ATB: Syracuse Keeps Winning… MSU Keeps Losing…

Posted by rtmsf on December 8th, 2010

The Lede.  It was another great year at the Jimmy V Classic, and RTC Live was privileged to have been there.  On nights like these, when the Garden is sold out, rockin’ n’ rollin’, a little tipsy and ready to party, it is truly one of the great venues in the entire sport.  Unfortunately, there have been far too many of the half-full, sleepwalking variety in recent years there, including the final rounds of the CvC and PNIT last month.  New York has always been a town that comes out to see the stars, and we don’t expect that’ll ever change; but, there are bona fide collegiate stars on teams other than Syracuse and Connecticut, so it’d be nice if those games were supported there at least half as well.

Syracuse Was Clearly Better Than MSU Tonight (P-S/R. Nett)

Your Watercooler MomentLet’s Stop Making Excuses.  There comes a time where all the statistical number-crunching and subjective analysis of matchups do not amount to anything once two teams actually take the court and play the game (another reason why we’re happy that computers don’t determine our championship round).  So it was with tonight’s Syracuse-Michigan State contest in the nightcap of the Jimmy V Classic.  For most of the season we’ve heard that Syracuse is overrated, a product of one mediocre performance after another en route to a deceiving 8-0 record.  We’ve also heard that Michigan State is a top five team despite losing to UConn and Duke over the past several weeks, a product of playing well in those “good” losses and the unquestioned pedigree of Mr. Final Four, Tom Izzo.  Shouldn’t we take a step back at this point and question those assessments?  Here’s what we saw:

  • Against by far the toughest opponent Syracuse has faced this season, it was the Orange, not MSU, who set the tone early with its aggressiveness and unobstructed forays to the rim for crowd-energizing dunks.
  • Despite having a lineup of predominantly juniors and seniors, Michigan State looked dazed, confused, befuddled and even at times bamboozled by the Syracuse 2-3 zone.  We know that they’ve seen such a thing before, yet it appeared as if they hadn’t.  They took too many threes (44% of their shots), hit too few (29%) of those attempts, and clearly failed to remember that a zone provides offensive board opportunities (only six all night).
  • The pregame news that Kalin Lucas is still not at 100% recovering from his Achilles injury last spring fits with what we saw tonight.  Eight points on 3-9 shooting with only two assists but six turnovers isn’t the Lucas who was Big Ten POY.  As he did last year, Korie Lucious was serviceable in picking up the slack, but for the Spartans to become a top seeded team in March, Lucas has to make it happen.
  • Senior Rick Jackson showed a tenacity on the glass (16 rebounds) that he’ll need to have as Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine grow into leadership roles.
  • Fab Melo was well on his way to Yinka Dare-esque assist totals before dropping two shocking dimes tonight.  He’d had one previous assist in his entire 108 minutes of action so far this season.  Well, it’s good to see that he can do something else other than foul people (0 pts, 0 rebs, 4 fouls).
  • Sometimes it’s just your night, as in when you throw an off-balance and probably ill-advised alley-oop, only to have the alley count for a bucket…

Certainly Syracuse will win a whole bunch of supporters after this game, and many people will hop off the Spartan bandwagon.  But it’s a long season, we all know that.  Right now the Orange are the better team and they’re playing better basketball.  But by March this could be a totally different story.  Syracuse didn’t need to hit threes tonight because they were defending so well and getting easy buckets inside, but they won’t have the same luxury of “surprise” with the 2-3 zone in the Big East that they had here.  Who will be able to knock down those shots when they need them?  The jury is still out on that question.  Similarly, Michigan State has yet to prove that they’re really a better team than the #5 seed that crashed Indianapolis last March.  They certainly appear to have the pieces in place, but all too often the Spartan offense seems to abandon the defense and they dig holes that they can’t quite climb out of.  Obviously, you can’t win a national championship without consistent scoring threats — who will that be for Tom Izzo if Kalin Lucas cannot get all the way back this year?  All we can definitively say is that Syracuse has earned their top ten ranking, while Michigan State has not.  It’s time to stop making excuses for both teams and rank them accordingly now.

Tonight’s Quick Hits…

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Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 7th, 2010

Rob Dauster of Ballin’ Is A Habit is the RTC Correspondent for the Big East conference.

[Ed. note: this post was written prior to Tuesday night’s games]

A Look Back

Last week, I wrote about how the Big East had won a number of the early season tournaments.  Six, to be exact. Two other teams made the finals of their respective tournaments. I had this to say about it: But is it possible that, while looking at the Big East’s faults, we happened to overlook just how deep the conference is? Yes, apparently. I’m taking it a step further this week.

The Big East, as of today, might actually be the best conference in the country. There are 19 college basketball teams left without a loss on the season. Seven of them are members of the Big East conference — Pitt, Georgetown, UConn, Cincinnati, Syracuse, Notre Dame, Louisville. Three more have just one loss — St. John’s, Villanova, and a 9-1 Providence team off to their best start since 1988.  True, the Big East has 16 teams, more than any other conference. But in comparison, the Big Ten and the Big 12, the two other leagues that can realistically join the conversation, have just two undefeated teams each.

I think we can all agree, however, that this is not the best way to determine the strength of a conference. Is RPI? Because the Big East has the No. 1 conference RPI according to If you want to get even more in depth, Albert Lancada of ESPN put together a formula that incorporates four different computer rankings as well as both polls, and he found that the Big East was a close second to the Big Ten when it came to the best conference.

Honestly, I don’t love breaking down conference rankings. I think it is actually pretty boring, but it is a good discussion starter. Anyone that follows me on twitter knows how much I enjoy a good twi-scussion.  Even the most die-hard Big Ten and Big 12 fans have to admit that the Big East may currently be leading that discussion.

Player of the Week: Chris Wright, Georgetown. Team of the Week: Georgetown Hoyas

This week, its all about Georgetown, and not just because the majority of the Big East didn’t play anyone this week. It’s about time that we start to consider Georgetown as one of the favorites to win the Big East and to reach the Final Four. That’s what happens when you start the season 8-0 with wins against teams like Old Dominion, Missouri, NC State and Utah State. Only the Utah State game was at home. Last week, the Hoyas beat two completely different teams. On Tuesday, they went into Kansas City to take on the Tigers in what was the single most entertaining game of the young season, 111-102 (OT).

On Saturday, the Aggies came to town. After playing a methodical first half which saw USU’s offense execute to precision, John Thompson III threw on a press in the second half which the Aggies could not handle. Turnovers and easy baskets led to a 68-51 win over the WAC favorites despite Chris Wright being the only player that reached double figures for the Hoyas.

Georgetown beat two very good teams this week. Those two teams played styles that are at opposite ends of the basketball spectrum. Both teams were able to execute their game plans to a degree — Missouri got the game into an uptempo shootout, forcing turnovers and scoring in transition while Utah State was able to keep Georgetown from shooting threes (the Hoyas were 2-9 from deep) and kept the pace methodical – the Hoyas won both games.

Chris Wright was Georgetown’s most valuable player this week. Against Missouri, he had 21 points, ten assists, and hit the three that forced overtime with 0.3 seconds left. He also had 21 against Utah State, the only player to reach double figures in the game.

Deserving of a shout-out: Brandon Young, DePaul (because we all know none of you will make it down to the DePaul section of this post)

Quickly, name the best freshman in the Big East. I bet the name Brandon Young never came up, did it? Young is the fifth-leading freshman scorer in the country at 16.3 PPG. He averaged 24.0 PPG last week as DePaul actually won two games, knocking off Central Michigan and Northern Illinois. Against Central Michigan, Young exploded for 31 points, the second most for a freshman this season and the most for a DePaul freshman since Quentin Richardson. He also went 6-6 from three after going into the game 1-9 on the season.

