Big East Conference Catchup: Who contends with Villanova in 2014-15?

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This season marked the dawning of the new Big East. The Catholic 7 from the original conference merged with Butler, Creighton and Xavier to form the 10-team league. Four of those programs reached the NCAA tournament in 2014, although, all of which failed to reach the Sweet 16.

The disappointment from the conference’s showing the NCAA tournament will switch to uncertainty in Year 2 with plenty of questions needing be answered.

Villanova, the Big East regular season champion, will undoubtedly be the favorite heading into next season. One of the most efficient offensive and defensive teams in the conference last season will offset the graduation of James Bell with returnees Darrun Hillard, JayVaughn Pinkston and Ryan Arcidiacono among several other key contributors. A pair of four-star recruits — Phil Booth and Mikal Bridges — join the Wildcats as well.

RELATEDRead through all of our Conference Catchups here

Who challenges Villanova?

Creighton has to replace National Player of the Year Doug McDermott. Bryce Cotton won’t be racking up the minutes at Providence this winter. Xavier’s Semaj Christon and St. John’s Jakarr Sampson are other notable players to leave this spring.

Can Xavier and Providence find a way to get back into the NCAA tournament? Will strong recruiting classes for teams like Georgetown and Seton Hall propel them near the top of the conference? Does a darkhorse team emerge as a threat to the Wildcats?

THREE UP

Georgetown: The Hoyas stumbled to a sixth-place finish in 2013-2014, but returns D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and his 17.0 points per game. Matched with four freshmen listed in the Rivals 150, and Georgetown has the tools for a bounce-back campaign.

Seton Hall: The Pirates are 9-27 in conference play over the past two years. That could change with Isaiah Whitehead, and a talented recruiting class, joining Sterling Gibbs, the team’s top returning scorer, next season. With the conference as wide-open as it is, it wouldn’t be surprising if Seton Hall cracked the top half of the conference, and earned its way into the bubble conversation.

Kris Dunn, Providence: Shoulder injuries have plagued the first half of his career with the Friars, limiting him to only four games in 2013-2014. He committed to Providence as the top-ranked point guard, according to Rivals, and if healthy, can help the back court dealing with the loss of Cotton.

THREE DOWN

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Creighton: McDermott’s heralded career came to the end in the Round of 32. You can’t stress how important his departure is for the Bluejays, but three other senior starters graduate, too. Creighton made a smooth transition from the Missouri Valley to the Big East, but it’s time to rebuild. Ronnie Harrell and Leon Gilmore, two Rivals 150 recruits, give Greg McDermott some nice pieces for the future while transfers Mo Watson and Cole Huff will make an impact when they resume their careers in the 2015-2016 season.

Butler: In its third different conference in as many seasons, Butler suffered its first losing season since 2005. The Bulldogs add Roosevelt Jones back to the lineup in addition to Kellen Dunham, Kameron Woods, Alex Barlow and Andrew Chrabascz. The second year of the Brandon Miller era should see some improvement, but Butler might very well be in the bottom half of the league once again.

Conference hype: Villanova and Creighton both ended the season in the top 20, though, to start the 2014-2015 season the Big East will have only one representative in the top 25. The conference’s first season with Fox Sports 1 produced less than stellar numbers. Without Doug McDermott, the conference lacks a headlining star. While there certainly is talent around the league, the pro potential, according to early mock drafts, is scarce.

FIVE NEW FACES

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Steve Wojciechowski, Marquette: For almost the entirety of the last two decades, Wojciechowski has been part of the Duke program. In April, he became the newest branch in the Coach K coaching tree, replacing Buzz Williams at Marquette. He’ll have some talent on this roster, though, only one of Williams’ recruit — Sandy Cohen — remains committed. BYU guard Matt Carlino, who has immediate eligibility, should help perimeter shooting.

Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall: The five-star recruit, ranked No. 16 overall, according to Rivals, headlines an impressive incoming class, which includes Angel Delgado and Khadeen Carrington. The 6-foot-4 Whitehead is a difficult matchup with the ball in his hands, and can put up points in a hurry when he gets hot. Whitehead can help the Pirates make some noise in Kevin Willard’s fifth season.

Isaac Copeland, Georgetown: The Hoyas recruiting class stars Copeland, the five-star forward, along with combo forward Paul White and wing L.J. Peak. Copeland benefited greatly from his one season at Brewster Academy (New Hampshire) this past year, displaying an array of skills. The incoming class puts John Thompson III’s program in a good spot for the future, though, Copeland can make an immediate impact, and help Georgetown improve on an 18-15 (8-10 Big East) season.

Matt Carlino, Marquette: The graduate transfer guard will finish his career with the Golden Eagles after stops at UCLA (never played a game) and BYU. Carlino will provide some experience to the Marquette back court, but more importantly add a 3-point threat, connecting on 34 percent of his threes with BYU last season.

Roosevelt Jones, Butler: The 6-foot-4 guard has been with the Butler program since 2011, but an injury to his left wrist delayed his Big East debut to November 2014. Jones averaged 10.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game in 2011-2012, and his return will boost a back court led by top scorer Kellen Dunham, though, the perimeter lost depth when Rene Castro and Elijah Brown both decided to transfer.

Way-Too-Early Power Rankings

1. Villanova

2. Georgetown

3. Xavier

4. Providence

5. Seton Hall

6. Marquette

7. St. John’s

8. Butler

9. Creighton

10. DePaul

WATCH: Xavier scores a basket off the ground, Macura’s buzzer-beater waved off

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Xavier, the No. 11 seed in the West region, needed a few break to go its way in order to stay with top-seeded Gonzaga in the first half of the Elite Eight matchup from San Jose on Saturday evening.

Just before halftime, the Musketeers got the ball to bounce their way. Literally. Gonzaga’s Johnathan Williams and Xavier’s RaShid Gaston battled for a rebound. Williams inadvertently spiked the ball off the basket, off himself and off the backboard for a two-board bucket for Xavier.

The bucket was awarded to Gaston. It was two of Gaston’s five first half points.

Less than 30 seconds later, J.P. Macura tried to top Gaston’s unlikely field goal with a bank shot of his own. Following a bucket from Nigel Williams-Goss, Macura heaved a three-quarters court at the buzzer. However, after reviewing the play, it was waved off.

The Zags led 49-39 entering halftime.

Mike White and Frank Martin square off for a Final Four berth, as unlikely as it may be

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NEW YORK — Frank Martin is at South Carolina for one reason: He and his boss did not get along when he was at Kansas State.

There were other factors at play — South Carolina had an opening, he was offered a raise, he is back on the East Coast — but at the end of the day, Frank Martin is probably still coaching in Manhattan, Kansas, if his athletic director hadn’t forced him to hold star forward Jamar Samuels out of a second round NCAA tournament game against No. 1 seed Syracuse in 2012 after accepting a wire transfer of $200 from his former AAU coach.

“Please don’t ask me any questions on it,” Martin said after the game, his displeasure over the decision hidden about as well as Gregg Popovich hides his disdain for sideline reporters. “Because I had nothing to do with the decision. Any questions pertaining to this matter, please direct to John Currie, my boss.”

Why else would Martin, who had been to four NCAA tournaments and an Elite 8 in five years as the head coach of the Wildcats, jump ship for a program that had been to four NCAA tournaments since 1974 and had never won back-to-back NCAA tournament games? When the Gamecocks hired Martin, they were coming off a 10-win season where they finished dead last in the SEC.

It wasn’t exactly a destination job when Martin took over.

And Mike White may have had it worse at Florida.

Regardless of the sport, the hardest thing to do in coaching is to be the guy that replaces The Guy. Billy Donovan, with his two national titles and four Final Fours and ten total SEC championships, was unequivocally The Guy. Those are the shoes that White, who had never been coached an NCAA tournament game until he squared off with East Tennessee State on March 16th of this year, had to fill.

