We Hardly Knew Ye: South Florida’s Regression Has Begun

Posted by mlemaire on November 27th, 2012

Coming off a season in which they won their first-ever NCAA Tournament games and finished sixth in one of the premier conferences in the country, hopes were high for South Florida this year with some even predicting the Bulls would find their way into the NCAA Tournament again this season. But now, six games into the season, it hasn’t taken very long for all the air to rush out of the USF balloon. Despite playing one of the easiest schedules in all of Division I college basketball to date, the Bulls have stumbled to a 4-2 record and needed a late rally Monday night to put away Stetson, a mediocre team from the Atlantic Sun that, ironically, may be the Bulls’ best opponent so far. The team’s two losses are unsightly as well. A loss to Central Florida in the season opener could be overlooked, but losing to Western Michigan, 58-53, has many folks flinging themselves from the bandwagon as quickly as they jumped on.

It Has Not Been A Fun Start To The Season For Stan Heath (Photo credit: US Presswire)

Unfortunately for the Bulls, the schedule is really only starting to pick up. Georgia comes to town Friday for the SEC/Big East Challenge and after that coach Stan Heath and company head to Stillwater where they will play the balanced and extremely talented Oklahoma State Cowboys.  After that, they will also have to get through an underrated George Mason team and a rematch at Central Florida around the turn of the new year, and if the Bulls don’t start to pick it up immediately, their NCAA Tournament hopes could be in serious jeopardy before Big East play even begins.

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Tipping Off The Big East Countdown: #10 South Florida

Posted by Dan Lyons on October 22nd, 2012

After starting the year at #14 in Big East preseason coaches poll, the USF Bulls went an astounding 12-6 in conference last year and earned a berth in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, the school’s first in 20 years. The Bulls went on to defeat Cal in one of the First Four games and Temple in the Round of 64 before losing to the upstart Ohio Bobcats in the next round, but overall, last season was a year of almost unprecedented success for Bulls basketball. The school loses a few key players this year, but they’re getting much more respect this preseason with a #8 spot in the 2012-13 preseason coaches poll.

2011-12 Record: 22-14, 12-6

2011-12 Postseason: NCAA Tournament (Third Round)

How will Stan Heath’s young Bulls squad respond to increased expectations in 2012-13?

Schedule

The Bulls should be able to compile a number of wins before entering Big East play as their non-conference schedule is not the most daunting. USF opens with rival and future Big East foe UCF at home on November 10, before returning the favor with a road game in Orlando right before conference play opens in a rare non-conference home-and-home series. USF also takes on Georgia and George Mason at home and Oklahoma State on the road. In conference play, USF has home-and-home series with Villanova, Louisville, Marquette, and Connecticut.

Who’s In

USF brings in a lot of new yet experienced faces to plug in some holes this season. Senior forward Kore White should see immediate playing time in the frontcourt. The 6’8″, 241 lb. White transfers in from Florida Atlantic where he averaged 7.7 points and 4.5 rebounds in just over 23 minutes per game last season. Guard Martino Brock is also eligible to play after sitting out a year following his transfer from South Alabama, where he scored 14.2 points per game two seasons ago. Sophomore Musa Abdul-Aleem comes in from Georgia Perimeter College as a junior college transfer. Both Brock and Abdul-Aleem are big (6’5″) and physical guards, which should allow them to fit in well in the rugged Big East conference. Both are expected to see a lot of playing time due to their defensive contributions.

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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Third Round – Sunday

Posted by EJacoby on March 18th, 2012

RTC Region correspondents Brian Otskey (East), Kevin Doyle (South), Evan Jacoby (Midwest) and Andrew Murawa (West) contributed to this preview.

