The Blueprint: How Pittsburgh Can Make the NCAA Tournament

Posted by mlemaire on February 1st, 2012

Less than two weeks ago, Jamie Dixon and his Pittsburgh Panthers had been left for dead in the Big East. After starting the season comfortably ranked in the Top 20 nationally, the Panthers displayed chinks in the armor early in the season, but the wheels didn’t start coming off until they lost to Wagner, at home, right before Christmas. Pitt followed that disappointing loss with seven more disappointing losses in a row and looked absolutely nothing like the program that Dixon and his predecessor Ben Howland had built into a consistent winner.

Ashton Gibbs and Pitt Have Some Work To Do, But It's Possible...

But now, following a gutsy road win over a talented West Virginia team, the Panthers have a pulse, even if it is a faint one. Make no mistake, Pittsburgh’s NCAA Tournament prospects are still really dim, and even if they win out, they will really have only secured themselves a spot on the bubble. But the NCAA Tournament isn’t completely out of the question and that should be a good enough excuse for Pitt fans to start having the discussion anyway.

Let’s start with the obvious. If Pitt is going to make the NCAA Tournament, they will need to win most of if not the rest of their games. Their RPI and Strength of Schedule will both benefit from a grueling conference schedule, so they don’t need to worry about finding marquee wins as much as they need to avoid bad losses. With that said, they absolutely must win their next three games, because a loss to NIT-bound Villanova, bound-to-come-back-to-earth South Florida, or already-sliding Seton Hall would likely doom their Tournament hopes.

Assuming they can will win all three of those games they will at least re-enter the discussion. But there are three more games the Panthers should be circling on their schedule — a rematch with West Virginia at home, a trip to Louisville 10 days later, and a trip to Connecticut for the last home game of the season. There will be games to win in the conference tournament, but it’s hard to believe that anything short of the conference championship would boost Pitt into the NCAA Tournament if they lose once or more at the end of the regular season.

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Night Line: Could Revitalized Pittsburgh Possibly Make the NCAA Tournament?

Posted by EJacoby on January 31st, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC correspondent and regular contributor. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s slate of games.

It’s no secret that Pittsburgh has been a massive disappointment this season, beginning Big East play with a surreal 0-7 record during an overall eight-game losing streak. By failing to meet expectations or excel on the defensive end of the floor, this year’s Panthers are entirely unlike what we usually expect from Jamie Dixon’s teams. But after a 72-66 road win at West Virginia on Monday night, Pitt has now won three straight games and looks like an entirely different team with their starting point guard back from an extended abdominal injury. Pitt is averaging about 17 more points per game in conference games with Tray Woodall than without him, and the Panthers are finally starting to look like the team that was picked to finish fourth in the conference during the preseason. At 14-9 overall and 3-7 in Big East play, Pittsburgh has an incredibly steep hill to climb, but the pieces are in place to make a run for NCAA Tournament consideration.

Tray Woodall is Back and Pittsburgh Looks Like a New Team (AP Photo)

Pitt is used to qualifying for postseason play; they’ve made the Big Dance in 10 consecutive seasons, the longest current streak in the Big East. The Panthers’ 80.1% winning percentage since 2001 is the fourth best in Division I over that span, trailing only Duke, Memphis, and Gonzaga. Dixon has been the head coach for the past nine years, and the Panthers have simply been superbly consistent under his watch. So the fact that Pitt sits at 12th place in the conference right now is a complete shock that nobody saw coming. The eight-game losing streak that they suffered, which began with a home loss to Wagner on December 23 and ended also at home against Louisville on January 21, was twice as long as any during the Dixon era. Losing starting big man Khem Birch to a transfer request and Woodall to injury put the team into a massive tailspin, and they’re just now recovering from it all.

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Set Your TiVo: 01.30.12

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 30th, 2012

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

Pittsburgh finally won two games last week and will look to win its third in a row at the Backyard Brawl in Morgantown. In Austin, Texas looks to stun highly-ranked Missouri. Rankings are subject to change with a new RTC Top 25 coming out today.

