Rob Dauster of Ballin Is A Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East conference.
A Look Back
The Big East had been questioned coming into the season. I did it myself. They didn’t have their usual firepower up top. Their preseason player of the year candidates — the Austin Freemans and Corey Fishers and Kris Josephs of the world — barely make a peep on NBA Draft boards. And the bottom of the league? Don’t get me started on the bottom of the league.
But is it possible that, while looking at the Big East’s faults, we happened to overlook just how deep the conference is? Yes, apparently. The early season tournaments aren’t just an entertaining way to kick off a normally bland start to the college basketball season. They also act as a gauge, a way to measure how each respective conference stacks up against one another.
And the Big East was, in a word, impressive, in the 2010 installment of the early season tournaments:
By my count, that is six tournament titles and two second places finishes. Both of the second place finishes came via loss to a top 25 team. With the exception of Louisville, who didn’t play in one of these tournaments, each of the Big East’s top eight teams finished either first or second in their respective tournament. The ESPN/USA Today poll currently has five Big East teams in the top 25, and eight in the top 29. The AP poll looks even better, as those eight teams are all in the top 27, with Notre Dame also sneaking their way into the top 25.
The top of the Big East is a far cry from where it was in 2009, when they sent five teams to the Sweet 16, three to the Elite 8, two to the Final Four, and logged three of the four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament. But with the depth of this conference — among the schools already listed, keep in mind Seton Hall is playing without Jeremy Hazell and with half of Herb Pope and Cincinnati just beat Dayton 68-34 — there is no reason we shouldn’t expect another season with eight or nine potential NCAA Tournament teams come March.
Player of the Week: Kemba Walker, UConn
It has to go to Walker, as much as I would like to pass the award elsewhere. Kemba absolutely took the college basketball world by storm out in Maui. Coming off of a 42-point performance against Vermont, the Huskies point guard put the team on his diminutive back and carried them to a Maui Invitational tournament title. He averaged 30.0 PPG, 4.0 APG, and 2.7 SPG during the event, leading his team to wins over then top ten teams Michigan State and Kentucky and into the top ten of both major polls.
Team of the Week: Notre Dame Fighting Irish
The Irish stormed through Disneyland, taking home the title in the Old Spice Classic held at Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex. Along the way, the Irish knocked off Georgia, Cal, and Wisconsin. There are a couple things that really impressed me about this team. For one, they are just as good defensively as they were last season. They held Wisconsin to 51 points two days after holding Cal to 44 points (and 5 in the first half!) The second thing that impressed me is the versatility they have in their lineup. The Irish can play big if they have too, using Tyrone Nash and/or Jack Cooley on the front line. But, as they did against Wisconsin, they can also go small, using essentially five perimeter players, with Carleton Scott, Scott Martin, and Tim Abromaitis on the front line. They also have a freshman point guard named Eric Atkins that proved his worth on this trip. He will allow Ben Hansbrough to play off the ball when need be. The third thing is their resiliency. The Irish were down 11 late in the second half to a good Wisconsin team before coming back and winning. Against Georgia, the Irish switched to a zone in the second half that helped then comeback from 12 down at the half.
Power Rankings: (last week’s ranking in parentheses)
1. Pitt 7-0 (1)
Last Week: 11/23 vs. Robert Morris 74-53, 11/27 vs. Penn 82-58
Next Week: 12/1 vs. Duquesne, 12/4 vs. Rider
Pitt looked like Pitt these two games. They smothered an overmatched opponent defensively, waiting for a big second half run to take control of the game. The Panthers are easily the best team in the Big East right now.
2. UConn 5-0 (9)
Last Week: 11/22 vs. Wichita State 83-79, 11/23 vs. Michigan State 70-67, 11/24 vs. Kentucky 84-67
Next Week: 11/30 vs. New Hampshire, 12/3 vs. UMBC
The only thing I want to elaborate on from above is that the Huskies role players have been pretty impressive. Shabazz Napier is a playmaking point guard that is a tough defender. Roscoe Smith and Jeremy Lamb are both impressive athletes with enough skills to be capable thus far. And Niels Giffey is the kind of all-around talent — defends, shoots the three, handles the ball — that UConn has been missing the last few seasons. The question is whether it lasts.