#3 Georgetown vs. #11 N.C. State – Midwest Region Third Round (at Columbus, OH) – 12:15 PM ET on CBS

Thompson's Team is a Real Wildcard in this Region

We originally picked Georgetown to get upset in the round of 64 by Belmont, but that was with knowledge that the Hoyas could be the biggest threat to stopping Kansas from reaching the Elite Eight if they were able to escape that opening game. Not only did Georgetown escape, but it was one of the most impressive showings of any team in the tournament thus far. The Hoyas used their length and athleticism to deny the efficient Belmont offense from ever getting started, and they were unreal at their own end offensively with a 61.2% field goal percentage for the game. This matchup will be more difficult, however, against an North Carolina State team that’s getting better every game and playing spectacular offensively. The Wolfpack have great size inside to match Georgetown, with C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell as long and athletic as any Hoya. Howell had his best game of the season with 22 points on 10-12 shooting last game, but that will also change as he goes up against much stronger post defenders. Georgetown primarily plays zone defense but will also switch things up and defend man-to-man when needed. It will be a battle inside all night as the Hoyas surely won’t let Scott Wood get open looks from three. This game, though, will be decided on the other end of the floor. NC State was not particularly strong defensively throughout the year, but they completely shut down San Diego State on Friday by allowing just 37.7% field goal shooting. The Aztecs played a lot of one-on-one ball, the exact opposite of what the Hoyas will show. It’ll be up to Henry Sims to make smart decisions in the high post, something he’s done all year. Jason Clark was great last game and is a reliable playmaker in this game, while Otto Porter remains rock solid as an X-factor offensively. Both of these teams looked great last round, but Georgetown has the advantage because it should pose a much greater defensive threat to the Wolfpack while also running a motion offense that will be difficult to defend.

The RTC Certified Pick: Georgetown

#1 Michigan State vs. #9 Saint Louis – West Region Third Round (at Columbus, OH) – 2:45 PM ET on CBS

Two top ten teams in defensive efficiency. Two coaches with a well-earned reputation for X-ing and O-ing with the best of them. It isn’t likely to be one of the prettiest displays of basketball you’ll ever see, but if you like fundamentals and you like basketball as chess match, this is a can’t-miss game. The Billikens advanced to this round behind great team defense and great individual offensive performances by Kwamain Mitchell (22 points including four threes) and Brian Conklin (16 points, earned largely from his ten-of-11 performance from the line). But Conklin also turned the ball over eight times, in part due to the active hands of Memphis defenders; he’ll see more of that on Sunday and will need to take better care of the ball. Defensively, the Billikens will need to come up with some sort of answer for Draymond Green, who was brilliant Friday against Long Island, registering a triple-double with 24 points, 12 rebounds and ten assists. But perhaps the biggest battle of the game will be on Michigan State’s offensive glass. The Spartans have historically made a living creating offensive on second-chance opportunities, but the best Rick Majerus-coached teams have been proficient in securing defensive rebounds. If the Billikens can limit the Spartans’ offensive rebounding (a feat easier said than done), Tom Izzo will need to find other ways for his Spartans to score in the halfcourt, and there have been times this year when that MSU offense has bogged down a bit. While sophomore guard Keith Appling is usually excellent getting penetration, SLU is no liable to allow that very often, and there is no one else on the Spartan roster capable of creating his own offense off the dribble on a regular basis. Guys like Green, Brandon Wood and Austin Thornton have been very efficient three-point shooters, but, with the exception perhaps of Green, they need someone to create open looks for them. In short, if SLU can do what no other team has been able to do all year – keep Michigan State in check on their offensive glass – then the Billikens could drag this game down into the mud and pull out a win. But, if the Spartans do what, you know, they always do, I have a hard time seeing Saint Louis pulling this one out.

The RTC Certified Pick: Michigan State

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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Second Round – Friday Evening

Posted by EJacoby on March 16th, 2012

RTC Region correspondents Brian Otskey (East), Kevin Doyle (South), Evan Jacoby (Midwest) and Andrew Murawa (West) contributed to this preview.

#8 Memphis vs. #9 Saint Louis – West Region Second Round (at Columbus, OH) – 6:50 PM ET on TBS

Nice to See Rick Majerus Back in the Dance (AP)

