Set Your TiVo: 02.24.12 – 02.26.12

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 24th, 2012

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

Somewhat unbelievably, the second-to-last regular season Saturday is upon us. Plenty of big time and bubble games are on the schedule as the stretch run really heats up.

#3 Missouri @ #4 Kansas – 4:00 PM EST Saturday on CBS (*****)

  • The final Border War game promises to be another terrific display of basketball between two top five teams that really don’t care for one another. Missouri won the first meeting between these teams, but to do it again it will have to defend at a higher level. Both teams shot over 50% at Mizzou Arena three weeks ago, but Kansas has been the better defensive team all season long. Now playing at home in virtually impenetrable Allen Fieldhouse, the Jayhawks have to like their chances in this one. Kansas has a huge rebounding and size advantage in the paint with Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey going up against Ricardo Ratliffe. While Ratliffe is a great finisher around the bucket, he was held to six points in the first meeting, limited by foul trouble in only 20 minutes of action. Kansas can neutralize Ratliffe and force Missouri to make shots. Missouri hit 10 threes in the first meeting, led by Marcus Denmon’s six. Kansas will have to tighten up a three point defense that ranks #173 nationally in order to prevent that from happening again.

    Can Denmon & The Tigers Rebound?

  • Denmon’s 29-point effort against Kansas on February 4 lifted him out of a slump and his high level of play has continued since then. Denmon and Kim English have to make shots or else Kansas will have a significant edge in this game. The Jayhawks should be dominant inside with Robinson going against Ratliffe with Withey by his side. Kansas is one of the best teams in the nation in two point percentage. Defensively, Bill Self has to be worried about the three point line. While Kansas is a very efficient defensive team, they can be beaten from the arc. Missouri is certainly a team capable of doing that as it moves the ball well and has a multitude of deep threats lining the perimeter. Frank Haith needs a good game at point guard out of Phil Pressey, otherwise Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor could take over the game quickly as they did against Baylor at the Phog. Taylor has had an outstanding senior season but is vulnerable to turnovers. Look for Missouri to target him defensively in order to prevent him from getting into a rhythm and setting up the Jayhawk offense.
  •  The big question mark here is can Missouri defend at a high level against an elite opponent on the road? The Tigers are last in the Big 12 in three point defense and their overall efficiency rating leaves a lot to be desired. Kansas is going to get its points inside but is not a particularly great outside shooting team. However, Taylor poses a big threat and must be held in check if Missouri is going to beat Kansas in a place where almost nobody wins. Until proven otherwise, we can’t pick against the Jayhawks in such an emotionally charged game as this one.

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College Basketball’s Hits and Misses

Posted by zhayes9 on February 23rd, 2012

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.

Crystal balls are in full supply every November. We pour through every known statistic to find that overlooked All-American candidate. We criticize the coaches for their preseason picks and condemn the AP poll for overrating Duke. National player of the year rankings are compiled and there’s an inevitable temptation to put some serious coin on that perfect Final Four sleeper at 25/1. It all seems so easy.

Of course, there’s a reason why we don’t all own private islands in the Caribbean. Some of our predictions compare to Nostradamus’ best work while others blow up in our faces. You can’t win them all. For every successful prediction, there’s one you’d like to forget. Here’s a brief rundown of what many considered conventional wisdom before the season and whether those statements turned fall under the category of hits or misses:

Zeller has been spectacular as a freshman

HIT: Cody Zeller is Indiana’s program-changer

The expectations heaped on the broad shoulders of the youngest Zeller were enough to overwhelm even the most talented freshman. His much-publicized pledge was immediately viewed as Tom Crean’s major recruiting breakthrough and a significant step toward Indiana reclaiming old glory. Zeller has exceeded even the most optimistic projections, leading Indiana to two marquee wins over Kentucky and Ohio State and a yearlong spot in the national rankings. The Washington, Ind., native is averaging 15.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and hitting 64 percent of his shots while providing Crean a post presence to counterbalance Indiana’s outside shooters. Zeller’s instant impact has Indiana one year ahead of schedule in their treacherous post-Kelvin Sampson rebuild and, with a star-studded class entering Bloomington for 2012-13, even more national acclaim is in store should Zeller return for a sophomore season.

