What’s on the Mind of the 15 ACC Programs Right Now

Posted by Lathan Wells on October 17th, 2014

With the start of the ACC college basketball season rapidly approaching, allow us to put on our psychoanalyst’s hat to determine what’s on the mind of each of its 15 member programs right now. Some are of the optimistic variety, while others are fearful at what they see lying ahead. All of them, though, are hoping to contribute to discussions lauding the ACC as the nation’s preeminent college basketball conference this year. Let’s jump into each program alphabetically.

  • Boston College: Blind optimism. The reality is that the Eagles, even with an all-ACC caliber star in Olivier Hanlan, are likely one of the three worst teams in the conference. But there’s a new coach around in Jim Christian, and thanks to the usual roster turnover, few remaining pieces to recall the 8-24 debacle of a year ago. Buying in to a new coach and system may not be a problem, but production on the court will continue to be.
  • Clemson: Loss. That loss is a huge one, in the departure of NBA draft pick K.J. McDaniels, who was their best player on both sides of the ball last year and led the team in four statistical categories. A 10-win improvement from the year before earned Brad Brownell a six-year contract extension, but how will this team score enough to win even if it replicates its defensive success of a year ago?
Jim Christian's hopes a clean slate and overhauled roster reverses BC's fortunes (credit: bostonherald.com)

Jim Christian hopes a clean slate and overhauled roster reverses BC’s fortunes (credit: bostonherald.com)

  • Duke: Motivation. Not just because of a stellar recruiting class that includes their first dominant center in some time in Jahlil Okafor and the overall potential to be in the mix for a championship. There’s also the internal motivation for Quinn Cook to keep a hold on the starting point guard role in light of the arrival of stud freshman Tyus Jones, and Rasheed Sulaimon’s motivation to show that an early-season slump last year (temporarily earning him a place in Coach K’s doghouse) was an aberration. Oh, and that first round NCAA Tournament loss to Mercer could light a fire of some sort, too.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

After Lackluster Season, ACC Must Improve Depth to Have the “Best Ever” Conversation Again

Posted by Lathan Wells on April 4th, 2014

Prior to the beginning of the college basketball season, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski infamously proclaimed that the ACC had the potential to be the greatest college basketball conference of all-time. That was a bold proclamation at the time, as we covered here, and with the 2013-14 season now drawing to a close, it’s become painfully apparent that the conference this year did nothing to stake such a claim. So the question then becomes, what does the ACC need to do in coming years to proudly proclaim itself the best basketball conference ever assembled? Here’s a road map for the league’s coaches and administrators.

Virginia's ascendance will only help the ACC's argument that it's the premier basketball conference (USA Today Sports)

Virginia’s ascendance will only help the ACC’s argument that it’s the premier basketball conference. (USA Today Sports)

The conference’s elite have to dominate the non-conference slate and enjoy copious postseason success. While there were a handful of marquee wins spread around prior to ACC play (North Carolina’s defeats of Michigan State, Kentucky, and Louisville; Duke’s defeat of Michigan; Syracuse handling Villanova), the league’s postseason results were anything but stellar. The conference managed to get six teams into the NCAA Tournament, but the upper tier didn’t produce much success when they got there. Duke lost in the opening round; North Carolina and Syracuse fell in the round of 32. Virginia, the regular-season and ACC Tournament champion, may have drawn a rough match-up in the Sweet Sixteen with Michigan State, but it could not advance (and UConn was able to handle the Spartans in the nexts round). The embarrassing result was that there was no ACC teams in the Elite Eight. These teams have to produce in postseason play in addition to their non-conference victories to help the perception of the conference return to an elite level.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Virginia Tech Earns Instant Credibility With Hire of Buzz Williams

Posted by Lathan Wells on March 25th, 2014

When Virginia Tech announced on Friday that it had poached head coach Buzz Williams from Marquette to replace the recently-fired James Johnson, the immediate reaction was that of general astonishment. Why on Earth would Williams leave a team he’d taken to the postseason in five out of six years on the bench to a program that had only reached the Big Dance once since 1996 and has finished last in the ACC three years running? While the reasons, thoroughly outlined here, became more apparent in the ensuing days, the real story is the amazing acquisition made by new Virginia Tech athletic director, Whit Babcock. The hiring of Williams and the way it managed to circle all of the major media outlets during the opening weekend of NCAA Tournament play, gave the Hokies basketball program something it hasn’t experienced in years: instant credibility.