Power Rankings (last week’s rankings in parentheses)

1. Pitt 9-0 (1)
Last Week: 12/1 vs. Duquesne 80-66, 12/4 vs. Rider 87-68
Next Week: 12/8 vs. Delaware State, 12/11 vs. Tennessee

Brad Wanamaker had come back down to earth after a terrific start to the season, culminating in an ugly performance against Duquesne where the senior guard had four fouls and seven turnovers in just 16 minutes. He responded in a big way against Rider, scoring 16 points and dropping 11 dimes while turning the ball over just once. Ashton Gibbs is still playing terrific, efficient basketball. And Pitt’s front line is starting to come alive. Dante Taylor scored 21 points this week. Gary McGhee had 12 points, 13 boards, and 7 blocks against the Dukes. Nasir Robinson went for 14 in that game. Yeah. Pitt’s good.

2. Georgetown 8-0 (4)
Last Week: 11/30 vs. Missouri 111-102 OT, 12/4 vs. Utah State 68-51
Next Week: 12/9 @ Temple, 12/12 vs. Appalachian State

See above discussion of Team of the Week.

3. UConn 7-0 (2)
Last Week: 11/30 vs. UNH 62-55, 12/3 vs. UMBC 94-61
Next Week: 12/8 vs. FDU

Kemba Walker had another terrific week, putting 30 on New Hampshire before notching a triple double (24 points, 13 boards, ten assists) against UMBC. But the Huskies may have had their fatal flaw exposed this past week. Combined, the Huskies gave up over 30 offensive rebounds to two teams that should not be able to rebound with UConn. Alex Oriakhi is a horse inside, but he’s one of the only frontcourt players on that team with any strength. What happens when Roscoe Smith tries to box out Rick Jackson or Dante Taylor?

4. Villanova 6-1 (3)
Last Week: 12/3 vs. St. Joe’s 71-60
Next Week: 12/8 @ Penn, 12/12 @ La Salle

All of a sudden, the Wildcats have no depth. Nova was able to bounce back with a win over St. Joseph’s in one of the great college basketball rivalries, but they did it with Maurice Sutton out with ankle problems and Isaiah Armwood dealing with back spasms. Worse, however, is the fact that JayVaughn Pinkston got word this week that he will be forced to miss the entire season as a result of the fight he got in earlier this year. Throw in the struggles of Corey Fisher and Maalik Wayns the last two games, and Nova had to get bumped down.

5. Syracuse 8-0 (5)
Last Week: 11/30 vs. Cornell 78-58, 12/4 vs. NC State 65-59
Next Week: 12/7 vs. Michigan State, 12/11 vs. Colgate

The Orange have yet to really put together an impressive performance this season. This week, the NC State team that lost to Wisconsin by 39 points went into the Carrier Dome and nearly beat the Orange. While they continue to struggle to find their range from three, we at least have a reason for Fab Melo‘s slow start — he’s playing with an injured achilles and a dislocated finger.

6. Notre Dame 8-0 (7)
Last Week: 11/30 vs. Indiana State 81-72
Next Week: 12/8 vs. Kentucky, 12/11 vs. Gonzaga

We will have to wait until next week to really get a feel for the Irish. The win over Wisconsin is nice, but the Badgers haven’t been the most impressive team here early in the season. Notre Dame will get Kentucky on the road before playing host to the Zags. It will be interesting to see how the Irish match up with a team as athletic as Kentucky or Gonzaga.

7. Louisville 6-0 (8)
Last Week: 12/1 vs. FIU 92-55, 12/4 vs. South Alabama 97-70
Next Week: 12/8 vs. San Francisco, 12/11 vs. UNLV

The Cardinals still haven’t done anything wrong, but they really haven’t had an opportunity to. The win over Butler is looking less impressive after the Bulldogs lost to Evansville. They will get a really good test on Saturday when UNLV pays the Yum! Center a visit.

8. Cincinnati 7-0 (11)
Last Week: 12/1 vs. Wright State 77-69, 12/4 @ Toledo 81-47
Next Week: 12/11 vs. Utah Valley

The Bearcats are, in fact, 7-0. But they also haven’t beaten much of anyone this season as Dayton is not as good as many believed they would be. The sad thing is that Cincy can realistically make it to the new year undefeated if they can handle Xavier on New Year’s Eve.

9. Marquette 6-2 (9)
Last Week: 12/4 vs. Longwood 96-65
Next Week: 12/7 vs. Texas A&M-CC, 12/11 vs. Wisconsin

Marquette needs to spend their Christmas break down time taking jumpers, because the Golden Eagles’ biggest issue right now is that they are shooting under 30% from beyond the arc. Once those jumpers start dropping, this will be a different team.

10. West Virginia 5-2 (6)
Last Week: 12/1 vs. American 71-50, 12/4 @ Miami FL 76-79
Next Week: 12/7 vs. Robert Morris, 12/12 @ Duquesne

Perhaps the biggest testament to the strength of this conference is that West Virginia is 10th in our rankings. Tenth! That’s what happens when the same team that battled Minnesota for 40 minutes for the Puerto Rico Tip-Off title loses to Miami. Casey Mitchell finally came back to earth, finishing just 5-15 from the floor after breaking the 25-point mark in five straight games.

11. St. John’s 5-1 (10)
Last Week: 12/1 vs. Wagner 69-61
Next Week: 12/7 vs. St. Bonaventure, 12/11 @ Fordham

The Johnnies have now won five in a row after knocking off Wagner 69-61. I hope you didn’t write this team off after their loss to St. Mary’s. DJ Kennedy, who has been struggling, came off the bench to score 20 points, a personal season high.

12. Providence 9-1 (14)
Last Week: 12/1 vs. Northeastern 77-72, 12/4 vs. URI 87-74, 12/6 vs. Brown 91-64
Next Week: 12/8 @ Boston College, 12/11 vs. Alabama

The Friars are off to their best start to a season in a long time. You always have to consider the competition and pace of play, but Providence currently sits 11th in the country in rebounds per game. Not bad for a team whose big knock in past year’s was their extreme guard orientation. If they win at Boston College, it’ll be time to start talking about the Friars.

13. Seton Hall 3-3 (12)
Last Week: Nothing
Next Week: 12/11 @ UMass

The Pirates didn’t play last week, but they still lost. Jeremy Hazell is out at least another month after having surgery on his broken wrist.

14. South Florida 5-4 (13)
Last Week: 12/1 vs. VCU 60-59, 12/4 @ Florida Atlantic 42-50
Next Week: 12/12 @ Kent State

It’s a shame South Florida had to go and lose to Florida Atlantic. I was just starting to like this team. They were coming off of back-to-back wins against Texas Tech and VCU, and did not have a bad loss on their resume.

15. Rutgers 4-2 (15)
Last Week: 12/1 vs. NJIT 66-54
Next Week: 12/8 vs. Marist, 12/11 vs. Auburn

Auburn vs. Rutgers on Saturday will air in 3D on ESPN, according to a tweet from Mike DeCourcy. With Auburn being one of nation’s worst Power Six teams and Rutgers struggling to generate interest even in their own fanbase, I’ll bet five people see it, and none in 3D.

16. DePaul 3-4 (16)
Last Week: 12/2 vs. Northern Illinois 86-84, 12/5 vs. Central Michigan 71-62
Next Week: 12/8 @ Indiana State, 12/11 vs. Ball State

Brandon Young’s status as an overlooked freshman was chronicled earlier in this space. As one of the nation’s lowest “Power Six” schools in KenPom’s rankings, there’s not much else to get up for with this group.

A Look Ahead

While some teams use the holiday season to feast on cupcakes, that’s not the case with the Big East. High-profile opponents this week include Michigan State (Syracuse), Tennessee (Pittsburgh), Kentucky and Gonzaga (Notre Dame), and Wisconsin (Marquette).

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The Week That Was: November 27 – December 3

Posted by rtmsf on December 4th, 2010

David Ely is an RTC Contributor.


