Conference Catchup: Revamped Big East looks for more postseason success

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College basketball’s non-conference season is coming to a close, and to help you shake off post-holiday haze and the hangover of losing in your fantasy football playoffs, we’ll be providing you with some midseason primers to get you caught up on all the nation’s most important conferences.

MORE: All of CBT’s Conference Catchups

Today, we’ll be taking a look at the Big East.


St. John’s finds themselves in the top 25 and at 11-1 on the season and Harrison, a senior guard, is a huge reason why. The Red Storm will start up to four seniors, but Harrison is the heart-and-soul of the team. The 6-foot-4 Texas native is second in the Big East in scoring (19 points per game), 10th in rebounding (6.5 per game) and sixth in free-throw percentage (83 percent) while shooting respectable percentages from the field (44 percent) and 3-point range (35 percent). Harrison has also been very consistent as a scorer. He’s been held to single digits just once this season and it was nine points in a blowout win over Long Beach State.


  • D’Angelo Harrison, St. John’s
  • Kris Dunn, Providence: Great comeback season for the oft-injured sophomore as he’s averaging 13.3 points, a Big East-leading 7 assists, and 5.2 rebounds per game. Dunn also leads the conference in steals and is shooting 48 percent from the field. If Dunn limits turnovers in conference play, he’ll be even better.
  • Kellen Dunham, Butler: Butler is off to a surprising 10-3 start and the junior is averaging 16.6 points per game on tremendous shooting splits (45% FG, 45% 3PT, 88% FT). On a team desperately lacking floor spacers, Dunham has upped his efficiency numbers and scoring average despite playing four fewer minutes this season.
  • D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Georgetown: Field goal percentages have been underwhelming for the junior, but he’s averaging 14.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game and carrying the Hoyas in big games. The Indiana native had 29 points against both Wisconsin and Indiana.
  • LaDontae Henton, Providence: The senior forward came close to winning early Player of the Year honors from D’Angelo Harrison, but Henton hasn’t rebounded as effectively and the Red Storm have been a better overall team. Still, Henton is leading the Big East in scoring at 20 points per game to go along with 5.3 rebounds on 48 percent shooting. He’s been one of the best go-to scorers in the country.


1. Villanova, once again, is legitimate: People forget that the Wildcats were 29-4 and a No. 2 seed entering the NCAA Tournament’s Round of 32 last season, when they ran into the buzz saw known as UConn. Villanova is once again off to a great start and 12-0 this season and they return everyone from last season except for James Bell. Dylan Ennis, Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins are all playing much better this season and this is an unselfish team that shoots 48 percent as a team and better from the perimeter this season. It’s hard to say if they’re Final Four good since they haven’t faced a superpower yet, but they’ve earned some good wins over VCU, Illinois, Syracuse, Temple and Michigan.

2. The Big East, top-to-bottom, is better than preseason expectations indicated: One of the early-season stories we’ve heard around college basketball is how the Big East is back this season. Besides DePaul and Marquette, eight of the teams in the league appear to be at least postseason teams in 2014-15 while the league looks like they’ll surpass last season’s four NCAA Tournament bids. While Villanova is strong once again, St. John’s is a legit top-25 team and teams 3-through-8 in the Big East is significantly improved. Seton Hall, Georgetown and Xavier have some talented freshmen who have played well this season, while Butler and Providence are relying on upperclassmen who have stepped up this season. Creighton was even a top-25 team at one point this season but has fallen back down to Earth at 9-4.

3. The Big East is still a power conference: Many wanted to dismiss the “new” Big East after one season and a mediocre showing, but the league has bounced back nicely this season with a lot of strong teams and higher expectations. The preseason talk that the Big East compared closer to the Atlantic 10 than the ACC, Big Ten and SEC was laughable. The Big East still maintains a national television contract, rising names in head coaching are still taking jobs for millions of dollars (Steve Wojciechowski to Marquette), and five-star recruits are still committing to the league for next season (Jalen Brunson to Villanova, Henry Ellenson to Marquette). The Big East might not be the new ACC — but what is? — and the AAC, Big Ten and SEC are all arguably having worse seasons in terms of top-to-bottom talent. The new Big East is going to be fine.