MISS: Xavier is a final four sleeper

Immediately after Tu Holloway opted for a final year at Xavier over the NBA Draft, the Musketeers were labeled a top-25 shoe-in and popular Final Four pick. After all, Chris Mack’s first two seasons as head coach produced an extraordinary 29-3 conference record and most key contributors were returning for a program that has experienced their fair share of March success in recent years. The story of Xavier’s season hasn’t exactly stayed on course. The Musketeers are 9-9 since that ugly brawl with Cincinnati, Holloway apparently doesn’t enjoy basketball anymore, suspensions and inconsistency have plagued Frease and the once-popular Musketeers may be NIT-bound following their loss Tuesday at UMass.

HIT: Tom Izzo has a team more to his liking

After discarding malcontents from a roster that slipped from number two in the nation to 19-15 overall last season, many prognosticators examined Sparty’s new-look roster and jumped back on the bandwagon. That faith has been rewarded in spades. Draymond Green is a Cleaves-type leader and a surefire All-American. Equally coachable and talented underclassmen Keith Appling and Brendan Dawson are stars in the making. Derrick Nix is finally in shape and Adreian Payne outplayed Jared Sullinger during the team’s statement win over Ohio State. Izzo’s squad is clearly embracing his philosophy of rugged defense, well-executed set plays and an unwavering effort on the boards, ranking second in the nation in defensive efficiency and third in rebound margin. This is a confident team climbing the polls and zeroing in on a Big Ten title and number one seed.

MISS: Andre Drummond is the missing piece to another Connecticut Final Four run

I was covering a high school football game in late August when Andre Drummond stunned the college hoops world and shunned another year of prep school to walk on with the defending national champs. I’ll never forget re-doing my preseason top five on the spot: North Carolina, Kentucky, Connecticut, Ohio State and Syracuse in order. Despite the departure of Kemba Walker, lottery picks Drummond and Jeremy Lamb paired with emerging talents Alex Oriakhi and Shabazz Napier appeared sufficient enough to warrant a spot in the top five. What we neglected to remember was that Drummond was a raw, unseasoned, 18-year old center with no low post moves. It was a considerable step up to the Big East after simply overwhelming all opposition at the high school level. His lackluster 9.9 points per game, 32 percent free throw shooting and on-court chemistry issues with Oriakhi can attest to that. Drummond is still a future lottery pick and defensive menace, but his arrival hasn’t vaulted Connecticut to nearly the heights anticipated on that late summer day he opted to join the Huskies.

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Set Your TiVo: 02.20.12

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 20th, 2012

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

One bubble team looks to stop the bleeding just by getting any kind of win while another is in search of the quality win that could put it in the NCAA Tournament. Rankings are subject to change with a new RTC Top 25 coming out today.

Connecticut @ Villanova – 7:00 PM EST on ESPN (***)

  • It is not a good time to be a Connecticut fan. Jim Calhoun is out, the team is average, the chemistry is bad, and the program is facing an NCAA Tournament ban next season. Plus the women’s team lost for the first time in 99 games at home on Saturday! Shabazz Napier called out his teammates after Saturday’s loss to Marquette, UConn’s seventh in nine games. This team’s chemistry is as sour as an expired milk carton and it will take a major turnaround for the Huskies to pull out of this tailspin. To beat Villanova, Connecticut must use its terrific interior defense to make the Wildcats take deep shots. Villanova is not a good three-point shooting team and is highly inefficient overall on the offensive end. Starters Maalik Wayns and James Bell have been injured and it’s not known if they will play. Wayns is listed as questionable while Bell is doubtful. If neither plays, there is no excuse for Connecticut not to win this game. As long as the Huskies can shut down JayVaughn Pinkston and contain Dominic Cheek, they shouldwin. Of course with a team in a situation such as UConn’s, nothing is assured.

