Checking In On… the Big East ConferencePosted by Brian Goodman on February 13th, 2012
Brian Otskey is the RTC correspondent for the Big East conference. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.
The Week That Was
- Big East Adds Memphis: While conference realignment is unfortunately all about football, the addition of Memphis to the Big East Conference is a boon for basketball. With the league losing Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia, it needed a strong basketball program to limit the damage of three venerable programs departing. Memphis is perhaps the best the Big East could do from a basketball perspective and the Tigers will begin competing in the conference in the 2013-14 academic year. While the Big East cannot replace a program with the stature of Syracuse, Memphis is arguably at least as good, if not better, than Pittsburgh and West Virginia. Temple would be the next logical choice from a basketball perspective but Villanova has long been rumored to be firmly in opposition to the Owls joining the league. Conference realignment is a new reality and won’t end any time soon. Expect some more dominoes to fall over the coming months and years.
- West Virginia Reportedly Settles: Just 36 hours after Memphis joined the Big East, West Virginia reportedly settled with the Big East on an exit agreement, although no official announcement was made. If the Charleston Daily Mail report is correct, West Virginia will leave the Big East on July 1 of this year in order to join the Big 12 Conference. The reported agreement says that WVU will pay the Big East $11 million, with the Big 12 contributing $9 million. Big East bylaws require all member institutions to give 27 months notice before leaving the conference. If the Mountaineers do leave the conference, the Big East will have 15 basketball members for next season (2012-13) before expanding again in the summer of 2013. Of course, West Virginia’s early exit could pave the way for agreements with Syracuse and Pittsburgh, allowing those schools to leave early for the ACC. In a worst-case scenario, the Big East will have 13 basketball teams in 2012-13. One thing is for sure, this story is far from over. Stay tuned.
- NCAA Denies Connecticut’s Waiver Request: In what was another good move by the increasingly tough NCAA, the governing body denied a request by Connecticut to retain eligibility for the 2013 NCAA Tournament in exchange for self-imposed penalties. Those penalties included forfeiting revenue and playing a shorter schedule. The Huskies would not quality for next year’s tournament because of their low APR rating, below the four-year minimum requirement of 900 or two-year average of 930. UConn will appeal the decision, one that, if denied, could have a huge effect on the basketball program in Storrs. Will Jim Calhoun stick around? Will recruits want to come there and knowingly sit out a year? Many questions still need to be answered as the Connecticut basketball program enters a period of uncertainty.
- Win Number 880 for Jim Boeheim: The Syracuse legend now stands alone in third place on the all-time Division I wins list behind Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and Bob Knight after Syracuse beat Georgetown last week. Number 880 is one better than Dean Smith, a legend in his own right at North Carolina. While it is unlikely that Boeheim can catch Krzyzewski since both will keep winning, the Orange coach can pass Knight early next season, especially if Syracuse goes on a deep NCAA Tournament run. It’s so rare to see an athlete or a coach stay at one school for his entire career in sports these days but that’s exactly what Boeheim has done. The Hall of Famer has been at Syracuse as a coach since 1969 and played for the Orange from 1962-66. What a truly remarkable career spanning 50 years (and still going strong).
- Syracuse (25-1, 12-1) – The Orange dispatched their chief rivals in the Big East, Georgetown and Connecticut, in vastly different ways last week. Against the Hoyas, Syracuse needed overtime to put away a team that out-rebounded them 48-30 and slowed the pace to limit SU’s transition attack. Kris Joseph led Syracuse with a career-high 29 points and Fab Melo had six blocks as the Orange won by three in the extra session. Neither team played well, but Jim Boeheim picked up his 880th career win, moving ahead of Dean Smith and into sole possession of third place on the all-time list. Against Connecticut, the Orange broke open a close game in the second half with a 22-6 game-ending run. Syracuse shot much better (59%), including a scorching 63% from beyond the arc. Dion Waiters and C.J. Fair combined for 32 points and 16 rebounds off the bench while Scoop Jardine added 21 points on 8-of-9 shooting. It seems like Joseph is emerging as the go-to guy for this team, a question that had yet to be answered for the better part of the season. Syracuse faces a quick turnaround with a Big Monday game at Louisville, a team that has beaten them seven consecutive times. This week: 2/13 @ Louisville, 2/19 @ Rutgers.
