Villanova: The Season Is Lost, But Hope Is On The Horizon

Posted by mlemaire on February 27th, 2012

Coaches often explain their team’s struggles by saying his group is “still learning to play together” all the time. And Villanova coach Jay Wright used the team’s furious comeback win over lowly Providence on February 7 as a chance to dust off the age-old coaching platitude once more. The only problem is that the season is almost over proving the Wildcats have had a more gradual learning curve than most.

Since that win over the Friars, the Wildcats have lost all four games they have played including games against Notre Dame and Connecticut in which they had a 20-point and 18-point lead respectively. Just three seasons removed from a Final Four appearance, the Wildcats now sit at 4-12 in the conference and have almost no shot at playing any postseason basketball, let alone games in the NCAA Tournament.

After Turning Villanova Into An Elite Program, Things Have Not Gone Well For Jay Wright This Season

Needless to say it has been a trying season for Wright, his team, and Wildcat fans who had grown accustomed to annual NCAA Tournament berths and the occasional Elite Eight appearance. The Wildcats were expected to struggle when they lost Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes, and Antonio Pena off last year’s squad, but Wright seemed to have amassed enough talent to make sure the decline wouldn’t be all that steep. Unfortunately, the Wildcats would miss that trio more than anyone could have imagined.

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RTC Summer Updates: Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on July 11th, 2011

With the completion of the NBA Draft and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. Our Big East update comes from frequent RTC contributor Brian Otskey, co-author of Get to the Point.

Readers’ Take

Summer Storylines

  • Connecticut Revels In National Championship Glory: Connecticut’s storybook year continued on into the offseason as the Huskies were invited to the White House for an event with President Obama on May 16. The team presented the president with a #1 UConn jersey and posed for photographs after being lauded for their remarkable accomplishment. Connecticut made one of the most improbable runs ever en route to the third national championship in school history, all coming since 1999, going 23-0 outside of Big East regular season play. Nobody could have predicted the way last season unfolded and the NCAA Tournament as a whole was a microcosm of that. Connecticut’s national title made up for a lackluster performance by many of the record 11 Big East teams participating in the tournament. Only one other Big East team (Marquette) managed to make it to the second weekend’s Sweet 16. Life without Kemba Walker has begun in Storrs and while the Huskies will be among the 2011-12 Big East favorites, it’ll be very interesting to see who steps up and how the team performs without its warrior. Jeremy Lamb appears to be ready to take over but the way Shabazz Napier and Alex Oriakhi handle their larger roles will be the difference between a team contending for a Big East title and one that finishes fourth or fifth.

Kemba & Co. Celebrated in Style (H-C/B.Hansen)

  • The Ed Cooley Era Begins In Friartown: After Keno Davis stumbled to an 18-36 Big East record over three seasons in Providence, the Friars desperately needed someone to revive their moribund program. Providence has made only two NCAA Tournaments since its 1997 appearance and the last one was eight seasons ago in 2003-04. Enter Ed Cooley, a Providence-born 41-year-old with the fire in his belly needed to succeed in arguably the toughest job in the Big East Conference. Cooley will instill a system of discipline and fundamentals with a special attention to defense, three attributes of successful programs that were sorely lacking under Davis. Cooley’s Fairfield team ranked #22 in the nation in defensive efficiency last season and he improved the Stags’ record each and every year he was there. Providence, a small Catholic school with hardly any recruiting base along with limited facilities and resources, is an incredibly difficult job even before you have to go up against bigger schools like Syracuse, Louisville and Pittsburgh along with tradition-rich programs such as Georgetown, Villanova and Marquette. Cooley must spend his first season laying the foundation for longer term success. He won’t turn this program around overnight but more discipline on and off the court and hard work on the recruiting trail can turn Providence into a solid Big East competitor. We can’t think of many people better suited than Cooley to get the job done at Providence. While it will be a long and difficult process, brighter days are ahead for the Providence program with Ed Cooley at the helm.
  • Signs Of Life In The New York Area: New coach Steve Lavin and St. John’s brought the buzz back to the Big Apple last winter as the Red Storm earned its first NCAA bid in nine seasons. “Lavinwood” has moved east, but St. John’s now enters a year full of mixed feelings. Cautious optimism as well as uncertainty rules the day with nine new faces, part of the nation’s second-ranked recruiting class, making their way to Queens in 2011-12. Malik Stith is the only returnee of note after Dwayne Polee, II, decided to transfer closer to home at San Diego State. St. John’s may be the most unpredictable team in the Big East entering this season. The potential exists for a terrific year if Lavin can mold all this raw talent into a cohesive unit capable of playing with any team in the conference. However, issues with young players, commonly involving playing time and egos, are also very possible and it takes only one incident to destroy the locker room and wreck the season. The Johnnies have enough talent to make the NCAA Tournament again, but Lavin will have to totally adjust his approach to make that happen. With hardly any experience on the roster, he can’t simply roll the ball out and hope for the best. This season will be the biggest test of Lavin’s coaching career on the court, but he faced an even more difficult challenge last year, coaching the entire season with prostate cancer while keeping it a secret until this spring. Turning St. John’s around with that constantly in the back of his mind is an a commendable achievement and we obviously wish Coach Lavin the best of luck fighting this awful disease.
  • Across the Hudson River in New Jersey, Mike Rice and Rutgers appear to be building a program to be reckoned with down the road. The Scarlet Knights have been a dormant program for 20 years, never once enjoying a winning season in any of its 16 years as a Big East member. That may be about to change, although it appears unlikely that Rutgers will crack the .500 mark in league play this season. The fiery Rice reeled in a top 25 recruiting class and now must build on a season of close calls and what-ifs. Rutgers was competitive last year, but could only manage five Big East victories. It’ll take time for the new players to adjust to the collegiate level but bigger and better things should be expected from Rutgers in the years to come. Rutgers, a large state school, has the capability of becoming a pretty good program. All it needs is a commitment from the administration, facility upgrades and great recruiting. Rice is taking care of the latter, now it’s time for the Rutgers brass to provide him with the resources needed to build a top flight program. Rutgers needs major facility upgrades (a RAC renovation has been talked about for over a year), but fundraising has been a major problem. With New Jersey Governor Chris Christie trying to get the state’s financial house in order, there is going to be a lot of resistance to an ambitious project such as this one at the state’s flagship university.