    Jim Calhoun Will Not Be Walking Through That Door

  • Villanova blew a 20-point lead and lost in overtime to Notre Dame on Saturday night. The Wildcats played without Wayns and Bell and their first half performance should be a warning shot for UConn. The Wildcats dominated Notre Dame in the first half before folding late. If Wayns can’t go, it will be up to Pinkston and Cheek to do most of the scoring. Pinkston has improved nicely as the year has gone on and Jay Wright isn’t giving up on his team. The Wildcats put a scare into Marquette and Notre Dame while picking up a handful of wins along the way. If Cheek is hitting from the outside, that’ll open things up for Pinkston inside. Pinkston can also stretch the defense and could be able to pull Andre Drummond and Alex Oriakhi away from the rim where they are vulnerable. Connecticut doesn’t defend the triple well but Villanova doesn’t exactly shoot it well either. If the Wildcats are to win, they’re going to have to make threes.
  • This is about as unpredictable of a game as we have had all year. Connecticut is the better team, but it certainly isn’t playing like it in 2012. The wildcard in this game is Wayns. If he can give it a go, Villanova will have a very good chance to win. If not, Pinkston, Cheek and company will have to duplicate the effort they put forth in the first half of the Notre Dame game and sustain it for 40 minutes. Picking the winner of this game is anyone’s guess.
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Should Meyers Leonard Go Pro After This Season?

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on February 16th, 2012

Uncertainty looms over Assembly Hall in Champaign nowadays as the Fighting Illini lost another game to Purdue on Wednesday night, their seventh loss out of eight games. Will the Illinois Athletic Director Mike Thomas get rid of Bruce Weber?  Will the Illini make the NCAA tournament?  These are legitimate questions on the minds of the Illini faithful but the biggest question is about their star center, Meyers Leonard’s future: will he come back for his junior season in Champaign? Let’s examine a few non-personal factors that might drive the sophomore’s decision regarding the NBA.

Leonard Has A Tough Decision To Make At The End Of The Season

Why should he leave for the NBA 

  1. You can’t teach 7’1″.” – NBA scouts love to use that cliché. Leonard has all the physical tools to play the center position at the next level. He has shown that he can add muscle over the off-season (added 30 lbs) and certainly has the intensity to hang with the big guys on a nightly basis in the NBA. Averaging eight boards per game isn’t too shabby in the Big Ten, which is known for the physical brand of play. Defensively, he has been a highlight reel during the season as he has swatted balls into the second row of the sidelines, including a game-winning block against Northwestern on the road. Most of the NBA draft boards, such as have him slated as a potential lottery pick. The scouts will waste no time trying to convince him about going pro after the college season because they might have seen enough for somebody with his physical build. But that doesn’t necessarily mean he has reached his ceiling in the college game, or maybe he did under the current coach.
  2. Bruce Weber will coach Illinois in 2013 – Bruce Weber is not a bad coach because he understands the talented sophomore and his significance to the Illini offense. Even though Leonard could improve on his scoring average from this season of 13.2 points per game, he might have hit the ceiling in Weber’s system. True centers that have the skills to play with the back to their basket don’t shine under Weber’s offensive philosophy. The motion offense under Weber has been designed around guards who can shoot the deep ball. Illinois has been at the bottom of the league for years in terms of free throws per game (only 32.5% in 2012) because most of the offensive plays revolve around screens for the shooters rather than an attacking brand of basketball.  During their recent losing skid, Weber tries to commit to the big man over the first few minutes of the game but during the late minutes, most of the shots end up being away from the paint. Historically, centers that prefer to play in the post such as Shaun Pruitt have been frustrated in Weber’s system. Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale rarely played with their backs to the basket or in the paint because they relied heavily upon the 15-footer from the baseline coming off the pick-and-roll plays. Leonard’s offensive game is more than a baseline jumper or a post move – he is a monster when he attacks the hoop off the picks but Weber has not and will not be able to utilize him better next season unless he adjusts his system. If Leonard comes back for a third year with an improved game, the skills need to be utilized efficiently by the coach otherwise his draft stock won’t improve after another year in college.
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Big East Morning Five: 02.15.12 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on February 15th, 2012