3. Villanova 5-1 (2)
Last Week: 11/24 vs. UCLA 82-70, 11/26 vs. Tennessee 68-78
Next Week: 12/4 vs. St. Joe’s
Villanova is desperately in need of a leader. Against Tennessee, the Wildcats just simply could not get into any kind of a rhythm offensively with their three back court stars struggling. Corey Stokes and Maalik Wayns combined for 6-20 shooting from the field and six turnovers. And Corey Fisher? He finished the game 1-10 from the floor with five turnovers and just three points. Worst still, he didn’t seem like he wanted any part of the ball down the stretch. That’s not a good sign for the kid that was supposed to fill Scottie Reynolds’ shoes.
4. Georgetown 6-0 (3)
Last Week: 11/27 vs. UNC-Asheville 87-72
Next Week: 11/30 vs. Missouri in Kansas City, 12/4 vs. Utah State
Last week, we talked about how the Hoyas’ big men were playing better than expected. Well, this week, we should now talk about how the back court may actually be outperforming expectations. Austin Freeman, Chris Wright, and Jason Clark are averaging a combined 47.2 PPG and 11.1 APG. Wright and Clark are both shooting over 45% from three. Freeman? He’s hitting an obscene 57.6% of his triples.
5. Syracuse 6-0 (4)
Last Week: 11/26 vs. Michigan 53-50, 11/27 vs. Georgia Tech 80-76
Next Week: 11/30 vs. Cornell, 12/4 vs. NC State
The most important part of two more unimpressive wins for the Orange was that Kris Joseph finally looked like the player many of us thought he was going to be all season long. Joseph had 22 of the Orange’s 53 points in the win over Michigan, then Joseph scored 16 of his 19 points in the second half — after fighting foul trouble in the first half — in the title game against Georgia Tech.
6. West Virginia 4-1 (5)
Last Week: 11/27 vs. VMI 82-66
Next Week: 12/1 vs. American, 12/4 @ Miami
The Mountaineers played just one game since their impressive second place finish in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. In an 82-66 win over VMI. Casey Mitchell, once again, was the star, hitting for 25 points in the win. Kevin Jones hasn’t quite developed like many expected, but perhaps the bigger issue is that Truck Bryant was held out of the VMI game for “disciplinary reasons.”
7. Notre Dame 7-0 (8)
Last Week: 11/25 vs. Georgia 89-83 2OT, 11/26 vs. Cal 57-44, 11/28 vs. Wisconsin 58-51
Next Week: 11/30 vs. Indiana State
See above – Team of the Week
8. Louisville 4-0 (7)
Last Week: 11/27 vs. Marshall 80-66
Next Week: 12/1 vs. FIU, 12/4 vs. South Alabama
There’s not much more to say about Louisville than we already have said. They are 4-0 and have five guys averaging between 11.0 PPG and 12.0 PPG. Most surprising? Walk-on point guard Elisha Justice, averaging 7.0 PPG and 2.0 APG.
9. Marquette 5-2 (6)
Last Week: 11/22 vs. Duke 77-82, 11/23 vs. Gonzaga 63-66, 11/27 vs. Milwaukee 75-72
Next Week: 12/4 vs. Longwood
I’ve been high on Marquette all season long. They create quite a few matchup problems when they put their best lineup on the floor. But how impressive they were in a loss to Duke was erased in a close win over Milwaukee and a loss to Gonzaga. Marquette is always going to play close games, but until they start winning more impressively, the Golden Eagles have to slide.
10. St. John’s 4-1 (11)
Last Week: 11/25 vs. Ball State 88-83 OT, 11/26 vs. Drake 82-39, 11/28 vs. Arizona State 67-58
Next Week: 12/1 vs. Wagner
St. John’s looked like the St. John’s we expected this season. Playing four time zones to the west, the Johnnies rolled through the Great Alaska Shootout, capping their tournament victory with a come-from-behind win over Arizona State. St. John’s did it in the second half with a great press and on the back of 17.7 PPG from Justin Brownlee.
11. Cincinnati 5-0 (12)
Last Week: 11/24 vs. Savannah State 54-41, 11/27 vs. Dayton 68-34
Next Week: 12/1 vs. Wright State 12/4 @ Toledo
Cincinnati was flying far off of my radar, even with Sean Kilpatrick doing his best Lance Stephenson impression. But what the Bearcats did to Dayton? That just wasn’t right. The final doesn’t do that beatdown justice. The score at one point in the second half was 56-19.
12. Seton Hall 2-3 (10)
Last Week: 11/22 vs. Clemson 58-64 OT
Next Week: 11/29 vs. St. Peter’s
There’s not much to say about Seton Hall since last week. They still are operating without Jeremy Hazell, and Herb Pope still isn’t back into shape. The Pirates will be good, but we may have to wait until the Big East season to see it.
