AAC M5: 01.14.14 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on January 14th, 2014

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  1. I understand the value of coaches’ speeches and motivational tactics, but don’t put too much stock into rhetoric when it comes to impacting the team’s play on the floor. That said, asking his players to stop trying to live up to last year’s team seems like the right message for Rick Pitino to be sending right now. Even we here at the AAC microsite started the season expecting Louisville to look very similar to last year’s team, but it didn’t take long to realize how much the Cardinals would miss Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng. The national championship picture is pretty wide open and anyone who says they are confident about their chances is probably saying it through gritted teeth. Pitino is well aware of this, and while the Cardinals have probably dropped out of the conversation altogether with their recent play, Pitino knows there is still major talent on his roster and that in March, anything can happen. If the message gets through to guys like Luke Hancock and Wayne Blackshear and they start to consistently pick up their play, the Cards still have more than a puncher’s chance at repeating.
  2. Raise your hand if you saw UConn center Amida Brimah‘s performance against Central Florida coming? After scoring 37 total points in the first 15 games of his career and taking a grand total of three shots in his previous four games, the freshman exploded for 20 points on 8-of-10 shooting while chipping in eight rebounds and five blocks as the Huskies won their first conference game of the season. It might be a little early to say Brimah is “beginning to blossom” considering the small sample size and quality of the opponent, but if Brimah can even contribute a fraction of that performance on a nightly basis, head coach Kevin Ollie would probably be ecstatic. Much has already been made about UConn’s underwhelming frontcourt and Brimah probably has the most upside of anyone in that rotation, but he just needs to learn to stay out of foul trouble and play more consistently. Brimah has been playing basketball for fewer than five years now and his talents are obvious to everybody. He is going to be a really good player down the road; it would just be nice for Ollie and the team if he could start to fulfill that potential a little ahead of schedule.
  3. It’s hardly a secret anymore that Ge’Lawn Guyn‘s grasp on the starting point guard role for Cincinnati is in name only, and that freshman Troy Caupain is the better and more trusted player right now. That’s not a knock on Guyn, who is a nice veteran presence to have in the rotation, but it’s more an indication of Caupain’s ability and upside. It should be required to mention that Caupain celebrated his 18th birthday fewer than two months ago and he is playing with poise, shooting the ball extremely well, and showing flashes of vast defensive potential. Many pundits felt that the Bearcats would only be as good as whomever took over for Cashmere Wright this season, and if you have been watching, Caupain is getting better every game and the Bearcats have been improving along with him. Caupain has an NBA frame but is still very obviously growing into his body, so the tough grind of a full season should be somewhat concerning to head coach Mick Cronin. He needs the freshman at his best if Cronin wants to take the Bearcats back to the Sweet Sixteen.
  4. Is it too early to start drumming up support for South Florida guard Anthony Collins to get a medical redshirt and retain two years of eligibility? Isn’t there someone who can issue a preemptive strike about the hypocrisy of the NCAA so that Collins can get his year back hassle-free? Injuries have temporarily derailed Collins’ promising career, and although he has played in eight games for the Bulls this season, lingering issues with his knee never allowed him to get back to 100 percent and now he is sidelined indefinitely again. I am sure the NCAA will take a look at the fact that Collins played in eight games after getting cleared by the team, but since the decisions on transfer waivers and redshirts have been so consistently arbitrary, there is no good reason for the NCAA to deny Collins an extra year. It’s not his fault that he had an inflamed bursa sac over the summer and has been forced to deal with continued tendinitis in the same knee. Nobody is trying to take advantage of anyone in this situation and the right thing to is just give him the extra year. All aboard the bandwagon!
  5. Houston never looked that good when they were at full strength, so it is incredibly impressive what they have been able to do in their first three conference games without the services of Danuel House or L.J. Rose – a pair of starters and two of the team’s best players. The team is 2-1 in conference play with a one-point loss to unbeaten Cincinnati as its lone blemish and a match-up with Louisville looming on Thursday. There may be good news on the way, though, as both Rose and House are considered “questionable” to return on Thursday and coach James Dickey said he is “more optimistic” that the duo will play. The Cougars travel to the YUM! Center this week, so even with House and Rose at full strength and no rust it will be an uphill battle against the Cardinals; but they may benefit from being thrown to the fire and their return has much greater long-term implications for the team than just Thursday’s game.
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For Real or Fraudulent: Sean Kilpatrick’s Hot Start?

