Set Your Tivos: 02.04.09

Posted by nvr1983 on February 4th, 2009

Set Your Tivos
After last night’s relatively weak slate of games, we’re back to normal tonight with a great set of games.

Game of the Day
#3 Duke at #10 Clemson at 9 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: Our second top 10 match-up of the week. Once again the road team is the higher ranked team, but I feel like this time they are also the favorites coming in to the game. All of you know about Duke by now thanks to their frequent appearances on national TV so I will keep it brief. Kyle Singler and Gerald Henderson have emerged as their two most consistent players. Usually that is enough to get them by most teams even if they only get minimal support from the rest of the team. However, when that happens against quality teams the result isn’t always that good (even if they come really really close). The key for the Blue Devils in this game and for the rest of the season will be the play of Brian Zoubek (go ahead and snicker Duke haters) and Nolan Smith. Zoubek merely needs to be a mediocre 7-footer and Coach K and the rest of the Blue Devils staff will be happy. Smith, who replaced Greg Paulus in the starting lineup, has to improve his decision-making. He must have one of the worst assist-to-turnover ratios (1.03 to 1) of any starting PG on a top team in the nation. On the other side of the ball, Clemson may be the most under-appreciated team in the country. I’m not sure if it is the Tigers’ recent history of falling apart down the stretch, but I never hear anybody mentioning them as a team that could make a run in March despite the fact that they probably have the most reasonable losses of any team in the country (Wake Forest and at UNC). The key for Oliver Purnell‘s team will be to have Trevor Booker dominate on the inside. I doubt that Duke will let him play against Zoubek so he will probably have to do it against Singler, which could make for an interesting match-up. If Booker can win that match-up, Clemson will have a shot. After that they will need a strong game out of K.C. Rivers and hope to contain Duke’s outside shooters (particularly Jon Scheyer). I think Clemson will keep it close until midway through the 2nd half when Duke will go on a run and pull away to win by about a dozen.

Worth Watching
West Virginia at #20 Syracuse at 7 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: The Mountaineers are a a perfect example of why it is so hard to read Big East teams. They are only 4-4 in the conference, but all 4 of those losses were to top 10 teams (UConn, Pittsburgh, Louisville, and Marquette). Likewise, Syracuse comes in having lost 3 straight and 4 of 5, but 3 of those losses have been on the road (Georgetown, Pittsburgh, and Providence) and the other to one of the hottest teams (Louisville) in the country. The Orangemen should be able to break their recent skid if they can contain Da’Sean Butler and Alex Ruoff, but a lot of that will have to do with whether or not they will have their full compliment of players available. Mookie Jones is done for the year with a hip injury, but someone will have to step up as Jim Boeheim can’t expect to get 62 points from Jonny Flynn and Eric Devendorf every game (and even that didn’t work in their last game).

#19 Minnesota at #14 Michigan State at 8:30 PM on The Big Ten Network: What is going on with the Spartans? Tom Izzo‘s team has lost back-to-back games at the Breslin Center to pretty weak competition (Northwestern and Penn State). Just two weeks ago everyone was talking about this team as a potential Final 4 contender with the return of Goran Suton. Unfortunately for Izzo, the Spartans will be without Raymar Morgan, who is out with “walking pneumonia”. To turn things around, the Spartans will need improved play out of Kalin Lucas, who still boasts an impressive 3.09 to 1 assist to TO ratio, but most of that is from his early season play. They will have to do it against a Gopher team that held Illinois to a ridiculous 36 points in their last game. Keep an eye on Al Nolen and Ralph Sampson III in this one for the Gophers as they will be matched up against Lucas and Suton respectively.

#6 Wake Forest at Miami (FL) at 7:30 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: Wake needs to develop some consistency if they want to be a national championship contender. We know that they can beat the big boys as they knocked off UNC, Clemson, and Duke in a three week stretch. The question is why they can’t maintain that level of play when they go up against Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech (both losses). Dino Gaudio will need to figure this out if he wants to get this team up to the level of Duke and UNC at the end of the season. Maybe it’s just a focus thing, which hopefully shouldn’t be an issue in March. Either way, this trip to Miami should be a nice challenge for the Demon Deacons. Jeff Teague will be matched up against Jack McClinton and Al-Farouq Aminu will be up against Dwayne Collins. I think Miami may be able to hold its own in those match-ups. Unfortunately for Frank Haith, the Hurricanes run into depth problems after their top 2 while the Demon Deacons run much deeper. Perhaps Haith should look into giving more PT to his ridiculously athletic freshman DeQuan Jones.

#16 Villanova at Providence at 8 PM on ESPN Full Court and ESPN360.com: Villanova finally got the signature win we were asking for by beating Pittsburgh last week in the last college basketball game at the Spectrum. This time they will have to do it on the road against a Friar team that was playing well before they ran into the UConn buzzsaw. Dante Cunningham and Scottie Reynolds will need to have solid games if Jay Wright‘s crew is going to pull out a rare Big East road win against a Providence team that is actually above them in the Big East standings. Providence will need a solid effort out of its 8-deep rotation including Weyinmi Efejuku and Jonathan Kale to defend its home court tonight.

Keep an Eye On
Notre Dame at Cincinnati at 7:30 PM on ESPN360.com: Mike Brey
needs  Kyle McAlarney to snap out of his funk and start helping Luke Harangody out or the Fighting Irish might be looking at trip to the NIT this year. This is a game Notre Dame needs to win if they expect to make the NCAA tournament.

Tennessee at Arkansas at 8 PM on Raycom, Fox Sports South, and ESPN360.com: Can freshman Scotty Hopson be the one to reenergize the Vols who have struggled to play up their pre-season #8 ranking? Bruce Pearl might want to give him some more PT against the confusing Arkansas team that beat Texas and Oklahoma (the Sooners only loss), but is just 1-5 in the SEC.

Texas A&M at #2 Oklahoma at 9 PM on The Big 12 Network, ESPN Full Court, and ESPN360.com: Watch this one for Blake Griffin, who will be your national Player of the Year barring some freak injury or sketchy voting. I guess the Aggies played Oklahoma close at College Station so this could be a decent game, but since it is in Norman I doubt it will be that close after the half unless the Sooners are already looking ahead to Texas and Kansas two weeks from now.

USC at #12 UCLA at 10:30 PM on Fox Sports: Ben Howland‘s will be going for a sweep of the California Pac-10 teams at Pauley Pavilion against their cross-town rivals. The Trojans are my pick for secretly good team that nobody is talking about, but could make a run in March. Watch this one for the battle of the freshmen: DeMar DeRozan and Jrue Holiday. They won’t be matched up against each other, but it should be fun to see Josh Shipp guard DeRozan. As an added bonus, you might get to see Lil’ Romeo (ok, maybe not).

