Big Ten Tournament: The Future Looks Bright For Illinois

Posted by Walker Carey on March 13th, 2014

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Thursday’s first round Big Ten Tournament game between Illinois and Indiana in Indianapolis.

Both Illinois and Indiana entered Thursday afternoon’s match-up with winning the conference tournament as their only hope of earning a bid to the NCAA Tournament, so Illinois’ 64-54 victory might be viewed as a ticket to play top-seeded Michigan in the quarterfinals on Friday. While true at some level, it’s misleading at another — Illinois showed in today’s win through a variety of signs that it will once again be a force to be reckoned with in the Big Ten as soon as next season. The player of the game for the Illini on Thursday afternoon was junior guard Tracy Abrams. Abrams, who entered the game averaging 10.5 points per contest, exploded for a game-high 25 points (17 of which came in the second half). The Chicago native also showcased his ability to hit big shots by nailing a huge three-pointer with 2:06 to play that increased the Illini’s lead to four and all but secured the victory, as Indiana scored just two more points over the remainder of the game.

Abrams and the Illini Appear to Have a Bright Future (B.Tse)

Abrams and the Illini Appear to Have a Bright Future (B.Tse)

While Abrams led the charge in the scoring column for Illinois, John Groce’s squad also received contributions from several other underclassmen. Junior big man Nnanna Egwu was limited offensively – he managed just two points on 1-of-8 shooting – but he found a way to impact the game in other facets by collecting seven rebounds and blocking five shots. Redshirt junior guard Rayvonte Rice added 13 points and helped key the defensive effort that forced Indiana into an 0-of-10 performance from behind the arc in the second half. Freshmen guards Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn showed a bit of why John Groce felt comfortable inserting them into the starting lineup back in early February. Hill finished Thursday’s win with eight points and four rebounds, while showcasing his outside shooting prowess by knocking down both of his three-point attempts. Nunn added 10 points to the winning effort and was primarily responsible for the outstanding defensive effort on Indiana star guard Yogi Ferrell. Ferrell finished the afternoon just 3-of-13 from the field and 2-of-9 from three.

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Season In Review: Seton Hall Pirates

Posted by mlemaire on April 26th, 2013

Having lost their two best players in point guard Jordan Theodore and burly forward Herb Pope, the Pirates were not expected to make a lot of noise in the Big East this season and it became quickly apparent that Kevin Willard‘s team was not only less talented but also severely undermanned against the rest of the conference. The team finished the season 15-18 and a dismal 3-15 in conference play with two of those wins coming against the teams that finished behind them in the conference standings (South Florida and DePaul). None of this was surprising to those who followed the team and knew that the Pirates would struggle mightily to replace the production of Pope and Theodore, but if they had been slightly more competitive, it would have at least given Willard something to point to as far as improvement goes. Let’s dive a bit deeper into why Seton Hall wasn’t able to right the ship this season.

Fuquan Edwin Emerged As A Big-Time Big East Player, But He Was The Only One.

Fuquan Edwin Emerged As A Big-Time Big East Player, But He Was The Only One.

The Good

When your best win as a team was either a four-point win over Wake Forest or a one-point win over Villanova, it can be hard to find positives in what quickly became a lost season. But there were some individual positives, such as the play of junior guard Fuquan Edwin, who was always one of the best defenders in the conference but actually emerged as a versatile and dangerous offensive threat for the Pirates this season. Sophomore guard Aaron Cosby became a dangerous outside shooter and important offensive cog, and before his season ended prematurely thanks to shoulder surgery, sophomore forward Brandon Mobley was putting together a solid season and should be an important piece to next year’s team. Despite falling drastically in both offensive and defensive efficiency this season, the Pirates were still relatively judicious shot-takers and they were also an above-average defensive team, at least when they played inspired basketball.

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Big East M5: 04.03.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on April 3rd, 2013