Buzz Williams Virginia Tech PR campaign included a TNT appearance during the NCAA's (cbssports.com)

Buzz Williams’ Virginia Tech PR campaign included a TNT appearance during the NCAA Tournament (cbssports.com)

Williams oversaw a very successful Marquette program in the Big East, going an impressive 139-69 in his six years at the helm and taking the school to two Sweet Sixteen appearances and an Elite Eight run. No doubt his ability to navigate a difficult conference schedule (prior to realignment) and enjoy postseason success was extremely attractive to a Hokies program just trying to get noticed. Williams obviously looked around the ravaged Big East — a conference that the ACC raided to bring in Syracuse, Notre Dame, and Pittsburgh — and saw a chance to jump to the premier basketball conference in the land to match wits with four Hall of Fame coaches in Roy Williams, Rick Pitino, Jim Boeheim, and Mike Krzyzewski. Some may have originally seen the move as a bizarre one (especially Williams’ pay cut from $3 million to $2.3 million annually) , but coupling the chance to compete in the new-look ACC with the uncertainty in the Marquette administration as well as the state of the weakened Big East, the decision began to make more sense.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Coaching Carousel a Thrill Ride for AAC Programs

Posted by CD Bradley on March 25th, 2014

While 16 teams remain alive in the chase for a championship – including AAC members UConn and Louisville – several other teams are chasing the new coaches that they hope might get them to the Sweet Sixteen some day. USF and Houston have now found their way onto this year’s coaching carousel, and their candidate pools say a lot about where the conference stands and where it’s going. USF fired Stan Heath after the AAC Tournament, and Houston announced Monday that James Dickey had stepped down to deal with a family matter. Reports on Tuesday morning indicate that Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello, fresh off a competitive round of 64 loss to Louisville and his mentor, Rick Pitino, has accepted the South Florida position.

Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello has emerged as a leading candidate for the USF job. (NY Daily News)

Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello has taken the USF job. (NY Daily News)

The USF job quickly was initially linked to some major names, including Buzz Williams (more on him in a moment), but Masiello appears to be the guy. The loss to Louisville was a particularly emotional one for Masiello, who was once a 12-year-old ballboy for Pitino with the Knicks, played for him as a walk-on at Kentucky, and served as an assistant at Louisville for six years before taking the Manhattan job. After the game, his old boss recommended he take the USF job, as he told the Tampa Tribune: “For you, it’s a grand slam.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

ACC M5: 03.24.14 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on March 24th, 2014

