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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Set Your TiVo: 02.01.12

Posted by EJacoby on February 1st, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC correspondent and regular contributor. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Two previously Top 10 teams (UConn and Indiana) are in major slides right now and have a chance to regain confidence with road wins tonight, though both are in very difficult spots. Also, perhaps the biggest game of the C-USA season takes place this evening. Here’s what to look for:

#22 Indiana at #20 Michigan – 6:30 PM ET on Big Ten Network (****)

Can Indiana Stop Trey Burke's Dribble Drive Tonight? (AP Photo)

  • The Hoosiers have lost four of six games and are rapidly descending in the rankings. However, they are coming off a 103-point scoring performance in a win over Iowa and they hung tough at Wisconsin in their previous game before coming up short. If Tom Crean’s team is really turning the corner in the Big Ten, then they need to prove it tonight with nothing other than a victory. Cody Zeller has been outstanding in conference play and will be the go-to man tonight against a suspect Wolverines interior defense that allowed the freshman to go 8-10 with 18 points in their first meeting, a slim Indiana win at home. IU has been efficient offensively lately without being overly reliant on the three-point shot, which is a good formula on the road. But their chances at winning tonight really boil down to  their ability to stop Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr.’s penetration, as both players have the ability to carve up soft defenses. Indiana has an insanely high 110.4 defensive efficiency in conference, which will not cut it tonight. An improved defensive effort, however, will give them a great chance to win.
  • The Wolverines have held serve at home this season at 12-0 and will look to feed off the Ann Arbor crowd. As discussed above, this game is all about Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr. for Michigan. The two guards are the only players in double-figure scoring (14.1 PPG and 15.2 PPG, respectively) and should have plenty of opportunities to penetrate a weak Indiana half-court defense. If they are making plays and setting up Zack Novak, Stu Douglass, and Evan Smotrycz for open threes, UM is right where they want to be. Michigan has played much better defense at home this season and should not allow Indiana to shoot the lights out like they have been able to in some games.
  • It’s probably getting repetitive, but this game completely comes down to Indiana’s defensive intensity in the half-court. Michigan has the advantage at home and is a four-point favorite, but this would be no upset if Indiana won. If early in the game you see Burke bouncing the ball for 20 seconds during possessions and struggling to get into the paint, you’ll know IU is doing a good job on the perimeter. Prediction: Michigan comes through with a slim victory.

Connecticut at #15 Georgetown – 7:00 PM ET on ESPN2 (****)

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The Doctor Is In The House: Connecticut Edition

Posted by mlemaire on January 31st, 2012

Over the next few weeks we will be diagnosing some of the weaknesses and reasons behind the struggles of some Big East teams. Next up is Connecticut, losers of their last three games and five of their last seven.

When you lose someone as important to your offense and departed star Kemba Walker was to UConn’s offense, there will undoubtedly be some growing pains. But most people thought that the remaining talent on Jim Calhoun’s roster was enough to make them a viable if unlikely contender to repeat as National Champions. But now, on the heels of three straight close losses to supposedly inferior teams, some are beginning to wonder if the young Huskies have enough left in the tank to make the NCAA Tournament at all.

1. The team’s commitment to defense seems to have disappeared.

Since 2003, the Huskies have been a consistent presence among the nation’s leaders in defensive efficiency, having never ranked below #41 overall. This season they currently are ranked #80 in the country in defensive efficiency, despite having not one but two premier shot-blockers and endless amounts of length and athleticism on the wings. The team is second in the conference in field-goal percentage but dead last in the conference in three-point field goal percentage which would seem to mean that the onus is on the Huskies’ perimeter defenders to take away their opponents’ open looks. But a renewed commitment to defense will have to be a team effort. Even if Alex Oriakhi can’t get back to blocking shots at the same rate he did in the past two seasons, the Huskies will still block plenty of shots, so forcing turnovers and closing out on shooters should be two things Calhoun harps on in practice.

Traditionally Excellent, UConn's Defense Hasn't Been Up To Speed This Season.

2. There has not been any consistent offensive post play.

When the highly touted Andre Drummond reclassified and joined UConn in time for the start of this season, pundits and fans alike began salivating over the prospect of having Drummond and Oriakhi playing alongside each other in the middle of UConn’s defense. Not only would they be a two-man block party defensively, but their simultaneous presence would make it difficult for opposing defenses to double-team either of them. Unfortunately, none of that has happened. Drummond is a difference-maker defensively and he has shown flashes offensively, but he remains inconsistent and sometimes timid.

