Tipping Off the Big East Countdown: #9 St. John’s

Posted by Dan Lyons on October 26th, 2012

Few programs in the country went through the adversity that St. John’s found itself facing last season.  Head coach Steve Lavin underwent surgery to treat prostate cancer in October of last year, and he was only able to coach four games in early November before deciding to sit out for the rest of the season. Multiple key players left during the season for various reasons, and at times the Red Storm were only able to play with a six-man rotation of scholarship players. This year should prove to be a challenge for the Johnnies, especially after the departure of Moe Harkless following last season, but they return a solid nucleus and add a number of talented freshmen who look to continue the restoration project that is Steven Lavin’s St. John’s basketball program.

2011-12 Record: 13-19, 6-12

2011-12 Postseason: None

Steve Lavin returns to the St. John’s bench in 2012-13. Can he bring back the success of the 2010-11 campaign?

Schedule

St. John’s non-conference schedule is fairly light. The Storm open with Detroit and the ever-dangerous Ray McCallum at Carnesecca Arena before heading to Charleston, South Carolina, for the DirecTV Charleston Classic. In the opening round of the tournament the Storm take on host College of Charleston before facing either Auburn or Murray State. The field also features Big 12 power Baylor, Boston College, Colorado, and Dayton. St. John’s will also host South Carolina in Queens in the Big East/SEC Challenge.  St. John’s plays one non-conference game in Madison Square Garden, against Fordham, and will play one game in Brooklyn’s new Barclays Center against St. Francis. In the Big East, the team opens at Villanova on January 2, and has home-and-homes with Rutgers, Georgetown, Notre Dame, and DePaul.

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Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 27th, 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

  • Temple In Big East Talks: The Big East may have a new all-sport member as early as this fall if the reports are true that the Temple Owls are in discussions about joining the conference.  Adding Temple to the mix would be terrific for Big East basketball. While Syracuse is irreplaceable, you could make an argument that Temple and Memphis offset the departures of West Virginia and Pittsburgh. The enhanced stature of these two programs in the Big East will help fuel recruiting and could easily make them equal to what WVU and Pitt are right now. Temple will make its fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance next month, its 30th in a storied history. The Owls have made two Final Fours and five Elite Eights, better than both Pittsburgh and West Virginia (WVU has two Final Fours, Pitt has one). Memphis has been to more Final Fours and Elite Eights as well, although two were vacated (1985 and 2008). All in all, I’d argue that the Big East hit a grand slam with Temple and Memphis, should this all go through. The league simply couldn’t have done better given the constraints it faced.
  • Punching Your Ticket And Voiding It In The Same Week: One could argue that Seton Hall and Cincinnati punched their NCAA Tournament tickets with wins over Georgetown and Louisville, respectively, last week. However, both squads lost over the weekend (to Rutgers and South Florida), wiping out the good vibes from huge home wins earlier in the week. As of right now, the Pirates and Bearcats are likely still in the Tournament, but in much more precarious positions than before. In late-season college basketball, nothing is ever a sure thing until all the games are played. A team’s status can change at a moment’s notice.  

Syracuse Senior Scoop Jardine Helped Lead The Orange To A Title-Clinching Win Over Connecticut. (Jessica Hill/AP Photo)

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (29-1, 16-1) – The men in orange just keep moving right along, picking up two more wins this past week. Finding a way to win is so cliché, but it has been the theme with this group over the last few weeks. Syracuse has moved its record to 29-1 with seven of their nine wins since the loss to Notre Dame coming by ten points or less. In the win over South Florida, Syracuse overcame 35% shooting and a 20-7 Bulls run to start the game by going on a massive 26-0 run that started about midway through the first half and bled deep into the second. Kris Joseph struggled shooting, but Scoop Jardine picked him up by scoring 15 points. Joseph rebounded in a big way with 21 points at Connecticut while Fab Melo added 11 points and nine rebounds. This team has more weapons than any in the nation, allowing the Orange to overcome off nights by some of their key players. More importantly, Syracuse out-rebounded UConn, 39-35. That’s significant because of what the Huskies bring to the table in their front court and Syracuse’s awful rebounding numbers that have persisted throughout the season. With the win at UConn, Syracuse officially clinched the Big East regular season title, something everyone knew was going to happen as early as when the calendar flipped to January. This week: 3/3 vs. #23 Louisville.
  2. Marquette (24-5, 13-3) – There are teams more talented than Marquette out there, but you will not find one with a greater will to win than this bunch of Golden Eagles. You might as well call them their old nickname, the Warriors, because that’s exactly what they are. Jae Crowder made his case for Big East Player of the Year last week in grand fashion, totaling 53 points in two wins over Rutgers and West Virginia. Crowder dominated West Virginia’s Kevin Jones in their head-to-head matchup and may have moved in front of Jones in the POY race in the process. Crowder certainly plays for a better team and that has to enhance his case even more. Despite Buzz Williams suspending Darius Johnson-Odom, Vander Blue and Junior Cadougan for the first half against West Virginia and Todd Mayo for the second half, Marquette rallied yet again to pull out a victory. I don’t understand the half-suspensions. Sit them down for the whole game if you want to make a statement, but that’s beyond the point. The Golden Eagles shot 50% for the game and forced 19 WVU turnovers, helping to offset 16 Mountaineer offensive rebounds. In the win over Rutgers, Marquette forced 21 turnovers and Johnson-Odom added 21 points alongside Crowder’s 27 as the Golden Eagles shot 54% overall. MU can close out the Big East regular season in grand style and finish with a 15-3 record if it takes care of two tough games in the coming week. This team has a legitimate chance to win the Big East Tournament and go deep in the NCAA’s. This week: 2/29 @ Cincinnati, 3/3 vs. #9 Georgetown. Read the rest of this entry »
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St. John’s Freshmen Making the Most of a Rebuilding Season