1. Does Villanova have what it takes to make a Final Four? The Big East didn’t have any of its four NCAA Tournament teams make the second weekend in 2014, but that should change in 2015. Villanova is even stronger and the rest of the upgraded conference should help them prepare for the tournament even more this season. With tremendous scoring balance and a team full of unselfish players, the Wildcats don’t need to rely on specific players to get by and earn wins. That makes them tough to gameplan for in a tournament setting. As long as they don’t run into the future national champion on the first weekend.

2. After St. John’s, which team emerges as the third threat in the Big East? Villanova and St. John’s, the two top-25 teams in Big East, appear to be the clear-cut favorites in the conference to be No. 1 and 2, but after that, how will the order fall? Seton Hall, Butler, Providence, Xavier, Georgetown and Creighton have all shown positive signs of life this season and it’s nearly impossible to say how those six teams will fair against each other during the Big East conference season. If those teams don’t beat each other up too badly and take care of business against Marquette and DePaul, they should make the postseason.

3. Does Seton Hall make its first NCAA Tournament since 2006 despite the injury to Isaiah Whitehead? One team that the college basketball world will have its eye on these next few weeks is Seton Hall. The Pirates are off to a 10-2 start this season but freshman guard Isaiah Whitehead is out for the next few weeks with a stress fracture in his foot. Without Whitehead, who started all 11 games he played this season, Seton Hall has to open the Big East season with two home games against Villanova and St. John’s. The Pirates really could have used Whitehead for an upset there to propel its early-season momentum, but now they’ll like start the conference season 0-2. How does Seton Hall respond from there and how will Whitehead look when he comes back?


1. The Big East bounces back with five NCAA Tournament bids: In the preseason, three teams seemed like a safe number for Big East NCAA Tournament bids in 2015, but I’m going to be aggressive and go with five bids. This conference is off to a great start this season and the top eight look like they’ll at least make the NIT. I expect a few of the young teams to falter, but Butler and Providence have enough veteran leadership and experience to keep them on-track and Georgetown has shown that they can play with good competition.

2. More experienced teams like St. John’s, Butler and Providence will finish behind Villanova: Seton Hall is going to struggle a bit after losing Isaiah Whitehead and it’s hard to say if Xavier can sustain its hot start with so many young pieces, but it’s easier to imagine St. John’s, Butler, Providence and Georgetown sustaining hot starts because of their veteran all-conference selections.

3. Seton Hall takes a hard fall down the standings

Without Isaiah Whitehead, the Pirates lose another shot creator and that could spell significant trouble for the Pirates. Seton Hall starts the conference season by hosting the two best teams in the league — Villanova and St. John’s — and they only own one legitimate win over George Washington. Sterling Gibbs has that 40-point outing against Illinois State but hasn’t scored above 19 the rest of the season and senior Brandon Mobley is also prone to inconsistent play. With a deeper Big East and an uncertain lineup without Whitehead, that could spell trouble.


NCAA: Villanova, St. John’s, Butler, Providence, Georgetown

NIT: Xavier, Seton Hall, Creighton

NO POSTSEASON: Marquette, DePaul

No. 7 Tennessee beats Eastern Kentucky, win streak hits 7

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tyreke Key scored 10 of the first 12 points of the second half and finished with 17, and No. 7 Tennessee overcame a sluggish first half and beat Eastern Kentucky 84-49 on Wednesday night.

“Tyreke is handling the ball now,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “That’s all new to him. He keeps getting better.”

The Volunteers (8-1) struggled in the first half but still built an 11-point lead over Eastern Kentucky (4-5) on the way to their seventh straight victory.

Key led Tennessee in scoring before leaving with a cramp in his right leg with 6:15 left in the game. Julian Phillips had 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Zakai Zeigler and Uros Plavsic added 13 points apiece. Olivier Nkamhoua scored 10.

“I’m still settling in,” said Key, a transfer from Indiana State who didn’t play last year while recovering from an injury. “This is a new role. I’m taking steps every day and keep learning.”

Eastern Kentucky, which came into the game averaging 83.5 points, was held well below that total due to 17% (6 for 35) shooting from long range and 22% (15 for 68) overall. Leland Walker led the Colonels with 13 points.

It was the seventh time this season Tennessee has held its opponent to 50 or fewer points.

“(Tennessee) is the best defensive team in the country,” Eastern Kentucky coach A.W. Hamilton said. “I think they’re the best team in the country.”

