Big East Morning Five: 03.06.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on March 6th, 2012

  1. The Big East handed out a few more postseason superlatives yesterday. Syracuse center Fab Melo highlighted the selections as he was named the Defensive Player of the Year. Melo, who was likely also a candidate for Most Improved Player, had a breakout season for the Orange. The seven-foot sophomore averaged 3.9 blocks per game in Big East play to lead the league to go with 6.1 rebounds but it was Melo’s presence and activity in that vaunted Syracuse zone that set him apart. Speaking of the Most Improved Player, that honor went to Notre Dame’s Jack Cooley. After playing just 10.3 minutes and scoring 3.7 points per game as last year, the 6’9” junior nearly averaged a double-double this season (12.5 PPG, 9.2 RPG). Cooley earned a second-team All-Big East distinction on Sunday and was a fixture in this season’s Big East weekly honors, garnering Player of the Week once to go with six Honor Rolls. This year’s Sixth Man Award will come as a shock to no one. Syracuse’s Dion Waiters has been described as the team’s best player, and thrived in his off-the-bench role on the nation’s deepest team. Waiters, a sophomore guard, was the Orange’s second leading scorer at 11.9 points per game, to go with 2.4 assists per contest. Finally, the Sportsmanship Award went to Georgetown’s Jason Clark. The senior guard, who is also an All-Big East first-teamer this year, has been involved with Georgetown related community service organizations. Big East Player, Coach, Rookie and Scholar-Athlete of the Year will be announced today between the afternoon and evening sessions of the Big East Championship.
  2. With all of the Big East honors rolling out over the past couple of days, we cannot forget the final installment of the conference’s weekly distinctions. West Virginia’s Kevin Jones is your Player of the Week.  Jones looked to solidify his case for Player of the Year with typically monster efforts two Mountaineer wins, averaging 20.0 points and 13.5 rebounds per game. Providence’s LaDontae Henton took home his third Rookie of the Week award of the season, averaging 18.0 points and 9.5 rebounds in a 1-1 week for the Friars. Henton, a candidate for Big East Rookie of the Year, averaged 14.3 points and 8.6 rebounds per game for the regular season, while shooting 40.2 % from three-point range. This week’s Honor Roll recipients: Marquette’s Jae Crowder kept pace with Kevin Jones in the Player of the Year race by averaging 21.5 points, 13.0 rebounds and 3.0 steals in a 1-1 week; DePaul’s Cleveland Melvin who averaged 17.5 points and 8.5 rebounds, including 14 points and nine boards in the Blue Demons’ thrashing of Seton Hall; Rutgers’ Dane Miller who averaged 13.0 points and 9.5 rebounds including a double-double (10 points, 10 rebounds) in the Scarlet Knights’ victory over St. John’s; Cincinnati’s JaQuon Parker registered a career-high 28 points coupled with seven rebounds in the Bearcats’ huge win over Marquette. Syracuse’s Brandon Triche closes out the Honor Roll. Triche registered 18 points, four rebounds and four assists in Syracuse’s regular-season finale, a win over Louisville.
  3. The Nerlens Noel watch continues as it was reported yesterday the 6’10 center will visit Georgetown this weekend. Last month Noel announced his intention to reclassify to the class of 2012, and quickly became the number-one rated prospect in that group. In addition to the Hoyas, Noel is considering Kentucky, North Carolina, Syracuse and Connecticut. Noel is scheduled to be in attendance with Georgetown players and coaches while the NCAA tournament field is selected. Of course it is a field that will include 22-7 Hoyas and, as pointed out by CasualHoya.com, selection Sunday visits have been a successful recruiting tactic for Georgetown in the past.
  4. Fans and pundits alike will be focused this week on conference tournament performance as we rumble toward selection Sunday and rightfully so, but it never hurts to that number next to your name. Louisville no longer has one has the Cardinals, ranked 19th last week, plummeted out of the polls following back-to-back regular season ending losses to South Florida and Syracuse.  Syracuse (30-1, 17-1) continued to roll but remained stuck behind Kentucky at #2. Marquette (25-6, 14-4) had an even week, losing to Cincinnati while beating Georgetown but slipped one spot to #9. The afore mentioned Georgetown (22-7, 12-6) fell two rungs to #13 because they were distracted by the prospect of Nerlens Noel dropping by. The lone remaining ranked team in the Big East is Notre Dame (21-10, 13-5) at #23, but the Fighting Irish also trended in the wrong direction moving down three notches after being stifled by the Hoyas. Louisville (22-9, 10-8) did remain on the cusp of a ranking, gaining 84 votes and Cincinnati (22-9, 12-6), winners of five of their last six games, checked in with five votes.
  5. Look for a more comprehensive Big East tournament preview from us here later this morning but as a bit of a primer Seton Hall, a team with a lot on the line this week, may have to go to battle a bit banged up and short-handed.  Guard Aaron Cosby, who averaged 30.1 minutes per game during the regular season, has the flu per South Orange Juice and could miss this evening’s game against Providence. Further, the site also reports star big man Herb Pope, who injured his toe on Saturday in the Pirates’ loss to DePaul, was seen wearing a walking boot.  While the severity of the injury is not known, it is expected that Pope will play. Aaron Geramipoor is a player who would figure to have an increased role should Pope be limited, but is also expected to miss the game as he continues to battle a hip injury that has held him out the last two games and limited him for the past month.
Share this story

Big East Morning Five: 03.05.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on March 5th, 2012