- Marquette (21-5, 10-3) – This team continues to dig early holes but has an incredible knack for climbing back in a big way. Marquette was down 41-29 at DePaul on Monday before going on a 27-5 run spanning halftime to take control of the game. On Saturday, MU was down early yet again (16-4) to Cincinnati but climbed back in and routed the Bearcats from then on. Marquette isn’t a great team but in a year with a lot of mediocrity, the Golden Eagles stand out because they continue to get the job done. This is a dangerous team because it can flip the switch at any time and now has a ton of experience playing from behind. Jamil Wilson has stepped up nicely now that Davantae Gardner has joined Chris Otule on the sidelines. Wilson posted a double-double (18/10) on 8-of-11 FG in the win at DePaul and followed that up with 15 points against Cincinnati. Darius Johnson-Odom scored 23 points in both MU games last week, continuing to tag team with Jae Crowder (37 points last week). Junior Cadougan is playing a steady point guard and Vander Blue is stepping up to make some contributions of his own. With Gardner and Otule out, Marquette will run, run and run some more. You can’t win a track meet with the Golden Eagles unless you’re an elite team like North Carolina or Syracuse. Any guy on this team can beat you on any given night and that’s what makes Marquette so dangerous. This team still has to do a better job on the defensive end but that’s a relatively minor concern right now for a team that has won nine of its last 10 games. This week: 2/18 @ Connecticut.
- Georgetown (19-5, 9-4) – It wasn’t pretty but the Hoyas nearly knocked off Syracuse on the road last week. Georgetown slowed down the game just enough and controlled the boards, limiting the potent Orange fast break machine. Georgetown shot only 33% for the game but forced overtime and fell just short of a massive upset. Freshman Otto Porter continued his solid play, posting 14 points and 13 boards while Hollis Thompson added 10 and 10. If it wasn’t for Henry Sims’ 1-of-12 FG performance, Georgetown likely would have won the game. The Hoyas rebounded from that tough loss with a win over St. John’s on Sunday, one that was tougher than anticipated. The Red Storm hung around for most of the game with the final margin of 10 being Georgetown’s biggest lead of the game. Porter had another strong outing (11/8) while Greg Whittington surprised with 12 points off the bench. Nate Lubick had an interesting line, posting seven points, eight rebounds, five assists and four blocks. The Hoyas rank top five in the nation in defensive efficiency and only one of their last five opponents have broken the 70 point barrier. Georgetown gets a bit of a break this week with only one game at a struggling Providence team. This week: 2/18 @ Providence.
- Notre Dame (17-8, 9-3) – Mike Brey and the Irish continue to impress, now winners of their last six games after another pair of victories last week. The most impressive was a come from behind win on the road at West Virginia. Notre Dame took control late in the game with three consecutive triples and held on for the quality road win. Jack Cooley had a terrific week, scoring 43 points and grabbing 26 rebounds in ND’s two wins. Scott Martin continued to shoot the basketball well, hitting 5-of-7 shots against the Mountaineers. In a Saturday win over DePaul, the Fighting Irish shot 60% and dominated the glass (31-20) playing at a pace faster than they’d like to. Jerian Grant scored 22 points against the Blue Demons as Brey continues to get big games out of different players on any given night. Notre Dame should be favored in five of its final six games and has the chance to post a gaudy Big East record heading into March. This week: 2/15 vs. Rutgers, 2/18 @ Villanova.
- Louisville (20-5, 8-4) – Louisville has now won six straight games heading into a Monday night showdown with #2 Syracuse at the YUM! Center. Freshman standout Wayne Blackshear saw his first action of the season on Saturday at West Virginia and didn’t disappoint. Back on the floor after a shoulder injury, Blackshear played 20 minutes and scored 13 points for the Cardinals in the win. Blackshear’s return adds quality depth to a rotation that is getting healthier, having been ravaged by injuries yet again this season. Rick Pitino has this team 20-5 and playing really good basketball heading into the stretch run. The Cardinals destroyed Connecticut last Monday night and their depth showed with nine players recording points in the game. Peyton Siva had nine assists to just two turnovers in that game and Chane Behanan continues to be a force on the glass alongside shot blocker Gorgui Dieng in the paint. Louisville shot the three ball really well last week, going 44% against UConn and 46% against WVU. If Pitino teams start making threes, they’re awfully tough to beat. Louisville has won seven straight games against Syracuse and will look to make it eight in front of what will be a raucous crowd on Monday evening. This week: 2/13 vs. #2 Syracuse, 2/18 @ DePaul.
