While the Big Ten/ACC Challenge has received most of the attention this week, one of the better games on Wednesday’s slate matched teams from the Big East and American Athletic Conference. Butler and No. 17 Cincinnati did not disappoint, and the outcome would not be determined until the game’s final second.
Roosevelt Jones managed to corral a pass from Austin Etherington despite being surrounded by two Cincinnati defenders, then dribbled to his left and made a runner off glass with one tenth of a second remaining. The shot gave Butler the 78-76 win and a result that will look good on their résumé as the season progresses.
Jones, who made two important free throws to give Butler a 74-73 lead with 42 seconds remaining, finished the night with ten points and five rebounds. Kellen Dunham led five Bulldogs in double figures with 24 points, and Butler’s 16-5 edge in points off turnovers was a factor as well.
Jacob Evans and Octavius Ellis, whose three-point play with 4.7 seconds remaining tied the game at 76, led the Bearcats with 16 points apiece and Ellis also grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds.
Video credit: CBS Sports Network
Big East Preview: Is there a real challenger to Villanova?
Beginning in October and running up through November 13th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2015-2016 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.
Today, we are previewing the Big East Conference.
The Big East Conference landed six teams in the NCAA tournament last season. The Big East might not replicate that number come Selection Sunday, but the 10-league members should make for another unpredictable season.
Villanova should be the unanimous preseason pick, given what the Wildcats have accomplished over the past two years (two regular season titles and the 2015 Big East Tournament championship) and the key pieces they bring back, inclduding Ryan Arcidiacono, Daniel Ochefu and Josh Hart. Georgetown, Butler and Xavier should all pose as Villanova’s biggest competition, though the order in which they finish is up for debate.
The same could be said for the rest of the conference. St. John’s is likely out of the mix following a massive roster overhaul, but Nos. 5-9 could end up in a variety of ways.
FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:
1. Kris Dunn spurned NBA: Kris Dunn could have been a lottery pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, but choose to return to Providence for his junior season. This is a gamble on Dunn’s part, given the recurring shoulder injury that plagued his first two seasons. But with the return of Dunn, arguably the top player in college basketball, the Friars eye an NCAA tournament for the third time in as many seasons, instead of focusing on a rebuilding year.
2. Villanova postseason cut short again: In 2014, Villanova, a No. 2 seed, was upset by eventual champion UConn in the Round 0f 32. This past March, the Wildcats validated critics who believed that they were unworthy of a No. 1 seed, exiting the tournament in the Round of 32 again, this time at the hands of No. 8 N.C. State. Jay Wright led the Wildcats to the Final Four in 2009. In five tournament appearances since, Villanova hasn’t gotten out of the first weekend. Villanova can prove its among the top programs in the country with non-conference matchups against Oklahoma and Virginia, but it won’t matter unless NCAA tournament success follows.
3. Chris Mullin returns: After five seasons, St. John’s and Steve Lavin decided to part ways. This paved the way for a Chris Mullin homecoming. The Brooklyn native led the Johnnies to the 1985 Final Four before enjoying a Hall of Fame career as a player. Since retiring, he’s worked as both a broadcaster and in NBA front office’s but he returns to his alma mater with zero coaching experience. He inherits a team that lost its entire rotation, but Mullin has made tremendous strides in his first few months as a head coach, surrounding himself with talented recruiters, who have overhauled the roster and helped land a pair of four-star recruits.
4. Impact freshmen: The two highest-rated recruits entering the league is Marquette’s Henry Ellenson and Villanova’s Jalen Brunson. Both five-star prospects are expected to make immediate impact. This summer offered a glimpse of what to expect this season, with Ellenson putting up big numbers on Marquette’s European tour and Brunson leading USA Basketball to a gold medal in the FIBA U19 World Championships in Greece. Brunson averaged 14.0 points and 5.6 assists per game, earning MVP honors.
5. NBA Draft: For the first time in Big East history (dating back to 1979, not 2013), no player was selected in the first round of the NBA Draft. In all likelihood, that will change this June, as Kris Dunn and Henry Ellenson are both projected as lottery picks.
Favorite: “I’d say Villanova. They’ve dominated our league. They’ve been the standard the last two years. They have a lot of guys back, a lot of experience, very, very good guard play. They can all shoot and drive. They’re all very good defensively, too.”
Sleeper: “I think Marquette has a chance to be a sleeper. I think Woj has done a really good job of upgrading the talent in the last year. They return just enough guys and I think he has some really good freshmen to help elevate them to the upper part of the league.”