At one point in the first half, Tennessee was shooting 20% and still leading by 10 points. The teams combined to shoot 4 of 32 from 3-point range in the first 20 minutes. The Vols, who shot 24% (8 of 34), led 32-21 at the break.

“If we can’t make shots, can you find a way to win the game?” Barnes said. “When the shot’s not going in, find a way to play. The first thing we talk about is our defense.”

Tennessee shot 41 free throws. Phillips, a true freshman, was 7 of 10.

“(Phillips) has learned the pace of the game,” Barnes said. “I’m not sure there’s been a more effective freshman in the country (this season).”


Since its early season slip against Colorado, Tennessee has had a steady ascent in the rankings. The Vols’ next two games – neutral site (Brooklyn) against No, 13 Maryland (Dec. 11) and at No. 10 Arizona (Dec. 17) – will go a long way toward justifying the No. 7 ranking.


Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels’ run-and-gun style of offense had them averaging 83.5 points through their first eight games. They ran into a defensive buzz saw in Tennessee, which was yielding just over 51 points.

Tennessee: Santiago Vescovi sat out his second straight game with a shoulder problem. He is expected to be ready to play Sunday against Maryland. . The Vols have won seven in a row since their loss to Colorado.


Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels host Boyce College on Saturday.

Tennessee: Take on No. 13 Maryland on Sunday at the Hall of Fame Invitational in New York.

Hoggard scores career-high 23, Michigan St snaps 2-game skid

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A.J. Hoggard scored a career-high 23 points, Joey Hauser had 12 points and 15 rebounds and Michigan State beat Penn State 67-58 on Wednesday night to snap a two-game losing streak.

Michigan State (6-4, 1-1 Big Ten) avoided going .500 or worse after 10 games for the first time in 18 seasons.

Hoggard blocked an open layup with less than a minute to play and Hauser grabbed the rebound before being fouled and making two free throws at the other end for a 66-58 lead.

Hoggard, Hauser and Tyson Walker combined for 31 of Michigan State’s 32 second-half points.

The Michigan State defense allowed only one made field goal in the final five minutes. Penn State was just 1 of 9 from 3-point range in the second half after 7 of 18 before halftime.

Walker scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half for Michigan State. Hoggard, who entered third in the conference in assists at 6.3, had six rebounds, two assists and one key block.

Hoggard gave Michigan State 35-33 lead – its first since 4-2 – after back-to-back three-point plays with 59.3 seconds left in the first half. It was tied at 35-all at the break.

Seth Lundy scored 16 points and Jalen Pickett had 13 points, 17 rebounds and eight assists for Penn State (6-3, 0-1)

Michigan State hosts Brown on Saturday. Penn State, which hadn’t played since a double-overtime loss to Clemson on Nov. 29, plays at No. 17 Illinois on Saturday.

No. 7 Virginia Tech posts 9th straight win, beats BC 73-58

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BOSTON — Reigning Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year Elizabeth Kitley had 22 points and 12 rebounds, and Cayla King scored 16 on Wednesday night to lead No. 7 Virginia Tech to a 73-58 victory over Boston College, the Hokies’ ninth straight win.

Taylor Soule, one of two BC transfers on the roster for Virginia Tech (9-0, 1-0 ACC), added nine points and five rebounds. Soule scored more than 1,500 points and grabbed almost 700 rebounds in four seasons at BC, earning All-ACC honors three times.

Andrea Daley scored 15 points and Maria Gakdeng scored 14 for BC (7-4, 0-1). They each grabbed six rebounds.

Virginia Tech scored 17 of the game’s first 21 points and led by as many as 19 in the third quarter before BC cut the deficit to 10 in the fourth. Leading 64-54 with under three minutes left and the shot clock expiring, Kayana Traylor hit a 3-pointer for the Hokies.

Gakdeng missed two free throws for BC, and then Kitley scored from inside to make it a 15-point game.

Clara Ford, who also played four years in Chestnut Hill, pitched in 2 points in 2 minutes against her former team.


At No. 7, the Hokies have the highest ranking in the program’s history. With the victory over BC, a 10th straight win against North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday would leave Virginia Tech in position to move up even higher should a top five team falter.


Virginia Tech: Hosts North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday.

Boston College: Hosts Albany on Saturday.