- Cincinnati (17-8, 7-5) – The Bearcats remain above .500 in league play but still have a lot of work to do in order to make the NCAA Tournament. Cincinnati is being plagued by an RPI just under 90 despite quality road wins at Georgetown and Connecticut in addition to a home win over Notre Dame. The problem is strength of schedule (#331 out of conference) and, unfortunately, that’s not something the Bearcats can change. They just need to keep winning and trying to get to 11-7 in conference. Cincinnati shot 52% in a blowout win over St. John’s at Madison Square Garden. The Bearcats were +24 on the glass, helping to overcome 16 turnovers. The normally solid Cincy defense wasn’t there on Saturday against Marquette as the Golden Eagles scored 95 points on 57% shooting. Cincinnati couldn’t get anything going from deep (23%) and Yancy Gates failed to have a big game against a depleted Marquette front line. Cincinnati can’t slip up against Providence this Wednesday before hosting Seton Hall in a bubbleicious affair on Saturday. This week: 2/15 vs. Providence, 2/18 vs. Seton Hall.
- South Florida (15-10, 8-4) – Give them credit, the Bulls are taking care of business against the lower half of the league. South Florida has won eight Big East games but only one has come against a team I have rated in the top eight (#8 Seton Hall). That fact plus a non-conference performance in which their best win was against Cleveland State, is holding the Bulls out of the NCAA Tournament picture. South Florida has a shot but I think it must reach at least 11-7 in league play. The Bulls can do that if they win their three remaining home games (Villanova, Cincinnati, West Virginia) or steal a win on the road (Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Louisville). South Florida shot 61% in a home win over Pitt last week led by Hugh Robertson’s 18 points on 7-of-7 FG. Augustus Gilchrist added 10 points in the win. USF won at Providence on Saturday, overcoming a five-point deficit with just over two minutes to play. Shaun Noriega came off the bench and played only one minute in the entire game but he made two threes in those 60 seconds of action to lead USF to the victory. Victor Rudd had a double-double (11/10) as well. This week: 2/15 vs. Villanova, 2/19 @ Pittsburgh.
- Seton Hall (17-8, 6-7) – With their backs against the wall, the Pirates responded with two much-needed wins this week. Seton Hall had to win both games against Rutgers and Pittsburgh just to get back on the winning track but, more importantly, to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive. The Pirates did just that and have stabilized their situation for the moment with three of their final five games at home. It wasn’t pretty but, led by Jordan Theodore’s 24 points and a late dagger triple by Aaron Cosby sealed the win for the Hall. Cosby led the way again in a Sunday win over Pittsburgh, scoring a career-high 19 points on 5-of-9 shooting from beyond the arc. Theodore scored 15 points and dropped nine dimes while Herb Pope went for 19 points and 14 rebounds. Seton Hall shot 45%, its best percentage since a win over DePaul on January 10. As they’ve done to point guards like Shabazz Napier and Truck Bryant, the Pirates limited Tray Woodall to 2of-10 from the floor. Seton Hall faces another must-win against St. John’s before going on the road to face Cincinnati in what will be a big game for both teams this Saturday. This week: 2/14 vs. St. John’s, 2/18 @ Cincinnati.