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Conference Report Card: Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 19th, 2011

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor. We will be publishing a series of conference report cards over the next week for conferences that got multiple NCAA bids to recap the conference, grade the teams, and look at the future for the conference.

Conference Recap

  • College basketball has never witnessed a season like this year’s Big East. The conference destroyed its own record of eight NCAA bids by placing 11 clubs in the Big Dance this year and also claimed the national champion with Connecticut, which spent most of the season in the middle of the pack in the Big East. The Huskies also gave the conference its first title since the Huskies last did the trick in 2004. While there was not a truly great team in the Big East (including Connecticut), the league was better than any other from top to bottom. Of the five teams that failed to make the NCAA Tournament, only South Florida and DePaul were truly uncompetitive. Rutgers showed signs of improvement while Seton Hall managed to win seven league games and gave some good teams a major scare in the process. Even Providence, which finished 4-14, knocked off Louisville and Villanova in consecutive games back in January. Despite the lackluster NCAA showing by most Big East members, it says here the conference boasted the best player in the nation (sorry, Jimmer) and a deserving national champion. Additionally, ten Big East teams were ranked in the AP Top 25 at some point this season. Say what you want about its postseason performance (it’s certainly fair to bash the league in that regard), but this was by far the best conference in the nation this year.

Jim Calhoun (left) and Kemba Walker will be inextricably linked to UConn's memorable NCAA Tournament run. (Reuters/Lucy Nicholson)

Team-by-Team (teams are in order of finish, but grades are based on performance vs. expectations):

  1. Pittsburgh (28-6, 15-3): The regular season was terrific once again for Jamie Dixon and the Panthers but, as has become common over the years, they fell short of their goal–getting to the Final Four. Pittsburgh lost four of their final eight games after starting the season 24-2. A mid-season injury to Ashton Gibbs was thought to bring them down a peg, but Pitt responded with wins at West Virginia and Villanova without him to quiet any doubters. That turned out to be their peak. Dixon did not really test his team out of conference except for two games at Madison Square Garden against Maryland and Texas back in November as part of the 2K Sports Coaches vs. Cancer event and a “home” game (in Pittsburgh) against Tennessee, which they lost. Looking back, one theory could be that an average non-conference schedule did not adequately prepare this team for the NCAA Tournament which is all about match-ups and teams you haven’t seen before from other leagues. While Big East coaches love to use the strength of the league as a crutch when questioned about a lack of non-conference heft to their schedule, I think this is a theory that has to be taken into consideration. Big East play is obviously rough and tumble every night but that can actually be a detriment come tournament time when games are officiated tighter and you don’t have as much time to prepare for an opponent who you likely don’t know very well, if at all. Pitt will lose Gilbert Brown, Brad Wanamaker, and Gary McGhee to graduation while Gibbs tests the NBA waters. I expect Gibbs to come back to join a very good recruiting class led by five-star forward Khem Birch. Despite the loss of three senior leaders, look for Pitt to be in the thick of the Big East race yet again next season. Dixon has established a culture of winning and I have learned never to doubt him after witnessing the 2009-10 campaign, a season that certified Dixon as one of the best basketball minds in the country. While this year was a great success during the regular season, Pitt’s inability to get to the Sweet Sixteen and eventually the Final Four renders this year a disappointment. GRADE: B- Read the rest of this entry »
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Set Your Tivo: 02.28.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 28th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Can you believe March begins tomorrow? This is the final week of the regular season and a lot of mid-major conference tournaments begin over the next few days, as well. Tonight we kick the week off with three NCAA definites and a fourth likely headed for the Big Dance. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

#14 Villanova @ #9 Notre Dame – 7 pm on ESPN (****)

A Few Weeks Ago, Wright's Squad Looked Focused and Sharp, But It Appears Lately As If a Certain Ennui Has Arisen

The Wildcats are limping toward the finish line yet again, losers in four of their last six games, including two straight home defeats this past week. Villanova is actually a very solid 7-3 on the road but they’ll have to turn things around quickly in order to win at Purcell Pavilion, a place where Notre Dame is 16-0 this season.

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Set Your Tivo: 02.21.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 21st, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

With only two weeks left in the regular season, every game now becomes critical. Syracuse and Villanova battle it out tonight in Philly, trying to position themselves for a double-bye in the Big East Tournament. In Lawrence, a shorthanded Kansas team will look to keep rolling against Oklahoma State. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

#20 Syracuse @ #13 Villanova – 7 pm on ESPN (****)

The Orange Have To Limit How Many Slices They Allow Fisher To Make In That Zone

A Syracuse loss tonight would be their seventh in Big East play, likely knocking them out of contention for a double-bye at Madison Square Garden next month. If that happens, the Orange would still have to fight with a host of teams to avoid playing on Tuesday in the conference tournament. Villanova’s hopes would obviously be damaged with a loss as well, plus they have a tough remaining schedule. Whatever happens the rest of the way in the Big East, three teams with NCAA Tournament hopes will be playing on day one of the conference tournament and would have to win five games in five days to take the title. Read the rest of this entry »