It may be an 8/9 game, but according to advanced metrics, this is anything but your typical 8/9 game. Both teams are among the top 15 teams in the country according to Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, outscoring opponents by about 0.2 points per possession over the course of the season. Still, looking back over the schedules, the Billikens’ only have four wins over NCAA Tournament teams (Vermont, St. Bonaventure and two over Xavier), while the Tigers have just three (Belmont, Southern Miss and Xavier) – not exactly stunning resumes. However, SLU head coach Rick Majerus is no stranger to NCAA Tournament success, and his ability to scout and gameplan for an opponent is legendary. And while Memphis is used to playing at a fast tempo, you can bet Majerus will effectively slow this game down, using 25 seconds or more on every offensive possession, mostly forgoing any attempts at offensive rebounds in an effort to get back on defense, and making Memphis score over a stingy SLU defense. While Memphis has been killing teams over the past month or so, the two games they’ve lost have been down-tempo affairs (UTEP and Southern Miss), and if they get frustrated against the deliberate Billiken pace, it could spell an early end to the Memphis season. Still, the Tigers will have a significant athletic advantage and while Majerus has a decent matchup for lightning quick guard Joe Jackson in the form of Kwamain Mitchell (and Jordair Jett), it remains to be seen how effective they will be against sophomore win Will Barton. If Barton can find space inside the SLU perimeter defense, he could create serious problems. Of course, that’s a big if.

The RTC Certified Pick: Saint Louis

#2 Duke vs. #15 Lehigh – South Region Second Round (at Greensboro, NC) – 7:15 PM ET on CBS

Located less than an hour’s drive from Cameron Indoor, Duke will do battle with Patriot League champion Lehigh in what is practically a home game for the Blue Devils. Duke is limping into the NCAA Tournament have lost two of their last three games, one of these losses coming in blowout fashion against arch rival North Carolina. Despite having many holes on the defensive end and Ryan Kelly uncertain for the game against Lehigh, Duke does have one of the more potent offensives in the tournament. Austin Rivers and Seth Curry can score from virtually anywhere on the floor, and the Plumlee brothers make for a formidable frontcourt. It is not often that a Patriot League team can put a player on the floor that has the ability to go shot-for- with one of the best teams in the nation, but C.J. McCollum will prove he belongs running side by side with Austin Rivers. The junior guard from Canton, OH ranks top ten nationally in scoring and has the ability to take over a game for long stretches. Although Duke will no doubt focus much of their effort on the defensive end on McCollum, it is no secret that the Blue Devils struggle guarding around the perimeter. McCollum will get his points, but it is just a question if his teammates will be able to follow suit. If Lehigh gets production from Gabe Knutson and Holden Greiner, don’t be surprised if the Mountain Hawks hang with Duke for much of the game.

The RTC Certified Pick: Duke

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The Eye Test: South Florida Edition

Posted by rtmsf on February 23rd, 2012

Danny Connors is a RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Syracuse-South Florida game on Wednesday night.

South Florida didn’t have an ideal start to its season. The Bulls went 7-6 in its non-conference slate with losses to Old Dominion, Virginia Commonwealth and Penn State. The NCAA tournament seemed like an unlikely destination for the program. Now that Jawanza Poland, Anthony Collins and Augustus Gilchrist are all back, this squad has a different feel and look. South Florida doesn’t have a decisive resume-building win, but they’ve been beating up on the lower half of the Big East. After a tough 56-48 loss against Syracuse, the Bulls are tied in fourth place with Georgetown with a 10-5 Big East record.

Against first-place Syracuse, USF looked like a Tournament team. The Bulls opened the game on a 20-9 run. They kept SU out of transition and were hitting shots. To USF’s advantage, the game had no flow and the usually boisterous crowd was quiet. But then Syracuse showed some “spurtability” in the form of a 26-0 run over 12 minutes. The momentum that USF had to start the game quickly disappeared. It seemed as if they would be the next team to leave the Carrier Dome with a blowout loss.

Stan Heath Has His South Florida Squad In The Thick Of The NCAA Bubble Talk (AP)

The Bulls showed toughness, though. They cut the lead to one with six minutes left in the game. Despite not scoring for 11:52, USF almost beat Syracuse and head coach Stan Heath thinks that proves something. “You play the number two team on their home floor and you’re right there with them, I think that tells you a little bit about our team,” he said. Since December 28, Heath’s squad is one of just four teams in the country that hasn’t lost to an unranked team, which not coincidentally is when his roster was finally fully healed. The Bulls face Cincinnati, Louisville and West Virginia to end the season, so they have more chances to bolster their NCAA resume.