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  1. In a swift and cataclysmic turn of events, Mike Rice went from temperamental curmudgeon to persona non grata over the course of yesterday afternoon, after ESPN released compromising video of the Rutgers practices that had earned Rice a suspension earlier this season. The video confirmed initial local reports that Rice had hurled basketballs at players in his first two seasons. More disturbingly, it also depicted Rice routinely putting his hands on athletes and hurling abusive, bigoted slurs in a way that appeared to create a thoroughly humiliating environment for Rutgers players. Athletic Director Tim Pernetti came to his coach’s defense after the video’s release, performing rhetorical somersaults in media interviews and remaining noncommittal on any future disciplinary actions against Rice. But based on the public outcry condemning Rice yesterday, casting his lot with Rice might have sealed Permetti’s fate as well rather than eased criticism of the third-year coach.
  2. In terms of potential incoming Big East transfers, UConn may be on the short list of destinations for NC State freshman combo guard Rodney Purvis. With Shabazz Napier and possibly Ryan Boatright out of the picture in 2014-15, Purvis could provide an explosive replacement by the time he’s eligible, and for that reason Dom Amore at the Hartford Courant says he “could be an ideal fit.” Amore also cautions that UConn’s staff, still smarting from NCAA sanctions, would closely scrutinize the academic issues that rendered Purvis ineligible at NC State for a time.
  3. Eric Crawford of WDRB (Louisville, KY) argues Russ Smith deserved to place better than the third team in the AP’s All-America recognitions. He says the notion of electing All-Americans before the NCAA Tournament begins is incongruous with a “sport that weights everything by its 68-team final exam.” Crawford points out that Smith averaged 26 points per game as he led his team to the Final Four, while first-teamers Otto Porter and Gonzaga’s Kelly Olynyk were bounced in the first weekend. The Louisville guard is also on pace to score the most points in an NCAA Tournament since Glen Rice notched 184 in 1989, and already tied the event’s single-game steals record (eight) on the other end of the floor. More than anything, Smith’s example offers an indictment of opinion polls that don’t reward postseason performance.
  4. UConn’s athletic department confirmed in a press release yesterday that the Huskies would kick off the 2013-14 season against Maryland in the Barclays Center on November 8. Kevin Ollie emphasized that his team’s three New York City natives were particularly excited, as are UConn fans and alumni both in the city and within Metro North’s service footprint. Between opening in Barclays and participating in the Y2K Sports Classic in Madison Square Garden two weeks later, UConn will enjoy tremendous exposure in the Big Apple, which should help offset the demise of the Big East Tournament in the short term. The ability to sell these kinds of marquee non-conference homecoming games will be a huge asset on the recruiting trail as well. Ollie also let slip a comment about “expecting” his top six scorers to return, which perhaps indicates Ollie believes First-Team All-Big East guard Shabazz Napier will forgo the NBA draft.
  5. Departing Seton Hall guard Aaron Cosby has narrowed his transfer prospects down to Missouri and Illinois, and will reportedly settle on a home for his final two years of eligibility this month. The 6’2″ Kentucky native, who averaged 12.6 PPG and shot 40% from beyond the arc, had chosen Kevin Willard’s program over an offer from Indiana. But Seton Hall’s struggles seemed to play a role in Cosby’s decision to transfer, as he cites a desire to play for “Top 25 NCAA Tourney caliber teams” like the Tigers and Illini. And that’s the real red flag for Willard, as out of state kids like Cosby and Aquille Carr have been integral to his rebuilding efforts.
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Big East M5: 11.08.12 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on November 8th, 2012

  1. Few can argue with the fact that the job that Buzz Williams has done at Marquette has been incredibly impressive. What’s perhaps the most interesting thing about how he’s gone about building the program is the unique way he’s done it. Where programs like Iowa State and Missouri have plucked large amounts of transfer players from the ever-expanding college basketball waiver wire, Marquette has found many of its best players under Williams in the junior college ranks. Rob Dauster at College Basketball Talk discussed Williams’ unique perspective and relationship with these players, including a large quote from the ever-quotable Williams in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal.  In the days leading up to the Syracuse-Marquette match-up in the 2011 NCAA Tournament, I remember Williams taking the time to tell his own personal story of how he made it to among the highest levels of coaching, and it was among the more impressive things I’ve ever heard. Many are put off by Williams’ histrionics on the sideline (and often, the court), but his incredible story of triumph and love and respect for the game more than overshadow that, for me at least.
  2. One wouldn’t expect Frankfurt, Germany to be a town heavy with Connecticut fans, but a number of UConn fans serving on Ramstein Air Base, the site of Huskies’ upcoming showdown with Michigan State, prove that notion wrong. Kevin Ollie’s squad has received a warm reception at Ramstein, and seem to have done a great job of connecting with the fans serving at the base. In the Hartford Courant article, UConn fan Tony Hodges describes the impact that the game has had on those stationed at Ramstein: “It’s tremendous for the morale… It’s like being home, and it shows that people haven’t forgotten the ones who are stationed far away.”
  3. It’s been a tough year for Villanova basketball, and the hits continued yesterday with the announcement that point guard Ty Johnson would be transferring at the end of the semester. Johnson backed up Maalik Wayns at the position last year and played in every game, starting nine for the Wildcats and finishing second on the team in assists. This offseason, Villanova brought in transfer guard Tony Chennault and freshman Ryan Arcidiacono, who expect to log the majority of the minutes at the point, but I’m sure that Jay Wright would have preferred to keep Johnson for the depth he would provide.
  4. NJ.com‘s Brendan Prunty released his Seton Hall season preview, and did a great job of outlining all things Pirate-basketball. In the piece, Prunty took a look at three possible outcomes for this year’s team: an NCAA Tournament berth, a spot in the NIT, or a “long offseason.” Since the start of the season is now upon us, and that’s reason enough to be optimistic, let’s take a look at the keys for a Seton Hall tournament berth in March: “The other four spots on the floor overshadow the PG hole. Last year, the point guard spot was the strongest on the floor for the Pirates. Jordan Theodore was an all-league player, guiding Seton Hall to the cusp of March Madness. Well, with Theodore graduating and transfer Sterling Gibbs’ hardship waiver not being granted, Willard is forced to put (Aaron) Cosby in that role. Seton Hall’s success though will ride on the rest of the starting rotation — particularly transfers Oliver and Gene Teague and Fuquan Edwin — to pick up the slack.”
  5. It’s a new basketball season and that means it is time for a new Syracuse basketball rap song.  Syracuse has a long history of official team themes, which began in 2009-10 with then assistant coach Rob Murphy’s classic track “Shut it Down”.  Murphy has since left Syracuse to become the head coach at Eastern Michigan, so the basketball team has recruited rapper and Syracuse resident World Be Free to pen this year’s theme – “We Got This”.  If ‘this’ is a repeat of the 2009-10 season, or last year’s 34-3 campaign, I think that most Orange fans will be quite pleased with the result.

