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Big East Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

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For the first time since it reconstituted as a new league, the Big East has a champion other than Villanova. Xavier ended the Wildcats’ four-year run atop the conference despite getting swept by Jay Wright’s program in their two meetings this season, finishing one-up on ‘Nova with a 15-3 league record.

Now as those to teams head into the conference tournament, the question becomes can both of them secure a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament? As things stand now, it looks as though both are incredibly well positioned to do just that, but they made need a third matchup in the title game to wrap up a pair of top seeds for the league.

While there is plenty of intrigue at the top of the league, there’s plenty at stake elsewhere as well. Creighton, Butler and Seton Hall all can help their own causes as all three have the profile of an 8/9 seed. Providence may not feel great about its spot unless it can win its opening-round tilt against the Jayhawks. Then there’s Marquette, which appears to be lingering right around the cutline heading into the season’s final week.

There is a lot at stake at Madison Square Garden this week, and St. John’s, Georgetown and DePaul have all proven capable as potential spoilers, setting the action up to be among the most compelling tournaments across the country.

THE FAVORITE

Yes, the Musketeers were the regular-season champs, but you’ve got to peg Villanova as the team to beat here. Three of the Wildcats’ four losses came away from home and the fourth is simply inexplicable as they fell to St. John’s at the Wells Fargo Center. Probably best to chalk that last one up to statistical variance.

‘Nova has a potential player of the year in Jalen Brunson, a player who thrives under pressure and in the clutch. Brunson is simply one of the best players in the country playing arguably the most important position for postseason success. Put him and Jay Wright together and it just feels downright silly to bet against Villanova. Let’s not also forget that the Wildcats topped Chris Mack’s team four-straight times dating back to last year.

We haven’t even mentioned Mikal Bridges or the strong supporting cast around he and Brunson, so despite Xavier’s strength and the potential landmines that other conference contenders potentially pose, VIllanova is the easy pick here.

THE CONTENDERS

Xavier is the clear second choice here behind the Wildcats. Mack’s group may have lost twice to Villanova, but their only other stumble along the very treacherous Big East path was a loss at Providence. They haven’t been susceptible to the slip-ups that ultimately cost Villanova another regular-season title. Veteran and talented guard play is always at a premium in win-or-go-home scenarios, and X has that in spades with Trevon Bluiett and JP Macura, both of whom are dudes you’d want in your corner with the season on the line. The offense is legit, but can the defense get enough stops over three-straight games?

Beyond the two headliners, Creighton and Seton Hall are potentially serious threats for a crown. If the Bluejays get hot, they can shoot their way to a title on the strength of Marcus Foster, Khyri Thomas and a cast of role players all capable of filling it up. For the Pirates, they’ll go as far as Desi Rodriguez and Angel Delgado will take them, which could be pretty darn far.

WHO NEEDS A WIN THE MOST?

While Providence would probably feel better with a win, it’s Marquette without a doubt here. The Golden Eagles are either in the First Four or the outside looking in, depending on which bracketologist you ask. A win against DePaul might night move the needle a whole lot, but a loss certainly will and not in the direction Steve Wojciechowski wants it to. If they can get past the Blue Demons and score an upset against Villanova, that should more than do it.

WHO IS ON THE BUBBLE?

Certainly Marquette is, but Ed Cooley’s team isn’t going to want to leave the Big Apple without a win. Providence could probably survive a loss to Creighton in the quarterfinals, but then you’re probably looking at either the First Four or forcing the committee to make a decision about you, neither of which are places a team wants to be. Unless Providence moves on to Friday or Saturday, it’s probably going to be a tense Sunday.

THE SLEEPER

Butler tied for sixth in the Big East standings, but their KenPom ranking of 24 is the third-best in the league. They’re not really elite anywhere, but they’re balanced and strong across the board. It may be LaVall Jordan’s first year at the helm in Indianapolis, but the Bulldogs have a winning pedigree and shouldn’t be discounted simply because of their 9-9 league record.

Butler has already knocked Villanova off once this season, so the Wildcats aren’t going to be an insurmountable obstacle in Friday’s semifinals. And, honestly, it won’t take much more than Kelan Martin, who is averaging 21.2 points per game, to raise his level of play for three days for Butler to find itself cutting down nets at the Garden. MSG seems to bring the best out of the best, and Martin very well could be the one to answer that call.

PLAYER TO WATCH

Martin and Brunson, as previously mentioned, are great candidates here, but let’s focus instead for a moment on Mikal Bridges. The 6-foot-6 junior is averaging 17.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game while shooting 51.1 percent from the floor and 42 percent from distance. When that’s the second-best player on your team, you’re doing all right.

