"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Monday, October 30, 2023

Season is nigh, prediction time is upon us

At time up publishing, #mubb is a scant and/or excruciating 7 days from opening tip of basketball campaign full of promise. We have to address those expectations first, can Marquette win a national title and should the team, fans, etc be talking about it. Next we do our annual game by game predictions and I don't want to spoil anything but we aren't seeing a lot of Ls on the schedule. We close out with excitement for the next season and hope y'all are excited as well. Enjoy! https://mcdn.podbean.com/mf/web/idpr4r/ScrambledEggs_Editted_102923.mp3

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Marquette Preview, 2023-24

Marquette Golden Eagles

April 8, 2024

Head Coach: Shaka Smart (320-162 overall, 48-20 at Marquette)

Three-Year NET Average: 51.7

Three-Year kenpom Average: 49.7

Projected 2023-24 T-Rank: 17

Projected Starters: PG Tyler Kolek (6'3" Sr), SG Stevie Mitchell (6'3" Jr), SF Kam Jones (6'5" Jr), PF David Joplin (6'8" Jr), C Oso Ighodaro (6'11" Sr)

Tyler Kolek and Marquette won the Big East regular season and tournament titles

Photo by John Minchillo | AP Photo

Even the most optimistic Marquette fans didn't expect the team to reach the heights they did last year. Driven by All-American and Big East Player of the Year Tyler Kolek, Marquette started slow out of the gate, but showed their potential by battering then-#6 Baylor and took off in Big East play, going 17-3 in conference play and punctuating that with the program's first ever Big East Tournament Title. They earned a 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament, the highest in program history, and won a NCAA Tournament game for the first time in a decade. For Marquette fans, years ending in the number 3 have been very good to them. Dwyane Wade and the Final Four in 2003, sharing the Big East title and going to the Elite 8 in 2013, and double Big East titles and an NCAA win in 2023. The only player of significance from that team that departed was Olivier-Maxence Prosper, who was a first round NBA Draft pick.

The top of the scouting report will start with Kolek. He had already proven he was a lethal passer as a sophomore, but he reined in his turnovers and improved his shooting efficiency in his All-American campaign. While it might be hard for fans to imagine Kolek being much better, it's worth noting he was actually significantly more efficient in Big East play (126.0 to 118.0) indicating he was already making improvements during the year last season, and as Paint Touches explained historically returning guards with his pedigree end up First Team All-Americans. We expect Stevie Mitchell to retain his starting role. Mitchell is a bit of a Swiss Army Knife for Marquette. He showed flashes of scoring ability, knows his offensive role, can hit shots both inside and beyond the arc, but is best known for his tenacious defense. Kam Jones was Marquette's leading scorer. He gained attention as a sharpshooter his freshman year, but it was his incredible interior scoring that raised eyebrows this past year. Jones' 64.3% 2PFG% was the best mark for a high-major player under 6'5". He has a combination of creativity and interior shot-making prowess that Marquette fans haven't seen since Davante Gardner, albeit in a significantly different package. Stepping into Prosper's role will be David Joplin. The forward is known for his microwave scoring ability and led the team in 3PFG% last year. As the year went on, his hands were visibly more active on defense, which will need to continue because Prosper was the guy you put on the opponent's best perimeter weapon and forgot about them. Up front, Oso Ighodaro is one of the savviest bigs in the country. He runs a beautiful pick-and-roll game with Kolek and is an excellent passer with good touch around the rim. But as good as he is offensively, Marquette absolutely needs him on the defensive end. Per hoop-explorer, Marquette is 12.2 adjusted points/100 possessions better when Oso is on the floor. The bench should be better than last year, provided it is healthy. Shaka Smart calls Sean Jones "the fastest player with the ball in his hands I've ever seen" and he provides a change of pace from Kolek along with very good defense. Chase Ross might be the most promising NBA prospect on the team. He's probably the most likely to crack the starting lineup if there are any setbacks for the projected starters. Ross has phenomenal leaping ability, good defensive instincts, and looks to have retooled his shot in the offseason. Ben Gold hopes to overcome shin splints from the offseason and is another player that looks to have a high upside. His efficiency improved significantly in Big East play, posting a 121.2 offensive rating while connecting on 39.3% from beyond the arc. If Big East Ben shows up for a full season in more minutes, Marquette could have one of the best front courts in the country to go along with what Field of 68 is already calling the best back court in the country.

Marquette's offense is a thing of beauty. They play at a breakneck pace, with the players and ball moving constantly. They place a high value on quality shots, which the staff indicates are either dunks, shots in the paint, or open threes. It helps to have a maestro like Kolek, who is excellent at the drive and kick, whether to the perimeter to another player in the paint. Ighodaro plays perfectly off him and is excellent not just at providing passes for others but at making runs into the post where he is great at getting open and finishing. There are rumors that Oso is adding a three-point shot to his arsenal, which would make a dangerous offense even more lethal because every significant returning player shot at least 30% from deep last year. If they have a weakness, it's on the offensive glass. Gold led the team in OR% last year and more minutes from him should help on that end, but it's a team-wide weakness. But this is an offense that ranked #7 last year and returns 83.7% of the scoring. Statistically, it seems likely this will be the #1 offense in the country and anything outside the top-5 would probably be underachieving. Defensively, Marquette plays with a similar aggression to Smart's VCU teams, but with a different end in mind. They don't press the way VCU did, which is why they have a respectable foul rate, but everyone plays with active hands and works to get into passing lanes which drove their top-20 defensive turnover rate. They also intend to challenge every shot, but last year's #230 eFG% defense would indicate that area still needs work. Finally, they are not a good defensive rebounding team. Marquette does well dragging out possessions and forcing teams into late shot clock situations (evidenced by their #358 defensive possession length, which is a good 358) but those lengthy possessions are also created by an inability to secure rebounds. Marquette didn't have a single player ranked in the top-500 in defensive rebounding rate. For their defense to take the next step, it would help to at least be a decent rebounding team. They will never be elite in this area under Smart, but going from sub-300 to at least average would help significantly.

So how good will this Marquette team be? That will likely be determined by the defense. Prosper was the best man defender, but the year before Darryl Morsell was the guy Smart stuck on the opponent's best perimeter player and Marquette improved defensively despite his departure. Given Smart's history and the team experience, the defense should improve, but whether it goes from #43 in defensive efficiency to 30-35 or 20-25 is the difference between a dangerous March team and a NCAA favorite. We should also have a very good idea before the end of November. Playing at Illinois is a major challenge, and it's entirely possible, if not probable, that the Maui Invitational will have 4 teams that end up occupying the top two seed lines, with the most likely preseason #1/2 both there in Kansas and Purdue. Win Maui and Marquette could find themselves atop the rankings before November is out, while breaking the NCAA record for the longest drought between #1 rankings. Ohio State went 16,422 days from March 12, 1962 until February 26, 2007 between being ranked #1. When the season tips off on November 6, it will have been 16,695 days since Marquette February 20, 1978 when Marquette was last ranked #1.

One Man's Opinion: Considering what they return, I am picking Marquette to finish #1 in the Big East. This is a team with real 1-seed upside and is not just a league contender, but a national title contender. Given what the offense returns and the historic improvement of teams with this much scoring returning, Marquette's offense has the ability to be mentioned alongside teams like 2015 Wisconsin, 2018 Villanova, and 2021 Gonzaga when the season ends. And given Shaka's history as well as the overall roster experience, the defense should be better, even without Prosper. However the biggest factor is this staff's track record with player development. We saw what they did with Justin Lewis and Oso Ighodaro in 2022. We saw the jumps taken by Kam Jones, Stevie Mitchell, Tyler Kolek, O-Max Prosper, and David Joplin in 2023. And in terms of raw talent, Chase Ross and Ben Gold might have the most elevator potential of any players they've had so far, not to mention Sean Jones should finally be healthy with a full off-season working with the staff. This team has experience, depth, talent, and a coaching staff that has proven to be a perfect fit to the program they run. While this team will almost certainly be judged by what happens in March, they have as good a chance as anyone at cutting down nets not just in early March, but in early April.