LeBron James’ big return to Cleveland on Thursday night got TWTW thinking if something similar could ever happen in the college hoops world. Now obviously it would be tough/impossible to create the exact same circumstances surrounding James’ seven-year tenure in Cleveland, his love affair with the city and their subsequent breakup on national TV this past summer. First we’d have to end the NCAA’s policy that forces transfer players to sit out for a year, as that would let players move freely to and from teams in a manner similar to free agency in the NBA. Then we’d have to find the right player that could possibly inspire the right amount of anger/hatred if he just so happened to “take his talents” to the wrong team.

Imagine if Hansbrough Moved to Duke...

OK, ready? Imagine if Tyler Hansbrough announced after UNC’s Final Four loss to Kansas in 2008 that he was going to transfer to Duke for his senior season. Kinda the same situation. A ringless player jumps ship in search of a possible championship. Imagine the public outcry. Imagine the reaction in Chapel Hill. Imagine Hansbrough’s first trip to the Dean Dome in a Blue Devils’ jersey.  You think Cleveland hates James? Just think about hatred felt by Tar Heel Nation if the reigning player of the year jumped ship to play for its bitter rival. Cleveland fans harbored no ill-will toward the Heat before this year, UNC fans don’t need any reason to wish bad things upon Duke and Coach K.

I don’t know if the environment in our hypothetical Dean Dome would trump the Quicken Loans Area. But it would be a memorable night… one of the most epic evenings of hoops in college basketball history.

Anyway let’s get back to reality with our third installment of TWTW.

What We Learned

  • Despite its overtime win at Virginia Tech, I don’t like what I see from Purdue. While discrediting the Boilermakers’ chops as a national player was a popular thing to do in the immediate aftermath of Robbie Hummel’s season-ending ACL tear, there was still a small group that warned people not to overlook Matt Painter’s club.  “Hey! We’ve still got E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson!” There’s no debating Moore’s and Johnson’s basketball credentials, but the problem is there’s not much firepower apart from that inside-outside duo. Against Richmond and Virginia Tech, the Boilermakers put up some pretty dreadful offensive numbers. They only made four field goals in the first half against the Spiders en route to a 16-53 shooting night (30.2%). They improved slightly against the Hokies (36.2%), but Johnson and Moore combined for 43 of Purdue’s 58 points Wednesday night. To compete in a Big Ten that’s looking more and more loaded as the season progresses, the Boilermakers are going to have to find some offensive balance.
  • Even though it boasts the best team in the country, the ACC stinks. Thank god for Duke (how many times has that sentence been written?). The Blue Devils provide some much-needed respectability to a conference that views itself as the center of the college basketball universe. This year, though, the ACC shares more in common with the Atlantic 10 than the Big East. #1 Duke is the only squad ranked in RTC’s top 25. Let’s take it a step further. If you look at the AP poll, the ACC only boasts two teams outside of Durham, N.C., that received votes. North Carolina checks in at #29 and Virginia Tech at #32. The conference lost the ACC/Big Ten Challenge by a count of 6-5. And for every positive result like Duke’s 84-79 win over Michigan State or Virginia’s upset at Minnesota, there were disasters like Georgia Tech’s 20-point thumping at Northwestern, Clemson’s home loss to Michigan and N.C. State’s 87-43 loss to Wisconsin. Could Duke possibly go 15-1 or 16-0 in conference play this season? TWTW wouldn’t bet against it.
  • Maybe all of that talk about Florida’s return to national prominence was a little bit premature. The Gators began the season expecting to battle Kentucky and Tennessee for the SEC East title because they… ummm, they… why did everyone think this team would be great, again? Billy Donovan’s bunch definitely is going through some growing pains. Since its blowout loss at home to Ohio State on November 16, Florida struggled to beat the likes of Morehead State and Florida Atlantic and then got beaten by Central Florida on Wednesday. Like Purdue, the Gators aren’t performing on the offensive end. Florida has only topped 70 points once in the past four games, and its 75.3 points per game rank 94th overall as of Wednesday night. The most troubling stat for Florida is that it ranks 93rd in the nation in assists as only three players on the Gators’ roster (Erving Walker, Chandler Parsons and Kenny Boynton) average more than one dime a game.

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ATB: Big Ten Wins Second Challenge in a Row

Posted by rtmsf on December 2nd, 2010

The LedeBig Ten Goes Back-to-Back.  Maybe the plan is for the Big Ten to win eight more ACC/Big Ten Challenges in a row so as to tie up the all-time record (now 10-2 ACC), but thanks to a strong Tuesday performance where the league went 4-1 against the ACC, the Big Ten did just enough tonight (2-3) to once again crow about basketball dominance for the next 363 days.  Well, sorta.  As much as we enjoy the concept behind these conference challenges (and this one is clearly the best one), they don’t truly mean much in terms of assessing the relative strength of the conferences.  As we mentioned last night, the Big Ten is much stronger than the ACC in its top half, and that’s the half that truly matters when discussing this game we call college basketball.  We’re not sure if anyone outside of Iowa City or Winston-Salem cares much if Wake Forest is marginally better than Iowa, but most of the nation cares whether Duke is better than Michigan State  (they are) or Virginia Tech is better than Purdue (they’re not).  If we were ranking the top ten teams by combining both leagues, it would go something like this:  1) Duke; 2) Ohio State; 3) Michigan State; 4) Illinois; 5) Minnesota; 6) Purdue; 7) Wisconsin; 8) Virginia Tech; 9) Northwestern; 10) Maryland/FSU (?).  At the level where the checks are signed, the Big Ten is by far the better league and we’ll stand by that assertion throughout the season.

Irving's Skills Belie His Youth (credit: Herald-Sun)

Your Watercooler Moment Just How Good Is Kyrie Irving? A common refrain during and after tonight’s Duke victory over Michigan State, 84-79, was that Blue Devil point guard Kyrie Irving was not only the best player on the floor — with 31 pts, 6 rebs, 4 assts, 2 stls and 2 blks — but he might just be the freshman who should have been chosen as preseason first-team All-American and NPOY candidate (instead of the popular pick eight miles down the road, Harrison Barnes).  It’s hard to argue with that assessment right now.  In two games matched up against elite senior All-America point guards (Kansas State’s Jacob Pullen and Michigan State’s Kalin Lucas), Irving has out-everythinged his more experienced peers.  During parts of the game tonight, he simply made his defenders look like they were standing in quicksand as he hesitated and stepped-through the lane for numerous clever finishes.  When the MSU defense laid off of him, he calmly sank a couple of threes.  When they double-teamed him, he consistently made the right pass to the open man.  And this isn’t just one game, either.  On the season, he’s averaging 17/4/6 assts , carries a 2.5:1 assist/turnover ratio and he’s in the spectacular 50/40/80+ zone as a matter of shooting percentages (52%/44%/88%).  Oh, and he appears to be the best player on the #1 team in America — there’s that too.  It’s early, and there’s a point guard named Kemba and a couple of other freshmen named Terrence and Jared who we think are playing just as well or better as the Dookie getting all the love tonight, but without question Irving makes Duke a fantastically dangerous team in ways that they never were with Jon Scheyer running things last year.  If the Devils can figure out the big man situation and defend a little better (allowing 49%/53% against MSU is a little disconcerting), they have a chance to become an epic team (but not good enough to run the table, see below).

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Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 29th, 2010

Rob Dauster of Ballin Is A Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East conference.

A Look Back

The Big East had been questioned coming into the season.  I did it myself.  They didn’t have their usual firepower up top. Their preseason player of the year candidates — the Austin Freemans and Corey Fishers and Kris Josephs of the world — barely make a peep on NBA Draft boards. And the bottom of the league? Don’t get me started on the bottom of the league.

But is it possible that, while looking at the Big East’s faults, we happened to overlook just how deep the conference is?  Yes, apparently.  The early season tournaments aren’t just an entertaining way to kick off a normally bland start to the college basketball season. They also act as a gauge, a way to measure how each respective conference stacks up against one another.

