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 FullCourt (***)

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Villanova Suspension Of Pinkston Best Move For All Involved

Posted by jstevrtc on December 6th, 2010

Villanova announced on Monday that freshman forward JayVaughn Pinkston is suspended from the school for the spring semester, meaning he isn’t permitted to attend classes, let alone play or practice with the basketball team. The suspension comes as a result of an off-campus fight in which Pinkston was involved on November 6th. He was charged with two counts of assault, but has attended classes and practiced with the team since then.

The Next 12 Months of No Basketball Will Determine the Rest of Pinkston's Basketball Life.

It’s never good when a kid faces assault charges and also has to miss out on a year of college because of mistakes like this, or rather, that they happen in the first place. Supporters of Villanova basketball certainly don’t like that their team will have to go a year without a 6’6 and 235-pound power forward ranked as one of the top 75 recruits in the nation last year as a high school senior. Consider this, though — it might not seem it at first, but there is still a lot of good that can come from this. It may even end up actually being the best thing for everybody right now.

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Set Your Tivo: 11.26.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 26th, 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.

There are lots of good games today, most with implications are from tournaments. Rankings as per the latest RTC Top 25. All times eastern.

Old Spice Classic Semifinal: #25 Wisconsin vs. Boston College — 12 pm on ESPN (***)

Wisconsin enters today’s game coming off a brutal to watch 50-35 win over Manhattan in the opening round yesterday at Disney. Jon Leuer led the Badgers with 16/13 in a game that had the same halftime score (17-10) as the Patriots/Lions NFL game. Boston College scored a thrilling 67-65 win over Texas A&M as Dash Harris’ coast-to-coast layup try fell off the rim as time expired. Reggie Jackson scored 21 points on 8-12 shooting to pace an Eagles team that shot 47% overall from the floor. BC held off a second half charge from the Aggies and overcame a 29-14 shellacking on the boards to pull out the win. Wisconsin is rated eighth in offensive efficiency but has struggled shooting the ball recently. They’ve shot under 40% in their last two games but have made up for it on the defensive end, especially yesterday. Bo Ryan’s stingy defense held Manhattan under 50 FG attempts and 28.6% shooting. Wisconsin is strong on the boards as well, ranking #1 in offensive rebounding percentage and #7 in the same statistic on the defensive side meaning they clean the defensive glass very well. Not surprisingly, Wisconsin has out-rebounded every opponent it has faced this season. That’s going to be a problem for Boston College, a team that ranks #267 in offensive rebounding and had a rough time against the Aggies yesterday. The Eagles shot it well from three for the first time all year against A&M and that’s something Steve Donahue may want to take advantage of again today. Wisconsin ranks #298 against the three, the one thing they don’t do well defensively. BC isn’t much better however, ranking #293. Expect a well played game at an average to below-average speed as Boston College protects the ball very well and Wisconsin doesn’t force many steals and turnovers due to their deliberate style of play. The Badgers have assisted on 63% of their made shots this year, a sign of a disciplined offensive system led by Jordan Taylor. We expect this to be a close game but Wisconsin has the edge in most areas and that should be good enough to advance to the finals of this tournament.

76 Classic Semifinal: Virginia Tech vs. Oklahoma State — 2:30 pm on ESPN (**)

Oklahoma State got by a pesky DePaul team in the first round on the back of Marshall Moses’ 27/9 on 11-14 FG while Virginia Tech rolled over Cal State Northridge. This game features a lot of statistical contrasts and most would seem to favor the Hokies. The most glaring of which has to be turnovers. Virginia Tech does turn the ball over too much but they also force a bunch due to their style of play. Oklahoma State turned it over 25 times against an up-tempo DePaul team while Virginia Tech forced the same number against Northridge. That doesn’t bode well for today’s matchup if you’re a Cowboy fan. The Hokies get to the line extremely well and that should give them a big advantage in this game. The Pokes of OSU foul a lot, ranking #321 in FTA/FGA, a measure of how often your opponent gets to the line. Virginia Tech doesn’t take advantage as much as they should, averaging 69% from the stripe. Malcolm Delaney is the creator and best player for Seth Greenberg while Jeff Allen has had a nice start to his senior season in the post (11.5/9/4). He’ll play a key role defending Moses if he chooses to enter the paint. Virginia Tech blocks a lot of shots, ranked #16 in blocked shot percentage. Oklahoma State is even better at #12 so expect a war in the paint. Neither team shoots or defends the three very well so a lot of the action should be confined to be inside the arc with guard penetration and dishing to guys like Allen and Darrell Williams for OSU. The Hokies have an edge in talent and Travis Ford still isn’t too sure about what to expect from his club in a transitional year. Virginia Tech is a solid favorite here and should advance. For Oklahoma State to win, they’ll need to do a great job controlling the ball and getting rebounds in order to limit opportunities for the Hokies.

