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.
Share this story

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.
Share this story

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 ESPN.com’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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

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.
Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

West Virginia Loses Darryl Bryant To Broken Foot

Posted by jstevrtc on March 24th, 2010

West Virginia will be without starting sophomore point guard Darryl “Truck” Bryant for the rest of the NCAA Tournament.  X-rays taken on Tuesday revealed that Bryant has fractured a bone in the fifth toe of his right foot.  It’s not exactly clear when Bryant sustained the injury, but the cited ESPN.com report above says that he had noticed increased pain in the foot during a recent practice, then today’s imaging showed the broken toe.

The Mountaineers are famous for being chock-full-o-forwards, often playing four forwards and a guard at any given time (they have no true center).  Bryant — who averages 9.3 PPG and 3.1 APG in 24.3 MPG — will most definitely be missed, but he’s not a traditional dime-dishing point guard.  He’s known more for the mental and physical toughness he brings to the table for his team, not so much for his high yield in terms of assists or forcing turnovers.  Da’Sean Butler, Kevin Jones, and Devin Ebanks — the only three Mountaineers who average more than 30 minutes per game — do most of the ball-handling, and will only see a slight increase in touches, which they probably won’t mind.

The Truck, unfortunately, has a bum wheel. (AP/Mel Evans)

WVU also has a ready replacement in Joe Mazzulla, a 6’2 junior point guard averaging 2.2 PPG and 2.3 APG.  Mazzulla redshirted last year after injuring his shoulder, but has seen steadily increasing minutes throughout the season.  Mazzulla actually played more minutes than Bryant in the Mountaineers’ second-round game against Missouri, and the two had no problem with the Tigers’ vaunted full-court press.  His assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.5 is higher than Bryant’s 1.5, though Mazzulla did average ten fewer minutes per game.  Any further minutes at the guard position will go to 6’4 junior Casey Mitchell (3.8 PPG, 0.4 APG in 8.3 MPG), who only played three minutes against Missouri but did contribute six points, four assists, and two steals with only one turnover in 11 minutes in WVU’s first round 77-50 win over Morgan State.

There’s been no mention of how severe Bryant’s injury is, but most fifth metatarsal fractures do not require surgery and heal on their own over time with the “conservative” therapies — ice for swelling, no weight-bearing on the foot, and immobilization with a splint or cast.

WVU chief Bob Huggins is certainly no stranger to tournament-time injuries when he’s got a team poised for big things.  Back in 2000 — another year in which the Final Four was held in Indianapolis — his #2-seed Cincinnati squad was a favorite to win it all before Kenyon Martin broke his leg in the Conference USA Tournament, and the Bearcats were subsequently dispatched in the second round by Tulsa.  The next time the Final Four is in Indianapolis and Huggins has a highly rated team, don’t blame the man if he sequesters his whole team in a padded room and locks the door, opening it only for games.

Share this story

ATB: A Strange Sense of Distant Familiarity Fell Over UCLA…

Posted by rtmsf on November 27th, 2009

atb

Word of the Day.  Exposure.  What we’re starting to see throughout this week of holiday hoops as good teams play other good teams is which teams are better than we all thought and which teams aren’t.  Like last night with Kentucky, some teams such as UCLA and Oklahoma are being exposed as works-in-progress with a lot of problems who are a long, long way from making any noise in March.  Others, such as Minnesota and Marquette, might be better than anyone thought they were and could be extremely underrated at this point in the season.  This is what’s great about this time of the year and all of these tournaments — it provides some clarity for how good these teams actually are — much moreso than the standard garbage game against Northeastern State U.