- West Virginia (16-10, 6-7) – Having lost five of their last six games, the Mountaineers need to pick it up in a hurry. WVU has 10 losses and is not a solid lock for the NCAA Tournament even though the bubble is very weak. The Mountaineers lost twice last week, blowing late leads in each game. Against Notre Dame, WVU couldn’t stop the Irish from deep in the final minutes and fell in a low-possession game. On Saturday against Louisville, West Virginia went scoreless for a key five minute stretch very late in the game and lost to the Cardinals. The Mountaineers missed 10 free throws in that game and Kevin Jones’ 22/11 wasn’t enough. Truck Bryant went 3-of-17 from the floor and Deniz Kilicli stopped scoring in the second half. Jones has been terrific for Bob Huggins but the coach needs production from others if West Virginia is going to start winning again and make a run at the postseason. Jabarie Hinds went 8-of-12 from the field for 17 points against Louisville but Bryant was 0-of-6. Inconsistency from the senior Bryant and the freshmen on this team is making life difficult for West Virginia. It’s excusable for the freshmen but Bryant simply has to be better as a senior. The Mountaineers play round two of the Backyard Brawl at Pittsburgh this week, yet another rivalry negatively impacted by the conference realignment circus. West Virginia settled with the Big East this past week and looks to be headed to the Big 12 next season after all. This week: 2/16 @ Pittsburgh.
- Connecticut (15-9, 5-7) – The Huskies are coming apart at the seams. UConn played well for the majority of the game at Syracuse on Saturday but couldn’t stop the Orange down the stretch, losing for the sixth time in seven games. In fact, Connecticut is just 3-8 in calendar year 2012 after going 12-1 in November and December. This team didn’t play with any passion in a loss at Louisville last Monday as Andre Drummond was held scoreless, Jeremy Lamb was limited to seven points and the team was embarrassed on national television. They played better against Syracuse but couldn’t get a stop. The Orange shot 59% and 18 points from Lamb wasn’t nearly enough for the Huskies to pull off the upset. This team faces severe chemistry issues and has a leadership void. I wouldn’t call UConn done yet but they’re flirting with disaster. Four of their final six games are at home so the Huskies do have some time to get back on the right track before it’s too late. Kemba Walker isn’t walking through that door anytime soon. This week: 2/15 vs. DePaul, 2/18 vs. #17 Marquette.
- Pittsburgh (15-11, 4-9) – After two disappointing losses last week, Pittsburgh now has to win out and do something major in the Big East Tournament in order to make the NCAA Tournament. Jamie Dixon’s team lost twice on the road to South Florida and Seton Hall last week, two games I felt they needed to win in order to keep their NCAA dream alive. The Panthers simply can’t defend this year. South Florida shot 61% in a low-possession game while Seton Hall put up 73 points, the Pirates’ highest total in almost a month. Pitt shot only 35% against the Bulls and wasted a 26-point effort from Ashton Gibbs against Seton Hall. Tray Woodall shot only 2-of-10 against the Pirates as the Hall’s game plan was to take him out of the game. When Woodall doesn’t play well, this team usually doesn’t win. Pitt has two home games this week but it’s going to be too little, too late for the Panthers at this point. This week: 2/16 vs. West Virginia, 2/19 vs. South Florida.
- Rutgers (12-13, 4-8) – The Scarlet Knights played once last week and lost a tough game at home to in-state rival Seton Hall, their fifth straight loss to the Pirates at the RAC. Mike Poole had a nice game with 14 points but Eli Carter wasn’t efficient (4-12 FG) and Myles Mack was awful (0-9 FG) against the Hall. With such a young and inexperienced team, the Scarlet Knights didn’t close the game out and didn’t exhibit the toughness needed to win a close rivalry game. Things don’t get any easier for Rutgers this week, a team that has lost six of its last eight games. This week: 2/15 @ Notre Dame, 2/19 vs. #2 Syracuse.
- Villanova (11-13, 4-8) – If there’s one positive to take out of this lost season on the Main Line, it has to be the play of JayVaughn Pinkston. He went for 28/14 in a comeback win against Providence in Villanova’s only game of the week. The Wildcats rallied from a 19-point second half deficit to stun the Friars at the Pavilion. Mouphtaou Yarou had 17 points and eight boards as well, the kind of interior production that Jay Wright has been begging for all season. Even in a win, there was bad news. Maalik Wayns sprained the MCL in his left knee in the Providence game and is listed as day-to-day. James Bell stepped up in Wayns’ absence, dishing out eight assists against PC after his teammate went down. Villanova has two tough but winnable games this week, two chances to get back to respectability. This week: 2/15 @ South Florida, 2/18 vs. Notre Dame.