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Set Your Tivo: 02.04-02.06

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 5th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

On paper, this isn’t the best weekend of games. However, this is college basketball where anything can happen. You just never know what could happen and it may end up being a thrilling couple of days, anyway. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

West Virginia @ #12 Villanova – 12 pm Saturday on ESPN (****)

Yet another big game in the Big East features two teams tied for third place at 6-3 in league play. The winner will tie second place Notre Dame, just a game and a half behind first place Pittsburgh. West Virginia has won seven of nine games and rebounding has been a big reason why. The Mountaineers have not been out-rebounded by an opponent since a New Year’s Day game at Marquette, plus their defense has been solid. West Virginia has scored only 58 PPG over their last four games (three of them without leading scorer Casey Mitchell) but has held opponents to an average of 50 PPG over the same stretch, culminating in holding Seton Hall to 44 points on Wednesday. Bob Huggins’ team is #5 nationally in offensive rebounding percentage but will have to bring their A-game on the glass against Villanova. The Wildcats rank 20th in keeping opponents off the offensive boards and were led by the interior duo of Antonio Pena and Mouphtaou Yarou in their most recent win over Marquette. They combined for 32/15 and have been huge factors this season as Jay Wright isn’t counting exclusively on his guards to win games anymore. Although West Virginia has rebounded the ball extremely well of late, they still rank only #291 in opponent’s offensive rebounding percentage, allowing teams to grab 35.6% of their misses. Villanova will likely miss a lot of long range shots against West Virginia’s #2 ranked three point defense (allowing 27%) so offensive rebounding will be important for both teams, especially the Wildcats, in this game. Coach Huggins used 6’7 John Flowers on Seton Hall’s Jeremy Hazell in their last game and he successfully shut down the Pirates’ gunner. Might we see the same thing on Villanova’s Corey Stokes? It’s a good possibility, though Flowers may be needed inside more often to double Pena and Yarou. Flowers leads the Big East in blocked shots and needs to have another good defensive game against a Villanova team that can score in bunches. The Wildcats score 25.6% of their points from the foul line and attempted 33 free throws against Marquette. Villanova is very difficult to beat when they get to the stripe because they shoot 78% and get there so often. Dribble penetration from Corey Fisher and Maalik Wayns leads to good looks inside and plenty of free throw opportunities. West Virginia has to do a good job defending the dribble drive and Kevin Jones will be a key player in doing so. Jones is a taller player who, along with Flowers, will form the second line of defense if the Wildcat guards are able to get into the lane. Jones is also a warrior on the glass, going for 13/12 in his last game. With the status of Casey Mitchell still uncertain, West Virginia will have to stick to typical “Huggy-ball” more than ever, and that’s physical defense and great rebounding. Villanova is 16-0 when they score at least 70 points but only 2-4 when they fail to do so. With the way West Virginia is rebounding and playing defense right now, it’s very possible that this game could be in the 50’s or 60’s. We’re going to go with the upset and take the Mountaineers on the road in this game.

#10 Kentucky @ Florida – 9 pm Saturday on ESPN (****)

With a win on Saturday night, Florida can really create some separation between themselves and Kentucky. With a win against the Wildcats, Florida will hold a two and a half game lead over UK and remain ahead of Tennessee, a team they beat on the road already. Quite simply, a win here puts Florida in a commanding position in the SEC East. Of course, that won’t be so easy against the nation’s fourth ranked team in eFG% defense. The Gators have won 9 of 11 games but Kentucky will be their toughest test since a meeting with Ohio State back in November. The Wildcats are coming off a loss at Ole Miss earlier this week, a game in which they committed 18 turnovers and didn’t defend the three point line well at all. Freshman point guard Brandon Knight had six of those turnovers and needs to do a better job tonight. Young teams can’t turn it over and expect to win on the road no matter how talented they are and Kentucky is finding out the hard way. With a 2-4 record in true road games, the Wildcats need to grow up quick if they want to play deep into March. Knight needs to create shots for himself and others, taking advantage of UK’s 40% shooting from deep. With Doron Lamb shooting the ball very well recently, Kentucky has plenty of threats to win this game. A key battle in this game will be at the forward spot as Kentucky’s freshman Terrence Jones goes up against Florida senior Chandler Parsons. Jones averages 18/9 and had 22/12 at Ole Miss while Parsons has been on an absolute tear on the glass of late. Controlling the boards will be critically important in a game that could be all about pace. The Gators would like to slow the game down and work in the half court while the Wildcats are comfortable at a quicker pace. To keep the tempo in their favor, Florida has to win the rebounding battle and make shots. The Gators are #10 in offensive rebounding percentage but the matchup between Jones and Parsons, as well as Vernon Macklin and Josh Harrellson at the center position, will likely determine who controls the glass in this game. If Harrellson can shut down Macklin (Festus Ezeli of Vanderbilt did a good job of this in the last game), the onus will be on Parsons to carry the Gators yet again. With Erving Walker hitting only 7 of his last 33 threes (21%), Florida will work the ball inside even more than they already do. The Gators get 56.8% of their points from two point range but will face the #4 interior defense in the country. Kentucky allows opponents to shoot only 41% from two point range while Florida is making 50.5% of their two point shots. This should be a physical game and whoever controls the interior will likely come out on top. Despite their road woes, we think John Calipari’s team will be ready to play tonight and hand the Gators their fourth home loss, disappointing the big crowd sure to be at the O-Dome for ESPN Game Day.