  1. It only took the threat of a prolonged legal battle and $20 million, but West Virginia has finally freed itself from the Big East and is now set to join the Big 12 in July. The Mountaineers had to pony up $11 million themselves while the Big 12 will cover the rest, but the exit penalty will be chump change for West Virginia who will make that money back quickly thanks to increased revenue from Big 12 television dollars. The settlement allowed the Big East to save some face in what was undoubtedly a losing battle, but it throws a large wrench in their scheduling plans since the schools defecting to the Big East won’t arrive next season. As fans of Big East basketball, it is sad to see the conference slate and the brand weakened by the departure of both West Virginia and their always quotable head coach Bob Huggins.
  2. It’s nice to see Notre Dame finally squeaking into the Top-25, but let’s be honest, considering the Fighting Irish have won six straight games over quality competition, this probably should have happened sooner. There is just something about Mike Brey, his team’s style of play, and the program that always allows the Fighting Irish to fly under the radar until the country is forced to pay attention. Now, at 9-3 in the conference with a legitimate shot at a double bye in the conference tournament, everyone has been served notice. Notre Dame is back again, and while they don’t have star power or an overwhelming amount of talent, they do have the coach, discipline, and defensive pressure to make some noise come tournament time.
  3. Dear Pittsburgh, I hope you are finding your stay near the bottom of the conference standings comfortable. Although it doesn’t seem very likely, we here at South Florida and DePaul and Providence dearly hope you stay awhile. I am sure you will find life away from the limelight and hoopla most relaxing. Sure, it’s not very fun to get picked on by the rest of the conference, but you have been picking on us for years, so we must admit, the sweet taste of vindication tastes delicious right now. Please, feel free to look around, enjoy our hospitality, and make sure to send a thank you note to Khem Birch before you leave. We have already sent him a few.
  4. I am sorry Connecticut fans and Connecticut newspapers, but there is no way the Huskies deserve to get their shot at postseason play back next season. Even if the more recent members of the Huskies are on pace to surpass their predecessors in academic performance, giving the Huskies special treatment in this case would basically render the rule they passed in October useless. I agree, it doesn’t seem fair that the current players should be barred from postseason play because previous team members never hit the books, but this is about more than the players. The excuses that Calhoun lost nearly $200,000 in contractual penalties and that the program lost two scholarships are flimsy at best. That money is pittance to one of the more highly paid and legendary coaches in the sport, and the Huskies will find plenty of ways to dance around scholarship guidelines if they need to, as they were prepared to demonstrate when Andre Drummond was admitted this season. This punishment is about Calhoun and the school’s inability to get even the most minimal academic achievement from their previous basketball teams.
  5. Despite their (nearly) impeccable record and enviable depth and talent, Syracuse still has plenty detractors out there in cyberspace. I guess it should be a positive that people are no longer debating whether Syracuse is actually a good team, they are debating whether they are an elite team, but it still seems silly. Everyone agrees that Kentucky is the best team in the country and everyone knows they are only a buzzer-beater away from being undefeated right now. But let’s remember that the Wildcats have five good wins, including a one-point win over an inconsistent North Carolina team, a 10-point win over Kansas at the beginning of the season, and a seven-point win over Louisville when the Cardinals were struggling. Don’t get me wrong, Kentucky looks like the best team in the country, but let’s not discount the Orange for a tough road win while also giving Kentucky a free pass for playing in an incredibly weak conference.
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Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 13th, 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