And the Big East was, in a word, impressive, in the 2010 installment of the early season tournaments:

  • UConn beat Wichita State and upset Michigan State and Kentucky to win the Maui Invitational.
  • Syracuse beat Michigan and Georgia Tech to win the Legends Classic.
  • Notre Dame notched wins over Georgia, Cal, and Wisconsin to with the Old Spice Classic.
  • St. John’s beat Arizona State in the finals of the Great Alaska Shootout.
  • Pitt won the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic by beating Maryland and Texas in NYC.
  • Georgetown won the Charleston Classic with a win over NC State in the finals.
  • Villanova lost to Tennessee in the finals of the Preseason NIT.
  • West Virginia beat Vanderbilt in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off before losing to Minnesota in the finals.

By my count, that is six tournament titles and two second places finishes. Both of the second place finishes came via loss to a top 25 team. With the exception of Louisville, who didn’t play in one of these tournaments, each of the Big East’s top eight teams finished either first or second in their respective tournament. The ESPN/USA Today poll currently has five Big East teams in the top 25, and eight in the top 29. The AP poll looks even better, as those eight teams are all in the top 27, with Notre Dame also sneaking their way into the top 25.

The top of the Big East is a far cry from where it was in 2009, when they sent five teams to the Sweet 16, three to the Elite 8, two to the Final Four, and logged three of the four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament.  But with the depth of this conference — among the schools already listed, keep in mind Seton Hall is playing without Jeremy Hazell and with half of Herb Pope and Cincinnati just beat Dayton 68-34 — there is no reason we shouldn’t expect another season with eight or nine potential NCAA Tournament teams come March.

Player of the Week: Kemba Walker, UConn

It has to go to Walker, as much as I would like to pass the award elsewhere. Kemba absolutely took the college basketball world by storm out in Maui. Coming off of a 42-point performance against Vermont, the Huskies point guard put the team on his diminutive back and carried them to a Maui Invitational tournament title. He averaged 30.0 PPG, 4.0 APG, and 2.7 SPG during the event, leading his team to wins over then top ten teams Michigan State and Kentucky and into the top ten of both major polls.

Team of the Week: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

The Irish stormed through Disneyland, taking home the title in the Old Spice Classic held at Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex. Along the way, the Irish knocked off Georgia, Cal, and Wisconsin. There are a couple things that really impressed me about this team. For one, they are just as good defensively as they were last season. They held Wisconsin to 51 points two days after holding Cal to 44 points (and 5 in the first half!) The second thing that impressed me is the versatility they have in their lineup. The Irish can play big if they have too, using Tyrone Nash and/or Jack Cooley on the front line. But, as they did against Wisconsin, they can also go small, using essentially five perimeter players, with Carleton ScottScott Martin, and Tim Abromaitis on the front line. They also have a freshman point guard named Eric Atkins that proved his worth on this trip. He will allow Ben Hansbrough to play off the ball when need be. The third thing is their resiliency. The Irish were down 11 late in the second half to a good Wisconsin team before coming back and winning. Against Georgia, the Irish switched to a zone in the second half that helped then comeback from 12 down at the half.

Power Rankings: (last week’s ranking in parentheses)

1. Pitt 7-0 (1)
Last Week: 11/23 vs. Robert Morris 74-53, 11/27 vs. Penn 82-58
Next Week: 12/1 vs. Duquesne, 12/4 vs. Rider

Pitt looked like Pitt these two games. They smothered an overmatched opponent defensively, waiting for a big second half run to take control of the game. The Panthers are easily the best team in the Big East right now.

2. UConn 5-0 (9)
Last Week: 11/22 vs. Wichita State 83-79, 11/23 vs. Michigan State 70-67, 11/24 vs. Kentucky 84-67
Next Week: 11/30 vs. New Hampshire, 12/3 vs. UMBC

The only thing I want to elaborate on from above is that the Huskies role players have been pretty impressive. Shabazz Napier is a playmaking point guard that is a tough defender. Roscoe Smith and Jeremy Lamb are both impressive athletes with enough skills to be capable thus far. And Niels Giffey is the kind of all-around talent — defends, shoots the three, handles the ball — that UConn has been missing the last few seasons. The question is whether it lasts.

3. Villanova 5-1 (2)
Last Week: 11/24 vs. UCLA 82-70, 11/26 vs. Tennessee 68-78
Next Week: 12/4 vs. St. Joe’s

Villanova is desperately in need of a leader. Against Tennessee, the Wildcats just simply could not get into any kind of a rhythm offensively with their three back court stars struggling. Corey Stokes and Maalik Wayns combined for 6-20 shooting from the field and six turnovers. And Corey Fisher? He finished the game 1-10 from the floor with five turnovers and just three points. Worst still, he didn’t seem like he wanted any part of the ball down the stretch. That’s not a good sign for the kid that was supposed to fill Scottie Reynolds shoes.

4. Georgetown 6-0 (3)
Last Week: 11/27 vs. UNC-Asheville 87-72
Next Week: 11/30 vs. Missouri in Kansas City, 12/4 vs. Utah State

Last week, we talked about how the Hoyas’ big men were playing better than expected. Well, this week, we should now talk about how the back court may actually be outperforming expectations. Austin Freeman, Chris Wright, and Jason Clark are averaging a combined 47.2 PPG and 11.1 APG. Wright and Clark are both shooting over 45% from three. Freeman? He’s hitting an obscene 57.6% of his triples.

5. Syracuse 6-0 (4)
Last Week: 11/26 vs. Michigan 53-50, 11/27 vs. Georgia Tech 80-76
Next Week: 11/30 vs. Cornell, 12/4 vs. NC State

The most important part of two more unimpressive wins for the Orange was that Kris Joseph finally looked like the player many of us thought he was going to be all season long. Joseph had 22 of the Orange’s 53 points in the win over Michigan, then Joseph scored 16 of his 19 points in the second half — after fighting foul trouble in the first half — in the title game against Georgia Tech.

6. West Virginia 4-1 (5)
Last Week: 11/27 vs. VMI 82-66
Next Week: 12/1 vs. American, 12/4 @ Miami

The Mountaineers played just one game since their impressive second place finish in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. In an 82-66 win over VMI. Casey Mitchell, once again, was the star, hitting for 25 points in the win. Kevin Jones hasn’t quite developed like many expected, but perhaps the bigger issue is that Truck Bryant was held out of the VMI game for “disciplinary reasons.”

7. Notre Dame 7-0 (8)
Last Week: 11/25 vs. Georgia 89-83 2OT, 11/26 vs. Cal 57-44, 11/28 vs. Wisconsin 58-51
Next Week: 11/30 vs. Indiana State

See above – Team of the Week

8. Louisville 4-0 (7)
Last Week: 11/27 vs. Marshall 80-66
Next Week: 12/1 vs. FIU, 12/4 vs. South Alabama

There’s not much more to say about Louisville than we already have said. They are 4-0 and have five guys averaging between 11.0 PPG and 12.0 PPG. Most surprising? Walk-on point guard Elisha Justice, averaging 7.0 PPG and 2.0 APG.

9. Marquette 5-2 (6)
Last Week: 11/22 vs. Duke 77-82, 11/23 vs. Gonzaga 63-66, 11/27 vs. Milwaukee 75-72
Next Week: 12/4 vs. Longwood

I’ve been high on Marquette all season long. They create quite a few matchup problems when they put their best lineup on the floor. But how impressive they were in a loss to Duke was erased in a close win over Milwaukee and a loss to Gonzaga. Marquette is always going to play close games, but until they start winning more impressively, the Golden Eagles have to slide.

10. St. John’s 4-1 (11)
Last Week: 11/25 vs. Ball State 88-83 OT, 11/26 vs. Drake 82-39, 11/28 vs. Arizona State 67-58
Next Week: 12/1 vs. Wagner

St. John’s looked like the St. John’s we expected this season. Playing four time zones to the west, the Johnnies rolled through the Great Alaska Shootout, capping their tournament victory with a come-from-behind win over Arizona State. St. John’s did it in the second half with a great press and on the back of 17.7 PPG from Justin Brownlee.