Monday, October 23, 2023

Creighton Preview, 2023-24

Creighton Bluejays

December 30, 2023 at Fiserv Forum and March 2, 2024 at CHI Health Center

Head Coach: Greg McDermott (300-150 at Creighton, 580-345 overall)

Three-Year NET Average: 31.7

Three-Year kenpom Average: 28.0

Projected 2023-24 T-Rank: 4

Projected Starters: PG Steven Ashworth (6'1" Sr), SG Trey Alexander (6'4" Jr), SF Mason Miller (6'8" So), PF Baylor Scheierman (6'7" 5th), C Ryan Kalkbrenner (7'1" Sr)

Trey Alexander, Ryan Kalkbrenner, & Baylor Scheierman anchor Creighton's core
Photo by Joe Robbins | Getty Images

Last year, Creighton came in with top-10 expectations that Cracked Sidewalks was skeptical of. Ultimately, they fell just short, finishing #12 in kenpom. However after an ugly 6-game losing streak, largely on the back of an illness to star center Ryan Kalkbrenner, the Jays played like the 6th best team in the country from December 22nd to the end of the season and made their first Elite Eight since 1941, when just eight teams were even invited to the NCAA Tournament. Creighton won the NBA Draft as Trey Alexander, Ryan Kalkbrenner, and Baylor Scheierman all returned for another season. They lost point guard Ryan Nembhard to Gonzaga and forward Arthur Kaluma to Kansas State, but will hope the additions of Utah State guard Steven Ashworth and Virginia forward Isaac Traudt will help mitigate those losses.

The first question the Jays will have to answer will be at the point guard spot with Ashworth, who was an ultra-high efficiency player at Utah State, averaging 16.2 ppg/4.5 apg with a 127.7 offensive rating. He was a high-usage player that had the ability to create for himself and others. Ashworth was the driving force of the Aggie offense as they were 23.5 points/100 possessions better with him on the floor per hoop-explorer.com. Trey Alexander proved he belonged as a Big East starter, though he was streaky, with twice as many games having single-digit points (10) as 20+ point outputs (5). When he was on, he was an elite player and will need to be more consistent to develop into a more viable NBA candidate. The biggest mystery in the lineup is who will replace Kaluma. While the departed top-50 recruit never quite lived up to his billing at Creighton, he was a reliable fifth starter for the Jays. Mason Miller seems to fit the mold as a sharpshooting wing with length and an NBA lineage, but he likely needs to add strength to be a regular Big East contributor. Up front is the true strength of the Jays. Last year we questioned if Baylor Scheierman would be able to step up to this level, and while his offensive efficiency tailed off a little bit, he was still a competent scorer and proved himself an elite defensive rebounder. Pairing him with Ryan Kalkbrenner makes for a fearsome front court as the big man led the Big East in offensive efficiency while winning Big East Defensive Player of the Year for the second consecutive season. Kalkbrenner is a dominant low post scorer who is great on the offensive glass while also being an effective rim protector, but perhaps more important is excellent disrupting the pick and roll as he uses his length well to get into passing lanes. Off the bench, Francisco Farabello is a competent backup at either guard position, Isaac Traudt is a redshirt freshman transfer from Virginia that could compete for starting minutes, Jonathan Lawson provides wing depth and Fredrick King is a physical sophomore that is a fine backup to Kalkbrenner. This team is both talented and deep.

Offensively, McDermott wants to spread the floor and let it fly. Scheierman allowed them to get back to their free-shooting ways from deep and adding Ashworth and Miller in place of Nembhard and Kaluma should lead to an even more lethal long-range attack. This team will likely be one of the most dangerous in the country in terms of getting hot from three and they have a coach that prizes ball possession and taking those shots. As a team they don't do a ton of work inside, but Kalkbrenner's offensive rebounding keeps opponents honest and his finishing ability down low means you can't just sell out to take away the perimeter. They do need Ashworth to be close to his Utah State self, and it would help if Alexander can share ball-handling duties, but the pieces are there for a truly elite offense. On defense is where McDermott's teams have really improved. That might be primarily because of Kalkbrenner. They have improved in defensive rating every year since his arrival and he should be on the short list for National Defensive Player of the Year from day one. Where the Jays shone last year on defense was playing to their strengths. They were only average at 3PFG% defense, but were top-10 in limiting attempts. Inside, Kalkbrenner was an eraser and Scheierman's rebounding took away second chances which increased the value of their top-25 2PFG% defense. That effectiveness comes from a focus on defending the man rather than taking away the ball, which helps keep their foul rate low and mitigates their lack of turnovers forced.

While we were technically right about Creighton last year in our skepticism that the Jays could go from in the 50s at kenpom to top-10 (a feat Marquette accomplished) the Jays were really close to doing just that and bring back the main reasons for their success. This was an elite team once Kalkbrenner was at 100% and they look like a team that this year should be in the top-10 all year long provided they stay healthy. Few teams in the country have as many offensive options as the Jays do, fewer have a defensive stopper like Kalkbrenner anchoring a scheme that is well-designed around him, and they boast depth that is more proven than it was entering last year. This is a team that should compete for a Big East title and be at the forefront of any discussions when it comes to National Championship expectations.

One Man's Opinion: Creighton is my pick for #2 in the Big East, though it's a razor-thin margin. On paper, there's a very real chance this is the best team Greg McDermott has ever had. While they lost Nembhard, Ashworth looks like an even better on paper offensive fit. Kaluma was their least efficient starter, and it's reasonable to think Miller or Traudt could be even better on offense. Defensively, they have improved each of the last three years since Kalkbrenner arrived and those have also been McDermott's three best defenses in Omaha. They have talent, shooting, defense, and depth at every position. They could end up being the best team in the Big East, but even if they aren't, this should be a team that spends most of the year in the top-10. Looking at their schedule, it seems possible, even probable, they will enter Milwaukee undefeated on December 30th. If Marquette wins Maui, might that be a #1 vs #2 matchup? It isn't impossible to think it might be, and that shows just how good the two teams at the top of the Big East are.

Saturday, October 21, 2023

St. John's Preview, 2023-24

St. John's Red Storm

January 20, 2024 at Madison Square Garden and February 10, 2024 at Fiserv Forum

Head Coach: Rick Pitino (711-290 overall, 0-0 at St. John's)

Three-Year NET Average: 77.0

Three-Year kenpom Average: 68.7

Projected 2023-24 T-Rank: 54

Projected Starters: PG Daniss Jenkins (6'3" Sr), SG Jordan Dingle (6'3" Sr), SF Glenn Taylor, Jr (6'6" Jr), PF Chris Ledlum (6'6" 5th), C Joel Soriano (6'11" 5th)

Rick Pitino, back where he belongs in both the Big East and New York City

Photo by Porter Binks | Getty Images

In four years running St. John's, Mike Anderson's teams played fast, loose, and ineffectively. While Anderson kept up his streak of never having a losing season in 21 seasons as a head coach, that was bolstered by a staggering 27-0 record in sub-100 buy games.(he went 41-56 in all other games, 20-46 in the Big East). Anderson was fired and almost every player on the roster left as well; the only returning player to score double-digit points on the season is Joel Soriano, who averaged a double-double last year. Replacing Mike Anderson is coaching legend Rick Pitino, who brings an overhauled roster and wave of optimism to Queens.

Daniss Jenkins comes with Pitino from Iona to run the point. He's a versatile scorer that also excels at creating for his teammates. He'll be joined in the back court by the leading returning scorer in the country, Jordan Dingle, who averaged an efficient 23.4 ppg for Penn last year, earning him Ivy League Player of the Year honors and the highest scoring average in the league in the past 35 years. Glenn Taylor joins from Oregon State and is one of the few proven high-major starters on the Johnnies' roster. Taylor is a rangy athlete with good quickness and the ability to defend multiple positions. He will likely be the player assigned to the opponent's best offensive option most nights. Chris Ledlum transfers in from Harvard, where he was also an all-Ivy honoree. He originally transferred to Tennessee, but re-opened his transfer recruitment and landed in Queens after averaging 18.8 ppg/8.5 rpg last year for the Crimson. The lone returning starter and team captain is Joel Soriano. The physically imposing big man posted 15.2/11.9 last year, but was somewhat an empty calories contributor as St. John's was 3.8 points/100 possessions better on offense and 4.4/100 better on defense when Soriano was off the floor. Pitino also has depth to work with, as Nahiem Alleyne was a key role-player for UConn's championship team, R.J. Luis was a double-digit scorer for UMass as a freshman, Zuby Ejiofor is a physical big coming from Bill Self's Kansas program, and Simeon Wilcher is a top-35 freshman recruit that will add athleticism to St. John's.