“You obviously have to start with Kris Dunn … Ryan Arcidiacono as well. Those two guys headline our league. [Dunn] impacts the game on both ends of the floor. He’s a two-way player. He’s a phenomenal defender. At the other end, he’s just really hard to keep out of the lane. Arcidiacono stays more within himself. He can really shoot the ball, makes the right play, tough guy. He does a great job.”
“I think Arcidiacono is the best player … He’s truly a quarterback in that system. He makes average players very, very good and he pulls that team together. He’s an extension of Jay [Wright]. I’m probably a rare guy, but I think Arch is the best player.”
Most underrated player
“I think Daniel Ochefu is very undervalued. Obviously, he’s 6-foot-11, but he’s so mobile and he’s an extremely good defender around the rim and in ball-screen defense. Then he can score on the other end.”
“Roosevelt Jones. I think people talk about him, but I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves. For not being able to shoot the ball, he’s extremely talented. He understands his role. He’s one of those guys that makes a team click.”
PRESEASON BIG EAST PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Kris Dunn, Providence
Dunn is a candidate for Preseason National Player of the Year honors, so it’s no surprise that he should be the runaway selection to repeat as Big East Player of the Year after he shared the honors last season. The 6-foot-3 Dunn, in his first full season, posted posted 15.6 points, 7.5 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 2.7 steals per game as a redshirt sophomore. As opposing coaches mentioned above, he impacts the game on both ends of the floor, probably more so than anyone else in the country.
THE REST OF THE BIG EAST FIRST TEAM:
RyanArcidiacono, Villanova: The experienced lead guard who shared Big East co-Player of the Year honors with Dunn last season, anchors the conference’s top perimeter attack, which includes Josh Hart, Jalen Brunson and Phil Booth. Arcidiacono averaged 10.1 points and 3.5 assists per game and shot a career-best 37 percent from three.
Henry Ellenson, Marquette: The five-star recruit, rated No. 11 player in the class by Rivals, is the highest-rated prospect entering the Big East. The projected lottery pick will make up one of the top front courts playing alongside Luke Fischer.
Roosevelt Jones, Butler: His old-school game helped the Bulldogs turnaround the program’s first losing season in nine years. The 6-foot-4 redshirt junior, who missed the 2013-14 season due to a wrist injury, led the team in assists at 3.7 per game and added another scoring option, putting up points using his arsenal of unorthodox runners.
D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Georgetown: The key piece on a team loaded with talented underclassmen, the 6-foot-3 Smith-Rivera did it all for the Hoyas last season. The first-team all-conference selection averaged 16.3 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.6 steals per game.
FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:
Trevon Bluiett, Xavier
Kellen Dunham, Butler
Billy Garrett Jr., DePaul
Daniel Ochefu, Villanova
Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall
BREAKOUT STAR: Jalen Reynolds, Xavier
There are several players that could fit this category (Georgetown’s Isaac Copleand or Providence’s Ben Bentil ), but Jalen Reynolds has the ability to put up an all-Big East caliber season for the Musketeers. The 6-foot-10 forward, who plays with the attitude that he can dunk everything, may be the most athletically gifted player in the conference. He averaged 9.9 points and 6.1 boards per game as a sophomore and had two strong showings in Xavier’s Sweet 16 run.
COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Kevin Willard, Seton Hall
In five seasons, Willard is 30-60 in conference, taking the Pirates to only one postseason appearance (2012 NIT). Willard is also coming off a season of highs and lows. The highs being back-to-back wins over Villanova and St. John’s to propel the Pirates in to the top-25 rankings. The lows: a 1-9 finish and the departures of starters Sterling Gibbs and Jaren Sina.
ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : Can someone make run in March?
Through the first two years of the Big East relaunch, only one team has made it past the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. That was Xavier this past March, reaching the Sweet 16 by defeating No. 11 Ole Miss and No. 14 Georgia State.
Questions of the league’s strength will continue as long as postseason struggles do.
I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT : The Gavitt Tipoff Games
Named in honor of the Big East founder, Dave Gavitt, the Big East and Big Ten will play eight games throughout the first week of the season. Kicking off slate of non-conference matchups is Georgetown traveling College Park to take on Maryland. The two teams haven’t played locally since 1993. The Terrapins host the Hoyas on Nov. 17.
FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:
1. Villanova: The conference’s most efficient offense and defense, returns a core of last year’s team. With deep guard play and a big man in the middle, Jay Wright’s team should expect to be back to the top spot in the Big East standings.
2. Georgetown: John Thompson III will rely on up to seven freshmen and sophomores. Isaac Copeland, L.J. Peak, Paul White and Tre Campbell were all part of the rotation as freshmen. First-year big men Jessie Govan and Marcus Derrickson both had impressive outings in the Hoyas’ summer trip. The return of D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera will Georgetown as the underclassmen develop over the course of the season.
