Big East Weekly Five: 05.09.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on May 9th, 2012

  1. John Marinatto’s tumultuous three-year run as Big East commissioner ended on Monday when he tendered his resignation. Marinatto’s departure, which reportedly came at the request of member school presidents, puts the already unsteady Big East on even more tenuous ground as the newly realigned and super-sized conference may find itself once again in the cross hairs of other media exposure hungry leagues.  Joseph Bailey, III, the former CEO of the Miami Dolphins, was named interim commissioner. Expect the Big East to move quickly to name a permanent leader, and that person will have to be ready to work under pressure given the fact he or she will be faced with stabilizing the membership and bringing home an extremely important television deal this fall. Whether justified or not, Marinatto will get most of the blame publicly for the current state of the conference. The argument can certainly be made that he lacked the leadership ability and negotiation skills necessary to see the Big East through the landscape changes that faced him, but some of his presidents and so-called allies did not set Marinatto up for success when they led the refusal of a reported $1.2 billion dollar television contract extension with ESPN. That helped to put the conference in a vulnerable position when it subsequently booked to other leagues in search of bigger dollars.
  2. Notre Dame and Tim Abromaitis learned last week that the star forward will not be granted a rare sixth year of eligibility. Abromaitis, who will not appeal, appeared in just two games for the Fighting Irish last season after sitting out a four-game NCAA suspension and before suffering a season-ending ACL tear. The 6’8” Abromaitis, who averaged 13.7 points and 4.8 rebounds in South Bend, continues to rehabilitate his surgically repaired knee and intends to pursue a professional basketball career. Should hoops not work out, Abromaitis has solid credentials to fall back on as he holds both undergraduate and MBA degrees from Notre Dame.  Mike Brey and the Irish basketball program await a decision on another sixth-year eligibility applicant, Scott Martin, who sat out two years ago due to transfer (from Purdue) in addition to missing last season with a torn ACL of his own.
  3. Connecticut picked up some much-needed good news on the recruiting front as it gained a commitment from Phillip Nolan, a 6’10” power forward from Milwaukee. Nolan, who is ranked 118th nationally by Rivals.com, may be an under-the-radar catch as he played in just six games (transfer), averaging 12.3 points per outing, for Milwaukee’s Riverside University High School this past season. The shortened campaign came about because before enrolling at Riverside, Nolan spent his first two seasons at Vincent High School followed by stops at a pair of prep schools. Nolan will have a great opportunity at immediate playing time on the heels of the much publicized frontcourt departures of transfers Alex Oriakhi, Roscoe Smith and Michael Bradley along with early NBA draft entrant Andre Drummond.
  4. Providence will enjoy ESPN’s sixth-rated recruiting class next season but Ed Cooley has refused to rest on his laurels as he continues to search for a big man to join the group. After losing out to conference rival St. John’s in the race for highly-regarded forwards JaKarr Sampson and Orlando Sanchez, this year’s recruiting crop still has a vacancy. Cooley scored a front line talent for the 2013-14 season when he received a commitment from seven-foot transfer Carson Desrosiers. Desrosiers played his first two years at Wake Forest and averaged 4.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 31 games as a part-time starter for the Demon Deacons. Desrosiers considered the Friars coming out of Massachusetts’ Central Catholic High School before opting to head south to the ACC.  He will have two years of eligibility after sitting out next season under NCAA transfer rules.
  5. In other transfer news, we noted here last week that Arizona State transfer and last year’s leading scorer Trent Lockett was fast becoming a person of high interest for Marquette. Well it seems the feeling was mutual as Lockett, a 6’4” guard who averaged 13.0 points and 5.8 rebounds for the Sun Devils as a junior, will in fact transfer to play for Buzz Williams in Milwaukee. Lockett is eligible to play for Marquette next season and will be a welcome addition to a lineup that will be looking to replace the production of the departed Darius Johnson-Odom and Big East Player of the Year Jae Crowder. As with Providence, Wake Forest supplied another Big East school with a transfer as guard Tony Chennault, a native Philadelphian, will be heading home to attend Villanova after two years in Winston-Salem. Chennault played 31.2 minutes per game last season, averaging 9.0 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 2.8 assists, but elected to transfer to be closer to his mother who has been dealing with health issues. To that end, Chennault is seeking a waiver that will allow him to play for the Wildcats in the 2012-13 season.
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Big East Weekly Five: 05.01.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on May 1st, 2012