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Set Your Tivo: 11.24.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 24th, 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 tivobut 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.

Maui lived up to the hype. Kansas City? Not so much. We’ve got two more good ones from paradise today, Thanksgiving Eve. Rankings as per the latest RTC Top 25. All times eastern.

Maui Invitational Third Place Game: #3 Michigan State vs. #15 Washington – 5 pm on ESPN2 (****)

All Walker, All the Time in Maui

How’s a top 15 matchup for a third place game? Courtesy of Connecticut’s upset of Michigan State, that’s what we have. The Spartans were the latest team to fall victim to the Kemba Walker show as the Connecticut point guard put up 30 points yet again on 10-19 shooting. Tom Izzo’s Spartans did not hold their customary edge rebounding wise which cost them and poor games from Kalin Lucas, Delvon Roe and Korie Lucious certainly didn’t help the cause, either. Washington lost one of the hardest fought, intense games you’ll ever see this time of year to a Kentucky club that dominated the boards and got to the line enough to win. Former Washington commit Terrence Jones torched the Huskies with 16/17 as he and Brandon Knight (24 points) led Kentucky to the championship game. This figures to be another war but Michigan State must get meaner and more physical if they hope to beat Washington. The Huskies are going to get it up and down quick meaning Michigan State has to hold their ground defensively, be active in the passing lanes and stay in front of the Washington guards. Lorenzo Romar hopes Isaiah Thomas can rebound from a sub-par outing and help prevent a 1-2 finish in Maui. The unbelievable thing is that a top 15 team is going home 1-2 no matter what happens in this game tonight. This is a noon local tip so one or both teams may get off to a sluggish start. If Washington can get better looks and shoot it well, Michigan State will have their hands full. Matthew Bryan-Amaning and Justin Holiday need to be strong in the post against a tough Spartan front line for Washington to get an edge on the glass. We don’t think it’s crazy to think Michigan State will be the top 15 team to leave Maui with two losses on the young season.

NIT Season Tip-Off Semifinal: #6 Villanova vs. UCLA – 9:30 pm on ESPN2 (***)

Villanova has defended much better so far this year, ranking 14th in defensive efficiency. That’s a big improvement from last season’s 62nd ranked defense which failed the Wildcats down the stretch and ultimately resulted in a second round exit to St. Mary’s after being pushed to overtime by #15 seed Robert Morris. Offense is not a problem for Villanova but defense will determine how far they can go this year. So far, the early returns look good. Jay Wright loves to get his team out in transition by causing turnovers. Villanova is in the top ten in steal and turnover percentage and ranks 30th in two point FG%, probably a result of all the layups created through turnovers. One thing the Wildcats have not done, surprisingly, is shoot the trey well. That’ll play right into UCLA’s hands as they rank 8th in three point defense. There is reason for optimism in Westwood after last year’s disaster as the Pac-10 is weak yet again and Ben Howland’s team has a great chance to finish second and get back to the NCAA Tournament. The Bruins have been led by 6’8 sophomore forward Reeves Nelson (19/10) and Tyler Honeycutt (16/8). These two more athletic players could cause problems for Villanova’s Antonio Pena and Mouphtaou Yarou inside tonight. While UCLA can hold their own there, the Wildcats will have a big advantage in the back court. Malcolm Lee is listed as probable for UCLA but will still be hampered by a bum ankle. The Bruins will count on Lazeric Jones to steady the ship and control the basketball against the aggressive Villanova defense. Try as they might, Villanova is too tough for UCLA to handle behind a trio of stud guards. Corey Fisher and Maalik Wayns lead the way and Corey Stokes is a big guard who can really shoot it. Villanova simply has too much talent and depth for the thin Bruins, playing with just ten scholarship players. It’s not impossible for UCLA to win but it seems highly unlikely tonight under the bright lights of the big city at Madison Square Garden.

