Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Xavier’s struggled as star Trevon Bluiett deals with prolonged shooting slump

1 Comment

PHILADELPHIA — Trevon Bluiett is one of the very best scorers in college basketball, an all-american candidate that entered this season on the short list of National Player of the Year contenders.

But for more than a month now, the Xavier star has found himself mired in a slump.

Last night, in a blowout loss at No. 1 Villanova, Bluiett shot 4-for-12 from the floor and 2-for-7 from three, finishing with just 11 points, the majority of which came after the Wildcats had taken full control. In Big East play, he’s shooting 34.8 percent from the floor and 29 percent from three, averaging just 16.6 points. Expand that out through the past month, and Bluiett has not shot the ball at nearly the level that he is capable of since a Dec. 9th win over Colorado.

According to head coach Chris Mack, the issue is as simple as confidence. Bluiett is struggling with it right now.

“I think he’s healthy,” Mack said on Wednesday. “He’s been beat up a little bit, but I don’t feel like health is a concern. It’s just between the ears. He’s gotta know his coaching staff, his head coach and his teammates have unbelievable confidence in him. He’ll get it going. He will.”

Bluiett has been streaky throughout his career. As a junior, he had a five-game stretch where he shot 25.5 percent from the floor and 17 percent from three while averaging 10.6 points. Xavier went 2-3 during that stretch, with the only two wins coming against Georgetown and St. John’s. Bluiett scored at least 20 points in five of the next six games, including a win at Creighton, and the Musketeers went 5-1 during that stretch; their lone loss came at Cincinnati, when Bluiett had 40 points on 12-for-15 shooting.

I can keep going.

Bluiett was arguably the best player through the first three games of the NCAA tournament last season, averaging 25 points to lead No. 11 seed Xavier past Maryland, Florida State and Arizona to the Elite 8. He was then 3-for-14 against Gonzaga in a 24-point loss.

In the least surprising news you’ll hear today, Xavier tends to struggle on the nights when Bluiett isn’t making shots – most teams will struggle when their all-american isn’t playing like an all-american – and this has borne itself out over the last eight games. The Musketeers have lost two straight. They needed to come from 16 points down in the second half to beat DePaul at home and erased a 22-point deficit in the final 15 minutes to avoid getting upset by East Tennessee State. Northern Iowa, the MVC’s cellar-dwellers, gave Xavier a fight in Cedar Falls while Marshall nearly picked them off in Cincinnati.

It’s not a coincidence, then, that Bluiett’s two best games in the past month came in wins over Butler and at Marquette.

The question, then, is how can Xavier get Bluiett into a rhythm and out of this slump. I asked Mack that very question last night.

“I have to do a better job of creating some looks for him, some easy baskets so he sees the ball go in early,” Mack said.

Through 18 games this season, Bluiett has had 10 games where he made his first shot and eight games where he missed his first shot. When he makes his first shot, he’s averaging 20.6 points vs. 16.8 points when he misses his first shot. He’s shooting better from the floor and from three. His offensive rating is three points higher. Perhaps most importantly, Xavier is 9-1 when Bluiett makes his first shot and 6-2 when he misses.

Part of what makes Bluiett so streaky is that he relies heavily on his jump shot to be effective. He doesn’t do all that much damage in the post. He’s not enough of an athlete to be able to slash to the rim. He’s not a playmaker. He’s a streaky shotmaker that can get in his own head when he starts missing, and when those shots stop going in, there isn’t all that much that he does at an elite level.

For the last month, Bluiett has been in his own head.

And until he turns this thing around, Xavier is going to be rather beatable.

Washington’s Thybulle returning for senior season

Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Matisse Thybulle will return to Washington for his senior season after contemplating declaring for the NBA draft following a junior campaign in which he was named the Pac-12 defensive player of the year.

“The NBA is really enticing and it was definitely something that I seriously considered when the season was over,” Thybulle told the Seattle Times. “I talked it over with my family and we came to the conclusion that it would be in my best interest to stay and get my degree (in communications) and grow as a basketball player and take this last year to mature and fine tune everything so I can be fully prepared to take that next step when it’s time.”

The 6-foot-5 guard averaged 11.2 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 3.0 steals per game last season. He shot 44.5 percent from the field and 36.5 percent from 3-point range.