Dan Lyons is a writer for Rush The Court’s Big East microsite. He also contributes to Syracuse blog Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician and Ultimate Athlete Magazine.  You can find Dan on Twitter @Dan_Lyons76.

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Morning Five: 10.24.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on October 24th, 2012

  1. It’s now been about 10 days since the beginning of practices around the nation and you have to figure that coaches have started to get a sense as to what kind of team they’ll be able to put on the floor this season. But running against yourself only gets you so far by way of learning about your squad, so the NCAA allows coaches to set up so-called “secret scrimmages” between Division I schools so long as nobody other than the competitors are invited and nobody ever talks about them. CBSSports.com‘s Jeff Goodman has mined his sources to put together a list of non-games for the next week and there are a few of which we’d like to see some surreptitious 47%-style tape released afterward — a Xavier-West Virginia battle on Saturday; a Georgetown-North Carolina tilt as well as a Creighton-Iowa contest on Sunday; and, a Stanford-St. Mary’s game late next week. How about we just tip off the season this weekend instead — these are good games!
  2. One of the few teams in America who would probably be better off from a competitive perspective playing five-on-five in its own gym rather than schlepping around to find its match is Louisville. Seth Davis reports from his time spent observing the Cardinals, and after describing in detail why he thinks that Rick Pitino truly is having the most fun coaching that he’s had in years (perhaps decades), he believes that Louisville brings back enough heart, defensive scrap and offensive firepower to make a return trip to the Final Four in 2012-13. While it’s true that outside shooting is probably going to remain a problem area and the Cards are prone to injuries, we really can’t disagree with him. With a healthy Wayne Blackshear and the continued improvement of Chane Behanan, we feel that Pitino’s offense will be quite a bit more fluid than the train wreck they often put on the floor last season.
  3. If you had to pick one college basketball team that was the most influential — not necessarily the best, mind you — in the history of the game, who would it be? The 1966 Texas Western team that shocked all-white Kentucky and blew off the doors of the stereotype that black players were undisciplined and couldn’t play championship basketball? Perhaps the undefeated 1976 Indiana Hoosiers, the last team to run the table with an undefeated season and become the archetype for “perfect basketball” forever more? These teams and many others are considered in Alexander Wolff’s latest SI piece examining this very question. His choice: the 1964 UCLA Bruins, John Wooden’s first national championship team, a group that shocked the college basketball world in how it redefined how the very game was played (did you know that this unbeaten team wasn’t even ranked in the AP Top 20 to begin the season?). It’s an interesting read, and one frankly we find more compelling than the tired debates over which teams were “better,” an impossibly futile question to answer.
  4. If you’re a college basketball junkie who loves mid-major hoops, you may want to considering finding the NBC Sports Network on your cable or satellite package this season. The network will show more than 50 games this season, but the majority of those will involve teams from four non-power leagues — the Atlantic 10, the Mountain West, the CAA, and the Ivy League. It is also the only place to find realistic television coverage of the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament in the Bahamas (apparently something called AXS.tv will cover two quarterfinal games), which for our money is by far the best of the various preseason tournaments this year — VCU, Duke, Memphis, Louisville, Northern Iowa, Missouri, Stanford and Minnesota will all be there this year. The network will also show both semifinals and the championship game of the CAA Tournament next March.
  5. Finally, we’ll end with injury news. If you still have some college eligibility left and possess some semblance of a passing game and floor leadership at the point guard position, give Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard a phone call. His only legitimate point guard, sophomore Aaron Cosby, has sprained the PCL in his right knee and will be out of action for the next four to six weeks. Although the news could certainly be worse, entering the first month of the season and facing games against the likes of Washington, LSU and Wake Forest prior to the semester break isn’t exactly a recipe for winning without someone to run the offense.
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Big East M5: 10.23.12 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on October 23rd, 2012