Posted by EJacoby on January 17th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC contributor and correspondent. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. He filed this report after Georgetown’s win over St. John’s on Sunday.

As a basketball program, St. John’s and its fans have not had a whole lot to smile about this season. Sunday afternoon was no exception, when Georgetown came into Madison Square Garden and handed the Red Storm their fourth loss in five games with a 69-49 victory. But despite the result, freshman forward Maurice Harkless dazzled a packed crowd with 21 points and 10 rebounds in a comeback effort when his team was down, in the process showing why there’s so much promise for the rebuilding Red Storm. Between Harkless and fellow freshman star D’Angelo Harrison, St. John’s has the necessary pieces to turn a losing, learning season into future success.

Times are rough for St. John's, but Harrison and Harkless (above) have what it takes to turn around the program (AP Photo)

St. John’s’ season record reflects all of the turmoil within the program. After Sunday’s loss, the Red Storm dropped to 8-9 overall and 2-4 in Big East play. But there’s much more than just a silver lining to this dark cloud of a season. Five of the Red Storm’s six leading scorers are freshmen, which includes guards Sir’Dominic Pointer and Phil Greene in addition to the versatile trio of Harkless, Harrison, and Amir Garrett. By nearly all metrics, Harkless is the best freshman in the Big East and might be one of the most talented players in the whole conference. His totals against Georgetown upped his season averages to 15.8 PPG, 8.4 RPG, and 1.8 BPG, all team highs. He’s top five in the conference in the latter two statistics and possesses the dynamic offensive game of a future NBA small forward. Harrison has been nearly as productive, averaging 15 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.9 APG, and 1.6 SPG, and he’s had the ball in his hands most often this season when St. John’s needs a big play or shot to be made. Pointer has the look of a potential ‘glue guy,’ and he already contributes across the board on a nightly basis with about seven points, five boards, and over a block and steal per game.

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Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 27th, 2011

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 Pair of Upsets: How many of you had Wagner winning at Pittsburgh? The Seahawks won their first game against a ranked team since P.J. Carlesimo was the head coach at the school in the late 1970’s, knocking off the Panthers 59-54. Even without point guard Tray Woodall, this is not a game Pittsburgh should have lost. While Ashton Gibbs certainly has to carry more of the load, his shooting has been sub-par this entire season. Against Wagner, the senior Big East Preseason POY shot 5-16 from the floor and 1-7 from deep, dropping his field goal percentage to 37.7% on the year. Usually one of the most efficient teams in the country, Pittsburgh was held to a stunning 89.2 efficiency rating against Wagner. Previously, Pitt’s season low had been 101.7 in a win over La Salle. Last Monday, LSU surprised Marquette in Baton Rouge, downing the previously undefeated Golden Eagles by a score of 67-59. While LSU isn’t an awful team, Marquette allowed the Tigers to shoot 53.5% for the game, something that has to concern Buzz Williams given how well Marquette has played defensively. If Marquette wants to contend for a conference title, it has to defend night in and night out.
  • Non-Conference Play Winds Down: There are 152 games remaining with Big East teams involved and 144 of those (94.7%) will be conference games. Four of the eight remaining non-conference games will take place over the coming week, so you can bet we here at RTC are more than ready to transition into conference play. As we head into the new calendar year, four Big East teams seem to be contenders while another four or five are in contention for NCAA bids. The bottom of the conference is broader and weaker than usual, with at least four and possibly six teams incapable of mounting a run at a bid. As to who wins the league (my poll question above), I am sticking with my preseason pick of Syracuse. The Orange go a legitimate ten deep and, while they do not have a superstar, they are strong defensively and play with great energy. Connecticut may be more talented and Louisville may play harder, but Syracuse is the best team in my estimation. I would love to hear the readers’ take (on this or anything else) in the poll above or in the comments section below.
  • Bob Huggins Wins His 700th Game: It took a crazy Gary Browne three-pointer to force overtime, but West Virginia was able to knock off Missouri State on Thursday night for Coach Huggins’ 700th career victory. He’s now in select company with the likes of Lefty Driesell, Lute Olson, Lou Henson, Henry Iba, Phog Allen and, Norm Stewart in the 700 club. Currently 58 years old and under contract with West Virginia through the 2018-19 season, Huggins has a chance to approach 900 wins if he stays healthy. After winning #700, he joins Jim Boeheim and Jim Calhoun as the only active Big East coaches to win at least 700 games. He is fourth on the active list of all-time wins, trailing his two Big East peers as well as Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.