Pittsburgh at #22 West Virginia – 7:00 PM EST on ESPN (****)

  • After getting hosed by the referees at Syracuse, West Virginia returns home on Monday night to face rival Pittsburgh. While the Panthers have won two straight games after losing eight in a row, the Mountaineers remain a strong favorite despite Tray Woodall’s return to the Pitt lineup. The Panthers look like a different team with a healthy Woodall in the fold and Bob Huggins’ team will have to come up with a strong defensive effort in order to limit the Pitt point guard from getting into a flow. West Virginia’s two-point defense is not good, ranked #239 in Division I. If Woodall and Ashton Gibbs can get inside, Deniz Kilicli and Kevin Jones will have a hard time defending Nasir Robinson (9-9 FG vs. Georgetown) and Lamar Patterson. West Virginia’s biggest defensive strength is guarding the three-point line (25.9% in Big East play). If the Mountaineers can shut down Gibbs company from deep, they will have an easier time defending the paint and keeping the Panthers off the offensive glass, where they rank #1 in the nation.

    Huggins and the Mountaineers Will Be Fired Up After Their Controversial Loss at Syracuse

  • Pittsburgh’s offense has run much smoother with Woodall back but the biggest change might be defensively. The Panthers held Georgetown to 60 points and 47.5% interior shooting (below Pitt’s 51% in Big East play), something that will be very important against Jones and a West Virginia team that struggles from deep. If Pitt can force Truck Bryant into a bad shooting night (he’s had many of those), the Panthers will be in the game for all 40 minutes. Defending Jones is a very difficult task but Jamie Dixon just might be content to let Jones get his points and focus on shutting down Bryant and West Virginia’s young supporting cast. The Mountaineers need contributions from players like Gary Browne and Jabarie Hinds in order to win consistently.
  • This is the 183rd meeting between these longtime rivals. Pittsburgh won both meetings last year and has won 16 of the last 23. We have a feeling this game will be closer than some might think. The Panthers look like a different team with Woodall back and healthy but West Virginia has the best player on the floor in Jones. Offensive rebounding is going to be the key in this game. Neither team defends the paint well but each crashes the offensive glass with authority. Pittsburgh has had problems with turnovers but that may not be the case with Woodall running the show. If West Virginia can’t create turnovers, it will have to score in the half court against a team playing with some renewed confidence. Call us crazy but we think Pitt has a legitimate chance to win this game. This one will come down to offensive rebounding and the play of Jones and Bryant.

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State Of the Big East Address

Posted by mlemaire on January 27th, 2012

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

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

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

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

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Big East Morning Five: 01.26.12 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on January 26th, 2012

  1. Two accusers have recanted their stories, likely meaning that Bernie Fine won’t face charges but the defamation suit brought against Jim Boeheim rolls on. The question now is whether the suit will be heard in New York City or Onondaga (NY) County. Both arguments make sense, as Boeheim’s accusers are obviously arguing that they can’t get a fair trial because of the coach’s vast support in the Syracuse area. Boeheim’s lawyers want the trial moved because all of the alleged misconduct occurred in Onondaga County. I am no legal eagle, so let’s just wait and see wait happens on this one.
  2. Kevin Jones was excellent again last night, but the rest of his West Virginia teammates were not, and they let St. John’s pull off the easy upset in Madison Square Garden. I am going to call it right now — Jones will be the Big East Player of the Year and a lottery pick. He is that talented. But the rest of his teammates, especially Truck Bryant and Deniz Kilicli have been inconsistent, and that’s why the Mountaineers look great some nights and ugly other nights.
  3. Marquette coach Buzz Williams is now only 303 wins behind the legendary Al McGuire after dominating South Florida on Tuesday. Williams was not the flashy hire after Tom Crean left Milwaukee for Bloomington, but he has turned into an excellent recruiter and coach and as long as he remains at MU, the Golden Eagles will be a consistent NCAA Tournament team.
  4. How about a sarcastic round of applause for a Pittsburgh team that can’t be thrilled that they finally won their first conference game by nearly the start of February. But hey, a win is a win, even if it is against an overmatched Providence team at home. Ashton Gibbs (22 points) was streaky but carried the offensive load and it only took Tray Woodall (17 points, nine assists) one game to get back to being the play-maker he was before his injury.  They have No. 9 Georgetown next at home in the Pete. If ever there was a time to make a run…
  5. Are Seton Hall fans getting nervous yet? The Pirates shot just 26% from the field and star forward Herb Pope was 2-16 in an ugly 55-42 home loss to Notre Dame on Wednesday night. Sports Illustrated‘s Andy Glockner thought Seton Hall’s resume was still good enough to put them in the NCAA Tournament right now, but that resume may be a house of cards by the end of the season.
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Big East Afternoon Five: 01.23.12 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on January 23rd, 2012