morning5_ACC

  1. Hampton Roads Daily Press: Where to begin? Since the last morning five, Buzz Williams (and Yahoo! Sports) shocked the world by taking the Virginia Tech job. And while it was clear he was unhappy at Marquette, most people expected him to hold out for a better opportunity. Even more shocking is that the Hokies will pay him less than Marquette when all is said and done. Some more details in this David Teel piece, but if nothing else the hire shows an unprecedented investment in basketball at Virginia Tech. This is a game-changer in the conference going forward.
  2. ESPN: Speaking of the coaching carousel, hall of famer Jim Calhoun (!) is reportedly interested in the Boston College (!!!) job. Now, I’d be shocked if this actually happened. For one, Calhoun will be 72 this summer and has a history of health problems; two, his public relationship with Boston College hasn’t exactly been rosy of late; and three, he had serious APR issues at Connecticut. But I’m on board with Kyle Egan that Gene Difilippo shouldn’t overlook Calhoun’s interest. At a minimum Calhoun would generate both media and fan buzz. Assuming he stayed two or three years (which seems like the maximum), he’d also probably bring a serious upgrade in talent to Chestnut Hill. Boston College needs both of those things and as quickly as possible.
  3. Winston Salem Journal: Dan Collins nails his coverage of the end of the Jeff Bzdelik tenure here (and has a great intro here). But now it’s time to look forward. And Virginia Tech juist raised the bar significantly both in terms of hype and money, which often go hand in hand. Ron Wellman needs to “win the press conference,” so to speak. A candidate who’s gaining (entirely rumored) steam–at least from my perspective — is North Carolina Central’s Levelle Moton. Moton is high energy, young and has success in the area. At a minimum you’re taking a shot on a guy who’s incredibly likable and should be able to recruit well (and might stay for a very long time). I think Wake Forest looks for a safer (more experienced) hire, but with the stakes high Wellman may need to take a risk.
  4. Backing the PackTar Heel Blog, and Duke Basketball Report: Whew boy it was the basketball apocalypse this week in the Triangle. First NC State blows a 99% lead (according to KenPom.com) to Saint Louis because it can’t buy a free throw. Then Duke‘s stars have poor games and Mercer upsets the Blue Devils in Raleigh. Then North Carolina coughs up an eight-point lead in the final four minutes to Iowa State. I’ll take these one at a time in another post, but suffice to say, it was brutal. To rub salt in the wound, North Carolina Central the best team out of the MEAC in years got demolished in the round of 64.
  5. Charlottesville Daily Progress: As expected, Virginia is the last ACC team standing (in the NCAA Tournament, at least). Tony Bennett’s team kept the ACC from missing its first second weekend since the NCAA Tournament expanded. The Cavaliers poleaxed a good Memphis team Sunday night to carry the ACC’s torch to the Sweet Sixteen in what looks to be a fascinating matchup with a very trendy Michigan State team. Truthfully, when Virginia is shooting like they were Sunday, they won’t lose. I like Virginia to go to the Final Four out of the East, but facing Izzo in March (for anyone not named Roy Williams) is nothing to sneeze at.
Share this story

AAC M5: 03.19.14 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on March 19th, 2014

AAC_morning5_header

  1. Louisville has become a trendy pick to repeat as national champions, including by renowned political prognosticator, Nate Silver. Silver’s revamped FiveThirtyEight.com launched Monday with a bracket projection model giving the Cardinals a 15 percent chance to cut down the nets again — the highest percentage of any team — and a 38 percent chance of reaching the Final Four, good for third. Silver’s model gives no other AAC team even a one percent chance of winning a title; it likes UConn the most, giving the Huskies a six percent chance of reaching the final weekend. Cincinnati gets a three percent chance and Memphis a two percent chance to play into April.
  2. Fran Dunphy struggled through his worst year ever at Temple, but he expects to see better results next year. The Owls’ season ended with a double-overtime loss to UCF that featured sophomore Quenton DeCosey and junior Will Cummings combining for 53 points. They’ll both be back on campus next season and will be joined by three transfers who sat out this season — Jaylen Bond from Texas, Jesse Morgan from UMass, and Devin Coleman from Clemson – along with sophomore Daniel Dingle, due back from knee surgery, and four-star recruit Obi Enechionyia. Dunphy has had a great deal of coaching success, both at Temple and across town at Penn before that, and it seems much more likely that the Owls’ bad season was a one-year aberration rather than an indication of things to come.
  3. Whatever Temple does next year, it will have to do it without Anthony Lee. The redshirt junior big man, who averaged 13.6 points and 8.6 rebounds per game this year, graduates in May and will be able to transfer with one year of eligibility under the NCAA’s fifth-year transfer rule. ESPN’s Jeff Goodman tweeted that a dozen schools are interested in acquiring Lee’s services, including fellow AAC member Louisville, which of course is leaving the conference for the ACC next season.
  4. Kevin Ollie has done a pretty good job since becoming the head coach at UConn, but he first made his name on the court, not the sidelines. He played on three NCAA Tournament teams at UConn before a journeyman career in the NBA that included stints with 11 teams. His longevity helped him lead the AAC coaches in CBS Sports‘ ranking of the playing careers of NCAA Tournament coaches, landing at #3 in the list. The next AAC coach was Rick Pitino at #23 for his three years and and 329 assists as point guard at UMass in the early 1970s. Josh Pastner, a four-year walk-on who got a ring with the 1997 Arizona national champions, checked in at #44, and the diminutive Mick Cronin was #62 for his high school career (cut short by bum knees) under coach (and father) Hep.
  5. USF is looking for a new coach, and although some pretty big names are rumored to have interest, there’s still a certain amount of despair in Tampa. Ben Howland and Buzz Williams, among others, have already had their names attached to the job, Howland most prominently because he worked with new athletic director Mark Harlan when they were both at UCLA. Also apparently in the running is Florida assistant John Pelphrey, the former head coach at both South Alabama and Arkansas, but there remain doubts whether any coach who would take the job can get get the program where it want to be. Of course, recently fired head coach Stan Heath gave them their only two NCAA Tournament wins in school history, but he followed that up with a 6-30 conference mark over the past two years. That’s a lot closer to what USF has been historically than the little bit of fleeting March success.
Share this story