3. Butler: It seems odd: a former McDonald’s All-American needing to fill the shoes left behind by a walk-on. But that’s the position Tyler Lewis finds himself in, replacing beloved Alex Barlow. The N.C. State transfer joins the veteran perimeter of sharpshooter Kellen Dunham and wing Roosevelt Jones. Like Villanova, Butler lacks depth up front, but third-year starter Andrew Chrabascz is a solid piece to have on the interior.
4. Xavier: Trevon Blueitt and Jalen Reynolds are poised for breakout years, but the Musketeers must combat the loss of both point guards, Dee Davis and Matt Stainbrook (yes, 6-foot-10 Matt Stainbrook). That point guard duties will fall on the committee of Larry Austin Jr., Myles Davis and Edmond Sumner, a 6-foot-5 freshman who sat out last season. There is still enough talent on the roster for another NCAA tournament appearance for Chris Mack.
5. Providence: Kris Dunn’s return is what keeps the Friars in the top half of the league to begin the season, but players like Ben Bentil and Jalen Lindsey will need to take major steps forward in their sophomore seasons in order for PC to still be there in February/March.
6. Marquette: The trendy pick as the dark horse in the Big East, the Golden Eagles could be in for a big turnaround in the Wojo’s second year. Henry Ellenson and Luke Fischer make for a good tandem on the frontline, while Traci Carter and Haanif Cheatham are other freshman to watch, playing alongside Duane Wilson in the back court.
7. Seton Hall: The Pirates are a dangerous team despite a dismal end to last season. Isaiah Whitehead, Angel Delgado and Khadeen Carrington all gained valuable experience as freshmen. Seton Hall will need contributions from players like Desi Rodriguez, another sophomore, and graduate transfers Braeden Anderson and Derrick Gordon if it wants to do more than pull off a few upsets.
8. Creighton: Seven of Creighton’s 14 conference losses came by five points or less, helping contribute to a last-place finish a season ago. Transfers Maurice Watson Jr. and Cole Huff should make an immediate impact alongside cast of returnees that includes James Milliken, Toby Hegner and Geoffrey Groselle. The Bluejays certainly got better, but is it enough to climb into the middle of the pack?
9. DePaul: Although the Blue Demons are slotted second from the bottom, this could be the team to surprise many this season. They return Billy Garrett Jr., Myke Henry and Tommy Hamilton IV, three double-digit scorers from last season.
10. St. John’s: Chris Mullin has covered a lot of ground since March, but the loss of last year’s entire rotation puts the Red Storm in the cellar for Year 1.
Butler senior guard Roosevelt Jones isn’t known for having a pretty jump shot; from his unorthodox layups to the free throw line, where he shoots only 56 percent for his career. But on Monday night, the 6-foot-4 Jones, who has attempted three 3-pointers in his three years with the Bulldogs, posted a video of himself sinking a one-handed, no-look, over-the-head, half-court shot inside Hinkle Fieldhouse.
Jones, the All-Big East Second Team selection, averaged 12.7 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game as a junior.
After falling to Notre Dame in overtime in the NCAA tournament Round of 32 last season, Chris Holtmann’s Butler Bulldogs will look to exceed that performance while also contending in the Big East in 2015-16. Thursday afternoon the program revealed its non-conference schedule, which has a few solid matchups that should help Butler get prepared for Big East play.
At first glance the biggest matchups for the Bulldogs will come away from Hinkle Fieldhouse, as they’ll play games against Cincinnati (December 2 in Cincinnati) and Purdue (December 19 at the Crossroads Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse). Butler will also host a Tennessee team led by new head coach Rick Barnes December 12.
Butler will be one of eight teams playing in the Puerto Rico Tipoff November 19, 20 and 22, with Miami, Minnesota, Mississippi State, Missouri State, Temple, Texas Tech and Utah completing the field. Those matchups will be officially announced later this summer.
Butler, which will begin its regular season against The Citadel November 14, has some challenging games on its schedule. With three starters and their top three scorers, led by Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones, back on campus this is a schedule the Bulldogs should be able to manage ahead of Big East play.
Butler will also have a new point guard in Tyler Lewis, who’s eligible to play after sitting out last season following his transfer in from NC State.
No. 6 Butler eliminates No. 11 Texas, but Roosevelt Jones sprains left knee
Playing without the injured Roosevelt Jones all of last season, Butler struggled in its inaugural season as a member of the Big East. Jones’ versatility has been a big key for Chris Holtmann’s team this season, so when he left Thursday’s NCAA tournament game against No. 11 Texas with a sprained left knee there was a great amount of concern.