  1. Coaching changes, along with transfers and recruiting, typically round out the top three themes of most college basketball off-seasons. Well, two out of three ain’t bad. While transfers and recruiting have been prevalent, it has been a slow couple of years in the coaching change department for the Big East. In fact, Ed Cooley taking over at Providence last year represents the lone men’s basketball head coaching change the conference has undergone during that time. Connecticut’s Jim Calhoun has not made it official publicly but, assuming his health permits, it would be a surprise at this point not to see him back. That would leave the conference with no changes at the top this year. Not only do all of the current coaches appear to be secure at the moment but no athletic director would fire a head coach of a high-profile basketball program in late April or early May, right Seth Greenberg? Given this stability, and the name involved, it became a pretty big story when former Louisville assistant Richard Pitino was hired away from his father’s Louisville staff by Florida International University to be their head coach.  To fill the void left by the younger Pitino’s departure, head coach and proud papa Rick Pitino hired former Xavier assistant Kareem Richardson as an assistant coach. Richardson spent one year on Chris Mack’s staff following three years as an assistant at Drake.
  2. St. John’s and Steve Lavin continued their spring recruiting bonanza this week while at the same time scoring their second re-commitment of the year when 6’4” shooting guard Darrick Wood opted once again for the Red Storm. Wood originally signed with St. John’s as a member of the 2011 class, but headed back to Bridgton (ME) Academy and re-opened his recruitment after being found academically ineligible to play in college.  Recent St. John’s re-commit, JaKarr Sampson, followed a similar path. Joining Wood and Sampson thus far in Steve Lavin’s 2012 haul are Monroe (Junior) College teammates: forward/center Orlando Center and guard Marco Bourgault, Texas A&M transfer guard Jamal Branch, sharp-shooting Harvard transfer Max Hooper and high school guard Felix Balamou.  As presently constituted, St. John’s has one remaining scholarship available for next year’s roster.
  3. Seemingly every other minute these days we read about another player transferring, but it was real news when Michael Gbinije, who played last season at Duke, announced he was heading to Syracuse. Jim Boeheim has coached the Orange for 36 years and Gbinije represents just the sixth player to transfer in from a four-year college. A 6’7” guard/forward, Gbinije played in 19 games for the Blue Devils averaging 1.7 points and 5.8 minutes per contest. He was a highly rated class of 2011 recruit, ranked 29th by ESPN.com and 35th by Rivals.com, coming out of Virginia’s Benedictine High School. Interestingly once Gbinije is able to suit up for Syracuse in 2013-14 after sitting out next season under NCAA transfer rules he will have pulled off another rare feat by transferring within the same conference given that Syracuse will be part of the ACC by that time.
  4. There are so many wonderful and encouraging aspects to today’s technology. The subject matter of this item is not an example one of them. Once it became public that one of the more high-profile transfers of this off-season, Connecticut forward Alex Oriakhi, was headed to Missouri he received a number of profane, violent and hate-filled texts and tweets. Messages not only from bitter Connecticut fans but also from schools that lost out on Oriakhi as a transfer. In one instance, as reported by Yahoo! Sports, Oriakhi shared a series of texts he received from one particularly barbaric, and spelling-challenged, Connecticut fan. Unfortunately the overall ignorance level and narrow-mindedness of people has not declined in-kind as technology has advanced. It is clear that the term smartphone is more indicative of the device as opposed to many of its owners. #timetowakeuppeople
  5. Marquette’s roster for next season now has a couple of late openings. Following the release of 2012 signee Aaron Durley from his letter of intent it was reported that sophomore forward Jamail Jones will transfer out of the program. Durley, a 6’10” center from Fort Bend Bush High School in Texas who signed with the Golden Eagles in November has already verbally committed to Texas Christian University. The 6’6” Jones averaged 1.5 points and 1.2 rebounds per game in his two years with Marquette. Arizona State transfer and last year’s leading scorer, Trent Lockett, is emerging as a high priority to fill one of Buzz Williams’ open spots. Williams also has the ‘Now Hiring’ sign up on his door as he lost his associate head coach, Tony Benford, who was hired last week to be the head coach at North Texas.
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Big East Weekly Five: 04.24.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on April 24th, 2012

  1. With three weeks having passed since Kentucky snipped the nets in victory we here at RTC Big East are officially in withdrawal and already cannot wait until the 2012-13 season tips off.  However, we understand that things tend to slow down a bit over the summer months and will just have to cope. That said there will continue to be plenty to discuss from week-to-week so we are happy to introduce the Big East Weekly Five.  Think of it as the Morning Five’s lazy cousin. You know, that cousin who doesn’t show up as much as some of the other relatives, but always seems to grace you with his presence if there is free beer?  The Weekly Five will continue throughout the summer and its goal is to provide similar content as the Big East Morning Fives that you have come know and cherish. In keeping with the desire of many to slim down for summer, there will just be less of us to love.  Still, just because we are getting lean and mean does not mean cutting back on the Fresca!
  2. Recruiting is the name of the game in the spring and summer, especially if you are St. John’s head coach Steve Lavin who coming into the weekend had five open scholarships for next year burning a hole in his pocket. What a difference a few days makes as Lavin and St. John’s scored three solid commitments when Harvard transfer Max Hooper joined Monroe (junior) College teammates Marco Bourgault and Orlando Sanchez in pledging for the Red Storm. All three players were on the Queens campus over the weekend — Lavin just needed to seal the deal. Bourgault and Hooper are shooters who will be tasked to help St. John’s stretch the floor with their ability to hit it from deep. The 6’6” Bourgault averaged 10.9 points per game for Monroe and made 42% of his three-point attempts. Hooper, also 6’6”, appeared in just two games while at Harvard and did not make the only shot he attempted. Fittingly both shooters will have three years of eligibility, although Hooper will have to first sit out a season under NCAA transfer rules. The 6’9″ Sanchez may represent Lavin’s biggest coup of the week as he fought off Big East rival Providence and the always persistent Ed Cooley in a battle for the big man. Sanchez will have two years of eligibility remaining.
  3. Seton Hall appears to have filled the significant void vacated by graduating star point guard Jordan Theodore as Texas transfer and Seton Hall Prep alum Sterling Gibbs will be coming home to suit up for the Pirates. The addition of Gibbs solidifies Seton Hall’s lead guard position, but the real kicker for head coachKevin Willard is that he may have Gibbs at the controls this coming season. Gibbs has applied for a hardship waiver that, if granted, would allow him to avoid sitting out next season per normal NCAA transfer rules.  The basis for the hardship waiver request is reported to be a family member’s illness. In Gibbs’ freshman season in Austin, he played in 30 games averaging 2.6 points and 0.7 assists in 7.5 minutes per game for the Longhorns.
  4. While players appear to be headed to St. John’s in droves, the exit door at Connecticut is getting an intense workout. Faced with the reality of not being allowed to play in next season’s Big East and NCAA Tournaments due to his program’s failure to meet NCAA Academic Progress Rate (APR) standards, sophomore forward Roscoe Smith became the latest to leave the program when he indicated he will transfer over the weekend. Smith, who averaged 4.4 points and 3.4 rebounds in 18.2 minutes per game this past season, joins fellow transfers Alex Oriakhi, who has since committed to Missouri, and Michael Bradley, along with Andre Drummond and Jeremy Lamb who declared for the NBA Draft.  Bradley, however, may ultimately opt to remain in Storrs as his primary reason for requesting a release from his scholarship is to explore options around moving closer to his ill grandmother.  The 6’10″ forward was scheduled to meet head coachJim Calhoun yesterday to discuss his future.
  5. The NCAA defended its position on Academic Progress Rate (APR) guidelines when it responded to a letter written by six members of Connecticut’s legislature that said banning the Huskies from NCAA Tournament play next year represented too harsh a penalty. The crux of the letter echoed the university’s appeal-losing position, stating that the APR calculations are not fair because they incorporate performance dating back four years when no one on the current roster was on the team. NCAA spokesman Bob Williams countered that the standards have been in place since 2006 and Connecticut knew the standard by which they and all other schools and teams were being measured.