Bridges has been on a tear lately, too, scoring at least 20 points in four of his last five games. The Wildcats won all four games when he hit that mark and lost the one in which he didn’t. If Bridges keeps filling it up, look for Villanova to keep winning.

X-FACTORS

– Villanova has lost to both St. John’s and Providence this season, begging the question of just how vulnerable might they be in the early rounds of this tournament? They conceivably could see both those teams in the tournament’s opening two days. Were those games flukes and ‘Nova will bulldoze its way to Saturday, or were those sneaky matchup issues waiting to jump up and get them once more?

– Xavier’s defense is fine. Really, it is. But it’s not exactly good, either. The Musketeers don’t force turnovers or a ton of misses, though they do clean the glass. If an opponent can free up shooters consistently, they could shoot Xavier out of the Garden.

– Marcus Foster generates a lot of buzz for his offense for Creighton, but Khyri Thomas may be the better offensive player. He’s certainly the more efficient. While having a much lower usage rate that his teammate, Thomas shoots 43.1 percent from 3-point range and 63.6 percent from inside the arc. With defenses focused on Foster, Thomas is more than capable of winning games for Creighton.

NBC SPORTS BIG EAST HONORS

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jalen Brunson, VIllanova

COACH OF THE YEAR: Chris Mack, Xavier

FIRST TEAM ALL-BIG EAST

  • Jalen Brunson, Villanova
  • Mikal Bridges, Villanova
  • Kelan Martin, Butler
  • Trevon Bluiett, Xavier
  • Marcus Foster, Creighton

SECOND TEAM ALL-BIG EAST

  • Khyri Thomas, Creighton
  • Shamorie Ponds, St. John’s
  • Angel Delgado, Seton Hall
  • Desi Rodriguez, Seton Hall
  • Markus Howard, Marquette

NCAA tourney chair addresses non-conference strength of schedule and quadrant system

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The way the NCAA tournament selection committee picks teams for inclusion into the sport’s crowning event is always under intense scrutiny. It’s a national past time, really.

One of the easiest targets is the RPI, an obviously flawed metric. It was the topic of discussion recently in the Omaha World-Herald, most notably the non-conference strength of schedule component.

That post spurred a lengthy response from Creighton athletic director and selection committee chairman Bruce Rasmussen, who defended the committee’s work with a metric that it acknowledges to be imperfect.

Here’s Rasmussen:

“Non-conference SOS is not a predominant tool in selections.

In fact, each year that I have been on the committee, we have discussed why you have to look beyond the number to evaluate a team’s non-conference strength of schedule, and even with this qualifier, non-conference schedule ranks well behind other factors such as how you did against other tournament caliber teams, did you win the games you were supposed to win, and how did you do away from home since winning away from home is difficult and the tournament games are all games away from home.

“I have argued each year that I have been on the committee that non-conference SOS should be taken off the team sheet, but until we develop a new metric it is staying. However, understand that the committee understands its fallacies (as we also recognize other weaknesses in the current RPI formula) and it is not a prominent factor in decisions.”

Rasmussen also examined the quadrant system being used:

“Many think that the first and second quadrants are silos and that every win in the first quadrant or every win in the second quadrant is treated equally.  I think it is important that while we refer to first and second quadrant wins, we also better communicate that this is only a sorting mechanism and each game in these quadrants is looked at differently. They don’t have the same value.”

So while it’s fair to question NCAA selection committee’s decisions and the way in which they make them, it’s clear there is an extensive amount of well-intentioned thought put into the process.

Five-star Bowen cuts list to six

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Five-star 2017 prospect Brian Bowen has trimmed his list of possible collegiate destinations to six.

Creighton, North Carolina State, UCLA, Michigan State, Arizona and Texas are still under consideration, Bowen announced Wednesday evening.

Bowen, a consensus top-20 recruit, is a 6-foot-8 small forward out of Sagniaw, Mich., but he currently is attending the prestigious La Lumiere School in Indiana. He’s also the cousin of former Michigan State star Jason Richardson, leaving many to believe that he’s a heavy Spartan lean.

“People think I’m 100 percent to Michigan State,” Bowen told Brendan Quinn of MLive.com earlier this month. “I love them to death and I’ve been there my whole life and everything — it’s a great coaching staff and everything — but I’m not 100 percent to a school until I commit there. Right now, I’m open to the schools that are recruiting.”

Bowen hasn’t said when he plans on making a final decision.

Report: CBE Hall of Fame Classic headliners set

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The headliners for the 2017 CBE Hall of Fame Classic have been set.

UCLA, Baylor, Wisconsin and Creighton will highlight the bill for the annual event in Kansas City, according to a report from CBS Sports.

The CBE Hall of Fame Classic historically has included on-campus games and a flagship four-team championship round at the Sprint Center. This year’s headliners include Kansas, Georgia, George Washington and UAB.