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RTC Conference Primer: #2 – Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 5th, 2010

Rob Dauster of Ballin’ is a Habit is the Big East correspondent for Rush The Court.

Predicted Order of Finish

  • 1. Villanova (15-3)
  • T2. Pittsburgh (14-4)
  • T2. Syracuse (14-4)
  • 4. Georgetown (12-6)
  • T5. West Virginia (11-7)
  • T5. Marquette (11-7)
  • 7. Seton Hall (10-8)
  • T8. Notre Dame (9-9)
  • T8. St. John’s (9-9)
  • T10. Connecticut (8-10)
  • T10. Louisville (8-10)
  • T12. South Florida (7-11)
  • T12. Cincinnati (7-11)
  • T14. Providence (3-15)
  • T14. Rutgers (3-15)
  • T14. DePaul (3-15)

All-Conference Team (key stats from last season in parentheses)

  • G: Corey Fisher, Villanova (13.3 ppg, 3.9 apg, 2.8 rpg)
  • G: Kemba Walker, UConn (14.6 ppg, 5.1 apg, 4.3 rpg, 2.1 spg)
  • F: Austin Freeman, Georgetown (16.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 44.4% 3pt)
  • F: Kris Joseph, Syracuse (10.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.4 spg)
  • F: Kevin Jones, West Virginia (13.5 ppg, 7.2 rpg)

6th Man

Tim Abromaitis, Notre Dame (16.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 42.9% 3pt)

Impact Newcomers

  • Fab Melo, Syracuse: Melo should have an immediate impact as the starting center for the Orange. Regarded as one of, if not the, best center in the class, Melo has more polish offensively than most bigs do as freshman, but his size in the middle of the Syracuse 2-3 zone may be more important.
  • Vander Blue, Marquette: Blue should step in and start immediately for the Golden Eagles. He’s everything you imagine when you think of a Marquette wing player. He’s tough, athletic, and can slash to the basket. He’ll remind some of Jerel McNeal.
  • Nate Lubick, Georgetown: With the Hoyas losing Greg Monroe to the NBA, they will have a gaping hole in the middle. Lubick has the skill set to be the high post forward of the future for John Thompson III, and he could immediately slide into the starting lineup.

Jay Wright has Villanova in the driver’s seat, with Pittsburgh nipping at the Wildcats’ heels. (AP/Michael Perez)

What You Need To Know

As much as it pains me to say it, the Big East is going to be down this season, especially near the bottom of the league. The two best players in the conference are probably Austin Freeman and Corey Fisher, and while I don’t want to take anything away from those two — I love the way that both play — they are a long way from being lottery picks. Providence, Rutgers and DePaul are as bad as any three teams at the bottom of the power conferences, which is saying a lot considering what the cellar of the Pac-10 and SEC have to offer. Now think about this: If the Big East wants to get more than six teams into the Big Dance, the teams that will likely be fighting for the last couple of at-large bids this season are Seton Hall, St. John’s, Notre Dame and UConn. And that assumes that Marquette and West Virginia are dancing. Yuck.

Predicted Champion

Villanova (NCAA #2 Seed): I like Villanova a lot more than other people do. I think Corey Fisher has a chance to become a star this season as he steps out of the shadow of Scottie Reynolds. I think Maalik Wayns has a chance to come into his own as well. Corey Stokes and Dominic Cheek should provide some size, athleticism, and versatility on the perimeter, while Jayvaughn Pinkston and Isaiah Armwood provide the same along the front line. The trio of Antonio Pena, Mouphtaou Yarou and Maurice Sutton is one of the better front lines in the conference. More than anything, however, I think that Jay Wright has answered the biggest questions his team had last season. Without a doubt, Villanova will be better inside with Yarou healthy, Pinkston on the roster, and Armwood and Sutton a year stronger. They should also be better defensively without Reynolds and Fisher sharing the floor. This team has a great mixture of size, athleticism, youth, experience, and versatility. They remind me quite a bit of the Villanova team that made the 2009 Final Four.
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Preseason NIT: Weakened Field But Still Special

Posted by rtmsf on August 17th, 2010

A couple of weeks ago we broke down what will arguably be the top holiday tournament of the 2010-11 season, the Maui Invitational.  The other Big Daddy of pre-conference tourneys, the Preseason NIT, released its brackets today, and at first blush, the field is not all that exciting this year.  Take a look at the below bracket and tell us where you get a little tingly thinking about the downstream matchup possibilities?