You May Not Have College Hoops For Awhile, But You Can Always Have Fresca

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Big East Morning Five: 04.02.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on April 2nd, 2012

  1. Congratulations to Louisville for their tremendous run through the Big East and NCAA Tournaments. A run that culminated with Saturday’s national semifinal 69-61 loss to in-state rival Kentucky. This was a team that battled injuries all year long but persevered and peaked at the right time. Losing is always tough, and we are sure this one stung Rick Pitino on some level, especially since it came to Kentucky and John Calipari. However Pitino understands what was, somewhat improbably, accomplished by his team this year and genuinely chose to reflect on the positive. “They made me really, really proud,” Pitino said. He then added, “I told the guys … `I’m celebrating a season where we worked around the clock, around injuries and everything else. If you guys don’t celebrate and have good, clean fun, you’re fools. ‘Because I think there’s only been eight (other Louisville) teams that got to the Final Four in the history of the one of the greatest traditions and they did it.”
  2. There could be an official change to the holiday calendar in one area of the country as Noel will come on April 11 this year to either Lexington, Syracuse, or Washington, D.C. Noel, as in center Nerlens Noel and the number one prospect in the class of 2012, who said yesterday that he will announce his college choice on April 11.  The three finalists in the Noel sweepstakes are Kentucky, Syracuse, and Georgetown. “It’s time to end this and make a decision,” Noel told the media in New Orleans yesterday after he played in the All-American Championship game. Kentucky, who will vie for a national title tonight, is widely believed to be the favorite but Noel said tonight’s result will not impact his decision.
  3. Providence bolstered its highly ranked recruiting class when guard Ian Baker gave head coach Ed Cooley a verbal commitment. Baker is a native of Washington, D.C. who prepped for the last two years at Jacksonville, FL powerhouse Arlington Country Day. This is an interesting turn of events for both Providence and Baker. There existed mutual interest between the two last summer, but the courtship, logically, seemed to end when highly touted point guard Kris Dunn committed to the Friars. Almost immediately after Dunn’s commitment, Baker verbally committed to South Carolina but subsequently decommitted. Baker’s change of heart means he will be the fourth guard in the class for Providence as he will join Dunn, Ricardo Ledo, and Joshua Fortune in Friartown. Arlington Country Day coach Rex Morgan calls Baker a combo guard but at 6’1”, he figures to project as more of a point guard in the Big East. The McDonald’s All-American Dunn is also a point guard, but possesses the length and skills to play off the ball as well. So while it may appear the backcourt is crowded, Ed Cooley has stressed the importance of good and deep guard play. Further with incumbent point guard Vincent Council entering his final year, the addition of Baker should help to provide longer term security and stability at the position.
  4. After the frustrating season Pittsburgh had, no one would have faulted Jamie Dixon and his crew for taking a pass, as many schools do, on the less than prestigious College Basketball Invitational (CBI). Well, kudos to Dixon and the Panthers for embracing the challenge, and for winning the tournament. Pittsburgh capped off its title run on Friday with a 71-65 triumph over Washington State to win the best-of-three series. Winning is always great, but by accepting invitations to these secondary tournaments, teams like Pittsburgh that struggled in a given year can use the experience to help get back on track. Not only do coaches get additional practice and game experience, but they may benefit from the emergence of a player or two and build momentum moving into the following year. This is exactly what happened with Pittsburgh. Certainly the momentum factor is there simply through winning the tournament, but Dixon now knows he has two bigger pieces coming back than he may have thought just a few short weeks ago. Sophomore forward Lamar Patterson leapt forward in the CBI, averaging 13.3 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 4.5 assists while taking home MVP honors. The other was 6’9” forward Talib Zanna who showed he is ready for a bigger role heading into next season. Zanna posted tournament averages of 11.6 points and 7.0 rebounds per game.
  5. Seton Hall was not expecting to see Aquille Carr in the Garden State until the fall of 2013, but the 5’7” point guard from Baltimore surprised many when he enrolled and started classes at St. Patrick, of Elizabeth, NJ, last week.  This is a strange story even in the murky world of academic qualification, but the latest twist may show the true motivation behind Carr’s move and could help to save a legendary school and program. At the time of Carr’s enrollment, the move seemed out of place because St. Patrick was believed to be closing after this academic year due to financial issues. Carr, a member of the class of 2013, indicated as such last week that he would be back in Baltimore for his senior year, meaning he would be at St. Patrick for just a few months. Initial speculation around Carr’s enrollment at St. Patrick had him there to take advantage of the school’s broader allotment of core classes that are needed for student athletes to qualify academically under NCAA standards. However St. Patrick coach Chris Chavannes and principal Joe Picaro have since confirmed that they believe the school will reclassify as a private institution and remain open. Further Chavannes said that if the school stays open, Carr will stay and play for St. Patrick as its focal point next season.
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Big East Morning Five: 03.30.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on March 30th, 2012

