Voices of the Big East: Volume VI

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on January 31st, 2012

Voices of the Big East is an ongoing feature intended to capture the essence of the conference through the words of those involved and those impacted. This will come in the form of quotes, tweets, videos and anything else we feel like sticking in here. It’s perfect for you multitasking short attention-spanners. If you find something you think is a candidate for this feature send it to us and we might even give you credit!

Pirate’s Life for Pope

“You know how some people say they love their school? Well, Seton Hall saved my life.”

-Seton Hall senior Herb Pope, who has survived two brushes with death, the second of which occurred in Seton Hall’s athletic facilities where medical staff immediately performed CPR and utilized defibrillators to keep him alive.

Bumpin’ Brey

“Game situations.  We’re just better because we’re sharper and we’ve done it a a lot”

“We got the look.  We got the look, man. We’re so mentally tough.” 

-Notre Dame Head Coach Mike Brey after the Fighting Irish’s victory over Connecticut on Saturday.  OK, it’s really the video we wanted to show you but no embed code to be found, so CLICK HERE for a link to the video. There’s no truth to the rumor Brian Kelly is looking to Brey for some O-Line help after he (sort of) pancaked that white board. 

Definitely No Points Being Scored

This comment by Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim presumably was directed at his team but it sure did not come off as appreciative of the Carrier Dome faithful.

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Checking In On… the Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on January 31st, 2012

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-12 conferences.

Reader’s Take

 

A Look Back

It was a week of upsets and near upsets in the Mountain West, a week that may ultimately turn out to be good for the conference. The notable upset came Saturday as Colorado State handed San Diego State its first conference loss of the season, while UNLV twice was taken to overtime on the road against the two teams who are currently seventh and eighth in the league, Air Force and Boise State. But, when all is said and done, we wind up with five teams in the conference sitting over .500 in conference play, and all five of those teams – UNLV, SDSU, CSU, New Mexico and Wyoming – are at the very least in the discussion for possible inclusion in the NCAA Tournament field. There is a long way to go between here and there, especially for teams like New Mexico, Colorado State and Wyoming, but as things stand right now in the conference, and given the struggles that some other power conferences are having, there is a very real possibility that half of the teams in the MW will wind up dancing come March.

Team of the Week

New Mexico – The Lobos knocked off Colorado State by 33 points on Wednesday night (a win that look a whole heap better come Saturday evening), then followed that up with a ho-hum 17-point win over TCU. Aside from outscoring their opponents by 50 points this week, the Lobos dominated on the glass, grabbing 85.5% of all defensive rebound opportunities this week, forcing turnovers on 27.6% of their defensive possessions and using those stellar stats to fuel a 1.16 point-per-offensive-possession week. Still, the Lobos will need to prove that they are capable of turning in those types of performances against the San Diego States and UNLVs of the world before we can really consider them capable of winning the conference title, but so long as they keep taking care of business against lesser competition, the Lobos are going to be right there down the stretch.

Player and Newcomer of the Week

Mike Moser, UNLV

Mike Moser Averaged 22.5 Points and 16.5 Rebounds In Two Overtime Wins For The Rebels This Week (Sam Morris/Las Vegas Sun)

Mike Moser, Soph, UNLV – Wednesday night, Mike Moser was sick. No, I don’t mean his performances was great or awesome (although it was, good god – 18 points, 21 rebounds, three treys, a couple assists, a couple blocks and a couple steals); I mean he was unwell, under the weather, down with disease. Which makes his unbelievable effort in 34 hard-fought minutes all the more incredible. Despite the illness, Moser was able to muster up enough energy to send back a last-second potential game-winning three-point attempt from Boise State sophomore Thomas Bropleh to send the game to overtime, and then in the extra period, Moser just kept going, grabbing four rebounds and adding five points to help the Rebels overcome an upset bid. Then all Moser did for an encore on Saturday night was hit 10-of-17 field goals for 27 points, grab 12 boards, and swipe three steals in another overtime win for the Rebels. It is safe to say, without Moser’s stellar play, this likely would have been an 0-2 week for UNLV.