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 13th, 2013

Although his stated reason for passing on the NBA Draft and returning to Cincinnati for his senior season was that he wanted to be the first player in his family to graduate and get his degree, it’s not hard to imagine that Sean Kilpatrick also wanted to make up for a disappointing junior campaign on the court as well. Charged with becoming the new face of the program following the graduation of hulking forward Yancy Gates and leading a younger Bearcats’ team coming off a Sweet Sixteen appearance, Kilpatrick faltered slightly.

Sean Kilpatrick Has Been Unstoppable Through 8 Games, But Red Flags Remain

Sean Kilpatrick Has Been Unstoppable Through Eight Games, But Red Flags Remain

Kilpatrick raised his scoring average to 17 points per game, but a five percent increase in usage rate combined with an unexpected inability to shoot the three-pointer (37% in 2012 to 30% last season) led to an effective field goal percentage of less than 50 percent and didn’t exactly paint Kilpatrick as the picture of efficiency. He was still able to create his own shot and was plenty capable of filling it up (as Marquette found out when he went for 36 in a win in January) but the onus was on him to carry the offensive load every night and his shot-selection and decision-making suffered because of it. He was still an above-average rebounding guard and plus defender but the breakout that so many had expected never really happened and the Bearcats were as a result bounced in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by Creighton.

A fringe NBA prospect, Kilpatrick decided to return to school for his senior season and coach Mick Cronin must be glad he did. After the 2012 season much was made about how the departure of Gates would affect the team, but the Bearcats actually lost far more production from last season than they did from the season before. Cashmere Wright and JaQuon Parker graduated and took nearly 24 points per game and more than 600 shot attempts with them, which meant that opposing defenses this season were going to be even more focused on Kilpatrick.

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AAC M5: 11.18.13 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 18th, 2013