  • Big East Adds Memphis: While conference realignment is unfortunately all about football, the addition of Memphis to the Big East Conference is a boon for basketball. With the league losing Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia, it needed a strong basketball program to limit the damage of three venerable programs departing. Memphis is perhaps the best the Big East could do from a basketball perspective and the Tigers will begin competing in the conference in the 2013-14 academic year. While the Big East cannot replace a program with the stature of Syracuse, Memphis is arguably at least as good, if not better, than Pittsburgh and West Virginia. Temple would be the next logical choice from a basketball perspective but Villanova has long been rumored to be firmly in opposition to the Owls joining the league. Conference realignment is a new reality and won’t end any time soon. Expect some more dominoes to fall over the coming months and years.
  • West Virginia Reportedly Settles: Just 36 hours after Memphis joined the Big East, West Virginia reportedly settled with the Big East on an exit agreement, although no official announcement was made. If the Charleston Daily Mail report is correct, West Virginia will leave the Big East on July 1 of this year in order to join the Big 12 Conference. The reported agreement says that WVU will pay the Big East $11 million, with the Big 12 contributing $9 million. Big East bylaws require all member institutions to give 27 months notice before leaving the conference. If the Mountaineers do leave the conference, the Big East will have 15 basketball members for next season (2012-13) before expanding again in the summer of 2013. Of course, West Virginia’s early exit could pave the way for agreements with Syracuse and Pittsburgh, allowing those schools to leave early for the ACC. In a worst-case scenario, the Big East will have 13 basketball teams in 2012-13. One thing is for sure, this story is far from over. Stay tuned.
  • NCAA Denies Connecticut’s Waiver Request: In what was another good move by the increasingly tough NCAA, the governing body denied a request by Connecticut to retain eligibility for the 2013 NCAA Tournament in exchange for self-imposed penalties. Those penalties included forfeiting revenue and playing a shorter schedule. The Huskies would not quality for next year’s tournament because of their low APR rating, below the four-year minimum requirement of 900 or two-year average of 930. UConn will appeal the decision, one that, if denied, could have a huge effect on the basketball program in Storrs. Will Jim Calhoun stick around? Will recruits want to come there and knowingly sit out a year? Many questions still need to be answered as the Connecticut basketball program enters a period of uncertainty.
  • Win Number 880 for Jim Boeheim: The Syracuse legend now stands alone in third place on the all-time Division I wins list behind Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and Bob Knight after Syracuse beat Georgetown last week. Number 880 is one better than Dean Smith, a legend in his own right at North Carolina. While it is unlikely that Boeheim can catch Krzyzewski since both will keep winning, the Orange coach can pass Knight early next season, especially if Syracuse goes on a deep NCAA Tournament run. It’s so rare to see an athlete or a coach stay at one school for his entire career in sports these days but that’s exactly what Boeheim has done. The Hall of Famer has been at Syracuse as a coach since 1969 and played for the Orange from 1962-66. What a truly remarkable career spanning 50 years (and still going strong).

Josh Pastner Looks Forward To Embracing A More Challenging Change of Scenery In The Big East

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (25-1, 12-1) – The Orange dispatched their chief rivals in the Big East, Georgetown and Connecticut, in vastly different ways last week. Against the Hoyas, Syracuse needed overtime to put away a team that out-rebounded them 48-30 and slowed the pace to limit SU’s transition attack. Kris Joseph led Syracuse with a career-high 29 points and Fab Melo had six blocks as the Orange won by three in the extra session. Neither team played well, but Jim Boeheim picked up his 880th career win, moving ahead of Dean Smith and into sole possession of third place on the all-time list. Against Connecticut, the Orange broke open a close game in the second half with a 22-6 game-ending run. Syracuse shot much better (59%), including a scorching 63% from beyond the arc. Dion Waiters and C.J. Fair combined for 32 points and 16 rebounds off the bench while Scoop Jardine added 21 points on 8-of-9 shooting. It seems like Joseph is emerging as the go-to guy for this team, a question that had yet to be answered for the better part of the season. Syracuse faces a quick turnaround with a Big Monday game at Louisville, a team that has beaten them seven consecutive times. This week: 2/13 @ Louisville, 2/19 @ Rutgers. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East Morning Five: 02.13.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on February 13th, 2012