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Boom Goes the Dynamite: 01.25.09

Posted by nvr1983 on January 25th, 2009

dynamite1Today is going to be a little different than our typical Boom Goes the Dynamite posts based on the fact that rtmsf is on vacation and I will be in-and-out of the house throughout the day. It looks like there are only 3 games worth focusing on today (Louisville at Syracuse, Michigan State at Ohio State, and Pittsburgh at West Virginia) and given our situation, that is what I will be doing.

Noon: Thanks to ESPN’s greediness (putting it on Full Court) and the non-functional ESPN360 log-in system, I’ll be bringing you the Louisville-Syracuse game via GameCast. If any of you are getting the game, let us know what is going on in the comment section.

1:00 PM: It looks like we have two close games at the half. One was expected (Louisville at Syracuse), but the other was not (Minnesota at Indiana). In the first game, which Louisville leads 38-33 at intermission, the Cardinals have led the entire game (biggest lead at 30-20). Terrence Williams (11 points and 5 rebounds) and Earl Clark (9 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists) are leading the Cardinals, but Samardo Samuels has had a rough start (0 points on 0/4 FG with 2 fouls ). Eric Devendorf (10 points and 3 assists) has kept the Orangemen in the game. In the other game, Minnesota does not appear to be out of its current funk (2-game losing streak). Indiana actually had a 8-point lead in the first half before the Gophers rallied back to take a 31-30 lead at half. The Hooisers will need to keep up the hot shooting from 3 (6/9 in the first half from beyond the arc) if they want to pull of the big upset.

1:15 PM: The Orangemen have cut the lead to 2 off a Devendorf 3. TV timeout with 15:41 left. Looks like a great game that approximately ~10% of college basketball fans have access to. Congrats to ESPN and the NCAA. Way to promote college basketball.

1:45 PM: Thanks to Matt for the updates. I briefly got side-tracked by putting up a post about the ugly incident involving Aubrey Coleman stepping on Chase Budinger‘s face last night.

1:50 PM: It looks like we have a pair of great finishes and I’m stuck waiting for GameCast to refresh.

1:55 PM: ESPN News is giving a live look-in. Final minute on now. I’d recommend checking it out.

1:57 PM: Nice. ESPN.com is already calling the game even though I can clearly see that it is still going on thanks to the ESPN News look-in.

ESPN calling the game before it was done
ESPN calling the game before it was done

2:00 PM: Well Louisville won anyways. Final score was 67-57 not 63-57 (see above).

2:03 PM: Minnesota is barely hanging on (64-62 with 0:29 left). Big game from Ralph Sampson III (13 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 blocks).

2:10 PM: Minnesota hangs on to win the game 67-63. The Gophers will need to step it up if they want a NCAA bid this year.

2:30 PM: Only notable game right now is Georgetown at Seton Hall. The game is tied at 14. Georgetown will probably drop quite a bit in the new poll on Monday. They might need to win this on the road to stay in the top 25. My updates will be infrequent over the next hour or two due to a prior commitment. I’ll update this when necessary. Keep the comments coming.

5:30 PM: And I’m back. . .This is what happens when rtmsf leaves me out to dry. Here’s a quick recap of what happened while I was away: Georgetown will be out of the top 25 on Monday after losing at Seton Hall. The Hoyas  were held to their worst shooting day of the season (32.7% FG and 13.6% 3pt). I’m starting to believe more in my earlier statement that there are only 2-3 really good/great teams in the Big East and a bunch of good teams that are inconsistent. Meanwhile, there’s a good game going on in Columbus (Michigan State is leading Ohio State, 64-56 with 4:23 left). I’ll be following it on CBS.

5:35 PM: Thad Matta picks up a stupid technical with the Buckeyes down by 11 with 2:27 left. Good job maintaining your composure there Coach.

5:50 PM: Big game by  Durrell Summers (26 points) is enough to get the Spartans a nice road win.

6:00 PM: It looks like Pittsburgh is pulling away from West Virginia. The Mountaineers hung tough for the first 25 minutes before  Jamie Dixon’s team began to open up a lead. Bob Huggins has gotten big games out of Da’Sean Butler and Alex Ruoff, but Pittsburgh superior depth is coming into play with 4 players in double figures.

6:10 PM: Pittsburgh hangs on for a 79-67 win. Nothing remotely interesting on until Georgia Tech at Clemson at 7:45 PM. If that game is worth watching, I will be posting again so check back then.

9:00 PM: Clemson is only up 37-34 on Georgia Tech at half. Oliver Purnell needs Trevor Booker (5 points on 0/3 FG in the first half) to step up if he doesn’t want to start another ACC freefall this year.

9:10 PM: Is this a different Clemson team? I know they still can’t win in Chapel Hill, but they’re actually showing some toughness tonight and have opened up a 49-37 lead with 16 minutes left in the game.

10:00 PM: Well it looks like Clemson has avoided their annual ACC collapse for at least one more game. Terrence Oglesby‘s big night from the outside (5/13 from 3) and Trevor Booker’s double-double (11 points and 11 rebounds) were enough to hold off the Yellow Jackets.

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Set Your Tivos: 01.20.09-01.22.09

Posted by nvr1983 on January 20th, 2009

Set Your TivosIn light of the weak set of games this week, we’re bringing you a midweek (Tuesday-Thursday) Set Your Tivos before the weekend edition (Friday night’s games are awful so go out and do something that night).

Tuesday (01.20.09)
- Ohio State at #24 Illinois, 7 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: Illinois has been one of the most surprising teams in the first half of the college basketball season. Bruce Weber‘s team came into the season without a single vote in either major poll and now they sit in the top 25. Although they are only 3-2 in the Big Ten this year, the Fighting Illini have shown everyone that they will contend for the conference title this year with their performance in the early season. All three of their losses this year have been against respectable competition: Clemson (by 2 points), at Michigan (avenged last week), and at Michigan State (by 6). On the other hand, Ohio State has been disappointing since the loss of David Lighty and has went 6-3 since his injury after starting 7-0 including a win over Notre Dame.

Illinois’s strength this year has been their balanced scoring attack with 4 players averaging between 11.3 and 11.8 PPG. They are led by Dmeteri McCamey (11.8 PPG and 4.9 APG) at the point and Mike Davis (11.3 PPG and 7.3 RPG) on the inside. They are a potential Sweet 16 team if Kentucky transfer Alex Legion can become more consistent and play like he did against Michigan State (15 points on 6/13 FG).

The key to this game will be Weber’s ability to limit Evan Turner, who is averaging 15.9 PPG and 7.0 RPG this season. While Thad Matta has two other players (Jon Diebler and William Buford) who average double figures along with the highly touted B.J. Mullens, Turner is the most consistent scorer that Matta has. If Weber can get Davis to slow down Turner, Illinois should be able to pull this one out.

Wednesday (01.21.09)
- #21 Villanova at #3 UConn, 7 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: Yet another ridiculous Big East battle. Even though I am fairly certain that UConn and Pittsburgh are the best teams in the conference (unless Louisville keeps playing at this level), I have a feeling that the regular season title will be determined by which team wins its other conference games. Quite frankly (sorry Stephen A.), Villanova shouldn’t beat UConn in Storrs if the Huskies play up to their potential.