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Set Your Tivo: 01.28-01.30

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 28th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor

This weekend brings us yet another great slate of games with plenty of ranked teams heading out on the road to face unranked opponents. How many will go down this time? All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#21 Georgetown @ #6 Villanova – 12 pm Saturday on ESPN (****)

Despite their win at the Carrier Dome over Syracuse last week, Villanova has lost two of its last three games and now welcomes their rival Georgetown Hoyas to the Wells Fargo Center. The Hoyas have won three straight over the New York-area schools to climb back to 4-4 in Big East play. Georgetown has won four true road games but none of those wins were against teams the caliber of Villanova.

If Freeman and the Hoyas Plan On Finishing Strong, Tonight's a Good Night To Start

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Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 25th, 2011

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

A Look Back

Generally, at this point in the season — late January — I have a pretty good feel for the college hoops landscape. This season? Bleh. It seems like every time I expect a team to begin their turnaround, they start to slump. Every time I expect a collapse, I get a winning streak.  The Big East is no exception. Louisville looked great last week, then lost to ProvidenceWest Virginia beat Purdue, then had two players get suspended. Notre Dame, who struggles on the road, went to Pitt and won on Big Monday.  Yeah. I got nothing.

Player of the Week: Ben Hansbrough, Notre Dame: You know you had a good week when you go for 28 points, six assists, and five boards against a team like Marquette and it’s not your best performance. Notre Dame paid a visit to the Petersen Events Center on Monday night and played their the ‘burn’ — as in burn the clock, and possibly your eyeballs — offense, slowing the game to a crawl. For the first 25 minutes, it was somewhat effective, but for the final 15 minutes of the game, Mike Brey did nothing but put the ball into Hansbrough’s hands. Seemingly every possession, the Irish ran him off of a high screen, and Hansbrough took advantage of the resulting mismatches, scoring 15 of his 19 points and handing out three of his seven assists over that stretch. The Irish would go on to beat Pitt 56-51 and pick up a huge road win, their first of the season.

Team of the Week: UConn Huskies - The Huskies won two big games this week, knocking off Villanova last Monday before upending Tennessee at home in the Vols’ first game with Bruce Pearl in two weeks. Kemba Walker has come back to earth in the past few weeks — which was expected — but it has been the emergence of UConn’s role players, most recently Jeremy Lamb, who have kept the Huskies notching wins. How crazy has this season been? No one had UConn in the NCAA Tournament in the preseason. Now? They are getting slotted into a No. 1 seed on a lot of bracket projections.

Power Rankings (overall and conference records, and last week’s ranking in parentheses)

1. Pittsburgh (19-2, 7-1) (1)

Last Week: 1/22 @ DePaul 80-50, 1/24 vs. Notre Dame 51-56

Next Week: 1/29 @ Rutgers

Despite what the box score might look like, Pitt was not terrible offensively in their 56-51 loss to Notre Dame. When there are only 48 possessions in the game, 51 points actually isn’t too bad. The issue is on the defensive end of the floor. The Panthers were absolutely shredded by Ben Hansbrough coming off of a high ball screen. Their help side defense was terrible, as were their defensive rotations, and it resulted in layups and wide opens threes. That said, Pitt was playing much better on the defensive end. Chalk this one up to a great performance by the Irish?

2. Connecticut (15-2, 4-2) (3)

Last Week: 1/17 vs. Villanova 61-59, 1/22 vs. Tennessee

Next Week: 1/25 @ Marquette, 1/29 vs. Louisville

See the above “Team of the Week” feature to see why UConn keeps winning despite the regression of Kemba Walker.

3. Villanova (17-3, 5-2) (4)

Last Week: 1/17 @ UConn 59-61, 1/22 @ Syracuse 83-72

Next Week: 1/26 @ Providence, 1/29 vs. Georgetown

When you split road games at UConn and Syracuse, you have to consider the week a win. It finally seems as if the Wildcats’ three backcourt stars are all clicking. Corey Fisher had 28 points against UConn; Maalik Wayns led the way against Syracuse, scoring 17 of his 21 points in the first half and finding (albeit briefly) his stroke from deep. Corey Stokes found his stroke as well after slumping for the past ten days or so. The most underrated aspect of this team, however, is Antonio Pena. He’s always been a tough defender and rebounder, but now he is knocking down jumpers as well.

4. Syracuse (18-2, 5-2) (2)

Last Week: 1/17 @ Pitt 66-74, 1/22 vs. Villanova 72-83

Next Week: 1/25 vs. Seton Hall, 1/29 @ Marquette

The Orange have now lost two games in a row after starting the season off with 18 straight wins, and both teams did it by slicing up the Syracuse zone. Well, Pitt sliced up their zone, Villanova simply bombed away from deep and hung on late. Should Orange fans be concerned? Not in the least. There is no shame in losing at Pitt without Kris Joseph (though Notre Dame may disagree) or at home to Villanova when their backcourt players get it going. Speaking of Joseph, he had 23 points against Villanova in his return from a concussion. Another item of note — Scoop Jardine is now 8-30 from the floor in his last three games.

5. Notre Dame (15-4, 6-3) (9)

Last Week: 1/19 vs. Cincinnati 66-58, 1/22 vs. Marquette 80-75, 1/24 vs. Notre Dame 56-51

Next Week: None

See above.

