Big East Opening Weekend: The Good, The Bad, And The UglyPosted by mlemaire on November 12th, 2012
College basketball tipped off Friday and as the weekend drew to a close, all but two Big East teams have played and only two of them lost. From Connecticut’s shocking win over Michigan State to South Florida’s disastrous debut against Central Florida, Big East fans who weren’t able to get to their televisions this weekend missed a lot of good action. Rather than recap each game individually or only focus on some of the games, we figured the best way to get the uninformed up to speed was with a broad look at some of the best and worst from conference programs this weekend.
- Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie’s debut. The first year coach couldn’t have scripted a better start to his career than his team’s gritty 66-62 win over No. 14 Michigan State in Germany. Not only did the rookie head coach beat a legend in Tom Izzo, but his team played with passion and determination, especially considering they don’t have a postseason to look forward to. The good Shabazz Napier (25 points and zero turnovers) showed up for the Huskies and the defense held the Spartans to just 37.5 percent from the field for the game. Ollie isn’t going to earn a long-term contract after one game, but if he can get his team to play that hard all season, he may win over the decision-makers in Storrs.
- Jack Cooley’s first game as Notre Dame’s offensive focal point. The team effort wasn’t great and if it wasn’t for the all-around performance of Cooley (19 points, 11 rebounds, six blocks) the Fighting Irish may have lost their season opener to Evansville. The obvious elephant in the room is that the Aces didn’t have anyone in their frontcourt remotely capable of dealing with Cooley’s size and strength, and that will definitely not be the case every week. But Cooley was ruthlessly efficient, active defensively and on the glass, and smart with the ball in the post. The Fighting Irish will need to be better on the perimeter if they want to meet expectations this season, but it is always nice to have an anchor in the post if they need it.
- Syracuse’s zone defense. It is true that outdoor conditions such as the wind and the sun played a factor, but anytime you can hold a team to 1-of-18 shooting from behind the arc the way Syracuse did to San Diego State yesterday, your zone defense is going to be effective. The Orange may be young and inexperienced, but they are really athletic and long at every position. As Jeff Goodman of CBSSports pointed out, the Orange boasts a starting lineup with no one shorter than 6’4″, and even more length on the bench should coach Jim Boeheim need it. The Orange will go through growing pains offensively as they try to work in so many new players, but their zone defense is so active and tough to pass through, it will be effective from the very beginning as the Aztecs found out quickly yesterday.
- Otto Porter’s Eye Injury. The Hoyas’ best player attempted just two shots, missing them both before leaving the first half of Georgetown’s season-opening win over Duquesne with an apparent eye injury. Fortunately for Georgetown, freshman D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and sophomore forward Mikael Hopkins picked up the slack, chipping in 19 and 13 respectively as the Hoyas hung on to win, 61-55. We are sure the Hoyas will have more information on the severity of Porter’s injury later in the week, but if he is forced to miss significant time or this injury severely hampers his on-court ability, then this injury truly belongs in the “ugly” section. The Hoyas are not deep enough to withstand a major injury to their best player and they can’t expect Smith-Rivera to shoot the lights out every night, so they will need Porter to come back soon and contribute offensively. Regardless of how much time he is forced to miss, it was still a bad injury for a player with high hopes this season.
- Vincent Council’s injury and Providence’s defensive effort. Georgetown isn’t the only conference team to lose a key starter in the early parts of the season opener as the player Providence coach Ed Cooley considers one the best point guards in the country, Council, played just five minutes before leaving due to hamstring injury. Council’s injury may be worse than Porter’s as the senior guard does not have a tear but he is not likely to play in the Friars’ subsequent game against Bryant tonight and he could be held out “indefinitely.” The extent of the injury is still unknown but as long as Council is out, Providence has just six eligible scholarship players and apparently Cooley isn’t wasting any time looking for able-bodied replacements. Of course even without Council the Friars should have had an easier time with the New Jersey Institute of Technology in the season opener. It was the same story as last season for Ed Cooley’s club who once again proved they have a number of legitimate offensive weapons and absolutely no intention of stopping anyone on defense. The Friars eked out a one-point win by allowing the Highlanders to shoot 41 percent from behind the arc. In fact, if the Highlanders hadn’t shot themselves in the foot with so many turnovers, they may have actually won this game. Providence is already in a lot of trouble, but if they don’t do something to shore up that defense, it will be an extremely long season.