Offensively, Pitino likes to run a dribble-drive motion offense that he has morphed with his experiences. At Iona, he tried to incorporate more European sets (modeled on his time in Greece) so expect his team to drive and kick, constantly be in motion, continuously looking for the best look and having a quick release once it's there. Inside, his bigs will crash the glass hard for second-chance points, something both Ledlum and Soriano excel at. On defense, he will likely continue to turn up the pressure, though with less press than he ran in the past. Even still, his teams have always been aggressive, attacking the ball to create turnovers, altering shots in the paint, and simply contesting everything. Typically, 3PFG% is considered to be largely a measure of luck, but Pitino's teams have ranked top-50 in 3PFG% defense in 13 of his past 18 seasons and more important in 6 of his last 7. His teams are going to be well schooled at contesting at the arc effectively, obscuring shooting views and forcing offensive players into rushed shots. The places to exploit the defense are by attacking it. They don't close out rebounds well and their aggression can get them into foul trouble. Teams that attack and take advantage of the aggressive tendencies Pitino's teams have will be best suited to defeat them.

On paper, this team looks like a transfer all-star team that could compete in the Big East. Soriano can rack up numbers, Taylor, Alleyne, and Ejiofor have high major experience, and Dingle, Jenkins, Luis, and Ledlum all were stars at their last stops. But the most important factor is Pitino. In 3 years at Iona, he went to 2 NCAA Tournaments and won the league twice. He has one of the best coaching minds in the game and his player development and system are both proven to win. This is a team that will likely battle for an at-large bid in year one under Pitino. There is probably too much raw talent and experience among the Big East elite for St. John's to be a title contender, but they have the look of a solid top-half team that will make things difficult for everyone they face.

One Man's Opinion: Cue the song "I'm a Believer" because I'm picking St. John's to finish #3 in the Big East. I was skeptical early in the summer as it seemed everyone was leaving and no one was coming in, but the players Pitino added were mid-major monsters. Looking at hoop-explorer's adjusted points/100 added, Jenkins (+27.9), Dingle (+18.6) and Ledlum (+18.9) were absolutely integral to their respective teams. These guys should translate to the high-major level. And if anyone can get Soriano to go from a negative value add to positive, it's Pitino. Further, he hasn't finished outside the top-4 in conference standings since 2011 (when he was still a 4-seed), accomplishing that in the Big East, American, ACC, and MAAC. Pitino also has the depth needed to run through a Big East season. This team will start surprising people early and not only should they be an NCAA team, I expect them to be favored to win a game or two when March rolls around.

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Connecticut Preview, 2023-24

Connecticut Huskies

February 17, 2024 at Gampel Pavilion and March 6, 2024 at Fiserv Forum

Head Coach: Dan Hurley (104-55 at UConn, 255-160 overall)

Three-Year NET Average: 19.7

Three-Year kenpom Average: 14.7

Projected 2023-24 T-Rank: 3

Projected Starters: PG Tristen Newton (6'5" 5th), SG Cam Spencer (6'4" 5th), SF Stephon Castle (6'6" Fr), PF Alex Karaban (6'8" So), C Donovan Clingan (7'2" So)

Donovan Clingan demands defensive attention

Photo from UConn Athletics

The Huskies completed one of the most dominant NCAA Tournament title runs in recent history, winning all 6 games by double-digit margins. Adding that to their dominant non-conference play, they went 17-0 against opponents outside the Big East, winning all seventeen by double-digits and averaging a 24.2 margin of victory. Only one non-conference opponent ever held a second half lead on the Huskies, when St. Mary's had a 38-37 lead with sixteen minutes to play in the NCAA Tournament right before a 14-2 UConn run put the game out of reach. That makes it hard to explain their Big East performance, where they finished fourth in the league including losses to non-tournament teams in St. John's and Seton Hall and fell in the Big East semifinals (though in arguably the most competitive game of the tournament to champs Marquette). Aside from a 2-6 stretch from December 31 through January 25, however, the Huskies were simply awesome. The National Championship was followed by significant roster change, with starters Jordan Hawkins, Andre Jackson, and Adama Sanogo all leaving for the NBA while sixth man Naheim Alleyne transferred to St. John's and seventh man Joey Calcaterra graduated.

While not the flashiest name on the roster, the most important is likely point guard Tristen Newton. The guard was largely a complimentary piece last year as he shared ballhandling duties with Jackson and deferred scoring to Hawkins and Sanogo. This year, he will need to create more for himself and others, which he did effectively at East Carolina and showed flashes of last year, including a triple-double in UConn's 87-72 win over Marquette, the only double-digit loss the Big East champs suffered all year. He's joined in the back court by Rutgers transfer Cam Spencer, who is a sharpshooter (40.8 career 3PFG%) that can replace some of the offensive punch lost to the NBA. Freshman Stephon Castle is a top-10 recruit with good length and athleticism for a guard, but will likely spend most of his time on the wing at UConn due to their roster makeup. He has the tools to be great player with one-and-done potential, but is an inconsistent shooter and not yet a finished product on the defensive end. Alex Karaban had an exceptional freshman year, shooting the ball well and playing a role as he developed in the system but will likely need to be stronger physically and on the glass to compete every night in the Big East. The name everyone will talk about though is Donovan Clingan. The young man passed on the NBA Draft where he likely would've been a first round pick to return to UConn. He averaged an efficient 6.9 ppg/5.6 rpg, but his per-40 minutes numbers were amazing, projecting out to 21.1/17.1. He has already garnered some dark horse national player of the year hype and will be expected to dominate, though it is a different challenge performing at that level for 13.1 mpg behind an all-conference big in Sanogo compared to being the man every night with no proven backup. That may be the real challenge for UConn. Behind their starters, they have guard Hassan Diarra, who was miserable on the offensive end (85.0 ORtg, 39.9 career 2PFG%, 28.5 career 3PFG%), unproven freshmen Solomon Ball and Jayden Ross, and junior big Samson Johnson, who has more DNPs than appearances in two years and has only played double-digit minutes twice, both against sub-300 opponents.

UConn's offensive playbook is exceptionally deep. They run a ton of set plays, with built in counters and actions to react to what the defense does. They typically move the ball well with multiple ball-handlers. Last year was a bit of an anomaly, as the Huskies took the highest percentage of their shots from three of Hurley's career. They are always great on the offensive glass, and having multiple shooters allowed UConn to spread the floor, take shots from beyond the arc, and count on Sanogo and Clingan to clean up the mess down low. Despite the departure of Hawkins and Joey Calcaterra, expect Spencer and Karaban to keep the threes coming, though as a team they might not be quite as effective as they were. Defensively, UConn excels at chasing teams off the line and limiting three point attempts. This forces teams to attack inside, where the Huskies funnel the ball to the middle and use their bigs to erase shots at the rim. Last year, the Huskies ranked in the top-31 in three of the four defensive factors (eFG%, turnover rate, rebounding) through the first 14 games of the year, which allowed them to flourish despite a miserable free throw rate in the same period (#311). Those fouls caught up with them in Big East play while at the same time their shooting fortune declined on both ends. Poor man defense and too many fouls led to that 2-6 skid that ultimately doomed any Big East title hopes. By the tourney, though, they stopped fouling and were back to playing at an elite level on both ends of the floor.

On paper, UConn has an excellent starting five. Multiple potential NBA talents mixed with proven experienced high-major players in the back court. On their night, this is a team that will continue to look dominant and roll up lopsided scores against a number of opponents. But there are definitely concerns once you get past that five, particularly when you consider Hurley has never had a team finish in the top-220 nationally in defensive free throw rate. His defenses are physical and foul a lot, which is problematic when the bench isn't deep. While Clingan had gaudy per-40 numbers, he also averaged 5.7 fouls per-40 and he had 7 occasions where he was tagged for 3+ fouls in fewer than 15 minutes of play. You simply can't have your NPOY candidate in foul trouble that often if there's no bench depth behind you and expect to contend for a title. This should be a good team once they sort out their bench, but expect some growing pains as players adjust to new roles and a ceiling that is significantly lower than last year.