13. South Florida 4-3 (12)
Last Week: 11/23 vs. Liberty 60-43, 11/26 vs. BYU 75-77 2OT, 11/27 vs. Texas Tech 64-61
Next Week: 12/1 vs. VCU, 12/4 @ Florida Atlantic
The Bulls looked impressive when they took a very good BYU team to double overtime. The next night, they proceeded to beat Texas Tech, and while the Red Raiders may not be a tournament team, its still a nice win for USF. Jawanza Poland and Ron Anderson look like they may end up being pretty good players one day.
14. Providence 5-1 (14)
Last Week: 11/23 vs. La Salle 73-84, 11/24 vs. Wyoming 84-77
Next Week: 11/29 vs. Central Connecticut, 12/1 vs. Northeastern, 12/4 vs. Rhode Island
The Friars are 5-1, but they haven’t beaten anyone of substance. The only borderline team they have played was La Salle, who they lost to by 11 points.
15. Rutgers 3-2 (15)
Last Week: 11/23 vs. Norfolk State 83-57, 11/26 vs. St. Joe’s 70-76
Next Week: 12/1 vs. NJIT
It looked like the Scarlet Knights had bounced back from an opening night loss to Princeton. That is until they lost to A-10 cellar dweller St. Joseph’s.
16. DePaul 1-4 (16)
Last Week: 11/25 vs. Oklahoma State 56-60, 11/26 vs. Cal St. Northridge 66-88, 11/28 vs. Stanford 74-81 OT
Next Week: 12/2 vs. Northern Illinois
The good news is that DePaul looked competitive in their losses to Stanford and Oklahoma State. The bad news? Stanford and Oklahoma State are going to be spending a lot of time at the bottom of their respective conferences. The worse news? DePaul lost by 22 to Cal St. Northridge.
A Look Ahead
Steve Coulter is the RTC correspondent for Conference USA.
A Look Back
Caught On Film
Marcus Jordan Dunking like Dad: Despite being in only his second season at Central Florida, Marcus Jordan has begun to compile a highlight reel. On Tuesday night, the guard intercepted an inbound pass from Stetson sophomore Ridge Graham and dunked over the dazed Graham. The result was Jordan ending up at #7 on SportsCenter next day as seen in the highlight below.
The Knights went on to win the contest 85-48, then obliterated Alabama State 84-48 on Saturday. Jordan scored 18 points in that contest and has scored in double figures in all five games this season. He leads the 5-0 Knights, averaging 16.8 points per game. Older brother Jeff sits on the bench this season after transferring from Illinois last year.
A Look Ahead
A Look Back
A Look Ahead
Stats, Quotes and Other Notables
Player of the Year Watch
If you are interested in participating in our ATB2 feature, send in your submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Top 25 Games
Other Games of Interest
John Templon of Chicago College Basketball is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten conference.
A Look Back
Power Rankings – subject to a lot of early season fluctuation
A Look Ahead
The ACC/Big Ten Challenge starts this week and the predictions are rolling in that the Big Ten will take the title for the second straight season. While it could happen, it’s likely going to be very close and come down to an upset or two. The Big Ten isn’t coming off the best of weeks either, as Wisconsin, Purdue and Michigan State are all looking to recover from losses. What’s Coming Up? (all times EST)
Fun With Efficiency Margin
At the moment, Ohio State appears to be the class of the Big Ten and one of the top teams in the nation along with Kansas and Duke. I’m sure a lot of college basketball fans are ruing the day that the ACC/Big Ten Challenge was scheduled and pitted Michigan State against the Blue Devils instead of the Buckeyes.
Game #49: RTC is again happy to make the acquaintance of a gym in which we’ve never been before — this time, the Cam Henderson Center in Huntington, West Virginia at Marshall University.
We have a Sun Belt vs Conference USA tilt tonight as Isiah Thomas’ Florida International Golden Panthers (4-1) attempt to corral the Thundering Herd of Marshall (3-2). The Herd have a new coach in Tom Herrion and are still attempting to recover from the loss of one-and-done Hassan Whiteside, but sophomore guard DeAndre Kane is doing what he can to soothe that pain (16.0 PPG and 5.0 RPG) and take up some of the work left behind by Hassan, now a Sacramento King. The Panthers, led by junior guard DeJuan Wright’s 14.8 PPG and 8.6 RPG, have already achieved more than half of their total number of wins from last season (7-25) . Both teams feature deep benches, each having nine players who average at least 15 minutes a contest. We expect a sea of green in the Henderson Center for this one and we’ll open the live blog window about 15 minutes before the 7:00 PM ET tipoff. Hope to see you there.
