Big East Morning Five: 02.06.12 EditionPosted by Patrick Prendergast on February 6th, 2012
- The Nerlens Noel watch is on. After Noel reclassified to the Class of 2012 last week and disclosed a list of seven schools (Syracuse, Connecticut, Providence, Kentucky, Florida, Georgetown and North Carolina), all eyes have been on the 6’10” center who is now the number one player in his class. CBSSports.com’s Jeff Goodman tweeted last night that Noel will visit Providence this week, Syracuse next weekend, and Kentucky on February 17. Noel made an appearance at the Dunkin Donuts Center yesterday for Providence’s overtime loss against West Virginia, sitting behind the Providence bench next to Friar signee Kris Dunn, transfer Sidiki Johnson, and Kiwi Gardner, who was slated to suit up for Providence this year but was ruled academically ineligible due to a high school transcript issue. Noel was in town for the National Prep School Invitational which was being held about a ten minute drive away at Rhode Island College.
- Just a few short weeks ago Seton Hall enjoyed its first national ranking in 11 years and had its eyes on an NCAA Tournament bid. Flash forward and the Pirates have lost six straight losses and are now reeling. To add injury to insult Seton Hall found out before Saturday’s game (ultimately a 69-46 loss) to Connecticut that they would have to take on the Huskies without star big man Herb Pope. Pope (15.9 PPG, 10.2 RPG) suffered bruised ribs in last Tuesday’s loss to Marquette and did not travel with the team to Connecticut. Pope had not played his best basketball of the season in the five losses leading up to the injury (10.6 PPG, 8.2 RPG during that span), but the Pirates can ill-afford to be without him for very long if they hope to get their season back on track. Seton Hall next heads to Piscataway on Wednesday for a road battle with in-state rival Rutgers.
- Notre Dame jack-of-all-trades point guard Eric Atkins was at his best again Saturday in the Fighting Irish’s systematic dismantling of a talented Marquette team at home. Freshman Pat Connaughton (23 points, 11 rebounds) might have had the best statistical game, but Atkins (18 points, five assists, four rebounds in a team-leading 39 minutes) was right behind him and probably played a more important role. He is easily the team’s most consistent offensive weapon and his decision-making and ball-handling have improved as the season has progressed. He is one of the main reasons the Fighting Irish are staring directly at an NCAA Tournament berth.
- Another man who deserves a tip of the cap for Saturday is much-maligned Connecticut center Alex Oriakhi. First — albeit against a Seton Hall team playing without Pope — Oriakhi matched a season-high in minutes with 28 and chipped in 10 points and eight rebounds as the Huskies got off the schneid. Then, he delivered this quote, which if true, could signal that the team and player still have a lot of fight left in them. Granted the remark came after he received plenty of playing time, but Oriakhi has been disappointing this season and he can still help salvage his year and his reputation by playing well down the stretch. UConn still have plenty of time to turn things around, and Oriakhi setting a new tone (especially for as long as Jim Calhoun is off the sideline) would certainly help.
- You think Tray Woodall has been important to Pittsburgh this season? There is no way he is a better conference MVP candidate than Kevin Jones, but he is in the discussion. Yesterday he went off for a career-high 29 points as the Panthers won their fourth-straight game over Villanova. His team is now 10-3 when Woodall is in the lineup and they are picking up steam at just the right time. To add to the good news, his return seems like it has relieved some pressure from the shoulders of Ashton Gibbs, who looked much more comfortable Sunday and scored 25 points to prove it. The Wildcats aren’t an elite opponent, especially not this season, but at this rate, each and every win should feel good for Pitt.