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  1. Despite the fact that he was practicing and had played some in the preseason, Kevin Ware didn’t make his official return to the court until Friday when he played 13 minutes and scored five points in Louisville‘s romp over Cornell. Ware didn’t seem to be feeling any lingering pain from last season’s gruesome leg injury and that is good news not just for Ware’s basketball future but also the Cardinals’ prospects on the court. Assuming Ware continues to work his way back into coach Rick Pitino’s rotation, the Cardinals will boast one of the deepest and best backcourts in the entire country. Somewhat lost in the concern over whether Ware would ever play again was the fact that Ware developed into a pretty good player last season. It doesn’t seem like Chris Jones will have any trouble replacing Peyton Siva at point guard and Russ Smith is one of the best in the country at his position, but it’s still nice to have such a talented security blanket for both positions.
  2. Temple is the only team in the conference that has lost more than one game this season and that is because the Owls  haven’t figured out how to hold on to a second-half lead yet. To be fair, Temple has played the conference’s most difficult schedule to this point, but the opportunities to win all of their games have been there. They led for all but the final four minutes of the loss to Kent State, and they led for all but the final five minutes of the loss to Towson. They also very nearly kicked away a big second half lead in the season-opening win against Penn. The struggle to close out games isn’t terribly surprising considering the Owls are very young and inexperienced, but that excuse also won’t help the team’s case in March if they find themselves perched precariously on the bubble. It is pretty clear there is talent in North Philadelphia but it will be up to coach Fran Dunphy and his veteran leaders to make sure there is discipline as well.
  3. Cincinnati picked up a mostly irrelevant win Saturday over Appalachian State but we may have seen the light go on for freshman point guard Troy Caupain. The freshman was pressed into a larger role when starter Ge’Lawn Guyn left early in the game with a right knee injury and he didn’t disappoint, filling the box score with 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting, four rebounds, and four assists. The performance did come against an overmatched opponent, but if Caupain can continue to play that well it would be huge for a Bearcats team with big questions about the point guard position heading into the season. Cashmere Wright was the team’s offensive engine last season, and now that he has graduated, many wondered how Cincinnati would score points without its best playmaker. Guyn is a steady and experienced hand, but at 6’3″ and 200 pounds, Caupain has more talent and upside, meaning his development will play a big role in how well the Bearcats’ offense operates this season.
  4. South Florida thumped Bowling Green Friday night to give head coach Stan Heath his 200th career victory. It would be a more impressive milestone if Heath didn’t also have 186 career losses, but hey, a coach on the bubble will take what he can get. The game also marked the return of point guard Anthony Collins, who played 26 minutes and finished with seven points and five assists and didn’t appear to be affected by his surgically repaired left knee. The Bulls have won their first three games of the season rather easily, but we still don’t know anything about the team because the Falcons are the best team they have faced thus far and they are not very good at all. The good news is that Corey Allen has been something of a revelation albeit against vastly inferior competition and freshman big man John Egbunu has the look of a legitimate post presence already. The bad news is that the Bulls are still going to struggle to score points as their schedule gets more difficult, and it gets more difficult in a hurry as they welcome Oklahoma State to town a week from today.
  5. It wasn’t pretty. Well, it was actually pretty ugly and uninspiring, but Rutgers came away from its weekend bout with mighty Yale with a one-point win and some guts in coming from behind and getting the win when senior J.J. Moore hit a clutch three-pointer when a layup could have tied the game. Unfortunately, the struggle also exposed one of the Scarlet Knights’ major flaws – rebounding. The team outrebounded Yale but firsthand observers weren’t fooled because outrebounding Yale is a lot easier than doing the same against Cincinnati or Memphis. The Scarlet Knights have some size up front in Kadeem Jack, Wally Judge and Greg Lewis, but Judge and Lewis have yet to get going and depth is nonexistent behind that trio, so rebounding will need to be a point of emphasis for the team going forward. Eddie Jordan really only has eight players to work with, so there are going to be a lot of holes that will need patching up along the way. Still, for now, getting after it on the glass will be especially important for this team as the schedule becomes more difficult.
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AAC Team Previews: Cincinnati Bearcats

Posted by CD Bradley on November 7th, 2013

Our team preview style has been heavily cribbed from the microsite writers over in the Pac-12. We love them and assume they would take our attempt at loose imitation as flattery and not plagiarism.

Cincinnati Bearcats

Strengths: Defense and athleticism. Under head coach Mick Cronin, Cincinnati has been a defensive force, finishing in the top 25 nationally the past three seasons in adjusted defense, according to KenPom.com. That shouldn’t change much this year, with a group of long, bouncy forwards – Justin Jackson, Titus Rubles and Shaquille Thomas should start, with freshman Jermaine Lawrence adding more of the same off the bench – and quick guards Sean Kilpatrick and Ge’Lawn Guyn. Toughness is never lacking in Cincinnati.

If Mick Cronin's Bearcats are going to make a fourth straight NCAA tournament, they might need to change their ways from years past.

If Mick Cronin’s Bearcats are going to make a fourth straight NCAA tournament, they might need to change their ways from years past.

Weaknesses: Offense. Just as the Bearcats have consistently troubled opponents’ offenses, they have struggled to score on the other end of the court. Cronin has said that he expects to pick up the pace this season – Cincinnati has been one of the top 200 most uptempo teams in the country just once in his tenure, finishing at #195 in 2010 – and they’ll need to. Those forwards whose length and quickness are a boon on the defensive end can’t shoot, so getting them out running the floor could help hide that weakness. A strong point guard would help the effort, but Cashmere Wright (by far their most efficient offensive player last year) is gone, and Guyn’s strength isn’t as a facilitator.

Schedule: The Bearcats have a road trip to the Pit in Albuquerque to face New Mexico on December 7, a crucial game where a win could do wonders for their NCAA Tournament resume. They face former Big East rival Pittsburgh at Madison Square Garden 10 days later. Otherwise, their non-conference slate leaves a bit to be desired. Their conference schedule is back-loaded with a brutal triple-header – Louisville, at UConn, Memphis – in the last two weeks of the regular season.