  1. When it rains it pours for a Connecticut program that remains in flux, primarily due to the impending NCAA tournament ban faced by the Huskies next year due to a sub-standard Academic Progress Rate (APR) score.  Well, Jim Calhoun and company may be facing the death nail now that the Big East has ruled it will follow suit and keep Connecticut out of next year’s Big East Tournament should the NCAA ban hold up under appeal.  Big East spokesman John Paquette, while in New Orleans for the Final Four, said that Big East Presidents met on March 7 to discuss the matter and came to a “conceptual agreement”.  Prior that declaration the Big East had no official position on a team’s conference tournament status should it be banned from NCAA tournament play.  In fact, the new rule goes against past precedent as Syracuse was allowed to play in the 1993 Big East tournament despite not being allowed to plan in the NCAA Tournament.  There is no official time table with regard to a ruling on Connecticut’s APR ban appeal, but it could come as late as July because of the NCAA Committee on Academic Performance’s (CAP) meeting schedule.
  2. We noted here yesterday that CBS Sports’ Jeff Goodman tweeted that three Providence players: sophomores Gerard Coleman and Ron Giplaye along with red shirt junior Bilal Dixon were looking to transfer, noting that Giplaye and Dixon were “definitely” gone, while Coleman “could” be.  In response to Goodman’s claim, a post out of Providence quoted head coach Ed Cooley as saying, “the report out there is not true as far as I’m concerned.”  Cooley did confirm that Dixon, who is in his fourth year and graduating, will not be with the Friars next year.  As for Coleman and Giplaye, Cooley said he met with each of his players on Tuesday and there was no mention from Coleman, Giplaye or anyone else about transferring.  Despite Cooley’s comments, rumors remain strong that both players will, in fact, be leaving.  Not all of this is new information. Dixon’s status was leaked about midway through the season and it was sealed when Providence conducted senior night festivities in his honor at their last home game.  After the game Dixon addressed the crowd, saying that he will miss Providence.  As part of that mid-season buzz, both Dixon and Giplaye were said to be transferring to Towson where former Providence assistant, Pat Skerry, is the head coach. Wagner has also been mentioned as a destination for Dixon, who is a New Jersey native.
  3. There were no reported fights between Louisville and Kentucky fans yesterday in dialysis centers, beauty parlors, hardware stores  or any of the usual venues of conflict so we are going to stretch this Providence transfer story into a buy none, get two free special this morning.  As noted in the GoLocalProv.com report referenced and linked above, Gerard Coleman and Ron Giplaye were teammates with AAU powerhouse BABC.  BABC, of course was also the home of some guy named Nerlens Noel who you may have heard of.  Noel was recently the subject of a controversial New York Times piece that, in part, focused on his relationship with Chris Driscoll.  Driscoll was a Providence assistant under former head coach Keno Davis who rose to that level more than in part due to his involvement and connections with BABC.  Driscoll, who is believed to still have an advisory relationship with Noel, was depicted in the article as using less than honorable tactics to secure players and climb the ladder.  It is not known if Driscoll continues to have a relationship with Giplaye or Coleman but the GoLocalProv.com piece speculated that he could be the source.  Interestingly, should Giplaye and Coleman transfer that would run the total to three BABC alums looking to leave Big East schools, as they would join former Connecticut big man Alex Oriakhi in looking for new homes.
  4. It appears Louisville head coach Rick Pitino will have to put his Hall of Fame dream on hold for at least another year.  Pitino was a finalist for induction into the Naismith Hall of Fame but, according to an ESPN.com report, was informed yesterday that he was not selected.  Pitino, who was reportedly and understandably disappointed about the news, is preparing for his sixth Final Four with a record three different schools (Providence and Kentucky were the others). While we are sure Pitino would have loved to get the nod this year, it is just a matter of time before he gains induction.
  5. We have kept you posted on the recruitment of Chris Obekpa, a 6’9” center in the class of 2012 that is highly coveted among Big East schools. Oregon has emerged as a late contender in the sweepstakes and Obekpa will take an official visit to Eugene before making his decision.  Cincinnati, Connecticut, DePaul, Providence, and St. John’s appear to be the finalists along with Oregon, but other schools remain in the mix.   Obekpa has officially visited Cincinnati, DePaul and St. John’s, while paying unofficials to Connecticut and Providence on the same day.  His teammate at New York’s Our Savior New American (OSNA), Felix Balamou, recently gave a verbal commitment to Steve Lavin and St. John’s which prompted talk of a package deal but OSNA assistant coach Eric Jaklitsch remains steadfast that Obekpa and Balamou’s decisions are mutually exclusive of one another. Obekpa will be playing in the All-American Championship, an all-star showcase event, on Sunday in New Orleans.
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Big East Morning Five: 03.27.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on March 27th, 2012

  1. Syracuse’s super sixth man Dion Waiters is not going to wait around for his starting slot next season with the Orange as Waiters announced he will be entering the NBA Draft.  The athletic 6’4” guard will sign with an agent, eliminating any possibility of returning for his junior year.  Waiters did not start a game this season for Syracuse but was widely regarded as the team’s most talented player.  He posted averages of 12.6 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 2.6 assists in 24.1 minutes per game while being named the Big East’s Sixth Man of the Year and making All-Big East Third Team.  There could be quite a bit of roster turnover this offseason as Waiters joins departing seniors Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph, while fellow sophomore Fab Melo, who was suspended for the NCAA Tournament due to academic issues, may be soon to follow Waiters into the NBA draft.
  2. Another Big East guard, Providence’s Vincent Council, ended speculation that he might be leaving school to turn pro when he told Brendan McGair of the Woonsocket (RI) Call, who reported via Twitter,  “I wasn’t really thinking about leaving (Providence College) at all.”  It had been said Council was considering foregoing his senior year and that academics may have been a driver.  An All-Big East Third Team selection this past season, Council averaged 15.9 points, 4.1 rebounds and a conference best 7.5 assists per game. The 6’2” New Yorker figures to be one of the top returning Big East point guards in what should be an entertaining backcourt next year as the Friars welcome in top 25 recruits Ricardo Ledo and McDonald’s All-American Kris Dunn.
  3. There are so many storylines around the Louisville versus Kentucky Final Four matchup there could be a two-week Super Bowl-type hype period to analyze and dissect.  While everyone loves some good old-fashioned overkill, the good news is we only have until Saturday to anticipate how this historic match-up might play out.  Certainly the head coaches are at, or near, the forefront of it all and as Yahoo! Sports’ Dan Wetzel points out, Louisville’s Rick Pitino will enjoy playing the underdog role in an effort to perhaps tighten Kentucky coach John Calipari and his team up a bit.  While there is no question the pressure rests on Calipari and Kentucky, it is hard to fathom the magnitude of the moment getting by either team.  As much as Pitino might love his side to play loose, he and his team both know the margin for error will be thin on Saturday.
  4. Plane ticket from Kentucky to New Orleans? $500-$1800.  Hotel room in New Orleans? $400-$600 per night.  Ticket to see Louisville take on Kentucky in the Final Four? $377.  A chance to see one of the most anticipated match-ups in college basketball history?  Well…pricey!  If this weekend is any barometer of the economic state of our country things are progressing nicely.  Despite the price tag demand is high for all of the above and supply is getting low as basketball crazy residents of the Bluegrass state have been more than willing to pony up. Getting to New Orleans is one thing.  Plane seats are limited and anything involving a gas powered vehicle, whether car, SUV or bus comes with the pain of surging gas prices.  What to do when one gets there is another. As of yesterday there were only about 2,200 of New Orleans’ 22,000 hotel rooms available even with hotels setting four-night minimums. It is great to go to a big game but will also be interesting to see if television sales in Final Four markets increase this week as people decide to ditch the planes, trains, and automobiles and use that money to purchase a longer-lasting Toshiba.
  5. The Associated Press revealed its All-America teams yesterday and while the Big East cannot boast any first teamers, the conference was well represented overall.  Big East Player of the Year Jae Crowder of Marquette (17.6 PPG, 8.4 RPG) and West Virginia’s Kevin Jones (19.9 PPG, 10.9 RPG) represented two of the six players who received second team honors while Connecticut’s Jeremy Lamb (17.7 PPG, 4.9 RPB) took home an honorable mention distinction.  Members of the first team included: Anthony Davis (Kentucky), Draymond Green (Michigan State), Doug McDermott (Creighton), Thomas Robinson (Kansas), and Jared Sullinger (Ohio State).  Robinson was a unanimous selection.
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Big East Morning Five: 03.23.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on March 23rd, 2012