11. Cincinnati 5-0 (12)
Last Week: 11/24 vs. Savannah State 54-41, 11/27 vs. Dayton 68-34
Next Week: 12/1 vs. Wright State 12/4 @ Toledo

Cincinnati was flying far off of my radar, even with Sean Kilpatrick doing his best Lance Stephenson impression. But what the Bearcats did to Dayton? That just wasn’t right. The final doesn’t do that beatdown justice. The score at one point in the second half was 56-19.

12. Seton Hall 2-3 (10)
Last Week: 11/22 vs. Clemson 58-64 OT
Next Week: 11/29 vs. St. Peter’s

There’s not much to say about Seton Hall since last week. They still are operating without Jeremy Hazell, and Herb Pope still isn’t back into shape. The Pirates will be good, but we may have to wait until the Big East season to see it.

13. South Florida 4-3 (12)
Last Week: 11/23 vs. Liberty 60-43, 11/26 vs. BYU 75-77 2OT, 11/27 vs. Texas Tech 64-61
Next Week: 12/1 vs. VCU, 12/4 @ Florida Atlantic

The Bulls looked impressive when they took a very good BYU team to double overtime. The next night, they proceeded to beat Texas Tech, and while the Red Raiders may not be a tournament team, its still a nice win for USF. Jawanza Poland and Ron Anderson look like they may end up being pretty good players one day.

14. Providence 5-1 (14)
Last Week: 11/23 vs. La Salle 73-84, 11/24 vs. Wyoming 84-77
Next Week: 11/29 vs. Central Connecticut, 12/1 vs. Northeastern, 12/4 vs. Rhode Island

The Friars are 5-1, but they haven’t beaten anyone of substance. The only borderline team they have played was La Salle, who they lost to by 11 points.

15. Rutgers 3-2 (15)
Last Week: 11/23 vs. Norfolk State 83-57, 11/26 vs. St. Joe’s 70-76
Next Week: 12/1 vs. NJIT

It looked like the Scarlet Knights had bounced back from an opening night loss to Princeton. That is until they lost to A-10 cellar dweller St. Joseph’s.

16. DePaul 1-4 (16)
Last Week: 11/25 vs. Oklahoma State 56-60, 11/26 vs. Cal St. Northridge 66-88, 11/28 vs. Stanford 74-81 OT
Next Week: 12/2 vs. Northern Illinois

The good news is that DePaul looked competitive in their losses to Stanford and Oklahoma State. The bad news? Stanford and Oklahoma State are going to be spending a lot of time at the bottom of their respective conferences. The worse news? DePaul lost by 22 to Cal St. Northridge.

A Look Ahead

  • …way ahead. In 2012-13, TCU will jump ship to the Big East, as was reported Monday afternoon. With the conference growing to 17 teams in basketball (assuming no defections in the meantime), let the scheduling and logistical nightmares commence, not to mention nightmares on the basketball court – the Horned Frogs haven’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 1987.
  • Things cool down for the most part, now that the early season tournaments have wrapped up. The biggest highlights on the schedule for this week are a semi-road game for Georgetown, who faces Missouri in Kansas City, a visit to Syracuse from NC State, and another ACC-Big East date, as Miami hosts West Virginia. To dig a little deeper, VCU, whose performances against Tennessee and UCLA  turned a few heads in New York City, will make a trip to South Florida Wednesday.
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Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 23rd, 2010

Rob Dauster of Ballin’ Is A Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East conference.

[ed note: this post was written before Tuesday’s games]

A Look Back

  • Seton Hall loses Hazell: The Pirates suffered a serious setback in their bid make the NCAA Tournament when leading scorer Jeremy Hazell broke his wrist in the Paradise Jam opening round against Alabama. Without Hazell, the Pirates lost back-to-back games, unable to break the 60-point barrier.
  • Jayvaughn Pinkston suspended: The Villanova freshman had an altercation at a party on November 6 which resulted in another student ending up in the hospital. Pinkston has been suspended from the team, and his return date is unknown.
  • Player of the Week: Kemba Walker, UConn: He scored 42 points against Vermont, which was enough to earn him consideration alongside West Virginia’s Casey Mitchell, who finally decided to show up to college basketball with a 31-point performance against Vanderbilt followed up by a 27-point performance in a loss to Minnesota. But after Walker’s second half performance against Wichita State, when he went for 29 second half points in a comeback win, there was no way he could be left out.

Power Rankings

1. Pitt (5-0)

Next Week: 11/23 vs. Robert Morris, 11/27 vs. Penn

The Panthers have officially become the hands down favorite to win the Big East, and one of a handful of teams that have proven themselves worthy for talk of having Final Four potential. The thing about Pitt this season is that they are incredibly balanced and legitimately go 11 deep. Everyone knows about Ashton Gibbs, and he proved that he is still their star by scoring 19 of his 24 points in the second half of the Panthers win in the title game of the Coaches vs. Cancer tournament on Friday. But then there is Brad Wanamaker, the heady senior off-guard that has become Pitt’s best playmaker and a second scoring threat. Pitt’s front line goes five deep and are good enough that redshirt freshman Talib Zanna, the kid that outplayed Maryland’s Jordan Williams in the CvC opener, comes off the bench. With guys like Lamar Patterson and Gilbert Brown providing athleticism and versatility on the wing, there really isn’t much that this Pitt team cannot do.

2. Villanova (4-0)

Next Week: Preseason NIT 11/24 and 11/26

Villanova has yet to really be tested this season. Boston U. and Bucknell both gave the Wildcats a fight, but those are two tough low-major teams. Personnel-wise, there really hasn’t been many surprises for Villanova, either. Corey Fisher hasn’t quite found his stroke, but he’s still playing great. Maalik Wayns has become a terrific point guard in his sophomore season, but we expected that. Their big guys aren’t playing quite as well as I expected, but I might have expected too much out of them. We’ll get a better feel for Nova after they play UCLA and either Tennessee or VCU in the Preseason NIT.

3. Georgetown (5-0)

Next week: 11/27 vs. UNC-Asheville

The Hoyas have been impressive here early in the season. Their win over Old Dominion in Charleston is one of the better wins in the conference, and while the field of the Charleston Classic was overly tough, the Hoyas rolled through the tournament barely breaking a sweat. The back court, as expected, has been very good, but the talking point for this Hoyas team needs to be the front court. Many a writer said that the front court would be Georgetown’s Achilles heel, but they have looked pretty good here early in the season. Julian Vaughn is rebounding the ball and blocking shots, Henry Sims had a terrific nine-rebound, five-assist performance against NC State, Hollis Thompson is playing bigger than his size, and Jerrelle Benimon has been very active.

4. Syracuse (4-0)

Next Week: Legends Classic 11/26 and 11/27

The Orange are 4-0, yes, but it’s not been an impressive 4-0. In four games, the Orange have probably played a grand total of 40 minutes of impressive basketball — the second half of their wins against Northern Iowa and Canisius. Their latest effort? A 63-60 win over a William & Mary squad that lost to Virginia by 24. The Orange had to come back from four down with three minutes to go. Maybe Jim Boeheim was right when he called this his most overrated team at Syracuse. They remind me a bit of the 2007-2008 team. Those Orange added freshmen Donte Greene and Jonny Flynn to the likes of Andy Rautins, Paul Harris, and Eric Devendorf, and while they were a preseason top 25 team, early struggles continued and the Orange eventually were headed to the NIT. With this club, the issue seems to be that no one wants to be the star. Kris Joseph was expected to be the guy, but he’s been up and down through four games. Scoop Jardine is talented, but not talented enough to be taking 17 or 18 shots a night on a consistent basis. Freshmen Fab Melo and Dion Waiters haven’t quite become the players they were expected to be, either. There aren’t many shooters on the roster, and as a result, the Syracuse offense has looked stagnant and out of sync early in the season. These are solvable problems, but do the Orange have the pieces to solve them?