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AAC M5: 10.25.13 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on October 25th, 2013

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  1. At this point, the Chane Behanan saga has me feeling like Michael Corleone. After reporters in Louisville were able to extract Behanan’s side of things while he was in a downtown Starbucks, I figured that would be the last we would hear of Behanan and his suspension for at least a few weeks, maybe even a month if we were lucky. But no, Rick Pitino can’t stay away from publicity for long, so of course there were going to be media members at his book signing on Thursday and of course Pitino was going to open his mouth and gently walk back the harsh words he had uttered about Behanan at a press conference just one week before. When Pitino had first said it “was not probable” that Behanan would rejoin the team, most people called his bluff, but no one could have expected him to call his own bluff this quickly. Now Pitino is feeling better about Behanan’s chances of returning to the team because he told the truth or something and Pitino said Behanan would be back on the team “in a short period of time”. He tried to clarify that “short” was a relative word, but at this point, no one is even listening.  What a giant unnecessary charade. Behanan will be back on the team, his absence probably won’t affect Louisville much in the long run unless Hartford and Louisiana-Lafayette have some players none of us know about and this whole suspension nonsense will fade from everyone’s collective memory.
  2. In a story that is bound to make you say, “Wait…what?” and since not a day can go by without us talking about multiple stories involving Louisville, back in April some guy tried to extort Louisville Athletic Director Tom Jurich by claiming he had knowledge of a point-shaving scandal and threatening to go public if he was not paid $3.5 million. Apparently totally unfazed, Jurich basically called the bluff and immediately notified the NCAA and the state’s Attorney General, who then looped in the FBI. This was undoubtedly a smart move as the blackmailer was later found to be a guy who had previously been convicted of trying to extort Best Buy and the guy was promptly arrested again yesterday. I am no expert on extortion, but it’s probably more effective when you try to blackmail a team that didn’t just win the National Championship. It’s not a foolproof defense of point-shaving, but it’s a pretty good one. This story basically materialized out of thin air and is now about to disappear again. If only we could be so lucky with the Behanan suspension.
  3. Between 2003 and 2006, 12 players entered the Connecticut basketball program and only one of those players actually graduated. For the mathematically challenged, that is a graduation rate of roughly eight percent — the national average was 74 percent for this time period — which is confirmed by numbers the NCAA released Thursday. Now, to be fair to the Huskies and its former oach Jim Calhoun, the GSR is a flawed rating system and players that leave early for the professional ranks count against the school’s GSR.  The article doesn’t say who the one player who graduated is, but it is probably safe to assume that players like Marcus WilliamsCharlie VillanuevaRudy Gay, and A.J. Price all counted against the school’s graduation rate despite the fact that all four of them ended up playing in the NBA. This doesn’t absolve the Huskies and Calhoun from blame. According to the article, the program’s graduation rate got worse and worse before bottoming out at eight percent, and the NBA is only partially to blame as UConn is hardly the only program that deals with early departures and those schools didn’t make headlines for their embarrassingly low graduation rates. The good news is that Kevin Ollie seems to have stabilized the program and helped get the team on track academically, so hopefully the rating will start to return to respectability soon enough.
  4. Our first three stories have all been centered around less than savory topics, so let’s switch gears for a minute and talk about the remarkable story of Iowa State transfer and now Rutgers guard Kerwin Okoro. Last November, Okoro’s father died of a stroke in Nigeria and two months later his older brother Idiongo died from colon cancer. Okoro transferred home to be closer to his mother who apparently works 16 hours per day, but because the NCAA is the NCAA, they initially denied his waiver to play immediately. Luckily for everyone involved, the Internet exists and outrage quickly spread across the country as Okoro’s story became well-known and people called out the obvious hypocrisy in the NCAA’s decision. The NCAA finally caved to public pressure last month and now Okoro is eligible to play immediately and should be a key contributor in coach Eddie Jordan‘s backcourt. The more detailed version of the story is on Adam Zagoria’s blog and it is definitely worth the read.
  5. Veteran Cincinnati reporter Bill Koch mulls over some questions about this season’s Bearcats, a team with as much to prove as any in the conference. Mick Cronin has done an excellent job of bringing the program back to constant relevancy, but despite plenty of talent, none of Cronin’s teams have yet to make the leap from good to great. Unfortunately for Cronin and the Bearcats’ fanbase, this season looks more like a rebuilding year than a contending year as the team needs to replace starting point guard Cashmere Wright and needs to find a few live bodies to play in the frontcourt and maybe score a basket or two. They do return star guard Sean Kilpatrick and brought in highly touted freshman Jermaine Lawrence, and there is more talent and athleticism on the roster. But, as Koch pointed out, there are a lot of important questions that need to be answered and those questions may be too much to overcome.
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Season In Review: Cincinnati Bearcats