  1. So the Big East went and rolled out its all-conference and all-rookie teams yesterday as we were scrambling to get our picks together. Suffice it to say we had some thoughts but the pesky real announcement beat us to it. Officially the All-Big East first, second, third, and honorable mention teams were announced as well as the Big East All-Rookie team. You can see the full list of selections hereMarquette’s Jae Crowder was the only unanimous selection on any of the teams. Moe Harkless of St. John’s took home both All-Rookie and All Big East Honorable Mention honors.  This could be a foreshadowing to tomorrow when Big East Player, Coach, Rookie, and Scholar-Athlete of the Year will be announced between the afternoon and evening sessions of the Big East Championship.
  2. If the Big East represented a portfolio of stocks, despite a fair share of volatility over the years, its investors would certainly have enjoyed a tidy profit. In a fitting confluence of the sports and business worlds, Commissioner John Marinatto along with other conference officials will have the honor of ringing the New York Stock Exchange’s Closing Bell today as a symbolic commencement to tomorrow’s Big East Championship. This is the 30th straight year the Big East Championship has taken place at Madison Square Garden. No conference tournament and setting have had a longer relationship than that of the Big East and the Garden. A live webcast of the Closing Bell ceremony can be seen via the Big East’s website at 3:59 PM Eastern Standard Time.
  3. Connecticut got a lift on Saturday when head coach Jim Calhoun returned to the sideline. Calhoun had been out since February 3 due to spinal stenosis and underwent surgery last Monday. The team appeared to feed off of his presence as they fought of a Pittsburgh rally to pull out a much-needed win. “There are no words to describe what he means to this team,” guard Shabazz Napier told the Hartford Courant. “You think you’re tired, and then you look at him and he shakes his fist and you say, ‘I’m not done.” Calhoun, who was reported to be extremely tired following the game, did not attend Connecticut’s practice on Sunday but is expected to be back today. It is expected Calhoun will accompany his team to New York and coach in the Big East tournament however, should the Huskies beat DePaul on Tuesday Calhoun’s status figures to be a day-to-day decision given the tournament’s rigorous schedule.
  4. Speaking of Connecticut, one of its assistants could be returning to the rank of head coach once the season is over.  News broke yesterday that the University of Rhode Island fired head coach Jim Baron after eleven seasons in Kingston and the Huskies’ Glen Miller is reported to be on the short list of candidates to replace him. Miller, who returned to Connecticut last season in his second stint as an assistant under Jim Calhoun, is well known in Rhode Island circles as he coached Brown University for seven seasons (1999 – 2006), posting a 93-99 record.  Miller, who has seventeen years of head coaching experience, left Brown for Pennsylvania and took the Quakers to the 2007 NCAA tournament. Wagner’s Danny Hurley is believed to be the lead candidate for the Rhode Island job but should Miller get it, he will be the second Calhoun assistant in as many years to head to the Ocean State. Last offseason Andre LaFleur left Connecticut for an associate head coach’s position at Providence.
  5. Every sports fan has dreams of a ‘man cave’ right? Syracuse.com started a contest to find those who have executed on their interior design goals and now have a man cave to write home about. While the contest did not specify any themes, it turned out to be all about orange. At least five people submitted entries that revealed man caves dedicated to Syracuse athletics, and the men of the house did not even have to establish permanent residence in them at the behest of their better halves. In fact for the most part, save for a veto on naming a child ‘Sara Cuse’, the spaces are wife and family approved.
Share this story

Big East Morning Five: 03.02.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on March 2nd, 2012

  1. This evening figures to be an unusual one emotionally for injured senior star Tim Abromaitis once senior night festivities commence prior to Notre Dame’s contest with Providence.  Abromaitis has been forced to watch for the majority of this season due to an ACL tear he suffered in November, and is trying to make peace with the fact that his career at Notre Dame may very well be over. The thing that will keep Abromaitis in a state of emotional flux is the battle between the finality of senior night and the faint glimmer of hope that he may be granted a rare sixth year of eligibility and play for the Irish again next year.  As for tonight, Abromaitis will suit up for show but will not play in any fashion, including warm-ups. To Abromaitis’ credit he is keeping things in perspective and holds no delusions of grandeur when it comes to playing again.  “I’ve kind of looked at it both ways – there’s a chance I’m coming back, so do what I need to do to keep that door open,” Abromaitis told the Chicago Tribune. “But at the same time, I am pretty rational about knowing that it very well could be the last time out there and could be a little emotional for me. I’m just trying to take it in stride and be glad for the opportunities I have had.”
  2. Villanova has not enjoyed tremendous success on the court this season but they could be receiving some good news about their future very soon as top Class of 2013 recruit Allerik Freeman narrowed his choices to Villanova and Kansas according to his Olympic (NC) High School coach Ty Baumgardner.  Freeman, a 6’4” guard who is ranked 13th nationally by ESPN.com and 24th by Rivals.com had been pursued by the likes of Georgetown, Arizona, Kansas State, North Carolina State, Ohio State, and others. Freeman has visited both Villanova and Kansas unofficially, meaning he paid his way, and could decide before taking any official visits.
  3. In keeping with the high school scene, rosters for the All-American Championship were announced yesterday.  The event, which started last year, is an all-star showcase that features four teams who will play a doubleheader on April 1 in New Orleans’ Lakefront Arena.  ESPN3 will carry the games live beginning at 3 PM EST and ESPNU will replay at 9 PM EST. Two highly sought-after Big East 2012 recruits, Nerlens Noel and Chris Obekpa, will be playing in the game.  Noel recently trimmed his list but Syracuse, Georgetown and Connecticut still appear to be in the running.  Obekpa’s list includes Cincinnati, Connecticut, DePaul, St. John’s, Providence and West Virginia. Highly touted high school juniors and brothers, Andrew and Aaron Harrison, will be there as well.  Both are being recruited by Villanova while Andrew also holds an offer from Georgetown. There are also a number of committed Big East players who will appear: Omar Calhoun (Connecticut), Ricardo Ledo (Providence), Dajuan Coleman (Syracuse), Jerami Grant (Syracuse), D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera (Georgetown) and Cameron Biedscheid (Notre Dame).
  4. Perhaps Connecticut fans will be treated to a Willis Reed-like event, but it is not looking like head coach Jim Calhoun will make his return to the sideline on Saturday as hoped when the Huskies take on Pittsburgh.  Calhoun is reported to be feeling better after surgery on Monday to alleviate pain and discomfort caused by a spine-thinning condition called spinal stenosis as well as a “large disk fragment” that was found when doctors went in, but was not able to attend practice on Thursday.  Should Calhoun not be ready for Connecticut’s practice this afternoon it renders his chances of coaching on Saturday to virtually nil.  The Huskies (17-13, 7-10 Big East) somewhat remarkably remain in contention for an at-large NCAA berth despite their well-documented struggles. A loss on Saturday would certainly figure to firmly put them on the outside looking in, even in the minds of the pundits.
  5. The Naismith Men’s Basketball Player of the Year is obviously a huge honor and just to be considered is certainly something to be proud of.  To that end, the Atlanta Tipoff Club announced its somewhat oddly named ‘Midseason 30’, which is a a list of the 30 finalists for the award.  Four Big East players made the cut: Marquette’s Darius Johnson-Odom, West Virginia’s Kevin Jones, and two from Syracuse in Kris Joseph and Dion Waiters. The Naismith recipient will be announced and awarded during the Final Four, which we presume implies that the second “half” of the season will be played in the next four weeks.
Share this story