  1. Remember that 1962 NCAA Tournament final when Cincinnati beat Ohio State for the second straight year to win it all?  That was awesome. (Late, great Chris Farley voice).  Thankfully for the Buckeyes, given the fact that they and Cincinnati are in state rivals, Ohio State has had plenty of chances since to avenge those two devastating losses, right?  Wrong.  Heading into last night’s Sweet Sixteen battle Cincinnati and Ohio State have only faced each other ONE time since, in a 2006 regular season game (won by Ohio State 72-50).  Let’s continue to break all the rules and ask yet another question…What’s up with that?  These schools should be playing on some type of regular basis in basketball, and football for that matter (or Matta if you are from New England, or just trying unsuccessfully to be funny). Fortunately it appears there is still plenty of rivalry in this non-rivalry as Cincinnati fans chafe at the idea that Ohio State will not schedule the Bearcats. Buckeye supporters have their beef too.  They blame Bob Huggins, who at the time was Cincinnati’s head coach, for leaking possible recruiting violations by the Buckeyes to the NCAA in 1993.  The kicker there is the player in question with regard to those violations, Damon Flint, wound up going to Cincinnati.
  2. If there remained any “Syracuse cannot survive in the NCAA tournament without Fab Melo” talk leading into last night’s game versus Wisconsin, it simply had to stop once the Orange survived and advanced to the Elite Eight with a 64-63 win over the Badgers.  Jim Boeheim and his team have played virtually the entire season in the face of some form of adversity and all they have done is gone 34-2 and sit three wins away from a national title.  It has been said all year that Syracuse is the deepest team in the country and this has proven true in the tournament.  Certainly Melo was a big key, especially on the defensive end, but Boeheim has so much talent that making tactical adjustments and shortening the rotation has not resulted in a meaningful decline when it comes to stopping opponents.  Small sample size notwithstanding, Syracuse is giving up just two more points per game in NCAA tournament games (62.3) versus all other games (60.4).  Ironically they are scoring 4.3 fewer points per game (74.6 versus 70.3).  However points per possession numbers are up on both ends, indicating an effort to slow the game down to accommodate for Melo’s loss.
  3. As has been widely publicized, per current NCAA Academic Progress Rate (APR) standards, Connecticut is not eligible for next year’s NCAA tournament.  The school was hoping what could be the last stage of its appeal process would be decided upon next month but it was reported yesterday they may have to wait until July.  Connecticut has already lost an NCAA appeal on the matter and has since taken its case to the NCAA’s Committee on Academic Performance. Based on rule changes instituted last year, a two-year average APR of 930 is needed to retain NCAA tournament eligibility based on APRs for the 2009-10 and 2010-11 academic years.  Connecticut has no chance of meeting the current standard based on their 2009-10 score of 826, and their final appeal is based on the argument that the starting point for the average should be the 2010-11 year so that score could be thrown out.  The CAP will meet next month but its chairman, Walter Harrison, indicated there may not be enough time to resolve the matter April so it could spill over into July when the committee next meets. In a related note, Alex Oriakhi, who decided to transfer from Connecticut because of the NCAA sanctions, would have to sit out a year should the Huskies win their appeal and become eligible for next year’s tournament.
  4. Speaking of transfers, Rutgers announced that Gilvydas Biruta will be transferring.  The 6’8” sophomore was a steady contributor for the Scarlet Knights, averaging 9.7 points and 5.5 rebounds per game over his two years in Piscataway.  He started all but one game during that time and averaged 23.5 minutes per contest.  Biruta’s motivation for transferring and his next destination are not known.  This move comes as a bit of a surprise.  Rutgers has a very young team and presumably Biruta would have continued to command significant playing time as well as presumably assume a leadership role on the team should he have desired one.
  5. Villanova announced yesterday that Maalik Wayns definitely will not return for his senior season as he will pursue an NBA career. Wayns had previously announced his intentions to test the NBA waters and although those close to the Wildcat program believed the move to be permanent, the 6’2” point guard initially left the door open for a return to school by saying he would not hire an agent. Wayns led the Wildcats in scoring and assists (17.6 PPG, 4.6 APG) and was named to the All-Big East second team this season. He is currently not projected to be a first round pick in the NBA draft.
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Big East Morning Five: 03.21.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on March 21st, 2012