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Big East Afternoon Five: 01.31.12 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on January 31st, 2012

  1. We start our belated end-of-the-month Morning Five by talking about Stan Heath and his South Florida Bulls. Despite boasting a 6-3 conference record, very few actually believe the Bulls will still be in the thick of the Big East race by the end of the regular season, and they are probably right. Heath’s team has exactly zero quality wins and the schedule will get much more difficult down the stretch, but let’s give credit where credit is due. South Florida is not a premier program, and now they have won six conference games for just the second time since 2006, so Heath deserves a fist-pound, even if he probably won’t get a long-term contract extension.
  2. Kudos to Mike Vaccaro for first sniffing out the story that Syracuse basketball coach Jim Boeheim went to school at the same time that New York Giants’ coach Tom Coughlin did, because now we know that Boeheim was actually Coughlin’s resident assistant. This is the type of story with absolutely zero sporting implications but tons of fun anecdotes. For example, Boeheim thought Coughlin would end up being a middle school math teacher. Can you imagine the terrified eighth-graders that had to learn fractions while Coughlin cursed them out? Yeah, I think football coach is probably a better fit.
  3. Postgame locker room videos have become an Internet staple in recent months and while Notre Dame‘s Mike Brey‘s speech after his team beat Connecticut wasn’t quite as inspirational, it was still fun to watch. We have already done it in this space plenty, but let’s give Brey just a little bit more praise for the way he has coached an undermanned team to the top half of the Big East. Every year it seems like Notre Dame has less talent than other teams in the conference, yet every year Brey has this team exceeding expectations. There is a lot of basketball left to play, and of course its entirely possible the Fighting Irish fade and fall off the bubble, but I won’t count them out as long as Brey is on the bench.
  4. Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is rapidly becoming one of my favorite columnists if only because there are few columnists in the country who pump out quality college basketball columns as often as Cook does. You had to know he would be back at it today after the Pittsburgh Panthers won their third straight conference game and are on their way to reclaiming some of the respect they had lost when they lost their first seven. If you didn’t notice the theme, it is that the Panthers are going to keep fighting despite the fact that the NCAA Tournament is still a longshot at this point. We will take a closer look at Pittsburgh’s postseason chances either tonight or tomorrow, so make sure to check back.
  5. The good folks of The Hartford Courant decided to state the obviousConnecticut needs to right the ship, and they need to do it quickly. The Huskies have five games left on their schedule against teams ahead of them in the conference standings and don’t look too closely but Jim Calhoun has had some recent success in helping his team get back on track quickly. The difference is that last year’s team had a clear leader in Kemba Walker, but the current version of the Huskies are really young and in need of a steadying influence on the court. Plenty of people in Storrs are hoping they find it quickly.
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Tracking The Four: UNLV Enters Top 10, Indiana Nearly Drops Out Entirely

Posted by EJacoby on January 31st, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC correspondent and regular contributor. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. TT4 will cover four selected teams of interest – Syracuse, Indiana, Murray State, and UNLV – by tracking their ups, downs, and exciting developments throughout the course of the season.

This week in TT4, the team out in Vegas has entered the top 10 in the RTC rankings. UNLV continues to impress, this time getting it done with back-to-back gritty overtime wins on the road. Meanwhile, Syracuse escaped for a win with some help from the referees, and Murray State found out whom they’re playing in BracketBusters for a major upcoming challenge. Our only team trending downward, Indiana, scored 50 points in a loss and 103 points in a win in consecutive games, and we’ll try to make sense of it all. With plenty of important news to get to, let’s jump into this week’s breakdown:

UNLV Runnin’ Rebels

The High-Flying Runnin' Rebels are Finally Being Recognized as a Top Team (AP Photo/J. Gurzinski)