  1. You will have to excuse the late posting as I attended the NFC Championship game last night in San Francisco and completely shirked my Morning Five duties, so instead, you folks get an afternoon five. It’s hardly news at this point but No. 1 Syracuse suffered its first loss of the season at the hands of Notre Dame on Saturday. The Orange shot the ball terribly (18-53 for the game) and the Fighting Irish couldn’t miss, especially from behind the arc, but it certainly didn’t help that ‘Cuse center Fab Melo didn’t play in the game due to an academic suspension. ESPN‘s Andy Katz reported that the school hopes to get Melo back in time for next Saturday’s game against West Virginia, which means Syracuse fans shouldn’t be unduly worried. But Jim Boeheim’s squad does play a very good Cincinnati team tonight on the road, and they will need to rebound aggressively to make up for their center’s absence.
  2. After beating Cincinnati in overtime on Saturday, we figured it was time to give Bob Huggins and his West Virginia Mountaineers they credit they deserve, and the Charleston Daily Mail agreed. The Mountaineers were considered a tournament team before the season started, but now they are just a game behind Syracuse in the loss column and angling for a top-four seed in the NCAA Tournament. The team is led by runaway favorite for Big East Player of the Year, Kevin Jones, and volume-scoring point guard Truck Bryant, but they are also getting contributions from freshmen guards Jabarie Hinds and Gary Browne as well. Last week, we argued that it was still early to call the Bearcats the conference’s second-best team; well, it’s still too early to consider the Mountaineers the conference’s second-best team, but they have inserted themselves in the discussion.
  3. Tennessee is an improving team, especially now that they added stud freshman Jarnell Stokes in the middle of the season, but losing to the Volunteers on Saturday was a bad loss for Connecticut and their hopes for a top seed come tournament time. It is never a good thing when two players (Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier) take 35 shots and its even worse when they combine to make just 14 of those shots. Andre Drummond looked like he had turned a corner last week, but Saturday was his second-straight subpar performance and Stokes thoroughly outplayed him on both ends of the floor. Perhaps the most distressing aspect of the loss was that Niels Giffey and Roscoe Smith, two of the players supposed to replace suspended freshman Ryan Boatright‘s offensive production, were basically non-factors. The Huskies desperately need one of those two guys to get going if they are going to get back to their winning ways.
  4. Not too many people expected Louisville‘s Kyle Kuric or Pittsburgh‘s Tray Woodall to suit up when the two teams met on Saturday, but both did, to drastically different results. Kuric buried five three-pointers and finished with 21 points in 33 minutes, while Woodall went 0-5 from the field and had more turnovers (three) than assists (two) in 21 minutes as the Panthers lost and fell to a shocking 0-7 in the conference. Obviously it is good news for both teams that either player even made it onto the court, but it seems clear that Woodall is still a ways off from being 100% and he is arguably more important to Pittsburgh than Kuric is to Louisville. The Cardinals still have enough athletes to fill the scoring void of Kuric, at least in part. But the Panthers need Woodall’s playmaking ability to help the offense and also allow Ashton Gibbs to return to the wing, where he is more effective and more comfortable. It will be interesting to see if Pitt coach Jamie Dixon tries to rush Woodall back in the midst of what is looking like a lost season at this point.
  5. The last of the five is reserved for observations about someone we have already mentioned — UConn freshman Andre Drummond. Physically and athletically, Drummond is a stud. There might not be another player in the country that has his combination of size, strength, athleticism, skill, and speed. You just wouldn’t know it from watching him play recently. Saturday against Tennessee, Drummond managed just six points on eight shots in 31 minutes. And the game before, a loss to Cincy, Drummond had just four points and six rebounds on nine shots. The linked observations make a good point, it is no longer a question of talent, it is a question of desire and consistency. Drummond should not be criticized for his mild-mannered attitude off the court, it is what makes him one of the more refreshing and likable stars in college basketball. But he needs to start being more assertive on the court, and once he does, the rest of the country better look out.
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Big East Morning Five: 01.18.12 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on January 18th, 2012