The only legitimate national contender in the field is Villanova, with 105-point scorer Corey Fisher returning along with a whole cadre of talented inside players including Mouph Yarou, Antonio Pena and Isaiah Armwood.  If the expectation is that productive freshmen become superb sophomores, then the Wildcats are a team with as much upside as anyone else in America next year.  The dropoff in talent from VU to the next best squad, Tennessee, is significant, but the real precipice occurs after that point.  The Vols lost Wayne Chism, JP Prince and Bobby Maze from their Elite Eight team, but they bring back star-in-waiting Scotty Hopson and add Tobias Harris to a solid cast of role players, so UT has a chance to be very good again.  We’d expect these two teams to sleepwalk their way to the finals on Black Friday in Madison Square Garden.

The third and fourth seeds and regional hosts Wake Forest and UCLA are two of the weaker teams we’ve seen in this position in some time.  Neither is a likely NCAA Tournament team next season, and it says here that both schools will have trouble getting out of their PNIT region despite the fact that it will be played on their home courts.  Wake returns two promising sophomores in CJ Harris and Ari Stewart, but the loss of all-ACC players Al-Farouq Aminu and Ish Smith, not to mention head coach Dino Gaudio (replaced by Jeff Bzdelik), will be too much for the duo to bear so early in the season — expect the Deacs to crumble against a strong VCU team with something to prove.  UCLA returns more than Wake Forest, but if you’ve somehow been in a fugue state for the past twelve months, the Bruin program has fallen on hard times due to poor recruiting, team chemistry and injury problems.  The talented but enigmatic Malcolm Lee returns along with several other young players (Tyler Honeycutt, Reeves Nelson, Jerime Anderson), but the addition of five-star stud Josh Smith to the mix isn’t going to suddenly remind UCLA how to win games.  A second-round matchup against Pacific, with its top four players returning, or Nevada, always looking for a Pac-10 scalp as a member of the overlooked WAC, will be difficult for UCLA, even in Pauley Pavilion.

The one thing we will continue to give the PNIT folks credit for, though, is that they actually still understand the meaning of the word “Tournament.”  Yeah, yeah, we know that other entities get around it by using words like “Classic,” but a bracket is a bracket and it really only makes sense when a team advances into the later rounds by, you know, winning.  There are no guarantees — Villanova, Tennessee, Wake Forest and UCLA will actually have to beat two visiting teams to earn the privilege of a trip to New York City during Thanksgiving week to play in the World’s Most Famous Arena.  So from that perspective, we’ll still enjoy watching the Preseason NIT this November if for no other reason than they get it right.

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20 At The Top: Big East Player Rankings

Posted by zhayes9 on July 23rd, 2010

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

For the entire 20 At The Top series, click here.

There’s little doubt remaining that the Big East is the superpower college basketball league. When it’s pegged as the premiere conference prior to the season, it always seems to live up to the hype. When prognosticators predict its decline, it surprises us all and we’re left wondering why we underestimated the Big East again. Some team like Syracuse of last year emerges and elevates the conference to higher levels. Even with record-breaking seniors such as Scottie Reynolds, Luke Harangody and Da’Sean Butler moving on and lottery picks Wesley Johnson and Greg Monroe also departing, the Big East should be strong once again in 2010-11. The fight at the top will likely pit Villanova, Pittsburgh, Georgetown, Syracuse and a sleeper that’s yet to be determined. As I did with the ACC and Big 12, here are your top 20 players heading into next season in what could be a guard-dominated Big East:

In a close race, Freeman is the best of the pack

1) Austin Freeman, Georgetown– I had a difficult time ranking the top six in this list before ultimately settling on Freeman at the top spot for a handful of reasons, notably perimeter shooting, efficiency and basketball IQ. He had the least question marks and negatives to his game than any of the other candidates. Freeman emerged as a sharpshooting weapon in Big East play for an up-and-down Hoyas team. Some may credit his career high three point percentage on defenses keying on Greg Monroe, but 44% is still a fantastic total even shooting alone in an open gym. Freeman utilizes his strong frame to fight around screens for open looks and possesses a picture perfect shooting stroke. One has to be intelligent on the basketball court if you want to play for John Thompson III; Freeman limits his turnovers and ranked near the top of the Big East in both offensive rating and efficient FG%.  Where Freeman can improve during his senior year is using that frame to be more aggressive to the rim. Shooting under 100 free throws on the season isn’t going to suffice with the Hoyas lean frontcourt depth. Having an entire summer to deal and manage with his diabetes- a possible factor for his fading down the stretch last season- will certainly help to a degree.