Here’s what you need to know about this USF team as they try to make their case for the tournament:

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Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 13th, 2012

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

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

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

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

Power Rankings

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

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 6th, 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

  • Fab Melo Returns: After missing three games due to an academic issue, Fab Melo returned to the Syracuse lineup Saturday afternoon in New York. Melo scored a career-high 14 points in 21 minutes but, more importantly, changed the dynamic of Syracuse on both ends of the floor. Melo’s return adds some rebounding, opens up the middle for others to drive and score/dish and gives the Orange a defensive anchor in the middle of their zone. Melo doesn’t block every shot, but he alters a very high number. With the Brazilian big man roaming the paint, Syracuse is a legitimate national championship contender, something that was plainly evident on Saturday. Despite a backloaded schedule coming into view over the next few weeks, I’d be surprised if Syracuse loses another regular season game.
  • Pittsburgh Is Back: Oh Jamie Dixon, why did we doubt you? We should have known better. After starting the conference season 0-7, Pittsburgh has won four straight games and is actually in a position to make a run at the NCAA Tournament. The Panthers’ resurgence has been keyed by the return of Tray Woodall and better play defensively. Woodall scored a career-high 29 points against Villanova on Sunday and the Panthers held the Wildcats to 36% shooting. That’s the Pittsburgh defense we’ve grown accustomed to over the years and if it keeps up, Pittsburgh will go dancing. Pitt faces a crucial week. It must take at least one (preferably both) road game of the two at South Florida and Seton Hall between now and Sunday. If the Panthers can get both, they’ll be 6-7 with three of their final five games at home. I actually feel safe saying something that would have been considered outrageous just two weeks ago: I believe Pittsburgh will be in the NCAA Tournament.

Fab Melo's Importance To The Orange Was On Full Display Last Week

  • Order Being Restored: Pittsburgh has won four straight. Seton Hall has lost six straight. South Florida lost by 30 at Georgetown on Saturday. Louisville has turned it around. All of that tells you something, doesn’t it? The Big East is shuffling back into place as we head into the home stretch of the season. While the Pirates and Bulls were nice early-season surprises and feel-good stories, reality has set in. Seton Hall was ranked in the top 25 as recently as January 9, but hasn’t won a game since a victory over DePaul the following day. The Pirates are anemic offensively and can hardly shoot 30% against any opponent. I wrote a piece last week about what has gone wrong at the Hall, but it shows no signs of stopping this tailspin anytime soon. South Florida remains at 6-4, but four of its final seven games are on the road as the schedule stiffens. The Bulls will play Pittsburgh twice, Syracuse, Cincinnati, Louisville and West Virginia down the stretch. Expect their 6-4 record to turn into something like 8-10 rather quickly. Even if that happens, it has still been a successful season for Stan Heath and his team. Nobody expected them to win even six or seven league games.

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (23-1, 10-1) – What a difference one player makes. Syracuse played only once last week, but Fab Melo’s return sparked the Orange to dunk-filled 95-70 win over hapless St. John’s at Madison Square Garden. The win, Jim Boeheim’s 879th, pulled him into a tie with legendary North Carolina coach Dean Smith for third place on the all-time wins list. Boeheim has this team humming right along and it shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. Syracuse scored 53 bench points against the Red Storm, once again showing off its incredible depth and talent. Michael Carter-Williams electrified the Garden crowd with this dunk while C.J. Fair, Dion Waiters and Kris Joseph also played very well for the Orange. Syracuse shot 56% for the game. The schedule gets tougher in February but Syracuse should be favored in every game from here on out. This week: 2/8 vs. #15 Georgetown, 2/11 vs. Connecticut. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 23rd, 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
  • Number One Goes Down:  For the seventh time, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish took down a top-ranked team in the Joyce Center, knocking off Syracuse 67-58. Despite all of that prior success, the Irish hadn’t beaten a #1 team at home in 25 years. That didn’t matter on Saturday night. Taking advantage of Fab Melo’s absence, Notre Dame slowed the pace and worked the ball inside, scoring in the paint or kicking it out to an open shooter on the wing. Notre Dame shot 50% for the game and limited the Orange to 34%. Using a +13 edge on the glass, Notre Dame was able to control the tempo and prevent Syracuse from getting out in transition where it is so lethal. I have to say I was surprised. Looking at Syracuse’s schedule last week, I thought the Orange could run the table. They had played better than any team in the nation on a consistent basis but drove into a buzzsaw on Saturday. Even if Melo had played, I’m not sure it would have made a major difference.
  • South Florida On A Roll: It seems as if nobody has noticed, but South Florida is 5-2 in the Big East after a 2-0 week with wins over St. John’s and DePaul. USF has won on the road at improving Villanova and also took down Seton Hall at home when the Pirates were ranked. The Bulls also beat Rutgers, one game after the Scarlet Knights beat Florida. How has USF done it? Jawanza Poland has played very well since returning from a back injury and Stan Heath is getting timely contributions from guys like Victor Rudd and Ron Anderson Jr. However, the two main reasons for USF’s success are point guard play and defense. Freshman Anthony Collins has been fantastic at the point, averaging 5.3 APG in Big East play to go with a #28 national ranking in assist rate. Although he’s turning the ball over a bit too much, Collins has given the Bulls a huge boost at the most important position in college basketball after years of bad guard play in Tampa. On the defensive end, South Florida’s opponents average only 57.6 PPG, tops in the Big East. With a combination of defense, good rebounding and timely scoring, USF is starting to make some noise in the crowded middle of the Big East.