Posted by mlemaire on May 1st, 2013

Coming off a Sweet Sixteen appearance last season, hopes were high for this season’s version of the Cincinnati Bearcats. Unfortunately, after a hot start in the non-conference portion of their schedule, some of their weaknesses were exposed in conference play and a clear inability to score consistently held the team back as it finished 22-12 and 9-9 in the Big East before losing in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament to Creighton. It was a relatively disappointing season after coach Mick Cronin had raised the bar in the 2011-12, but let’s dig a little deeper and see just how disappointing it really was.

Preseason Expectations

Both the conference coaches and the esteemed group at this microsite saw the Bearcats’ finish last season and promptly pegged Cincinnati to finish fourth in the conference this season. Mick Cronin’s career was starting to take off following an impressive run to the Sweet Sixteen, and heading into this season, he boasted one of the league’s most experienced and talented backcourts in senior Cashmere Wright and junior Sean Kilpatrick, and an influx of junior college talent and improving underclassmen were supposed to prove serviceable in the frontcourt following the departure of do-everything big man Yancy Gates.

Mick Cronin's Team Fell Well Short Of Expectations This Season

Mick Cronin’s Team Fell Well Short Of Expectations This Season

The Good

Although it didn’t look particularly exciting at the beginning of the season, whoever put together the Bearcats’ non-conference schedule this season might have legitimately influenced the program’s chances of making the NCAA Tournament. The team finished the non-conference slate 12-1 with good wins over Oregon, Iowa State, and Alabama, and their only loss was a one-point defeat versus New Mexico. The Bearcats ended the season on the bubble and you better believe that two wins and a close road loss to good NCAA Tournament teams helped make a difference.  There is something to be said for how consistently good Mick Cronin-coached teams are defensively.

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Big East NCAA Tournament Capsules: Cincinnati

Posted by Dan Lyons on March 22nd, 2013

Cincinnati came into the year as one of the favorites for a top four finish in the Big East, and that looked like a good bet through non-conference play. However, the Bearcats were totally inconsistent all season once the Big East schedule began, and after an injury to guard Cashmere Wright in January, Cincinnati has struggled to put points on the board. Wins over Iowa State, Oregon, Pittsburgh, Marquette, and Villanova were enough to get the Bearcats into the tournament, but Cincinnati was probably a game or two from being in serious bubble talks.

Mick Cronin

Mick Cronin and Cincinnati came into the season as a favorite to win the Big East. Now, they get to prove that all over again. (Getty)

Region: Midwest
Seed: No. 10
Record: 22-11 (9-9 Big East)
Matchup: v. Creighton in Philadelphia, PA

Key Player: Sean Kilpatrick is far and away the most important Bearcat. He is the team’s leader in minutes, points, and is just .6 rebounds off of Titus Rubles pace for the team lead in that category, and he’s doing it from the guard position. On a team that often struggles to find the bottom of the net, Kilpatrick is the only consistent option, and the opposition knows it, which helps explain the low shooting percentages for the Yonkers native. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big East M5: 03.20.13 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on March 20th, 2013