Big East Morning Five: 02.28.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on February 28th, 2012

  1. It appears that Nerlens Noel, the #1 recruit in the class of 2012, has cut his list of finalists from seven to five, resulting in two Big East schools left wanting. Noel was interviewed as part of a WCVB 5 Boston segment on him and his Tilton School teammates. In the interview Noel stated he has “narrowed it down” to Kentucky, Syracuse, Florida, Georgetown, and North Carolina. Omitted from Noel’s original list of seven were Connecticut and Providence.  Noel made similar news recently in a radio interview when he seemingly cut his list only to quickly clarify via Twitter that his list had not changed. Fans of Connecticut and Providence will hold out hope of an inadvertent omission once again, but all had been quiet in the Noel camp as of late Monday evening. In a related story, Jim Calhoun and Ed Cooley have retained Ryan Braun’s lawyers because they believe the WCVB 5 news feed was tampered with in post-production.
  2. Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun underwent successful back surgery yesterday according to a statement issued by the school. Calhoun has been away from coaching since February 3 due to a painful condition called spinal stenosis. As part of the two-hour procedure conducted at New York’s Beth Israel Medical Center, doctors removed a “large extruded disk fragment” which was believed to be contributing heavily to Calhoun’s discomfort. Recovery time is not expected to be extensive and Calhoun could be back on the sideline for Connecticut’s regular season finale against Pittsburgh on March 3. George Blaney will continue to coach the team until Calhoun returns. The Huskies play a road contest versus Providence tonight.
  3. For the first time this season the Big East has a back-to-back Player of the Week as Marquette’s Jae Crowder has once again claimed the crown. Crowder, who may be the front runner for Big East Player of the Year, did it all for the Golden Eagles as usual in a 2-0 week posting averages of 26.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.0 steals and, 2.5 blocks per game. St. John’s had an impressive two-win week, including an upset of then red hot Notre Dame. Much of the Red Storm’s success had to do with the Big East Rookie of the Week, Moe Harkless. Harkless played every minute in both games and nearly averaged a double-double at 18.0 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. Last week’s Rookie of the Week, Anthony Collins begins this week’s Big East Honor Roll.  Collins made two huge free throws to give the Bulls an important win over Cincinnati, and averaged 13.0 points and 7.5 assists in a 1-1 week.  Other Honor Roll recipients were: Providence’s LaDontae Henton who put up a career-high 29 points against DePaul, with the most important two coming with 1.7 seconds left in the game to give the Friars the 73-71 win. Henton also had 15 rebounds; Connecticut’s Jeremy Lamb who also notched a career-high with 32 points in a win over Villanova and averaged 25.5 points and 6.0 rebounds in a 1-1 week; Syracuse’s Kris Joseph kept the Orange rolling, averaging 16.5 points and 9.5 rebounds in victories over South Florida and Connecticut; Seton Hall’s Jordan Theodore had a, guess what…career-high 29 points in the Pirates’ upset of Georgetown and averaged 23.0 points and 7.0 assists on the week.
  4. It’s late February which means you can either toil over who your favorite baseball team’s left-handed setup man will be or you can check out the college basketball rankings as you gear up for conference and NCAA tournament play. We actually love baseball here at RTC Big East so why not make it this week’s corny poll theme? Syracuse (29-1, 16-1) is the Big East’s version of a five-tool player and remains in the two-hole after holding off Connecticut on Saturday.  We don’t know if it was chicken and beer in the club house or not but Marquette (24-5, 13-3) weathered in-game suspensions to three key players and pulled out a road win at West Virginia as Buzz Williams and his Golden Eagles waltzed ahead two spots to #8. Georgetown (22-6, 12-5) does it the old fashioned way with pitching and defense but their setback against Seton Hall knocked the Hoyas down two notches to #11. Louisville and their Tony LaRussa-like tactician, Rick Pitino could not pull the right strings in a tough environment at Cincinnati and as a result of their loss to the Bearcats, Louisville also slipped two spots to #19.  Notre Dame (20-10, 12-5) has that ‘Moneyball’ look about them and the Irish held serve to remain at #20 this week despite a setback to St. John’s, which has now turned into a two-game losing streak on the heels of the Irish’s Monday night loss to Georgetown.
  5. The potential loss of Nerlens Noel notwithstanding, Providence head coach Ed Cooley has made plenty of noise on the recruiting trail in his brief time at Providence. While incoming players have made all the headlines, Cooley’s first recruiting coup may have been the luring of Andre LaFleur away from conference rival Connecticut to join his staff as associate head coach. When Connecticut visits Providence tonight it will be a reunion of sorts as it marks the first time the two teams meet since LaFleur’s departure. There has been speculation since LaFleur, who was an assistant coach at Connecticut, came to Providence around his reasons for leaving. One prevailing theory is the rising star that is Kevin Ollie provided more writing on the wall than LaFleur could stomach leading to somewhat of a mutual departure. Many believe Ollie is being groomed as Calhoun’s heir apparent. LaFleur dispelled that idea yesterday in an interview with the New Haven Register, saying he felt the increased responsibilities associated with the move to Providence would best help him build toward his goal of being a head coach.
Share this story