  1. While the Orange basketball season is still a few weeks away, Central New York basketball fans got a bit of a treat at the Carrier Dome last night. Syracuse hosted an NBA preseason tilt between the New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers featuring former Orange legend Carmelo Anthony. The Sixers won the game 98-90, although Anthony played well, scoring 23 points and tallying six rebounds, five assists, and four steals in the game. Perhaps more notably, this weekend was Carmelo’s first chance to get a full tour of the Syracuse building which bears his name – the Carmelo K. Anthony Basketball Center. Anthony, who donated $3 million towards the construction of the top-flight training facility, was a bit awestruck by the experience, according to Syracuse.com‘s Mike Waters:

    “I was there yesterday. That was the first time I had a chance to get around and walk through the whole facility. I watched the team practice. I actually got a work-out in over there. I was kind of surreal for me to walk around and see my name plastered around the building and the outside of the building. [...] I was … I don’t know what word to use. It was shocking to me just to see that. I called my family and sent them pictures of it. [...] It was one of those moments that I’ll never forget.’’

  2. Sporting News’ Matt Crossman wrote an excellent piece this week on Louisville center Gorgui Dieng. While it is easy for many to get caught up in the life that comes with being an elite level college athlete, especially one who has received numerous preseason accolades after last 2011-12′s Final Four run, Dieng has managed to stay exceptionally humble. Crossman discusses Dieng’s move from Senegal and his adjustment to life in America, both socially and on the court, as well as his strength as a student. More than anything, Dieng’s refreshing view on life shines through:“People forget the basics. Now, it’s all about money. It’s all about what you got,” Dieng says. “They forget happiness. There is nothing better than a smile. Nothing.”
  3. Big East basketball has a reputation for being more physical than most other leagues, and Rutgers feels as though it has struggled in the past because of this. Enter strength coach Mike Johansen, who made it his goal to improve the Scarlet Knights’ strength numbers across the board. It seems as though he’s succeeded.  According to this Daily Record report, the team’s average squat is up 73 pounds, its average clean has increased by 30 pounds, and its average bench is up 40 pounds. Time will tell if this will have a major impact for Rutgers on the court, but at the very least they should be more physically prepared for the rigors of a full Big East slate.
  4. In other New Jersey basketball news, Seton Hall has been bitten by the injury bug early this year. Point guard Aaron Cosby will be missing four to six weeks with a PCL strain. Luckily for Cosby and the Pirates, the injury does not appear to be too serious and will not require surgery. The vacant point guard job is now left up to sophomore Freddie Wilson, who played sparingly last year, and freshman Tom Mayaan, who is coming off of a torn ACL.
  5. When it comes to the use of dog logos in the state of Connecticut, UConn wants to be sure that you won’t confuse them with The Morgan School, a Clinton, Connecticut, high school with an enrollment of 558 students: “A letter from James D. Aronowitz, associate general counsel for the Atlanta-based Collegiate Licensing Company, which represents UConn, politely asked Clinton educators to stop using the logo. The letter said use of the similar dog could interfere with UConn’s ability to “effectively market and license” the use of the logo.” To be fair, the schools’ logos are quite similar, and The Morgan School seems to be handling the situation amicably, but let it be known — if you are a high school in New England (or even as far as Montana, as the article states) that uses the ‘husky’ as a mascot you should probably consider a switch before UConn finds you.  For maximum internet appeal, I suggest becoming the ‘Corgis’.
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Tipping Off The Big East Countdown: #14 Seton Hall

Posted by Dan Lyons on October 11th, 2012

Yesterday, we opened up our Big East season preview with a look at the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.  Today, we shoot up the Garden State to break down their in-state rivals, Seton Hall.  Coming off of a bit of a surprising season led by two big-time seniors, head coach Kevin Willard is tasked with attempting to repeat that success by piecing together a group largely comprised of unproven talent and various transfer players.