Pat Connaughton Celebrated With Fans After The Irish Stung The Top-Ranked Orange. (Matt Cashore/U.S. Presswire)

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (20-1, 7-1) – The Orange remain the best team by far in the Big East and I still think they are the best team in the nation even after losing at Notre Dame. Nothing went right for the Orange against the Fighting Irish. The Orange were out-shot 50% to 34%, out-rebounded by 13, and couldn’t string stops together when they were trying to get back in the game.  Should we have seen this coming? The cracks in the foundation appeared in a closer-than-expected win over Pittsburgh last Monday. The Panthers probed the Syracuse zone fairly well, getting to the free throw line area and making good interior passes. Fab Melo had 10 points, 10 rebounds, and six blocks in that game, but didn’t play in South Bend due to a mysterious academic issue. Pitt out-rebounded Syracuse 38-24, meaning the Orange were minus-27 on the glass for the week. Syracuse ranks #320 in defensive rebounding percentage, an issue that needs to be addressed immediately by Jim Boeheim, with or without Melo. Syracuse is struggling from three point land as well, tenth in three-point percentage in Big East games (31.9%). Scoop Jardine had 12 points and ten assists against the Panthers, but didn’t make a field goal (0-5) against Notre Dame. A tougher than expected week is ahead. Could the Orange lose again after winning 20 games in a row? This week: 1/23 @ Cincinnati, 1/28 vs. West Virginia. 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 Checkpoint: Buy, Sell, Hold

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on December 14th, 2011

Midway through December and it has already been an eventful college basketball season.  Teams have logged a fair sampling of games as they head into final exams and finish up the non-conference portion of their schedules, so we thought it would be a good time to assess the state of the Big East by comparing each team to… itself.  Below is the Preseason Big East Coaches’ Poll by projected order of finish.  We are going a little Jim Cramer on you (BooYah Skee-Daddy!), placing a Buy, Sell or Hold rating based on the team’s play to date versus preseason expectations.

1 (tie). Connecticut (8-1): I am no stock market expert but when I see a team as loaded as UConn sitting at No. 9 in the most recent poll, buying stock in the Huskies is a no-brainer. Jim Calhoun has feuded with center Alex Oriakhi and questioned his team’s drive early in the season, but this team is too deep and too talented to be ranked that low in national polls. And when you consider how much freshmen Ryan Boatright and Andre Drummond will improve over the next few months, I am already starting to look for a new luxury sedan to buy with the money from my winning. Rating: BUY

Boatright Has Given the Huskies a Lift (John Wolke, Hartford Courant)

1 (tie). Syracuse (10-0): There is no way we can buy right now and that is good news for Syracuse fans, because the ‘Cuse is on top and can rise no higher at the moment. If this were a quick trade we’d sell and look to buy back after their first loss because it is hard to envision the #1 ranked team in the country staying there all year, but we are in this for the long haul and so are the Orange. Rating: HOLD

3. Louisville (9-0): It’s impossible not to be impressed with the job Rick Pitino has done at Louisville this season given the team’s rash of injuries and lack of top-flight scorers, but I am still selling the Cardinals. For starters, their early season schedule has been very soft and their only difficult opponent was Vanderbilt, whom they needed overtime to outlast. There is no doubt that their defense and depth makes them a top-10 team, but it’s hard to put them ahead of teams like UConn and North Carolina because  they just don’t have the scoring punch or the go-to player in crunch-time.  If you are determined to hold Louisville stock, you probably won’t lose much, but now is the time to sell high. Rating: SELL