Big East Morning Five: 02.23.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on February 23rd, 2012

  1. Temple may become the next all-sport member of the Big East and could begin conference play as early as next season.  Currently Temple is a member of the MAC in football whose commissioner Jon A. Steinbrecher confirmed yesterday that he was aware the Big East and Temple were discussing a reunion.  Temple played football in the Big East from 1991-2004 before being jettisoned. West Virginia now leaving for the Big 12 next year after a legal settlement, the Big East is short a team which accounts for the hastened Temple timing. If the Big East and Temple ultimately come to terms, they will have to sit down with Steinbrecher and the MAC to negotiate cost and timing as MAC bylaws currently require two football seasons advance notice and a $2.5 million exit fee.
  2. Another reason for the perceived urgency around the Big East’s discussions with Temple is that Boise State confirmed yesterday that it will remain in the Mountain West for another year.  The school was believed to be an option to fill the void created by West Virginia’s Big 12 departure for the upcoming football season.  The Big East and Boise State discussed an earlier move but the school’s President, Bob Kustra, cited “too many obstacles to overcome” and said accelerating the schedule “would not be fiscally responsible.” Boise State will become a football-only member of the Big East for the 2012-13 season. While it has not yet been finalized, Boise’s other athletic programs are likely to compete in the Western Athletic Conference in all remaining sports, except wrestling which is a Pac-12 sport for the Broncos.
  3. As anticipated, Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun, who has been on medical leave since February 3 due to spinal stenosis, met with his doctor yesterday to review progress and discuss options that ranged anywhere from a possible return to the sideline this weekend to season-ending surgery.  As it turns out Calhoun will have a surgical procedure performed next Monday but he still has hopes of rejoining his team this season. The procedure will keep him out at least another two games — Saturday against Syracuse and Tuesday at Providence.  It is not known for certain whether Calhoun will be able to return for the Huskies’ regular season finale on March 3 against Pittsburgh.  Despite the rest and treatment over the past few weeks, Calhoun has remained in pain so the intent of the procedure is to alleviate his condition.
  4. If you are scoring at home it’s Syracuse and Jim Boeheim: 1, Bobby Davis and Mike Lang: 0.  New York State Supreme Court judge Brian DeJoseph ruled yesterday that the slander case brought by Davis and Lang against Boeheim and SU will be moved from New York City to Onondaga County (NY). Attorneys for Davis and Lang filed the suit in New York City saying that it would be impossible to get a fair trial in the Syracuse area due to the stature of Orange basketball and the strong connection between the university and its community. Boeheim and Syracuse countered the case should remain local because none of the participants reside near the city. Davis and Lang have accused former Syracuse assistant coach Bernie Fine of sexually molesting them and are accusing Boeheim of slander for comments he made about their motives in the Fine matter.  None of the named parties were in court on Wednesday where DeJoseph ruled that attorneys for the prosecution failed to prove their argument.  The decision will not be appealed per a statement from Gloria Allred, one of the attorneys representing Davis and Lang.
  5. Louisville freshman Chane Behanan likely had tonight plugged into his smart phone calendar for some time because he is heading home to Cincinnati when his Cardinals the floor at Cincinnati. It will represent a homecoming for the forward, who prepped at Cincinnati’s Aiken High School.  However, Behanan could draw the ire of or at least a little ribbing from some Bearcat faithful as they will remember that Behanan committed to Cincinnati after his freshman year before de-committing in his junior year.  While it is extremely common for a recruit to change his mind before signing with a team, the fact that Behanan was a hometown star could shift some attention his way tonight.  Cincinnati has its own home grown hero in senior center Yancy Gates who attended local Withrow High School.  Behanan and Gates’ teams faced off in high school and Behanan said he has never gotten the better of Gates. “That was a big rivalry every time we played against each other,” Behanan told the Louisville Courier-Journal. “Me and him always went head-to-head and I mean, I never beat him so hopefully that will change.”
Share this story

Big East Mount Rushmore

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on February 22nd, 2012

With all due respect to the legions of legendary players the Big East has produced in its storied history, the Big East has always been a coach’s league.  This makes perfect sense given that the conference was conceived by, and molded through the eyes of a coach.  It was the vision of that coach which propelled the Big East and college basketball to new heights beginning in the early 1980s.  The Mount Rushmore of the Big East resides in its foundation and backbone.  In many ways these are the four fathers of the conference.  They all made long-term and lasting contributions to the league, and their statures grew in-kind with that of the conference as a result.  These four men are your pillars.