2011-12 Record: 21-13, 8-10

2011-12 Postseason: 1-1 (NIT)

How will Kevin Willard’s Pirates fare after the departure of Jordan Theodore and Herb Pope?

Schedule

The Pirates face a solid non-conference slate.  After opening with the Kangaroos of UMKC and Norfolk State at home, Seton Hall travels to Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut for the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off, where they will then face Washington and either Ohio State or Rhode Island. Later in the fall, the Pirates travel to Baton Rouge to take on middling SEC program LSU, and hit the road one more time to face a struggling Wake Forest program. Neither of these teams is a powerhouse at this point, but beating either could prove to be a nice recognizable win for Seton Hall.  The Pirates close out the non-conference season with a rematch against Stony Brook, which they edged out 63-61 in the first round of last season’s NIT.

Seton Hall opens Big East play with a trip to the midwest to take on DePaul and Notre Dame. Seton Hall has home-and-homes with Louisville and Marquette, who look to be at the top of the conference again this season, as well as Providence and Rutgers, who should be a bit more manageable for the Pirates. They also host USF, Cincinnati, UConn, Syracuse, and Villanova at the Prudential Center. It will be interesting to see how the New Jersey fan base embraces Seton Hall this season, as “The Rock” may feel fairly dormant this winter with the NHL lockout bringing uncertainty to the Devils’ season and the Nets relocating to Brooklyn. Seton Hall may be the arena’s only home team for the time being.

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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.
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What Has Happened To Seton Hall?

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 30th, 2012

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC. He covered Louisville’s 60-51 win at Seton Hall on Saturday and filed this report.

Heading into a two-game home stand against a pair of middle of the pack Big East teams, Seton Hall players, coaches and fans thought two consecutive road losses to South Florida and Villanova were nothing more than a bump in the road. After all, the team started the season 15-2 and 4-1 in the Big East and looked well on its way to the program’s first NCAA berth in six seasons. After dropping both games this week to Notre Dame and Louisville at the Prudential Center, the 15-2 start seems like light years ago and the prospect of a spot in the 68-team NCAA Tournament may be only a dream at this point. Seton Hall shot a mind-blowing 26% against Notre Dame and 28% against Louisville in its own building, scoring only 93 points combined in the two games. Head coach Kevin Willard was candid after the Louisville loss saying, “We really suck offensively right now.” That much is obvious but why is this happening? Let’s attempt to determine what is going on with the Pirates.

Seton Hall Needs to Right Its Ship Soon...

Seton Hall is now on a four game losing streak and faces three upcoming road games: at Marquette, Connecticut and Rutgers. If the Hall doesn’t get at least one of those, it will return home on February 12 to face Pittsburgh with a 4-8 Big East record, a stunning collapse for a team that had been playing so well for an extended period of time. How does Seton Hall reverse this trend and get back on the winning track? There are many things that must change but it starts with Willard’s two senior leaders, Jordan Theodore and Herb Pope.

Theodore has done an admirable job running the point this year for the Pirates. While his shooting percentages are down from last year, his assists have jumped from 4.4 per game a year ago to 7.0 this season without a major increase in turnovers. Looking at the assists alone, you notice a drop off right away over Seton Hall’s four-game slump. In the Hall’s first five Big East games (4-1), Theodore averaged 8.2 APG and 18.2 PPG on 45.6% shooting. Those are numbers that would put any player in the conversation of the best point guards in the conference and maybe the nation, a discussion Theodore was in the thick of just two weeks ago. In his team’s extended slide, Theodore has averaged only 4.3 APG and 14.5 PPG on a putrid 27.9% shooting. The senior point guard’s turnovers have shot up to 3.5 TOPG as well, above his season average. Point guard is the most important position in college basketball and Seton Hall’s success begins and ends with Jordan Theodore.