One Man's Opinion: I'm sure I'll get some pushback for picking Connecticut 4th in the Big East, but that's where I see them landing. The starting five is great, but their lack of depth is a real concern and even last year when they won the National Championship they only finished 4th in the Big East. Hurley's teams simply play too aggressively to expect a team with this little depth to contend for a league title. While they are coming off a national title, losing 5 of the top 7 in their rotation reminds me of 2018 Villanova losing 4 of their top 6 or 2019 Virginia losing 4 of their top 7. Both national title winners finished first in kenpom, like UConn, lost 3 or more players to the NBA, like UConn, and were predicted to be a top-5 team the next year, like UConn. Both also landed outside the top-25 in kenpom when the year was over. If Spencer and Castle can fit in, I think they are a very dangerous team once the rotations shorten in March. But in a 20-game Big East slate when depth matters, fouls matter, and one injury can cost you multiple games, I just don't see this as a team reaching the heights some predict. Considering the news about Clingan's foot injury, this prediction might be too optimistic as opposed to too pessimistic. Good team, yes, tourney team, most likely, but top-10 Big East title contender? Not so much.

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Providence Preview 2023-24

Providence Friars

December 19, 2023 at Amica Mutual Pavilion and February 28, 2024 at Fiserv Forum

Head Coach: Kim English (34-29 overall, 0-0 at Providence)

Three-Year NET Average: 55.7

Three-Year kenpom Average: 50.7

Projected 2023-24 T-Rank: 41

Projected Starters: PG Jayden Pierre (6'2" So), SG Devin Carter (6'3" Jr), SF Garwey Dual (6'7" Fr), PF Bryce Hopkins (6'7" Jr), C Josh Oduro (6'9" 5th)

Bryce Hopkins battled Tyler Kolek for Big East Player of the Year honors last year

Photo by M. Anthony Nesmith | Getty Images

Providence fans were treated to a roller-coaster ride last season. At their height, they were 17-5, tied for first in the Big East at 9-2, ranked #17 in the AP Poll, and Bryce Hopkins looked like a lock for Big East Player of the Year. Then the wheels started to come off. They went just 4-5 down the stretch in conference play and lost their opening games in both the Big East and NCAA Tournaments. Fans wondered what happened for all of three days before it was officially announced that the Pride of Providence, Ed Cooley, was leaving for conference rival Georgetown. Amidst all the venom spewed at the Hilltop, which included allegations of infidelity, both in his marriage and in his handling of the Providence program, Cooley also poached four-star recruit Drew Fiedler from the Friars. Providence moved on to George Mason coach Kim English, who retained much of Cooley's roster and brought along some transfers of his own to reinforce a Friar team that is motivated and fanbase that is bitter.

Kim English challenged his likely starting point guard, Jayden Pierre, to a game of one-on-one when the freshman considered transferring. English won the game and convinced Pierre to stay. As a freshman, he showed flashes of the type of game-controlling maestro Cooley always favored at the position. He'll be joined in the back court by one of the league's most tenacious defenders in Devin Carter, who averaged 13.0 ppg/4.9 rpg for the Friars while earning honorable mention All-Big East honors. Perhaps the biggest recruiting win was keeping top-40 freshman Garwey Dual, who has already received some one-and-done buzz. Dual is a long, athletic guard that has the skillset of a point guard in the frame of an NBA wing. Up front, the Friars are led by Bryce Hopkins. He averaged 15.8/8.5 last season and was a First Team All-Big East honoree that looked like a future NBA player after transferring in from Kentucky. The starting lineup will be rounded out by George Mason transfer Josh Oduro, who posted 15.6/7.9 for English in the A-10 and will likely need to log major minutes for a thin front court. The bench is highlighted by another GMU transfer. Davonte "Ticket" Gaines started 23 games for English last year but was wildly inconsistent, showing the ability to dominate a game or disappear depending on the night. Redshirt sophomores Corey Floyd and Rafael Castro will likely round out the rotation as the next most experienced returnees from the Cooley era.

It's hard to know exactly what to expect from English, but given his history they will likely run a 4-out-1-in system around Oduro, who was a two-time All A-10 First Team player. Everyone else on the roster will be capable of stretching the floor and getting to the rim. English preaches either getting a shot up immediately or moving the ball on. His players will either catch and shoot or drive, but don't expect many head fakes, shot fakes, or jab steps. This doesn't necessarily mean they will play fast, but they will work for the best open look and take it as soon as it's there. Defensively, English aimed to chase teams off the three point line, challenge every shot, and hammer the offensive glass. George Mason sacrificed turnover creation in order to reduce extra possessions by securing rebounds, which was helped heavily by having two excellent rebounders in Oduro and Gaines. Hopkins will only help in those efforts as he's a monster rebounder. It will be interesting to see how he deploys Carter, who is an excellent ballhawk. Cooley often used him as a one-man press, siccing Carter on the opponent's best offensive guard, similar to how Shaka Smart would sometimes deploy O-Max Prosper. It will be interesting to see if English follows suit, or if he uses Carter more as a man defender the way he did his entire lineup at GMU.

If Ed Cooley was coaching this team, a NCAA bid would seem to be likely and this feels like it would be a team with the ability to stay in the top-25 all season. It's a bit less clear what they will be with Kim English. In his first year, with a roster that was largely experienced together with a few high-level upperclassmen transfers, he actually posted a worse win/loss record than what got Dave Paulsen fired the year before. In his second year, the record improved but the efficiency declined against a bad A-10 despite 5 members of his 8 man rotation returning. The general consensus is that English is a rising star in the coaching ranks, but the last time he stayed in one place for more than two years was as a college player at Missouri from 2008-2012. As a professional player or coach, he's never settled down long enough for anyone to get an accurate bead on him. On paper, this should be a tournament team that is in the mix for the top-half of the Big East, but it's hard to project a long-term positive trajectory when the leader's career has been so capricious.

One Man's Opinion: I have the Friars finishing 5th in the Big East. Kim English gets a huge boost in having Devin Carter, Bryce Hopkins, and a stud freshman like Garwey Dual on his first Friar roster. While I don't know what to expect from English, I do think even he will get this team into the top half of the league and the NCAA Tournament. By the end of the year, I fully expect Friar fans to have their chests puffed out and to be proclaiming English to be the next great Big East coach. I'm not at all convinced they will still feel that way in the years to come, but Ed Cooley left a very full cupboard for his replacement and for at least one year, I expect English to benefit greatly.

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Villanova Preview 2023-24

Villanova Wildcats

January 15, 2024 at Fiserv Forum and January 30, 2024 at Finneran Pavilion

Head Coach: Kyle Neptune (33-33 overall, 17-17 at Villanova)

Three-Year NET Average: 30.7

Three-Year kenpom Average: 24.3

Projected 2023-24 T-Rank: 11

Projected Starters: PG Mark Armstrong (6'2" So), SG Justin Moore (6'4" 5th), SF Hakim Hart (6'8" 5th), PF Tyler Burton (6'7" 5th), C Eric Dixon (6'8" Sr)

Justin Moore looks to lift Villanova back to the top of the Big East

Photo by Mike Sheridan | villanova.com

Kyle Neptune replacing Jay Wright couldn't have started much worse, as the Wildcats began his tenure 2-5 in both non-conference and Big East play, finding themselves just 8-10 in mid-January. Justin Moore's return led to a stretch where the Wildcats went 6-1 over a three-week stretch in February and had a few people wondering if they might be able to earn an NCAA Tourney bid, but ultimately they came up short and lost at Liberty in the first round of the NIT. They lost three starters in the offseason and have had to rebuild through the transfer portal.

A lot will be placed on the shoulders of Mark Armstrong, the sophomore point guard led the USA FIBA Under-19 team in scoring over the summer but needs more consistency if this team will reach some of the lofty projections pundits have for them. Justin Moore will hope another offseason brings him back to full health. He was one of the stars of the 'Nova 2022 Final Four team before injury, and was effective late in the year, averaging 16.4 ppg/3.4 apg over his final 8 games. Hakim Hart is a grad transfer from Maryland who was the Terps most efficient starter, but is better known for his defense on the wing. Tyler Burton could be the wildcard for this team. He averaged 19.0 ppg/7.4 rpg for Richmond in the A-10 and garnered some NBA buzz before transferring to Villanova. Eric Dixon is the other notable Jay Wright recruit still on the roster. He has the size to bang down low, but on the offensive end is the model of consistency and is not only an effective scorer in the post but is also an excellent three-point shooter. Off the bench, T.J. Bamba will likely get minutes like a sixth starter. He's another transfer, this time from Washington State, and can provide guard/wing depth. Kentucky transfer Lance Ware is a former top-40 recruit and will be the next option in the front court. Brendan Hausen and Chris Arcidiacono provide additional back court depth.

