Posted by Patrick Prendergast on February 16th, 2012
As anticipated, Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun sat out last night’s 80-54 win over DePaul as he continues his recovery from spinal stenosis. Last night marked the fourth straight game for the Huskies without Calhoun on the sideline and he will be out a little longer. The school said Calhoun will not resume his coaching duties for at least the next two games, Saturday versus Marquette and Monday at Villanova. In recent days Calhoun was said to still be in significant pain but it appears his condition, and knowledge around how to best treat it have since improved but there is still no definitive timetable for a return as evidenced by a statement issued by Calhoun, “I am happy that we seem to have located the problem and I am currently moving forward with treatment. We have to give that treatment time to see whether or not it is effective,” said Calhoun. “I’m hoping by the middle of next week, we will have a much clearer picture of where we are and when I can look forward to getting back to doing what I do,” he added.
Lawyers for Bobby Davis and Mike Lang, who are suing Syracuse University and Jim Boeheim for defamation involving comments made in the wake of Davis’ and Lang’s accusations of sexual misconduct by former Syracuse assistant coach Bernie Fine, filed a memo opposing a previously filed motion by the defendants asking for a change of venue for the case. Currently the case is being heard in New York City but the Boeheim and Syracuse camp believe it should be moved to Onondaga County, where Syracuse is located. The prosecution wants the case to remain in New York City and cited the celebrity status that is Syracuse basketball as a reason in the memo indicating that there would be a strong bias in favor of the defendants given the larger than life presence of and adulation for the program. I am not a judge, nor did I stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night, but the prosecution appears to have a point here.
We are staying hot on the trail of Nerlens Noel (boy did I just set myself up for some “commentary” from my colleague Mike) who is the number one recruit in the land after reclassifying to the class of 2012 and looking to sign this April. Four of his seven finalists (Syracuse, Connecticut, Providence, Kentucky, Florida, Georgetown, and North Carolina) are Big East schools. Noel had a highly publicized visit to Syracuse last weekend and there will be no shortage of things written and said when he heads to Lexington to visit Kentucky and head coach John Calipari. Kentucky hosts Mississippi on Saturday. There is much more to say here but I am going to vacate (get it Nerlens, vacate?) the rest of this item.
Yeah, that’s NOT the ticket. St. John’s fired senior associate athletic directorBrian Colleary yesterday after completing an investigating into what the school termed “inappropriate activities” involving the handling of tickets. The only specific event reported was the Big East tournament. The official statement called the reason for termination a “misappropriation of tickets”. Colleary was suspended without pay on February 9 pending a review of the situation by the school. The school also indicated the investigation revealed this was an isolated incident but additional controls have been put in place to ensure it does not happen again.
It was a bit of a slow news day around the Big East on Thursday but there were some notable tidbits emanating from last night’s game action. South Florida took out Villanova last night 65-51 to run their Big East record to 9-4 which tied a school record for Big East wins. Providence managed to make something of a game of it on the road at Cincinnati, cutting a 22 point second half deficit down to seven before succumbing to the Bearcats 81-66 which marked the 22nd consecutive conference road loss for the last-place Friars. That is not easy to do folks. Notre Dame has now won seven straight Big East games and notched their tenth Big East win (10-3) after they rolled Rutgers 71-53 last night.
Posted by Patrick Prendergast on February 1st, 2012
Providence has struggled to find wins in conference play, currently sitting in last place at 1-8. However Ed Cooley and company continue to win on the recruiting trail as multiple reports revealed yesterday that Arizona transfer Sidiki Johnson will become a Friar. No official announcement was made by the school at the time of this writing, but once all of the Is are dotted and Ts are crossed, Johnson will be slated to make his Providence debut next December. The 6’8” power forward should add much needed frontcourt depth. Johnson, a top 100 prospect in the class of 2011, enhances an already high-profile 2012 recruiting class for Providence that includes two top 25 talents in shooting guard Ricardo Ledo and point guard Kris Dunn to go along with sharpshooter Joshua Fortune. As presently constituted Providence does not have an open scholarship, but rumors have circulated recently that redshirt junior Bilal Dixon will transfer to Towson for his final year of eligibility. Johnson appeared in only three games for Arizona this season (0.3 PPG, 0.7 RPG).