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Checking In On… The Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 30th, 2012

Brian Otskey is the RTC correspondent for the Big East conference. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • A Bad Saturday for Big East Referees:  It started in Philadelphia in the noon game between Villanova and Marquette. The referees made themselves the story of that game, calling three technical fouls and 45 total foul in a 40-minute game. That game lasted well over two hours as the officials used their whistles to take all the rhythm out of what was a very good game. James Breeding doesn’t have the best reputation across the conference for the quality of his calls, but apparently he has a short fuse as well. Breeding called all three techs and embarrassed himself on national television in the process. I realize the Big East and NCAA want better sportsmanship, but nothing Jay Wright, Buzz Williams, or Maalik Wayns did warranted a technical foul. It’s never good when officials make themselves the story of the game, but that’s exactly what James Breeding did. The bad officiating continued in the Syracuse-West Virginia game as the crew of Karl Hess, Gene Steratore and, Brian O’Connell blew a goaltending call that was obvious to the 28,740 Syracuse fans in attendance at the Carrier Dome, the ESPNU commentators, and anyone who was watching the game. While the proper call would have only resulted in a tie game and actually given Syracuse a chance to win it in regulation, it denied West Virginia a chance to force overtime. Too often, we see officials swallow their whistles in the final minute to “not affect the outcome of the game.” Once again, a crew of officials decided to do just that and that decision negatively affected the outcome. While there’s no guarantee West Virginia would have won if the game went to the extra session, the Mountaineers were denied that chance by incompetent officiating. My beef is as follows:  I’m all for player safety, but this season it has been ridiculous how many times officials have gone to the television monitor to review elbows that may or may not have been thrown during the course of a game. If they can review every elbow that was ever thrown (not needed in my opinion) as well as end-of-half scoring plays, why can’t they review a call like that? Nobody likes slow games, but the officials should be permitted to review every call they aren’t 100% sure about. All in all, Saturday was a disgrace to the officiating profession.
  • Mike Brey, Coach of the Year?: At this point, it would be hard to argue against him. The Notre Dame head coach led his team to two road wins at Seton Hall and Connecticut last week, holding the home teams to a combined 90 points. Brey’s team executed the burn offense to perfection, protected the basketball and got timely rebounds. Notre Dame, considered an afterthought after Tim Abromaitis went down with a season-ending ACL tear, is now in the thick of the NCAA Tournament conversation. Brey seems to get the most out of his teams when expectations are low, and that reputation is holding true as we head into the crucial month of February. The Irish still have work to do in order to overcome a lackluster non-conference performance but Brey has his team well on its way towards a top half conference finish.
  • Pittsburgh Wins a Pair: After starting league play 0-7, Pittsburgh has won two straight. With Tray Woodall healthy and back in the lineup, the Panthers are a team nobody wants to face down the stretch. Jamie Dixon’s NCAA dreams are almost surely extinguished, but the Panthers have an opportunity to finish the season strong and end with a respectable record. Pittsburgh’s offensive efficiency improved in a big way with Woodall’s return, but its defense was outstanding in Saturday’s win over Georgetown. The Panthers posted an 86.5 defensive efficiency rating, by far their best against a quality opponent. Their season-best was 81.0 against St. Francis (PA) on December 20, their last win before beating Providence last week. With a softer schedule in February, Pittsburgh has the potential to make some noise over the season’s final nine games.

Dante Taylor And The Panthers Are Still A Proud Bunch. (Matt Freed/Post-Gazette)

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (22-1, 9-1) – After suffering its first defeat at Notre Dame, the Orange responded well in a win at Cincinnati two days later. Kris Joseph led the victors with 17 points on eight of 11 shooting. Still without Fab Melo, the Orange big men did an admirable job in his place. Rakeem Christmas had nine rebounds as Syracuse survived an early onslaught of Bearcat three-pointers. Syracuse then beat West Virginia on Saturday in a closer-than-expected game as the Mountaineers were able to score against the zone, mostly because of rebounding. Syracuse was out-rebounded 36-20, but committed only six turnovers as it survived the blown goaltending call in the final seconds. Brandon Triche had 18 points in the win. Rebounding has been a concern all season, but it’s obvious that Syracuse is not nearly as dominant with Melo out of the lineup. Free throw shooting came and went (33% at Cincinnati, 76.5% against West Virginia) but mental toughness is one of its biggest strengths. As we head into the teeth of the season, Syracuse is more prepared to absorb and respond to every team’s best shot. This week: 2/4 @ St. John’s.
  2. Marquette (18-4, 7-2) – I’m not overly impressed every time I watch this team, but it makes the winning plays when needed most. The Golden Eagles won a pair of games last week to push their winning streak to six games. Darius Johnson-Odom, Jae Crowder, and Davante Gardner combined for 47 points in a home win over South Florida on Tuesday, equaling the total points scored by the Bulls. Marquette ventured to Villanova on Saturday and was involved in one of the more bizarre games I have seen all season across college basketball. The game lasted two and a half hours and didn’t even go to overtime. 45 fouls (three technical) were called and 57 free throws were attempted in a game that wasn’t the finest moment for the officiating crew of James Breeding, Tim Clougherty, and Pat Driscoll. Breeding in particular had a short fuse, whistling Buzz Williams for a technical when the coach simply slipped and fell down. Memo to Breeding: Get over yourself, he wasn’t showing you up. Johnson-Odom had 26 points, Crowder added 20 points and 11 boards for Marquette and Jamil Wilson added 12 points off the bench. Marquette rallied from an 18-point deficit and forced 20 Villanova turnovers to key the comeback. This is a good basketball team, but one that has a ceiling. I’m not sure the Golden Eagles have the scoring depth to make a big run in March. This week: 1/31 vs. Seton Hall, 2/4 @ Notre Dame. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… The Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 16th, 2012