  • Trending UP Because… – It wasn’t pretty, but they survived two road tests in the past week with victories at Boise State and Air Force. Now, the Runnin’ Rebels (20-3, 4-1 MW) are in the RTC Top 10 and are knocking on the Top 10 door of the AP and USA Today Polls as well. Most bracket projections have Dave Rice’s team as a #3 seed, and it’s hard not to be impressed when you see this team play. Tough tests remain, and a few losses surely await in the competitive Mountain West, but UNLV is proving to be one of the most explosive teams in America.
  • This Week’s Key CogMike Moser. For the second straight week and fifth time this season, a Reb was named MW Player of the Week. This time it was Moser, for the third time, after he averaged 22.5 points, 16.5 rebounds, 2.5 steals, 2.0 assists, and 1.0 blocks per game while shooting 51.7% from the field in two road victories.
  • Play of the Week – Check out Oscar Bellfield’s set-up to Moser for the alley oop in this highlight against Air Force on Saturday.
  • Talking Point – Coach Rice drove home the point that he was happy with the road win at Air Force, no matter how much the team struggled at times: “The bottom line is, we found a way to win. We got huge stops down the stretch when we needed them and made huge offensive plays as well. Now we’re back fighting for a conference title again.”
  • Sick Performance - Moser not only dominated the Falcons on Saturday, but he also put up a career-high 21 rebounds with 18 points in the Wednesday win at Boise State — all while he was ill. The forward was battling a sore throat and head cold and had been vomiting before the game, yet still came through with one of his best games of the season.
  • Stats CentralChace Stanback had the worst shooting performance of his career on Saturday (1-10 from the field, two points), but he contributed in other ways with six rebounds, four assists, and four steals, including the crucial one with two seconds remaining to seal the victory.
  • What’s Next? – The Rebels have two tough matchups this week, first a home game against Colorado State on Wednesday (10:30 PM ET), followed by a road date at Wyoming on Saturday (4:00 PM ET). CSU is ranked #15 in the RPI and a current NCAA bubble team while Wyoming is 12-2 at home this season. Both games are televised on The Mountain TV Network.

Murray State Racers

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ACC Game On: 01.31.12 Edition

Posted by KCarpenter on January 31st, 2012

It was a lazy Sunday in the ACC when North Carolina dominated a hapless Georgia Tech team and Miami handled Boston College. I’d like to say today’s slate looks more competitive, but that wouldn’t really be honest. Still, watching two teams that are on a roll and two teams that are trying to figure things out may be instructional. Let’s go with that: tonight’s slate will be instructional.

The Dynamic Duo vs. The Legion of Doom

  • #5 North Carolina at Wake Forest at 9:00 PM

It’s becoming more than abundantly clear that with the possible exception of Ty Walker, Wake Forest has no offense outside of Travis McKie and C.J. Harris. It’s a shame, because McKie and Harris are seriously good players, but the rest of the team’s inability to provide much of any support has doomed this year’s Wake Forest team. Yes, this year is definitely better than last year and I suspect Wake Forest has at least one big upset they will pull off before the end of the season, but barring a break-out from some other player on the team, Wake Forest is just not very good. Meanwhile, Reggie Bullock is working out all too well in a starting line-up that is just starting to get scary. Consider this: at the beginning of the season, Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller, John Henson, and Kendall Marshall were all legitimate All-ACC players. Reggie Bullock, in terms of offensive efficiency as well as defensive efficiency, is beating all four. Meanwhile Stilman White seems to be adjusting well to his limited extra minutes, P.J. Hairston‘s shooting slump seems to be over and Desmond Hubert is picking up any slack in James Michael McAdoo’s game. I’m still thoroughly skeptical of the “Justin Watts as point guard” experiment, but I certainly prefer it to the minutes he was playing at power forward. In short, North Carolina looks really good right now and Wake Forest may have already hit its ceiling which didn’t seem very high in the first place.