Dave Gavitt:  It is impossible to conceive any reference to the success or history of the Big East without Dave Gavitt at the forefront.  A true visionary who gave life to the Big East Conference when he founded it in 1979, Gavitt relinquished a successful coaching career at Providence where he led the Friars to the 1973 NCAA Final Four to devote his attention to building the league as its first commissioner.  It is hard to imagine where smaller Catholic schools like Georgetown, St. John’s, Providence , Boston College and Villanova would be today without Gavitt’s influence.  He believed that there was an audience for college basketball, a belief that probably saved the relevance of college basketball in the northeast and one that transcended his league, leading to the national television attention and marketing of the sport as we currently know it.

Jim Calhoun: The long time Connecticut head coach epitomizes the tenets of the Big East.  A New England-born no-nonsense guy and tireless worker who always appears ready for a challenge, Calhoun was hired by Connecticut in 1986. He has led the Huskies to three National Championships, including last season’s historic double where Connecticut came out of nowhere from a ninth-place regular season conference finish to win both the Big East and NCAA Tournaments.  The Huskies have made 22 NCAA tournament appearances and four Final Fours under Calhoun’s watch.  Further, in this age where football and football money are deemed king, it is important to note that Connecticut has major Division I college football today as a result of the success Calhoun and Connecticut had on the basketball court and not vice versa.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big East Morning Five: 02.22.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on February 22nd, 2012

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.”
  5. 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.”
Share this story

Big East Morning Five: 02.21.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on February 21st, 2012

  1. The ugly brawl between Cincinnati and Xavier that forced a premature stoppage to their annual meeting last December led to plenty of speculation about the future of the rivalry.  Now that the cooling off period has spanned a couple of months it appears the ‘Crosstown Shootout’ will resume next season without pause.  While nothing has been finalized, there was indication from both schools yesterday that the game will happen.  Cincinnati president Greg Williams said, “Every indication is that we are going to play next year. We’re looking at it. [Xavier University president] Father Graham and I have talked about it a number of times.”  Xavier athletic director Mike Bobinski shared a similar sentiment, “Absolutely, we would like to see the game continue for the good of both institutions, college basketball, the city, all of the above. We all agree we’ve got work to do to put a different feel and flavor to the thing, but it’s worth doing so. Those conversations are yet to come.”  As far as the reference to ‘a different feel’ there has been talk about having the game played at a neutral site but neither school appears to be in favor of the suggestion.  A starting point might be a media gag order on the players threatening suspension if they discuss anything about the game or their opponent.  Tensions piqued a bit higher leading up to this season’s contest when Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick provided some bulletin board material in a radio interview by saying Xavier’s star guard Tu Holloway would not start for the Bearcats.
  2. Connecticut continues to hold out hope that the NCAA Committee on Academic Performance (CAP) will make changes to Academic Performance Rating (APR) standard that could restore their eligibility to compete in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. However they will now have to wait until at least April to find out their fate as the CAP met on Monday to discuss possible alterations to the regulations and did not reach any conclusions.  As things stand right now, the Huskies are not eligible for next year’s Big Dance for failing to meet the necessary APR.  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 has argued the starting point for the average should be the 2010-11 year so that score could be thrown out.  The school has already lost an appeal on the matter and has since taken its case to the CAP, who does not meet again until April.  Regardless of what comes out of that April meeting, the timing remains damaging to Connecticut on the recruiting front.  The spring (letter of intent) signing period for prospective high school class of 2012 prospects begins in mid-April so it stands to reason potential recruits who are discouraged by the prospect of not being able to play in next year’s tournament will not stand by and await a final ruling while spots on other desirable teams get filled.
  3. They say first impressions mean everything.  Well, I have been fortunate enough to experience a Marquette head coach Buzz Williams postgame press conference firsthand and when he was through all I could remember thinking was what a charismatic, consummate professional, and class act Williams was. A great piece by Howie Magner for Inside Milwaukee Magazine shows the many facets, and struggles, of Buzz Williams the coach, husband, father, patient, friend, mentor, protégé and benefactor.  Quite honestly any attempt here to encapsulate Mr. Williams or Magner’s article would not do either any justice.  Please do yourself a favor and read it.
  4. “I think that there’s too much sugar in the world and not enough salt. Kids want to be challenged. Humans want to aspire to something. You don’t win in life and you don’t win in athletics with softness or selfishness.”  -Buzz Williams on His Approach With Players