On Sunday night, in the unlikeliest region of this NCAA tournament, one of those two men will rise to the pinnacle of their profession, winning their way to the Final Four, a place not everyone thought was a possible when they signed their contracts.


(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

If Frank Martin didn’t win this season, if he had missed the NCAA tournament for the fifth consecutive season after taking over in Columbia, it would have been time for us to start wondering just how long he was going to last.

He didn’t save his job by winning 25 games and earning a No. 7 seed on Selection Sunday, but he certainly kept himself from having to answer some tough questions heading into next season. Going five years without a tournament appearance at a Power 5 school is not the best way to earn a contract extension, even at a school like South Carolina, which doesn’t exactly have much in the way of basketball tradition.

“I dreamt of South Carolina being in this moment,” Martin said. “But I don’t go about my job every day acting like we’re getting there right now, this is the day, this is the year.”

The difference now is that this may actually be the year for the Gamecocks, but it certainly didn’t look that way a month ago, when, as Martin puts it, “we slipped a little bit.” It started with a four-overtime home loss to Alabama where the Gamecocks mustered all of 86 points. They would go on to lose three of their next four games and entered the NCAA tournament having lost six of their last nine games, their offensive efficiency dipping into the 150s on KenPom.

Put another way, South Carolina didn’t have the look of a team that was getting ready to take the college basketball world by storm.

They had the look, frankly, of every SEC basketball program not named Kentucky or Florida: Good enough to make noise in their league but not good enough to put together a run in a tournament featuring the best basketball programs in the sport. That characterization of #SECBasketballFever may not be fair, but it’s the truth. There’s a reason everyone is surprised by the presence of three SEC programs in the Elite 8, that the league is one win from Kentucky away from fielding half of the Final Four, and it’s not because the conference has made a habit of outperforming their already-middling expectations.

Florida, however, doesn’t fall into that same category, and that’s part of the reason that White was is such a difficult spot when he took the job over. The Gators have won national titles. They were in the Final Four in 2014; senior point guard Kasey Hill played in that game. They expect to win in Gainesville, even if they only pay attention to those wins once football season comes to a close, and Donovan is the one to thank for that.

“I always said ‘poor guy,'” Martin joked. “Whoever replaces Billy. Oh my God, poor guy.”

To his credit, White says that he hasn’t thought about the bigger picture, what it means to be replacing a future Hall of Famer, what it means to be able to maintain the success of a program with annual Final Four aspirations. The job is the job, whether you’re replacing a guy that got fired or a guy that left to coach Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

He does, however, concede that the job wasn’t quite as easy as it may seem from the outside. Before he was even introduced as Florida head coach, White got Donovan on the phone to talk about the team that was about to be his, and Donovan told him precisely what he was going to be dealing with.

“I inherited a group that struggled under a Hall of Famer, that Coach Donovan struggled with,” White said, “and told me that I would struggle with, in terms of some entitlement and some immaturity.”

“They have come a long way. We have developed, our guys have developed, they have really matured. Some of it is natural, some of it is just natural maturity because sophomores are juniors now and juniors are seniors. … And then some of it is a little bit abnormal.”

“Mike’s been unreal,” Martin said. “He’s got those guys playing through his eyes. That’s powerful stuff.”

The result is that just two years into his tenure with the Gators and in the first NCAA tournament that he’s ever been a part of, White has a chance to get to his first Final Four.

Just like Martin.

And on Sunday, one of them will be headed for Phoenix.

As unlikely as it may be.

Indiana hires Dayton head coach Archie Miller

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Indiana is expected to hire Dayton head coach Archie Miller, the school announced.

The deal will be for seven years, according to The Vertical. Miller had spent the last six seasons as the head coach at Dayton, getting to four straight NCAA tournaments, including the Elite 8 in 2014, while winning the last two Atlantic 10 regular season titles.

Miller had been targeted by seemingly every high major program with an opening since he reached the Elite 8, but similar to Shaka Smart when he left VCU, Miller simply waited for the right job to come long.