6. Louisville (15-4, 4-2) (5)

Last Week: 1/19 vs. St. John’s 88-63, 1/22 @ Providence 67-72

Next Week: 1/26 vs. West Virginia, 1/29 @ UConn

Just three days after smoking St. John’s and playing one of their most complete games of the season, the Cardinals went into Providence and lost to the fired up Friars. Marshon Brooks had 20 of his 27 points in the second half as Louisville ended up shooting just 4-23 from three. I’ve said it since day one with this team — they are going to win games they shouldn’t win and lose games they shouldn’t lose. Live by the three…

7. Marquette (13-7, 4-3) (7)

Last Week: 1/18 vs. DePaul , 1/22 @ Notre Dame 75-80

Next Week: 1/25 vs. UConn, 1/29 vs. Syracuse

Another game, another tough loss for the Golden Eagles. With the way this team has competed against some very tough competition, it is difficult to believe that they are not good enough to be in the NCAA Tournament. Now they just have to prove it. With home games against UConn and Syracuse on tap this week, now is as good of a time as any to start.

8. West Virginia (13-5, 4-2) (6)

Last Week: 1/19 vs. Marshall 71-75, 1/23 vs. South Florida 56-46

Next Week: 1/26 @ Louisville, 1/29 @ Cincinnati

Since I named West Virginia the team of the week when they knocked off Purdue, the ‘Eers have proceeded to lose to Marshall after being down by 24 points, have a player (Dan Jennings) get kicked off the team for leaving the bench during the South Florida game, and saw their leading scorer (Casey Mitchell) suspended indefinitely for the second time this year.

9. Georgetown (13-5, 3-4) (10)

Last Week: 1/18 @ Seton Hall 80-75

Next Week: 1/26 vs. St. John’s, 1/29 @ Villanova

The Hoyas picked up a nice little come-from-behind win against Seton Hall on the road. The bad news is that while Austin Freeman looks like he’s back in his groove shooting from three, the Hoyas still did not play all that well. Georgetown has a chance to avenge a loss to St. John’s on Wednesday at the Verizon Center before heading to Philly for a showdown with Villanova. Of note: Julian Vaughn was seen walking about campus in a boot this week, although reports are that it was precautionary.

10. Cincinnati (17-3, 4-3) (11)

Last Week: 1/19 @ Notre Dame 58-66, 1/22 @ St. John’s 53-51

Next Week: 1/26 vs. Rutgers, 1/29 1/29 vs. West Virginia

The Bearcats got a must-win game on the road against the Johnnies on Saturday thanks to a Yancy Gates three-point play with eight seconds left. If Cincy really wants a shot at making the dance, they are going to have to put themselves into good position heading into the end of February. Five of their last seven games come against ranked opponents with Marquette in that mix as well.

11. St. John’s (11-7, 4-4) (8)

Last Week: 1/19 @ Louisville 63-88, 1/22 vs. Cincinnati 51-53

Next Week: 1/26 @ Georgetown, 1/30 vs. Duke

Not only did St. John’s get embarrassed on the road by Louisville, they lost an important game at home to Cincinnati when they couldn’t hit their free throws late. With Georgetown and Duke coming up this week, the Johnnies seem to be running out of chances.

12. Rutgers (12-7, 3-4) (13)

Last Week: 1/20 vs. South Florida 71-62, 1/22 @ Seton Hall 66-60

Next Week: 1/26 @ Cincinnati, 1/29 vs. Pitt

This group plays hard, they just don’t have the talent in the program to beat the big boys yet. That said, Mike Rice is doing a good job with this group. Don’t be surprised if he builds a tournament-worthy team in the next two to three years.

13. Providence (12-8, 1-6) (15)

Last Week: 1/22 vs. Louisville 72-67

Next Week: 1/26 vs. Villanova, 1/30 @ Seton Hall

The Friars picked up a nice win at Louisville. Its really a shame that no one gets to see Marshon Brooks play, because he’s the real deal.

14. Seton Hall (8-12, 2-6) (12)

Last Week: 1/18 vs. Georgetown 75-80, 1/22 vs. Rutgers 60-66

Next Week: 1/25 @ Syracuse, 1/30 vs. Providence

This season has been an absolute disaster. The Pirates lost two more tough ones this week. I really do feel for those guys. They have been through a lot, with Bobby Gonzalez’s firing, Robert Mitchell‘s arrest, Herb Pope‘s heart problems, and Jeremy Hazell‘s wrist injury and shooting.

15. South Florida (7-14, 1-7) (14)

Last Week: 1/20 Rutgers 62-71, 1/23 @ West Virginia 46-56

Next Week: 1/27 vs. DePaul

If you don’t have anything nice to say…

16. DePaul (6-13, 0-7) (16)

Last Week: 1/18 @ Marquette 64-94, 1/22 vs. Pitt 50-80

Next Week: 1/27 @ South Florida

Looks like we’re headed for a showdown on the 27th…

A Look Ahead

Louisville takes on UConn and Georgetown heads to Villanova on Saturday, both at noon, but beyond that, it’s a rare quiet week in the Big East in terms of marquee matchups.

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Set Your Tivo: 01.21-01.23

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 21st, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Almost all of the action is on Saturday but what a day it will be. A couple of huge games start us off right away at noon but the rest of the day will not disappoint. It’s very unfortunate but #21 St. Mary’s @ #23 Vanderbilt is not on television and neither is Belmont at East Tennessee State on Sunday, a battle for first in the Atlantic Sun. You obviously won’t be able to watch those games unless you’re attending but definitely check and see how they play out. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#1 Ohio State @ #18 Illinois – 12 pm Saturday on CBS (****)

Sylvester and the Buckeyes Had the Last Laugh When Illinois Was #1 in 2005

It should be a crazy environment in Champaign on Saturday when the #1 team in the land pays a visit. Illinois is having a good year but probably not as good as some of the more optimistic Illini fans would have hoped. That can change in a big way with a marquee win over the Buckeyes. You’ll recall what happened almost six years ago in Columbus. Illinois was #1 at 29-0 on the last day of the regular season and lost on a Matt Sylvester three with five seconds to play as the unranked Buckeyes knocked off the eventual national runner up. By the way: Gus Johnson was working that one in 2005 and he’ll be in Champaign on Saturday if you even needed another reason to tune in.

