Big East Morning Five: 12.28.11 Edition
Posted by mlemaire on December 28th, 2011
- Most probably expected a routine and mundane news conference from Louisville coach Rick Pitino before Wednesday’s showdown with #12 Georgetown. Instead, Pitino gave reporters perhaps the biggest news story of Louisville’s season to date when he announced that he wouldn’t coach anymore once his contract runs out after the 2016-2017 season. For now, the statement is just that — a statement — and Pitino will have plenty of time to reconsider if he so chooses, but one has to wonder why Pitino decided to break that news now with his team undefeated and conference play set to begin. No one will blame him if he decides to retire, after all, he will be in his mid-60’s with very little left to prove as a coach, but this will have a negative recruiting impact if Louisville doesn’t have a succession plan in place or Pitino doesn’t change his mind. I doubt it will become a distraction in the near future, but keep an eye on this story because it will be a big deal as his contract nears its end.
- Connecticut begins conference play tomorrow as well when they square off with cellar-dwelling South Florida. The difference is that while the Cardinals won’t have Pitino on the bench in six seasons, the Huskies won’t have coach Jim Calhoun on the bench tomorrow — albeit only for a short period of time. Assistant coach George Blaney will take over Wednesday as Calhoun begins his three-game suspension for his role in the school’s violations during its recruitment of Nate Miles. Blaney is no stranger to replacing Calhoun for short stints and is 7-8 in his career as acting head coach of the Huskies, but it will be up to the players and how well they listen to the assistants to determine how much influence Blaney has. The good news is that, in addition to the Bulls, UConn starts conference play with Seton Hall and St. John’s, so its not as if the Huskies will play a challenging schedule without their head coach, but it will be interesting to watch nonetheless.
- One of our favorite sources for Syracuse information, The Juice, came up with five questions facing the Orange as they prepare to enter conference play and I would like to focus on one of them in particular. The first question is about the team’s center play and whether or not hyped sophomore Fab Melo can continue to show improvement against tougher competition. It’s a question worth asking given Melo’s marked improvements against inferior opponents, but I think the answer is a pretty simple yes. Frankly, Syracuse doesn’t need much out of Melo. They just need good interior defense and rebounding. If Melo can continue to protect the rim, rebound the basketball, and chip in when needed offensively, Syracuse is in great shape for a deep NCAA Tournament run.
- The story is somewhat old, but combining a hometown hero storyline with a walk-on underdog storyline is good enough to make the Morning Five no matter how late we catch it. West Virginia freshman walk-on Paul Williamson is getting some serious playing time on a very competitive Mountaineers’ team. Fans probably shouldn’t expect Williamson to become a regular contributor, but his shooting ability and poise allow Bob Huggins to play him until he can no longer hide the freshman’s defensive deficiencies. Will this be a story to watch all season long? Probably not because Williamson isn’t likely to get a lot of playing time in crucial moments, but for a local freshman on a team with NCAA Tournament aspirations to be getting meaningful playing time at this point in the season is a feel-good story for anyone who loves college basketball.
- Yahoo! released its Top Five college basketball stories from 2011 and I agree with all them, but don’t agree with the placement. I understand why the author picked Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski becoming the winningest coach in Division I basketball as the top story, but with all due respect, there is simply no way a coach winning a lot of games is a bigger story than what has transpired at Syracuse since the start of the season. Coach K’s record is a nice story and a good pick for the top story if we are looking for a feel-good ending to a trying year, but the Bernie Fine saga dwarfs the record in terms of newsworthiness and importance on a larger scale. I am as sick of the Fine scandal as much as the next man, but his alleged abuse and that of former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky are the most important stories in college sports period. They just have too many ramifications for it not to be at the top.