Brian Otskey is the RTC correspondent for the Big East conference. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • Syracuse A Cut Above: With wins over Villanova and Providence this week, Syracuse has moved its record to 19-0 (6-0), equaling the best start in school history (1999-2000). On Monday night, the Orange will try to move to 20-0 for the first time ever when they host Pittsburgh, a team they have lost to five straight times. With 12 games remaining, people are starting to wonder if Syracuse can run the table. It would be a surprise if Jim Boeheim’s team lost at home to anyone, despite visits by Georgetown and Connecticut to the Dome in February. On the road, possible tough trips to Cincinnati, Connecticut, and Louisville appear to be the only obstacles standing in the way of an undefeated season. Syracuse has a 13.7% chance of going 31-0, according to the Pomeroy ratings, but I would put it higher. I think the Orange have a 40% chance to go all the way and those odds are getting better each and every day.
  • Connecticut Back On Track: After consecutive losses to Seton Hall and Rutgers almost two weeks ago, some had wondered if this Connecticut team would ever live up to its preseason billing as a top-five team. While I doubt that is true, the Huskies responded in a big way this past week by defeating West Virginia and Notre Dame. UConn used a 17-3 second half run, sparked by a Jim Calhoun technical, to overcome a ten-point deficit against the Mountaineers before going on the road and snapping Notre Dame’s 29-game home court winning streak. Andre Drummond had a terrific week, but the bigger story might be Alex Oriakhi showing signs of improvement. The junior forward had been in a season-long slump but managed to score 20 points this week, including a 12/7 performance in the win against the Fighting Irish.  However, there was some bad news mixed in for UConn last week. Ryan Boatright was suspended by the NCAA on Friday night for the second time over eligibility concerns.
  • Pittsburgh and Louisville Embarrassed: Raise your hand if you predicted these scores at the beginning of the year: Providence 90, Louisville 59. Rutgers 62, Pittsburgh 39 (at Pitt). Two of the power programs in the conference were waxed by two perennial bottom-feeders, all part of what has been an unpredictable season in the Big East. Louisville has lost four of six while Pitt is in more dire straits having lost six consecutive games. That could easily be seven in a row after the Panthers return from Syracuse tomorrow night. The good news for both teams? They bounced back and played fairly well in games on Saturday with the Cardinals disposing of DePaul and the Panthers nearly stealing an impressive road win at Marquette. Pitt lost the game, but Jamie Dixon had to have picked up some encouraging vibes from that performance. Pittsburgh and Louisville will get together this Saturday in the Steel City.

 

Ask The Never-Satisfied Jim Boeheim What He Thinks Of His Team's Chances At An Undefeated Season, And This Will Likely Be His Reaction. (Frank Ordoñez / The Post-Standard)

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (19-0, 6-0) – This team just keeps on chugging along and nobody has really threatened the Orange in a big way this season. There have been close calls here and there (Stanford, Florida, and Marquette), but Syracuse is a cut above every other team in this conference. As I mentioned above, I believe there is a good chance this team runs the table in conference play. Dion Waiters scored 20 points at Villanova, part of 47 bench points for the Orange, compared to 32 for the starters. Syracuse held the Wildcats to 33% shooting on their home floor at the Wells Fargo Center. Against Providence, it was all Orange from the start. Syracuse had 12 steals and forced 22 Friar turnovers. Scoop Jardine played like a quality point guard, scoring ten points but dishing out nine assists. The Orange blocked ten Providence shots and shot 73% in the second stanza. Syracuse continues to rank in the top ten in both offensive and defensive efficiency, but the Achilles heel for this team seems to be rebounding specifically on the defensive end. The Orange rank #307 in defensive rebounding percentage, but I don’t anticipate that being a major problem until tournament time. This week: 1/16 vs. Pittsburgh, 1/21 @ Notre Dame. Read the rest of this entry »
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Set Your TiVo: New Year’s Weekend Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 30th, 2011

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the official RTC Star System.