  1.  Not even a week after former St. John‘s point guard Nurideen Lindsey announced he would transfer to Arkansas, the Johnnies received a point guard transfer of their own in former Texas A&M freshman Jamal Branch. Branch will have three and a half seasons of eligibility left and is a good addition for Steve Lavin. Lindsey’s departure left a void at point guard and Branch, who averaged 4.2 points and 2.5 assists per game in his short stint as an Aggie, will fill that void, even if it takes a little bit of time.
  2. There is very little doubt that Connecticut is going to miss mercurial freshman Ryan Boatright while he sits out because of his second suspension of the year. But as this article points out, his absence represents an excellent opportunity for Roscoe Smith or DeAndre Daniels. The added size in the lineup will help with rebounding and defensive purposes, but either Smith or Daniels will need to become at least a passable offensive threat or else opponents will continue to harass Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier.
  3. Brendan Prunty of the Newark Star-Ledger had an excellent article on Seton Hall point guard Jordan Theodore and how he is within reach of the school’s single season assist record. It also tells the tale of the current record-holder Golden Sunkett, whose awesome name I have admittedly never heard before. The story isn’t just straight news and that’s what makes it great; it is definitely worth a read.
  4. I wonder how many people thought the Khem Birch leaving Pittsburgh story was all the way done. Those people were proved wrong the other night when Birch sounded off to a radio station about his former teammates and coach Jamie Dixon. Birch says a lot and only those close to the team know whether any of it has some validity, but I doubt we will ever find out the answer. Ashton Gibbs gave the remarks an obligatory dismissal and I feel like I must say, Birch’s remarks about not being embraced seem rather arrogant.
  5. In honor of Syracuse’s record-setting 19-0 start, here is a column about Jim Boeheim, Adolph Rupp, and the former’s career that eventually surpassed the latter’s. We give credit where credit is due, and Boeheim has dealt with immense adversity this season and his team has remained focused and perfect. That is some darn good coaching.
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Checking In On… The Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 16th, 2012

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

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • Syracuse A Cut Above: With wins over Villanova and Providence this week, Syracuse has moved its record to 19-0 (6-0), equaling the best start in school history (1999-2000). On Monday night, the Orange will try to move to 20-0 for the first time ever when they host Pittsburgh, a team they have lost to five straight times. With 12 games remaining, people are starting to wonder if Syracuse can run the table. It would be a surprise if Jim Boeheim’s team lost at home to anyone, despite visits by Georgetown and Connecticut to the Dome in February. On the road, possible tough trips to Cincinnati, Connecticut, and Louisville appear to be the only obstacles standing in the way of an undefeated season. Syracuse has a 13.7% chance of going 31-0, according to the Pomeroy ratings, but I would put it higher. I think the Orange have a 40% chance to go all the way and those odds are getting better each and every day.
  • Connecticut Back On Track: After consecutive losses to Seton Hall and Rutgers almost two weeks ago, some had wondered if this Connecticut team would ever live up to its preseason billing as a top-five team. While I doubt that is true, the Huskies responded in a big way this past week by defeating West Virginia and Notre Dame. UConn used a 17-3 second half run, sparked by a Jim Calhoun technical, to overcome a ten-point deficit against the Mountaineers before going on the road and snapping Notre Dame’s 29-game home court winning streak. Andre Drummond had a terrific week, but the bigger story might be Alex Oriakhi showing signs of improvement. The junior forward had been in a season-long slump but managed to score 20 points this week, including a 12/7 performance in the win against the Fighting Irish.  However, there was some bad news mixed in for UConn last week. Ryan Boatright was suspended by the NCAA on Friday night for the second time over eligibility concerns.
  • Pittsburgh and Louisville Embarrassed: Raise your hand if you predicted these scores at the beginning of the year: Providence 90, Louisville 59. Rutgers 62, Pittsburgh 39 (at Pitt). Two of the power programs in the conference were waxed by two perennial bottom-feeders, all part of what has been an unpredictable season in the Big East. Louisville has lost four of six while Pitt is in more dire straits having lost six consecutive games. That could easily be seven in a row after the Panthers return from Syracuse tomorrow night. The good news for both teams? They bounced back and played fairly well in games on Saturday with the Cardinals disposing of DePaul and the Panthers nearly stealing an impressive road win at Marquette. Pitt lost the game, but Jamie Dixon had to have picked up some encouraging vibes from that performance. Pittsburgh and Louisville will get together this Saturday in the Steel City.