Kyle Neptune is a Jay Wright disciple and it shows. Offensively, they teach concepts and it's more about how to play rather than running set plays. They are deliberate, slowing the pace, protecting the ball, and looking for the best look from three. It will be interesting to see how they integrate Hart, Burton, and Bamba, all of whom are players that like to attack the rim. They are capable shooters, but their historic tendencies don't match Villanova's typical offensive focus. Ultimately, will Neptune change the offense to accommodate them, or will they have to adapt their play to fit in at 'Nova? The defensive end at Villanova has been a secondary focus for the better part of the past decade. They protect the paint, defend without fouling, and are more than happy to get into shooting contests. That's great when you have a bevy of great shooters, but this team might not be quite as well equipped as Wright's Final Four teams were.

Kyle Neptune took a lot of big swings in the transfer market, and the consensus is that he hit home runs. However if you're rebuilding after the first Villanova season to not finish above .500 since 2012, it seems like loading up with fifth year seniors that can't return is a risky way of doing that. Is this a top-15 team like Torvik and Field of 68 think? I'm skeptical. Neptune has never had a winning record as a coach and the Wright tree isn't exactly a bastion of success, with Pat Chambers (207-193 in 12 seasons, 1 NCAA appearance) likely the most successful Wright scion. Villanova's success was always predicated on a star point guard, but Armstrong has yet to show he can fill those shoes and Moore is best suited off the ball. With the talent on the roster, it's hard not to imagine they're a tourney team, but contending for a league that is as loaded as the Big East is at the top seems like maybe a bit too tall a hill to climb for a coach this unproven.

One Man's Opinion: I have Villanova 6th in the Big East, which is why I think the T-Rank projection of #11 and the numerous outlets touting this as a top-15 team is absolutely wild. Last year Villanova was #61 for the full year in T-Rank. If you remove November when they started 2-5, they were #48. If you look only at the time Justin Moore was there, they're still just #38. So at their best, they played like a bubble team. I think this is a tourney team, but they don't have the top-end talent even a team like Providence has and Neptune has yet to prove he has the coaching chops to take a team to the next level. Not only that, but Villanova's system is built on consistency. When they won at the highest level, it was with multiple players who had been in that system for years. It seems unlikely that a Villanova team with more transfers than original recruits in the top-7 of the rotation will have the kind of chemistry needed to be a top-15 team. They'll flirt with the rankings and dance in March, but this doesn't look like a Big East contender.

Friday, October 13, 2023

Xavier Preview, 2023-24

Xavier Musketeers

February 25, 2024 at Fiserv Forum and March 9, 2024 at Cintas Center

Head Coach: Sean Miller (449-166 overall, 147-57 at Xavier)

Three-Year NET Average: 40.3

Three-Year kenpom Average: 44.7

Projected 2023-24 T-Rank: 57

Projected Starters: PG Dayvion McKnight (6'1" Sr), SG Quincy Olivari (6'3" 5th), SF Desmond Claude (6'5" So), PF Gytas Nemeiksa (6'7" Fr), C Abou Ousmane (6'10" Sr)

Desmond Claude is expected to be the leading returning scorer for Xavier
Photo by Kareem Elgazzar | Cincinnati Enquirer

Optimism rose when Sean Miller returned to his roots at Xavier, and he delivered in his first year back. An 11-game winning streak brought the Musketeers all the way up to #8 in the AP Poll and established them as the early favorites in the Big East. However tough losses at DePaul and Butler relegated them to second place in the league while an injury to Zach Freemantle lowered their ceiling. They rebounded to reach the Big East Tournament title game and advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2017. However they lost four starters that also represented four of the top five scorers. In addition, the two leading returning scorers, Zach Freemantle and Jerome Hunter, could both miss the entire 2022-23 season with injuries. Not only that, but Indiana transfer big man Logan Duncomb has stepped away from the program due to persistent injuries.
Last year Miller had great success with C-USA transfer Souley Boum. It worked so well that he brought in three new C-USA transfers, all of whom are expected to start. Dayvion McKnight averaged 16.5 ppg/3.8 apg for Western Kentucky last year. He's a guard that prefers to get downhill, attacking the rim, converting, and getting to the free throw line. McKnight is only an average shooter from deep, though, and rarely takes shots beyond the arc (averaged 1.6 3PFGA/game last year). Quincy Olivari is another C-USA transfer from Rice. He's a more versatile scorer than McKnight and is an excellent rebounding guard. If the Freemantle/Hunter reports are accurate, Desmond Claude is the only returning Musketeer to average more than 20 mpg last year. He's an athletic wing with high upside, but will need to take a big step up to be a leader for this team. Gytas Nemeiksa is listed as a freshman, but played club basketball in Lithuania and is more like a grad transfer in terms of experience. The last C-USA transfer is Abou Ousmane. He's coming off an NIT title with North Texas and looks like the most Big East-ready of the transfers. Ousmane is physical, controls the glass, and is a solid rim protector. Off the bench, they have very little experience, with sparsely used Kam Craft likely the first man off the bench. Xavier also has a solid crop of freshmen recruits. Trey Green will help spell both guard positions, Reid Ducharme provides a shooter off the bench, and Dailyn Swain will likely compete for front court minutes and could even be a surprise starter if Nemeiksa isn't up to manning the front court. Another pair of overseas freshmen could contribute as well, with Lazar Djokovic and Kachi Nzeh both being possible depth needs up front where the offseason has ravaged Xavier's depth.

Miller's arrival was transformational for Xavier's offense. His teams excel at turning up the pace, moving the ball, and getting shots in good position. Five of his top-six rotational players all had career highs in eFG%. Xavier was also lethal beyond the arc, though they didn't take many threes. He preferred to use slashing wings and guards to penetrate and the bigs on the interior attacked the glass and cleaned up the mess. Like Marquette and Villanova, Xavier is more focused on concepts than set plays, which is what allowed Souley Boum to thrive, but they do so with a downhill interior attack prioritized over a long-range assault. Defensively, Miller has preferred to run pack line in the past, but it was difficult last year because while he had Nunge in the middle, Freemantle didn't have the quickness to keep up with Big East wings. His injury gave more minutes to Jerome Hunter and the defense improved. Miller talked about going away from the Pack Line when he took over, but those precepts are still there. It's a man to man defense that sags back to prevent teams from getting to the rim. This allows them to reduce drives into the paint and control the glass. At least, in theory that's what it should do. Last year Xavier just wasn't a great defensive team. Per Torvik, with Freemantle in the rotation Xavier's defense ranked #109, but after his injury they ranked #53 to the end of the year. That is a more respectable number, but still not great.

It's hard to project success for Xavier this year. With a healthy Freemantle and Hunter, maybe there's enough there to push for an NCAA bid. Instead, Miller is really going all-in on the C-USA transfers. In addition, while Souley Boum (+13.5 adjusted points/100 possessions) was an obvious huge value add at UTEP before he joined Xavier, that isn't the case for McKnight (+5.6), Olivari (-2.4), or Ousmane (-2.9). And while Claude and Craft were highly regarded recruits, there wasn't a lot there as freshmen to indicate they are ready to lead a team to the heights Xavier fans are hoping for. Add in a thin bench and it's hard to see this team contending for an NCAA bid unless a few players really overachieve.

One Man's Opinion: Xavier comes in at #7 in my Big East rankings. It really just comes down to those injuries. Without Freemantle's rebounding, without Hunter's defense, there just isn't enough in the front court and not enough depth to trust this team. Further, as good as Souley Boum was last year, it's hard to imagine that every C-USA transfer Miller plucked is going to have similar success. I expect Xavier will miss the tournament, but the heavy minutes will benefit Claude and Craft, being in the rotation will help a solid freshmen class, and if they can get another year out of McKnight and Ousmane, there's a bright future in Cincinnati, even if it's not this year.