The latest chapter in the Bernie Fine saga has taken a soap-opera-like twist. An affidavit filed byGloria Allred, the attorney representing Fine accusers Robert Davis and Michael Lange in a defamation suit against Syracuse University and head coach Jim Boeheim, alleges that Laurie Fine, wife of Bernie, had sex with a number of Syracuse players over the years. The suit says Boeheim defamed Davis and Lange when he questioned their motives for accusing Fine of molesting them and indicated they were lying for financial gain. In the affidavit, Davis, who is also on record as having consensual sexual relationships with both of the Fines, said Laurie Fine’s activities were common knowledge around the program and therefore Boeheim had to know what was going on. “Players used to talk openly about it as a known fact,” Davis said. Mrs. Fine’s attorney, Edward Z. Menkin, quickly lashed back against Allred and the accusations. “This is both desperate and disgusting, an example of a lawyer flailing about to keep a dying lawsuit in the public eye,” Menkin told The Syracuse Post-Standard.
Never thought you’d see Marquette’s Davante Gardner and the word thin in the same story? Well, Gardner suffered a sprained knee against Villanova on Saturday so the Golden Eagles were without their 6’9”, 290–pound forward/center for last night’s 66-59 victory over Seton Hall. This further depleted an already thin Marquette front line as Gardner had been starting and playing increased minutes in the absence of Chris Otule, who is out for the year after suffering a knee injury in early December. Gardner has responded positively to the increased role (11.4 PPG, 6.3RPG since the Otule injury heading into last night’s game), and is listed as day-to-day. Marquette next plays Saturday afternoon at Notre Dame.
Louisville is another team that has been beset by injuries this season and their lack of bodies has meant trial by fire for freshman forward Chane Behanan. To Behanan’s credit he has responded well and is churning out a solid rookie campaign. While Behanan’s steady progress has perhaps kept him under the radar and overshadowed by bigger freshman names such as Andre Drummond and Moe Harkless, it appears the secret is leaking out. Behanan has started 22 of 23 games and is averaging 24.4 minutes per game. Despite the heavy workload in his first year, rather than wearing down it appears that Behanan is gaining steam, posting averages of 12.7 points and 9.0 rebounds over Louisville’s last four games versus his overall season totals of 9.1 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.
The Big East continues to find itself the subject of realignment fodder as CBSSports.com reported yesterday that Louisville is “aggressively pursuing a Big 12 invitation.” As noted here at the time, Big 12 officials met last week to discuss the possibility of further expansion. While obligatory statements like, “There is nothing imminent” came out of that meeting, you can bet people did not just show up for the free Frescas and wing dings. The Big 12 is sitting at 10 teams right now, or at least will be once West Virginia’s situation with the Big East has been worked out, and needs to decide whether it wants to stand pat or keep adding schools. If they do expand further, doing so with one additional school does not seem to make sense. But get this, the Big 12 actually going to 12 members probably does. If so, the Big East will remain firmly entrenched in the Big 12’s crosshairs for the foreseeable future. As the CBS piece points out, Cincinnati would pop up next on the rolodex after Louisville.
Fresca Fuels Big 12 Expansion, Or Maybe Not (Photo: Fresca.com)
Clemson‘s fading postseason dreams were dealt a setback yesterday when it suspended junior Milton Jennings indefinitely for academic reasons. Jennings, who averaged 8.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks per game, was having the best season of his college career and had several solid games recently including scoring 16 points against Duke and having a 9-point, 12-rebound performance at Boston College. This is the second time that Jennings has been suspended this season as he was also suspended earlier this season after yelling at Brad Brownell during the Diamond Head Classic. Clemson is expected to use several players to fill Jennings’ minutes, but should expect to see a significant drop-off in production.
We thought we had heard the last of the Bernie Fine investigation for at least a few months, but now his primary accuser (Bobby Davis) claims that Laurie Fine, Bernie’s wife, and another coach’s wife discussed having had sex with multiple Syracuse players. Although we did not think that the situation could get any worse, the report that another coach’s wife was involved should only make the Syracuse athletic department feel even more uncomfortable. Initially they could bury this under the idea that it was a single dysfunctional family, but now that it extends beyond that it will only raise more questions as well as undoubtedly bringing up plenty of message board rumormongering about who the other coach’s wife was.