The Hoyas Have Outperformed Preseason Projections Thanks To Two Wins Over Memphis And A Big Road Victory In Tuscaloosa. (Richard Lipski/AP)

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (13-0) – Among many other things, Syracuse has done a terrific job in turnover margin. The Orange lead the Big East by a wide margin in that department and rank in the top ten nationally in both offensive and defensive turnover percentage. Fueled by Dion Waiters off the bench, the Syracuse transition attack has been sensational. Big East play begins this week with a visit from upstart Seton Hall followed by a trip to DePaul. Surprisingly, Syracuse was out-rebounded by Tulane, including 15-9 on the offensive glass. This week: 12/28 vs. Seton Hall, 1/1 @ DePaul.
  2. Louisville (12-0) – It hasn’t been easy, but Louisville just keeps winning. The Cardinals trailed Charleston and Western Kentucky this week before putting those teams away late in the game. Against Charleston, Rick Pitino made a great adjustment late in the game by putting the more versatile Kyle Kuric at the free throw line to attack the Charleston zone instead of Gorgui Dieng.  Dieng still had a great week, going for 14/12 against the Cougars and 13/15 against the Hilltoppers. Louisville ranks fourth nationally in defensive efficiency, but its offense continues to be a work in progress. As I said in this spot last week, the longer the Cardinals can keep winning before getting their roster back to full strength, the better. This week offers a huge test against two teams that can really put the ball in the basket. This week: 12/28 vs. #15 Georgetown, 12/31 @ #2 Kentucky. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East Morning Five: 12.27.11 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on December 27th, 2011

  1. We ate.  We drank.  We were merry.  We took some TUMS and are back.  Hope everyone had a happy and safe holiday weekend.
  2. While we are not necessarily looking at marquee matchups, Big East conference play kicks off tonight and that is a good thing!  There are two games on the docket this evening to get things started and despite a lack of glitter, there is intrigue.  #22 Pittsburgh (11-2) heads to South Bend, Indiana, to take on Notre Dame (8-5).  The Tim Abromaitis-less Irish would love a signature victory to get things rolling but this one may end up occurring game late as the Panthers will not be in letdown mode after getting beaten by Wagner at home last Friday.   The other contest features two squads looking to answer questions as St. John’s (6-5) hosts Providence (11-2).  The Red Storm have battled on and off the court from the sudden departure of guard Nurideen Lindsey to head coach Steve Lavin’s recovery from prostate cancer.  They are a young team and hope the second semester addition of talented freshman Amir Garrett gives them a boost in conference play.  The Friars are feeling good at 11-2 under first-year head coach Ed Cooley, but know the competition is going to increase dramatically as league action begins. Although Cooley was not around Providence the last couple of years, it is a virtual certainty he will be reminding his crew of their back-to-back four win Big East campaigns often as this year progresses. The new tag for Friar point guard Vincent Council is “underrated.”  Maybe if enough people call him underrated he will get sufficient attention so as to not be any longer.  There is no predicting the result of this game, but one thing you can bet on is that the Red Storm will not be sleeping on ‘VC’, and that the growing chip on Council’s shoulder does not bode well for opposing defenders.
  3. As noted above, Big East play begins tonight but this week also brings some notable non-conference matchups involving Big East teams.  #10 Florida heads north to battle Rutgers at the RAC in a game that features a couple of notable Big East connections.  Florida’s Mike Rosario is a 1,000 point scorer… at Rutgers.  Rosario transferred to the Gators and it was certainly understandable he would be looking forward to facing his old team, but it appears he will not be able to play due to a nagging back injury.  Florida head coach Billy Donovan has tremendous Big East memories as he led Providence to the 1987 Final Four while playing for Rick Pitino.  Cincinnati, who has taken out their aggression on soft assortment of cream pies since brawling with cross-town rival Xavier a couple of weeks ago, will face a test when they host Oklahoma.   Marquette faces an SEC rubber match when they host Vanderbilt on Friday.  The Golden Eagles beat Mississippi in the Big East – SEC challenge in November and then lost to Louisiana State last week.  Finally, in the main event, #4 Louisville will travel to Lexington to take on bitter in-state rival and #3 ranked Kentucky on Saturday.  Both teams play on Wednesday but while Kentucky fattens up against Lamar, Louisville will have to stay focused against #12 Georgetown.
  4. The Big East is back with its weekly honors and West Virginia’s Kevin Jones has earned last week’s Player of the Week award.  Jones, who now leads the Big East in scoring (21.0 PPG) and rebounding (11.9 RPG), put up beastly numbers (23.0 PPG, 14.7 RPG) in a 2-1 week for the Mountaineers including a career-high 28 points to go with 17 boards in a loss to Baylor.  Once again, Connecticut’s Andre Drummond is the Big East Rookie of the Week.  Drummond had 16 points, nine rebounds, four steals and two blocks in UConn’s lone game, a 79-71 victory over in-state foe Fairfield.  This is Drummond’s second consecutive Rookie of the Week honor, and third for the season.  Weekly Honor Roll recipients: Notre Dame forward Jack Cooley on the merits of his 19-point, eight-rebound performance in a drubbing of Sacred Heart; Providence guard Vincent Council who averaged 16 points, nine assists and seven rebounds in Friar victories over New Hampshire and in-state rival Rhode Island; Louisville forward Kyle Kuric who averaged 16.0 points and five assists in two wins, including 17 points and eight rebounds in the Cardinals’ seven-point win over the College of Charleston; Connecticut guard Shabazz Napier who netted 24 points to go with five assists and six rebounds in the Fairfield win and Seton Hall guard Jordan Theodore who averaged 20.0 points and seven assists in a 2-0 week for the Pirates, including a season-high 26 points versus Longwood. In related news, Seton Hall’s Herb Pope was not among the honorees for the first time this season.
  5. The polls are out this week and as expected Marquette and Pittsburgh slipped in the rankings due to losses suffered last week.  Marquette (11-1) dropped four spots to #14 as it lost for the first time this year, a 67-59 defeat on the road against Louisiana State.  Pittsburgh (11-2) plummeted from #15 to #22 on the heels of its 59-54 upset loss at home to Wagner.  Syracuse (13-0) kept it rolling and remained the nation’s top team.  Georgetown (10-1) showed some upward mobility as it beat Memphis for the second time this year and leaped four spots to #12.  Louisville (12-0) is still undefeated and #4 as it gets ready for the previously mentioned home showdown against Georgetown on Wednesday.  It should also be noted that the Cardinals garnered two first place votes this week. Connecticut (10-1) held off a second half surge from Fairfield that the pollsters apparently did not like as the Huskies slipped a notch to #9.
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Morning Five: 12.21.11 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on December 21st, 2011