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Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 18th, 2011

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

 

A Look Back

The Big East seems like it is beginning to break into three groups at the top. You have the contenders at the top in Pitt and Syracuse, then you have a second tier of Villanova and UConn.

Beyond that, you may as well start flipping a coin.

Right now, Louisville and West Virginia look to be the best of the rest. This comes a week after Notre Dame and Georgetown looked like they were the best of the rest. Marquette is good enough to beat anyone in the league, but they haven’t been closing games. Cincinnati is still a bit of an unknown, as they have lost to Syracuse and Villanova on the road, but have taken care of everyone else they have played in conference play. St. John’s is another enigma, as seen by a 20-point loss and a 20-point win versus Notre Dame in the span of a week.

The craziest part? Every single one of those 11 teams I just mentioned has a real shot of earning an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. There is no way that happens — there is too much parity in the league and these teams are going to be beating up on each other for another month and a half — but depending on how the rest of conference play turns out, I can realistically see nine teams earning themselves a bid.

That is, of course, assuming teams like Georgetown and Notre Dame figure out how to turn their season around and Cincinnati and St. John’s turn out to be for real. If those teams end up being the worst case scenario, I can also see a situation arising where only six or seven teams earn a bid.

The only thing I am sure of?

This league is going to be a fun one to follow for the next two months.

Player of the WeekPreston Knowles, Louisville: Rick Pitino has said it time and again — this Cardinals team doesn’t have a star. They don’t have a go to player. And as easy as that is to believe, Knowles is certainly close to becoming ‘the man’ for this team. In three games since we last did a Big East check-in, Knowles averaged 17.7 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 3.3 APG, and 2.3 SPG, all while hitting 11 of 24 from three. Knowles’ best statistical performance came in Louisville’s loss at Villanova on Wednesday, but he was the catalyst for their impressive comeback against Marquette. He scored 15 points in the second half, including four threes and two assists in the final 5:45 as Louisville overcame an 18-point deficit to win. He had the game winning assist with four seconds left, finding Kyle Kuric for a layup. Knowles’ transformation from a defensive specialist to an offensive star has been an impressive one to watch.

Team of the WeekWest Virginia: All of a sudden, the Mountaineers look like a team capable of making a run at the top four in the league. Kevin Jones had a slow start to the season, but he’s come on strong of late, averaging 17.0 points and 10.0 rebounds per game — with 18 offensive boards — in the last three games. John Flowers is one of the best glue guys and arguably the best defender in the league. Casey Mitchell is always a threat to go for 25 points. If defenses key on him, Truck BryantDenis Kilicli, and Joe Mazzulla all have shown the ability to be double figure scorers. They have role players, they can defend, and when they are hustling and playing the blue collar game that Bobby Huggins loves, this team is dangerous. Ask Georgetown and Purdue, as both took a loss to WVU this week.

Power Rankings (overall and conference records, and last week’s ranking in parentheses)

1. Pittsburgh (18-1, 6-0) (2)

Last Week: 1/8 vs. Marquette 89-81, 1/12 @ Georgetown 72-57, 1/15 vs. Seton Hall 74-53, 1/17 vs. Syracuse 74-66

Next Week: 1/22 @ DePaul, 1/24 vs. Notre Dame

Efficiency is the name of the game for this Pitt team offensively. They may be the best team in the country when it comes to executing offensively. They always seem to get the shot that they want, whether it is a post touch for Gary McGhee or a three for Ashton Gibbs coming off of a screen. If they miss, 45.6% of the time they get the offensive rebound. They also don’t turn the ball over in the half court, meaning that they maximize their possessions offensively as well as anyone. They’ve been knocked on the defensive end of the floor, but the last three games have looked much better. If there is an Achilles heel, it is that they struggle against pressure. Providence nearly beat them by forcing turnovers with a press while Syracuse and Georgetown got the Panthers to turn the ball over late using a press.

2. Syracuse (18-1, 5-1) (1)

Last Week: 1/8 @ Seton Hall 61-56, 1/12 @ St. John’s 76-59, 1/15 vs. Cincinnati 67-52, 1/17 @ Pitt 66-74

Next Week: 1/22 vs. Villanova

The Orange suffered their first loss of the season Monday night, but take it with a grain of salt. The loss came at Pitt when the Orange were missing Kris Joseph, and they were nearly able to overcome a 19-0 start by the Panthers. The Orange look like the best team in the conference on the defensive end of the floor, and the numbers back it up. The question all season long has been on the offensive end, but with Joseph’s recent scoring surge and the emergence of James Southerland as a spot-up shooter at the three/four spot, that may be less of an issue. The Orange aren’t getting a lot of pub right now, but this team is for real.

3. Connecticut (15-2, 4-2) (6)

Last Week: 1/8 @ Texas 82-81 OT, 1/11 vs. Rutgers 67-53, 1/15 @ DePaul 82-62, 1/17 vs. Villanova 61-59

Next Week: 1/22 vs. Tennessee

All of a sudden, UConn has a supporting cast. Alex Oriakhi has been fantastic the past four games, averaging 13.3 points and 12.5 rebounds per game while showing off some nice post moves. Jeremy Lamb has been playing very well on both ends of the floor. Shabazz Napier and Roscoe Smith both have shown the ability to be second and third scoring options this season. Kemba Walker‘s efficiency numbers have been dropping as defenses focus on him, but his teammates have shown an increasing confidence to take and make big shots when they are left open. As UConn continues to improve defensively — forcing turnovers and clearing the defensive glass — they are only going to get better as a team.