2) Corey Fisher, Villanova– It’s now Corey Fisher’s team at Villanova. With Scottie Reynolds’ decorated four seasons a thing of the past, Fisher will play the lead role in 2010-11 for Jay Wright. The expectation doesn’t change perennially for Wright-coached teams along the Main Line: contend for the Big East crown. Fisher is a tough kid from the Bronx that should be able to shoulder such pressure. The 6’1 speedster has improved through each of his three seasons in Philly, bumping his FG% up to a solid 45% clip as a junior, remaining dependable at the charity stripe and greatly increasing his three-point shooting to  nearly 40%. His floor skills and court vision also lead me to believe he can handle running the up-tempo Nova attack and he continues to be a headache to try to defend. His spot-up jump shooting has always been a strength and Fisher also features a series of tricky floaters, up-and-under moves in the paint and an impressive dribble-drive repertoire. The only caveat: a five-minute suspension in Villanova’s first round NCAA Tournament game last March does bring maturity into question.

3) Kevin Jones, West Virginia– Jones has come a long way from two summers ago when his home state Syracuse Orange wouldn’t even offer him a scholarship. Now faced with the departure of Da’Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks, Jones knows head coach Bob Huggins is expecting him to be the featured offensive threat for the Mountaineers. A tremendously hard worker on and off the floor, KJ improved his game in every capacity from his freshman to sophomore campaigns and was an under-appreciated player nationally during West Virginia’s Final Four run. He was a huge factor in WVU finishing second in the nation in offensive rebounding, upped his three point percentage from 21% to 40% and his PPG more than doubled as a result. The 6’8 power forward plays bigger with a lengthy wingspan and tremendous energy. His turnover rate is also very small for an underclassman. Jones may never become a star due to his dribble penetration limitations and inability to create his own shot consistently, but there’s two years left of eligibility at Morgantown for him to prove more critics wrong.

4) Kemba Walker, Connecticut– Lost in the tumultuous season in Storrs was the marked improvement in Walker’s overall floor game, erasing what was a fatal flaw and continuing to excel in other areas. Walker put in tons of work last summer boosting a weak outside jump shot and it paid off tremendously when practices turned into games. His jump shooting both outside and inside the arc transformed from a liability to one that opposing defenses had to respect. With Jerome Dyson no longer hogging the ball on the perimeter and taking ill-advised threes, Walker will have to learn to balance being the depended offensive weapon for the Huskies and also limiting poor shot selection that tends to show up on occasion. One area of his game that doesn’t slump is his quickness from baseline to baseline that would make Ty Lawson blush. His court vision and passing ability are also strengths; after all, he did average 5.1 APG on a Connecticut team that often struggled to score en route to the NIT last season. While his smaller stature does allow bigger guards more room to elevate over him for shots, Walker makes up for that with quick hands and feet on defense, always primed for a big steal and bucket on the other end in the blink of an eye.

5) Tim Abromaitis, Notre Dame– The most dependable Irish player last season will have to do even more in a rebuilding 2010-11 with Luke Harangody, Ben Hansbrough and Tory Jackson all departing. Abromaitis was quietly one of the most efficient players in the nation as a junior, a season in which he really came out of nowhere after redshirting the prior year. His basic stats were more than solid: 16.1 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 50% FG, 87% FT, 43% 3pt. But what if I told you Abromaitis ranked second in the nation in offensive rating among players who used 20+ percent of his teams’ possessions? Or that he finished second in the Big East in efficient FG% and among the top echelon in turnover rate? While those stats could go down during his senior season while defenses key on him more often, don’t lie and tell me those numbers didn’t at least sort of shock you coming from Abromaitis. He’s under-appreciated nationally but primed to make more of a name for himself this upcoming season. His 3.7 GPA in finance and First Team Academic All-America honor means more to me than an underage drinking arrest from last weekend.