5. West Virginia: (3-1)

Next Week: 11/27 vs. VMI

The Mountaineers had a disappointing loss to an underrated Minnesota team in the finals in Puerto Rico, which capped off a pretty impressive start to the season. Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant have both gotten off to slow starts, but that fact has been mitigated by the emergence of Casey Mitchell. Mitchell went for 31 points and 27 points in the last two games in Puerto Rico and has become the perimeter scorer that WVU has been sorely missing.

6. Marquette: (4-1)

Next Week: 11/23 vs. Gonzaga (in Kansas City), 11/27 vs. UW Milwaukee

I feel like I am the only person that has been talking about this Marquette team from the beginning of the season. They have a very good backcourt with Junior CadouganDwight BuycksDarius Johnson-Odom, and Vander BlueJimmy Butler, who might be the most underrated player in the Big East, and Jae Crowder are going to cause matchup problems every night. And they have a couple of capable big men to run out there. Don’t want to listen to me? The Golden Eagles gave Duke all they could handle Monday night. This is a tough, scrappy team that is going to play hard for 40 minutes and will be in every game they play this season.

7. Louisville (3-0)

Next week: 11/27 vs. Marshall

After the top six in the Big East, there is a noticeable drop off. While I am not completely sold on the Cardinals yet, it would be unfair not to rank them atop this second group. They smacked Butler at home and their roster makeup — deep, athletic, long, and a lot of perimeter shooters — perfectly suits the style Rick Pitino wants to play. Is it ironic that they rarely have the ball in their hands for more than 15 seconds? 

8. Notre Dame (4-0)

Next week: Old Spice Classic 11/25-11/28

We may not get a real gauge on the Irish until their December 8 date with Kentucky, so until then we have to base the Irish on what we have seen. That’s a team that is 4-0 without having two of their best scorers — Tim Abromaitis and Scott Martin — playing well yet. Ben Hansbrough has been terrific, and freshman point guard Eric Atkins will be very good with time.

9. Connecticut: (3-0)

Next week: 11/23 vs. Michigan State in Maui

Kemba Walker has looked like an All-American. Remember when everyone thought he would be one and done? Alex Oriakhi is averaging a double-double while serving as the Huskies’ token block machine (11.3 PPG, 10.7 RPG to go with 2.7 BPG). They have some light weaponry after Walker and Oriakhi, but let’s withhold further judgment until after they square off against #2 Michigan State in Maui.

10. Seton Hall: (2-3)

Next week: 11/29 vs. St. Peter’s

The Hall will be higher than this before the season ends. They are a much different team defensively this season. But with Jeremy Hazell out with a broken wrist and Herb Pope far from game shape, the offense just isn’t up to snuff.

11. St. John’s: (1-1)

Next Week: Nov. 25 vs. Ball State

I’m still expecting good things out of the Johnnies this season, but after seeing St. Mary’s lock them up defensively, I am beginning to have some doubts creeping in. If Steve Lavin can make half as much noise on the court as he has on the recruiting trail, the Red Storm will be on their way up.

12. Cincinnati: (3-0)

Next week: 11/24 vs. Savannah State, 11/27 vs. Dayton

The wins haven’t been that impressive. Freshman Sean Kilpatrick has been. With Deonta Vaughn and Lance Stepenson out of the fold, the Bearcats look as vanilla as it gets, with a non-con schedule to match.

13. South Florida: (2-2)

Next week: 11/23 vs. Liberty, 11/26 vs. BYU

Jawanza Poland will be one of the most entertaining players in the Big East to watch, while Gus Gilchrist is among the most quietly consistent bigs in the conference. They’ll miss Dom Jones, but help is on the way for next season in the 7’2, 285-pound person of high school senior Jordan Omogbehin

14. Providence: (4-0)

Next Week: 11/23 vs. La Salle

The Friars don’t really have any impressive wins. 4-0 is 4-0, however, and guys like Marshon Brooks, Vincent Council and Bilal Dixon have played well. I’ll be keeping an eye on the Friars; We’ll see how Keno Davis tweaks his offense throughout the year.

15. Rutgers: (2-1)

Next Week: 11/23 vs. Norfolk State, 11/26 vs. St. Joe’s

The loss to Princeton was a blemish, but beating Fairfield and Miami are both pretty decent wins for Mike Rice. Like St. John’s, Rutgers is having a lot of success in living rooms, but until those players arrive, they can only work with what they have, which isn’t much.

16. DePaul: (1-1)

Next Week: 76 Classic 11/25-11/28

DePaul put up 114 points on Chicago State and then lost to Western Carolina, which exemplifies their search to find an identity. Oklahoma State in the 76 Classic and either Virginia Tech or Cal State Northridge await the Blue Demons.
A Look Ahead

Preseason Tournaments: All the good stuff will be happening in the preseason tournaments.

  • Notre Dame is playing in the Old Spice Classic, where they face Georgia in the opening round.
  • Villanova gets UCLA in the Preseason NIT semifinals.
  • Syracuse faces Michigan in the Legends Classic opener.
  • DePaul will be playing in the 76 Classic Thanksgiving Day, opening up with Oklahoma State and either Virginia Tech or Cal State Northridge on Friday.
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Set Your Tivo: 11.21.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 21st, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

All of these games are from tournaments played on a neutral floor. Rankings as per the latest RTC Top 25. All times eastern.

Puerto Rico Tip-Off Third Place Game: #17 North Carolina vs. Vanderbilt — 5:30 pm on ESPN2 (***)

After losing to an upstart Minnesota team on Friday, North Carolina and Harrison Barnes are trying to avoid going 1-2 in this tournament. The star freshman couldn’t get anything to fall against the Golden Gophers as he shot a dreadful 0-12 from the floor. Vanderbilt is one of those teams that always seems to exceed expectations, mostly because of their underrated head coach Kevin Stallings. The Commodores had a strong second half against West Virginia in their last game but fell just short of a berth in the championship game of this event. John Jenkins shot it well from long range but was only 1-8 inside the arc. He figures to have more trouble penetrating and finishing against the taller UNC front court so you have to imagine he’ll play to his strength and shoot quite a few threes yet again. This should be a closer game than some might imagine, mainly because both teams are playing their third game in four days and Stallings always gets his club to fight hard even when they aren’t as talented. Vanderbilt seems to be doing a lot of work on figuring out its rotation as the minute distribution has been fairly balanced and spread out amongst many players. For UNC, Larry Drew II needs to take better care of the ball and get others more involved. His assists are down a bit to start the year but that could also be due to freshman Kendall Marshall earning some quality minutes at the point. North Carolina should win this game but it won’t be easy. Vanderbilt is going to surprise some people this year whether it’s this evening or later in the season.

Paradise Jam Semifinal: Old Dominion vs. Clemson — 6 pm on Fox College Sports (***)

Games like this, where contrasting styles go head to head, are always fun. In this case, the up-tempo Clemson Tigers meet an Old Dominion team that would like nothing more than to turn this game into a slow defensive struggle. Each team got a fairly easy draw in their first round game with Clemson knocking off Long Beach State and ODU taking care of St. Peter’s, though the Monarchs had some trouble closing them out. Blaine Taylor’s team has tall guards and wings who can really get after it on defense by using their length against smaller guards. That’s exactly what they’ll see in Clemson’s Andre Young and Demontez Stitt. Both are talented players but it’s going to be hard for them to get anything going against a stout Monarch defense that ranked tenth last year in defensive efficiency and is 20th so far this year. A great matchup should occur on the wing between each team’s leading scorer, Ben Finney for ODU and Tanner Smith for Clemson. Both are listed at 6’5/220 and have enjoyed solid starts to the season. The teams are evenly matched inside height-wise as they each have two important players that stand at 6’8. You’d have to favor Devin Booker and Jerai Grant for Clemson against ODU’s Frank Hassell and Keyon Carter. One statistic to watch is rebounding, where Old Dominion should enjoy an advantage. Clemson is definitely the more athletic team and probably the more talented one as well but we like the Monarchs to advance to the Paradise Jam finals in a close, low-scoring affair.

Charleston Classic Championship Game: #18 Georgetown vs. NC State — 7:30 pm on ESPNU (****)

NC State received some bad news late Saturday as’s Andy Katz reported that senior forward Tracy Smith will miss three weeks with a knee injury suffered on Thursday against East Carolina. The Wolfpack had no problem against a decent George Mason squad as they placed five players in double figures in a balanced effort, but Georgetown is a different animal. Smith could really have helped NC State expose a suspect Georgetown front court but now they’ll have to turn to others to make up for the loss. The most likely candidate to see his minutes and production increase is stud freshman C.J. Leslie. He scored 21 points in an opening night win over Tennessee Tech and figures to be a main contributor for Sidney Lowe this season. NC State is a very young team, even more so now without Smith in the lineup. That youth, including another freshman star Ryan Harrow, will be tested by the experienced, strong and versatile Georgetown back court trio of Chris Wright, Austin Freeman and Jason Clark. Clark has been a pleasant surprise for John Thompson III as he’s increased his production quite a bit from last year. Georgetown’s offense is predicated almost exclusively on the backcourt this season, a far cry from historical Georgetown teams dominated by front court strength. The Hoyas are relatively thin yet again with the three guards all logging over 30 minutes a game. Georgetown has tall players on the roster but they’re very inexperienced and rather ineffective except for Julian Vaughn and Hollis Thompson. Look for NC State to take advantage inside early even without Smith and maybe jump out to a lead, but we expect the experienced Hoya back court to assert itself down the stretch as they did against Old Dominion and pull this one out.

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Ten Opening Night Scribbles

Posted by zhayes9 on November 13th, 2010

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist at Rush the Court.

It would be foolish to draw too many sweeping conclusions after one rust-filled outing against inferior competition, but there are certain elements within a game that can provide a glimpse into what to expect during the season ahead.  After watching a handful of games last night and tracking each and every box score this morning, these ten things caught my eye:

Tinsley is now the full time point guard at Vandy

1. As is often the case in the SEC, Vanderbilt flew under the radar in the preseason. Kentucky’s ballyhooed freshmen class received the buzz, Florida was crowned the prohibitive favorite due to the return of five starters, Bruce Pearl’s recruiting indiscretions vaulted Tennessee into the spotlight for the wrong reasons and Mississippi State could certainly be dangerous when Dee Bost and Renardo Sidney return nine games into the campaign. The Commodores, coming off a 24-9 season and a #4 seed in the NCAA Tournament, didn’t receive the same publicity as their SEC brethren. But that’s just how Kevin Stallings, one of the best X’s and O’s coaches in the business, prefers it. The loss of senior point guard Jermaine Beal (and the premature departure of A.J. Ogilvy inside) was a big reason why many pegged Vanderbilt to take a step back from a season ago, even with returnees John Jenkins and Jeffrey Taylor oozing with talent and potential. The question was how junior point guard Brad Tinsley would step in for the grizzled veteran Beal and run the Commodores offense with the same aplomb, finding Jenkins off curls and screens for open threes or big man Festus Ezeli in scoring position on the block. Tinsley showed he’s up for the task in a 41-point romp of Presbyterian at Memorial Gymnasium on Friday, notching Vandy’s first triple-double in school history with 11 points and a career high 10 assists and 10 rebounds (not too shabby for a 6’3 guard). Tinsley also collected three steals and only turned the ball over twice. If Tinsley provides playmaking and stability at the point, Taylor lives up to his future lottery pick billing as an impact wing, Jenkins continues his proficiency from deep and Ezeli gives Vandy a presence inside, the Commodores will win 24 games again.

2. Two wins on Friday night may fly under the radar a bit, but are absolutely worth highlighting. The first is Minnesota’s convincing home victory over Wofford. I expected the Terriers to give Tubby Smith’s squad all kinds of trouble and possibly even win this game straight up. Wofford returns four starters, including potential SoCon POY Noah Dahlman, from a stout defensive team that gave Wisconsin a scare in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Heck, I even pegged them as my Cinderella last week. Throw in yet another Minnesota suspension on Thursday (this time off-guard Devoe Joseph) and this had all the makings of a super competitive test for the Gophers. Instead, Minnesota controlled the game throughout, leading by ten at half and winning 69-55 behind 20/13 from Ralph Sampson and 14/10 in Trevor Mbakwe’s debut in maroon and gold. The Gopher bigs also contained Dahlman to 15 points and the Wofford guards couldn’t find their stroke from deep. Don’t be surprised if this is an RPI top-100 win for Minnesota by season’s end. A second win that stood out is West Virginia’s romp of Oakland, another squad favored to win their conference behind potential first round pick Keith Benson. Benson did his thing with 22/15 but received no help as the Mountaineers utilized a balanced attack- Joe Mazzulla, Dalton Pepper, John Flowers, Deniz Kilicli, Casey Mitchell and Darryl Bryant all scored in double figures- to romp the Golden Grizzlies 95-71. Without an all-Big East perimeter threat like Da’Sean Butler at their disposal, this type of team effort is imperative if the Mountaineers want to vault themselves into the upper echelon of the Big East this season.

3. It’s painfully obvious that Georgetown is going to live and die with their backcourt this season. Their frontcourt pieces- Julian Vaughn, Nate Lubick, Jerelle Benimon and Henry Sims– are unspectacular, role players that can crash the boards, provide versatility and dish from the top of the key in the Georgetown halfcourt offense, but simply cannot be relied upon as consistent scoring threats. The Hoyas opener at reigning CAA champion and preseason favorite Old Dominion exposed this weakness inside. The Monarchs out-rebounded Georgetown by 11, blocked nine more shots and the Hoya forwards only scored eight of the team’s 62 points. Yet Georgetown eked out an enormous road victory on the heels of their experienced and savvy backcourt trio of Chris Wright, Austin Freeman and Jason Clark. The threesome led Georgetown back from a second-half deficit with clutch threes and free throws down the stretch, including one from Wright on a crosscourt Hollis Thompson feed where the 6’1 senior wasn’t even able to even land as the shot clocked expired. Given the Monarchs defensive prowess and the return of four starters from a team that advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, this is in all likelihood a top-50 RPI win for Georgetown in the first week of the campaign. If more of those marquee wins are to come, Wright, Freeman and Clark will be the reasons.

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RTC Conference Primer: #2 – Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 5th, 2010

Rob Dauster of Ballin’ is a Habit is the Big East correspondent for Rush The Court.

Predicted Order of Finish

  • 1. Villanova (15-3)
  • T2. Pittsburgh (14-4)
  • T2. Syracuse (14-4)
  • 4. Georgetown (12-6)
  • T5. West Virginia (11-7)
  • T5. Marquette (11-7)
  • 7. Seton Hall (10-8)
  • T8. Notre Dame (9-9)
  • T8. St. John’s (9-9)
  • T10. Connecticut (8-10)
  • T10. Louisville (8-10)
  • T12. South Florida (7-11)
  • T12. Cincinnati (7-11)
  • T14. Providence (3-15)
  • T14. Rutgers (3-15)
  • T14. DePaul (3-15)

All-Conference Team (key stats from last season in parentheses)

  • G: Corey Fisher, Villanova (13.3 ppg, 3.9 apg, 2.8 rpg)
  • G: Kemba Walker, UConn (14.6 ppg, 5.1 apg, 4.3 rpg, 2.1 spg)
  • F: Austin Freeman, Georgetown (16.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 44.4% 3pt)
  • F: Kris Joseph, Syracuse (10.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.4 spg)
  • F: Kevin Jones, West Virginia (13.5 ppg, 7.2 rpg)

6th Man

Tim Abromaitis, Notre Dame (16.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 42.9% 3pt)

Impact Newcomers

  • Fab Melo, Syracuse: Melo should have an immediate impact as the starting center for the Orange. Regarded as one of, if not the, best center in the class, Melo has more polish offensively than most bigs do as freshman, but his size in the middle of the Syracuse 2-3 zone may be more important.
  • Vander Blue, Marquette: Blue should step in and start immediately for the Golden Eagles. He’s everything you imagine when you think of a Marquette wing player. He’s tough, athletic, and can slash to the basket. He’ll remind some of Jerel McNeal.
  • Nate Lubick, Georgetown: With the Hoyas losing Greg Monroe to the NBA, they will have a gaping hole in the middle. Lubick has the skill set to be the high post forward of the future for John Thompson III, and he could immediately slide into the starting lineup.