Oriakhi probably deserves his own number in this column as this season has been nothing short of an unmitigated disaster for the junior captain. He was supposed to assume a larger role offensively and blossom into one of the conference’s best big men. Instead he has seen his minutes drop and as a result he is averaging a paltry 6.5 points and 4.9 rebounds per game and has posted just one double-double all season. According to KenPom, the Huskies are the eighth-tallest team in the country, so there should be no reason why they are being outrebounded by Notre Dame‘s undersized bunch.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking In On… The Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 30th, 2012

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

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

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

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

Power Rankings

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

Posted by mlemaire on January 27th, 2012

It has been nearly three full days since President Barack Obama delivered his State of the Union address to the country, and it has also been nearly three full days since our brethren covering the SEC did their State of the SEC post. Since we are both slightly behind and also not creative enough to come up with our own ideas, we decided to take a belated look at the Big East in a similar (read: exactly the same) post.

Kris Joseph & Syracuse Are The Class Of The Conference Right Now (Getty Images/A. Lyons)

We would love to report that the state of the conference is strong, but as a whole, it has not been a good season for the Big East. The 2007-08 season was the last time the conference had only one team finish in the Top 10 but it is in danger of having that happen again. Syracuse will undoubtedly finish in the Top 10 and is a worthy national title contender, but after that, things get murkier. Last season the conference had five teams finish the regular season ranked inside the Top 15. As of now, the conference only has four teams in the Top 25. The reason for the slip is that consistent winners like Villanova and Pittsburgh have been really bad, and teams like Connecticut and Louisville lost a lot of key talent. But let’s take a closer look as well.

Despite the swirling off-the-court issues, the Carrier Dome has been rocking all season and for good reason. The Orange are an excellent blend of experience, talent and depth. Star forward Kris Joseph is going to end up on the All-Big East team and sophomore combo guard Dion Waiters could find himself on the short list for that team as well. Their lone blemish is an ugly road loss to Notre Dame and that looks more like an aberration that signs of a regression.

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Big East Afternoon Five: 01.23.12 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on January 23rd, 2012

  1. You will have to excuse the late posting as I attended the NFC Championship game last night in San Francisco and completely shirked my Morning Five duties, so instead, you folks get an afternoon five. It’s hardly news at this point but No. 1 Syracuse suffered its first loss of the season at the hands of Notre Dame on Saturday. The Orange shot the ball terribly (18-53 for the game) and the Fighting Irish couldn’t miss, especially from behind the arc, but it certainly didn’t help that ‘Cuse center Fab Melo didn’t play in the game due to an academic suspension. ESPN‘s Andy Katz reported that the school hopes to get Melo back in time for next Saturday’s game against West Virginia, which means Syracuse fans shouldn’t be unduly worried. But Jim Boeheim’s squad does play a very good Cincinnati team tonight on the road, and they will need to rebound aggressively to make up for their center’s absence.
  2. After beating Cincinnati in overtime on Saturday, we figured it was time to give Bob Huggins and his West Virginia Mountaineers they credit they deserve, and the Charleston Daily Mail agreed. The Mountaineers were considered a tournament team before the season started, but now they are just a game behind Syracuse in the loss column and angling for a top-four seed in the NCAA Tournament. The team is led by runaway favorite for Big East Player of the Year, Kevin Jones, and volume-scoring point guard Truck Bryant, but they are also getting contributions from freshmen guards Jabarie Hinds and Gary Browne as well. Last week, we argued that it was still early to call the Bearcats the conference’s second-best team; well, it’s still too early to consider the Mountaineers the conference’s second-best team, but they have inserted themselves in the discussion.
  3. Tennessee is an improving team, especially now that they added stud freshman Jarnell Stokes in the middle of the season, but losing to the Volunteers on Saturday was a bad loss for Connecticut and their hopes for a top seed come tournament time. It is never a good thing when two players (Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier) take 35 shots and its even worse when they combine to make just 14 of those shots. Andre Drummond looked like he had turned a corner last week, but Saturday was his second-straight subpar performance and Stokes thoroughly outplayed him on both ends of the floor. Perhaps the most distressing aspect of the loss was that Niels Giffey and Roscoe Smith, two of the players supposed to replace suspended freshman Ryan Boatright‘s offensive production, were basically non-factors. The Huskies desperately need one of those two guys to get going if they are going to get back to their winning ways.
  4. Not too many people expected Louisville‘s Kyle Kuric or Pittsburgh‘s Tray Woodall to suit up when the two teams met on Saturday, but both did, to drastically different results. Kuric buried five three-pointers and finished with 21 points in 33 minutes, while Woodall went 0-5 from the field and had more turnovers (three) than assists (two) in 21 minutes as the Panthers lost and fell to a shocking 0-7 in the conference. Obviously it is good news for both teams that either player even made it onto the court, but it seems clear that Woodall is still a ways off from being 100% and he is arguably more important to Pittsburgh than Kuric is to Louisville. The Cardinals still have enough athletes to fill the scoring void of Kuric, at least in part. But the Panthers need Woodall’s playmaking ability to help the offense and also allow Ashton Gibbs to return to the wing, where he is more effective and more comfortable. It will be interesting to see if Pitt coach Jamie Dixon tries to rush Woodall back in the midst of what is looking like a lost season at this point.
  5. The last of the five is reserved for observations about someone we have already mentioned — UConn freshman Andre Drummond. Physically and athletically, Drummond is a stud. There might not be another player in the country that has his combination of size, strength, athleticism, skill, and speed. You just wouldn’t know it from watching him play recently. Saturday against Tennessee, Drummond managed just six points on eight shots in 31 minutes. And the game before, a loss to Cincy, Drummond had just four points and six rebounds on nine shots. The linked observations make a good point, it is no longer a question of talent, it is a question of desire and consistency. Drummond should not be criticized for his mild-mannered attitude off the court, it is what makes him one of the more refreshing and likable stars in college basketball. But he needs to start being more assertive on the court, and once he does, the rest of the country better look out.
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Big East Morning Five: 01.19.12 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on January 19th, 2012