- St. John’s (10-15, 4-9) – You have to feel for Steve Lavin and acting coach Mike Dunlap. The Johnnies are down to six scholarship players after Malik Stith suddenly left the team last week, citing personal reasons. Stith will remain at St. John’s as a student and will contribute to the basketball program in unspecified ways going forward. St. John’s was blown out by Cincinnati at home but played Georgetown tough on the road on Sunday. D’Angelo Harrison had a nice week, scoring 15 points against Cincy before dropping 24 on the Hoyas in DC. Moe Harkless added 20 points for the Red Storm, who stayed within single digits of Georgetown for the better part of the game. This week: 2/14 @ Seton Hall, 2/18 vs. UCLA.
- Providence (13-13, 2-11) – Providence plays well in spurts but this week was a microcosm of its season. The Friars held a 19-point second half lead at Villanova before blowing it and were up by five with 2:30 to play at home against South Florida before losing that game by seven points. Bryce Cotton had 20 points against the Wildcats but went cold against USF (1-9 from deep). Providence shot only 31% against the Bulls’ strong defense and was out-rebounded by 12. Vincent Council continued his solid play with 16 points against South Florida. Council is one of the best players in the country that not many people know about. As Providence gets better in the coming years, more people will get to see just how good of a player this guy is. This week: 2/15 @ Cincinnati, 2/18 vs. #10 Georgetown.
- DePaul (11-13, 2-10) – For a moment last Monday night, I actually thought DePaul could pull off the upset and beat Marquette. That was until Marquette went on a 27-5 run to put the Blue Demons away. DePaul was up 41-29 at one point but suddenly went cold at the end of the first half. That loss was DePaul’s 36th consecutive defeat at the hands of a ranked opponent. There was a scary moment in the first half when Moses Morgan took a head first fall and left the game with a concussion. Morgan had fainted in practice recently as well, making the incident all the more frightening. Morgan didn’t play in Saturday’s loss to Notre Dame and Oliver Purnell is going to proceed cautiously as you might imagine. The Blue Demons, led by Jeremiah Kelly and Cleveland Melvin, actually played well at Notre Dame but couldn’t play a lick of defense. Notre Dame shot 60% in its win. DePaul is scoring a lot of points but Purnell’s style of play also gives up a ton. It’s a slow process but Purnell is doing a nice job with this moribund program. This week: 2/15 @ Connecticut, 2/18 vs. Louisville.
- Monday, 2/13: #2 Syracuse @ Louisville – Rick Pitino and his Cardinals have knocked off Syracuse seven consecutive times since a loss on February 18, 2006, Louisville’s first season as a Big East member. Could another upset be in the Cards?
- Thursday, 2/16: West Virginia @ Pittsburgh – Losers in five of their past six games, West Virginia needs to turn it around quickly. That’ll be tough to do with three of their final five on the road, starting here against their rival.
- Saturday, 2/18: #17 Marquette @ Connecticut – UConn has lost six of seven and eight of 11 in the year 2012. The Huskies have to find a way to 9-9 in order to make the NCAA Tournament and a quality win over the Golden Eagles could give them the spark they desperately need.
- Saturday, 2/18: Seton Hall @ Cincinnati – The Pirates are back in the NCAA picture after winning twice last week. This is shaping up to be a pivotal bubble game between two teams with vastly different tournament resumes.
- Sunday, 2/19: South Florida @ Pittsburgh – The Bulls have to win twice this week against Villanova and here at Pittsburgh in order to keep any NCAA hope alive. USF has an impressive Big East record but seven of its eight conference wins have come against teams ranked 11th or lower in this week’s power rankings. With a horrid non-conference resume, the Bulls have to get to at least 11 (and maybe 12) Big East wins to have a chance.
Caught On Film
DePaul’s Moses Morgan took this scary fall in the first half of last Monday’s game against Marquette. Morgan left the game with a concussion and missed DePaul’s game with Notre Dame this past Saturday. We hope Morgan isn’t seriously hurt and gets back on the court soon. This could have been much worse.