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Pac-12 Honors: Week 12

Posted by AMurawa on January 31st, 2012

Team of the Week

Washington – The Huskies vaulted themselves into a first place tie in the Pac-12 on the strength of a road sweep of the Arizona schools. For a team that has struggled on the road in recent years (they were 10-15 on the road in the last three seasons, prior to this weekend), this weekend not only kept the Huskies on pace for a conference title, but it should give their young squad (the team is #296 in the nation in terms of years of experience) some much-needed confidence for the road tests that still lie ahead, specifically trips to the Oregon and Los Angeles schools, as well as a jaunt east to face Washington State. The Huskies were far from perfect this weekend, as they nearly coughed up a late lead against Arizona and their six-point win over Arizona State wasn’t exactly inspiring, but simply winning games on the road is a significant accomplishment. Plus, their defensive intensity was fairly consistent and they held their two opponents to just 0.93 points per possession on the road trip. All things considered, it was a strong weekend for the Huskies that not only put them in excellent shape in the Pac-12 race, but also put them back on the radar as far as a potential NCAA at-large bid is concerned.

Washington, Tony Wroten, Darnell Gant

After A Road Sweep, Washington Finds Itself Tied For First At The Halfway Mark (photo credit: Paul Connors, Associated Press)

Player of the Week

Jared Cunningham, Jr, Oregon State – The Beavers only played one game this weekend, but Cunningham was spectacular in it – or, he was spectacular in half of it, at least. After scoring just three points in a lackluster first half that found his team trailing by five with just 23 points on the board, Cunningham got a serious wake-up call at halftime and exploded for 24 points in the second half. He made five of his eight second-half field goal attempts, including two-of-three from deep, and made 12 of 15 free throws, including several down the stretch, to help put away Oregon. Most importantly, he helped his team come away with a win, bringing them back to within a game of .500 on the season, and in doing so, he renewed his candidacy for the conference Player of the Year award.

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March’s Top Cinderella Candidates

Posted by zhayes9 on January 31st, 2012

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.

Did you think last year’s NCAA Tournament was chaotic? That was nothing.

That’s right, the tournament that saw two out of eleven Big East teams reach the Sweet Sixteen, #10-seed Florida State face #11-seed VCU in a regional semifinal and two mid-majors provide the undercard on Final Four Saturday could pale in comparison to what we’ll witness in 2012. Never before have the perceived top teams in the nation been more flawed. Never before has the soft underbelly of every power conference been more susceptible. Never before have the upper echelon mid-major schools been as viable and competitive. It’s a distribution of wealth that would make Bernie Sanders blush.

Which Mid-Majors Have the Best Shot to Celebrate Like This?

By the time we reach New Orleans, the cream may rise to the crop. A Final Four consisting of Kentucky, Ohio State, North Carolina and Syracuse wouldn’t stun me. It’s during the first weekend where a handful of non-BCS schools could knock off inadequate power-conference at-large teams. Don’t say you weren’t prepared.

Who are the mid-majors (a designation that excludes the Atlantic 10, Conference USA or Mountain West) most likely to crash the party? Here’s a good place to start:

  1. Saint Mary’s: The Gaels performed an offensive clinic best saved for instructional videos in a difficult road environment at BYU on Saturday. After watching that display (and two prior destructions to both BYU and Gonzaga on their home floor) it comes as no surprise that St. Mary’s assists on nearly 62% of made field goals. Their offensive assault is led by face-of-the-program Matthew Dellavedova, who plays almost 92% of the teams’ minutes, ranks in the country’s top 50 in assist rate and provides another shooting threat. What gives the Gaels the sustainability to win multiple games in the Tournament is dominance inside the arc. Randy Bennett’s team shoots 55% and holds opponents to 44% despite employing just two regular rotation players taller than 6’7”.
  2. Creighton: We know all about Doug McDermott’s All-America caliber season: an unfathomable 65% from two and 50% from three to match his 23.5 points per game. Now he only needs a sexier name to reach Jimmer-like cult status. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is a one-man rodeo. What’s carried the Bluejays to a 10-1 record in the Valley is a formidable supporting cast with all of the ingredients for a deep March push: an athletic big man in Greg Echenique who can hold his own against power-conference frontlines, a heady senior point guard in Antoine Young with a more than 2:1 assist to turnover ratio, stat sheet stuffer Grant Gibbs and two rangy shooters in Jahenns Manigat and Ethan Wragge. Read the rest of this entry »
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Set Your TiVo: 01.31.12

Posted by bmulvihill on January 31st, 2012

Brendon Mulvihill is an RTC contributor. You can find him @themulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Conference battles are heating up across the country as we head into the last month of regular season play. A lot will happen from not till the beginning of March, so it’s more important than ever to get a glimpse of as many teams as you can before tourney time. Let’s take a look at tonight’s action.