Calhoun’s talented, but enigmatic backcourt of A.J. Price, Jerome Dyson, and Kemba Walker will have to contend with Scottie Reynolds, Corey Fisher, and Corey Stokes. The match-up is pretty close, but I’d give the edge to the Huskies here unless Reynolds goes off. On the inside, the Huskies also have the advantage, but will need to contain Dante Cunningham, who comes in averaging 17.4 PPG and 7.4 RPG. If they can prevent him from having a monster game, UConn will have a decided edge on the inside. One of Jim Calhoun‘s on-going challenges will be getting Stanley Robinson to play consistently after his unusual sabatical. If Calhoun can get consistent play out of Robinson to go along with the surprisingly consistent Hasheem Thabeet (except for the Gonzaga game) and the explosive slasher Jeff Adrien, he might just find himself in Detroit in April.

- #9 Clemson at #6 UNC, 9 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: Will Clemson ever win a game at Chapel Hill? The Tigers’ losing streak in Chapel Hill currently stands at a NCAA record 53 games dating back to their first visit there on January 15, 1926. After Saturday’s loss to current #1 Wake Forest, Clemson will be looking to rebound and avoid their annual ACC slide. Unfortunately for Clemson, UNC is probably stronger than them at every position and has the previously mentioned home court edge.

Oliver Purnell will also need solid play out of his 9-deep rotation (all averaging over 13.2 MPG), which is led by Trevor Booker and K.C. Rivers. Booker will likely be matched up against reigning POY Tyler Hansbrough. It will be a tough match-up for Booker and even matching Hansbrough will likely mean a 54th consecutive loss for Tigers at Chapel Hill. Clemson’s best hope is to use their depth and pressure defense to rattle Ty Lawson, who has been playing well this year except for the Tar Heels two losses (9 assists and 8 TOs in those games).

Roy Williams will need to focus on keeping his stars out of foul trouble because the Tigers are one of the few teams in the country that can match UNC’s depth although not necessarily with the same quality that the Tar Heels have. Even though this is a conference match-up against a top 10 team UNC should be able to handle the Tigers relatively easily particularly if Wayne Ellington continues his hot shooting from the 2nd half of the Miami game.

Thursday (01.22.09)
- West Virginia at No. 14 Georgetown, 7 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: After losing consecutive games to UConn and Marquette, the Mountaineers feasted on a break in their schedule with back-to-back wins over Marshall and USF. Unfortunately for Bob Huggins, if West Virginia wants to make the NCAA tournament they will have to start stealing a few wins against the upper tier teams in the conference. On the other sideline, John Thompson III will need to focus on his team’s energy level after a hard-fought win against Syracuse and a tough loss at Duke on Saturday.

This game will likely come down to whether Huggins can find somebody inside to battle Greg Monroe and DaJuan Summers. The Mountaineers match-up well on the outside with Alex Ruoff and Darryl Bryant going up against Austin Freeman and Chris Wright, but Da’Sean Butler will have his hands full against Monroe and Summers assuming Monroe can stay out of foul trouble and the “fans behind the bench” keep quiet. I expect the Hoyas to pull away in this one midway through the second half after struggling to find their focus in the first half.

- #18 Purdue at #20 Minnesota, 7 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: This one looks like it will be a battle of teams fighting for a #2 seed in the Big Ten tournament (the Spartans look like a strong #1 in the conference). The Boilermakers have rebounded well from an 0-2 start in the Big Ten and have won 3 straight. Matt Painter‘s club relies on its own Big Three (sorry Boston fans) of E’Twaun Moore, Robbie Hummel, and JaJuan Johnson. If Hummel is back to 100%, they are one of the better trios in the Big Ten. Purdue’s problem is the big drop-off after that as their 4th leading scorer averages 8.0 PPG (respectable) on 34.1% FG (not so respectable).

Tubby Smith will be looking for his club to bounce back after a bad loss at Northwestern on Sunday. Lawrence Westbrook is the unquestioned star of this team, but we’re more curious about Ralph Sampson III (yes, that’s his son). I’m expecting this one to be a hard-fought game, but I think Purdue will be able to pull this one out against the Gophers, who I believe may be getting too much credit by the media for their win against the suddenly resurgent Louisville Cardinals earlier in the year.

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Set Your Tivos: 01.10.09 & 01.11.09

Posted by nvr1983 on January 8th, 2009

Set Your TivosSet Your Tivos is back with a loaded schedule. It looks like the NCAA is kicking the season into full swing this weekend with that pesky little college football sport and its antediluvian method of determining a champion out of the way, we can all focus on what’s really important.

Saturday
Noon
- NC State at #11 Clemson on Raycom Sports and ESPN Full Court: The Wolfpack will be looking to hand the Tigers their first defeat. Just based on history, I don’t have a lot of faith in Clemson and it looks like the pollsters don’t either. I don’t think this is a particularly interesting game based on the teams playing (especially when you look at the other games you can watch in this time spot), but keep an eye on this one particularly around the end when you could see a team fall from the ranks of the unbeatens.

- #21 Louisville at #17 Villanova on ESPN and ESPN360.com: Will Edgar Sosa’s resurgence lead more disgruntled college coaches to adopt the Rick Pitino method of motivation? Pitino will need Sosa, Earl Clark, and Samardo Samuels at the top of their game if he wants to go into Philadelphia and get Louisville its first quality win of the year. Jay Wright will counter with Dante Cunningham and Scottie Reynolds as the Wildcats hope to return to form after 2 rough games on the road. We’ll be interested to see if Louisville can ride the momentum off their big win over Kentucky to finally play up to the form that we expected them to earlier in the season.

We're big fans of Original Recipe
We’re big fans of Original Recipe

- #22 West Virginia at #15 Marquette on Big East Network, ESPN Full Court, and ESPN360.com: Honestly, I don’t know if any Big East team is going to be able to make it out of the conference with less than 4 losses. The scary thing is that both of these top 25 teams will struggle to go 8-8 in the conference this year. After a tough loss to Connecticut, the Mountaineers travel north to face the Golden Eagles. Alex Ruoff and Da’Sean Butler will need to outplay Wesley Matthews, Jerel McNeal, and Lazar Hayward if they hope to get a road win, which will be a rarity this year in the Big East.

1 PM
- Kansas at #12 Michigan State on CBS: Tom Izzo has his Spartans playing well after some early struggles. Does anybody want to work out a comparative score about how bad Harvard would beat Michigan State? Bill Self will rely on the inside-outside combo of Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins if he hopes to steal one in East Lansing. The key to this game will be how Collins does against Kalin Lucas. If Collins can outplay Lucas, don’t be surprised if the Jayhawks extend their impressive recent run including a win over Tennessee.