UCLA Gets Waxed in the 76 ClassicPortland 74, UCLA 47. Ben Howland took the worst loss of his UCLA era, as the Portland Pilots shot a blistering 57.9% from three-point land to defeat his Bruins in front of a large fanbase from nearby Westwood.  In a weird irony from the basketball weauxfgods, Steve Lavin, the last coach to get obliterated like this on the UCLA sideline, was there calling the game for ESPN.  Portland’s lead was as great as 31 (!!!) in the second half, and UCLA had trouble against a zone defense for the second time they’ve faced one this season. Pilot guards T.J. Campbell and Jared Stohl (yeah, it really does always go in) led the Pilots with 15 points each, as the former hit three treys and the latter was a perfect 5-5 from downtown — the whole team ripped UCLA for 54% while the Bruins could only muster 33% from the field themselves. Meanwhile, UCLA is searching for leadership that has yet to show itself (Michael Roll?  James Keefe?) and has another tough matchup against Butler on Friday. Portland is beginning to turn some heads and has a chance to make real noise in this tournament if they can  beat #16 Minnesota tomorrow.  As for UCLA, the best way to sum it up may be like this

Portland UCLA Basketball

  • #16 Minnesota 82, #10 Butler 73. Tubby Smith’s team looked the better squad from start to finish of this one.  Minnesota appeared much stronger, more athletic and quicker to the ball as the Gophers repeatedly got production from its deep bench (even with three players currently suspended).  The Minnesota bench contributed 46 pts (to 8 for Butler), but we were struck by how UM’s inside players such as Colton Iverson were getting to the rebounds and physically knocking Butler stars Matt Howard (who fouled out) and Gordon Hayward around.  The Gophers’ defense was in Butler’s face on everything, holding the Bulldogs to a tepid 33% from the field and (ouch) only 5-23 from deep.  While the big three of Hayward, Howard and Shelvin Mack combined for 56 pts, they were hard-earned, and the Minnesota defense was busy locking everyone else on the team up.  If Tubby gets his suspended players back in the lineup, his team could be one of the deepest in the Big Ten this year.
  • #8 West Virginia 85, Long Beach State 62.  LBSU looked completely outmatched today against WVU’s suffocating man-to-man defense and they were never really in the game.  The big story of course was that star forward Devin Ebanks dressed out but did not play, as his ‘personal issues’ seem to still be bothering him (snicker).  The Mountaineers hit twelve threes in a scintillating shooting peformance, led by Casey Mitchell, who went for 18 pts in only fifteen minutes of action.  In a nice sidenote, Jerry West’s son, walk-on Johnnie, also had a career-high eleven points to get in on the action.  Bottom line: WVU has the pieces, but Texas A&M will be a good test tomorrow.
  • Texas A&M 69, #19 Clemson 60. TAMU got into Clemson’s shorts defensively early in this game, and ultimately held the Tigers to 34% for the game and 3-18 from deep in a mild upset for the Aggies.  BJ Holmes and David Loubeau came off the bench to combine for 32 pts and 14 rebounds for Mark Turgeon, but the story of this game was their defense as only Trevor Booker (18/6) and Tanner Smith (14/5/3 assts) were able to get going.  Clemson will get well in a hurry with LBSU tomorrow, but A&M will need that defense against the top ten Mountaineers.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

RTC 2009-10 Top 65 Games: February/March (Part One)

Posted by zhayes9 on October 25th, 2009

seasonpreview

The final two-part edition of our Top 65 games delves into the exciting stretch run of the final five weeks. These highlighted games should have tremendous implications on seeding and conference standings with heated rivals doing battle in the final push towards March Madness. Here’s a preview of what’s guaranteed to be the best slate of games 2009-10 has to offer (top games of November/December and January in case you missed it):

Note: we are not including projected matchups from the preseason tournaments in these 65 games because those will be analyzed separately.

February 1- Texas @ Oklahoma State (#33 overall)- Hard to imagine you won’t see plenty of scoring in this Big 12 clash. The point guard situation is a bit dicey in Stillwater with Byron Eaton’s departure, but Travis Ford loves to run and James Anderson can score with the best. Expect this to be one of the toughest tests for Texas in their pursuit of a regular season Big 12 title.