- Louisville’s outside shooting. One of the major weaknesses of Louisville that everyone highlighted in the preseason was its stark lack of deadly outside shooters. The Cardinals were hoping that transfer Luke Hancock and sophomore Wayne Blackshear would help alleviate some of those issues but, although Louisville rolled 79-51 in their season opener against Manhattan, consistent outside shooting never materialized. The aforementioned duo made just 3-of-14 from behind the arc and the Cardinals made just 8-of-30 as a team, highlighted by Russ Smith‘s 4-of-13 effort (although he did score 23 points). It was only the first game and many teams across the country struggled shooting the ball this weekend, but every other part of Louisville’s game looked sound and an outside shooting threat seems to be the last remaining puzzle piece. The Jaspers are not a bad team and the Cardinals just suffocated them, collecting 16 steals and forcing 28 turnovers. Now if Louisville can develop Blackshear or Hancock into viable three-point threats, look out for Rick Pitino and this bunch.
- Games on Aircraft Carriers. Can we all agree that this is a great idea in theory that is just too logistically complicated in practice? First the Syracuse and San Diego State game was pushed back two days because of weather issues; then an exciting matchup between Marquette and Ohio State was cancelled because of excessive condensation on the court; then the competitive Florida and Georgetown game was called at halftime due to excessive condensation as well. These games on aircraft carriers exploded after last season’s smashing success at the Carrier Classic and came crashing back to earth this season. Look, we get it, the concept is really cool and it is a treat for fans and players alike. But these cancellations not only cost fans the chance to see some excellent college basketball they would have definitely seen had the game been held indoors, but they also cost the teams involved a chance to pickup an early resume win. Imagine the complaints that Georgetown or Florida or Marquette will have if they are on the bubble and do not get an opportunity for that statement win at the beginning of the season. It is no one’s fault that the weather didn’t cooperate with any of these games, but let’s just all agree to hold one or maybe two well-planned aircraft carrier games per season and forget about the rest, because this gimmick clearly fell flat this time around.
- South Florida’s beatdown at the hands of Central Florida. The South Florida vindication project got off to an inauspicious start as Stan Heath‘s club was roundly thumped by their intra-state counterparts from Orlando. The Knights raced to a 16-point lead in the first half and cruised to victory from there, winning 74-56 while shooting 50 percent from the floor for the game. The Bulls’ defense wasn’t the only letdown. If it wasn’t for an uber-efficient 8-of-11 effort from super-sub Jawanza Poland, the Bulls would have shot just under 28 percent from the field for the game. Now the Knights aren’t the same kind of hapless victim that some of the other Big East teams played, but a team that is projected to finish eighth in the Big East cannot play the way the Bulls played Saturday and expect to win. South Florida cannot possibly shoot that poorly all season and they have the type of athletes to be a much better defensive team than they showed in their opener, but the way they played Saturday should have Bulls’ fans feeling uneasy right now.
- Rutgers’ embarrassing loss to St. Peter’s. It is bad enough to lose your opener in your home building when you are supposed to have the program headed in the right direction. It is even worse when that loss comes at the hands of an in-state opponent, one that is coming off a 5-26 campaign and hadn’t beaten your team since 2007. So you can imagine how Rutgers head coach Mike Rice must feel right now after his young team was stunned at home by St. Peter’s, 56-52. As was the common theme with Big East teams this weekend, shooting woes were the Scarlet Knights’ undoing. Paced by sophomore guard Eli Carter‘s 2-for-12 night from the field, the Scarlet Knights shot just 35.8 percent for the game and made just 2-of-13 from downtown. The good news is that the Scarlet Knights’ frontcourt of Wally Judge and Dane Miller played very well, but the team’s trio of sophomore guards — Carter, Myles Mack, and Jerome Seagears — combined to make just five of their 23 shots. The season is long, and those shooting numbers will normalize as the season gets underway, but Rice could not have asked for a worse start to another year of his rebuilding project.