2 PM
- #2 Duke at Florida State on ESPN and ESPN360.com: This could be  potential letdown game for the Blue Devils after their win over Stephen Curry and Davidson on Thursday. [Yes. Curry played well. Much better than he had in previous BCS games, but I don't buy the starting PG, 18-20 PPG as a rookie, and NBA superstar stuff that ESPN was trying to stuff down my throat. I'll post more on this in the near future.] I’m sure that Coach K will remind his team that the Seminoles have knocked off heavily favored Duke teams several times in the past few years (I attended the most shocking of these upsets). I would normally say that Duke should win this type of game without any problem, but with the recent history of this “rivalry” I wouldn’t be too short of anything. As usual with Duke, watch the officials closely.

7 PM
- Miami (FL) at #24 Boston College on ESPNU: As we earlier wrote this week, we have no idea what to make of the Eagles. Beat UNC then lose to Harvard the next game. The Hurricanes have been winning all the games they are expected to, but they need to start winning some of the tougher games on their schedule if they want to live up to their preseason top 25 ranking or even make the NCAA tournament. This game will likely come down to a showdown between Jack McClinton and Tyrese Rice. Well that and whether BC decides to show up for this game.

Sunday
Noon

- St. John’s at #1 Pittsburgh on Big East Network, ESPN Full Court, and ESPN360.com: The Red Storm are coming off a shocking victory over Notre Dame. I don’t really think they should pose much of a challenge to the #1 team in the country, but momentum has a funny way of affecting games like these that shouldn’t be competitive. The Red Storm lost Anthony Mason Jr (son of that Anthony Mason) three games into the season, but have a balanced attack with 4 players averaging between 10.1 and 13.0 PPG. As you’re aware (since you visit this site), the Panthers aren’t quite as balanced, but Sam Young and DeJuan Blair may be one of the best 1-2 combo in nation. Look for this one to be closer than you would expect.

Junior could use some help from daddy this weekend.
The Red Storm could use some help from Junior and daddy this weekend.

1:30 PM
- Wisconsin at #14 Purdue on CBS: After years of bashing the Big 10, it looks like the conference is slowly making a comeback. The problem they have now is that they have a lot of solid teams, but no great teams (with the possible exception of Michigan State). After a big win over Michigan at Crisler last weekend, the Badgers go into Indiana looking to pull off another upset. I’m guessing most people will probably be watching the NFL playoffs around this time, but keep this one on “Recall”, “Last”, or whatever function your remote has so you can flip back and forth between the games.

8 PM
- #3 UNC at #4 Wake Forest on FSN: Without question, the biggest game of the weekend features the experienced Tar Heels going into Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum to face the extremely young  Demon Deacons. I don’t think there is much to say about the Tar Heels, but here’s a brief summary: Tyler Hansbrough hustles and pulls in the ladies; Ty Lawson is fast, inconsistent, and shouldn’t be let near a car; and Roy Williams wears goofy ties and has a tendency to make comments he wishes he could take back. Oh yeah, they also ball with the President Elect. The Demon Deacons are still kind of an unknown to most of America, but with their win at BYU (ending the Cougars NCAA-leading home winning streak at 53) may be our first glimpse at how good this team could be in the very near future. Al-Farouq Aminu may get the headlines nationally, but be sure to watch for Jeff Teague, James Johnson, and Chas McFarland who are all at least as important to Wake as Aminu is. A win here could be big for Wake in getting a high seed in the NCAA tournament. I’d like to take Wake here, but I think the BC game may have woken up the Tar Heels who may have been buying into the hype that was being thrown their way (definitely not from us).

10:30 PM
- #7 UCLA at USC on FSN: The Bruins have quietly rebounded from a couple of close, early-season losses to roll off 8 straight wins (against admittedly weak competition). The Trojans have been inconsistent with some solid wins followed by some horrible losses (Oregon State). This will be one of our East Coast offices first good looks at the Pac-10, which only has two top 25 teams currently. There are a couple of intriguing aspects in this game. How has Darren Collison  adjusting to not having Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook? How is Demar DeRozan adjusting to college hoops and is he legit? Do teenage girls still love Lil’ Romeo? If any of these mysteries interest you or you want to see one of the better crosstown rivalries in recent years, we recommend you tune in at the end of a long weekend. If none of that interests you, tune in to see what Jordan Farmar was complaining about.

0.5 PPG

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Checking in on the… Big East

Posted by rtmsf on January 7th, 2009

Rob Dauster of Ballin is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference.

We are just a week into Big East play, and it is already obvious how much fun this conference is going to be. UConn was supposed to be the best team in the country outside of UNC, but the Huskies lost their Big East opener to Georgetown. At home. And loss isn’t quite the right word. Embarrassed is better. Once everyone was firmly entrenched on the Hoyas jock, they went out and lost back-to-back games to Pitt and Notre Dame. Pitt is the new #1 team in the country, but the Irish were coming off a loss to … St. John’s?

No one is going to make it through this league unscathed. I’d be surprised if anyone finished the season with less than five Ls in league play. If you are one of the nine ranked teams (yes, nine Big East teams are currently ranked), then there are three things you will need to do if your plan on reaching the NCAA tourney:

1) Win your home games. With so many quality teams in the league, defending your home court will guarantee you at least a .500 record in the league. Regardless of your opponent, the top nine teams will almost universally be the favorite when playing at home which leads me to my second point.

2) Beat the teams you are supposed to beat. The top nine (and maybe ten if you include Cincy) are going to beat up on each other all season. I doubt the committee is going to want more than a quarter (8 of 31) of the at-large bids to go to one conference. So if all nine (or ten) want in, they need to take care of business against the South Floridas and DePauls and Rutgers.

3) Pray! Like I said, I doubt that the NCAA wants to have one conference send so many teams to the tourney. If nine Big East teams are going to make it, they will need to catch some breaks during the season. The top four in the ACC need to run through the league (UNC didn’t help on Sunday losing to BC – did anyone else notice that win sent BC from unranked to #17?). The top three in the Big XII need to roll. Likewise for the Pac Ten, Big Ten, and SEC (well, only Tennessee in the SEC). Teams like Davidson, Gonzaga/St. Mary’s, Butler, Xavier, and Memphis need to win their conference tournaments. Essentially, they need to hope that there are as few teams on the bubble as possible.

When it comes down to it, every Big East team is going to have an opportunity to knock off numerous top ten and top twenty teams during the conference play. If any of them finish league play below .500 and without a marquee win in conference, then frankly, they probably are not good enough to deserve a bid.

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Set Your Tivos: 01.06.09

Posted by nvr1983 on January 6th, 2009

With most conference schedules starting to get into full swing, I thought I would start doing Set Your Tivos daily with a weekend edition to cover the games on Saturday and Sunday.

