Big East Morning Five: 02.22.12 Edition
Posted by Patrick Prendergast on February 22nd, 2012
- Not many have noticed but South Florida is having a fine season at 17-10 overall and 10-4 in the Big East. The ten conference wins are already good for a school record. The Bulls do not play the sexiest brand of basketball (Sports Illustrated’s suimsuit issue is on newstands now however), preferring to slow the pace, use their bulk and shut opponents down with stifling defense, but head coach Stan Heath has his squad positioning itself for an NCAA tournament bid. But there’s a problem. Not only do most bracketologists and pundits have South Florida out of field, they have them solidly on the uphill side of the bubble, citing a lack of quality wins coupled with resume marring losses to Penn State and Old Dominion. However, as CBSSports.com’s Jeff Goodman points out, South Florida’s body of work is not as it appears on the surface. Injuries and suspensions to key players in the early part of the season have led to a late jelling for the Bulls. Augustus Gilchrist (3) and Jawanza Poland (11) missed a combined 14 games. However freshman point guard Anthony Collins has perhaps provided the greatest impact. As Goodman notes, Collins missed the first five games of the season, including the previously mentioned losses and has played in all of his team’s conference games. A team like South Florida who plays a half court style needs a steady point guard to run the offense and do the little things that win games. Collins fits the bill, shooting 47.4% from the field and 84.2% percent from the line while averaging 5.3 assists per game, which is good for sixth in the league. Even with the season winding down, South Florida will have plenty of chances to track down those elusive quality wins as they take on Syracuse, Cincinnati, Louisville, and West Virginia in their last four regular season games.
- Chris Obekpa, one of the most sought after class of 2012 recruits among Big East schools will resume his conference tour today when he visits Cincinnati. Obekpa, a 6’8″ center from New York’s Our Savior New American will spend three days on campus and attend the Bearcats’ game tomorrow against Louisville. Cincinnati will have two scholarships open for next year and has yet to fill either one. Obekpa is viewed as the Bearcats primary target up front, but head coach Mick Cronin has his work cut out for him. Conference foes Connecticut, DePaul, Georgetown, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John’s, and West Virginia are all vying for the big man’s services as are a number of schools outside of the Big East. Obekpa has been busy. He visited Connecticut on Saturday afternoon, taking in the Huskies’ game against Marquette then attending Providence’s home loss to Georgetown later that evening. Providence head coach Ed Cooley and associate head coach Andre LaFleur were in attendance for Obekpa’s game last night.
- There has been much speculation around when Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun, who has been out on medical leave since February 3 due to a condition called spinal stenosis, will return to the Huskies’ bench. We could learn more as early as today when Calhoun meets with his doctor to assess the situation. “We might make a decision then,” the coach told the Hartford Courant yesterday. Calhoun also indicated he is still experiencing “a lot” of lower back pain and season-ending surgery remains a possibility. Coming off an emotional comeback overtime win against Villanova on Monday, the Huskies are clinging to slim NCAA tournament hopes and would love nothing more than to have their coach back for Saturday’s huge home contest versus #2 Syracuse.
- It is always great to have options. While the argument can certainly be made that Notre Dame lacks depth, when it comes down to crunch time head coach Mike Brey knows he can count on a number of his players to deliver. Notre Dame has not squandered leads late while displaying the ability to steal victory from the clutches of defeat as evidenced by their comeback overtime win over Villanova (this is a recording) on Saturday where sophomore Jerian Grant and freshman Pat Connaughton shook off tough early shooting displays to hit key threes down the stretch and in the extra period. Brey has also praised the close-and-late play of another sophomore, Eric Atkins. Atkins, along with Grant, gained valuable experience in practice as freshmen going up against the starters in late game situational simulations, often coming out on top. Further, there has been the consistent play of junior forward Jack Cooley who rose to the occasion and had one of his best games of the season in Notre Dame’s upset of then undefeated and #1 Syracuse. “I love the fact that when we’re in game situations, we’ve really been good,” Brey told the Chicago Tribune. “If you want to keep playing in March in both tournaments, it’s going to come up again. That identity, that (at) the under-4-minute media timeout it’s ‘our time’ — that’s a heck of a thing.”
- If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, and it ain’t broke in Syracuse. Jim Boeheim has been Syracuse’s head coach for 36 seasons. If he has not been playing zone since he started it certainly seems like it. Further, nobody has been able to figure the zone out yet, so why change now? For this reason alone it is curious that Sports Illustrated’s Michael Rosenberg asked Boeheim why he has not considered switching to man-to-man. We will give Rosenberg the benefit of the doubt and assume he asked just to elicit a vintage Boeheim response. So good job Michael because Boeheim did not disappoint. “If you’re a man-to-man coach and the other team hits three or four shots, do you take timeout and go to zone?” Boeheim mused. “Of course not. So, I’m a zone coach. Am I supposed to take timeout and go to man? Why would I do that? It doesn’t make sense. We’re a zone team.”