  1. As we mentioned yesterday the big news in the college basketball world (or at least the media world) was the first-person column by Todd O’Brien describing how St. Joseph’s and Phil Martelli have denied his attempt to use a graduate school exemption to transfer to UAB. Yesterday, the media got a chance to chime in with columns of their own. Outside of the expected “Martelli is a symbol of all things wrong with college sports” there were a few interesting posts. One of them comes from Gregg Doyel who urged the public to wait for St. Joseph’s side of the story to come out while Andy Staples took a bigger picture view at the landscape of the NCAA to point out its uneven approach in dealing with movement of coaches and players. We are sure that there will be several other interesting columns about this topic particularly if (when?) St. Joseph’s decides to tell its side of the story.
  2. Drew Cannon of Basketball Prospectus provides us with something he calls “Grand Unified Point Guard Theory” (in reference to particle physics theories that are way too complex to discuss here) using Kendall Marshall, Aaron Craft, Jordan Taylor, and Seth Curry as examples. Basically what Cannon argues is that a point guard’s impact is more about fit than the particular skills they have (at least in these four examples). While we do agree at some level that a point guard’s value can be greatly increased or decreased by the pieces around him, we tend to think that Cannon’s GUPGT is way too simplistic and undervalues a lot of what some of these players bring to a team. Perhaps it is because point guards may be doing things that even the most advanced basketball sabermetricians have not figured out a way to quantify. Of course, we could be wrong here (and John Gasaway, who works with Drew, agrees with GUPGT) and will admit that like everybody we may fall into a trap of overvaluing some qualities in players. One thing we can agree on is that the phrase “true point guard” is vastly overrated and would prefer to use something along the lines of “facilitator” that allows for inclusion of a player like Henry Sims, who manages to do many traditional point guard things despite not fitting the mold.
  3. It didn’t take long for the decision by DeQuan Jones to hire a lawyer to pay off as he was reinstated by Miami yesterday. We already discussed in detail the impact that the reinstatement of Jones would have on the Hurricanes. We don’t have more much to add here that wasn’t stated in yesterday’s post other than to reiterate our stance that Miami’s original decision to suspend Jones was ridiculous particularly since all of the coaches and administrators were allowed to continue to have jobs as well as Charles Robinson’s point that this decision does not indicate any change in the NCAA’s investigation and probably reflects more on Miami’s preference not to get sued.
  4. It has been a rough season so far for St. John’s, but help may be on the way in the form of Amir Garrett. After losing several recruits who failed to meet NCAA Clearinghouse standards and another freshman who transferred earlier this month, Garrett’s arrival could be a huge boost to a team that is just 5-5 as we approach Christmas. Garrett was one of the three incoming recruits who failed to meet the NCAA Clearinghouse requirements, but he is the only one who appears to be staying with St. John’s as the other two are exploring other options. There is a possibility that Garrett could play as early as tonight against Texas Pan-American. While the Broncs are by far the easiest remaining opponent on St. John’s schedule (the Broncs are #329 out of 345 in Division I according to Ken Pomeroy) we will be interested to see what impact if any Garrett has on the team.
  5. We missed this news from late Monday night due to the late hour and the fact that we don’t have our RSS feed set to find the latest news on Big Sky teams that started the season 2-8, but we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the mid-season resignation of Idaho State coach Joe O’Brien. O’Brien, who did not offer a public reason for stepping down, is the third coach to resign in recent weeks with the others also not providing a direct answer for their decision to leave. O’Brien’s record was a horrific 56-105 at Idaho State, but he was much more successful at the junior college level where he is one of only three coaches to win three national championships. Unfortunately, his time at Idaho State may be remembered most for his brutal scheduling according to school’s official biography of him (hello guarantee game!). Assistant coach Deane Martin will act as the interim coach with his first game tomorrow night against Wyoming.
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Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 19th, 2011