***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivobut we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game
Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.
Some folks may be going through college basketball withdrawal today as the Thanksgiving tournaments have ended and the action is extremely light tonight. Fear not however, great games make a comeback tomorrow. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.
Virginia @ #16 Minnesota – 7 pm on ESPN2 (**)
Minnesota is still riding high after their tournament win in Puerto Rico as they open the ACC-Big Ten Challenge against the Virginia Cavaliers this evening. The Golden Gophers are dealing with some injuries tonight as starting point guard Al Nolen (foot) and Rodney Williams (ankle) are unlikely to play. Coach Tubby Smith still has plenty of weapons to turn to and may get Devoe Joseph back from suspension tonight. Smith has said he’s undecided but there’s a chance that Joseph could make his first appearance of the season against Virginia. The Cavaliers went 1-2 in Maui, defeating Oklahoma while losing to Washington and Wichita State. They’re 3-3 overall and are expected to finish near the bottom of the ACC this season. Tony Bennett’s team has been, well, unlike a typical Tony Bennett team so far. Virginia has struggled on the defensive end, ranking #135 in efficiency. They’ve given up an average of 70 PPG and are #330 in defensive effective FG%. UVA doesn’t force turnovers due to Bennett’s deliberate, slow pace and have been terrible at defending the three. Virginia is almost dead last in defensive three point percentage, allowing opponents to shoot 47% from behind the arc. As you might expect, Virginia’s opponents get the largest percentage of their points from the three point line, #1 in the nation. To put this in perspective, Bennett’s last team at Washington State (2008-09) finished #6 in the country in defensive efficiency. Minnesota will look to take advantage of this weakness with Blake Hoffarber, who broke out of his early slump with 24 points on 10-16 shooting against North Dakota State on Wednesday. With Nolen out and the status of Joseph still up in the air, Hoffarber is more than capable of running the offense (2.82 assist/turnover ratio). The Gophers should dominate this game in the low post with plenty of scoring and good rebounding behind Trevor Mbakwe (14/9, 69% FG) and Ralph Sampson III (13/7, 3 blocks), but Virginia has a star of its own in 6’8 Mike Scott. The senior forward is averaging 17/9, Virginia’s only player in double figures so far this season. He’ll have his hands full with Minnesota’s stellar frontcourt but the Cavaliers are counting on him to keep them competitive tonight. 6’9 Will Sherrill can stretch the defense and he’ll need to do a lot of that by pulling Mbakwe and Colton Iverson away from the basket where they can’t get into a comfort zone. Minnesota may struggle a bit to start the game with the uncertainty of their rotation but expect a steady diet of Hoffarber from deep along with dishes to Mbakwe and Sampson III. That will allow Minnesota to pull away and win this one comfortably.
USC @ TCU – 8 pm on The Mtn. (**)
This clash between Pac-10 and Mountain West schools features a USC team coming off a bad loss at Nebraska on Saturday and a TCU club playing second fiddle to the school’s football team in the hunt for a BCS national championship. Expect this to be a low scoring game as both teams struggle offensively, each ranking outside the top 100 in offensive efficiency. The Trojans are a much better defensive club, though you wouldn’t know it based on their performance against Nebraska (50% FG for the Cornhuskers). USC still ranks #29 in defensive efficiency and #7 in opponents’ offensive rebounding percentage, essentially controlling the defensive glass. Kevin O’Neill has two totally different players leading the team with his 5’7 point guard Maurice Jones (13/4/4) and 6’10 F/C Nikola Vucevic (16/11), each having a great start to the season. As you might imagine, Jones struggles shooting the trey due to his height. He still finds a way to score and get others involved making the freshman a nice piece to build around in the coming years. Vucevic is an experienced junior who teams with Alex Stepheson to create a better than average frontcourt. Stepheson, a transfer from North Carolina, had 14/9 against Nebraska and is shooting 56% from the floor this year. The Horned Frogs of TCU are led by another small point guard, 5’9 Hank Thorns. He’s averaging seven assists per game while grabbing four rebounds, pretty good for a guard of his height. TCU’s leading scorer is Ronnie Moss (16 PPG), a threat from behind the arc against a Trojan defense that ranks #237 against the trey. It’s been a struggle for TCU when it comes to rebounding the basketball as they’re really undersized. They’ve been outrebounded in all but two of their games, averaging only 31 RPG. TCU is #300 in offensive rebound percentage and #293 in two point percentage defense. Put those two stats together and you have a recipe ripe for putbacks for scores off missed shots. USC will look to take advantage of that behind Stepheson and Vucevic. The Trojans should get the ball inside early and often to utilize their size and rebounding strength in this matchup. The Trojans must get to the free throw line more often as they rank poorly in that area and only attempted two free throws against Nebraska. A more aggressive style would cure this problem but with a very slow tempo (#262), don’t expect that to change anytime soon. Well played games from Moss, Thorns or J.R. Cadot will keep TCU in this game to the end. USC is the better team but the Horned Frogs are at home so we see this as a toss-up game that may come down to the last few possessions.