  5. Marquette’s Jae Crowder is seemingly everywhere on the court.  However, one place the jack of all trades/master of many has never been until now is atop the Big East Player of the Week list.  Crowder dropped a career-high 29 points to go along with 12 rebounds in the Golden Eagles’ 79-64 win over Connecticut on Saturday in Marquette’s only game last week.  South Florida’s Anthony Collins scored Big East Rookie of the Week honors as the freshman guard averaged 16.0 points, 6.5 assists and 2.0 steals per game for the Bulls in victories over Pittsburgh and Villanova.  Leading the Big East Honor Roll once again is last week’s Player of the Week, Jack Cooley of Notre Dame.  Cooley, who graces the Honor Roll for the fourth time this season, averaged 20.0 points and 15.5 rebounds in two Fighting Irish wins.  Joining Cooley on the Honor Roll are: Cincinnati’s Dion Dixon who littered the stat sheet to the tune of 13.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.5 blocks per game in two important Bearcats’ wins; Syracuse’s C.J. Fair who scored a season high 21 points to go with eight rebounds in a win over Rutgers and averaged 17.0 points and 6.5 rebounds per game in two games on the week; West Virginia’s Kevin Jones who went for 16 points and 13 rebounds in the Mountaineers’ victory over Pittsburgh which was good for Jones’ incredible 18th double-double of the year; and, Georgetown’s Hollis Thompson who also hit for a double-double in his only game of the week, scoring 13 points and pulling down 10 boards in a win at Providence.
  6. It the spirit of this weekend’s upcoming Daytona 500 it is time to talk about ‘poll’ positions among Big East teams.  Syracuse (27-1, 14-1) has proved slow and steady win the race as the Orange continue to meet all challenges and remain at No. 2 nationally.  The Big East now boasts three top 10 teams with Georgetown (20-5, 10-4) chugging ahead one spot to No. 9 and Marquette (22.5, 11-3), fueled by 10 wins in its last eleven games, motored up two places to No. 10.  The Hoyas and Golden Eagles will trade paint on March 3 in Milwaukee. Louisville (21-6, 9-5) can relate more to the ponies than the cars but the Cardinals have hit a new gear as well, winning seven of their last eight and taking an inside position at No. 17.  Speaking of burning rubber, who’s hotter than Notre Dame (19-8, 11-3)?  The improbable Fighting Irish have won eight straight, tying a school record, and surged ahead three spots to No. 20.
Share this story

Big East Morning Five: 02.20.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on February 20th, 2012

  1. Connecticut has a lot working against them these days and things are beginning to boil over. The Huskies (16-10, 6-8)  have lost seven of nine games after falling to Marquette 79-64 at home on Saturday, head coach Jim Calhoun remains out indefinitely while dealing with spinal stenosis and the future of the program remains cloudy as the Huskies face a 2013 NCAA tournament ban due to Academic Performance Rating (APR) struggles. Connecticut co-captain Shabazz Napier showed his frustration and aired grievances after the Marquette loss by calling his teammates’ heart into question. “Sometimes we look like we’re coming over the hump and then we face a good team and we all let up,” said Napier. “One thing I hate to say is, I’ve got to question a lot of these guys’ hearts.” Napier did not like how his team failed to battle down the stretch against Marquette in a game that was within reach in the final six minutes.  “We get punched and some guys throw pillows back. You’re not supposed to throw pillows back,” summed up Napier. While Connecticut possesses enough talent to compete at the highest levels, and find themselves in a somewhat similar spot to last year before they caught fire, do not look for a repeat performance this time around.
  2. Maryland Athletic Director Kevin Anderson has taken a bold move to restore an on-court rivalry with Georgetown. Maryland will not schedule a game against the Hoyas in any sport until the two power conference basketball teams agree to tip it off once again. Despite their proximity, because of various things that some call reasons, Georgetown and Maryland have not played a scheduled regular-season men’s basketball game since 1993 although they have met twice in tournament play since 1993. In short, the hoop rivalry is so natural it has transcended the hardwood and kept the sides from actually playing. Anderson and Georgetown Athletic Director Lee Reed met last year on the matter and there appeared to be some initial momentum that has since stalled.  Reed did not comment on Anderson’s edict but Georgetown Sports Information Director, Mike Carey did…sort of. “We do not make a habit of commenting on the scheduling practices of other schools,” Carey said.  Skeptics will say Anderson is making a desperate effort to save his financially floundering athletic department. An athletic department that could see nearly a third of its varsity teams cut if not turned around soon. However by most accounts, including this one, it simply makes all the sense in the world for Maryland and Georgetown to start playing again.
  3. Notre Dame tied a school record on Saturday night when the Fighting Irish notched their eighth straight conference victory in a thrilling 74-70 overtime victory over Villanova.  Even considering the school record aspect, Morning Fives do not typically focus on a single game or a recap but we are wading into those waters today based on how Notre Dame managed the accomplishment.  They put a Villanova on Villanova. Two weeks ago Villanova charged back from a 19-point deficit to overtake Providence at home. On Saturday Notre Dame trailed by as many as 20, but rode the sharp and deep shooting of freshman Pat Connaughton who scored all 21 of his points via the three. In some ways the Villanova game represents a microcosm of Notre Dame’s season with the Irish discarding adversity and conventional wisdom in favor of a winning approach. Notre Dame will attempt to break their consecutive conference victory record on Wednesday when they host West Virginia.
  4. As noted here on Friday there is a big shot blocker not named Noel that has captured the attention of a number of Big East schools, Chris Obekpa. With Mr. Noel enjoying a visit to Kentucky this weekend, Obekpa, a 6’8” center from Our Savior New American in New York, had a busy Saturday. Obekpa blazed his own recruiting trail through the northeast. Obekpa and Our Savior assistant coach, Eric Jaklitsch, first attended Connecticut‘s noon affair with Marquette in Hartford (a 79-64 Marquette victory) as a guest of the Huskies. Obekpa and his traveling party then headed east to take in Providence‘s home contest against Georgetown on Saturday night (a 63-53 Georgetown win). While Obekpa did not bring either suitor any luck on Saturday, he certainly stands to bring whomever he chooses much more once he hits the floor for them. In addition to Connecticut and Providence, Obekpa is also being pursued by conference foes Cincinnati, DePaul, Seton Hall, St. John’s, and West Virginia with some recent buzz about Georgetown getting into the picture. Out of conference Obekpa is hearing from the likes of Florida, Georgia Tech, Memphis, Oregon, UCLA, and Washington.
  5. This has not been the senior season Pittsburgh’s Ashton Gibbs dreamed about. The pre-season Big East Player of the Year selection and his team have not lived up to expectations, and look like they will miss the NCAA tournament for the first time in Gibbs’ career. Despite the Panthers’ (15-13, 4-11) struggles, Gibbs allowed himself to feel nostalgic leading up to his final regular season home game and senior night festivities last night against South Florida. Gibbs certainly has left his mark. From an individual standpoint, he is among Pittsburgh’s top ten all-time leading scorers (1650 points through last night) and could get to seventh before it is all said and done. Gibbs is also Pittsburgh’s all time leader in three pointers made and attempted. From a team standpoint Pittsburgh won at least 25 games and reached the NCAA tournament in each of Gibbs’ first three seasons, including an Elite Eight appearance in 2008-09. Gibbs struggled last night against a stingy South Florida team, tallying just two points on 1-7 shooting in the Panthers’ 56-47 loss.
Share this story