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Seton Hall Preview, 2023-24

Seton Hall Pirates

January 6, 2024 at Prudential Center and January 27, 2024 at Fiserv Forum

Head Coach: Shaheen Holloway (81-73 overall, 17-16 at Seton Hall)

Three-Year NET Average: 60.7

Three-Year kenpom Average: 54.7

Projected 2023-24 T-Rank: 52

Projected Starters: PG Kadary Richmond (6'6" Sr), SG Al-Amir Dawes (6'2" 5th), SF Dylan Addae-Wusu (6'4" Sr), PF Dre Davis (6'6" Sr), C Elijah Hutchins-Everett (6'11" Jr)

Kadary Richmond drives through the Marquette defense

Photo by Mark Hoffman | Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

Shaheen Holloway's first season back in Newark went about as expected. His team played tough defense, ranking #20 nationally on kenpom. When they held opponents below 70 points, they went 16-5. But when they needed to outscore teams, they typically proved incapable, going just 1-12 when teams hit 70 points. Making matters worse, 4 of those 5 losses when teams failed to reach 70 came in the last 8 games of the season. When they were trying to make a push for the NCAA Tournament, the offense completely fell apart and they had no shot-makers to lift them to success at the high-major level. From that team, they lose three starters in Femi Odukale, KC Ndefo, and Tyrese Samuel, though they do return three of their top four scorers in Al-Amir Dawes, Kadary Richmond, and Dre Davis.

Richmond will have the keys to the offense. He's a physical mismatch for many point guards due to his length and physicality, though he turns it over too much and is probably better on the defensive end than the offensive one. Al-Amir Dawes is the most likely volume scorer on the roster, though of the four highest usage players last year in terms of shots taken, Dawes had the lowest eFG%. While he puts up points, he probably isn't the player best suited to be taking as many shots as he does. Dylan Addae-Wusu comes across the Hudson River from St. John's, where he was able to step up as a scorer, second ball-handler, and rebounder. He's a player that isn't elite at anything, but is pretty darn good at a lot of things and might be the X factor for this team. Dre Davis was more efficient at Seton Hall than he was at Louisville, but will need to translate that into more minutes as he steps into more minutes to replace the excellent defensive front court Holloway had. Elijah Hutchins-Everett seems the most likely replacement for Samuel. He has the frame of a Big East player and put up big numbers for Austin Peay, but that was admittedly at a far lower level. If he's not ready, don't be surprised if fellow transfers Sadraque NgaNga (Boise State) or Jaden Bediako (Santa Clara) get reps in the front court. Jaquan Sanders will also need to step up more as the Hall doesn't have a deep back court.

Offensively, Holloway's teams want to pound you inside. They look to attack downhill, feed the bigs, and get to the line. When they don't score, they pound the glass and look for putbacks. Don't expect much modern offense, this isn't a team that will turn up the tempo and spread the floor. They are tough, gritty, and score more with physicality than style. Defense is where Holloway makes his money. His teams are aggressive in forcing turnovers, blocking shots, and making closeouts. While many teams attack on offense, Holloway's teams attack with their defense. The downside is this does leave them open to giving up second chance opportunities, which can drag out possessions. The biggest worry, however, might be the personnel changes. When the now-departed Odukale, Ndefo, and Samuel were on the floor together per hoop-explorer.com, the Pirates gave up a suffocating 81.6 adjusted points per 100 possessions, a full 11 points better than their already elite 92.6/100 on all possessions. Compare that to expected starter Hutchins-Everett, whose Austin Peay squad was actually 10.2/100 points worse with him on the floor.

So what's the expectation for Seton Hall? None of the additions really give much hope that the offense will be significantly better. The best incoming offensive rating per kenpom is Bediako at 104.0 for a guy that got role-playing minutes in the WCC. This will again be a team that needs to win games on the defensive end, but it feels like a real concern losing arguably their three best defenders. Seton Hall's front court had the ability to smother teams and while Holloway has been able to consistently find defensive success, it doesn't look like this crop of transfers is on par talent-wise with what the Pirates had in the front court a year ago. This is a bottom half Big East team that just doesn't look to have the roster to compete for an NCAA bid.

One Man's Opinion: I expect the Pirates to finish 8th in the Big East. Holloway had an offensively challenged team a year ago, and not only did he not add notable offensive pieces, but he lost the spine of his defense and replaced it with lesser defensive players. There's still enough here to give some good teams trouble on nights when the shots aren't falling. Holloway has proven he can coach defense, so I imagine even if this defense isn't on par with last year, it still won't be a joy to play against. But a worse defense and an offense with no signs of improvement is just a worse version of what we saw last year, which was already a 7th place team that missed the NCAA Tournament.

Monday, October 09, 2023

Getting ready for the new season with some big aspirations

We are on the precipice of a new season for #mubb so Scrambled Eggs has to spend some time getting ready. We are working the pre-season kinks out but we chat about the Blue Gold scrimmage, the culture of the team, and the National Championship aspirations. We also talk about the schedule generally and how we see the team being able to handle the schedule. At the end of the day, we're less than 30 days away from the most anticipated #mubb season in 4 decades. Enjoy! https://mcdn.podbean.com/mf/web/kfuwzu/ScrambledEggs_All_100823.mp3

Georgetown Preview, 2023-24

Georgetown Hoyas

December 22, 2023 at Fiserv Forum and February 3, 2024 at Capital One Arena

Head Coach: Ed Cooley (334-221 overall, 0-0 at Georgetown)

Three-Year NET Average: 169.7

Three-Year kenpom Average: 152.3

Projected 2023-24 T-Rank: 156

Projected Starters: PG Jayden Epps (6'2" So), SG Jay Heath (6'3" 5th), SF Wayne Bristol, Jr (6'6" Sr), PF Ismael Massoud (6'9" 5th), C Supreme Cook (6'9" Sr)

The story of the summer was Ed Cooley flipping from Providence to Georgetown

Photo from guhoyas.com

Georgetown finally pulled the plug on the disastrous Patrick Ewing era after six years that resulted in one winning season (2018-19) and one NCAA bid (2021) despite never finishing above .500 in Big East play. Whether by metrics (#219 per kenpom) or record (7-25 / 2-18 Big East) the Hoyas were the worst team in the league last year. Out from that team goes not just Ewing, but seven of the top eight scorers. Of course, the big news was Ed Cooley leaving league rival Providence to take over Georgetown, and bringing in prominent transfers and freshmen alike.

Cooley's team will be led by Illinois transfer Jayden Epps. He's a former top-50 recruit that was expected to be integral to the Illini before his departure. The leading returning scorer is Jay Heath, a strong guard that has averaged double-digit scoring in all four years as a collegian, has a clean stroke from three, and is a competent secondary ball-handler, though he's never played on a team with a winning record at Boston College, Arizona State, or Georgetown. Wayne Bristol is the other significant returning option. The wing saw his role and efficiency increase in conference play, highlighted by a 16-point performance at Fiserv Forum. Perhaps the most memorable transfer addition is Ismael Massoud, who was last seen torching Michigan State in the Sweet 16 as part of Kansas State's Elite Eight team. Massoud was a reserve for the Wildcats but has a sweet stroke, a Big East body, and plenty of high-major experience at KSU and Wake Forest. Supreme Cook will man the middle. The big man comes by way of Fairfield, the same program Cooley coached before he joined Providence. Cook is an excellent rebounder and plays at his best against high-level competition. Cooley's bench will likely go at least three deep, with transfers Rowan Brumbaugh (Texas) and Dontrez Styles (North Carolina) providing guard and wing depth while 7'2" Ryan Mutombo rotates with Cook.

Cooley likes to run a flex offense where he puts multiple shooters on the perimeter to space the floor and open up room to feed his bigs inside. He tends to put a lot of trust in his point guard, which in the past has turned guys like Vincent Council, Bryce Cotton, Kris Dunn, Kyron Cartwright, and Jared Bynum into stars. Expect Epps to have the ball in his hands a lot, feeding it to shooters on the wings and pounding it in to the bigs when their shooters can draw defenders out of the paint. Defensively, Cooley has changed how he did things. He hasn't had the ballhawks in recent years that his old teams did, so they focused on challenging shots and limiting second chances while prioritizing defending without fouling. This team is closer to his recent Providence teams, so expect them to focus more on protecting the rim and cleaning the glass rather than the high pressure system he previously employed.