February 6- Texas @ Oklahoma (#25 overall)- This could very well be another test. Two freshmen will have to fill major roles for Jeff Capel’s squad with Tommy Mason-Griffin helping out Willie Warren in the backcourt and Tiny Gallon bulldozing opponents in the paint with Blake Griffin in LA. It’s entirely possible defensive stud Avery Bradley could earn the job of trying to lock down the quick Warren.

95208122242_Oklahoma_v_Rice[1]

February 6- Villanova @ Georgetown (#31 overall)- A Big East clash in February between two teams that have top-three aspirations in the conference. The point guard duel is a dandy with Chris Wright of the Hoyas matched up with Scottie Reynolds of the Wildcats. This should prove a worthy test for Villanova’s thin frontline trying to contain Greg Monroe, Hollis Thompson and Henry Sims.

February 6- Michigan State @ Illinois (#37 overall)- The orange-clad students right on top of the floor will be out in full force to support their Illini in hopes of knocking off the loaded Spartans. With Chester Frazier departed, it could be the freshman guard D.J. Richardson trying to contain potential All-American Kalin Lucas. There’s some tremendous outside shooting in this one from State’s Durrell Summers to the Illini’s Demetri McCamey.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

RTC 2009-10 Top 65 Games: January

Posted by zhayes9 on October 22nd, 2009

seasonpreview

Last Monday we broke down the top games of November and December as part of our season preview here at Rush the Court. As we examine the best games of the month of January, keep in mind what games during this crucial portion of the season usually represent: separating the contenders from the pretenders. With conference play heating up, the true top-seed players emerge from the pack and leap up their conference standings, while teams that may have overachieved or floated along on a cupcake-filled slate during the first two months begin to fall apart. Here are the games of great importance to circle on your calendar for January:

Ed. Note: we are not including projected matchups from the preseason tournaments in these 65 games because those will be analyzed separately.

January 1- West Virginia at Purdue (#7 overall)- The top game in the entire month of January will be played on the first day of 2010. You won’t find a more bruising, rugged and intense contest played all year with Bob Huggins and Matt Painter’s teams battling it out in East Lafayette. West Virginia is led by the shooting ability of Da’Sean Butler, the super-athletic Devin Ebanks, the two headed point-guard combo of Joe Mazzulla and Darryl Bryant and impact JC transfer Casey Mitchell. Purdue will be entering their third full season with the core of E’Twaun Moore, Robbie Hummel, JaJuan Johnson and Keaton Grant intact.

January 2- Louisville at Kentucky (#23 overall)- This game has been circled for fans of Big Blue since the details emerged of Rick Pitino’s affair and subsequent extortion mess. They’ll be on Pitino relentlessly for these transgressions because they know their ultra-talented Wildcats can back up the berating on the court. Kentucky fans will also be eager for revenge after Edgar Sosa’s stunning game-winning three a season ago crushed Kentucky in Freedom Hall. Sosa will have to handle sensational freshman John Wall this time around.

781090314285_Syracuse_v_Louisville[1]

January 9- Kansas at Tennessee (#12 overall)- If Tennessee gets into an offensive rhythm, they can hang with the Jayhawks. Look for Tyler Smith and Wayne Chism to utilize their versatility to move Cole Aldrich, Marcus Morris, Thomas Robinson and other Kansas bigs away from the basket while allowing their wings — Scotty Hopson, J.P. Prince -- to penetrate inside and draw fouls while Kansas has to recover. This could be an electric, high-scoring affair that may be decided at the foul line.

January 9- West Virginia at Notre Dame (#24 overall)- How about four top-25 games to kick off the month of January? This Big East clash is one of West Virginia’s toughest road tests in their quest of a conference title. Notre Dame recently had a long home court winning streak and the West Virginia forwards Devin Ebanks, Wellington Smith and Deniz Kilici have to deal with the likely BE POY Luke Harangody. Whether the Irish can receive production from their guards is the key.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story