  1. Connecticut is one step closer to a 2013 NCAA tournament ban for not meeting Academic Performance Rating (APR) standards. The NCAA denied the school’s appeal of the regulatory body’s previous ruling that Connecticut did not achieve the minimum score needed to participate. As part of its appeal Connecticut, who has already lost two scholarships due to APR issues, proposed self-correction by offering to give up regular season non-conference games, post-season revenue, and limiting contact with recruits. Tournament bans are part of more stringent APR rules and penalties as a result of changes made last year. Most notably the overall minimum APR required to avoid consequences was raised from 900 to 930. Scores are compiled over a two-year period. As a point of reference, Connecticut’s score last year that cost them the two scholarships was 826. So now Connecticut has two, albeit fleeting, glimmers of hope. First, they will file an appeal of the appeal with the NCAA Division I Committee on Academic Performance Subcommittee on Appeals and await another ruling. Second, it is possible the NCAA will alter the start of period used to determine omissions from next year’s tournament. Currently the 2009-10 year marks the starting point which means Connecticut would still be hurt by the year that factored into their previous score of 826. Should the current rules and ruling stand pat, it could have serious long term implications for the Huskies. With no chance at NCAA tournament play, the current roster could find itself in flux as NBA draft entry decisions of certain first-rounders Andre Drummond and Jeremy Lamb may opt to leave and recruiting will suffer. Not to mention potential impact on the future of head coach Jim Calhoun, who has missed games this season due to suspension and is currently out indefinitely for health reasons.
  2. Many of the 33,430 in attendance at the Carrier Dome on Saturday for #2 Syracuse’s win over Connecticut had to divide their attention between the action on the floor and one very high profile (and topped) spectator in Nerlens Noel.  Noel, as has been widely publicized, recently reclassified to the class of 2012, released a list of seven finalists and Syracuse is believed to be one of the leading contenders for his services. Noel attended the game along with his Tilton School teammate, and highly regarded class of 2013 recruit in his own right, Goodluck Okonoboh. Okonoboh also holds a scholarship offer from Syracuse. This was not Noel’s first trip to Syracuse. He attended the Orange’s Midnight Madness event in October, but Saturday likely served as the more impressive visit given the reception he received from the fourth largest crowd in Carrier Dome history. In addition to chants and signs dedicated to Noel, several students paid homage to the 6’10” star’s hairstyle by donning paper flat-top hats. After the game Noel and Okonoboh were welcomed into the Syracuse locker room and spent time with Orange assistant coach Mike Hopkins.
  3. It appears the legal wrangling between West Virginia University and the Big East will be coming to an end as reports indicate a settlement has been reached that will allow West Virginia to depart for the Big 12 in July, which will allow them to play Big 12 football next season. According to the reports, a total of $20 million will be paid to the Big East with $11 million coming from the university and the remainder from the Big 12. West Virginia has already paid $2.5 million to the Big East of what was originally a $5 million exit fee. The conference has since agreed to increase its exit fee to $10 million. The settlement came after a Rhode Island court ordered mediation on the heels of lawsuits filed by West Virginia and the Big East against one another over timing requirements for the move. Big East bylaws call for a 27-month notice period, but West Virginia thought it should be able to leave right away despite being part of the process that resulted in the clause. It is presumed that Pittsburgh and Syracuse, who are headed to the ACC and have yet to officially challenge the current notice period, will now want similar treatment to that of West Virginia. If that happens, the Big East will be left with five football playing schools for the 2012-13 season while they await the arrival of Boise State, Central Florida, Houston, Memphis, Navy, and Southern Methodist at different periods over the next few years.