Xavier on the Cusp of Returning to the NCAA Tournament

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 14th, 2014

Brian Otskey is reporting from the Big East Tournament all week

After missing the NCAA Tournament last year for only the second time since 2000, Xavier head coach Chris Mack made it clear to his team what the goal was this season. “Every time we play a game from day one, from game one up until tonight, we always wrote the four letters in the top right of the white board [in the locker room] that said NCAA’ because deep down that’s been a goal of these guys,” said the fifth year Musketeers coach. On a day that saw more dramatics reminding us of moments from years gone by in this event, Xavier was all business in taking care of Marquette and solidifying itsNCAA Tournament hopes. Xavier’s 68-65 win over Marquette was number 21 on the year for Mack’s squad and should be enough to ensure the Musketeers return to the NCAA Tournament next week. Xavier was out-shot and out-rebounded by the pesky Golden Eagles but it was able to get to the free throw line regularly and surprisingly won the turnover battle, two things Marquette head coach Buzz Williams said were key reasons why his team failed to advance to Friday night’s semifinal round. “We turned the ball over too many times in a lower than normal possession game,” said Williams. He was absolutely right as his team failed to take advantage of a Xavier club that ranks near the bottom of the Big East in both offensive and defensive turnover percentage.

Xavier Won Its First Big East Tourney Game Last Night

Xavier Won Its First Big East Tourney Game Last Night

In particular it was Justin Martin who provided a spark for Xavier in the win. He shot the ball very well en route to a 19-point performance and did not turn the ball over once. This was a physical game contested heavily in the paint, your typical grind it out Big East style of game that didn’t feature many transition opportunities. Xavier was buoyed by the return of Matt Stainbrook, who suffered a sprained MCL in the team’s loss at Seton Hall on March 3. Stainbrook only played 15 minutes but contributed eight points and gave the Musketeers a much-needed presence in the paint on both ends of the floor. Marquette tried to mount a charge at the end but a questionable shot by Todd Mayo sealed the deal. After the game, Williams actually asked the assembled media how the NIT selection process works, claiming he was not familiar with it.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Marquette Dancing With Who They Brought

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vtbnblog) on February 14th, 2014

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference and a regular contributor. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

This could not be the team Buzz Williams envisioned would play this season as the 2012-13 wound down last April. That team had a backcourt rotation that included All-Conference First Team guard Vander Blue, junior Todd Mayo, a solid backup point guard in junior Derrick Wilson and a pair of promising freshmen, Duane Wilson and JaJuan Johnson, who would be allowed to ease into the system as they logged a minute here and there. Redshirt senior Jake Thomas and freshman John Dawson would hold down the end of the bench and wait. The always important wing and front court spots would go to a rotation of junior Jamil Wilson, All-American JuCo Jameel McKay, sophomore Steve Taylor (rehabbing from off season surgery) and junior Juan Anderson (who explored a transfer before returning to the team in late April).

Does Buzz Have Full Control of His Program Now? (AP)

Buzz Williams knows his team still has a long way to go to secure a bid to the Big Dance. (AP)

Freshman tweener Deonte Burton, a typical Williams recruit who could log minutes anywhere between off guard and power forward, would have to pick up scrap minutes and wait for his time. The low post would be anchored by Davante Gardner and Chris Otule. Either one of whom — possibly both — would be All-Conference Teamers (Gardner on offense, Otule on defense). Although Williams typically runs 10 (or more) players through each game, last April anyway, it appeared that he would have 13 talented players to mix and match for any given game and opponent. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Three Up, Three Down in the Big East

Posted by George Hershey on February 4th, 2014

There was plenty of action this past week in the Big East. Here is a look at three of the biggest improvements and three of the biggest regressions from the past week.