Tom Izzo and Michigan State need to prove themselves on the road.

#8 Michigan State at Illinois – 7:00PM EST on ESPN HD (****)

  • As of Sunday, there are only three teams that rank in the top ten in KenPom’s adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency ratings – Kentucky, Syracuse, and Michigan State. In Big Ten play, Michigan State is lighting it up on the offensive end, ranking number one in both two-point and three-point shooting percentage. The Spartans face a true road test tonight against Illinois and it is on the road where Tom Izzo’s club still needs to prove itself. Michigan State is 2-2 on the road in conference and 4-4 on the season away from the Breslin Center. Michigan State has only allowed 5 teams to shoot over 50% eFG all season and each time it was on the road. They are 1-4 when a team goes over 50% eFG. Izzo and company has to play strong defense against 7’1” Illini center Meyers Leonard, who is hitting 60% of this two-point attempts. Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne are Michigan State’s tallest regulars at 6’9” and 6’10″, respectively. That’s a tough match-up for them individually, so look for the possible double team to prevent Leonard from taking over the game. If the Spartans get beat, it will be because the Illini two-pointed them to death.
  • Illinois started the season off at a promising 10-0. They have since gone 5-6 and dropped their last three games and are in danger of dropping completely out of contention in the Big Ten. While Illinois has maintained its mediocre shooting in Big Ten play, their downfall has been an increase in turnovers and poor offensive rebounding. More turnovers and less second chance points equals empty possessions. For a team that has shot under 50% eFG in over half of its games, that’s a losing equation. However, the Illini has two saving graces on their side, they are playing at home where they are 11-1 (3-1) and they have the tallest guy on the court who happens to be very skilled. Illinois needs to feed the big man to have a chance in this one.
  • The game hinges on Leonard’s ability to establish himself on the interior and Michigan State’s defensive strategy to deny him the ball. The winner of that chess match is likely to win the game. Also, keep a close eye on turnovers. Michigan State leads the Big Ten in steals, while Illinois gets the ball stolen more than anyone else in the league. Empty possessions for Bruce Weber’s squad will spell doom.

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Checking In On… The Big Ten Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 31st, 2012

Bill Hupp is the RTC correspondent for the Big Ten Conference. Follow him on Twitter (@Bill_Hupp) for his thoughts on hoops, food, PR, various city river walks, and life.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • Tom Izzo is a Big Ten Legend: The emotional Michigan native won his 400th career game this week when Tom Izzo guided the Spartans to a comfortable 68-52 home win over Minnesota. No matter who leaves, the guy simply gets the most out of his teams year in and year out by emphasizing selflessness, defense, rebounding and toughness. There’s a reason that Michigan State always seems to be playing its best ball by the time March rolls around.
  • Up Comes Frazier!: Raise your hand at home if you had Penn State’s Tim Frazier as a likely first-team All-Big Ten candidate in February. If you did, you are a basketball savant and should be writing this column [Ed. Note: Or you are a Penn State homer.]. The 6’2” junior dominated against Penn State’s soft non-conference schedule, but hasn’t slowed down in Big Ten play. In league games, he is leading the conference in scoring (18.7 PPG), assists (5.3 APG), and steals (2.5. SPG). Admittedly, wins have been hard to come by for the Nittany Lions this season, but Frazier has been a bright spot in Happy Valley.
  • Welcome Back, Wisco: With Bo Ryan still at the helm, nobody thought Wisconsin would be down for long, and while it hasn’t always been pretty, the Badgers ran their current winning streak to five games after they downed Indiana at the Kohl Center this week. During this streak, they ground out tough road wins over Purdue and Illinois and claimed home victories over Nebraska, Northwestern and Indiana.