Indiana is the right job.

There had been some speculation that Miller wouldn’t want to take Indiana, that his dream job is Ohio State and that the idea of coaching in a fishbowl like Bloomington is not something that would be all that appealing to him. But Indiana is an elite job. It’s the kind of opening that happens once every four or five years, and if Miller had said no to the Hoosiers now, it’s very possible that an opportunity like this wouldn’t come along for years, if ever.

This hire is surprising, not because it’s the wrong hire — I think they got this right — but because Indiana actually made the right decision.

The overwhelming sentiment since Tom Crean was fired was that UCLA head coach Steve Alford would be named the next head coach at Indiana because the Hoosiers wanted an “Indiana Guy”. Alford was born in New Castle, he played at IU for Bobby Knight, he won a national title with the program. The goal was to get the Indiana fan base back, a fan base that was so estranged from the program that Indiana had to play an NIT game on the road as a higher seed because they were reportedly afraid of allowing ESPN’s cameras to see the empty seats.

But just because a hire appeases the fans doesn’t make it the right hire.

Miller was the right hire.

If they really want to get the fans back, winning is the best way to do it. Archie is as good of a bet to win at Indiana as anyone.

Elite 8 Preview: Saturday’s picks, predictions, betting lines and channels

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So Friday got good.

If Zak Showalter’s game-tying three and subsequent discount double-check wasn’t enough, we had Canyon Barry’s chasedown block and, well, this game-winner from Chris Chiozza.

And all that came after De’Aaron Fox took out what felt like a season’s worth of frustration out on Lonzo Ball.

What is on tap for tonight?

No. 1 GONZAGA (-8) vs. No. 11 XAVIER, 6:09 p.m., TBS: Someone is going to be making their way to the Final Four for the first time on Saturday night, as Xavier’s Chris Mack and Gonzaga’s Mark Few square off for the right to play on the final weekend of the season.

And in a way, this is the perfect Final Four game. Both the Zags and the Musketeers are basketball schools in basketball leagues. They come from outside the power structure and have head coaches that have spurned jobs from within the power structure to remain there. They are built for a run like this, even if they were both overlooked on the way here.

Xavier was obvious. Playing without Edmond Sumner and Myles Davis, the Musketeers just haven’t been the team that they were supposed to be this season. That’s why they lost six straight games in February, but things have turned around in March, as Trevon Bluiett has put the program on his back and willed them to the Elite 8. Gonzaga is the opposite. They went 29-0 to start the season, but they have yet to be accepted as a legitimate title contender by most of the people that watch the games.

My guess on Saturday night is that the Zags make their statement and emphatically get into the Final Four.

PREDICTION: Gonzaga (-8)

No. 1 KANSAS (-7) vs.  No. 3 OREGON, 8:49 p.m., TBS: This matchup is a lot tastier on paper than it is likely going to end up being on the floor. As good as Oregon has been this season, they are, essentially, Kansas light. They play two lead guards together and they play small-ball, with a natural wing lined up at the four.

The problem?

The Kansas guys are just better. Josh Jackson is a better player than Dillon Brooks. His length and athleticism should give the Oregon star fits. Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham are better than whatever combination of Payton Pritchard, Tyler Dorsey and Dylan Ennis the Ducks opt to use.

And, for that matter, no team is playing better right now that they Jayhawks, who beat Michigan State by 20, Purdue by 32 and became the first team to score 90 points in their first three NCAA tournament games since 1995. I think that trend continues on Saturday night.

PREDICTION: Kansas (-7)

Sunday’s NCAA Tournament Elite Eight schedule, tip times, and announcer pairings

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Regional Finals – Sunday, March 26

2:20 p.m.,CBS, New York
No. 7 South Carolina vs. No. 4 Florida (Verne Lundquist, Jim Spanarkel, Allie LaForce)

5:05 p.m., CBS, Memphis
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 2 Kentucky (Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson)