Big East Morning Five: 03.20.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on March 20th, 2012

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

Posted by mlemaire on March 19th, 2012

  1. The dust has settled from what was another wild opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament and four Big East teams have advanced to the Sweet Sixteen — Syracuse, Marquette, Louisville, and Cincinnati. Only the Big Ten has as many teams still dancing. But there will be plenty of chances to hear about the teams still playing this week, so let’s dedicate this roundup to news about the teams that are done.
  2. Let’s give North Carolina State some credit, because they are playing good basketball right now, but Georgetown should be the most disappointed of the eliminated Big East teams today. Hampered by Henry Sims‘ foul trouble and a rough shooting day from Jason Clark, the Hoyas were never able to get all the way back into the game and exited the tournament early for the third straight season. As The Washington Post points out, Georgetown can take solace in the fact that they easily outperformed everyone’s expectations in the regular season and put together an impressive season given their inexperience. But somehow, I don’t think Clark and Sims and John Thompson III are giving that much thought right now.
  3. Are the referees kidding us by calling a technical when Jawanza Poland hung on the rim for an extra beat after throwing down an alley-oop to give his team a five-point lead? He wasn’t taunting; he wasn’t yelling; he wasn’t even showing any emotion. He just took a little extra swing on the rim, and the referees got all indignant, called the technical, and swung the momentum back in Ohio’s favor. It wasn’t the decisive reason that the Bulls ended up losing, but it was an unnecessary call, especially in a hard-fought tournament game. Looking on the bright side of things, no one expected Stan Heath‘s club to be playing for a Sweet Sixteen berth when this season started. After the game Heath said his team will be a “hungry group” next season, and with a solid returning cast as well as a recruiting class ready to make an impact, the Bulls could change from perennial league laughingstock to perennial tournament contender in no time.
  4. Since we are still on this overachiever kick, now feels like the right time to ask if anyone expected Notre Dame to be dancing earlier this season when star forward Tim Abromaitis was lost for the season because of a torn ACL. Unfortunately, that probably doesn’t do much to dull the sting that the Fighting Irish must feel after letting a double-digit second half lead slip away in their loss to Xavier. They don’t get to cry about the correctly called lane violation because they let the Musketeers shoot 50% from the field and were never able to clamp down defensively and stop the run. The good news for Mike Brey and company is that they will be a much better and more experienced team next season, especially if Scott Martin is granted a sixth year of eligibility. This team, at times, was too inconsistent and streaky which was due partially to their youth. But this season will be an excellent learning experience for guards like Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant, so expect the Fighting Irish to be out for redemption next season.
  5. Connecticut barely made it onto anyone’s radar this March before they were summarily dispatched by Iowa State with ease. The defending national champions came out flat, like they have many other times this season, and the Cyclones took advantage and ran away with the win. While most Huskies’ fans will quickly forget about this season, there is still a lot to talk about for this program. UConn is facing a potential ban from next season’s NCAA Tournament because of previous players’ poor academic record; the possibility that their Hall of Fame coach will retire; and the possible defections of two of their best players in Jeremy Lamb and Andre Drummond. All of this drama will make for an interesting offseason in Storrs.
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Rushed Reaction: #8 Iowa State 77, #9 Connecticut 64

Posted by jstevrtc on March 15th, 2012

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Pardon Our Cliches… If you watched this game, you saw exactly what we did, in terms of the most important takeaway from this game. Connecticut’s roster oozed with talent. Kentucky fans stuck around for this game because they feared seeing UConn again, and for good reason. UConn had enough NBA talent on that roster to frustrate Kentucky. Both Kentucky- and non-Kentucky fans knew it. It was evident in the Big East tournament last week, even in the close loss to Syracuse. All they needed to play like that is motivation. You would think that, this being the NCAA Tournament and all, motivation would be the last of a talented roster’s problems. So here it comes: Connecticut had more talented individuals. Iowa State, from tip to buzzer, was the better team.
  2. Whither Jim Calhoun? Given his health problems and frequent absences from games this season, will it be back to Storrs next year, or will that loss be how he departs the scene? Twitter buzzed with this question in the dying moments of this game, and the speculation will continue until he puts paid to the question with a definitive statement. And we wouldn’t expect that until after the tournament is over. He would not address the issue in the post-game.
  3. Royce White Won the Key Battle. You would never have thought such a sentence would have ever been written a while back when White made that strange exit from Tubby Smith’s Minnesota squad, but the matchup everyone was watching tonight was White versus (sometimes) whiz-kid Andre Drummond. The latter was virtually non-existent (two points, three rebounds) save for four blocks, and his head was clearly elsewhere all night. White wasn’t exactly himself for the first 30 minutes or so, but took over on both ends of the floor late, just like a leader should. He ended with 15/11 on 6-10 shooting, and a new legion of  believers, we’d say.

Star of the Game. White impressed us with his leadership late in the proceedings, especially when Ryan Boatright shrank the ISU lead down to six with a 5-0 run of his own making. Aside from that, though, the most important part of this game was the opening punch landed by Cyclone guards Scott Christopherson and Chris Allen, outhustling the Huskies’ backcourt, getting into the lane easily, and propelling ISU out to an early 20-point lead. Connecticut never really recovered except for the small run in the second half that amounted to little. Those guards deserve some of the SOTG credit.

Quotable. Jim Calhoun: “They played 40 minutes. We played sporadically.” Completely true. It would be interesting to put some of these Huskies on a polygraph and ask them if they’re just a little bit glad this season is over. We don’t think they totally mind this. Calhoun tried to dilute it by saying, “If Connecticut wins 20-25 games a year and goes to the NCAA Tournament, we’ll always be happy,” but that is not the Connecticut standard. It’s been a tough season, and Calhoun admitted as much, and we think it’s one the program is glad to see the back of.

Sights & Sounds. As mentioned, most Kentucky fans stayed for this one. No question the added fan support was appreciated by Iowa State. We, uh, wouldn’t count on that come Saturday. Great motivational tactic for the Cyclones, right? We can already hear Fred Hoiberg and the ISU coaches whispering in their players’ ears, “They stayed to root for you because they thought you were the weaker team. Make them regret they cheered for you.”

What’s Next? Obviously, Iowa State gets Kentucky in the marquee game on Saturday night. Royce White has the last word, speaking about Kentucky: “You see them every night on ESPN. They have a great team, they’re number one for a reason. Great coach, great tradition, great program there, Kentucky basketball. We’re gonna go back and watch some film, and we’re gonna try and figure out their strengths and weaknesses, just like every other team has tried. I’m sure our coaches will come up with a solid game plan just like they have all year long.” He does not sound intimidated.

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SEC NCAA Tournament Primer: Thursday/Saturday Games

Posted by EMoyer on March 15th, 2012

On Thursday, Kentucky and Vanderbilt open their NCAA Tournament runs facing Western Kentucky and Harvard, respectively. Here we preview the Thursday/Saturday possibilities for the Wildcats and Commodores.

SEC NCAA Tournament Thursday/Saturday Capsules

SOUTH Region 

  • #1 Kentucky: Championship Appearances: 53; Record 107-47; Best Finish: Champion – 1948, 1949, 1951, 1958, 1978, 1996, 1998; How Qualified: At-Large, SEC; Last Appearance: 2011 – L, National Semifinal
  • #16 Western Kentucky: Championship Appearances: 22; Record 19-22; Best Finish: Third Place – 1971; How Qualified: Automatic Bid, Sun Belt Conference; Last Appearance: 2009 – L, Second Round
  • #8 Iowa State: Championship Appearances: 14; Record 12-13; Best Finish: Final Four  – 1944; How Qualified: At Large, Big 12; Last Appearance: 2005 – L, Second Round
  • #9 Connecticut: Championship Appearances: 47; Record 35-43; Best Finish: Champion – 1999, 2004, 2011; How Qualified: At Large, Big East; Last Appearance: 2011 – Champion
All-Time Meetings
  • Kentucky vs Western Kentucky: Kentucky leads 3-2; Last Meeting: Nov. 15, 2001 (Western Kentucky 64, Kentucky 52)
  • Kentucky vs Iowa State: Kentucky leads 2-0; Last Meeting: Mar. 22, 1992 (Kentucky 106, Iowa State 98)
  • Kentucky vs Connecticut: Connecticut leads 3-1; Last Meeting: April 2, 2011 (Connecticut 56, Kentucky 55)
A Starting 5 of the Top Players Kentucky Could Face
  • Derrick Gordon, Western Kentucky, Fr., G: Gordon has amassed 400 points in his first year as a Hilltopper. Only two freshmen have scored more points in Western Kentucky history (Courtney Lee, 467;  Ralph Crosthwaite, 437). He is on pace to become the first Hilltopper freshman to pace the team in scoring and he will be the first in five years to lead in rebounding.
  • Chris Allen, Iowa State, Sr., G: Allen leads the team with 72 3-point field goals and he has played in the most NCAA Tournament games (14) in this year’s 68-team field. Allen played in two Final Fours for Michigan State (2009, 2010.
  • Jeremy Lamb, Connecticut, So., G: Lamb earned First-Team All-Big East honors and the NABC District I Player of the Year after leading the Huskies in scoring at 17.1 points per game.
  • Royce White, Iowa State, So., F: White is the only player in the nation to lead his team in scoring (13.1), rebounding (9.2), assists (5.1), steals (1.2) and blocks (0.9). He is on the verge of posting top-10 single seasons in assists and rebounds in Cyclone history. He is one of 12 players in the county to post a triple-double this season.
  • Andre Drummond, Connecticut, Fr., C: Drummond has tallied 10 double-doubles this season, a UConn freshman record under Coach Jim Calhoun. He won four Big East Rookie of the Week honors, and leads the team in rebounding (7.7) and blocks (2.7).
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Bracket Prep: South Region Analysis

Posted by KDoyle on March 12th, 2012

Throughout Monday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (9 AM), South (11 AM), Midwest (2 PM), West (4 PM). Here, Kevin Doyle breaks down the South Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC South Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCsouthregion).

You can also check out our RTC Podblast with Kevin breaking down the South Region here.

South Region

Favorite: #1 Kentucky (32-2, 16-0 SEC). Shouldn’t really need much of an explanation here. The most talented team in the nation — unquestionably — the Wildcats will be the odds-on favorite to not just emerge from the South Region, but also to cut down the nets in New Orleans. Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones spearhead a terrifyingly good starting five.

The Length And Athleticism Of Terrence Jones and Kentucky Are Just One Of Many Issues That Teams Face

Should They Falter: #2 Duke (27-6, 13-3 ACC). Austin Rivers does not play like a typical freshman and while Duke has its flaws on defense (perimeter defense, especially), the Blue Devils are more apt to make a run to the Final Four due to their balance on offense. Rivers and Seth Curry are prolific shooters/scorers in the backcourt, while the Plumlee brothers make for a formidable frontcourt. Much of Duke’s success hinges on junior Ryan Kelly’s health (sprained ankle). Kelly, while not a lockdown defender by any means, is 6’11″ and really helps in defending the three-point line for Duke. Even without a healthy Kelly, Duke still has an easier road to the Sweet Sixteen than other contenders in the South Region.

Grossly Overseeded: #11 Colorado (23-11, 11-7 Pac-12). Clearly, the committee thought higher of the Pac-12 than many others did. First, there was much debate whether this power six conference — far from “powerful” this season — would even receive an at-large bid, but they did in California. Secondly, Colorado was not on anybody’s radar prior to the Pac-12 Tournament as it stood at 19-11 with seven losses in conference play. Yet, winning the conference tournament propelled Colorado to a very respectable seed at #11. Many prognosticators had the Buffaloes at a #13 seed going into Selection Sunday.

Grossly Underseeded: #14 South Dakota State (27-7, 15-3 Summit). It is too big of a stretch to say that South Dakota State is “grossly” underseeded, but I do believe they were worthy of a #13 seed. When comparing the Jackrabbits to the #13 seed in this region, their resume is every bit as good, if not better, than New Mexico State: SDSU has a better overall record, higher RPI, more wins against the Top 100 RPI, and a more challenging non-conference schedule. Not to mention South Dakota State’s thrashing of Washington 92-73, even though the Huskies are not a Tournament team, is very impressive.

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Four Thoughts: Connecticut vs. West Virginia Edition

Posted by mlemaire on March 7th, 2012

Game recaps are boring. If you want to read them, search your local newspaper or the Associated Press. With the Big East Tournament upon us, we figured we would try to offer four thoughts about several of the key games throughout the week.

1. In a season marked by inconsistency, the good Shabazz Napier showed up for UConn down the stretch.

Shabazz Napier Stepped Up When His Team Needed Him Most

With the Huskies trailing West Virginia 55-48 with just under seven minutes left to play, Napier took matters into his own hands and pretty much ensured that his team would be dancing later this month. The streaky sophomore had a hand in all but two of the team’s final 15 points, scoring nine points in a row at one point to go with three assists and two steals as the Huskies fought back to send the game into overtime. If you want to nitpick, his three-pointer at the end of regulation was a questionable decision and he did foul out rather quickly in overtime. But his final line (26 points, six assists, four rebounds, three steals, and three blocks) showed just how large of an impact he made in every facet of the game. Jeremy Lamb carried the team offensively in the first half while Napier struggled to find his groove, but when they needed him the most, Napier put the team on his back and carried them into the quarterfinals.

2. If this was the last game of Kevin Jones’ college career, his teammates owe him a fruit basket.

While Napier used the final seven minutes of the game to show off his wide array of skills, West Virginia used the final seven minutes of the game to basically forget that they had the conference’s best player on their team. Jones’ last points of the game came on two free throws with a little more than six minutes to play. From that point on, including the overtime period, Jones attempted just three field goals — including zero in the last six minutes of regulation — and missed all of them.  For the first 30 minutes of this game, Jones showed off why he probably should have been the conference’s player of the year. He abused whomever the Huskies put on him, scored at will, and despite his disappearing act, finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds. It is an absolute shame that his teammates didn’t make more of a concerted effort to get him the ball down the stretch and if the Mountaineers end up on the outside of the bubble looking in, it will have been a disappointing end to an incredible season and career.

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Four Thoughts: Connecticut v. DePaul Edition

Posted by mlemaire on March 6th, 2012

Game recaps are boring. If you want to read them, search your local newspaper or the Associated Press. With the Big East Tournament upon us, we figured we would try to offer four thoughts about every game that is played… emphasis on “try.” 

Jim Calhoun Is Back On The Bench And He Has The Huskies Playing Well.

  1. Connecticut took care of business. Beating DePaul isn’t going to help the Huskies’ tournament chances very much, but losing to the Blue Demons would have almost certainly been a catastrophe. Luckily, the team — and especially Jeremy Lamb — came out firing on all cylinders, built a 13-point lead at halftime, and coasted to victory from there. Lamb was superb in the first half and finished the game with 25 points and four assists, and the offense that was non-existent in the last few weeks returned as the Huskies shot 46. 3% from the field. The victory sets up what many are calling a de facto play-in game with West Virginia tomorrow at noon.
  2. The return of Jim Calhoun has energized a team in need of a pick-me-up. With Calhoun back on the bench for the first time since his spinal surgery, UConn handled Pittsburgh in its regular season finale on Saturday. After the game, freshman point guard Ryan Boatright told reporters, “It was just a whole `nother vibe with him back on the sidelines.” Well it looked that way again this afternoon. Neither the Panthers nor the Blue Demons have been particularly competitive this season, but Calhoun’s brave comeback, his perseverance, and his leadership is exactly what the doctor ordered for a team that looked timid and uninspired as the season came to a close. They were efficient on offense and held DePaul to just 27.4% from the field. I am not ready to starting drawing comparisons to the run the Huskies made through the Big East Tournament last year because this team is still one week removed from losing to Providence, but they are definitely not the same team they were last week, and Calhoun is a major reason why. Read the rest of this entry »
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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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Big East Morning Five: 02.27.12 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on February 27th, 2012

  1.  Syracuse clinched the Big East regular season crown this weekend when C.J. Fair blocked a last-second three-pointer by Roscoe Smith and the Orange held on to a 71-69 win over Connecticut. The Huskies’ faithful wanted a foul and they certainly had a legitimate argument, but the referee swallowed his whistle and Syracuse sealed the No. 1 seed in next weekend’s Big East Tournament. Although he was probably outplayed by Andre Drummond, center Fab Melo had the go-ahead putback flush with 31 seconds left and held his own with 11 points and nine rebounds. The loss put a very serious dent in the Huskies’ at-large chances, but it also showed that the Orange aren’t invincible heading into the Big East Tournament. As history has proven many times, the tournament has always been unpredictable. But this year it really seems like any of nine teams could win this thing. Is it next weekend yet?
  2. In a game with plenty of intrigue but very little offense, South Florida edged Cincinnati, 46-45, and put themselves in excellent bubble position in the process. The two teams combined to shoot 37-of-127 from the field, including a whopping 6-of-42 from behind the three-point line. But kudos to freshman point guard Anthony Collins, who led the Bulls in scoring with 14 and drained a pair of game-winning free-throws with 3.2 seconds left. It’s been a vindicating season for South Florida coach Stan Heath for finally putting an NCAA Tournament-worthy team on the court, but this isn’t a time for patting themselves on the back. A win on Wednesday at No. 17 Louisville would go a long way to putting the Bulls on the right side of the bubble for good.
  3. It didn’t take long for Bog Huggins to say what everybody already knew, that he is tired of watching wins that seemed within grasp slowly slip away down the stretch. After letting another double-digit lead slip away against Marquette Friday night, West Virginia will need to make a run in the Big East Tournament if they hope to ensure a spot in the Big Dance. The problem is that the reason WVU has let so many leads evaporate is because they are really young, inexperienced, and incapable of stopping more experienced teams when they bear down. No one exemplifies this better than mercurial freshman Jabarie Hinds. The ultra-quick guard has shown flashes of his vast potential this season, but he has had just as many games like he had Friday when he missed all four shots he took and turned the ball over four times. He doesn’t deserve to be singled out because the problem is a team-wide issue, but that is primarily why Huggins’ streak of NCAA Tournament appearances might be over soon.
  4. If there was one loss over the weekend that really shouldn’t have happened, it was Notre Dame‘s lackluster defeat to St. John’s. Yes, it was a road game, but there is no reason why the Fighting Irish should have shot 4-of-31 from behind the three-point arc, and even then they still had a chance to win the game at the end. There is no doubt Mike Brey has done a terrific job this season and his team has transformed in the past two months right before our very eyes, but it is games like this that give critics the ammunition to discount them. Their NCAA Tournament bid is all but wrapped up, but the going doesn’t get any easier as the Irish will be heading to Washington, D.C., to square off with the Hoyas tonight on national television. They can help quiet those critics if they can rebound against a talented Georgetown team.
  5. The other team that should be kicking themselves this weekend, perhaps even more than Notre Dame, is the Seton Hall Pirates. A win on senior night over Rutgers would have allowed them to breathe a little easier on Selection Sunday, but instead they let Dane Miller run roughshod over their defense and they lost in overtime. Now, their future is murkier, and some think the Pirates will need to win at least one game in the conference tournament if they want to ensure they will be playing in the NCAA Tournament. As Brendon Prunty points out, this was really the first bad loss for Seton Hall, and they might even be headed for the First Four rather than the actual tournament. But, was anyone really surprised? The Pirates have played Jekyll and Hyde basketball all season, and this is no different. They better hope they handle DePaul in their season finale, otherwise they will be in real trouble.
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ATB: NPOY Race Dead Even, Border War Showcases College Hoops, and OSU/Michigan Blow Big Ten…

Posted by rtmsf on February 27th, 2012

This Weekend’s Lede. It was a wild and wonderful college basketball weekend filled with bubble teams fighting for their lives and others maneuvering for seed position. In many of the smaller conferences, the regular season ended and schools are now preparing to begin conference tournament play this week (egads, the Big South begins Monday night!). For most of the power conference teams, though, each game carries more weight than those that came before it, and perhaps nowhere was that more true than in Lawrence, Kansas, on Saturday afternoon. Let’s jump into that game and everything else that went down this weekend…

Your Watercooler Moment. Anthony Davis or Thomas Robinson — Who Ya Got?

T-Rob Won the Weekend, But Will He Win the NPOY? (Topeka CJ/M. Gunnoe)

The National Player of the Year race got even more compelling on Saturday afternoon as the two leading candidates, Kansas’ Thomas Robinson and Kentucky’s Anthony Davis, each made his case through dominant performances in key rivalry games in front of a CBS national television audience. Davis started the day with a near-perfect 10-11 shooting performance against Vanderbilt that included 28 points, 11 rebounds, and six blocks to highlight his candidacy as the most valuable player in America. Robinson finished it with a 28-point, 12-rebound masterpiece of his own that lacked in Davis’ near-perfection (T-Rob shot 10-21 from the field), but more than compensated for it with his timeliness. It was Robinson’s layup (and-one) with 16 seconds left that tied the game with arch-rival Missouri at 75-all, and it was his subsequent rejection of Phil Pressey’s driving shot attempt that sent the game into overtime, where KU outlasted the Tigers, 87-86. Because of Davis and Robinson, both Kentucky and Kansas clinched regular season conference championships, the incredible eighth Big 12 title in a row for the Jayhawks and the 45th SEC title in history for the Wildcats.

We did some crowd-sourcing on Twitter yesterday over this very question and it’s clear that there is no consensus on who the NPOY should be. A common refrain that we heard was that Davis is more valuable defensively than Robinson (probably true) and that should therefore make the difference; conversely, Kansas without Robinson in its lineup may look a lot worse than Kentucky would without Davis on its front line (also probably true). Each player is a certain First Team All-American, but the duo will each have two more games over the next seven days to make their final cases to America — UK vs. Georgia and at Florida, and KU at Oklahoma State and vs. Texas. In a too-close-to-call competition, one particularly good or bad game relative to each other could make all the difference.

Top Storyline. The Border War Showcases College Hoops At Its Best. Given everything that was at stake locally, regionally and nationally in Saturday’s Border War showdown between Missouri and Kansas, the basketball gods cast a fitting tribute to a series that does not deserve to end. The game had just about everything you could ask for except a buzzer-beating game-winner (and let the record reflect that Marcus Denmon’s shot just after the final horn fell into the hole), including All-America performances from players sure to soon be on those lists, a fan environment perhaps unparalleled anywhere else in the sport, and an epic comeback that will no doubt cause glee or consternation for years depending on which side of the Missour/Kansas border you live on. It was just a superb game for any college basketball fan to enjoy, and if Saturday’s masterpiece was indeed the end of the series for a while, it will have to live on through repeated showings of clips such as this one. (note: of course, these games don’t matter)

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