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

  • Khem Birch Leaves Pittsburgh: In what was certainly a surprising development, Pittsburgh announced that highly-touted freshman Khem Birch would be leaving the program for personal reasons. No future destination for Birch was announced. The 6’9” freshman averaged 4.4 PPG and 5.0 RPG in 15 minutes per game for Jamie Dixon, including a season-high 15 points at Pennsylvania on November 25. Birch, a Canadian, was a five-star prospect out of Notre Dame Prep. Birch’s departure will be felt by a Panthers team still trying to find its identity. Pittsburgh remains a very deep team but has to get its defense in order to be able to win consistently once conference play begins.

Khem Birch Left Pittsburgh, Which Shocked No One Familiar With The Commitment Issues Of Well-Traveled Young Phenoms

  • Cincinnati Responds In Impressive Fashion: After losing a bunch of guys to suspensions (including Yancy Gates) stemming from the brawl with Xavier, Cincinnati somehow put together its two best offensive performances of the season. The Bearcats scored 78 in a win at Wright State before throttling Radford with 101 points on Saturday. Maybe the suspensions were just what Mick Cronin needed to get his team focused. While the competition wasn’t great, Cincinnati all of a sudden looks like an improving team after this week.

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (11-0) — The Orange passed their first road test of the season, winning comfortably at NC State on Saturday. Dion Waiters led the way off the bench yet again with 22 points on 9-14 shooting while Kris Joseph added 21. Now that Syracuse has gotten by NC State without any trouble, the Orange could hold onto the top spot in the national rankings for quite some time. Jim Boeheim has some tricky games coming up against upstart Seton Hall, conference title contender Marquette and still-dangerous Villanova, but those are three games Syracuse should not lose. One area for the Orange to focus on in practice this week is defense. NC State shot 57.7% from the floor on Saturday. This week: 12/20 vs. Bucknell, 12/22 vs. Tulane.  Read the rest of this entry »
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Jumping To Conclusions: The Wheels Are Coming Off The St. John’s Rebuilding Bus

Posted by mlemaire on December 9th, 2011

In 2010, after six lackluster seasons — including zero NCAA Tournament appearances — under head coach Norm Roberts, St. John’s basketball needed to make a switch. But the program didn’t just need a coach who could develop players and win games. They needed a walking, talking defibrillator. Someone who could inject some life and enthusiasm back into one of the country’s most storied programs. What they got was Steve Lavin, an affable former television personality with plenty of coaching pedigree and the desire to talk to everybody he ran into.

Steve Lavin Was Hired To Rebuild At St. John's Because Of His Infectious Personality.

It didn’t matter that Lavin hadn’t coached college basketball since he was relieved of his duties by UCLA in 2003, the buzz was back. Red Storm Athletic Director Chris Monasch said, with Lavin, “St. John’s is poised to recapture its legacy as New York’s college team.” Lavin wasted no time, hitting the recruiting trail running and accepting every interview that came his way. He assembled an experienced and energetic staff and recruits took interest.

Last season, coaching a roster that boasted nine seniors, including the team’s top six scorers, Lavin earned plenty of praise and accolades as he led the Red Storm to a 21-12 record and its first NCAA Tournament bid since 2002. Everyone knew the team would take a step back this season due to the mass graduation but most figured it was merely a bump in the road. After all, Lavin was bringing in the nation’s third-ranked recruiting class, a nine-man behemoth that had a player or two at almost every position. And thanks to Lavin’s effusive personality and charm, high-ranked recruiting classes were expected to become the status quo at St. John’s in short order. Then, rather quickly, the bus started to break down.

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Big East Morning Five: 12.02.11 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on December 2nd, 2011

  1. We know there is only so much of the Bernie Fine scandal that people are willing to stomach, but like it or not, the story isn’t going away for awhile. For those interested in the latest developments, Syracuse Chancellor, Nancy Cantor, wrote a short but detailed open letter to USA Today explaining the university’s decision to fire Fine and why it didn’t happen sooner. The crux of the letter is that the SU claims it didn’t know about the recorded conversation between accuser Bobby Davis and Fine’s wife, Laurie. Cantor basically explained that if Syracuse had been made aware of the tape’s existence earlier, Fine would have been fired at that time. She also calls out ESPN and the Syracuse Post-Standard, saying, “those who held onto the tape for nearly 10 years owe everyone an explanation”. Both ESPN and the Post-Standard have offered their rationale for not releasing the tape earlier, but for some people, that still isn’t enough to be fully exonerated. It is hard to paint Syracuse as a university in a negative light. Cantor is justifiably trying to do everything she can to make it clear how different this case is from the Penn State scandal, and it certainly seems like the news outlets are the people who are under the microscope now, an interesting turn of events given all that has happened in the past month.
  2. Even after all of the unnecessary attention he has placed on himself in recent days thanks to his use of social media, disgruntled Connecticut center Alex Oriakhi continues to get himself in trouble using Twitter. First, it was a since-deleted tweet where he called Jim Calhoun a “mumu,” which Oriakhi said is Nigerian for boss. Pretty much everyone else disagreed and said the word means idiot. Apparently, Oriakhi isn’t even the only member of his own family to struggle with the perils of social media, as both sister and father have gone after The UConn Blog after the outlet wrote a story about the twitter controversy. Personally, while I think that the Oriakhi family only made things worse by going after a blogger, I also think this is being made out to be a bigger deal than it really is. I agree that Oriakhi is a captain and veteran leader of the Huskies and as such, should be acting far more mature than he is. But I think to say that his father’s and sister’s comments make Alex and Connecticut look bad by extension is stretching things quite a bit. Most families do not enjoy negative coverage of their children. I don’t think there was anything unfairly negative in either of the stories, but I think the real story here is that Oriakhi and Jim Calhoun need to sit down and work this out. No matter what people believe, UConn needs a happy and focused Alex Oriakhi, and if he plans on continuing his basketball career at the next level, he is going to need to drop this whole malcontent act and start earning his playing time back. This is exactly the kind of non-troversy that ends up being a bigger distraction than it should be.
  3. In what might end up being the best game of the SEC/Big East Challenge, Georgetown coach John Thompson, III, said junior forward Hollis Thompson “did what Hollis does,” which apparently is hit long, contested, game-winning three-pointers. It wasn’t a particularly well-played game by either team, but the Hoyas upset No. 12 Alabama 57-55, proved they don’t need to have a star player to be a good team, and chalked up a resume-building win that will pay dividends when Selection Sunday rolls around. Georgetown got 22 points from guard Jason Clark and survived a dunkfest from Alabama’s Tony Mitchell and now have the look of a conference contender after so many predicted a big slide this year following the departures of Chris Wright and Austin Freeman. I would still say this team’s ceiling is probably a Sweet Sixteen appearance given their youth and lack of depth, but there are some talented young players on this Hoyas team, and Clark and Thompson are legitimate offensive threats and two of the better players in the conference. On a completely unrelated note, it baffles me that Georgetown freshman Otto Porter could play 35 minutes of basketball and only score two points, grab two rebounds, and dish one assist. Are we sure he really played 35 minutes? Did his teammates forget he was on the floor?
  4. You didn’t think the Big East was going to let West Virginia have all the legal fun did you? Just one day after WVU filed to have the Big East’s countersuit dismissed because Rhode Island courts shouldn’t rule on West Virginia business, the Big East fired back and filed to have the West Virginia lawsuit dismissed on the basis that the Mountaineers haven’t provided much evidence to prove that conference bylaws are invalid. West Virginia has already paid half of the $5 million exit fee to the conference and they would like to have the lawsuit fast-tracked so a decision can be made by June 30. However, circuit judge Russell Clawges didn’t give a lot of hope that timeline could be honored, and this looks like a legal dogfight that could drag out for a very long time. It makes sense for West Virginia to want to move on as quickly as possible. Both sides have said some not-so-nice things about each other and I seriously doubt at this point the Big East even wants the Mountaineers in the conference, football revenue and all. But their hands are tied by the precedent rolling over could set. Letting West Virginia leave early could impact Syracuse and Pittsburgh, both of whom have also decided to leave the conference, and then the Big East would have a real mess on its hands. Stay tuned, because there will be plenty more of this story as it unfolds.
  5. In dire need of some good news given the uncertainty surrounding their coach’s health and the fact they were just shellacked by Kentucky on the road, St. John’s scored a little victory — at least in theory — when recruit Amir Garrett tweeted he could be suiting up for the Red Storm in just three weeks. If three weeks is in fact an accurate estimate, that means Garrett could return before the conference opener and he would be a welcome addition. This is excellent news for Steve Lavin’s club as their bench is thin and Garrett is an athletic wing player who can guard multiple positions and run the floor. Just don’t expect his arrival to drastically change St. John’s fortunes. This is still a very young team as they showed against Kentucky and at 4-4, they don’t look like a team headed towards the Tournament, especially if Lavin’s health and availability remain in limbo. The good news is that Garrett doesn’t have the look of a one-and-done player, especially considering he also has a bright future in baseball, so getting him on the floor and acclimated to college basketball will only help the Johnnies next season, when the team should be more experienced and also better.
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Who’s Got Next? Poythress Picks, Carter Commits and More…