However Jones’ teammates stepped forward, going on an 11-0 run in the immediate aftermath of his injury. The distance created there proved to be enough on an afternoon that saw both teams struggle offensively, with Butler winning by the final score of 56-48 in Pittsburgh. The Bulldogs, now 23-10 on the year, will face No. 3 Notre Dame on Saturday with a spot in the Sweet 16 (Midwest Region) on the line.
Kellen Dunham, who struggled with his shot in the first half, hit some important shots in the second stanza and finished with 20 points but the biggest key scoring-wise for Butler was the foul line. Having struggled from the charity stripe for most of the season, Butler made 20 of its 26 attempts and outscored Texas by 12 points from the foul line. Also of note was the play of Kameron Woods, who grabbed nine rebounds and played well against Texas’ larger front line.
Butler will need to shoot at a better clip than they did against Texas if they’re to knock off the Fighting Irish, and the status of Jones will have an impact in that area. When Jones is on he can use his stocky frame to crack defenses, either getting to the basket himself or creating for his teammates. Upon his return to the game Jones still favored that left leg, so his status will be something to keep an eye on in the next couple of days.
As for Texas, they struggled to establish any kind of flow offensively against a Butler defense that aimed to cut down on the number of available possessions. Texas looked to full-court pressure to force the tempo but they were unable to get Butler out of its rhythm, and looking to Isaiah Taylor to create off of ball screens turned out to be the Longhorns’ most effective offense for most of the second half.
This season was all about rhythm, or their inability to establish it, ever since Taylor went down with a broken wrist in November for Texas. Jonathan Holmes scored 15 points to lead the way for Texas against Butler, but he alternated stretches of positive activity with periods in which it was tough to tell that he was on the floor. And the senior wasn’t the only player to have that issue against the Butler defense. As a team Texas shot 34 percent from the field, and their 15 turnovers were converted into 16 points by the Bulldogs.
With this disappointing season coming to an end, the questions will now focus on the status of head coach Rick Barnes. He did lead Texas to a Final Four appearance in 2003, but more often than not the fan base has seen its expectations unfulfilled in the years that have followed. While Butler has the immediate question of Roosevelt Jones’ knee to be concerned with, Texas will look to answer questions regarding the direction of its basketball program.
Butler endured a long 2013-2014 season, finishing its debut campaign in the Big East 4-14 conference record and settling for a ninth-place finish. This year had an ominous start when second-year head coach Brandon Miller took a leave of absence for health reasons just days before practice began.
However, the Bulldogs have proven the Butler Way is still intact, exiting a loaded Battle 4 Atlantis field with not one, but two key victories. Two days after upsetting No. 5 North Carolina, Butler held on to defeat Georgetown, 64-58, in a non-conference conference game on Friday afternoon in the Paradise Island, Bahamas.
Sandwiched between wins over the Tar Heels and Hoyas was a loss to Oklahoma in the semifinals. The Sooners dropped from the top 25 rankings this past week after being upset by fellow Big East program Creighton. You could also make the case that the Hoyas would have been ranked had they defeated Butler. So, for a team picked to finish seventh in the Big East preseason poll, a 2-1 record in the Battle 4 Atlantis not only gives an experienced group a moral boost, it also goes to show that Butler — a program that has moved from the Horizon League to the Atlantic 10 to the Big East and has had three different coaches over the last four years — is back on the right path.
While Butler was not as talented as North Carolina and Georgetown, the experience and toughness was apparent. Interim head coach Chris Holtmann started two seniors — Kameron Woods and Alex Barlow — as well as juniors Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones.
Butler struggled shooting the ball against the Tar Heels, but outworked North Carolina on the glass, corralling 29 offensive rebounds (compared to 26 defensive boards for UNC) leading to 19 second-chance points. Butler’s shooting percentage (27 percent through the first two games) climbed to north of 40 percent in the Bulldogs’ contest against the Hoyas, getting high-percentage shots by forcing turnovers and getting out on the fast break, and even turning made field goals for Georgetown into transition buckets.
In those two wins, Butler’s defense was able to contain the oppositions top scoring option. Marcus Paige shot 5-of-17 for 18 points (11 coming with under four minutes to play) while D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera was limited to 4-of-12 from the field for a dozen points.
For Georgetown, there were positive takeaways with freshmen Isaac Copeland and Paul White going for 16 and 13, respectively. But for Butler, this was a statement weekend — in a week filled with impressive wins for the Big East — as the Bulldogs continue the Butler Way in the post-Brad Stevens era.
Butler returns stateside to take on Indiana State on Dec. 3.