7 PM
- #5 UConn at #22 West Virginia on ESPNU: Just another night in the Big East for the Huskies, who responded to last week’s  loss to Georgetown with a 80-49 beatdown over an exhausted Rutgers team. Tonight, Jim Calhoun’s Huskies go to Morgantown, WV to face Bob Huggins and the Mountaineers. Joe Alexander is gone, but Alex Ruoff and Da’Sean Butler have stepped up to fill the void. The Mountaineers have been impressive this season with wins over Ohio State (on the road), Iowa, Ole Miss (on the road), and Cleveland State. However, their lack of a solid interior presence could mean a big game for Hasheem Thabeet IF (big if) the Huskies decide to use him. If A.J. Price and the Huskies utilize Thabeet, they should roll in this one.

Just give Hasheem the damn ball!
Just give Hasheem the damn ball!

- Ohio State at #12 Michigan State on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: The Spartans are finally starting to show the form that earned them an early-season #5 ranking. Honestly, outside of this being a league game, I don’t really expect this one to be close just based on the momentum these two teams have (along with the continued absence of David Lighty). Of course, since it’s a league game, I’ll probably be completely wrong. In either case, this game will be worth watching to see what kind of shape the Buckeyes are in. I don’t think they will be able to beat the Spartans in East Lansing if Raymar Morgan and Kalin Lucas are playing well, but it should be entertaining to watch.

9 PM
- #7 Texas at Arkansas on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: A week ago I wouldn’t have even thought about watching this game and I think the Longhorns may have been just as disinterested. However, with the Razorbacks victory over Oklahoma on New Year’s Eve this game has suddenly become more interesting. I’m not quite sure what to make of the Razorbacks who lost to Missouri State back in November, but haven’t lost since before Thanksgiving. The key to the game will the play of Michael Washington, the Razorback center who played national POY favorite Blake Griffin to a virtual standstill on New Year’s Eve. It will be interesting to see the match-up at the 5 as Rick Barnes will likely counter with Connor Atchley, who has the outside game to take Washington away from the post. I’ll also be intrigued to see what Arkansas does to neutralize A.J. Abrams after Willie Warren went for 35 points against the Razorback guards.

- Alabama at #11 Clemson on Fox Sports South and ESPN Full Court: I’m interested in this game more to see if the Tigers are legit. It just seems like they always start the season off undefeated amassing a 15-0 record before falling apart and usually missing the NCAA tournament. However, this year they managed to win a few good out-of-conference games (Temple along with road wins at Illinois, Miami, and South Carolina). The Crimson Tide will need big games out of their backcourt of Alonzo Gee, Ronald Steele, and Senario Hillman if they want to pull off the upset. The Tigers will need to start winning games like this if they ever want to break into the ACC elite and compete with UNC, Duke, and Wake Forest for a league title.

- #14 Purdue at Penn State on The Big Ten Network: The Boilermakers will be looking to rebound after opening Big Ten playing with an OT loss to Illinois. Prior to that, the Boilermakers had been playing very well with a big win over Davidson. They will have to do it against the Nittany Lions who also are coming off a loss (at Wisconsin). The game will likely come down to how each team’s top 3 players play. The Boilermakers will be relying on E’Twaun Moore, Robbie Hummel, and JaJuan Johnson while the Nittany Lions will count on Talor Battle, Jamelle Cornley, and Stanley Pringle (possibly the only college basketball player in the nation who would be advised to stay out of the library).

Banned from Penn State libraries
Banned from Penn State libraries
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Checking in on the… Big East

Posted by rtmsf on December 25th, 2008

Rob Dauster of Ballin is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference.

With conference play starting next week, four teams have emerged as the favorites to win the league – UConn, Georgetown, Pitt and Syracuse. After that, it is a mess of talented but enigmatic teams. Notre Dame, Marquette, West Virginia, Louisville and Villanova have all shown flashes of dominance, but have also had their flaws exposed on national TV.  By far the biggest disappointment has been Louisville. The Cardinals were a top 5 preseason team on pretty much everyone’s list, but unless Santa leaves a jumpshot under the tree for their each of the perimeter players, it could be a long year for the ‘Ville.

I’m at a cross roads right now. Is the Big East really not as good as they were made out to be, or were expectations for this conference so high that they could not have possibly lived up to them?  Clearly, Louisville is not who anyone expected them to be. Notre Dame has struggled, but they are still a top 15 team. Marquette, Villanova, and West Virginia were all borderline top 25 teams in the preseason, and not much has changed six weeks into the season.  I guess what I’m saying is that while the conference has hit a few bumps in the road, it is still as good as any conference I can remember. One thing is for sure – any Big East team that reaches the dance is going to be battle-tested.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: AJ Price, UConn

AJ Price was the reason that UConn rose from a middle of the pack Big East team to a conference title contender and a top 15 team last season. But coming off of off-season ACL surgery, Price has not been himself. Going into the Gonzaga game, he had no confidence in the strength of his knee, which is why he was not penetrating like he did last year. He was playing so poorly that Jim Calhoun was actually considering benching him (the same guy that was a top 5 point guard in the country in the last three months of the ’07-’08 season) for freshman Kemba Walker. Against Gonzaga, he returned to the Price of old. He finished with 24 points and 10 assists, getting to the line eight times (three less than he had the rest of the season combined) and hitting big shot after big shot. He hit six threes, including four in the last 11 minutes of the game. UConn’s biggest knock is their lack of perimeter shooting, which combined with their quick guards and finishers inside means that a lot of teams are going to go zone against the Huskies. Having an AJ Price that can penetrate and create against a zone makes them a much more balanced team.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Syracuse

The Orange proved a lot to me with their win over Memphis on Saturday. I’ve been up and down on the ‘Cuse team this season, mainly because of their inability to start a game strong. It happened again versus Memphis, as Syracuse found themselves down 19-9 early on before coming back to win. What was most impressive about the come back is how they did it. Eric Devendorf missed the game (but had his season long suspension reduced, maybe to as short as two games) which meant that Jonny Flynn was their only ball handler against a tough Memphis defense. Flynn, despite finishing with 24 and 6 dimes, had an up and down game where he took some ill-advised shots and made some bad passes. Neither Arinze Onuaku or Andy Rautins played all that well. Kristoff Ongenaet played just a few seconds in the first half after being benched for Rick Jackson. Outside of Jackson, no one (except maybe Paul Harris) played their best game. And Syracuse still beat a pretty good Memphis team. One more note, if Rick Jackson can emerge as another scoring threat in the post, it makes Syracuse so much tougher. Onuaku is one of the best big men in the Big East, but he has a tendency to fade during games. It almost seems as if he is pouting because of a lack of touches on the inside. Jackson has averaged 12.7 ppg and 7 rpg in the last three.

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Checking in on the… Big East

Posted by rtmsf on December 17th, 2008

Rob Dauster of Ballin is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference. 

There are a lot of people out there that will call themselves college basketball experts, myself included (although I may be the only one to think that way). And these so-called experts keep telling you how good the Big East is this year. Once again, myself included.

If the Big East is so good, then where are all the marquee wins?