  4. Georgetown’s Otto Porter may not yet resonate in the consciousness of the casual college basketball fan but the versatile 6’8”, 205 pound freshman forward has been far from unnoticeable, especially among opposing players and coaches. In fact, as this interesting Southeast Missourian piece by Kevin Winters Morriss points out, Porter has enjoyed the overall transition to college ball and college life alike. While somewhat under the radar, Porter has put together a standout inaugural campaign for the twelfth-ranked Hoyas (19-5, 9-4). The lack of attention is perhaps due to the fact that Porter has done most of his damage in a reserve role, and that suits him just fine. He is still third on the team in minutes at 28.7 per game, fourth in scoring at 8.8 points per game and first in rebounding at 7.0 per game.  The Missouri native underwent a similarly lowish-profile recruitment despite absolutely dominating his high school competition. This was in large part because he elected not to play on the image is everything AAU circuit. In fact, Porter’s first trip in an airplane came when he visited Georgetown as a high school senior. A few short months later he was on his way to China with his new Hoya teammates. Despite the apparent degree of his adjustment, Porter appears to be mature beyond his years as evidenced by the praise of his coach, John Thompson III, “He came in and he understands how to compete at this level and understands that every part of the game matters. A lot of kids these days, they come in [and] all they think about is shots and scoring. Otto is someone that takes pride in rebounding, in defense and tips and deflections and talking on defense. I would love to sit here and say I was a part of that, but he walked in the door understanding just how to compete at this level.”
  5. Can we be the first to say that Louisville’s Wayne Blackshear is ready to shoulder the load?  It has been a long and winding road for the highly touted freshman guard, but he finally made his Cardinals debut on Saturday and may find himself a key cog down the stretch as Louisville positions itself for post-season play. Blackshear has been out all year after suffering a torn labrum in his right shoulder during practice last October in what was feared at the time to be a season ending injury. The newcomer faced a couple of additional obstacles in his quest to wear Cardinals’ red as the torn labrum came only shortly after Blackshear was cleared to play by the NCAA Clearinghouse, which was just after he was able to resume basketball activity upon recovering from surgery on his other shoulder. Blackshear, who did not know he would play on Saturday until head coach Rick Pitino told him so in pre-game warm ups, provided a solid contribution in the Cardinals 77-74 comeback win over West Virginia, logging 13 points and four rebounds in 20 minutes of action. He hit the first shot he took, a three-pointer, en route to three treys in the game. In a post-game interview Blackshear predicted it would take another couple of weeks before he gets back to 100 percent, citing continued strength work on his shoulder as well as simply needing time to round into overall basketball shape.
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Set Your TiVo: 02.06.12