Posted by Josh Paunil on November 17th, 2011

Who’s Got Next? is a weekly column by Josh Paunil, the RTC recruiting guru. We encourage you to check out his website dedicated solely to college basketball recruiting, National Recruiting Spotlight, for more detailed recruiting information. Once a week he will bring you an overview of what’s going on in the complex world of recruiting, from who is signing where among the seniors to who the hot prospects are at the lower levels of the sport. If you have any suggestions as to areas we’re missing or different things you’d like to see, please let us know at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Lead Story: Poythress Picks Kentucky, UK Still Able To Nab Number One Recruiting Class

Poythress Gave UK Fans Hope To Have the Best Recruiting Class In the Country... Again (Daryl Paunil/NRS)

Big Blue Nation Has Reason To Rejoice. Don’t lie Kentucky fans, you were worried about not getting the number one recruiting class for the fourth straight year. You tweeted about it, you posted on message boards about it, you wrote on Facebook about it. But when Class of 2012 small forward Alex Poythress decided to join Big Blue Nation last Thursday, head coach John Calipari kept his 2012 class in the running to be rated as the top collection of talent in the country. The 6’7″, 220-pound wing joins shooting guard Archie Goodwin and center Willie Cauley as Coach Cal’s commitments so far with top senior targets small forward Shabazz Muhammad and power forwards Anthony Bennett and Jarnell Stokes still out there. Poythress had a terrific summer and showed the ability to consistently get to the bucket, finish in traffic and an improved perimeter shot. At times, he’s simply unstoppable when he attacks the rim and he’s able to impact the game in a number of ways whether it’s defense, rebounding or running the floor. He fits in well with Calipari’s system and will thrive with Goodwin and Cauley running the floor with him. At this point, the Wildcats have the second-best recruiting class in the country only behind Arizona’s ridiculous haul of talent but with another commitment or two they could reign supreme for the fourth straight year.

What They’re Saying:

  • Senior standout Robert Upshaw‘s mother, Ceylon Sherman, on her son choosing Kansas State: “It was a close run, he had a lot of great schools, but when it came down to it, him and all of us family just all had Kansas State. For Robert, it was about how much he liked the guys out there. He had chemistry with them.”

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Big East Morning Five: 11.17.11 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on November 17th, 2011

  1. The St. John’s recruiting exodus continues.  Norvel Pelle is the latest player to de-commit from Steve Lavin’s program.  The news was initially reported by Johnny Jungle.com on Wednesday morning and confirmed by Pelle via Twitter later in the day.  The 6’10” Pelle originally signed with St. John’s as a class of 2011 recruit but was declared academically ineligible in September along with fellow highly regarded signees, small forwards JaKarr Sampson and Amir Garrett.  Garrett remains committed and is currently enrolled at Bridgton Academy (ME).  However, Sampson re-opened his recruitment shortly after being declared ineligible and re-enrolled at Brewster Academy (NH), the same prep school he attended last year.  St. John’s remains in the mix with Sampson but there is plenty of competition for his services, including Big East foes Providence and Pittsburgh.  St. John’s also recently lost a verbal committment from Ricardo Gathers, a top 2012 recruit. The loss of these players is an obvious blow to a team trying to build on a young core.  No reason behind Pelle’s decision has been confirmed but speculation exists that continued qualification issues played a role.  With regard to the multiple departures, there have been theories bandied about that Lavin’s battle with prostate cancer coupled with the instability of the Big East have played a role, but this can only be considered conjecture at the present time.
  2. Providence star guard Vincent Council was seen around campus on Wednesday sporting crutches.  Council injured his left ankle at the 9:20 mark of the first half of Providence’s last game, an 82-70 win at Fairfield on Monday.  With time running out on the shot clock, Council hoisted a deep three from the top of the key and appeared to roll the ankle when he landed on the foot of Fairfield defender Derek Needham.  At first the injury looked to be serious as Council writhed in pain on the floor for several minutes.  However, he was then able to leave the floor under his own power and checked back into the game at the 8:31 mark after a brief trip to the locker room.  The 49-second departure would ultimately represent the only game action Council would miss as he logged 39 minutes, tallying game highs in scoring (26 points) and assists (seven).  The 2-0 Friars next take the floor on Saturday afternoon when they host Florida A&M at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center as part of the South Padre Island Invitational.  While the crutches appear to be a precautionary measure, there were rumblings Wednesday evening that Council’s status for Saturday is questionable. Currently playing with just eight scholarship players, Providence can ill afford to lose Council for any period of time.
  3. Louisville, a team seeking reinforcements following injuries to Wayne Blackshear, expected to miss six-to-eight weeks while recovering from surgery to repair a torn labrum, and Mike Marra, out for the season after tearing his ACL in Sunday’s win over Lamar, got news that they will be receiving help, although perhaps not soon enough but more on that in the next item.  As reported by ZagsBlog.com, 6’4″ guard Kevin Ware has been cleared to play with Louisville by the NCAA and can begin practicing on December 14.  It is anticipated Ware will suit up for Louisville’s December 17 home contest against Memphis at the KFC Yum! Center.  Ware’s recruitment has been fluid.  He originally signed with Tennessee a year ago but was released from that commitment when former Volunteers coach Bruce Pearl was fired.  Then Ware committed to Central Florida but got out of dodge last spring when the school came under NCAA investigation for a series of violations that ultimately led to the resignation of Athletic Director Keith Tribble and assistant football coach David Kelly, as well as a three-game suspension for men’s head basketball coach Donnie Jones.
  4. In related ankle and Louisville news (how’s that for a tie in of the last two items!), Louisville coach Rick Pitino has declared junior guard Peyton Siva (10.5 PPG, 6 APG) doubtful with a sprained ankle suffered in Monday’s practice when he landed on Elisha Justice’s foot.  The 2-0 Cardinals hit the road to face 1-1 Butler on Saturday and, if Siva cannot go, Pitino will have to mix and match at the point, citing a difficult match-up with Butler senior guard Ronald Nored, “the best defensive point guard in the country.”  Sophomore Russ Smith and junior Chris Smith have limited experience at the point but will also likely be called upon.  6’9″ junior forward Stephan Van Treese, a player who has been out with a knee injury, has returned to practice and is expected to play on Saturday.
  5. Notre Dame leading scorer Eric Atkins (20.0 PPG) was forced to miss last night’s game versus Sam Houston State due to illness.  This left the Fighting Irish down two starters as Tim Abromaitis continues to serve a four-game suspension for playing in exhibition games prior to his redshirt year in 2008-09.  It was also reported that starting guard Joey Brooks was battling a bug that appears to be making its way through the team.  Brooks started the game but left in the first half and did not return, although he did remain on the bench for the second half.  Fortunately the Irish were playing the Bearkats and not the Bearcats as they managed to squeak out a 74-41 victory despite being shorthanded in a game that was over by halftime. Freshman Pat Connaughton led the onslaught, scoring 17 first half points en route to a game high 24 (6-10 3FGs). Sophomore Alex Dragicevich started in Atkins’ place and contributed seven points, three rebounds, three assists and a block.  If this rash of illness continues, it could have a short-term impact as Notre Dame has two games over the next five days, including a match-up with #24 Missouri on Monday.  Irish Fans, your friends at RTC Big East are here to help!
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RTC Conference Primers: #1 – Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 14th, 2011