The Big East only has three really good wins – Notre Dame beating Texas in Maui, Syracuse beating Kansas in a de facto home game, and Georgetown beating Memphis at home. Even in those three, Georgetown won at home and Kansas is, well, not all that good right now.

It isn’t like they aren’t getting the chances either. West Virginia and Villanova lost to Davidson and Texas in the Jimmy V Classic. Marquette lost to Tennessee. So did Georgetown. Seton Hall lost to Memphis. Cincinnati lost to Xavier. Notre Dame lost to Ohio State and UNC.

As far as I’m concerned there are two schools of thought on this. One is that the Big East is actually even better than we expected. As a result, they are beating good teams, which in turn knocks those teams down in the rankings. Case in point, Wisconsin. The Badgers have two losses on the season (UConn and Marquette) which is part of the reason they aren’t ranked. Along those same lines, when lesser teams actually do get an upset of the Big East teams, they end up getting ranked too high.

The other is that the Big East is just a really big conference chock full of pretty good, but not great, teams. Look at the facts – UConn and Pitt are undefeated, but Pitt hasn’t played anyone and UConn has been so inconsistent; Villanova, Louisville, Georgetown, Notre Dame, West Virginia and Marquette all have fatal flaws as a team; Syracuse has been playing well, but struggles to keep their focus at times and will most likely be losing Eric Devendorf for the season.

So what does this mean? Are the ACC and the Big XII creeping up? No, not just yet. Let me ask you this question – if a healthy West Virginia team (Alex Ruoff and Joe Mazzula sat) beat Davidson and a healthy Luke Harangody helped knock off UNC and/or OSU, who we even be having this conversation?

Probably not. Now that is done, let’s get on to the good stuff.

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Checking in on the… Big East

Posted by rtmsf on December 3rd, 2008

Rob Dauster of Ballin is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference.

Some of the Big East elite stumbled this week. Notre Dame, Louisville, Georgetown, West Virginia, Marquette, and Cincinnati all picked up their first loss of the season since the last time we checked in with RTC. Should Big East fans be worried? Was all that talk about the Big East being the best conference ever nothing but talk? In a word … maybe? Look, the bottom line is that each one of the aforementioned teams that suffered their first loss got beat by a good team. I mean, Notre Dame losing by 15 to UNC when Luke Harangody in is the early stages of pneumonia is not the same as losing by 18 to Maryland (sorry to all Spartan fans – I know Roe and Suton were hurt and Morgan was being a punk in foul trouble, just trying to make a point). Even the Louisville loss, which is inexcusable for a team of their talent (probably why Pitino apologized), was to a Western Kentucky team that looks to be hitting their stride (they have won three straight games against Southern Illinois, the ‘Ville, and Georgia, and lost one game without leading scorer AJ Slaughter in his first game back). Let’s look at it like this – Tennessee, UNC, and Dayton are all going to be NCAA tourney teams. Western Kentucky, Florida State, and Kentucky are all going to garner attention as bubble teams. While this is a startling number of losses to occur in the span of one week, it is not like UConns are losing to Delaware States, and it doesn’t change the fact that there are a number of Big East teams (UConn, Pitt, Syracuse, Villanova) that are rolling through competent competition.

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Checking in on the… Big East

Posted by rtmsf on November 26th, 2008

Rob Dauster of Ballin is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference.

The Big East is proving why it is the best conference in basketball, as the 16 teams in the conference have lost a grand total of five games. I mean, Seton Hall barely sneaks into the top 10 in the conference and they are 4-1 with wins over USC and Virginia Tech early on. To be fair, most of the games that have been played at this point in the season have come against cupcakes, but a Big East team has already knocked off a marquee team in every other major conference (UConn has beaten Wisconsin and Miami (FL), Syracuse beat Florida and Kansas, Notre Dame beat Texas, and Seton Hall beat USC).

Power Rankings (AP, Coaches):

CONTENDERS

1. UConn 5-0 (#2, #2) – It is pretty tough to argue with UConn atop the BIAH Big East Power Rankings. They are 5-0 and coming off of a victory in the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands. More on the Huskies in a bit.

2. Notre Dame 4-0 (#8, #8) – Notre Dame gets the nod at #2 because of their win over Texas in Maui. Now that Kyle McAlarney has found his stroke (13-23 from the floor, 11-20 from deep in his last two games after starting the season 2-13), it is clear that the Irish are going be able to put up points with anyone. Their biggest question mark right now is defense and rebounding. Against Texas, Notre Dame was out-rebounded 45-33 and gave up 15 on the offensive glass.

I know that the Irish have two first-team all-conference players on their roster, but PG Tory Jackson is just as, if not more, valuable than both McAlarney and Luke Harangody. He is the guy that makes the potent Irish offense run. He is as quick as they come and can get into the lane against just about anyone, but he plays under control and rarely picks up a charge. When he gets into the paint, he is just as good at finishing as he is at drawing a defender and finding an open man (he’s led the Big East in dimes the last two years). To top it off, he has been knocking down his perimeter shot this season.

3. Louisville 2-0 (#3, #3) – It is tough to gauge the Cardinals at this point in the season. They have played just two games, both cupcakes and both blow outs, and they won’t really be tested until mid-December. What we do know thus far is that freshman Samardo Samuels looks as good as advertised – he’s averaging 21 ppg and 5 rpg through two games. The ‘Ville also got good news when Terrence Williams was healthy enough to play in their first two games (he underwent minor surgery after tearing the meniscus in his knee). He’s not there yet offensively (6-17 from the floor, 14 points in two games), but he has been filling up the stat sheet as usual (9.0 rpg, 5.0 apg, 3.5 spg, 1.5 bpg).

4. Pitt 5-0 (#4, #4) – The Panthers, like the Cardinals, are undefeated but have yet to really play anyone. They have, however, been getting phenomenal play out of their big three of DeJuan Blair (17.5 ppg, 13.3 rpg, 71%, but he missed the Belmont game on Tuesday with swelling in his knee), Sam Young (19.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 60% FG), and Levance Fields (13.6 ppg, 7.3 apg, 1.0 t/o’s). While Pitt lost Blair for the Belmont game, they got some good news with the return of wing Gilbert Brown.

The key to the season for this Pitt team is going to be their wing play, which is a big reason why Sam Young, the Panthers best perimeter shooter, is playing on the wing this year. It is still early, but the early indication is that after Fields (10-19) and Young (5-16). If someone can step up and knock down shots (back up PG Ashton Gibbs is trying to, he’s 5-11 from deep), they will see a lot of the court.