4. Villanova (16-2, 4-1) (3)

Last Week: 1/9 vs. Cincinnati 72-61, 1/12 vs. Louisville 88-74, 1/15 vs. Maryland 74-66, 1/17 @ UConn 59-61

Next Week: 1/22 @ Syracuse

Villanova’s first loss in conference play came on a Kemba Walker buzzer beater in Gampel without Dominic Cheek. It also came on a night when Corey Fisher looked like Mr. 105 while the rest of his teammates struggled to get anything going offensively. I like what his team can do defensively, but I still have concerns on the offensive end of the floor. Maalik Wayns is talented, but he is inconsistent and needs to learn how to run a team and not just be a dribbler. Fisher has been up and down, although he looked terrific against UConn. The key may be Mouphtaou Yarou. If he can get better scoring on the block, the emergence of Antonio Pena‘s jump shot will give him a lot of opportunities down low with space.

5. Louisville (14-3, 3-1) (7)

Last Week: 1/9 @ South Florida 86-77, 1/12 @ Villanova 74-88, 1/15 vs. Marquette 71-70

Next Week: 1/19 vs. St. John’s, 1/22 @ Providence

See the “Player of the Week” feature above to see why Rick Pitino has Preston Knowles and the Cardinals rolling.

6. West Virginia (12-4, 3-2) (11)

Last Week: 1/8 @ Georgetown 65-59, 1/13 vs. Providence 93-63, 1/16 vs. Purdue 68-64

Next Week: 1/19 vs. Marshall, 1/23 vs. South Florida

See the “Team of the Week” feature above for my thoughts on the Mountaineers.

7. Marquette (12-6, 3-2) (10)

Last Week: 1/8 @ Pitt 81-89, 1/10 vs. Notre Dame 79-57, 1/15 @ Louisville 70-71

Next Week: 1/18 vs. DePaul, 1/22 @ Notre Dame

Marquette still hasn’t been able to figure out how to win the close games this season. The talent is clearly there — it wasn’t a fluke that they were up by 18 in Louisville — but the ability to finish games isn’t quite there yet. The perfect example — Marquette was up 70-69 against Louisville with less than 30 seconds left when they broke the Cardinals’ press. Instead of pulling the ball out, Dwight Buycks attacked Terrence Jennings and had his shot blocked. At the other end, the Golden Eagles lost track of Kyle Kuric on a dribble handoff, and it resulted in a wide open layup for the win.

8. St. John’s (11-5, 4-2) (9)

Last Week: 1/8 @ Notre Dame 61-76, 1/12 vs. Syracuse 59-76, 1/16 vs. Notre Dame 72-54

Next Week: 1/19 @ Louisville, 1/22 vs. Cincinnati

I still can’t figure this team out. I thought I had them pegged — a fraud — after they were blown out by both Syracuse and Notre Dame, but then the Johnnies went and beat the Irish by 18 in a rematch on Sunday. They can defend, they are physical, and they have a couple of players that are dangerous when they get it going, but I’m not completely sold yet. Win at Louisville on Wednesday, and we’ll talk.

9. Notre Dame (14-4, 3-3) (4)

Last Week: 1/8 vs. St. John’s 76-61, 1/10 @ Marquette 57-79, 1/16 @ St. John’s 54-72

Next Week: 1/19 vs. Cincinnati, 1/22 vs. Marquette

There are two different Notre Dame teams — the one that plays at home and the one that plays on the road. The Irish have four losses on the season — by 14 at Kentucky, by 12 at Syracuse, by 22 at Marquette, and by 18 at St. John’s. I love the roster makeup of this group. The mental makeup is a different story.

10. Georgetown (13-5, 2-4) (5)

Last Week: 1/8 vs. West Virginia 59-65, 1/12 vs. Pitt 57-72, 1/15 @ Rutgers 74-65

Next Week: 1/18 @ Seton Hall

I’ve written off the Hoyas … for now. I’ve seen this happen too many times. It feels like a rerun of the 2009 campaign, when Georgetown jumped all the way to eighth in the country after a win at UConn to kick off Big East play before collapsing and getting bounced in the first round of the NIT. They are a small team up front and they aren’t a great defensive team, but they haven’t been good enough on the offensive end to make up for it.

11. Cincinnati (16-2, 3-2) (8)

Last Week: 1/9 @ Villanova 61-72, 1/12 vs. South Florida 74-66, 1/15 @ Syracuse 52-67

Next Week: 1/19 @ Notre Dame, 1/22 @ St. John’s

My opinion of the Bearcats hasn’t changed. I like the pieces they have, but I am not sure if they are good enough to make the tournament. Yancy Gates is inconsistent and their perimeter has had a tough time against good teams. They have two winnable road games against fellow tourney contenders this week. Win one and make a statement.

12. Seton Hall (8-10, 2-4) (13)

Last Week: 1/8 vs. Syracuse 56-61, 1/12 @ DePaul 78-67, 1/15 @ Pitt 53-74

Next Week: 1/18 vs. Georgetown, 1/22 vs. Rutgers

The best story of the week belonged to Jeremy Hazell, who made a return from a broken wrist that required surgery and a gunshot wound to score 23 points against DePaul. I’m hoping that he can be the spark that the Pirates need to salvage their season.

13. Rutgers (10-7, 1-4) (14)

Last Week: 1/8 vs. Providence 85-72, 1/11 @ UConn 53-67, 1/15 vs. Georgetown 65-74

Next Week: 1/20 vs. South Florida, 1/22 @ Seton Hall

This group plays hard, they just don’t have the talent in the program to beat the big boys yet.

