Ten Games to Watch in Big East Play This Season

Posted by Chris Johnson on September 6th, 2012

Christopher Johnson is an RTC columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.

Conference schedule releases, no matter how far in advance of their realization on the court, inevitably spawn anticipatory discussion and analysis of teams and the relative difficulty of their matchups at hand. The excitement prompts some to pencil in their sports-watching travel arrangements, while others pull out calendars and simply mark down designated college hoops viewing days. This year’s Big East docket is not at all different. Of the 135 games on this year’s regular season Big East slate, 75 will be nationally televised, 100 will feature at least one NCAA Tournament team from last season and 37 will match two such opponents. It’s arguably one of the best leagues in the sport, so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that most Big East competition is defined by high-quality matchups between nationally successful programs. Still, it’s refreshing to see the specifics of league play – not just in the Big East, but for most of the sport’s high-major conferences – in  plain view and know that those gritty, high-stakes conference matchups aren’t too far off. What follows is a list of my 10 most intriguing games on this year’s Big East slate. The vagaries of nonleague play can alter each team’s outlook before they begin conference games, but from my distant vantage point, these are the fixtures (in chronological order) that inspire the most competitive draw.

The Bearcats are featured in several appealing Big East matchups this season (Photo credit: Jessica Hill/AP Photo).

Cincinnati at Pittsburgh (Monday, December 31 – ESPN2). The first game of league play sets up as one of the most entertaining, a match-up of two hard-nosed teams with established track records and fervent fan bases. The Oakland Zoo has long held a reputation as one of the sport’s most raucous and rowdy courtside environments. Cincinnati brings back its starting backcourt of Sean Kilpatrick, Jaquon Parker and Cashmere Wright from last year’s Sweet Sixteen team, while Pittsburgh hopes to rebound after missing the NCAAs for the first time in 10 seasons with fifth-year senior point guard Tray Woodall, a vaunted frontcourt tandem in Talib Zanna and Dante Taylor and a promising batch of new recruits. The stylistic contrast between the Bearcats’ talented backcourt and the Panthers’ ferocious low block duo should make for an interesting strategic chess match. A must-see showdown of league contenders to send us into the new year: What could be better?

Georgetown at Marquette (Saturday, January 5 – Big East Network). Both teams lose large swaths of minutes and production after earning #3 seeds in last year’s Tournament. The Hoyas do return Otto Porter, a potential league player of the year candidate poised to make an impressive freshman-to-sophomore leap, and welcome in four star-recruits Stephen Domingo and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera. All the eyes will be fixed squarely on Porter in this one, but the Golden Eagles may have a star of their own in junior guard Vander Blue, an explosive 6’4″ scoring dynamo who should see his shot opportunities increase with the departures of Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom. These two programs are in the midst of semi-rebuilding projects, but both have more than enough talent and depth to make return runs to the NCAA Tournament. Plus, whenever Buzz Williams takes the floor, it’s always must-see viewing. 

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Big East Fully Embraces Importance of TV In Hiring Mike Aresco as Its New Commissioner

Posted by Chris Johnson on August 15th, 2012

Christopher Johnson is an RTC  columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.

For years the Big East has sat back and watched as conference realignment marginalized its position in the modern college athletics landscape. This realignment – driven almost entirely by football-oriented television rights contracts – prompted Syracuse and Pittsburgh, two league forerunners with longstanding rivalries and successful track records, to bolt for the ACC, a league that in May announced a restructured broadcasting rights deal with ESPN worth $3.6 billion over 15 years. Longtime affiliate West Virginia and near-member TCU also deserted the struggling league in favor of the Big 12 – another league cashing in on the recent power conference TV contract frenzy by agreeing to a $1.2 billion deal with Fox. The Big East in response embarked on a nationwide courtship to increase its membership before entering a crucial 60-day negotiating window with ESPN this September to secure a lucrative TV rights deal of its own. It has since added Houston, SMU, Memphis and Central Florida, with Navy, Boise State and San Diego State also joining as football-only members. Once a bastion of exemplary conference leadership and stability, the Big East has morphed itself into an amalgam of disparate parts with no geographical unity or identity. More importantly, its bargaining hand heading into the crucial negotiating period to determine its future status in the major conference pecking order lacks substance. And so the expectation was that the Big East, now a shell of it former self and withering at the expense of TV rights-motivated inter-league poaching, would muddle its discussions with ESPN and further diminish its standing within the power conference structure.

As the Big East prepares for its crucial TV rights negotiating period with ESPN, Aresco is the perfect leader. It remains to be seen how he will fare in his new position beyond this fall.

The floundering league took major strides Tuesday toward securing a far sweeter deal than it otherwise may have anticipated when it announced the hiring of Mike Aresco as its new conference commissioner. Aresco’s latest position comes on the heels of his stint as vice president of programming at CBS Sports, before which he worked in the programming department at ESPN. The Big East scrambled to fill the vacant position after former commissioner John Marinatto resigned in May amid concerns that he was ill-prepared to lead the league into its critical television negotiations period. The clear hope is that Aresco will work in conjunction with Evolution Media Capital (EMC) and Bevilacqua Helfant Ventures (a group that recently negotiated the Pac-12’s groundbreaking $3 billion TV rights deal) in striking a similarly advantageous package. If the Big East and ESPN cannot reach a deal within the exclusive 60-day negotiating window, then the league’s TV rights will be open to the highest bidder.

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Why SMU’s Headline Hire of Larry Brown Could Actually Work Out

Posted by EJacoby on April 23rd, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter.

It’s been almost a full week since Southern Methodist officially hired Larry Brown to become the Mustangs’ new head coach, creating major headlines from a school that hasn’t had much to show from its program’s entire basketball history. The question surrounding the hire remains — Does SMU really expect Brown to turn around the program, or is the hire simply intended to draw publicity to a team in desperate need of some attention? We tend to think that the primary motive was the latter, but that it also just might be a smart move for the SMU program at this point in time.

Why Him? Hall of Famer Larry Brown (and his Assistants) are a Smart Hire for SMU (AP Photo/N. Raymond)

Larry Brown is in the Basketball Hall of Fame with a decorated legacy that includes being the only coach to win both an NCAA (Kansas) and NBA (Detroit) championship, but he hasn’t coached in the college ranks in nearly 25 years. At 71 years old, and with a track record of bolting from head coaching positions early in his tenure, why is there any reason to expect that Brown will be capable of turning around a struggling college program? The truth of the matter is there probably isn’t. College basketball is not what it was back in 1988 when he won a title for Kansas. There are now over 340 Division I teams, many of which have come to expect postseason success given the widespread parity that the sport has developed. The fact that SMU hasn’t qualified for an NCAA Tournament since 1993 doesn’t give Brown any slack either — the school is headed for the Big East in two seasons and desperately needs to turn things around in a hurry.

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