 

Ask The Never-Satisfied Jim Boeheim What He Thinks Of His Team's Chances At An Undefeated Season, And This Will Likely Be His Reaction. (Frank Ordoñez / The Post-Standard)

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (19-0, 6-0) – This team just keeps on chugging along and nobody has really threatened the Orange in a big way this season. There have been close calls here and there (Stanford, Florida, and Marquette), but Syracuse is a cut above every other team in this conference. As I mentioned above, I believe there is a good chance this team runs the table in conference play. Dion Waiters scored 20 points at Villanova, part of 47 bench points for the Orange, compared to 32 for the starters. Syracuse held the Wildcats to 33% shooting on their home floor at the Wells Fargo Center. Against Providence, it was all Orange from the start. Syracuse had 12 steals and forced 22 Friar turnovers. Scoop Jardine played like a quality point guard, scoring ten points but dishing out nine assists. The Orange blocked ten Providence shots and shot 73% in the second stanza. Syracuse continues to rank in the top ten in both offensive and defensive efficiency, but the Achilles heel for this team seems to be rebounding specifically on the defensive end. The Orange rank #307 in defensive rebounding percentage, but I don’t anticipate that being a major problem until tournament time. This week: 1/16 vs. Pittsburgh, 1/21 @ Notre Dame. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… The Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 9th, 2012

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

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • Top Tier Chaos: As you see in the poll question, it’s awfully hard to rank the top half of this league right now. Syracuse is the clear #1 by a wide margin, but the second spot is up for grabs between six teams: Seton Hall and West Virginia are playing the best basketball but Connecticut, Georgetown, Marquette, and Louisville remain threats. Big East teams always beat each other up in conference, play but that usually happens in the middle of the league. This year, it is happening at the top. One thing is for sure: the race for second place will be an up-and-down affair over the next two months.
  • UConn Hates Jersey: Before Tuesday, Connecticut had won 21 combined games in a row against Seton Hall and Rutgers. After Saturday, the Huskies headed back up the New Jersey Turnpike with two losses to Jersey’s Big East teams. Kevin Willard has his team rolling at 14-2 and absolutely crushed the Huskies on Tuesday night in Newark while Mike Rice continued to show signs of improvement in a 67-60 win Saturday night in Piscataway. As Jeff Borzello put it on Twitter, the North Jersey road trip has become a whole lot tougher. If St. John’s can get back to where it was last year and Seton Hall and Rutgers continue to improve, New York City-area basketball could be on the verge of a renaissance.
  • Seton Hall Ranked?: We will see what happens on Monday, but Seton Hall is on the verge of a top 25 ranking for the first time since January 30, 2001. That year, the Pirates were headed in the opposite direction, out of the top 25 after a preseason top ten ranking. Tommy Amaker (now at Harvard) had signed a ballyhooed freshman class highlighted by the late Eddie Griffin, Andre Barrett, and Marcus Toney-El, but it all fell apart for the Pirates as they finished 16-15 and lost in the first round of the NIT to Alabama. Seton Hall came close to a ranking in 2004, but never made it into the poll. This time around, the Pirates are 14-2 (3-1) with wins over VCU and St. Joe’s on a neutral floor and Dayton on the road, in addition to West Virginia and Connecticut at home. The Hall is in position for a terrific seed in the NCAA Tournament if it keeps up this level of play and Kevin Willard, along with John Thompson III and Jim Boeheim, has to be among the top contenders for Big East Coach of the Year. The Pirates were picked 13th in the preseason Big East coaches poll. 

Good Things Come In Threes For Seton Hall (Jim O'Conner/US Presswire)

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (17-0, 4-0) – Marquette put a second-half scare into the Orange at the Carrier Dome on Saturday, but Syracuse made the winning plays down the stretch to hang on. Syracuse remains a juggernaut and an easy (by Big East standards) road schedule awaits. Syracuse already went to DePaul and Providence and has trips to Villanova, Notre Dame, Cincinnati, St. John’s, and Rutgers on the schedule. Quite frankly, that sequence is a joke for a team everyone knew would be at or near the top of the league. I realize this team has a target on its back every night, but the only true road tests for the Orange could be at Louisville and Connecticut in February. Syracuse shot 61% for the game at Providence on Wednesday, placing six players in double figures. No Syracuse player took over eight shots, a testament to this team’s depth and balance. Scoop Jardine had 11 assists and only one turnover in the victory. Against Marquette, Syracuse jumped out to a huge lead but let the Golden Eagles climb back in it. Dion Waiters was the spark off the bench yet again, totaling 12 points and seven assists. The Orange shot only 39% at home against MU, but escaped with the win. This week: 1/11 @ Villanova, 1/14 vs. Providence.
  2. Georgetown (13-2, 3-1) – Let the controversy begin. Truth be told, ten different people could very well come up with ten different ways to rank the top seven teams in the Big East. Despite losing at West Virginia and struggling for the balance of the game against Marquette, I’m moving the Hoyas up to the second spot. Why? It has more to do with the performances of Louisville, Connecticut and Marquette rather than Georgetown itself. After all, the Hoyas did beat a good team (Marquette) this week, something none of the aforementioned three teams can say. The Hoyas overcame a 17-point deficit against Marquette, led by Jason Clark‘s 26 points. That 26 could have been 30+ if Clark made his free throws (6-13 from the stripe). Hollis Thompson also added 16 points on 6-7 shooting as Georgetown shot a sizzling 63% against the Golden Eagle defense. Against West Virginia, Georgetown allowed the Mountaineers to shoot 50% but the Hoyas couldn’t convert from deep (2-14 3FG). Thompson led the way with 20 points, but it wasn’t enough on the road. Regardless of what the rankings may have said coming into the game, I’m not going to hammer the Hoyas for losing at West Virginia, an extremely difficult place to play. Believe it or not, I don’t think Georgetown is as good as its resume. That may sound confusing but I’m not sure Georgetown is as good as its record. However, the Hoyas may not lose again until early February if they play to their potential. A relatively soft stretch begins this week. This week: 1/9 vs. Cincinnati, 1/15 @ St. John’s. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East Morning Five: 01.03.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on January 3rd, 2012