“I talked to coach (Mike Hopkins) and he gave me some good advice that was honestly something that helped in the grand scheme of things,” Thybulle said. “He told me that if I do it (enter the draft), then I should be all in because that’s what I’m going to be up against is a whole bunch of guys fighting for their lives. He thought it would be a better idea for me to stay in school until I’m at that point.”

Washington is awaiting the decision of Noah Dickerson, who declared for the draft but has not hired an agent. The 6-foot-8 averaged 15.5 points and 8.4 rebounds last season.

Koby McEwen transferring to Marquette

Photo by David Becker/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Steve Wojciechowski added a significant piece to his 2019-20 team over the weekend.

Koby McEwen announced his intention to transfer to Marquette from Utah State late Sunday evening.

“I would like to thank God, my family, inner circle and all the schools/coaches that recruited me during this process!” McEwen tweeted. “With that being said, I’m proud to announce that I’ll be furthering my college career at Marquette University.”

McEwen picked the Golden Eagles over fellow finalists Creighton and Grand Canyon after he decided to transfer when the Aggies announced South Dakota coach Craig Smith was taking over the program last month. The 6-foot-4 guard averaged 15.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game while shooting 40 percent from the field and 30 percent from 3-point range as a sophomore.

After sitting out the upcoming season, McEwen will have to years of eligibility remaining. Marquette went 21-14 last season, but missed the NCAA tournament for the third time in Wojciechowski’s four years in Milwaukee.

Minnesota adds Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis

AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
Leave a comment

Minnesota has added some depth for the future.

The Golden Gophers received a pledge from Vanderbilt transfer Payton Willis over the weekend, giving him a guard with two seasons of eligibility remaining starting in 2019-20.

Willis will sit out the upcoming season under NCAA transfer rules.

The 6-foot-4 guard played a limited role in two seasons in Nashville, never averaging more than 18. 5 minutes or 5.2 points per game. He scored in double figures in three games as a sophomore.

Willis was a top-150 prospect in the Class of 2016 coming out of Fayetteville, Ark. with offers from the likes of Tulsa, Rice and Dayton. Vandy and Minnesota were his two high-major offers.

After being ranked in the top-15, Minnesota was beset by injury and suspensions last season as they limped to the finish line in a 15-17 season that featured losses in 12 of its last 13 games.

Richard Pitino still has two available scholarships for the 2018-19 campaign.

Report: Quade Green returning to Kentucky

Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Leave a comment

John Calipari just landed a critical recruit for 2018-19, and he was already on the roster.

Quade Green, who averaged 25 minutes per game last season, is returning to Kentucky for his sophomore season, his mother told the Lexington Herald-Leader on Monday.

Given that six Wildcat players have entered the draft (Kevin Knox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Hami Diallo are signing with agents), getting the 6-foot point guard back for a second season is a massive deal for Calipari and Co. The Wildcats have always been at their best under Calipari with returning players as the cornerstones of the roster with talented one-and-dones providing the extra boost. Getting one such returner at the point guard position is even more critical.

Green, who came to Kentucky as a five-star recruit last year, averaged 9.3 points and 2.7 assists per game while shooting 45.1 percent from the field and a respectable 37.1 percent from 3-point range, an area where Kentucky continually needs help.

With Green back in the fold, Kentucky will now await the decisions of PJ Washington, Wenyen Gabriel and Jarred Vanderbilt, who are all going through the pre-draft process without hiring agents, which will potentially allow them to return to school and bolster a Kentucky roster has the look of a top-five team.

CBT Podcast: NBA Draft Early Entry Deadline: Winners, losers and who has the most on the line?

Eric Espada/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The NBA Draft Early Entry Deadline came and went on Sunday night, meaning there are now roughly 60 college players that have signed with an agent and another 100 or so that have declared for the draft while retaining their college eligibility. Who were the winners? Who were the losers? Who has the most on the line? Sam Vecenie of the Game Theory podcast joined Rob Dauster to talk through all of it. The rundown:

OPEN: What do NBA teams value in players these days?

10:00: Villanova has more on the line during this testing the water process than anyone

19:00: Just how important was De’Andre Hunter’s decision to return to Virginia

25:25: Gonzaga getting Rui and Killian Tillie back makes them a title favorite

32:10: Nevada has a top ten season on the line with the Martin twins and Jordan Caroline

36:15: #RANTALERT – The decision to turn pro is so much more complicated than “is he a first round pick”

48:30: Rapid fire: Maryland, Kansas, Syracuse, Nebraska, Purdue and Michigan. What do they have on the line?