After a 3-2 start to conference play, Ohio State Has Won Its Last Four Games By A Combined 90 Points. (Al Messerschmidt/Getty)

Power Rankings

  1. Ohio State (19-3, 7-2) – Value City Arena isn’t the first Big Ten gym to come to mind when you think of fearsome places to play in the conference, but teams that have entered “The Grey” recently haven’t had much success. The students are passionate and the place is big and cavernous, more of a professional arena than a cozy college gymnasium. There’s a reason why the Buckeyes have won 38 straight at VCA and are winning their home Big Ten games in the nation’s best conference (according to the RPI) by an average of 24 points.
  2. Michigan State (17-4, 6-2) – Perhaps the most encouraging thing about Michigan State’s win over Minnesota was that it proved that point guard Keith Appling can go 1-8 from the field and score seven points … and the Spartans can still win by double digits. Freshman Branden Dawson continues to show flashes of brilliance, as he stepped up to score 16 points in Appling’s stead. Someone needs to provide a second scoring option to Draymond Green and if it can’t be Appling that day, it falls to Dawson or Valpo transfer Brandon Wood. Read the rest of this entry »
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The Other 26: Bracketbuster Preview and Analysis

Posted by IRenko on January 31st, 2012

I. Renko is an RTC columnist. You can normally find him kicking off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on twitter @IRenkoHoops.

In this special mid-week edition of The Other 26, we take a look at all of the premier (read: televised) Bracketbuster matchups that were announced on Monday and offer a guide to the uninitiated on what to watch for. The annual mid-major hoops feast typically offers a host of compelling contests, and this year is no different. In roughly descending order of interest/excitement:

Main Event — St. Mary’s at Murray State (2/18, 6 PM, ESPN or ESPN2) — I was hoping we would get a double main event with St. Mary’s at Creighton and Wichita State at Murray State. Perhaps the Bracketbuster selection committee didn’t rate Wichita State that highly or was intent on giving the undefeated Racers a ranked opponent against whom they could prove their quality. So they sent top 20, 21-2 St. Mary’s to Murray, Kentucky, to set up the undisputed headliner of this year’s Bracketbuster event. Murray State will have a clear advantage from playing at home, but apart from that, this looks like a very close matchup. Offensively, both teams rely heavily on the two lines — the three-point line and the free throw line. Defensively, both teams are pretty good at not giving up many attempts from either of those lines, with the notable exception of Murray State’s tendency to foul too much. Both teams are also somewhat turnover prone, but only the Racers play the kind of defense that is likely to exploit such a weakness. Finally, the Gaels may look to get easy points off of the offensive glass, as defensive rebounding is a liability for Murray State. Which, if any, of these games within the game will determine the outcome? Only one way to find out:  tune in at 6 PM on February 18.

Can St. Mary's End Murray State's Undefeated Season?

Battle of the Supporting Casts — Long Beach State at Creighton (2/18, 10 PM, ESPN2) – Most eyeballs will be trained to watch Casper Ware and Doug McDermott, two of mid-major hoops’ most recognizable players. But I hope that fans will also tune in to get a glimpse of the extent to which these conference-leading teams depends on their supporting casts. LBSU has three other players who average in double figures — Larry Anderson (who also stuffs the stat sheet with 5.0 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game, while shooting 44% from three-point range), T.J. Robinson (who adds 10.2 rebounds a game), and James Ennis. Creighton, meanwhile, has discovered that they can be just as potent, maybe even moreso, when McDermott scores less than 20 a game. Antoine Young’s dribble penetration, Greg Echinique’s inside banging, and the marksmanship of Grant Gibbs and Jahenns Manigat make the Bluejays a much more multi-dimensional team than they’re often portrayed to be. It’s worth noting, too, that each of these teams will be trying to bolster their at-large bona fides in the event that they don’t win their conference tournaments — an especially distinct possibility for Creighton, who will have to get through three games in the always tough MVC to cinch an auto bid.

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It’s A Love/Hate Relationship: Volume IX

Posted by jbaumgartner on January 31st, 2012

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC columnist. His Love/Hate column will publish each week throughout the season. In this piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball.