  1. Cincinnati had an encouraging week, earning victories over Oklahoma and on the road at Pittsburgh. One of the key elements of the Bearcats’ success has been sophomore sharpshooter Sean Kilpatrick, who was recognized for his efforts as the Big East Player of the Week. Kilpatrick averaged 18 points and eight rebounds on the week. To the surprise of no one Rutgers’ Eli Carter is the Big East Rookie of the Week. Carter made big shot after big shot en route to a career-high 31 points in the Scarlet Knights’ upset victory over then #10 Florida. He followed that performance up with 23 points and five steals in a two point loss at South Florida. Big East Honor Roll recipients for this week are: West Virginia’s Darryl “Truck” Bryant who netted a career-high 34 points in a win over Villanova. The 34 points ties Bryant with Providence’s Bryce Cotton for the single game scoring high among Big East players; Notre Dame sophomore guard Alex Dragicevich who scored a game-high 22 points in the Irish’s upset victory over Pittsburgh; St. John’s freshman Moe Harkless was trumped by Carter for Rookie of the Week honors, but he made a case, dropping 32 points on Providence to go with 13 rebounds in his first Big East game. The 32 points represented a record for Big East debuts; Connecticut’s Jeremy Lamb continues to lead the Huskies in scoring after averaging 19 points per game in his team’s two wins; Syracuse’s Fab Melo capped of a break out week with a spot on the Honor Roll. The sophomore big man set a school record with 10 blocks in a win over Seton Hall. Melo nearly turned his block party into a triple-double in that game, adding 12 points (career-high) and seven rebounds.
  2. Big East play started this past week which meant some inevitable poll shifting given increase in overall competition. Syracuse (15-0) however showed no signs of relinquishing its hold on the top spot as they rolled to wins over Seton Hall and DePaul. Louisville (12-2) lost both of its highly anticipated match-ups with #9 Georgetown and #2 Kentucky and slipped seven spots to #11 as a result.  After the win over Louisville, Georgetown (12-1) firmed up its top ten status when the Hoyas grinded out a victory over Providence on Saturday.  Marquette (12-2) fell six spots to #20 after they were handled by Vanderbilt. Connecticut (12-1) has won seven in a row and was rewarded with a #8 ranking, up one from last week.  The Huskies have an interesting week coming up as they hit the road to take on Seton Hall tonight and Rutgers on Saturday. Pittsburgh (11-4), losers of three straight dropped out of the polls after being ranked #22 last week.  The Panthers were not completely shut out of the voting however, receiving eight votes. Cincinnati (11-3), one of the contributors to Pittsburgh’s slide, is riding a six-game winning streak of its own and fittingly received six votes while Seton Hall (12-2) grabbed two.
  3. Following their loss to Cincinnati on Sunday, Pittsburgh fell to 0-2 in Big East play for the first time since the 1999-2000 season. They are permanently without their starting center, Khem Birch, who is transferring. They have lost three in a row. Panic time? While things appear to be a bit chaotic for the Panthers at the moment, getting point guard Travon Woodall back healthy would go a long way toward getting the Panthers back on track. Woodall has missed seven of the last eight games while trying to recover from a torn abdominal muscle and strained groin. His only action came in the form of 18 ineffective minutes against Notre Dame (0 points on 0-5 shooting, 0 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 turnovers). Woodall was off to a great start prior to the injury, averaging 14.1 points and, most importantly, 8.3 assists per game.  His absence has meant more responsibility for freshman John Johnson, who showed well in the Cincinnati loss with five assists but was tagged with a key offensive foul in clutch time. Perhaps more telling is the play of preseason Big East Player of the Year Ashton Gibbs. Gibbs has been forced to play the point which has taken away from his productivity, particularly in the shooting department. With all credit and thanks to pittblather.com for these stats: Before Woodall’s injury Gibbs was hitting 42.9% of his three-pointers. The rest of the team was even better at an incredible 48.8%. Since Woodall’s injury Gibbs is down to 28.3% and his teammates have plummeted to 24.4%.
  4. Pittsburgh transfer Khem Birch will start 2012 by racking up some frequent flyer miles. Birch will embark upon a week full of visits in his quest to find a new basketball home. According to multiple reports, he will be on Florida’s campus today followed by a trip to New Mexico State tomorrow and UNLV on Friday. New Mexico State’s inclusion on this list may surprise some but perhaps it should not. One big reason for Birch’s consideration of the Aggies is his 7’4” friend, Sim Bhullar. Bhullar is a fellow Canadian who was headed to Xavier before decommitting due academic reasons. He subsequently enrolled at New Mexico State and plans to play next season. Further the Aggies have five Canadians on their current squad. ESPN’s Dave Telep reported Birch also plans to visit Gonzaga and Oregon State. Washington and Xavier have also been reported as having interest. Because Birch will have to sit out two semesters upon transfer, it is likely he will decide in the next two weeks so he can enroll for the spring semester and start the clock ticking.
  5. Not that they needed it, but Seton Hall may have an extra bit of motivation heading into their home match-up with #8 Connecticut, courtesy of UConn freshman Andre Drummond. When Drummond was asked about Seton Hall senior center Herb Pope he said, “I don’t even know who [Pope] is. I’m not trying to be disrespectful. They said the name to me in practice and I was like `Wait, who’s Herb Pope?'” In Drummond’s defense, he is a freshman and this is his first time facing the Pope and the Pirates. However, while Seton Hall may not have the exposure or pedigree of Connecticut, Pope certainly requires no introduction. He is a Big East Player of the Year candidate. Pope is averaging 18.6 points and 10.9 rebounds per game and is the Big East’s active career double-double leader with 27. Further, on the day before a game one would think Drummond would have been exposed to enough scouting and game prep to know the name of the person he would be matched up against. It will be an interesting introduction tonight at the Prudential Center.
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Set Your TiVo: 12.27.11