Michigan’s Jaelin Llewellyn out for season with knee injury

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan point guard Jaelin Llewellyn is out for the rest of the season with an injured left knee and is expected to have surgery next month.

Wolverines coach Juwan Howard made the announcement three days after Llewellyn was hurt in a loss to Kentucky in London.

Llewellyn transferred to Michigan from Princeton last spring and that seemed to lead to Frankie Collins transferring to Arizona State after a solid freshman season for the Wolverines.

Llewellyn averaged seven points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists in eight games at Michigan. He was an All-Ivy League player last season and averaged nearly 16 points over three seasons at Princeton.

Miles Kelly leads Georgia Tech to 79-77 win over rival Georgia

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 02 Northeastern at Georgia Tech
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ATLANTA – Georgia Tech’s Miles Kelly hit another winning shot against a state rival.

Terry Roberts endured a nightmarish final minute for Georgia.

Kelly hit a long 3-pointer and then a drove for the game-winning floater with 23 seconds remaining as the Yellow Jackets rallied to beat Georgia 79-77 on Tuesday night.

Kelly hit the winning shot in similar fashion against Georgia State on Nov. 12. He did it again to beat the Bulldogs, finishing with a team-high 17 points after failing to score in the first half.

“I’m going to continue to keep shooting, no matter how many times I miss,” Kelly said.

Roberts missed a 3-pointer, turned the ball over twice with bad passes, and was called for an offensive foul as he was trying to drive for the basket that would’ve sent the game to overtime.

“A tough finish for us,” Georgia first-year coach Mike White said. “We were in position to steal one on the road.”

A pair of second-chance buckets seemingly put Georgia (7-3) in control with a 77-73 lead.

The Bulldogs wouldn’t score again as Kelly led the comeback for the Yellow Jackets (6-3) – with a big assist from Roberts.

He had a chance to essentially seal it for the Bulldogs, but his jumper beyond the arc clanked off the rim.

Georgia Tech grabbed the rebound and raced down the court, where Kelly swished a 3 from well behind the stripe that brought Georgia Tech within a point with about a minute left.

Trying to work the ball inside, Roberts made an ill-advised entry pass that was deflected and stolen by Deivon Smith, setting up Kelly’s drive for the basket that put the Yellow Jackets back ahead,

Roberts tried a drive of his own, only to have it blocked by Jalon Moore. Georgia retained possession, but Roberts’ inbounds pass was stolen by Moore, who was fouled and made one of two free throws.

Roberts took the ball again and hurriedly dribbled toward the basket, only to be called for an offensive foul when he sent Smith flying.

“Just sacrificing my body for the team,” Smith said.

Georgia stole an inbounds pass around midcourt, giving Karlo Oquendo one last shot to launch a 3 that still would’ve won it for the Bulldogs. It bounced off the rim.

The game was tight throughout. Neither team led by more than eight, and a sequence in the second half showed just how tightly these rivals were matched.

With both squads playing at a frenetic pace and showing little regard for defense, the lead changed hands on eight straight possessions as the teams traded baskets.

Stunningly, they combined to score on 19 straight possessions before Georgia’s Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe missed a pair of free throws with 5:17 remaining.


Perhaps the biggest cheer of the night came when Georgia Tech football coach Brent Key addressed the crowd at halftime.

Key, who served as interim coach for the last eight games of the season, was introduced Monday as the full-time choice for job.

He fired up the fans by getting them to chant “To hell with Georgia” over and over again. When a smattering of Bulldogs fans responded with barks, Key smiled and egged on the Yellow Jackets crowd to drown them out.

He also declared Georgia Tech to be the “greatest school in the entire state, the entire country,” following up his vow the previous day to not back down from the defending national champion and top-ranked Bulldogs.


Georgia: This will be a tough one to swallow for Roberts, who led his team with 16 points and seven assists. The Bulldogs lost despite shooting 53.4% from the field.

Georgia Tech: Four players scored in double figures, and two others players finished with eight points. But it was Kelly, as usual, who had the ball in his hands at the end of a tight game.


Georgia: After a nearly two-week break, the Bulldogs return to Atlanta on Dec. 18 to face Notre Dame at State Farm Arena in the Holiday Hoopsgiving event.

Georgia Tech: Head to North Carolina on Saturday for the Atlantic Coast Conference opener against the struggling Tar Heels.