Three Up

Oliver Purnell might've found a gem in A. (Chicago Tribune)

Oliver Purnell might’ve found a gem in RJ Curington (Chicago Tribune)

  1. The rise of R.J. Curington – You might be wondering who this is, but Curington is a name that will become well-known around the league over the next three years. The DePaul freshman guard had played 24 total minutes in the entire season, with 12 games where he did not see any time at all. Yet with DePaul’s lineup decimated by suspensions and injuries to its key contributors, head coach Oliver Purnell has turned to Curington to play more minutes. In the last two games he has shown his promise, playing 23 and 30 minutes, respectively, in losses to Seton Hall and Providence. Against Seton Hall he helped keep the game respectable with 15 points and five rebounds, but on Saturday he blossomed, scoring 22 points to lead DePaul on a comeback that came up just short. The freshman was confident and did not back away from the pressure, taking 15 shots and going 3-of-8 from three with a clutch jumper to tie the game late. He also attacked the basket forcefully, getting to the line six times. Curington was not a big-time recruit and he barely played earlier this season, but he appears to be a very good offensive player who will complement fellow freshman Billy Garrett Jr. and Tommy Hamilton IV going forward.
  2. St. John’s getting on a roll – It was only three weeks ago when St. John’s was the laughingstock of the Big East, starting 0-5 including a loss to DePaul. Since then the Red Storm have gone 4-1, with the only loss coming on the road to Creighton, which needed a deep Doug McDermott three to win. The defense has hunkered down and they displayed it with a dominant performance over Marquette at Madison Square Garden over the weekend. Marquette could not get any good looks and the Golden Eagles’ frustration was evident all night. Steve Lavin’s offense has also played much better, showing a chemistry and cohesion that was not there before. Earlier in the season, the team was settling for too many contested jump shots, but they have begun to move the ball around better. D’Angelo Harrison hit six threes Saturday, and most of those were wide open because of better spacing and ball movement. This team’s talent has been well-publicized and criticized for its play thus far, but they have finally begun to fulfill the potential and just a few more wins will get them onto the bubble. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

Big East M5: 02.03.14 Edition

Posted by George Hershey on February 3rd, 2014

bigeast_morning5(2)