Certainly securing four high-majors is a significant get for the event, which will also likely coincide with the induction of the 2017 class of the Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame. The 2016 class is highlighted by Mark Aguirre, Doug Collins, Dominique Wilson, Jamal Wilkes and Mike Montgomery.

No. 18 Creighton puts on another offensive display against No. 6 Villanova

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No. 18 Creighton shot fewer threes in the rematch than they made in the opener, but that didn’t matter.

The Bluejays still managed to put up triple-digits on No. 6 Villanova in Omaha, beating the Wildcats 101-80 behind 39 points from National Player of the Year favorite Doug McDermott.

That means that in two games against Villanova, Creighton beat them 197-148. They shot 60% from three (30-for-50) and 60.4% from the floor. They scored 1.449 PPP in the two games. For those that aren’t well versed in efficiency numbers, that’s a ridiculous number.

There’s an important note to make here: Creighton is not as good as they played in these two games against Villanova, and the Wildcats are not overrated because they ran into the buzzsaw know as “when Creighton’s offense is clicking” twice.

What Creighton does is put shooters are every spot on the floor. In the first matchup with Villanova, the Bluejays simply lit up Jay Wright’s team from the perimeter, hitting 21-for-35 from three. On Sunday, Villanova tried their best to take away the three, but what that opened up was the paint. Creighton was able to beat Villanova off the dribble or on off-the-ball cuts, getting whatever they wanted around the rim. Since Daniel Ochefu, the only real shot-blocking threat on the roster, had to chase Ethan Wragge around the perimeter, Villanova had no defense around the bucket.

And then there is the Dougie McBuckets issue. He moves without the ball more than anyone in the country and is lethal when he gets the ball in the post, but help-side and post-doubles are difficult given how well the Bluejays move the ball and shoot from three.

There are two ways to beat this Creighton team. You need to have the length and athleticism to be able to switch all screens, or you need to be able to muck the game up, getting physical with McDermott and keeping him from getting clean looks from three, curls off of an in-screen or comfortable touches in the post.

Then you need to hope that they have an off-night, because if they’re hitting, they’re going to be tough to beat regardless of what you do.

New Year’s Resolutions: Creighton Bluejays

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Over the course of the holiday week, we at College Basketball Talk will be detailing what we believe will be the New Year’s Resolutions of some of the nation’s most talented, most disappointing, and thoroughly enigmatic teams. What can we say, we’re in a giving mood.

Who else made Resolutions? Click here to find out.

WHAT DOES CREIGHTON PROMISE TO DO MORE OF?: Become a more disruptive defensive team.

  • Why it will happen: Creighton may have the best offensive player and offense in the country, but their defense has holes that may come back to bite them as they embark on their first season in the Big East. With a team that is so high-powered on offense with a bevy of shooters, they will be able to get by — for the most part — with a mediocre defense. Guards Devin Brooks and Jahenns Manigat are both more than adequate perimeter defenders, and they should match-up well with the top guards in the Big East.
  • Why it won’t happen: Their defensive numbers actually don’t look too bad through the non-conference as they give up 65 ppg, but what is of concern is their inability to force turnovers. The Bluejays played a very pedestrian non-conference schedule, and the Big East figures to pose a much greater challenge to their defense. The prior two seasons, Creighton’s defense was actually worse than it is the year, so improvement has been made. However, not having a stopper in the paint like Greg Echenique will make it difficult to defend teams like Marquette and Georgetown who have imposing front-courts.

WHAT DOES CREIGHTON SWEAR THEY WILL DO LESS OF?: Head coach Greg McDermott will not have as short of a leash for guard Devin Brooks.

  • Why it will happen: Devin Brooks is in his first season with Creighton after transferring from Iowa Western CC. The Creighton offense isn’t one that anybody can simply step into and excel, but Brooks has done a solid job thus far coming off the bench as he’s averaging 8.1 points, 4.0 rpg, and 2.9 assists in just over 16 minutes of action — very productive. With the Big East featuring some of the best guards in the country, don’t be surprised if Brooks has his minutes extended and McDermott allows him to play through mistakes.
  • Why it won’t happen: Creighton is averaging nearly 83 ppg and, as previously mentioned, may have the best offense in the country. Why tamper with that? Senior shooting guard Jahenns Manigat, who is in his fourth season with Creighton, boasts a 2.9:1 assist to turnover ratio, while starting point guard Austin Chatman leads the team with assists at 4.3 per game. Until Creighton begins to struggle in the Big East or Brooks plays so well in practices / games that he leaves McDermott no choice but to see more minutes, Brooks will continue his role off the bench playing 15 minutes or so a night.