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Checking In On… the Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 29th, 2011

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

Reader’s Take

The Week That Was

  • A Rough Week for the Big East: Conference teams lost 13 times this past week to the likes of UCF, Illinois State, Northeastern, and Richmond among others. Only three undefeated teams (Syracuse, Louisville, and Marquette) remain and of the 13 teams with at least one loss, only three (DePaul, Seton Hall and Georgetown) have not yet recorded a bad loss. As we enter December, the middle of the conference doesn’t appear to be as strong as in years past. The Big East has a handful of great teams and a host of teams that appear to be very average at this point. It’s a long season, but the chances of seeing nine or ten NCAA bids from this league are certainly not promising.
  • Syracuse and Marquette Take Home Titles: The Orange defeated Virginia Tech and Stanford at their second home, Madison Square Garden, to win the NIT Season Tip-Off while Marquette took home the Paradise Jam championship, albeit against a so-so field. Both teams struggled in their respective championship games, but managed to pull it out down the stretch, the sign of a good team. Each team’s schedule ramps up this week against a pair of top ten teams as Syracuse hosts Florida on Friday and Marquette visits in-state rival Wisconsin on Saturday.
  • Tim Abromaitis Tears ACL: There was awful news out of South Bend late last week when it was announced that Notre Dame fifth year senior forward Tim Abromaitis tore the ACL in his right knee during practice on Friday. The loss of Abromaitis is a huge blow to a Notre Dame team already with two neutral court losses on its resume and a pair of road games coming up this week. The Fighting Irish rotation is pretty much only seven deep now with only three or four reliable scorers. Point guard Eric Atkins has played very well, but Scott Martin and Pat Connaughton will have to step up in a big way for Notre Dame to have any chance of making the NCAA Tournament.

With A Big Game Against Florida Looming Friday, How Will Jim Boeheim Keep His Team Focused Amid The Bernie Fine Scandal?

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (6-0) – After feasting on four cupcakes to begin the season, the Orange were impressive late in victories over Virginia Tech and Stanford in the NIT Season Tip-Off. They struggled for the better part of both games, but the ability of this team to flip the switch and play like the top five team it is is something that will suit them well outside of conference play. However, Syracuse had better play well for 40 minutes once the Big East season arrives or else they’ll lose more games than you think. Jim Boeheim’s team ranks in the top ten nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency, one of only four teams at the moment. Syracuse has done a great job forcing turnovers leading to easy points in transition. Dion Waiters appears to have taken his game to the next level as a sophomore with transition play being a big part of that. How this team is affected by the Bernie Fine investigation, if at all, is something to watch over the next few weeks. This week: 11/29 vs. Eastern Michigan, 12/2 vs. #6 Florida.
  2. Louisville (6-0) – Rick Pitino was successful last year by molding a team of role players into a cohesive unit with no superstars through an incredible focus on defense. Louisville looks to be following that same formula again in 2011-12. The Cardinals rank third nationally in defensive efficiency and only one opponent has scored more than 54 points. Of course, offense is Louisville’s biggest challenge. Peyton Siva is back, but Pitino’s rotation has been scaled back due to injuries to Wayne Blackshear and Mike Marra. Blackshear may be back but Marra is lost for the season with a torn ACL. Louisville struggled against Ohio and has another tricky game with Long Beach State on Monday. Freshman Chane Behanan (9/9) is stepping up in the absence of Blackshear while Gorgui Dieng has been a shot-blocking machine in the paint at three rejections per game. This is a big week for the Cardinals as their competition gets stronger. This week: 11/28 vs. Long Beach State, 12/2 vs. #20 Vanderbilt. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East Morning Five: 11.22.11 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on November 22nd, 2011