14. South Florida (7-12, 1-5) (16)

Last Week: 1/9 vs. Louisville 77-86, 1/12 @ Cincinnati 66-74, 1/16 vs. Providence 79-72

Next Week: 1/20 Rutgers, 1/23 @ West Virginia

15. Providence (11-8, 0-6) (12)

Last Week: 1/8 @ Rutgers 72-85, 1/13 @ West Virginia 63-93, 1/16 @ South Florida 72-79

Next Week: 1/22 vs. Louisville

16. DePaul (6-11, 0-5) (15)

Last Week: 1/12 vs. Seton Hall 67-78, 1/15 vs. UConn 62-82

Next Week: 1/18 @ Marquette, 1/22 vs. Pitt

I’d say there is a 25% chance that none of these three teams gets a win against any of the top 13 teams in the Big East. Who else is happy that TCU is joining the mix in 2012?

A Look Ahead

The big day for the Big East this week looks to be Wednesday, when St. John’s and Cincinnati get their cracks at Louisville and Notre Dame, respectively, on the road. Both teams need a win. Not just for their resume, but to make a statement. The way to earn respect in this league is by winning on the road against good teams. On Saturday, make sure you’re up early as Syracuse and Villanova tip at noon.

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Set Your Tivo: 01.07-01.09

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 7th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

The first big hoops weekend of 2011 features many important games across the land. Here are five key games followed by a host of others. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

Cleveland State @ Butler – 7 pm Friday on ESPNU (****)

With Butler’s loss at Milwaukee on Monday, folks in the Horizon League used to the Bulldogs’ dominance are excited that this may be the year someone else takes the title. Cleveland State leads the league by a game over Detroit and Wright State while holding a one and a half game lead over Butler heading into tonight’s game. Should the Vikings win on the road tonight and plow through the rest of their Horizon schedule, expect to see Cleveland State win the league. Obviously we’re a long way off from that but CSU is currently in a nice position. Butler’s problems have been on the defensive end. The Bulldogs have given up an average of 73.6 PPG in their losses while their defensive efficiency has dropped significantly from their top five ranking of a year ago.

The Bulldogs Need Mack Back On Track Tonight, And From Now On

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Set Your Tivo: 12.30.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 30th, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

The Big Five takes center stage tonight followed by an under the radar matchup in Missouri. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#25 Temple @ #9 Villanova – 7 pm on ESPN2 (****)

What is Dunphy Thinking For Tonight's Big 5 Brawl?

Temple won last year’s Big Five meeting between these squads but Villanova holds a slight edge in the series, 43-41. Each team enters on a winning streak and both are rated in the top ten in defensive efficiency. However, Temple has been the more consistent defensive team over the years and Villanova has a tendency to lapse back into a weaker defense against better opponents. Temple is 2-0 against the Big East, having defeated Seton Hall and Georgetown at home earlier this season, and will look to make it three on the road tonight. Interior play and rebounding will be important aspects of this game. Temple gets two thirds of its points from two point range, mostly due to the fact that they can’t shoot the three. The Owls are one of the worst teams from deep (27%) and Villanova plays very good defense on the arc. Don’t expect Temple to get to the line much either, making points inside the arc extremely important for Fran Dunphy’s team. Lavoy Allen has a tendency to disappear on offense and it would be wise if he didn’t pick this game to do it again. The 6’9 forward is talented and a strong defensive player but must provide the Owls with offensive production inside. Getting him the ball is another story and that’s where Juan Fernandez comes in. He’s struggled with his shooting (six for his last 23) as well as turnovers but has averaged seven assists over his last three games, using his strong dribble penetration to get others involved. Fernandez’s shooting has been so bad that his three point shooting is down a stunning 25% from last season. He has to get the ball inside to Allen and fellow guard Ramone Moore (30 points against Georgetown). Moore has the ability to drive and make some crafty shots around the tin. Temple is not a deep team and must defend and rebound well in order to win on the road against a strong Villanova team. The Wildcats have a talented starting five with pretty good balance, at least in terms of their height. However, Villanova’s guards take the majority of shots, sometimes not for the better. Jay Wright should look to utilize his big men more, especially against a Temple team that can be severely limited when their bigs get into foul trouble. Antonio Pena (59% FG) figures to have an advantage, though he’ll have to work hard against a Temple defense ranked #12 inside the arc. Villanova’s offense revolves around its talented trio of guards. While Corey Fisher and Maalik Wayns haven’t exactly shot the lights out, Corey Stokes remains a constant threat on the arc for the Wildcats as the senior from New Jersey has connected on 14 of his last 30 triples. 14 makes is more than Fisher and Wayns have made all year. Stokes has taken 30-40 more threes than his back court teammates and the Temple defense must make them shoot to get the ball out of Stokes’ hands. Coach Dunphy may want to try a box-and-one defense on Stokes, forcing Fisher and Wayns to beat him. Temple will look to slow the pace down and get into a half court game, a situation where they excel on both ends of the floor. The rebounding battle will be huge as both teams rank in the top ten in keeping their opponent off the offensive glass. Grabbing offensive rebounds will be crucial, especially for Temple. Villanova has a significant edge at the free throw line and should look to penetrate and pick up some early fouls on the Temple front court players. Big Five games are usually close and this shouldn’t be an exception. Playing on campus at the Pavilion, expect Villanova to take this contest by single digits with Temple hanging close throughout the game.

Old Dominion @ #10 Missouri – 8 pm on ESPN3.com/ESPN FullCourt (***)

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