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

Reader’s Take I

 

Top Storylines

  • The Realignment Circus Continues: The latest blow to the Big East came just recently as West Virginia was accepted into the Big 12. That leaves the Big East with 13 basketball schools remaining and a handful of others (football schools) desperately trying to flee the sinking ship. Commissioner John Marinatto has said he is committed to holding Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia to the 27-month notice provision in the conference’s bylaws but one has to wonder if a financial settlement will be worked out in order to expedite the transition and move the conference into rebuilding mode. It’s going to be quite awkward if these three schools remain in the league until 2014. All of the current Big East members should eventually find a stable home in one form or another, but the days of Big East basketball as we know it will soon come to an end. Enjoy the 2011-12 season because it just might be the last year of this remarkable 16-team behemoth.
  • How Many Bids This Year?: After sending a record 11 teams to the NCAA Tournament last year, can the Big East reach that mark again? That seems unlikely but you never know how things will truly play out. I’d say there are ten contenders for NCAA bids and to make 11 you would need all of those teams plus one of the three New York City-area schools to have a wildly successful year and snatch a bid. The Big East is quite possibly the best conference in the land yet again but 11 NCAA teams is far-fetched. Eight or nine bids this season would seem to be much more realistic.
  • Can Connecticut Repeat?: The technical answer is yes but it will be extremely tough to do. There’s a reason only two teams have gone back-to-back in the last 20 years. College basketball is as deep as ever in terms of talent and quality teams, plus there’s someone missing from last year’s Connecticut team. Kemba Walker is now in the NBA and, despite Jim Calhoun’s impressive recruiting haul, there is a major leadership void to be filled. This team is stocked with talent but Walker was a one-of-a-kind leader who took complete control in Maui and parlayed that into a way of life for the rest of the season. Jeremy Lamb figures to take control but remember how young this group is. They’ll get better as the season progresses and may even win the Big East but when the chips are down in the NCAA Tournament, they won’t be able to call on Kemba and that’s why I feel they will not repeat.

Calhoun Won't Have His Mr. Everything Around This Season

  • Cautious Optimism at Georgetown, Villanova and West Virginia: These traditional powers lose a lot of talent and figure to be lodged in the middle of the conference. All three programs return key cogs but the departures of Austin Freeman, Chris Wright, Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes, Antonio Pena, Casey Mitchell, John Flowers and Joe Mazzulla leave more questions than answers. These teams all need someone to step up and become a deep shooting threat while maintaining a low post presence. Guards win in college basketball but you also have to be able to rebound and score inside occasionally. Hollis Thompson, Mouphtaou Yarou and Deniz Kilicli must become better all-around post men if their respective teams hope to make the NCAA Tournament. At 6’7”, 205 lbs., Thompson isn’t one to bang with the big guys but he’s going to have to score in the paint at times. Each team has a nice recruiting class coming in, but it’s up to the returning players to make the ultimate difference.
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