Posted by bmulvihill on December 27th, 2011

Brendon Mulvihill is an RTC contributor. You can find him @themulv on Twitter.  See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

As we head into conference season, we will focus on two games that feature four teams that need a quality win to kick off the “second season”.

Jamie Dixon Needs Someone To Step Up Against Notre Dame

Pittsburgh @ Notre Dame – 7:00 PM EST on ESPN2 HD (***)
  • Without point guard Travon Woodall (currently listed as a game-time decision), Pitt is a two-man team.  Ashton Gibbs and Nasir Robinson have taken 41% of the teams field goal attempts. Luckily, the level of competition the team has faced since the Woodall injury has not been stellar. However, they ran into a tough Wagner team last Friday that gave the Panthers their second home loss to a mid-major team this season. Gibbs is only shooting 38.5% from two-point range and shoots an equal amount of two-point and three-point attempts (just over 100 from each). Robinson is shooting much better from inside the arc, hitting 68.9% of his two-point attempts. To grind out a few more wins prior to Woodall’s return, Jamie Dixon’s team will need to get help from someone other than Gibbs and Robinson. Keep an eye on who steps up against Notre Dame. If a third scorer does not emerge, the pressure on those two may be too much.
  • Notre Dame is in desperate need of a win against a quality opponent. Through 13 games this season, they have zero wins against a school from a major conference. They have lost to Missouri, Georgia, Gonzaga, Maryland, and Indiana. While the Notre Dame offense ranks in the top 50 in efficiency, they have managed to shoot 50% eFG or under in 7 of their 13 games – going 2-5 in those games. Pitt has only allowed three of its opponents to shoot over 50% eFG. In more bad news for Mike Brey’s team, the Panthers are #1 in the country in offensive rebounding percentage and 29th in defensive rebounding percentage. Both areas are weak spots for the Irish. Since the Irish may be catching Pitt in one of its last gamess without its point guard, it is a perfect time for them to pick up a quality win at home. However, they will have to play a lot better than they have played all season.
  • Notre Dame must figure out a way to hit more shots and grab more rebounds. Unfortunately, Pitt is stronger in both areas. Keep a close eye on the Panthers’ rebounding numbers and field goal defense. If they win in those areas and get some contribution from another source than Gibbs and Robinson, they will win. The Irish must keep Pitt a two-man show, if they are to have a shot in this one.

