice to see them become a pressing team, but until they have to rely less on D’angelo Harrison for scoring in the half-court, they’ll struggle.

Most Important Player (in league play): JaJuan Johnson and Duane Wilson, Marquette

The Golden Eagles have one of the best front lines in the country. Davante Gardner, Jamil Wilson and Chris Otule are as good as anyone. But Marquette needs to find consistency on the perimeter. They need shooters and scorers and people that can break down a defense. Johnson and Wilson, who is still working his way back from a leg injury, can do that.

Who will slide?: Georgetown Hoyas

I’m not ready to write-off Georgetown just yet because I think that Markel Starks and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera make up one of the league’s best back courts. Any team with that back court and Josh Smith in the paint will be able to compete. But defensive issues and a lack of a supporting cast could eventually do the Hoyas in.

Who is the sleeper?: Xavier Musketeers

A lot of people wrote off the Muskies after a disastrous, 0-3 performance at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas. But this isn’t a bad Xavier team. They’ve smacked city rival Cincinnati and won at Alabama in their last two games, and they just so happen to have an All-American caliber point guard in Semaj Christon.

New Power Rankings:

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

Michigan State playing zone? It’s possible

Tom Izzo
Associated Press
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Throughout Tom Izzo’s tenure at Michigan State the team’s half-court man-to-man defense has been a staple, and the Spartans have generally proven difficult to have a high rate of offensive success against. The reliance on that defense is why Izzo’s conversations earlier this summer about using some token full-court pressure due to the shortening of the shot clock caught some people off-guard.

According to the Detroit Free Press there’s another wrinkle the Spartans may use, and it’s likely that this wrinkle will show up more often than the full-court press. During Friday’s opening practice the Spartans worked on a 2-3 zone, and Izzo wants his assistants to make sure the team works on the defense consistently throughout the season.

That’s also why zone in general isn’t going to get heavy play at MSU, but having it as a tool could be beneficial — especially in games with touch fouls on the perimeter called in droves.

“I told (my assistant coaches): ‘You hold me accountable to working on it every day some’ … I have a tendency to drift off on that, and I don’t want to drift off on it,” Izzo said of the 2-3 zone. “But we will be, rest assured, a 90-some percent man-to-man team still and hopefully take some of those principles to zone.”

As noted in the story one of the risks in using pressure is allowing quality shots, which is why it’s unlikely that Michigan State will go to it. But even with Izzo vowing that his team will work on the zone, that doesn’t mean they’ll be playing it as often as Syracuse does.

Man-to-man has been Michigan State’s staple and it will continue to be. But it doesn’t hurt to look for other ways to keep opponents from getting the looks they want, especially if teams have five fewer seconds to find those shots.

Virginia used 3-on-3 to adjust to new shot clock

Malcolm Brogdon
Associated Press
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When the college basketball rules committee made the decision to trim the shot clock down to 30 second from 35, one reason for the switch was the desire to improve offensive production. With offensive numbers at their lowest point in years, proponents of the move see the shot clock change as a necessary move if scoring is to improve.

Whether or not that winds up being the case will be seen throughout the upcoming season, but teams are still having to make adjustments during the preseason.

Virginia, which has played at a snail’s pace (and with great success, mind you) in recent years, made some adjustments to their summer work in anticipation of playing with a 30-second shot clock. One adjustment was more games of 3-on-3 with a 15-second shot clock, which forced all involved to be more decisive in their offensive decision-making.

While the pack-line defense will always be a staple of Tony Bennett’s teams, the feeling in Charlottesville is that they’ve got the offensive firepower needed to both play faster and be more efficient offensively than they were in 2014-15 (29th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy). One of the players who will lead the way is senior guard Malcolm Brogdon, who led the team in scoring and was a first team All-ACC selection, and he discussed the team’s outlook with Mike Barber of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

And even though Anderson’s highlight-reel shot blocking was the thing that frequently fueled fast-breaks for U.Va. last season, Brogdon and [Anthony] Gill said they expect this year’s team to actually push the tempo even more.

“I think we’re going to be a team that gets out and runs more,” Brogdon said. “I think we’ll have three guards on the floor, most of the time, will be able to handle the ball as a point guard and get out in transition. I think we’ll play a lot faster.”

Brogdon and Gill are two of the team’s three returning starters with point guard London Perrantes being the other, and the Cavaliers also return most of their reserves from last year’s rotation. That experience will help them on both ends of the floor as they prepare for a run at a third straight ACC regular season title. And in theory it also allows them to extend themselves a bit more offensively than they did a season ago.