6) Kris Joseph, Syracuse– Joseph is a player I expect to take off this season and eventually become a first round pick, especially with Wes Johnson and Andy Rautins’ departures opening up plenty of opportunities to shine. Joseph’s minutes doubled as a sophomore and so did his production. The physical tools are evident, and if the athletic Montreal native just adds some more bulk this summer, he could be an effective weapon at either the 3 or 4 spots for Jim Boeheim next season. Joseph loves to face up and beat his defender off the dribble or pull up for a reliable foul line extended jumper, although his range doesn’t extend much further out towards the arc. That athleticism and impressive motor also leads to plenty of free throw opportunities and there’s no reason to believe Joseph can’t average close to 7-8 RPG in 32-34 MPG for the Orange in his junior season. Whether it’s Joseph, Scoop Jardine, Brandon Triche, Rick Jackson or one of the hyped freshman, someone must make a huge leap if ‘Cuse wants to repeat as regular season Big East champs. I’d put my money on Joseph.

Ashton Gibbs could be an all-Big East performer

7) Ashton Gibbs, Pittsburgh– There are flaws in Gibbs’ overall game: any time a guard averages 1.8 APG in just under 35 MPG, his skills as a distributor are probably not overwhelming. Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon may have to play Travon Woodall at the point more often than he’d like this season because of that very fact. Gibbs’ defense also isn’t superb. But few in the country can get as hot as Gibbs scoring the basketball. Blessed with a quick release and unlimited range, Gibbs will be the #1 weapon on a balanced Pitt scoring attack in 2010-11. The most improved player in the conference last season, Gibbs has the offensive repertoire to score nearly 20 points per contest for the Panthers. His three-point percentage of 44% as a freshman is much more likely to be repeated than his 39% clip of his sophomore year. There’s no doubt Gibbs can light it up on occasion, but scoring efficiency, as well as improvements in other facets of his game, will be necessary for Pitt to reach their first Final Four since 1941.

8) Jeremy Hazell, Seton Hall– Where to rank Jeremy Hazell was one of the biggest challenges I encountered making this list. I’ve seen him do some incredible things on the court, single handedly bringing the Pirates back from nearly insurmountable deficits when he finds the right shooting stroke. Averaging over 20 PPG in the Big East is nothing to sneeze at, even if that number is in large part a result of former coach Bobby Gonzalez’ high possession strategy. In a two game stretch against West Virginia and Syracuse last year, Hazell attempted 64 shots, so it’s fair to conclude he can win you games with his shot and lose you games at the same time. There’s seemingly no heat check for this senior. Hazell’s long wingspan and good hands make you think he could be a solid defender, but he often becomes lazy on that end. Hazell also needs to work on penetration and creating his own shot rather than relying on catch-and-shoot plays. He can become too predictable and easy to defend with such an unbalanced offensive game. Even if the defense picks up on that and he’s covered, it really doesn’t matter: Hazell will shoot anyway. Still, make no bones about it, his return to The Rock for a senior campaign gives new coach Kevin Willard a legitimate shot of dancing in March. He’s that explosive of a scorer.

9) Chris Wright, Georgetown– Wright and fellow Hoya Austin Freeman will form one of the best 1-2 backcourt punches in the nation next season. Fairly inconsistent for most of his junior season, Wright really turned on the jets in March, scoring in double figures every game and probably would have garnered Big East Tournament MVP honors had Da’Sean Butler not gone all Superman again. He was also the only one seemingly interested in preventing Georgetown from being embarrassed in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Wright has a strong body and is a sneaky good athlete. His jumper has been just average throughout his Hoya career, but the solid mechanics gives evaluators hope it can drastically improve as a senior. Wright excels defensively, providing JTIII with max effort on every possession and is a reliable free throw shooter, an imperative strength for a point guard. The Hoyas won’t have much in the way of backcourt depth after Wright, Freeman and Jason Clark unless freshman Markel Starks makes an impact right away, so 35-37 MPG may be in the cards again for Wright.