In terms of what to expect for this upcoming season, it's impossible not to imagine Georgetown will be better under Cooley than they were under Ewing. The players he brought in generally came from winning programs and this looks far more like a Big East roster. That said, this likely isn't emblematic of the talent level Cooley hopes to attract to the Hilltop. It should be a capable team that works hard and scraps for better results than the individual players might indicate, which is a Cooley hallmark, but it will take time for his team to develop and this is still a team closer to the bottom of the league than even the middle. There's certainly a light on the horizon for the Hoyas, but it will likely take a couple years before those results match fan expectations.

One Man's Opinion: I firmly believe that Cooley is a better coach than Thad Matta or Tony Stubblefield, so even though the roster isn't inspiring, I'm picking Georgetown 9th in the Big East. Epps was a solid pickup and having players like Massoud, Styles, and Brumbaugh from winning programs will help change the culture at Georgetown. Cook has a Big East body and while it won't be as quick a turnaround as the last new Big East coach to be picked 9th in the league (in consecutive years), I do think the pieces are in place to get Georgetown going in the right direction.

Friday, October 06, 2023

DePaul Preview, 2023-24

DePaul Blue Demons

January 24, 2024 at Wintrust Arena and February 21, 2024 at Fiserv Forum

Head Coach: Tony Stubblefield (27-51 overall, 25-39 at DePaul)

Three-Year NET Average: 144.3

Three-Year kenpom Average: 126.3

Projected 2023-24 T-Rank: 123

Projected Starters: PG Jalen Terry (6'0" Sr), SG Chico Carter (6'3" 5th), SF Caleb Murphy (6'4" Sr), PF Da'Sean Nelson (6'8" Sr), C Mac Etienne (6'10" RS So)

Jalen Terry's shot avoids the O-Max Prosper block attempt

Photo by Jeff Hanisch | USA Today Sports

It's almost uncanny how DePaul manages to continue to struggle the way they do. Their last NCAA appearance was when Dave Leitao was coach, but not the most recent stint, the first time back in 2004. They are going on 20 years without a tourney appearance and last year it never looked possible. They sputtered to a 6-5 non-conference with zero wins over top-100 teams. In conference play, the highlight was a win over then-undefeated in the Big East Xavier, but was followed by losing their final 11 conference games and bowing out in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament. Ultimately, Tony Stubblefield won half as many Big East games as his first season and finished 32 spots lower in kenpom despite being picked as a preseason top-100 team. In the offseason, they lost four starters (Umoja Gibson, Eral Penn, Javan Johnson, Nick Ongenda) and another player that started 21 games (Philmon Gebrewhit). For the third time in three years, Tony Stubblefield will be rebuilding his roster, and he's doing it with a lineup of five seniors expected to start which indicates that next year he will be 4/4 on rebuild seasons.

Jalen Terry is expected to return to the point guard role, where he has started the majority of games he's played at DePaul, though his minutes declined as the year went on last year. He's joined in the backcourt by Chico Carter from South Carolina, who was a lethal sniper (47.6 3PFG%) and high-efficiency player for a bad team. Caleb Murphy is perhaps one of the most highly regarded bad players in the country. He started 94% of his appearances for South Florida, but never managed a season offensive rating higher than 86.4 (100.0 is generally considered average). Last year he had a career low offensive rating (80.7) after pundits raved about his athleticism and NBA potential. Suffice to say, we don't see it. Da'Sean Nelson will most likely be expected to step up from a sixth man role where was a consistent, versatile threat. UCLA transfer Mac Etienne came to Chicago looking for a bigger role and will likely have a chance to emerge as a starter. Transfers Jeremiah Oden (Wyoming), Elijah Fisher, (Texas Tech) and Jaden Henley (Minnesota) are the most likely other bench contributors, particularly after highly-regarded recruit Zion Cruz left in September after just one year at DePaul.

DePaul runs an up-tempo offense that allowed them to stay competitive when the threes were falling.
They simply weren't strong enough inside to have a complete offense as they struggled on the glass and getting to the line. The hope will be Etienne can help that, but he only averaged 6.8 mpg last year for UCLA so it will be a big step up in responsibility. Defensively, their focus is on shutting teams down at the rim, but they don't have the muscle to limit second chance attempts and their aggressiveness in blocking shots often leads to being foul-prone. Last year they were undersized and underskilled to compete at this level, and none of their additions seem to significantly improve upon that.

In two years in Chicago, Tony Stubblefield has sputtered despite having legitimate stars in Javon Freeman-Liberty, David Jones, and Umoja Gibson. This upcoming season looks like his least talented roster thus far, though to his credit he did recruit three freshmen and three sophomores, so maybe the cupboard won't be completely bare next year. Still, DePaul looks like a team playing for a draft pick rather than to actually be competitive in the Big East, and it begs the question of just how long they are willing to wait for Stubblefield to produce results.

One Man's Opinion: This might be the toughest call in the league, but I have DePaul 10th in the Big East. I have no idea what Stubblefield's long-term plan is, but he's got a lot of experience in the starting lineup and the players he added in the portal are generally high-major players. If guys like Etienne, Carter, and Fisher really hit, this team could surprise and be in the mix for an NIT bid, but as mentioned above, if they didn't do it with stars like Freeman-Liberty, Jones, and Gibson, that seems unlikely. Still, they don't look like the worst team in the league. Stubblefield has managed to avoid the Big East cellar two years in a row and he might just have enough to do it a third time.

Wednesday, October 04, 2023

Butler Preview, 2023-24

Butler Bulldogs

January 10, 2024 at Fiserv Forum and February 13, 2024 at Hinkle Fieldhouse

Head Coach: Thad Matta (453-172, 38-26 at Butler)

Three-Year NET Average: 124.0

Three-Year kenpom Average: 120.0

Projected 2023-24 T-Rank: 101

Projected Starters: PG Posh Alexander (6'0" Sr), SG D.J. Davis (6'1" Sr), SF Pierre Brooks (6'6" Jr), PF Jahmyl Telfort (6'7" Sr), C Jalen Thomas (6'10" 5th)

Jalen Thomas is the only returning Bulldog to average more than 6 mpg

Photo by Justin Casterline | Getty Images

It was a tale of two seasons for the Bulldogs. Thad Matta's return to Butler opened with promise. They went 8-3 in non-conference play, with all three losses to eventual NCAA Tournament teams and a big win over Kansas State. During that span they were ranked #39 at T-Rank and looked like an at-large contender. Then Big East play started. Butler lost their first three contests by 20+ points, which turned into a trend. Their 6-14 Big East record included 12 double-digit losses. Per T-Rank, Butler ranked #186 during Big East play, which despite their 9th placed finish in the league standings was the worst efficiency margin for any Big East team, lower than even DePaul or Georgetown. Matta then lost all five starters, two to graduation and three to transfer.

The biggest incoming offseason news for Butler was the arrival of point guard Posh Alexander. The former Big East Freshman of the Year was a three-year starter for St. John's known for his lockdown defense, but he is also offensively inconsistent. At his best, he is a creative playmaker who is excellent at getting to the rim, but he can also be turnover-prone and he's just a 25.0% career shooter from deep and has never reached 30% for a full season. Three more transfers expect to factor in heavily. D.J. Davis was a productive scorer for UC-Irvine, is a reliable ball-handler, and very good shooter. Pierre Brooks was a top-75 recruit for Michigan State but never consistently cracked the rotation. Jahmyl Telfort joins from Northeastern with a bit more of an old man game, not particularly athletic but with some crafty moves that made him effective in the CAA. The top returning player is Jalen Thomas, who was primarily a backup big before Manny Bates missed time late in the year. Butler's bench has another pair of transfers in guard Landon Moore, who had an efficient, productive freshman year at St. Francis before coming to Butler and seven-footer Andre Screen from Bucknell. Their recruiting class is highlighted by fringe top-100 player Finley Bizjack who was a prodigious high school scorer.