  1. The good news for Georgetown was with their NCAA Tournament second round victory over Belmont the Hoyas snapped a two-year NCAA one-and-done streak.  The bad news?  A third round loss to #11 seed North Carolina State meant another early tournament upset exit at the hands of a double-digit seed.  Of course this type of thing falls right into the wheelhouse of doomsday embracing fans and nay saying media but, as this Bleacher Report piece by Bryan Toporek aptly points out, to call for John Thompson III’s head at this point would not only be premature, it would be foolish.  Thompson has led the Hoyas to six twenty win seasons in the last seven, including a Final Four appearance in 2007.  He has consistently brought in high level recruits and players that fit his system well and is one of three finalists for Nerlens Noel, the nation’s best high school senior and a potential game changer.  Lastly, even if one could put the previous points aside and still want Thompson III to go, who do you replace him with?  The grass is not always greener on the other side.
  2. This just in.  College kids party. That is why it comes as no surprise to find out that six Marquette players, who are not of drinking age, received citations for being in a nightclub back on January 29. The players: Todd Mayo, Vander Blue, Jamail Jones, Juan Anderson, Derrick Wilson, and Jake Thomas were not believed to be drinking.  Head coach Buzz Williams acknowledged the issue was dealt with later the same day as January 29 was a Sunday.  Reading between the lines it sounds like Williams handled it the old fashioned way with some good old intense physical fitness early on a Sunday morning.  It is not known if the February partial game suspensions of Mayo, Blue as well as Junior Cadugan and Darius Johnson-Odon during Marquette’s February 24 game at West Virginia were related to the nightclub incident. This is also not expected to impact any of the players’ status for the Golden Eagles sweet sixteen contest against Florida on Thursday.
  3. The University of Rhode Island has hired a young upstart coach in Danny Hurley away from Wagner to be its head coach and revive a struggling program that has not been heard from nationally for awhile.  College basketball fans in southern New England only have to look back a year, and a short distance up route 95 north, to when Providence hired Ed Cooley with the same goals in mind. Providence and Rhode Island have a great and long standing interstate rivalry, so it is likely that the comparisons between Hurley and Cooley will be fodder for discussion in the Ocean State for some time to come as their journeys are now aligned. Further, as this article by Kevin Farrahar of friarbasketball.net outlines, Friar fans should be happy about Hurley’s hire because it gives more cachet to the rivalry, especially if both coaches have overall success, and is good for the suffering state of college basketball in Rhode Island on the whole.  Further buzz will be created by the news that Danny’s brother Bobby, the former Duke star, apparently will join him in Kingston as an assistant rather than moving into the head role at Wagner as had been rumored.
  4. Marquette received a verbal commitment from a hometown star yesterday as Milwaukee’s Dominican High School point guard Duane Wilson, a member of the class of 2013, pledged for the Golden Eagles.  Wilson is ranked 128th nationally by Rivals.com and an ESPN.com grade of 92 (out of 100).  “The main reason that made me go to Marquette was coach Buzz Williams,” Wilson told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “That was my first scholarship offer and they stayed on me. I just really liked his attitude. He gets the best out of his players all the time and they just play hard.”  The highly recruited Wilson chose Williams and Marquette over the likes of Missouri and Memphis among others.
  5. The National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) announced its All-America teams yesterday and the Big East checked in with three honorees spanning the second and third teams.  West Virginia senior forward Kevin Jones (19.9 PPG, 10.9 RPG) and Syracuse senior forward Kris Joseph (13.7 PPG, 4.9 RPG) were named to the NABC’s second team. Marquette senior forward Jae Crowder (17.6 PPG, 8.4 RPG), who edged out Jones for Big East Player of the Year honors, received third team All-America honors.  The first team consisted of: Anthony Davis (Kentucky), Draymond Green (Michigan State), Doug McDermott (Creighton), Thomas Robinson (Kansas), and Jared Sullinger (Ohio State).
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Big East Morning Five: 03.20.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on March 20th, 2012

  1. St. John’s freshman and reigning Big East Rookie of the Year Moe Harkless confirmed speculation and announced yesterday in a press conference held at Madison Square Garden that he will be leaving the Red Storm for the NBA. “It has been my lifelong dream to play in the NBA and I am excited to have that opportunity to make the jump,” said Harkless.  He also confirmed that he will hire an agent, which would prevent him from returning to school.  The 6’8” forward is currently projected as a mid-to-late first round pick.  Certainly his status can, and likely will, change as other early entrants make themselves eligible and overseas names emerge but should Harkless be selected in the first round he would be guaranteed an NBA contract.
  2. Moe Harkless’ declaration to turn pro made him the second Big East player to do so thus far, following Villanova’s Maalik Wayns who made his intentions known last week, but, unlike Harkless, he does not plan on retaining an agent. Players with early draft entry on their minds have until 11:59 pm ET on April 29 to decide and CBSSports.com has come up with a watch list of those most likely to be considering the move.  While this appears to be a link to Kentucky’s roster, if you look close enough among those cited you will see Connecticut’s Andre Drummond and Jeremy Lamb as well. While Drummond could use a bit more seasoning and Lamb’s stock has perhaps dropped some, with Connecticut currently banned from next year’s NCAA Tournament due to Academic Performance Rating (APR) issues, it feels like a foregone conclusion that they will both opt for the NBA.  However, if NCAA Tournament eligibility is a deciding factor, Drummond and Lamb may hold off on a decision until the last minute given Connecticut has an appeal in progress on which a ruling could come during April. The other apparent no-brainer on the list when it comes to Big East players is Syracuse’s Fab Melo.  On the heels of the academic ineligibility ruling that has forced Melo to sit out this year’s NCAA Tournament, it has been widely speculated that his Syracuse days are over. Melo’s Syracuse teammate Dion Waiters is the only other Big East player on the watch list.
  3. And then there were three.  Nerlens Noel, the number one prospect in the class of 2012, has narrowed his college choices to Kentucky, Syracuse and Georgetown. North Carolina and Connecticut are the latest schools to be cut.  Noel was scheduled to visit Tar Heel country this week but has since canceled. As for Noel’s interactions with the three finalists, the shot-blocking center took an official visit to Georgetown last week, was scheduled to have an in-home visit with Kentucky yesterday, and another with Syracuse tomorrow. A decision could come shortly thereafter as Noel’s official reclassification to the class of 2012, which had been pending, is now complete.
  4. They say success breeds success. Well Cincinnati is sitting pretty in the Sweet Sixteen and just picked up a commitment yesterday from junior college star Titus Rubles.  Rubles, a slashing 6’8” forward from Blinn Community College in Texas, averaged 16.0 points and 10.0 rebounds for the Buccaneers. This commitment does not come as much of a surprise to those who either follow the Bearcats closely or know how to operate Twitter, as Rubles’ Twitter handle is a somewhat revealing “@bearcatbound.” Even with Rubles in the fold, Cincinnati remains in hot pursuit of center Chris Obekpa, arguably the most sought-after recruit among Big East schools as he is also garnering significant interest from Connecticut, DePaul, Providence, Seton Hall and St. John’s.
  5. Speaking of Cincinnati, the Bearcats have certainly come quite far from what appeared to be a season on the brink following an embarrassing November loss to Presbyterian and that ugly brawl-marred loss to Xavier which led to multiple suspension.  As we wrote at the start of the season, Cincinnati carried with it perhaps the highest increase in expectations among Big East squads as the Bearcats returned their top four scorers from a 26-9 team that made it to the third round of last year’s NCAA Tournament. Playing through the suspensions seemed to unlock some individual potential and lineup combinations that may have otherwise been left untapped as head coach Mick Cronin has rallied his troops to another 26 wins and at least a round further in the Big Dance than last year to this point.
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Big East Morning Five: 03.16.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on March 16th, 2012