  1. Although I think it still early to call Cincinnati “quite clearly” the conference’s second-best team, back-to-back road wins over Georgetown and Connecticut have the Bearcats riding high. Of course they will have to live with the continued aftermath of their fight against Xavier all season, but they have only lost once since that game and look like a completely different team and seem to be at peace with the whole ordeal. The road trip isn’t over yet though, as they travel to West Virginia Saturday.
  2. The story has moved far beyond the Big East at this point but we just figured we would throw it out there that former St. John‘s point guard Nurideen Lindsey is switching schools again. We mentioned yesterday that he was heading to Arkansas but now he is apparently set enroll at Rider instead. Lindsey is a Philadelphia native, so Little Rock did seem awfully far away, and honestly, Rider might be a better fit. The Broncos are scuffling this season, but Tommy Dempsey has built a consistently competitive program in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, and Lindsey could blossom into a star there.
  3. Oh wherefore art thou Herb Pope? The senior forward had been a legitimate player of the year candidate for the first part of the season, but he was a non-factor in his fourth straight game as the Pirates lost to Villanova last night, its second loss since being ranked. Earlier this season, after a tough game against Syracuse, Pope said that he was going to put his struggles behind him, but now he might just be wearing down. Seton Hall still has plenty to play for this season, but they will need their big man to pick it back up if they are going to make the NCAA Tournament.
  4. With apologies to my colleague Pat, I sometimes forget about lowly Providence. No one expected much from first-year coach Ed Cooley this season and since conference play began, they haven’t provided much either. With the exception of that “Where In The World Did That Come From” 31-point blowout of Louisville at home, the Friars haven’t really sniffed another conference win. We still have no idea why star guard Vincent Council was held out against Syracuse, but it’s safe to say they will have no chance against Marquette if Council isn’t playing.
  5. I admit, this one is going to be kind of a throwaway because it is getting late and I am tired. Yahoo! columnist Pat Forde wrote his always-enjoyable Forde Minutes piece and his pressing question for the Big East was…”Who is the conference’s second-best team?” Granted this was before tonight’s loss to Cincinnati, but Forde still picked UConn and I agree in the long run. The Bearcats just beat the Huskies, so they deserve the edge right now, but Jim Calhoun’s team will ostensibly get Ryan Boatright back eventually and Andre Drummond continues to get better. Yes, even better than Cincinnati.
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