A quality Friday night Big East game leads us into a Saturday full of terrific matchups. There are a couple good games on Sunday, but if you’re going to watch any basketball around the New Year’s holiday, make sure you are in front of a television on Saturday.

West Virginia @ Seton Hall – 9:00 PM EST Friday on ESPN2 (***)

Kevin Jones Has His Mountaineers Surging

  • Since losing at Mississippi State four weeks ago, West Virginia has reeled off six wins in seven tries with the only loss coming in overtime to a top 10 Baylor squad. The Mountaineers have an imposing trio of Kevin Jones, Truck Bryant and Deniz Kilicli but the timely contributions of freshmen such as Jabarie Hinds, Gary Browne, and Aaron Brown have pushed West Virginia over the top in a few of these close games. Bob Huggins runs the vast majority of his offensive sets through Bryant and Jones with Kilicli chipping in as well. West Virginia is not a good outside shooting team but it should be able to take advantage of Seton Hall’s interior defense, rated #258 in two-point percentage.
  • Seton Hall ran out to a hot 11-1 start but the reality check came at the hands of Fab Melo and top-ranked Syracuse on Wednesday night. Melo blocked 10 Pirate shots in the blowout win, a game that got out of hand shortly after the opening tip for Seton Hall. Kevin Willard’s team needs to rebound in a big way tonight, the second of three difficult games to open their Big East schedule. Going up against Jones, Herb Pope has to stay on the floor and play a strong game. After a strong start to his season, Pope has averaged only 8.7 PPG over his last three outings. If he doesn’t get well into double figures, Seton Hall will have a hard time winning. Jordan Theodore needs to be a pass-first point guard in this game rather than a guy who shoots 15+ times. Getting Pope, Fuquan Edwin and three point specialist Aaron Cosby involved will be important for the senior Pirate point guard.
  • It’s likely that Pope/Jones and Bryant/Theodore cancel each other out meaning the game will be decided by the supporting casts. Kilicli could be that guy for West Virginia while Seton Hall will look to Edwin and/or Cosby to make a winning impact. Edwin had an awful game against Syracuse but he should rebound nicely in front of the home folks and a less imposing front line. These teams have played five overtime games between them and another could be in the offing here. West Virginia is probably the better team but the Hall playing at home evens this contest up. Neither team shoots the ball well from the charity stripe but it’s something that just may decide this game.

#10 Louisville @ #3 Kentucky – 12:00 PM EST Saturday on CBS (*****)

Jones and Company Invite Louisville to Rupp Saturday Afternoon

  • Kentucky has blasted every inferior team it has played this season but the Wildcats have played closer games against Kansas, North Carolina and Indiana. Louisville is the fourth good team Kentucky will see so far, and given the passion in this rivalry, another relatively close game should be expected. The Wildcats are the better team but you can throw rankings and records out in rivalries as bitter as this one. Kentucky must use its superior offensive talent to its advantage, namely Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb. Louisville is highly vulnerable to the deep shot making Lamb a key player. Jones is the best player on the floor and needs to use his versatility to rack up fouls on Louisville’s interior players or step out and knock down a deep ball. Six Kentucky players average double figures and Louisville just can’t match the Wildcats offensively.
  • Where Rick Pitino’s team can match Kentucky is on the defensive end. Louisville’s game plan has to be intense full court defense, making Marquis Teague work for every dribble and every pass. Teague averages 3.2 turnovers per game and Louisville is one of the better teams in the nation at forcing turnovers. Offensively, this is not a typical Pitino team. Louisville doesn’t shoot the three-ball well but Gorgui Dieng, Russ Smith and Kyle Kuric can put the ball in the basket. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, they don’t do it consistently enough to be an offensive force as a team. Peyton Siva has to be the catalyst in this game. The quick Louisville point guard has good vision but must cut down on turnovers. If Kentucky is getting runouts, it’s lights out for Louisville.
  • It’ll be hard for Louisville to score points on the road against the elite Kentucky defense but the Cardinals can force turnovers and get easy buckets. Both coaches don’t mind speeding up the game but that would favor John Calipari in this particular matchup. Pitino has to design a game plan that adeptly probes the Kentucky defense and gets quality shots. Siva is the key to execute that, plus the Cardinals must crash the boards and get second chance opportunities. That’s easier said than done against Jones and Anthony Davis. Davis has the potential to neutralize Dieng and anyone else who dares enter the paint for Louisville. The Cardinals will defend but they simply lack the offensive firepower needed to win this game at Rupp. We would be surprised if Kentucky loses at home for the first time under Calipari but this will be a fun game to watch regardless.
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