  1. If anyone had questions about how the loss of starting center Fab Melo would impact Syracuse in the NCAA Tournament… they should still have questions.  The East Region’s #1 seeded Orange needed about 39 ½ minutes and a few controversial calls to finally discard a pesky UNC Asheville squad in a game where Bulldogs’ Head Coach Eddie Biedenbach believed his team had the best of it.  “Tonight, we were better than Syracuse,” Biedenbach said. “These guys played their tail off for 40 minutes and played better than Syracuse. This is the better team tonight.”  All that said, this was a game where Syracuse would not have ended the scrutiny involved without Melo in the lineup regardless of the result.  If they had won in a landslide, critics would simply say they should have won in a landslide as a #1 versus as #16.  We are sure to learn more on Saturday when Syracuse faces a much stiffer and battle-tested opponent in Kansas State.
  2. Following Syracuse’s narrow win over UNC Asheville, head coach Jim Boeheim was admittedly upset. However it had nothing to do with his team’s performance yesterday. Boeheim was reacting to comments made by Arne Duncan, the U.S. Secretary of Education who insinuated that Boeheim was against the NCAA’s Academic Performance Rating (APR) system and that his team would not have qualified for this year’s NCAA Tournament under the recently tightened standards that will impact teams’ eligibility next year. A team that fails to meet a minimum 930 APR score will not be eligible for next year’s Tournament. Boeheim vehemently denied that his team would have failed to qualify this year, saying, “I think people need to get better information. Syracuse would be eligible to play in the Tournament this year. We are qualified. We are over 930. Under this year’s rules or last year’s rules, we would be eligible to play in the Tournament.” Boeheim also took umbrage to Duncan’s quoting Boeheim as saying the APR standard was “completely nuts,” stating that his words were taken out of context as he was referencing specific parts of the APR calculation that he is opposed to.
  3. The West Virginia men’s basketball team has played its last game as a member of the Big East and the #10 seeded Mountaineers did not go out in style as they were outclassed by #7 Gonzaga, 77-54.  The game was never really in doubt but remained entertaining nonetheless simply because the facial expressions of a less than jovial Bob Huggins are worth the price of admission every time.  In the irony department West Virginia ended its run on the home floor of their most hated Big East rival, Pittsburgh, in a game where the Mountaineers figured to have an advantage due to their proximity to  home against a west coast team. West Virginia will learn all they want to and more about travel in their next life as they navigate the Big 12.
  4. Steve Lavin scored his second recruiting commitment of the week and it was a big one as JaKarr Sampson will head to St. John’s after all.  Sampson, an athletic 6’8” wing, was a highly regarded class of 2011 player who had signed with the Red Storm hoping to begin his college career in 2011-12.  However, after being ruled academically ineligible, Sampson opted to re-open his recruitment and head back to Brewster Academy (NH) for another prep year.  St. John’s remained on his list throughout but it was widely believed Sampson was leaning toward suitors such as Kansas, Baylor and Providence, who had been recruiting him hard.  Re-landing Sampson represents a huge statement by Lavin, whose program has been on tenuous ground since his difficult recovery from prostate surgery sidelined him for most of the year. Despite rumors he may not be back next year and stories of opposing recruiters using his health against him, Lavin has publicly remained confident St. John’s would acquire another huge recruiting class.  He has quelled any doubts with the addition of Sampson.
  5. Connecticut’s Jim Calhoun and Kentucky’s John Calipari certainly compete for recruits as they lead national programs perennially seeking Final Fours and NCAA Championships. Not to mention that the Huskies and Wildcats were on a collision course for a third round NCAA Tournament matchup before Connecticut fell to Iowa State last night. With that in mind, one has to wonder if the wily veteran Calhoun was exhibiting a bit of gamesmanship when he commented that he would not be surprised to see Calipari making a jump back to the NBA on the heels of the New York Knicks and Mark D’Antoni parting ways. “Can I imagine John going in the NBA or anything else? Yes,” said Calhoun. “I think John very simply marches… to his own drummer,” he added. Upon D’Antoni’s exit, Calipari’s name quickly surfaced as a possible replacement. Calipari responded to the buzz by saying he intends to stay at Kentucky.
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Big East Morning Five: 03.15.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on March 15th, 2012