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Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 27th, 2011

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

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • A Pair of Upsets: How many of you had Wagner winning at Pittsburgh? The Seahawks won their first game against a ranked team since P.J. Carlesimo was the head coach at the school in the late 1970’s, knocking off the Panthers 59-54. Even without point guard Tray Woodall, this is not a game Pittsburgh should have lost. While Ashton Gibbs certainly has to carry more of the load, his shooting has been sub-par this entire season. Against Wagner, the senior Big East Preseason POY shot 5-16 from the floor and 1-7 from deep, dropping his field goal percentage to 37.7% on the year. Usually one of the most efficient teams in the country, Pittsburgh was held to a stunning 89.2 efficiency rating against Wagner. Previously, Pitt’s season low had been 101.7 in a win over La Salle. Last Monday, LSU surprised Marquette in Baton Rouge, downing the previously undefeated Golden Eagles by a score of 67-59. While LSU isn’t an awful team, Marquette allowed the Tigers to shoot 53.5% for the game, something that has to concern Buzz Williams given how well Marquette has played defensively. If Marquette wants to contend for a conference title, it has to defend night in and night out.
  • Non-Conference Play Winds Down: There are 152 games remaining with Big East teams involved and 144 of those (94.7%) will be conference games. Four of the eight remaining non-conference games will take place over the coming week, so you can bet we here at RTC are more than ready to transition into conference play. As we head into the new calendar year, four Big East teams seem to be contenders while another four or five are in contention for NCAA bids. The bottom of the conference is broader and weaker than usual, with at least four and possibly six teams incapable of mounting a run at a bid. As to who wins the league (my poll question above), I am sticking with my preseason pick of Syracuse. The Orange go a legitimate ten deep and, while they do not have a superstar, they are strong defensively and play with great energy. Connecticut may be more talented and Louisville may play harder, but Syracuse is the best team in my estimation. I would love to hear the readers’ take (on this or anything else) in the poll above or in the comments section below.
  • Bob Huggins Wins His 700th Game: It took a crazy Gary Browne three-pointer to force overtime, but West Virginia was able to knock off Missouri State on Thursday night for Coach Huggins’ 700th career victory. He’s now in select company with the likes of Lefty Driesell, Lute Olson, Lou Henson, Henry Iba, Phog Allen and, Norm Stewart in the 700 club. Currently 58 years old and under contract with West Virginia through the 2018-19 season, Huggins has a chance to approach 900 wins if he stays healthy. After winning #700, he joins Jim Boeheim and Jim Calhoun as the only active Big East coaches to win at least 700 games. He is fourth on the active list of all-time wins, trailing his two Big East peers as well as Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.

The Hoyas Have Outperformed Preseason Projections Thanks To Two Wins Over Memphis And A Big Road Victory In Tuscaloosa. (Richard Lipski/AP)

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (13-0) – Among many other things, Syracuse has done a terrific job in turnover margin. The Orange lead the Big East by a wide margin in that department and rank in the top ten nationally in both offensive and defensive turnover percentage. Fueled by Dion Waiters off the bench, the Syracuse transition attack has been sensational. Big East play begins this week with a visit from upstart Seton Hall followed by a trip to DePaul. Surprisingly, Syracuse was out-rebounded by Tulane, including 15-9 on the offensive glass. This week: 12/28 vs. Seton Hall, 1/1 @ DePaul.
  2. Louisville (12-0) – It hasn’t been easy, but Louisville just keeps winning. The Cardinals trailed Charleston and Western Kentucky this week before putting those teams away late in the game. Against Charleston, Rick Pitino made a great adjustment late in the game by putting the more versatile Kyle Kuric at the free throw line to attack the Charleston zone instead of Gorgui Dieng.  Dieng still had a great week, going for 14/12 against the Cougars and 13/15 against the Hilltoppers. Louisville ranks fourth nationally in defensive efficiency, but its offense continues to be a work in progress. As I said in this spot last week, the longer the Cardinals can keep winning before getting their roster back to full strength, the better. This week offers a huge test against two teams that can really put the ball in the basket. This week: 12/28 vs. #15 Georgetown, 12/31 @ #2 Kentucky. Read the rest of this entry »
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