Ray Floriani of College Chalk Talk is the RTC correspondent for the MAAC and NEC, and makes additional contributions based on his analysis from action around the country.
There has been a lot of news coming out of Knoxville, Tennessee, as of late. Until last week, all of it centered on activity off the court – from Bruce Pearl’s recent troubles with the NCAA to last year’s player suspensions. Presently, the conversation is shifting to what is transpiring on the floor as Tennessee captured the Preseason NIT at Madison Square Garden. They did it in resounding defensive fashion.
Let’s take look at a tempo-free analyses of each of the games contested at the World’s Most Famous Arena.
|eFG||FT RATE||OREB PCT||TO RATE|
Neither team was a walk-it-up-the floor type as they both came to New York averaging over 70 possessions per game. In an 80-possession contest, Tennessee had the offensive efficiency edge, 96-90. The talk at halftime was the Rams’ shooting, or lack of it. Their eFG percentage the first half was a horrid 28%. Only a rebounding edge and the Tennessee’s careless ball-handling style (23% TO rate) kept them within one at intermission. In the second half, VCU found the range thanks to 6’2 guard Brandon Rozzell (23 points, 19 in the final half). The big story was rebounding. Bruce Pearl’s club cleaned the glass the second half. Scotty Hopson, a 6’7 wing who was a matchup problem all night for VCU, had 11 boards to complement his 18 points and 6’10 Brian Williams enjoying a New York homecoming, adding 13 rebounds. In the end, the Vols edged the Rams, 77-72.
|eFG||FT RATE||OREB PCT||TO RATE|
At the half, Villanova enjoyed a 15-point lead and a huge 122-78 edge in offensive efficiency. In a low 70s possession game (UCLA 73, Villanova 71), the final numbers were a bit more respectful but Villanova still enjoyed a 116-96 OE edge. Credit a better second half by UCLA largely due to an improved defensive effort after halftime. Throughout the contest, the Bruins could not keep the Villanova guards in front of them defensively as Ben Howland planned. Corey Fisher shot 6-9 en route to a game high 26 points. Fisher constantly drew fouls from beaten Bruin defenders and was 14-15 from the line. Villanova cleaned the glass, largely due to sophomore Mouphtaou Yarou who pitched in a big 13-point 16-board night. UCLA did have four in double figures, but not Tyler Honeycutt. The 6’8 forward came in averaging 15 PPG but struggled scoring just eight points on 3-8 shooting. Villanova was able to prevail, 82-70, also on the basis of their low turnover rate.
|eFG||FT RATE||OREB PCT||TO RATE|
VCU was devastated on the glass, but extremely efficient overall. The pace was to the Rams’ liking (UCLA 80 possessions, VCU 76) with Shaka Smart’s club owning an impressive 117-106 edge in offensive efficiency. Even with a quick pace, VCU did not get into transition similar to the semis and actually trailed UCLA 16-6 in fast break points. As noted in the table, UCLA owned the backboards largely due to Tyler Honeycutt (13 rebounds) and Reeves Nelson (10). The turnover rate was a killer for the Bruins with Honeycutt and Reeves in the mix again, combining for 8 of the 21 Bruin miscues. Another encouraging sign for VCU was inside play. The Rams scored 34% of their points from three (actually right on the team average coming to New York) but displayed a nice presence in the paint in Jamie Skeen. The 6’9 senior scored a game high 23 points while grabbing a team high 9 boards. In the end, VCU topped UCLA, 89-85. The level to which the Bruins’ defense improves is a major storyline in Westwood.