To celebrate the 35th anniversary of its McDonald’s All-American Game, McDonald’s released its list of the 35 greatest McDonald’s All-American. The list is a veritable who’s who of American basketball royalty over the past 35 years. While all of the names on the list, which is based on “high school career and performance in the McDonald’s All American Games, success at the collegiate and professional level, and post-career accomplishments”, are recognizable a few made us do a double-take when we first saw them. Two that stood out the most were Clark Kellogg (more on him later in the day) and Kenny Smith both of whom have had exceptional broadcasting careers, but probably would be pretty far down the list of the greatest players of the past 35 years although they were solid players in their own right (Kellogg’s stats and Smith’s stats). As for the relative merits of each individual in high school, ESPNHS provides an interesting ranking of the 35 players based just on their high school accomplishments.
While most people were celebrating the BrackBuster matchups, there was at least one individual who voiced his displeasure with the current system. In his weekly Bubble Watch column, Andy Glockner criticized the system for being a net loss for the mid-majors as the losing team was often hurt more than the winning team was helped. He does give them credit for nailing the two biggest matchups of this year’s Bracketbuster. As usual, we tend to agree with Andy (acutally he agrees with us most of the time) and we would like to see the focus more on helping mid-majors get into the NCAA Tournament rather than just trying to schedule ideal matchups for TV.
Two of the top teams in the country may be without their big men for longer than expected. Michigan and Syracuse may end up missing Jon Horford and Fab Melo, respectively, for longer than initially anticipated. Horford has stated that he and the Wolverine coaching staff have began to think about the possibility of redshirting even if he was able to play later this season as they feel that time he would get to play would not be worth a season of eligibility. Meanwhile, the news is less clear in Syracuse where sources say that Melo could be out for “a while” as he gets his academic issues straightened out. While neither player would be classified as a star, both could be vitale pieces to their team’s postseason success.
Posted by Patrick Prendergast on January 27th, 2012
Many dishonorable things happen on the recruiting trail. Much like in politics, coaches sell the positives of their programs as much as they attempt to create negativity around that of their competitors. There are few bullets left unfired, and it can get personal. Therefore it comes as little surprise that St. John’s head coach Steve Lavin’s continued recovery from prostate cancer is being used against him. Lavin’s Red Storm team has been short-handed this season both on the court and on the sideline. They employ just seven scholarship players and Lavin has not been able to coach the team during games since early in the season due to the physical demands involved. To Lavin’s credit, he has met the challenge with honesty and positivity. The approach recently paid dividends as Lavin landed Jamal Branch, a transfer from Texas A&M. Lavin spoke about the process that brought Branch to Jamaica, New York: “Naturally in recruiting he’s going to hear from all the other schools, speculation, innuendo and rumors, so my inclination is to take that head on and just lay it out. We were able to convince Jamal that this was a great situation in spite of the fact that I’m currently recuperating from prostate cancer.”
Since Louisville was dismantled by Providence two weeks ago to cap off a stretch where the Cardinals lost four of five games, the Cardinals have won three four to stabilize its season. The turn-around can be attributed in part to some soul searching that started with a team meeting after the Providence game. In a delayed celebration of Festivus, grievances were aired and it appears the open communication, along with some much needed practice time, have relieved some stress. Head coach Rick Pitino has been vocal about the team’s need for practice, while others criticized the alleged over-intensity of Pitino’s training sessions. Despite unconfirmed fake rumors, started by unknown people who may or may not be writing this Morning Five right now, that Rick Pitino has been seen working out material at the Comedy Caravan, Pitino has never been confused with Shecky Green. Yet, there are reports of laughter coming out of Louisville practices. And now Pitino finds himself cracking a smile as the newly found levity around Louisville has translated from practice floor to the main stage.
Syracuse and basketball coach Jim Boeheim are looking to get out of the city. However New York apartment hunters will be disappointed to learn that this is just a bit of legal maneuvering. Syracuse and Boeheim are being sued for defamation by two of former Syracuse assistant coach Bernie Fine’s accusers. Fine has been accused of alleged sexual misconduct with minors but has not been charged. However when the allegations surfaced Boeheim made comments in defense of Fine that referenced the accusers may perhaps be lying and looking for personal gain. The suit was brought in New York City and lawyers for the defense have filed a motion to have the case moved to Onondaga County given that is where those involved reside. The accusers counter argument is to have the case in Onondaga County would not be fair due to Syracuse and Boeheim’s high profile in that area.
You know how in professional sports when an owner comes out and gives his or her coach or general manager a vote of confidence it usually means said coach or general manager better dust of the old resume? Well, the Big 12 expansion committee met on Wednesday and yesterday the conference’s associate commissioner for communications, Bob Burda said of the proceedings, “There is nothing imminent with regard to expansion.” So, taking Burda at his word, Louisville and Brigham Young University are apparently on, or back on, the Big 12’s wish list as the league ponders a 12-team membership. This is fresh off locking up current Big East participant West Virginia. Regardless of further expansion, the Big 12 remains in near-term flux as West Virginia’s departure date from the Big East is being litigated as the school is challenging the 27-month exit clause they had previously agreed to in the Big East bylaws.
Brooklyn’s James Buchanan High School turned out no notable basketball products, despite some promising moments from Freddie ‘Boom Boom’ Washington. However, this is not an item about letters of intent. For this is an item about letters from Epstein’s mother. Those letters allowed Robert Hegyes (a.k.a “Juan Epstein”) to avoid many a detention session, or other such disciplinary action at the hands of Mr. Kotter. Of course Epstein’s mother and her famed pen were no match for mortality as the “Welcome Back Kotter” star, and Sweathog point guard, died of a heart attack yesterday at the age of 60.
(There is no such thing as James Buchanan High School in Brooklyn, but you know that already.)
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.
Kevin Joneswas 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 TruckBryant and DenizKilicli have been inconsistent, and that’s why the Mountaineers look great some nights and ugly other nights.
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 TomCrean 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.
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. AshtonGibbs (22 points) was streaky but carried the offensive load and it only took TrayWoodall (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…
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.
Game recaps are boring. If you want to read them, search your local newspaper or the Associated Press. Four Thoughts is our brand new, not-so creatively titled feature where, in lieu of a game recap, we give you (in this case a belated) four thoughts about key Big East action. Enjoy!
1. Fab Melo would have helped Syracuse, but he is not the reason they lost.
Fab Melo's Absence Hurt, But It Wasn't Why Syracuse Lost
The former-five-star recruit turned serviceable offensive center and excellent rim-protector has been one of the key reasons why Syracuse has enjoyed so much success this season. When we learned that Melo would not travel to South Bend for Saturday’s tilt with the Fighting Irish, everyone knew the Orange would not be as effective, but even if he had played, there is little chance ‘Cuse could have pulled out a win in this one. Jim Boeheim‘s club finished with just two blocks and was outrebounded 37-24, which shows that the primary effects of Melo’s absence were felt where we expected them to be felt — around the rim and on the glass. But the reason the Orange lost is because they couldn’t shoot the ball effectively, and they basically let Notre Dame have open shots whenever the Fighting Irish wanted them. Kris Joseph and Dion Waiters went a combined 8-26 from the field, including 3-11 from behind the arc, and Notre Dame shot an efficient 50 percent from the floor and from behind the three-point line. To be blunt, you don’t win games that way.
It was a fall from grace of epic proportions, but no matter where you stand on the culpability of Joe Paterno with respect to what he did or did not do about Jerry Sandusky’s alleged crimes a decade ago, his passing on Sunday morning in State College, Pennsylvania, was met with sadness and reflection among those in the college athletics universe. Even though lung cancer is what ultimately felled him, it’s safe to say that the events of the last few months were instrumental in his death beyond any physical ailment. As Bill Reiter writes in a thoughtfully constructed piece, if it’s possible to die from a broken heart, Paterno probably did. Prior to Sunday afternoon’s basketball game between Penn State and Indiana in Bloomington, both teams observed a moment of silence to remember a man whose life was filled with countless successes but one notable and egregious failure (see the video here).
While on the subject of failure, is the case against former Syracuse assistant coach Bernie Fine for child molestation falling apart? Zach Tomaselli, the person who set the investigation into Fine in motion with his allegations about the coach molesting him on a basketball road trip as a 13-year old, stated over the weekend that he “doctored emails and frequently lied” to try to make his case against Fine sound better. He went on to say that he plans to ask the Syracuse police department to drop the investigation against Fine, and that he will withdraw his civil suit against the ousted coach as soon as this week. Tomaselli was the only accuser whose claims still fell within the statute of limitations, so it may result that without his cooperation, the Syracuse authorities may not have enough evidence to prosecute. Where might that leave the university in terms of exposure to a countersuit from Fine for wrongful termination?
Syracuse was without its sophomore center on Saturday when the Orange visited Notre Dame and it will be without him tonight as well at Cincinnati. Fab Melo, the anchor in the post of Jim Boeheim’s exceptional 2-3 zone, was suspended by the university for academic issues and it’s unclear if or when he will be allowed to return to the team. Andy Katz reported Saturday that SU is hopeful that Melo will be back in time for next weekend’s game at the Carrier Dome against West Virginia, so speculation has run rampant that he’s currently doing some additional course work to satisfy the requirements of whatever class is holding him back. Obviously, Melo has been a pleasant surprise this year, blocking three shots per game and making the Orange zone even more difficult than usual to penetrate. Syracuse will need him to return soon if they are to have any hope of getting to the Final Four again for the first time in nine seasons.
There was some bad ACC injury news over the weekend affecting two of the teams vying for the top of that league. North Carolina shooting guard Dexter Strickland‘s knee injury, suffered on Thursday night in a game against Virginia Tech, was confirmed as an ACL tear on Friday and he will miss the rest of this season. His loss on the offensive end can be absorbed by the bench, but his defensive capabilities at the position as well as the spot duty he provides for point guard Kendall Marshall is more concerning. A couple hundred miles north of Chapel Hill, Virginia starting center Assane Senewill miss the next six weeks of action with a broken bone in his right ankle experienced during Thursday night’s win over Georgia Tech. Sene’s importance to the Cavaliers will also mostly be felt on the defensive end, and if Sunday’s first game without him is any indication — a two-point loss to ACC-winless Virginia Tech in Charlottesville — the Wahoos will need to figure out a way to replace him fast.
In case you missed it, Saturday was one of the wildest days of college basketball we’ve had this year. Three of the top four teams in the AP poll lost, headlined by Notre Dame’s giant-killing defeat of Syracuse in South Bend, Missouri’s impressive display of offensive power at Baylor, and Florida State’s game-winning three at the buzzer to end Duke’s home court winning streak at 45. For some of our thoughts on these games and others, check out our BGTD: Selected Thoughts edition from Saturday evening.
Posted by Patrick Prendergast on January 20th, 2012
Oftentimes as fans of college basketball, because we only see our teams while they are in uniform on the court, we tend to forget that they are kids with lives and hardships. Yes, there are well chronicled ‘coming from the streets’ accounts, but even so in some way players still are dehumanized. We focus more on how a kid is doing at the free throw line than we do on his background. Then stories like the one that CBSSports.com conveyed about Louisville’s Peyton Siva and his father come along and put it all back in perspective.
In another example of life superseding basketball DePaul released a statement that junior Tony Freeland will transfer to be closer to his ailing grandmother. Freeland, who is from Los Angeles, is out for this season following shoulder surgery. The 6’7″ forward started eight games last year for the Blue Demons as a sophomore, scoring more than 20 points four times and averaging 9.6 points and 5.0 rebounds per game. In his career, Freeland started 15 games while scoring 6.8 points and grabbing 3.8 rebounds per game. “We support his decision to be closer to home and near his family,” said head coach Oliver Purnell.
Well it looks like my colleague, Mike, who reported on Providence here yesterday, will have to go back and re-handicap Saturday’s game against #21 Marquette. Providence head coach Ed Cooley confirmed yesterday that Vincent Council, who was suspended for the Friars’ last game at #1 Syracuse, will be back on the floor Saturday in their home contest with the Golden Eagles. “I definitely will play Vince this Saturday. We are looking forward to him back in the lineup,” Cooley said on Thursday’s weekly Big East conference call. After the Syracuse game Cooley termed Council’s suspension an “accountability issue.” Big East victories have been hard to come by for the Friars (1-5). As has been written here before, wins are always important, but Ed Cooley suspending his best player for a road game against the number one team in the country only drives home the point that he intends to build a program that rests its laurels on more than what any record may suggest.
It is no secret that Pittsburgh (11-8, 0-6) is struggling. However, it looks like the Panthers are close to getting a lift as junior point guard Travon Woodall he is back practicing, and could return on Saturday night when the Panthers host #23 Louisville. Woodall, who suffered a torn abdominal muscle and strained groin, has played in just one game since December 1. The one game he played in was December 27, a loss at Notre Dame where he did not score in 18 minutes. “I came back way to fast. I wasn’t ready,” Woodall told reporters. Woodall also addressed reports indicating that head coach Jamie Dixon and the Pittsburgh medial staff cleared Woodall to play two weeks ago, leaving his return in his hands, “That’s the thing. Everyone has been saying I’ve been cleared to play. I heard it on an ESPN game when I watched it again. I never had the word that I was cleared to play. If I had the word I probably would have tried to play.” Woodall has averaged 12.4 points and 7.5 assists in eight games played this season.