  1. Villanova junior point guard Maalik Wayns will test the professional waters and declare himself eligible for the 2012 NBA Draft. Wayns will not hire an agent and therefore could pull his name out of the draft and return for his final collegiate season. That decision would need to take place by April 10. Sources told the Philadelphia Inquirer that while Wayns not projected to be a first round NBA pick, and therefore not in line for guaranteed money, there is a strong chance he will remain draft eligible, even if it means not getting drafted and playing professionally overseas next year. Wayns led the Wildcats in scoring and assists (17.6 PPG, 4.6 APG) and was named to the All-Big East second team this season.
  2. This was reported earlier in the week, but not widely so we thought it was worthy of a mention here. Another star junior point guard, Providence’s Vincent Council is considering entering the NBA Draft. Council, a third team All-Big East selection this year, has led the conference in assists the past two seasons. Academic issues are rumored to be the main driver behind Council’s potential departure as he currently does not project as an NBA draftee and figures prominently in Ed Cooley’s plans for next season should it return. Perhaps also playing a part in the decision is the pending arrival of Friar signee, and McDonald’s All-America point guard Kris Dunn. However conventional wisdom says Council would relish the opportunity to play with Dunn as they both possess off-the-ball skills and could excel in a backcourt that would also include another star recruit in Ricardo Ledo to go with veterans Bryce Cotton and Gerard Coleman.
  3. Even with the NCAA tournament upon us, all things Nerlens Noel remain a major topic of discussion. Noel’s process continues with a visit to North Carolina next week but many are wondering if the possible departure of Syracuse center Fab Melo for the NBA is moving the Orange up in Noel’s pecking order. When ESPN anchor, and Syracuse alum, Ryan Burr sent a Tweet on Monday encouraging Noel to fill the Melo void it raised questions around improper contact with a recruit. If Burr, who has since deleted the Tweet, is defined as a Syracuse booster his Twitter overture could be viewed by the NCAA as impermissible contact, and could result in the university being penalized.  Should the NCAA venture into social media it may be biting off more than it can chew given the daunting task of trying to set parameters around regulation of that environment.  While Burr’s tweet likely does not represent a recruiting violation, it certainly showed a lack of judgment and professionalism that warrants the consideration of disciplinary action by ESPN. It should also be noted that Syracuse already has a highly touted class of 2012 center lined up for next year in Dajuan Coleman so the Orange appear to be in good shape if Melo leaves regardless of Noel’s decision.
  4. Speaking of social media,  Twitter was not the friend of Connecticut’s Alex Oriakhi earlier this season when he appeared to direct some cyber venting at head coach Jim Calhoun upon being removed from the starting lineup.  There is no question it has been a difficult year on the court for Oriakhi.  Aside from opposing centers, no one has felt the impact of Andre Drummond’s presence more than he. The junior’s minutes slipped from 29.1 a year ago to 21.4 this season and his productivity has followed suit, averaging 6.8 points and 4.8 rebounds per game this year versus 9.6 and 8.7 respectively last year. However, as this New Haven Register piece by David Borges points out, Oriakhi and Calhoun have maintained a strong relationship and Oriakhi has maintained a team-first attitude throughout. “One thing’s for sure: (Alex) loves coach Calhoun to death,” Oriakhi’s mother, Angela, told the New Haven Register. “Nobody can complain about coach Calhoun in front of him.” Further, any frustration Oriakhi has experienced as a basketball player has not translated into the classroom, nor hurt the Huskies’ much publicized Academic Performance Rating (APR). Oriakhi notched a team-high (for scholarship players) 3.6 grade-point average in the fall semester.
  5. St. John’s and head coach Steve Lavin did not qualify for post season play but they remain in action on the recruiting front.  Lavin, scored a local commitment when Our Savior New American’s (OSNA) Felix Balamou announced via Facebook he is heading to St. John’s.  Balamou, a 6’3” wing and OSNA’s leading scorer this past season on a 25-5 team, was also considering Connecticut, Oregon, Virginia Tech and West Virginia. Prior to Balamou’s commitment, Lavin stated he wanted to sign four or five more players for next season and that number could increase should star forward Moe Harkless head to the NBA after one season in Queens. Highly regarded center Chris Obekpa is high on Lavin’s wish list. Obekpa happens to be Balamou’s teammate which has led to speculation that a package deal is in the works.  However, OSNA assistant coach Eric Jaklitsch confirmed that Balamou’s and Obekpa’s decisions are independent of one another. Then to finish the night strong, Lavin landed Jakarr Sampson, who had decommitted from the school after not becoming eligible this past season.
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RTC’s 2012 Big East Tournament Preview

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on March 6th, 2012

The 2012 Big East Championship is upon us.  Whether you have followed the conference closely all season or are just getting to the party, here is your guide.

Favorite:

Syracuse.  It does not take an expert to figure this one out, so you are in the right place.  The Orange are the clear-cut class of the Big East this season. With their depth and talent, along with the double-bye, this is Syracuse’s tournament to lose.

Dark Horse: 

Let’s go way out on a limb here and say South Florida could pull this one off.  The Bulls give everyone fits with their defensive, plodding style, which by default keeps most of their games close and gives them a chance.  South Florida has a first round bye so it does not have to navigate a five-game run.  Further, they are on the opposite side of the bracket from Syracuse so would not run into the Orange, whom they played close at the Carrier Dome on February 22, until the tournament final.

Heath's Bulls Have Defied Expectations All Season. Why Stop Now?

Most Interesting Storyline:

The problem with this one is it could be very short-lived, but there will be plenty of talk about Connecticut repeating its improbable run of a year ago.  As was the case last season, the Huskies are the #9 seed and will meet DePaul in Tuesday’s noon affair thanks to a tiebreaker scenario that put Connecticut ahead of Seton Hall when Rutgers defeated St. John’s on Saturday night.  That is where the similarities end.  This season’s Huskies simply are not as good as last year’s version. Last year Connecticut was ranked (#21) coming into the tournament and finished .500 in what was arguably the strongest Big East ever.  Further, Connecticut currently does not have a go-to leader to fill Kemba Walker’s monster role during last year’s run.  Those who are asking will want to know if Jeremy Lamb can become that guy as he is certainly talented enough to be a difference-maker.  Head coach Jim Calhoun‘s health will be a major subplot in it all as well.  Will his back problem allow him to coach the team each day should they earn a couple of wins, and will his presence represent a rallying point for the team as it appeared to in the Huskies’ win over Pittsburgh on Saturday?  Prediction… if the Huskies get by West Virginia in the second round, their tournament ends on Thursday when they fall to Syracuse.

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