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 6th, 2012

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

Connecticut can join a crowded bunch and move above .500 in the Big East with a win tonight while Louisville looks to continue its hot play of late. In the Big 12, Texas faces a pivotal game with regards to its NCAA chances. Rankings are subject to change with a new RTC Top 25 coming out today.

Connecticut @ Louisville – 7:00 PM EST on ESPN (****)

  • Louisville has won four straight games and five of its past six since getting destroyed at Providence on January 10. Rick Pitino’s team is playing much better offensively, scoring at least 73 points in three of the four wins during the current streak. Against Connecticut, Louisville’s guards must set the tone. While Louisville isn’t forcing turnovers at the clip usually seen from Pitino teams, the Cardinals can pressure the Huskies into turnovers. UConn has struggled all year with this and the Cards will have the home crowd to help them out by creating energy in the building. Offensively it’s going to be tough for Louisville to score. This is not a great jump shooting team and the Huskies have a terrific interior defense. Russ Smith and Kyle Kuric are going to have to hit jumpers in order for Louisville to win this game. It’ll also be interesting to see how freshman Chane Behanandoes against UConn’s impressive front line. Behanan had 23 points and 11 rebounds in Saturday’s win over Rutgers, making 11 of his 12 field goal attempts.

    UConn's Ryan Boatright Will Be A Key Player To Watch In Tonight's Contest

  • With Jim Calhoun out, George Blaney will coach the Huskies again. Blaney used a three-guard starting lineup in Saturday’s win over Seton Hall, a first for Connecticut this season. It worked well as Ryan Boatright sparked the Huskies to a blowout win. Boatright will be important again tonight. He’s the only guy on UConn’s roster that can score quickly in transition and provide an instant offensive spark. With Boatright and Shabazz Napier feeding Andre Drummond in the post, Connecticut has a lot of weapons to throw at Louisville’s rock solid defense. If Boatright can get into the lane and draw Gorgui Dieng away from Drummond without turning it over, the Huskies will find a lot of success. That’s easier said than done but a quick guard with a lot of hops like Boatright can do it and Drummond is certainly capable of finishing around the tin. Jeremy Lamb also has to make shots for the Huskies. Lamb is a good spot up shooter and a terrific slasher but he may encounter some problems with Dieng and Behanan in the paint. Lamb is UConn’s best three point threat and has to knock down some triples in order to take the pressure off of Boatright to make things happen. Read the rest of this entry »
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Jim Calhoun Takes Indefinite Leave of Absence, Leadership Void Grows

Posted by mlemaire on February 3rd, 2012

Today, the University of Connecticut announced that coach Jim Calhoun will take an indefinite leave of absence to deal with his spinal stenosis, a lower back condition that he has been suffering from for months and has hampered his general movement. There is no doubt that spinal stenosis is a painful condition and Calhoun’s primary concern should be nursing himself back to good health, but the announcement could not come at a worse time for the Huskies, who are free-falling through the Big East standings and look uninspired and listless on the court.

With Jim Calhoun on Indefinite Medical Leave, It's Up To His Team To Save The Season.

Just two days ago, UConn put on one of the worst offensive performances in a long time in a disappointing loss to Georgetown, and after the game, some commentators blamed the Huskies’ struggles on a glaring lack of leadership and effort. Now the onus will be on the players to fill that leadership void because with all due respect to interim head coach George Blaney, he is not Calhoun.

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Four Thoughts on Georgetown vs. Connecticut

Posted by IRenko on February 2nd, 2012

I. Renko is a DC-based correspondent for Rush the Court.  You can follow him on twitter @IRenkoHoops.

The headline numbers from Georgetown’s win over Connecticut last night are the Huskies’ paltry 44 points on horrendous 27.6% field goal shooting.  It was the third-lowest point total in team history.  RTC was there live in the District, and here are four things we saw as the keys to Georgetown’s humbling of the Huskies.

It Was a Rough Night for Jim Calhoun and the Huskies (Damien Strohmeyer/SI)

  1. (Lack of) Veteran Leadership — UConn had three players on the floor last night who played more than 25 minutes in the NCAA Championship game last year:  Jeremy Lamb, Shabazz Napier, and Alex Oriakhi.  They were a combined 4-28 from the field, including 2-13 from three-point range.  I guess Oriakhi’s defense is that he only played seven minutes as part of his ongoing disappearing act — though that was more than enough time for him to rack up two fouls and three turnovers to go with his single rebound.  But Lamb and Napier, who lead the team in scoring, were out of sync all night.  While Lamb didn’t stop shooting, he couldn’t stop missing either.  Contested or open, it didn’t seem to make much of a difference on a miserable night for the sophomore guard.  By contrast, Georgetown’s big three — seniors Jason Clark, Henry Sims and junior Hollis Thompson — combined for 42 points on 16-34 shooting.  After the game, Jim Calhoun dismissed, in characteristically colorful fashion, the fact that his team is the sixth youngest in America:  “I have no idea what that means.  It means sh*t in plain English.”  And indeed, it probably shouldn’t mean much to a team that that returns four starters from a championship squad.  Sure, Andre Drummond stepped up for UConn with 18 points on 9-12 shooting, but you can’t rely on freshmen to lead the way on the road in the Big East. Read the rest of this entry »
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