Yeahhh… that’s the ticket. Holes continue to be punched in the sexual abuse accusations against former Syracuse assistant coach Bernie Fine as the accusers’ credibility is diminishing by the day. First we had prison inmate Floyd VanHooser admit he lied about his claim. He said he made the accusations as in a revenge “plot” against Fine, who has supported VanHooser since he was a teenager, because he did not pony up for a lawyer when VanHooser was arrested for repeat burglary offenses. Now we have another accuser changing his story. It appears that accuser Zachary Tomaselli needs to visit RTC Big East more often so he can brush up on the conference and its teams. According to Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick, Tomaselli originally claimed Fine molested him in early 2002 when Syracuse played at Connecticut. The thing about that is, Syracuse did not play Connecticut that season. Fitzpatrick said that once Tomaselli was informed of this he changed is story and said the molestation occurred when Syracuse played at Pittsburgh in January, 2002. Tomaselli refuted Fitzpatrick’s rendering saying, ““I was 13 at the time. I had been in the northeast less than three or four months. That was not something I remembered, the specific city. I did once I thought about it. The minute I actually thought about it I knew it was Pittsburgh. One hundred percent.” Shortly thereafter Tomaselli said, “I don’t think I ever told the police it was in Connecticut. I’m 90 percent sure I did not even tell Connecticut to a police dispatcher. That 10 percent, I might have said it was a rivalry game, possibly Connecticut.”
Evan Jacoby is an RTC contributor & correspondent. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. TT4 will cover four selected teams of interest – Syracuse, Indiana, Murray State, and UNLV – by tracking their ups, downs, and exciting developments throughout the course of the season.
In this second full edition of TT4, two of our teams have taken a step backward while the other two continue to roll along as the only unbeaten teams remaining in the country. Do Murray State and Syracuse both have a good chance to go undefeated in the regular season? All four of our teams remain ranked in the Top 20 of the major polls. Let’s take a look at the juxtaposition between the two pairs of teams that are making headlines for different reasons:
Murray State Racers
Isaiah Canaan and Donte Poole are Running Full Speed Ahead for Undefeated Murray State (AP Photo/L. Dennee)
Trending UP Because… – They’re still without injured starting forward Ivan Aska, who has a broken hand, and the Racers continue to take care of business. MSU (18-0, 6-0 Ohio Valley) remained undefeated after knocking off Jacksonville State and Tennessee Tech at home over the past week. The Racers’ unbeaten start extends the school record to open a season, and improving to 18-0 also set the school record for longest win streak overall at any point.
This Week’s Key Cog – Donte Poole. The senior guard has been the perfect complement to Isaiah Canaan all season, but it was Poole who did the heavy lifting this week. He averaged 24.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 2.5 steals in two games last week, including a career-high 28 points versus Tennessee Tech, to propel his team to those victories. The prolific three-point shooter was more aggressive attacking the basket, getting to the line a total of 23 times in the two games, converting 21 of those shots.
Play of the Week – Twenty-five seconds into this video clip, watch star guard Canaan split defenders on a high pick-and-roll before a crafty finish at the rim. The announcer pronounces his name wrong, so just let the highlight do the talking.
Talking Point – Steve Prohm on improving to 18-0 despite missing their best forward: “Credit our guys’ resiliency. We’re having to play a lot of different ways and we’re just trying to figure things out and they’re doing things on the fly and making adjustments and I couldn’t be prouder of them.“
Stats Central – According to Ken Pomeroy’s numbers, the only currently ranked teams that played a more challenging non-conference schedule than Murray State were Duke, Kansas, and Gonzaga. The Racers were actually picked to finish third this season in the OVC by conference coaches in the preseason poll, behind Austin Peay and Tennessee Tech. Those two teams now don’t have as many wins combined (17) as the Racers currently do on the season.
What’s Next? – MSU has two road games this week against conference foes dreaming of ending a perfect season. First is a test at Morehead State on Wednesday (7:00 PM ET) against the defending champions of the OVC. Morehead, 3-3 in conference play thus far, is a tough team whose five best players are all upperclassmen. The Racers then head to play at SIU-Edwardsville against a Cougars team that is also 3-3 in conference. Murray will look to continue their undefeated streak again without their best big man as Aska has been ruled out for these games.