  1. Butler forward Andrew Chrabascz has gone from being a lightly-used freshman to a starter in his freshman year at Butler. Indy Star‘s Zak Keefer wrote an interesting article about Chrabascz’s relationship with Chris Herren. Herren is well known for his rise from Portsmouth to Boston College and Fresno State, and eventually being drafted by the Boston Celtics. Herren had trouble with drugs and eventually it caught up with him as his basketball career ended badly. After getting his life together he began to coach in the area and he became a mentor to Chrabascz as he began to get offers from prep schools and colleges. Currently, Chrabascz is earning the trust of his coach and teammates as he sees his role grow, while Herren has turned his life around completely, as he gives speeches and mentors kids around the nation. Chrabascz’s energy and hustle is evident every minute of the game as he is all constantly working. He has a bright future ahead as he grows his game alongside several other underclassmen.
  2. As DePaul struggles through another season, Big East Coast Bias asks if a new arena can save DePaul basketball. A team that was once well respected and made the 1979 Final Four, has failed earn a bid to the big dance since 2004. The construction of a new arena has been discussed at length recently and Mayor Rahm Emanuel seems to be behind the arena. As BECB notes, a new arena could triple student attendance and help bring in some top recruits. Although the team has struggled, their are some bright spots on the team. Chicago natives Billy Garrett Jr. and Tommy Hamilton IV as well as R.J. Curington have emerged as solid contributors this year and will be the rocks that the team builds off of going forward. They were one of Cliff Alexander’s final choices and if they can go out and get one or two of Chicago’s best players, the momentum should start to swing in DePaul’s favor.
  3. While Doug McDermott and Ethan Wragge get the spotlight for Creighton, Chris Novak of Big East Coast Bias points out that their future in the frontcourt is bright. Jahenns Manigat is graduating this year, so several less experienced players will have to take over next season. Luckily those players are Devin Brooks, Austin Chatman, and Isaiah Zierden. All three have contributed and have shown their great potential, albeit it sporadically. Chatman is averaging a stat stuffing 7.2 points, 4 rebounds, and 4.2 assists each game. He does not jump out when you watch games, but he is a key cog and his experience will help him next season. Brooks and Zierden have been up and down, with some greats performances mixed with average ones. Both have scored the ball at a high level at times and Brooks can rebound and pass well. Many may worry how the Bluejays will survive without McDermott, but their are pieces there that forecast a bright future.
  4. After Marquette’s lifeless loss at the hands of St. John’s at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, Buzz Williams talked about the tough turn around playing 40 hours after beating Providence 900 miles away. Anonymous Eagle takes a look at what Buzz Williams called “competitive inequities in the schedule.” It is never easy to play with only one day off between games, especially when your opponent had three days to rest, but Fox Sports 1 is paying the league a huge amount to broadcast the games, and the network needs to fill its spots. While it is more difficult to win in those situations, it is what teams face every year in the NCAA Tournament, and Williams knows that well, making the Sweet Sixteen the past three seasons. He will have to get his team ready for the beginning of March when they play two games on the road in three days, potentially with a team fighting for a spot on the bubble.
  5. Georgetown hopefully turned their season around on Saturday at Madison Square Garden with their win over Michigan State. After losing five straight with Joshua Smith ineligible, it looked like the Hoyas were headed to a losing season, but this win will give the team confidence and hopefully a light bulb went off for the players. While D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and Markel Starks have done the heavy lifting offensively, Nate Lubick was a key component in the win. Ben Standig takes a look at Lubick’s game on Saturday after he rarely looked to score most of the season. Lubick is a smart player and rebounds and defends well, but he was a liability on offense as he would never shoot outside of five feet from the basket. He only scored eight points, but he got to the line four times, showing increased aggression. The guards cannot do all the scoring, so Lubick’s contributions will help them find better shots and not have to make every play, leading to a more balanced and better team.
Share this story

Big East M5: 01.31.14 Edition

Posted by George Hershey on January 31st, 2014

bigeast_morning5(2)

  1. Creighton and Villanova have shot up the rankings this season with great guard play and effective outside shooting. ESPN‘s John Gasaway wrote an article recently looking at the teams with the highest percentage of attempts that come from behind the arc. Creighton takes 43.1 percent of its shots from deep, but Gasaway points out how effective they have become at shooting two-pointers (54.8 percent of their twos in conference action) and how their defense is also much improved (surrendering 1.02 points per possession). Villanova has a similar profile in all three aspects. They take 42.7 percent of their shots from three, making 54 percent of their twos and allowing 1.04 points per possession. It’s interesting just how similar the two best teams in the league are and we will probably see a much closer game the second time these teams meet in Omaha. 
  2. Former Ohio State walk-on and current Grantland writer Mark Titus may not have the most accurate power rankings out there, but he definitely has the funniest. Titus likes to make jokes, but he is also very smart about basketball and makes compelling points along the way. This week he has Creighton Doug McDermott in his eighth national spot. Although he jokes about McDermott and his impressive recent play, he has a great quote about Creighton as a team, saying, “The Bluejays have become appointment viewing. If their shooting outburst against Villanova wasn’t enough to convince you of this, McDermott’s heroic effort should cement their status. No matter who they’re playing, you can turn on a Creighton game and be pretty sure you’re going to be thoroughly entertained for two hours.” The team’s ability to go off at any time and McDermott’s NPOY-level play has truly made this team a can’t-miss viewing appointment. 
  3. Buzz Williams must have been listening to all the Marquette writers and fans this week. With articles from Cracked Sidewalks, Anonymous Eagle, and Paint Touches all calling for the underclassmen to get more playing time, Williams put JaJuan Johnson and Deonte Burton into the starting lineup in last night’s impressive win, with John Dawson coming off the bench early. All three played at least 10 minutes while Burton led the trio with nine points and six rebounds. The key with the freshman is to remain aggressive while staying under control and understanding the situation. They showed their confidence attacking the rim and being pesky on defense, but also forced a few unnecessary shots. It seems like Williams likes the energy and production they bring which should help them get more comfortable with the college game in preparation for next season.
  4. Seton Hall has its first McDonald’s All-American since Andre Barrett and Eddie Griffin arrived in 2000. Coney Island native Isaiah Whitehead was named to the team on Wednesday as he finishes up an outstanding high school career. Zach Braziller at the New York Post talked to Whitehead after the announcement, as he follows in the footsteps of Lincoln High School legends Stephon Marbury, Sebastian Telfair and Lance Stephenson. This is a great honor for Whitehead and his arrival next year should excite Seton Hall fans as he leads a stellar class of New York and New Jersey local products.
  5. With the losses of Brandon Austin, Kris Nunn, and Rodney Bullock, Providence guard Josh Fortune has had to consistently play almost the entire game throughout conference play. He has played at least 30 minutes in all but one game, and even played 50 (!) against St. John’s. While Fortune has played a key role for the Friars as Bryce Cotton’s backcourt mate, he has had to focus on basketball while his mother is stationed 6,000 miles away as a colonel in the Army. Kevin McNamara writes about life off the court and how Fortune has to deal with the intermittent communication with his mother. Fortunately for head coach Ed Cooley, Fortune has stepped up and been a consistent producer all season, helping Providence battle for what appeared to be an unlikely NCAA Tournament berth.
Share this story