5. Syracuse 5-0 – The ‘Cuse are for real this year. They are 5-0 with wins against Florida and Kansas (in what was essentially a road game) and have looked unstoppable on offense at times. But they have also looked disinterested and lackadaisical at times as well, especially defensively. The Orange start and end with the play of Jonny Flynn, who has reinforced the notion that he is one of the best PGs in the country. Flynn is one of the most exciting players in the country to watch (and I am a UConn fan saying that). While Flynn may be the best player on Syracuse, he is far from all that they have. Paul Harris is just as tough as always, but has added a 15-17 foot jumper that you must defend. Arinze Onuaku has gone from a 275 lb fat boy to 275 lb of muscle (seriously, he looks like he should be on World’s Strongest Man). Kristoff Ongenaet, Rick Jackson and freshman Kris Joseph all are going to be able to provide hustle, rebounds, and defense inside. And they’ve gotten back the two things they were missing last year – perimeter shooting from the wings (Eric Devendorf and Andy Rautins) and another guy that can penetrate and score or create shots for others (Devendorf). But the biggest change I see in this year’s team is that Jim Boeheim has them playing a lot of man-to-man, which makes it all-the-more difficult for a team to prepare for the Orange. Boeheim has himself a tough team that is going to make some noise this year. Read the rest of this entry »

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2008-09 Conference Primers: #1 – Big East

Posted by rtmsf on November 10th, 2008

Rob Dauster of Ballin is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference. 

Predicted Order of Finish (from the coach’s pre-season poll, released at Big East media day):

  1. Connecticut (9)
  2. Louisville (3)
  3. Pitt (3)
  4. Notre Dame (1)
  5. Villanova
  6. Marquette
  7. Georgetown
  8. Syracuse
  9. West Virginia
  10. Providence
  11. Cincinnati
  12. Rutgers
  13. Seton Hall
  14. St john’s
  15. DePaul
  16. South Florida

big-east-logo

WYN2K. You hear that? You know what that is? That’s the sound of RTC stealing my thunder.  I’m not much of a statistician myself, but just by looking at that pre-season poll I can tell you this – the Big East is loaded.  If you live outside of Big East country, then you are probably sick of hearing about how good the conference is, year in and year out. But facts are facts. Four teams are legitimate Final Four threats. Another six teams are, depending on who you ask, expected to be a part of the 65 team field. Three more teams have an outside shot at punching a ticket to the dance if they can catch a few breaks (transfers getting cleared, freshman getting eligible, etc.).  So in this day and age of college basketball, where “early entry,” “parity,” and “mid-major” have become household terms, how did one conference manage to stockpile so many good teams? Well, as you can see, the Big East is HUGE. There are sixteen teams spanning from Rhode Island to Wisconsin to Florida and everywhere in between. When you have that many teams in one conference, there are bound to be years where there are a lot of good teams, especially when so many of the schools have a rich basketball tradition.  This just happens to be one of those years where the Big East got lucky. Last season, 32 players were named to an All-Big East team (1st, 2nd, honorable mention, all-rookie), and only two of those players (WVU’s Joe Alexander and Syracuse’s Donte Greene) declared for the draft with eligibility remaining. Would Pittsburgh be as good as expected if Sam Young left? What about UConn without Hasheem Thabeet? Those two, and a number of other players, probably would be on NBA rosters right now if they left, but for whatever reason (a loaded draft class last year, smarts enough to know they weren’t ready, boosters offered them more than what they would get paid on a rookie’s salary) they decided to head back to campus.

So without further ado, here is your conference breakdown:

Cellar Dwellars.  DePaul, St. John’s, South Florida, Rutgers

  • There are some talented players on these teams. Sophomore Dar Tucker of DePaul is a poster waiting to happen. South Florida’s Dominique Jones scored 17.1 ppg as a freshman. St. John’s has senior Anthony Mason Jr. and sophomore Justin Burrell to carry the load. But with the depth of the Big East this year combined with the loss of some talented seniors, none of these three teams really look like they have a shot at doing much. Rutgers might have the best shot of the group to make some noise, as Fred Hill has landed back-to-back talented freshman classes. Don’t be surprised if you hear the names Gregory Echenique and Mike Rosario (RU’s first Mickey D’s all-american) quite often during the season.

We Should Have Bribed The NCAA.  Cincinnati (NIT), Seton Hall (NIT)

  • Both the Pirates and the Bearcats are awaiting the NCAA’s word on whether or not they will have some key players in their rotation. After struggling with the remnants of the Cincy program in the wake of Bob Huggins, Mick Cronin finally has the program heading in the right direction. He brings back Deonta Vaughn, who is one of the most explosive scorers in the country, and gets former Texas forward Mike Williams back from an Achilles injury. Adding two talented freshman in Yancy Gates and Cashmere Wright only helped matters. But Wright tore up his knee in the first week of practice, meaning that Vaughn is, once again, their only real backcourt threat and that they must rely heavily on their front line, which could be bolstered by the addition of 7’2” center John Riek. The Sudanese refugee, who was considered one of the best prospects in the country two years ago but has battled knee problems, is dealing with eligibility issues but could be in uniform by December. 
  • Seton Hall’s situation is a little different. The Pirates lose leading scorer Brian Laing (18.6 ppg) but return a solid nucleus of Eugene Harvey, Jeremy Hazell and John Garcia. Bobby Gonzalez had also hoped to add transfers Herb Pope (New Mexico St.) and Keon Lawrence (Missouri) without having to wait the mandatory one year for a transfer by having each kid apply for the NCAA’s hardship waiver. Pope’s been denied, Lawrence’s application will wait until after the first semester, and freshman Melvyn Oliver is still waiting to be cleared academically, meaning the Pirates currently have only eight scholarship players.

Pretenders or Contenders?  Providence (NIT), West Virginia (NCAA #7)

  • I know what you’re thinking. Providence? Really, Rob? They haven’t been good since the days of Ryan Gomes and Donnie MacGrath (and even then, good might have been pushing it). But the Friars have the horses to sneak up on some people this year. They were as balanced as any team in the Big East last year, with six guys (five returners) that averaged at least 8.7 ppg.  PG Sharaud Curry, arguably their best player, is back from a stress fracture in his foot and they have added Keno Davis, last year’s national COY at Drake, as the head coach. Davis should have some success in his first year with the Friars if they follow the same spread floor style that was so successful at Drake. One key reason for that is big man Geoff McDermott, who is adept at playing on the perimeter and is a stat stuffer (10 ppg, 8 rpg, 5 apg, 1 spg, and 1.5 bpg). Remember, this Providence team, who battled the injury bug all year, swept UConn and beat Temple and Arkansas last seaso. The talent’s there, but consistency and healthy players will be the key to their season.
  • The Mountaineers are a different story. They really came on towards the end of the season, thanks in (very) large part to the emergence of Joe Alexander, who was probably the best player in the conference (maybe the country) for the last month-plus of the season and is now a forward with the Bucks. Left are a bunch of very good role players that fit into Huggy Bear’s system and play hard. Guys like Joe Mazzula, Alex Ruoff and Da’Sean Butler. There are two major questions for the Mountaineers – who is going to play in the post and who is going to fill to void of “go-to guy” with Alexander gone. Freshman Devin Ebanks may be able to fill Alexander’s shoes with time, but the rest of the Mountaineers front line will be small (especially for the Big East) and inexperienced.