For the most part, Matta tried to slow the pace while putting four guards who could stretch the floor around Manny Bates. The problem was they couldn't shoot and outside Bates, couldn't rebound. Butler finished last in eFG% and offensive rebounding rate in the Big East. Not only did they have the worst offense in the league, but the efficiency gap between 10th placed Georgetown and 11th placed Butler was the biggest single-spot gap in the league per kenpom. Defensively it wasn't much better. The goal has always been to defend without fouling, making sure you beat teams back on the break. They didn't rebound the defensive end either and Manny Bates' rim protection wasn't close to what he did at NC State, which led Butler to the second-worst 2PFG% defense in the league.

So what can we expect from the Bulldogs this year? The optimistic case would be that last year's inefficient bunch is all gone and Thad Matta brought in a bunch of productive but under-recruited mid-major players that are ready for the big time. But last year Matta had a trio of experienced Big East players in Chuck Harris, Jayden Taylor, and Simas Lukosius surrounded by a pair of proven high-major starters in Eric Hunter and Manny Bates. That resulted in 9th place in the league and metrically the worst team in Big East play. They bring back one player that struggled to crack that rotation, add one high-major starter in Alexander, and surround him with mostly low-major transfers. What's worse, the further we went into the season last year, the less competent Butler looked. And when they lost, they did so in spectacular fashion, by an average margin of 17.9 points in those 14 losses. The reality is this team had a roster good enough to be a factor last year but they were miserable and this roster on paper is worse at every position except maybe point guard. It would take a wizardly performance from Matta to turn this into even a middle-of-the-pack Big East team and last year his wand looked beyond broken. The only challenging Butler is likely to do this year is challenging DePaul for last place in the league.

One Man's Opinion: Butler looks like the worst team in the Big East and I'm picking them 11th. You could argue they got worse at every position this offseason. Fans will call Alexander an upgrade over Eric Hunter, but Hunter was equally anticipated when he arrived at Butler. Alexander led St. John's to 3 straight non-tourney seasons that got his coach fired. Hunter started a majority of games for multiple tourney teams. It's hard to say that's an upgrade. There was plenty to question about Chuck Harris, but he was a proven high-major starter, whereas D.J. Davis has never played at this level. Pierre Brooks only averaged 14 mpg in the Big 10, Jayden Taylor played at least 14 minutes for Butler in every Big East game last year. Jahmyl Telfort looked too slow to compete at this level while playing for sub-300 Northeastern while Simas Lukosius was a proven high-major starter who's headed to the Big 12. And there's simply no chance that Jalen Thomas is an upgrade over Manny Bates, who started every game he appeared in while Thomas was on that same roster. Butler had a huge transfer haul, but that haul looks to have downgraded them at every position. This is the team that already had the worst efficiency margin in Big East play and they got worse at every position with a coach who all too often looked like the game has passed him by. Sorry Butler, but it looks like you're the Georgetown now.

Monday, October 02, 2023

Big East Preseason Awards, 2023-24

Over the next month, Cracked Sidewalks will be rolling out conference previews for the Big East. Unlike past years, these will be revealed in a predicted order of finish, starting with the team expected to finish last and ending with the team picked to win it all.

We begin this today with preseason Big East Awards. Let's get into it.

Big East Player of the Year: Tyler Kolek, Marquette
Photo by John Minchillo | Associated Press

We're not going to get cute here. The man who won Big East Player of the Year and Big East Tournament Most Outstanding Player while leading his team to the regular season and tournament titles is the obvious choice. And while Kolek put up impressive counting numbers (12.9 ppg/7.5 apg) throughout the season, his conference-only numbers were even more impressive (15.1 ppg/8.0 apg). Kolek was a consensus All-American who showed improvement in-season and if he can replicate what he did once conference play started, he can put up even bigger numbers than he did last year. Kolek will look to join Kris Dunn and Collin Gillespie as the only two-time BEPOY winners since the league's reformation in 2013. Considering his ability and surrounding cast, there's no reason to think he can't do it.

Big East Defensive Player of the Year: Ryan Kalkbrenner, Creighton

Photo by Canadian Press

Considering he's won the award each of the past two seasons, it feels crazy to pick against Kalkbrenner. In the past two seasons, Greg McDermott's team has had his two highest ranked kenpom defensive finishes in his 22 seasons as a head coach. What truly makes Kalkbrenner so impressive isn't reflected in typical counting stats. He impacts the game not just with his size or his shot-blocking, but his ability to disrupt passing lanes. That skill makes him one of the most effective pick and roll defenders in the country. In addition, Kalkbrenner is a player who is rarely in foul trouble despite being an effective rim protector. In 99 career games for Creighton, Kalkbrenner has never fouled out, particularly impressive last year as he averaged 32.2 mpg. In addition, while he isn't a prolific defensive rebounder himself (12.1% is poor for a 7-footer) Creighton as a team is much better at defensive rebounding (22.1% OReb allowed vs 26.5%) when he's on the floor. His presence enables his teammates to corral boards. That he was also the league's highest efficiency player on offense is a cherry on top for not only the BEDPOY pick, but the most likely challenger to Kolek for the overall POY crown.

All-Big East First Team

Tyler Kolek, Ryan Kalkbrenner, Joel Soriano, Bryce Hopkins, Kam Jones

Both Kolek and Kalkbrenner seem like obvious picks here. They were both first team honorees a year ago and won the league's two respective POY crowns. So what of the others we include here?

Joel Soriano was a second-team Big East honoree last year, though that was probably undeserved. He put up great counting numbers, but St. John's offense was 3.8 points/100 possessions worse and their defense as 4.4 points/100 possessions worse when he was on the floor. That means that for 100 possessions, St. John's was 8.2 points worse overall when Soriano was in the game as opposed to when he was not. So why does he make first team this year? Because of Rick Pitino. He now has a coach who knows how to utilize his strengths. Soriano is a productive, physical player who was never suited for the up-and-down pace that Mike Anderson played. His numbers will likely stay the same, but not having to constantly chug back and forth will improve his effectiveness. Expect a big year from Soriano.

Bryce Hopkins joined Kolek as the only two first-team honorees last year to be unanimous selections. He put up huge numbers (15.8 ppg/8.5 rpg) and was the front-runner for BEPOY much of the year. But what makes Hopkins so effective isn't just his ability to score from anywhere on the floor or his dominance on the defensive glass, but rather the way he constantly puts pressure on defenses. He led the Big East in fouls drawn/40 minutes. He knows how to use his physicality to attack the rim and get to the line, which Marquette fans will remember all too well from the 18 free throw attempts he got in Providence's double-overtime win over Marquette last year.

Kam Jones rounds out the first team. He might be the most lethal scorer from the field in the league. Jones is the only returning high-major player 6'5" or under to rank in the top-100 in two-point field goal percentage (64.3% was #79 nationally) and he's a career 37.1% shooter from three. Jones did that while more than doubling his defensive rebounding rate (6.4 to 13.5%) and cutting down turnovers (8.4% turnover rate was #1 in the Big East). Not only does Jones put up the numbers to belong here, he's proving he can do the little things as well.

All-Big East Second Team

Steven Ashworth, Trey Alexander, Justin Moore, Oso Ighodaro, Donovan Clingan

Steven Ashworth steps into a Creighton offense made for his shooting and distribution abilities. Teammate Trey Alexander returned from the NBA Draft after leading the league in three point field goal percentage and should see even more of the ball with Arthur Kaluma and Ryan Nembhard departed. Justin Moore looked like he was back to his old self and if he's full healthy he should be the leader of an improved Villanova team. Oso Ighodaro is quietly one of the best bigs in a league full of great big men. Donovan Clingan on paper looks like an All-American candidate, but he has to prove he can do it while doubling his minutes played and dealing with early-season injuries.

Freshman of the Year: Stephon Castle, Connecticut

Photo from UConn Athletics

Freshman of the Year honors are about two things: talent and opportunity. Not only is the 6'6" Castle a top-10 recruit who has a chance to be in next summer's NBA Draft, but he steps into a team that saw five of their top eight players in terms of minutes leave over the summer. He will have the chance to cement himself as a high-usage starter right from the jump, while also having a proven point guard in Tristen Newton next to him to shoulder much of the ball-handling load. Castle is in a perfect position to shine from day one.

That does it for our Big East preseason awards. Over the course of the next month, we will have previews of all 11 Big East teams, starting with the lowest bottom feeder all the way to our predicted league champions. It's time to start getting excited, as of this writing the 2023-24 college basketball season is just 35 days away.