Big East M5: 01.24.14 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on January 24th, 2014

bigeast_morning5(2)

  1. Following his amazing performance against Villanova, Creighton’s Ethan Wragge has become something of a ‘cult hero’ on the national stage. Omaha.com‘s Tom Shatel dove into Wragge’s journey to this point, and things haven’t been very easy for a fifth-year senior who struggled as an underclassman and occasionally considered transferring elsewhere. After averaging between spot duty minutes off the bench for nearly four years, Wragge has finally broken into the starting lineup and is hitting around four three-pointers (and for the most part, only three-pointers) per game at a 50 percent clip. We’ve already touched on the “Lumberjack Day” which will be held in his honor in a few weeks; finding out his full Creighton story makes him that much easier to root for.
  2. With Villanova coming to town this weekend, Marquette can use all the help it can get. Luckily, it sounds like the cavalry may arrive in the form of JaJuan Johnson, who is expected to return from a sprained his ankle he suffered in practice. Playing time won’t be guaranteed for anyone, however, as Buzz Williams expects to cut down his rotation as Marquette makes a push for the postseason. Journal-Sentinel writer Michael Hunt says it will be the veterans who carry the Golden Eagles if they are to go dancing: “If Marquette is to go to the tournament for the sixth time in Williams’ six years, it will largely be up to the four seniors to carry the team, particularly Davante Gardner, who has put together consistently good games since moving into the starting lineup five games ago, and Jamil Wilson, who is starting to get it together on a consistent basis.”
  3. Marquette and Georgetown were expected to be the standard-bearers for the Big East this season, at least until some of the newcomers got their bearings in the new league. However, both of those teams are struggling while Creighton and Xavier sit in two of the three slots in the conference standings. Omaha World-Herald writer Steve Pivovar believes that while his hometown Bluejays are a good story, the Big East needs the recognizable brand-name programs to step up: “Unfortunately, not everyone will have at their fingertips on the mountain of data that the Division I basketball tournament committee members will possess to judge the Big East fairly. That’s where having the league’s two most recognizable names — Georgetown and Marquette — at the top of the standings might help in how the Big East is perceived.”
  4. Many didn’t expect much from Xavier or Providence this season, and it’s not hard to see why on paper. The two teams are built on the backs of transcendent players in Semaj Christon and Bryce Cotton, but it wasn’t always obvious where their depth would come from. Of course, Christon and Cotton have played their parts, with Cotton as one of the conference’s most prolific scorers and Christon leading the way for a team that is only one half-game out of first place. The two teams face off this weekend in an important match-up for the Big East standings, as crazy as that may have sounded back in October.
  5. Xavier head coach Chris Mack has done a great job with the Musketeers this season, and he will now be celebrated as all top sports figures should — with a bobblehead doll. Mack gave Cincinnati.com an incredibly funny interview about the giveaway, which features some self-promotion: Each figure has Mack’s Twitter handle @CoachChrisMack etched into the base.
Share this story