  1. The Big East announced its first men’s basketball weekly awards on Monday.  Seton Hall forward Herb Pope took home Player of the Week honors as he led the Pirates to a 3-1 start averaging a double-double for the week (22.5 PPG, 11,5 RPG).  Pope recorded double-doubles in three of the four games, missing by just one rebound in that contest, an 80-73 loss to Northwestern in which Pope scored 32 points.  Notre Dame guard Jerian Grant earned the Rookie of the Week award after averaging 14 points, 3.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists in four Fighting Irish wins.  Grant, a sophomore, sat out last year thus preserving his rookie status.  Honor Roll recipients consisted of: Connecticut guard Shabazz Napier (18.0 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 6.5 APG) who messed around and got a triple-double in a win over Coppin State; Providence guard Bryce Cotton (22.0 PPG, 60% 3PT) who recorded successive career highs in each of Providence’s three victories on the week; Marquette Darius Johnson-Odom (20 PPG, 2.8 REB, 4.2 APG) highlighted by a 24-point, six-assist effort against Norfolk State; Pittsburgh guard Tray Woodall (19.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 8.0 APG) including 25 points, six rebounds and 10 assists versus Albany; and Villanova guard Dominic Cheek (22.0 PPG, 6 RPG) who scored eight overtime points in a win over city rival La Salle.
  2. South Florida big man Augustus Gilchrist injured his shoulder in the first half of Sunday’s 53-49 Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament loss to Penn State, and could sideline Gilchrist for Wednesday’s game against Georgia Southern.  According to the Tampa Tribune‘s Adam Adkins, per his Twitter account, Bulls coach Stan Heath declared his senior leader questionable for the contest.  Coming into the Penn State game, in which he played just 13 minutes, Gilchrist was averaging 14 points and eight rebounds per game. Lady luck was not on South Florida’s side at Mohegan Sun as in addition to Gilchrist’s injury, the Bulls took their first two losses of the season over the weekend, the other being a 68-66 overtime setback to Old Dominion after starting the year with three straight wins.  Georgia Southern will bring a 1-2 record to Tampa on Wednesday after dropping a pair of nine-point losses to Valparaiso and Wake Forest followed by an 84-61 triumph over NAIA Webber International.  Should Gilchrist miss Wednesday’s game, fans will look toward South Florida’s next contest on Saturday at home against Florida Atlantic.
  3. Notre Dame senior forward Tim Abromaitis made his season debut last night and led the team in points and rebounds with 22  and eight, respectively. Unfortunately for the fifth-year senior, the rest of his team shot just better than 30 percent from the field and Missouri ran away with a 87-58 win, the worst loss for the Irish since 1999. Mike Brey’s team (4-1) easily won their first four games against overmatched foes, but they wilted in their first real test of the season. Brey called it “a rude awakening” for his young team. The return of Abromaitis really only proved that, while he will be excellent individually this season, there is a lot of unproven talent around him, and point guard Eric Atkins was proof last night. The sophomore also made his return after missing the last two games because of illness, but his return — eight points, three turnovers, just one assist — didn’t go quite as smoothly. They are going to need him to do his best to replace some of the production Ben Hansbrough left behind.
  4. The Louisville basketball program is finally getting to put out beneficial injury news for once. Well, kind of. The Cardinals are saying that point guard Peyton Siva will miss tonight’s game against Arkansas State but should be ready to play Friday when the Cardinals host Ohio. But there’s also more sort-of good news for Rick Pitino as the team hopes to get forward Rakeem Buckles back to practice in the next week. Buckles hasn’t been able to do much physical activity since anterior cruciate ligament surgery last February, and the team isn’t desperate to even think about playing him until he is ready, but this is a step in the right direction.
  5. Providence recruit and native Ricky Ledo may want to stay in his South Kent (CT) dorm for Thanksgiving as opposed to coming home to Rhode Island where future head coach Ed Cooley may be waiting on his door step to discuss Ledo’s recent video-taped interview with Five Star Basketball, in which Ledo volunteered the names of recruits the Friars are after.  While the players he mentioned (Chris Obekpa, JaKarr Sampson and Nerlens Noel) are well publicized and documented Friar targets, Ledo has to understand that the NCAA acts and works in mysterious ways so he does not want to do anything that could be construed as an infraction.  We are sure Cooley will very diplomatically ensure that this understanding is reached in short order.  Cooley keeps a treadmill he calls the “Focus Machine” on the sideline at practice. He may personally deliver Ledo a dose of focus very soon and give him an opportunity to work off that turkey and stuffing.  Do not hold your breath waiting for new Ricky Ledo interviews any time in the near future, Friar fans.

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