Trending EVEN Because… – Already at the top of nearly every poll and rating, there’s not much higher to go. Syracuse remained undefeated and improved to 20-0 (7-0 Big East) after beating the three teams at the bottom of the Big East conference last week. The Orange handled their toughest task at Villanova last Wednesday without a problem, and it’s been weeks since SU played a game in which the outcome was ever in doubt after the first 10 minutes. Fast starts are becoming a staple of this team, and it holds leads easily with the most talented bench in the nation. Jim Boeheim’s team is beating Big East opponents by an average of 15.7 points per game, although five of their seven games have come against the bottom four teams in the conference.
Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC columnist. His Love/Hate column will publish on Mondays throughout the season. In this weekly piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball.
Five Things I Loved This Week
I LOVED….Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s momentum changing alley-oop against Tennessee. My favorite plays are those ones where in a second, the whole mood of a chaotic gym suddenly changes. The combination of floating from one side of the hoop to the other (hang time we can only dream of) and the emphatic CRACK of the rim snapping took UT’s good vibes and threw them for a complete 180. If there’s one thing I love about the modern game, it’s the microphone near the rims – they make monster slams even better (watch at the 0:40 mark).
I LOVED….Baylor keeping me wondering whether they’re for real. Coming into this week, I looked at their schedule and thought, well, they still haven’t played anyone stellar. And yet, even after last night’s tough loss in Allen Fieldhouse — a place where nobody can reasonably expect to win — it’s getting harder and harder to find too much to fault with these Bears. This weekend’s upcoming game in Waco against Missouri will help me figure this team out.
I LOVED….Syracuse continuing to shrug off the scandal surrounding the program and keep pace at No. 1. It’s tough to focus on playing when your coach and the university are under so much scrutiny, but this mess was not brought on by these kids – who have worked hard to put themselves in prime position for a postseason run. Let’s hope that they continue to tune out the other stuff.
I LOVED….feeling the upset-happy “This is College Basketball” vibe for the first time this year on Saturday. North Carolina turned the world upside down by getting trounced, Northwestern shocked the hottest team in the country, Iowa upended Michigan, Oklahoma took out KSU….this is the chaos I know and love.
Posted by Patrick Prendergast on January 16th, 2012
It is hard to fathom what the world would be like today had Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. not blessed us with his existence. The expression “courage of one’s convictions” contains the word courage for a reason. Forgive the informality here but as the esteemed Bill Raftery would say, King had onions. The word adversity may be one of the most overused, especially in sports. However, to say Dr. King stood up in the face of adversity could be the biggest understatement ever. One cannot begin to imagine how strong someone must be to do what Martin Luther King, Jr. did. But it probably boiled down to this for him, and perhaps made it easier. He knew he was right.
Floyd VanHooser was full of van hooey. VanHooser, who is currently in prison serving a term of 16 years to life as a repeat burglary offender, was one of four people to accuse former Syracuse assistant coach Bernie Fine of abusing them sexually as children. He went to Syracuse police with the allegations in late November 2011. VanHooser now admits he lied; saying while he and Fine had a consensual sexual relationship as adults, Fine never molested him. VanHooser lost both of his parents by the age of 13 and moved into Fine’s house thereafter. Fine, who was a teacher at VanHooser’s school at the time, took him in and provided for him for a number of years. In two letters written by VanHooser to Fine, he expressed remorse for fabricating the allegations. He said he lied because he wanted revenge against Fine for not paying for an attorney when VanHooser was arrested on the burglary charges. Fine has denied all allegations from the start and there was no comment from him or his attorney on the VanHooser matter.
Allen Iverson would not be happy right now because we are going to talk about practice…man. In this case, Louisville’s practices. With Cardinal faithful seeking answers as to why Louisville has lost four of its last six, the question brought up by The Louisville Courier-Journal is how tough is too tough? Rick Pitinoreacted to a story, which appears only to have run in the hard copy version of the paper, that attributed some of Louisville’s issues to practice intensity and volume wearing down the team. The piece cited a television interview quote from another legendary Louisville coach Denny Crum, who said, “Whether it’s right or wrong, Rick’s got the reputation of overworking his kids.” Pitino refuted the theory, basically saying that everyone in the Big East practices hard. He did, however, also lament the day the NCAA limited practice time to 20 hours per week. But hey, he’s a coach. A coach whose teams are well known for their frenetic, pressing style. A style designed to create a war of attrition and wear down opponents. In order to play such a style Louisville has to be fit enough to execute, so it stands to reason practices would be designed accordingly.