Georgetown Has Lost Its Street Cred, But Does it Matter?

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on February 17th, 2012

Once upon a time the Georgetown Hoyas struck fear in the hearts of any opposing player or fan who dared step into their path. With all due respect to Kid Rock, the Hoyas were the original American bad asses, exuding their bad-assness one rejection at a time.

For a generation, with centers and centerpieces like Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo, and Othella Harrington, Georgetown protected the rim with ferocious tenacity. The thing that resonated most about Georgetown then was that their thirst for physical domination appeared to be personal and satisfying. Whether at home or on the road, they took pleasure in the pain they delivered, playing the game with a collective scowl and a knowing smirk.

Polarizing.

People either loved Georgetown or hated them.

Then there was the group that repped the Hoyas because it was the cool thing to do. At the same time Georgetown basketball was a phenomenon. Beyond tangible. Even the word, “Hoya”, seemed to illicit some force of nature that had the power to overwhelm. They played with attitude and with a frenzied rage but seemed to be having fun at the same time. Michael Jordan probably pioneered the crossover appeal between sports and entertainment, but that was more due to his exploits and innovation on the court than his personality or background off of it. The Hoyas fused the relationship between college basketball and hip-hop culture. They had swagger. They had Allen Iverson.  Everyone else had uniforms and sweats, Georgetown had gear.

Players like Iverson had Game and Gave the Hoyas Cred

The fact that Georgetown could care less about image made it all work. They left that to the media, fans, and rap videos. Just kept bruising and winning. Yesterday’s Hoyas were molded in the image of their head coach, John Thompson. Stern and stoic, Thompson got more accomplished with a look than most could with an instruction manual. Like his players on the court, Thompson’s presence on the sideline was palpable. He knew he had the intimidation factor working. Like a savvy catcher handling a fireballer, Thompson did not discourage a hard one up-and-in every once and awhile. He had just enough control to be dangerous and Georgetown was Goliath to everyone else’s David. Except, in true form, the Hoyas wrote their own script and David got swatted out of the gym on most occasions.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big East Morning Five: 02.17.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on February 17th, 2012

    1. Super swatter Nerlens Noel, the #1 high school prospect in the class of 2012, spoke about his recruitment yesterday in a radio interview with Jeff Goodman on SiriusXM’s Inside College Basketball.  While it is anticipated Noel will sign during the April signing period, he stressed that he is not going to rush his decision. “I don’t really have a timeframe,” Noel told Goodman. “I just want to make sure I get in all my visits to these schools. However long that takes.” As far as what he is looking for in a school Noel said,”“Just a good program where I can go and play and be comfortable with the coaching staff, the whole program,” Noel said. “I know I can develop as long as I’m there, as a player and a person.” The interview led to a brief bit of controversy with regard to Noel’s list. On February 1 when Noel announced his intent to reclassify to the class of 2012, he released a list of seven finalists: Syracuse, Connecticut, Providence, Kentucky, Florida, Georgetown, and North Carolina. Yesterday on Goodman’s show Noel named only six, omitting Providence. The shockwaves created in the Ocean State almost caused the pineapple overlooking Providence’s Federal Hill to crumble to the ground. Noel, who will visit Kentucky this weekend, later confirmed via Twitter that he is still considering the Friars.
    2. Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim is getting in on the “Linsanity” and says those who think his former player, currently injured Knick star Carmelo Anthony, and Jeremy Lin, perhaps you have heard of him, will not be able to coexist when Anthony returns should Melo-out. Boeheim appeared on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” and summed it up this way, “For somebody to assert that Carmelo Anthony can’t play with somebody it’s the most ridiculous thing that I’ve ever heard.” Boeheim went on to say he experienced Anthony as a team player citing their 2003 National Championship run. In an interview with Stephan A. Smith on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” Anthony also made strong comments in response to the allegations he is a selfish player, “That’s like a slap in the face. None of my teammates I’ve ever played with would say that I was a selfish player. Nobody.”
    3. Perhaps lost in the ‘Nerlensanity’ is Chris Obekpa, another highly regarded class of 2012 big man being who is being courted by a number of Big East suitors. Obekpa is a 6’8” center who attends New York’s Our Savior New American and has Big East scholarship offers from Connecticut, Cincinnati, DePaul, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John’s, and West Virginia. Like Nerlens Noel, Obekpa is best known for his shot blocking ability and defensive prowess. Obekpa’s stock has risen mightily by virtue of a great summer on the AAU circuit as well as some dominating prep performances this season. He is ranked nationally by both ESPN (50) and Rivals.com (105). Obekpa will reportedly take an unofficial visit to Connecticut this weekend and has already visited Georgia Tech, Providence, Seton Hall, and St. John’s.
    4. ESPN’s latest power rankings were released yesterday so let’s take a look at how the Big East is trending. Syracuse remains firmly entrenched in the #2 hole as they continue to firm up a one seed in the NCAA tournament. Georgetown’s close loss did not hurt their positioning, and justifiably so, as the Hoyas remained at #9. There are few coaches doing a better job than Marquette’s Buzz Williams who has his Golden Eagles, winners of nine of their last ten, getting primed for post-season play. That momentum is reflected in the power rankings as Marquette jumped up four spots to #11. Louisville has shaken off a bit of a mid-season funk and is back in the thick of it as the Cardinals surged eight spots to #15. Notre Dame is probably the story of the year in the Big East and speaking of coaches doing a great job, say hey Mike Brey. Winners of seven in a row, the Fighting Irish vaulted five notches to #20.
    5. It was approaching midnight on Thursday.  A Morning 5 hung in the balance.  Four items were complete.  The fifth proved elusive. Then it happened.  Thank you @CardChronicle for tweeting this great Louisville Courier-Journal story by C.L. Brown about Cardinals freshman Wayne Blackshear’s encouraging and discouraging path to Louisville. The discouraging part is well-documented as Blackshear was not able to appear in a game for Louisville until last weekend due to a series of setbacks. He was named a McDonald’s All-American coming out of high school in Chicago but was not able to play in the game due to a left-shoulder injury. As he was recovering from the resulting surgery, Blackshear also waited for the NCAA Clearinghouse to approve his academic qualification. Shortly after he received clearance both academically and physically he tore the labrum in his right shoulder which was the injury that ultimately held him out for the better part of this season. The encouraging part of Blackshear’s story his mother’s influence in keeping him focused and grounded. “I’d always tell him, ‘You didn’t do nothing, that was nothing. I’ll tell you when you do something,’” she told the Courier-Journal. “I just didn’t ever want him to think he arrived, because he’s got a long way to go.” Yes he does but he clearly has a good guide.
Share this story