Worst of the Rest.  Syracuse (NCAA #7), Georgetown (NCAA #7), Marquette (NCAA #6), Villanova (NCAA #5)

  • I’ll be completely honest with you. I’m a UConn fan. I hate Syracuse. Despise them. I even hate the color orange. I didn’t even rank them in my top 25. Call it being biased, call it homerism, call it what you like. But I’ve had an epiphany – this team is really talented. Jonny Flynn is one of the best point guards in the country. Eric Devendorf is a very talented combo guard. Andy Rautins can flat out stroke the three. Paul Harris is a linebacker playing basketball. Arinze Onuake is a beast on the block. And this year, they actually have a deep bench filled with role players and hustle guys. They’re not quite in the top four, but Boeheim has himself his most talented team since Melo.
  • Georgetown lost a lot of very important players to graduation (Roy Hibbert, Jonathan Wallace, Patrick Ewing Jr) and transfers (Jeremiah Rivers, Vernon Macklin). They are left with just four guys who were in their rotation last year – guards Chris Wright, Jessie Sapp, Austin Freeman and forward DaJuan Summers. They do add a great recruiting class, headlined by big men Greg Monroe and Henry Sims, but it will still be somewhat of a rebuilding year for the Hoyas. Part of the reason is that John Thompson III may have to change up his style of play from the Princeton Offense. Hibbert, Wallace, and Ewing were perfectly suited to a slowed down game, where as Sapp and Wright are quick guards that can make plays in the open floor.
  • Marquette has a new coach, but they will be the same team. By now, you must know about their three great guards – Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews – who, when combined with Maurice Acker and David Cubillan, make up one of the deepest, most explosive backcourts in the country. But, much like Villanova and West Virginia, Marquette needs someone to step up inside. It’s great when you have a bunch of guards that can score and make plays, but will Dominic James 40” vert help him against the likes of Luke Harangody or DeJuan Blair? Dwight Burke is going to have to make some big strides as a senior, or else the Golden Eagles will have to rely on a freshman and two JuCo transfers inside.
  • Remember that Villanova team from a few years back? The one with Kyle Lowry, Randy Foye, Allan Ray and Mike Nardi? Well this ‘Nova team is going to be similar to that squad. Led by scoring machine Scottie Reynolds, ‘Nova has one of the best backcourts in the conference. But the key to their success this year will be the front court. Dante Cunningham, an athletic, 6’9 PF, has proven himself as a capable frontcourt player in the Big East, but the rest of the Wildcats frontline will need to step up if Jay Wright’s club wants to crack the top four.

Crème de la Crème.  Notre Dame (NCAA #5), Pittsburgh (NCAA #3), Louisville (NCAA #2), UConn (NCAA #1)

  • Notre Dame returns basically the entire team that finished tied for second in the Big East, including reigning Big East player of the year Luke Harangody. While I can’t help but comment on his resemblance to a pot-bellied pig, you can’t argue with his production last year (23 ppg and 11 rpg in conference). While he is built like one of Charlie Weis’ lineman, he is actually incredibly nimble and has great feet and balance, which is one of the reasons he is able to scorer against bigger, more athletic defenders. Surrounding him will be shooters Ryan Ayers and Kyle McAlarney (who was a 1st team all-conference performer), as well as Tory Jackson, who is one of the more underrated PGs in the league. Notre Dame is going to be a fun team to watch if you like games with a lot of scoring and a lot of threes.
  • Pitt is going to be a typical Pitt team, with a lot of big, strong, tough kids that are going to play rugged, in your face defense. Sam Young, who developed a deadly jumper out to around the three point line, and DeJuan Blair, a 6’7 270-lb mammoth inside, provide one of the toughest frontcourts to match up with in the country. The biggest questions for Pitt surround their backcourt. When will Levance Fields return from foot surgery, and will he be healthy? Can anyone on this team replace the three point shooting of Ronald Ramon and Keith Benjamin?
  • Louisville, along with Pitt, is probably going to be the toughest defensive team in the conference. It starts with their backcourt, where they have five guys (Edgar Sosa, Andre McGee, Jerry Smith, Preston Knowles, Reginald Delk) that will really get after you on the perimeter. Earl Clark and Terrence Williams (who is coming off a torn meniscus and should be out another month or so) are both athletic, versatile players. T-Wills is more of a perimeter player and is the Cardinals best creator offensively, averaging more than 4.5 apg last year. Clark is more of a combo forward that will get his points off of fast breaks and cutting to the basket. Louisville loses their entire front line from last year, but they bring in a solid recruiting class, the star of which is Samardo Samuels, probably the best post recruit in America this year.
  • Last, but certainly not least, is UConn. The Huskies probably won’t be at full strength until December, as AJ Price is coming off of a torn ACL and freshman Ater Majok and junior Stanley Robinson (who was last seen on a poster) are both going to be made eligible (hopefully) after the first semester ends. Regardless, UConn is loaded with talent. 7’3” junior and shot blocking machine Hasheem Thabeet returns, as does Jeff Adrien, the Huskies leading scorer and rebounder. Price will be joined in the backcourt by talented but troubled junior Jerome Dyson and Mickey D’s all-american Kemba Walker. UConn’s biggest question mark right now – can they win a big game? They were 8-8 on the road or on a neutral court last year, and are 0-3 in the Big East and NCAA tournaments the last two years.

RPI Boosters.  The Big East RPI is going to be high enough, but here are some of the must-see non-conference match-ups (ignoring the possible match-ups in pre-season tournaments):

  • Wisconsin @ Marquette  (12.06.08)
  • Villanova vs. Texas and Davidson vs. West Virginia in NYC at Jimmy V  (12.09.08)
  • Cincinnati vs. Xavier  (12.13.08)
  • Memphis @ Georgetown  (12.13.08)
  • Marquette @ Tennessee  (12.16.08)
  • Gonzaga vs. UConn in Seattle  (12.20.08)
  • Syracuse @ Memphis  (12.20.08)
  • Kentucky @ Louisville  (01.04.09)
  • Georgetown @ Duke  (01.17.09)
  • Notre Dame @ UCLA  (02.07.09)

65 Team Era.  The Big East earned its chops as a basketball conference in the 80s, and that tradition persists to this very day despite the expansion of the league to it’s current sixteen-team iteration.  Last year the league earned eight bids to the NCAAs, and it’s difficult to envision a future scenario where the conference would ever get less than six bids again.  This obviously will skew their future numbers on a whole scale, but their stats to date are nothing to sneeze at (206-126, .620, 11 F4s, 4 titles).  With the power at the top of this year’s league, we could potentially see another 1985 F4 on the horizon (3/4 of the F4 were Big East teams – Villanova, Georgetown, St. John’s). 

Final Thought.  The Big East is wide open this year. Every night is going to be a dog fight. One thing you can be sure of, however, is that any team from this league that makes it to the postseason is going to be battle-tested.

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