Jay Wright has Villanova in the driver’s seat, with Pittsburgh nipping at the Wildcats’ heels. (AP/Michael Perez)

What You Need To Know

As much as it pains me to say it, the Big East is going to be down this season, especially near the bottom of the league. The two best players in the conference are probably Austin Freeman and Corey Fisher, and while I don’t want to take anything away from those two — I love the way that both play — they are a long way from being lottery picks. Providence, Rutgers and DePaul are as bad as any three teams at the bottom of the power conferences, which is saying a lot considering what the cellar of the Pac-10 and SEC have to offer. Now think about this: If the Big East wants to get more than six teams into the Big Dance, the teams that will likely be fighting for the last couple of at-large bids this season are Seton Hall, St. John’s, Notre Dame and UConn. And that assumes that Marquette and West Virginia are dancing. Yuck.

Predicted Champion

Villanova (NCAA #2 Seed): I like Villanova a lot more than other people do. I think Corey Fisher has a chance to become a star this season as he steps out of the shadow of Scottie Reynolds. I think Maalik Wayns has a chance to come into his own as well. Corey Stokes and Dominic Cheek should provide some size, athleticism, and versatility on the perimeter, while Jayvaughn Pinkston and Isaiah Armwood provide the same along the front line. The trio of Antonio Pena, Mouphtaou Yarou and Maurice Sutton is one of the better front lines in the conference. More than anything, however, I think that Jay Wright has answered the biggest questions his team had last season. Without a doubt, Villanova will be better inside with Yarou healthy, Pinkston on the roster, and Armwood and Sutton a year stronger. They should also be better defensively without Reynolds and Fisher sharing the floor. This team has a great mixture of size, athleticism, youth, experience, and versatility. They remind me quite a bit of the Villanova team that made the 2009 Final Four.
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ATB: Where to Begin? Another Tremendous Thursday…

Posted by rtmsf on March 26th, 2010

Another great Thursday night, with the West Region in particular providing loads of excitement with another #1 seed falling by the wayside and arguably the best game of the entire Tournament in the nightcap.

J. Pullen and J. Crawford Went Back and Forth Down the Stretch (AP/C. Braley)

West Region

What.  A.  Game#2 Kansas State 101, #6 Xavier 96 (2OT).  With around four minutes remaining in this game and K-State up three points at 64-61, a public service announcement flashed across the jumbotron in the middle of the arena.  Paraphrasing, it stated that the regional final game between Kansas State and Butler would begin at 2 pm on Saturday afternoon.  Read that again: between Kansas State and Butler… with four minutes remaining in a three-point game.  Notwithstanding whether some gun-jumping intern was immediately drawn and quartered by the Energy Solutions Arena staff, the Xavier fans unilaterally roared their disapproval at such a public slight, and within a minute the game was tied again.  Whether this scoreboard mishap actually energized the XU players is up for debate, but there should be no debate about whom the two best players on the floor were tonight.  KSU’s Jacob Pullen (28/4/3 assts including six treys) and Xavier’s Jordan Crawford (32/2/2 assts) played a game of who can top whom in the last few minutes of regulation and through two overtimes before it was finally decided that K-State would meet the unanticipated scoreboard premonition and move on to face Butler on Saturday afternoon.  From the moment mentioned above, the two players combined to score 31 points, including several clutch threes that kept the game alive for longer than anyone imagined possible.  After K-State fouled Terrell Holloway (26/4/6 assts and 4 treys himself) as he dribbled into a long jumper with six seconds remaining and XU down three, the sophomore guard nailed all three to send the game into overtime.  Back and forth each team went and again K-State looked like they were safely in position to win the game with a single stop.  Instead, Jordan Crawford failed to find room near the three-point line, so he dribbled far enough away until there was space at which time he rose and fired from 35 feet to send Gus Johnson on CBS into a fit of apoplexy.

From there it was back and forth again until KSU’s Jacob Pullen decided enough was enough, hitting back to back bombs in the final minute-plus of the second overtime to finally create enough separation to make the fouling game work for Frank Martin’s team.  The Wildcats will move on to face Butler on Saturday after all.  This was only the second double-overtime game in the last thirteen years of Sweet Sixteen action, and the fans who attended the West Region tonight surely got their money’s worth.  It’s not often that Kansas State gets outbattled on the boards, but tonight Xavier was +2 in that category.  This was probably the game of the Tournament so far, and we wonder if the physical battle with a Xavier team that just would not quit will impact the Wildcats in their next game with Butler.  As we saw tonight, Butler isn’t the kind of team you want to get down early to — they know how to play with a lead.

Butler Survives and Advances to One Win From Indy (Indy Star/S. Riche)

Butler One Win From Home#5 Butler 63, #1 Syracuse 59.  We’re now left with two #1 seeds as Kentucky advanced to the Elite Eight in the East Regional and Duke plays for that prize tomorrow night, but Jim Boeheim’s Syracuse Orange will be heading home after an uncharacteristic scoring drought at the end of the game did them in tonight.  With a little more than five minutes remaining in the game, Syracuse looked to have regained control of a low-scoring closely contested battle, 54-50.  Cuse would not score again until there were thirty-four seconds left and Butler had effectively put things away.  It was Willie Veasley’s  “HORSE” style three from the corner that put the Bulldogs in control with 1:50 left as the strong crowd of orange-clad fans stood and watched in amazement.  For Brad Stevens’ team, this is the kind of victory that can define and sustain a high-mid like Butler for a long time.  His recruiting for the next five years is already done — what can a program like Indiana give a player that Butler cannot at this point?  A chance to play in the NCAAs?  A chance to advance?  How about a chance to go to the Final Four?  Because that’s the cusp upon which his team is standing, merely forty more minutes of superb defense away from returning home with games still to play.  And when we say home, we really mean it.  Not like ‘Cornell home’ tonight or ‘Baylor home’ tomorrow night, but really, actually home — the Butler University campus is a mere 5.4 miles in Indianapolis from Lucas Oil Stadium, site of the Final Four.  Talk about Hoosiers on the grandest scale of all.  It’s so ridiculous we can hardly comprehend it.  As for Syracuse, the Orange struggled with unforced turnovers all night long (18 total), and many of those were expended in trying to get the ball inside to Rick Jackson and Kris Joseph.  It’s easy to place the blame for SU’s ‘early’ loss on the injury to Arinze Onuaku and his missing three games in this year’s Tournament, but  we wonder if his offensive production would have helped take some of the pressure off Wes Johnson (17/9) and Andy Rautins (15/5) tonight had he been available.   We also wonder if Boeheim’s team didn’t wear down a little at the end of this year — even prior to Onuaku’s injury in the Big East Tournament, the Orange had dropped two games to rather pedestrian Louisville in previous weeks.  He was only playing seven players substantial minutes, and with Onuaku out of the lineup, he was forced to surrender minutes to unproven and untested DaShonte Riley (0/1 in 5 minutes) tonight, for example.  His six ‘starters’ played every other minute of the game.  Were the Orange players spent during those last five minutes?  You won’t hear Boeheim use that crutch, but it would certainly be a reasonable excuse.

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