10) Gus Gilchrist, South Florida– An ankle injury in mid-December derailed Gilchrist’s sophomore season, but prior to the injury there were few more productive big men in the conference. The inside force working alongside dynamite scorer Dominique Jones, Gilchrist scored 18 or more points and grabbed seven or more boards in six of the Bulls first eight games. Utilizing a huge 6’10, 235 pound frame to bully over defenders, containing Gilchrist was certainly a chore for his overwhelmed opponents. Still, it’s worth noting that none of those opponents reached the NCAA Tournament, and when Gilchrist did return from the injury in mid-February, his statistics dipped substantially against Big East foes save a 21/6 against woeful Providence. It’s far from a sure thing Gilchrist takes the Big East by storm as the number one option in Tampa. He absolutely has the capabilities, the body and the potential, though. Great size, toughness and physicality in the paint all help Gilchrist, but it’s rounding out his game with a  constantly improving shooting stroke that has USF fans drooling over what could be a breakout season.

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Boom Goes The Dynamite: Second Round 03.20.10 Edition

Posted by jstevrtc on March 20th, 2010

Now it’s a party.  The first round is done.  The next 48 hours of games will define which big-time teams can handle the pressure cooker that is the Big Dance, and it will identify the Cinderellas we’ll be talking about for years.  If you’re a double-digit seed, winning one game is nice, but you don’t receive your wicked stepsisters, pumpkin coach, and glass slipper until you at least reach the Sweet 16.  Oh, you’re a big-conference bigwig?  Then the next round is still probably less than what was expected of you.  People don’t remember Second Rounders.  They remember teams that make the Sweet 16 and beyond.  The first round was fun.  But it’s over.  Here are the teams vying for the Sweet 16 on Saturday:

  • #2 Villanova vs #10 St. Mary’s
  • #5 Butler vs #13 Murray State
  • #6 Tennessee vs #14 Ohio
  • #1 Kansas vs #9 Northern Iowa
  • #3 Baylor vs #11 Old Dominion
  • #3 New Mexico vs #11 Washington
  • #2 Kansas State vs #7 Brigham Young
  • #1 Kentucky vs #9 Wake Forest

We’ll be here all day, watching the games with you.  We hope you’ll join us, and we definitely look forward to seeing you in the comments section as we all climb in to ride this rollercoaster for the third time.  See you right here about fifteen minutes before the first tip!

12:55: Here we go!  For the Sweet 16, gentlemen…let’s play!  Some interesting matchups throughout the day.  Looking especially forward to Baylor vs ODU and KSU vs BYU.  To me those look like the more intriguing games.

1:05: St. Mary’s off to a quick start!  The inside battle between Omar Samhan and Mouphtaou Yarou and/or Maurice Sutton is gonna be fun to watch.  God, Samhan looks bigger every time I see him.

1:15: I guess Jay Wright’s “minor teaching point” is over.  Samhan could not have asked for a better start to this game.  Eight points on 4-6 shooting.  SMU does not look intimidated early.  I fact, Villanova still looks like they’re getting over whatever hangover they were nursing that caused them to almost get beaten by Bob Morris.

1:26: Samhan just rooked with that second foul.  I agree with Raftery.  That should have been a no-call.

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RTC Live: West Virginia @ Villanova

Posted by rtmsf on March 6th, 2010

When the Big East scheduled this game back in September, everyone assumed the stakes would include the conference regular season title, the #1 seed in the Big East Conference Tournament and maybe a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Syracuse’s remarkable season has altered the circumstances,  but when West Virginia meets Villanova at the Wachovia Center in downtown Philadelphia on Saturday, the Mountaineers and Wildcats will compete for the #2 seed at Madison Square Garden, with the winner taking the inside track for a #2 in the NCAAs as well. West Virginia, fresh from their 81-68 destruction of Georgetown on Big Monday, is led by senior Da’Sean Butler who scored 22 points in that game. Villanova will counter with a senior of their own, Big East Player of the Year candidate Scottie Reynolds, who scored 17 second half points in Villanova’s 77-73 win over South Florida on Tuesday. Injuries forced West Virginia coach Bob Huggins to develop his “Four Forwards Offense” (Butler, Devin Ebanks, Wellington Smith and Kevin Jones are matched with sophomore guard Darryl Bryant ) to get his five best players on the court. Villanova will counter with two speedy guards (Reynolds and Corey Fisher), a wing (Reggie Redding? Corey Stokes?) and a pair of low post players (Antonio Pena and Mouphtaou Yarou). Can Villanova’s “quicks” compete with West Virginia’s “length”? Join us Saturday at noon, as RTC Live blogs from the Wachovia Center in teh City of Brotherly Love.

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