Connecticut’s Ryan Boatrighthad to sit out Saturday’s win at Notre Dame as there continue to be questions about his eligibility. Boatright, a freshman guard, was suspended for the Huskies’ first six games this year due to the receipt of improper benefits involving an airplane ticket purchased for him while he was playing AAU ball in Chicago. Following the suspension, Boatright has been an impactful contributor for the Huskies, averaging 10.2 points and 3.5 assists in 26.4 minutes per contest. The Notre Dame game likely was anticipated as a highlight for Boatright, who grew up in Aurora, Illinois, which is just a few hours away by car from South Bend. It is not yet known when Boatright will be able to get back on the court in game action, but he is allowed to practice and travel with the team. Connecticut next faces a test against Cincinnati at home on Wednesday.
Another Big East guard was held out of a game over the weekend as Providence’s Vincent Council did not play at #1 Syracuse for what head coach Ed Cooley called an “accountability issue”. After the game Cooley and Providence’s Sports Information Director Arthur Parks, specifically stated there were no academic legal reasons for Council’s suspension. Council (16.4 PPG, 7.1 APG) is the Friars’ leader and only legitimate point guard on a team that lacks overall depth. His projected backup coming into the year, freshman Kiwi Gardner, was ruled academically ineligible for the season due to a high school transcript problem. Syracuse took advantage of Council’s absence and cruised to a 78-55 win. The suspension remains indefinite as Cooley left open the possibility that it could extend beyond one game. Providence does not play again until Saturday, January 21 when they host Marquette.
It seems like Ryan Boatright is having quite a bit of trouble with the NCAA this season. After sitting out six games to start the season for taking impermissible benefits (an airplane ticket from his AAU coach), the Connecticut freshman finds himself in the NCAA’s crosshairs again. As a result the school has decided to hold him out of competition until the NCAA makes a decision. While the school is not willing to disclose any more information at this time, at least one report suggests that the source of both this new allegation and the prior allegation is the ex-boyfriend of Boatright’s mother with a grudge against Boatright’s mother. While we cannot verify that report, we do find it interesting that the NCAA is going after Boatright again when we all know there are plenty of other athletes that have probably been involved in a violation of some sort especially with the seediness of the AAU circuit. And of course there is the issue of when the NCAA will make a decision, which would most likely be the deciding factor in when the school could let Boatright play again. As one local media member points out the last time took quite a while to figure out and there is no indication that this investigation will be any quicker.
It was an eventful weekend for North Carolina. On Friday they announced that Leslie McDonald would redshirt this season as he continues to recover from a torn ACL in his right knee. As we mentioned before McDonald could have provided the Tar Heels with another outside shooting option, but as it is they already have plenty of scoring options. On Saturday, the Tar Heels submitted one of the worst performances by a national championship contender that we can remember in 33-point loss at Florida State. Things got so out of hand that Leonard Hamilton suggested to Roy Williams that he send his UNC team to the locker room except for the five players on the court before the FSU students rushed the court.
Eastern Illinois received a commitment on Friday from former Connecticut reserve guard Darius Smith. Smith, who transferred from UConn after his freshman year, spent a year at a junior college in Idaho where he had to overcome injuries from a car accident and managed to put up solid if not spectacular numbers (8.4 points, 5.3 assists, 5.1 rebounds, and 3.1 steals per game). For Smith, a coveted recruit out of Marshall High School in Chicago (the school Arthur Agee graduated from), this means a chance to prove himself at the Division I level in his home state.
Yesterday, one of Bernie Fine‘s accuser admitted that he had lied about being sexually molested by Fine. Floyd VanHooser, who was the fourth individual to accuse the former Syracuse assistant coach of sexually molesting him, claims that his lies were born out of frustration with Fine for not hiring a lawyer for him to fight VanHooser’s latest criminal charges stemming from a burglary charge, one of dozens that he has reportedly been arrested for. While VanHooser’s claims, which were deemed to be not credible by the District Attorney at the time, can be taken off the list against the allegations against Fine, they should not necessarily lessen the credibility of the other accusers.
As part of the ongoing debate on scholarship reform the NCAA announced its support for the $2,000 stipend proposal, but directed a working group to come back with a proposal for its implementation in April. In essence, the NCAA asked a committee to figure out a way that the proposal could work within the boundaries of Title IX and the financial differences between big-time and small Division I programs. While the press release indicates that the rules change could go into effect as early as the 2013-14 season, it does not explain how this would impact high school seniors who signed scholarship offers in the fall when they were promised the $2,000 stipend.