Big East Morning Five: 02.16.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on February 16th, 2012

  1. As anticipated, Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun sat out last night’s 80-54 win over DePaul as he continues his recovery from spinal stenosis. Last night marked the fourth straight game for the Huskies without Calhoun on the sideline and he will be out a little longer. The school said Calhoun will not resume his coaching duties for at least the next two games, Saturday versus Marquette and Monday at Villanova.  In recent days Calhoun was said to still be in significant pain but it appears his condition, and knowledge around how to best treat it have since improved but there is still no definitive timetable for a return as evidenced by a statement issued by Calhoun, “I am happy that we seem to have located the problem and I am currently moving forward with treatment. We have to give that treatment time to see whether or not it is effective,” said Calhoun. “I’m hoping by the middle of next week, we will have a much clearer picture of where we are and when I can look forward to getting back to doing what I do,” he added.
  2. Lawyers for Bobby Davis and Mike Lang, who are suing Syracuse University and Jim Boeheim for defamation involving comments made in the wake of Davis’ and Lang’s accusations of sexual misconduct by former Syracuse assistant coach Bernie Finefiled a memo opposing a previously filed motion by the defendants asking for a change of venue for the case. Currently the case is being heard in New York City but the Boeheim and Syracuse camp believe it should be moved to Onondaga County, where Syracuse is located. The prosecution wants the case to remain in New York City and cited the celebrity status that is Syracuse basketball as a reason in the memo indicating that there would be a strong bias in favor of the defendants given the larger than life presence of and adulation for the program. I am not a judge, nor did I stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night, but the prosecution appears to have a point here.
  3. We are staying hot on the trail of Nerlens Noel (boy did I just set myself up for some “commentary” from my colleague Mike) who is the number one recruit in the land after reclassifying to the class of 2012 and looking to sign this April.  Four of his seven finalists (Syracuse, Connecticut, Providence, Kentucky, Florida, Georgetown, and North Carolina) are Big East schools. Noel had a highly publicized visit to Syracuse last weekend and there will be no shortage of things written and said when he heads to Lexington to visit Kentucky and head coach John Calipari.  Kentucky hosts Mississippi on Saturday. There is much more to say here but I am going to vacate (get it Nerlens, vacate?) the rest of this item.
  4. Yeah, that’s NOT the ticket.  St. John’s fired senior associate athletic director Brian Colleary yesterday after completing an investigating into what the school termed “inappropriate activities” involving the handling of tickets. The only specific event reported was the Big East tournament. The official statement called the reason for termination a “misappropriation of tickets”. Colleary was suspended without pay on February 9 pending a review of the situation by the school. The school also indicated the investigation revealed this was an isolated incident but additional controls have been put in place to ensure it does not happen again.
  5. It was a bit of a slow news day around the Big East on Thursday but there were some notable tidbits emanating from last night’s game action. South Florida took out Villanova last night 65-51 to run their Big East record to 9-4 which tied a school record for Big East wins. Providence managed to make something of a game of it on the road at Cincinnati, cutting a 22 point second half deficit down to seven before succumbing to the Bearcats 81-66 which marked the 22nd consecutive conference road loss for the last-place Friars. That is not easy to do folks.  Notre Dame has now won seven straight Big East games and notched their tenth Big East win (10-3) after they rolled Rutgers 71-53 last night.
Share this story