Five Things I Loved This Week

I LOVED….big men getting down the floor. There is no seven-footer who runs the court better than UNC’s Tyler Zeller, and given the lack of fast break basketball in the NBA, that claim could probably even go a little further. It’s so funny to me – we’re literally talking about a 94-foot sprint that takes just a few seconds. Zeller isn’t the most graceful runner so it’s just pure effort. Why don’t more big guys take after him? Yes, it helps to have a faster pace and a quality point guard so that you get more consistent rewards/dunks, but there are plenty of cookies and easy stat padders for any big man who chooses to bust it up and down the floor.

I LOVED….trying to figure out exactly what I like most about this Kentucky team. I mean, just take a look at this stat sheet. Five players in double figures and no one over 13.5 PPG, three of those players at 6.5 or more boards a game, shooters, big men, ball control – while I like to hate on John Calipari, he’s taken a lot of talent and molded them into a winning machine thus far. More importantly, they seem to have really grown since some of those early games.  Heck, they’re even making 70.5% of their free throws. When that happens with a Calipari squad, you know things are rolling.

Calipari Has Another Great Team This Year

I LOVED….debating whether Saint Mary’s can run the table in the WCC. Mainly I loved typing that sentence and not talking about Gonzaga for once. This league has really worked hard to get some non-Zag recognition, and Saint Mary’s has spearheaded that charge. With the thumping that the Gaels put on the Zags already this year, they certainly have a shot to pull out a rare victory in Spokane. If they get past that one, we could see the first undefeated WCC season since the Zags in 2008-09, and the first non-GU team since who knows when.

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The Doctor Is In The House: Connecticut Edition

Posted by mlemaire on January 31st, 2012

Over the next few weeks we will be diagnosing some of the weaknesses and reasons behind the struggles of some Big East teams. Next up is Connecticut, losers of their last three games and five of their last seven.

When you lose someone as important to your offense and departed star Kemba Walker was to UConn’s offense, there will undoubtedly be some growing pains. But most people thought that the remaining talent on Jim Calhoun’s roster was enough to make them a viable if unlikely contender to repeat as National Champions. But now, on the heels of three straight close losses to supposedly inferior teams, some are beginning to wonder if the young Huskies have enough left in the tank to make the NCAA Tournament at all.

1. The team’s commitment to defense seems to have disappeared.

Since 2003, the Huskies have been a consistent presence among the nation’s leaders in defensive efficiency, having never ranked below #41 overall. This season they currently are ranked #80 in the country in defensive efficiency, despite having not one but two premier shot-blockers and endless amounts of length and athleticism on the wings. The team is second in the conference in field-goal percentage but dead last in the conference in three-point field goal percentage which would seem to mean that the onus is on the Huskies’ perimeter defenders to take away their opponents’ open looks. But a renewed commitment to defense will have to be a team effort. Even if Alex Oriakhi can’t get back to blocking shots at the same rate he did in the past two seasons, the Huskies will still block plenty of shots, so forcing turnovers and closing out on shooters should be two things Calhoun harps on in practice.

Traditionally Excellent, UConn's Defense Hasn't Been Up To Speed This Season.

2. There has not been any consistent offensive post play.

When the highly touted Andre Drummond reclassified and joined UConn in time for the start of this season, pundits and fans alike began salivating over the prospect of having Drummond and Oriakhi playing alongside each other in the middle of UConn’s defense. Not only would they be a two-man block party defensively, but their simultaneous presence would make it difficult for opposing defenses to double-team either of them. Unfortunately, none of that has happened. Drummond is a difference-maker defensively and he has shown flashes offensively, but he remains inconsistent and sometimes timid.

Oriakhi probably deserves his own number in this column as this season has been nothing short of an unmitigated disaster for the junior captain. He was supposed to assume a larger role offensively and blossom into one of the conference’s best big men. Instead he has seen his minutes drop and as a result he is averaging a paltry 6.5 points and 4.9 rebounds per game and has posted just one double-double all season. According to KenPom, the Huskies are the eighth-tallest team in the country, so there should be no reason why they are being outrebounded by Notre Dame‘s undersized bunch.

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