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  1. The NCAA Tournament officially got under way last night with North Carolina A&T and St. Mary’s notching the first two victories of the Big Dance. Meanwhile, in the middle of Pennsylvania, Kentucky lost to might Robert Morris in the NIT, likely bringing delight to fans of their intrastate rivals, Louisville. The Cardinals are the No. 1 overall seed and the presumptive favorite to win the national championship according to plenty of pundits and bracketheads on ESPN.com. C.L. Brown of the Louisville Courier-Journal made the astute observation that the 2013 team bears plenty of resemblance, at least in terms of its resume, to the team Rick Pitino coached to a No. 1 seed in 2009. Brown breaks down the match-up between the two Cardinal teams and gives this year’s squad a slight edge for consistency reasons. What’s most interesting to us is that the player who would have the most sway on who wins that match-up will also be the most influential player in Louisville’s success this March — point guard Peyton Siva. Brown gives Siva the edge over Edgar Sosa and Andre McGee but that would assume that the good Siva shows up. It will be the same “if” in this year’s NCAA Tournament. If Siva is focused, consistent, and perhaps even dynamic, the Cardinals will likely be the best team in the field; but if he struggles to lead the offense and starts turning the ball over, it may end up as another disappointing season for Pitino’s club.
  2. At first glance, it doesn’t seem like Montana would stand much of a chance against Syracuse. The Grizzlies don’t have a real “good” win (unless you count an overtime loss to Davidson, which is still a loss, so you shouldn’t count it) and the Orange looked good (at least until the second half) of the Big East championship game. Jim Boeheim’s team also has a distinct size, length, and athleticism advantage. Yet, despite all of that, a deeper review of the numbers supports the fact that Montana has a good chance to pull of the upset. Those numbers are usually decent indicators of upset potential, but the Grizzlies’ chances of pulling it off really depends on whether Syracuse will come out motivated to play in San Jose. They have the cross-country trip and they are a team that, until the Big East Tournament began, looked listless and defeated. If that’s the team that shows up on Thursday in California, then the veteran team from Montana will have a puncher’s chance. But if the focused and intense Syracuse team that gutted out an overtime victory over Georgetown in the Big East semifinals returns, then the Grizzlies will have trouble dealing with the length of Syracuse’s zone defense and they will have even more trouble keeping them off the glass.
  3. It’s out in the open now — the secret weapon that Villanova will use to beat a hot North Carolina team that looks like a tough match-up for the Wildcats. Jay Wright will just rely on transfer point guard Tony Chennault, who knows everything there is to know about the Tar Heels because he spent two years in the ACC at Wake Forest. Er….well okay, so that’s not exactly a foolproof plan and Chennault didn’t have a whole lot of “inside” information to share with reporters and his teammates, but I guess he will know some of the players better anyway. Chennault at least understands that stopping the Tar Heels will involve some serious transition defense and a commitment to stepping out on the shooters, especially ones behind the three-point arc. In fact, the arc may be where this entire game is won and lost. The Tar Heels’ smaller lineup is built for attacking from the perimeter with P.J. Hairston at power forward, and the Wildcats have had a well-documented problem stopping the deep threat this season. If the Wildcats can slow down Hairston and use their size to their advantage, they will probably have a better shot to win.
  4. Taking a quick break from Tournament Talk, the sure-to-depress chatter of conference realignment has reared its ugly head again in the form of a story about how the Conference Formerly Known As The Big East could be in danger of losing its lucrative media rights deal. Basically, if Connecticut, Cincinnati, Houston, or Temple decide to leave the conference, the media rights deal with ESPN could be terminated. Those four schools are considered the Tier-1 schools by the television executives and if the Big East can’t hold on to them, the networks will have the option to renegotiate the deal with the league. Commissioner Mike Aresco continues to say all of the right things about the future of his league, but despite all of the maneuvering and jockeying among different teams, it seems like the conference constantly remains on the brink of dissolution, especially if schools like Connecticut and Cincinnati (both of whom are likely trying to find a new home as soon as possible) take off.
  5. Say what you want about the homer-ish tinge to this article about Cashmere Wright, but once you toss aside the paragraphs about why you should root for him, the overall point about Wright’s importance to the Bearcats is a good one. It’s no coincidence that the Bearcats’ sudden struggles during the regular season started right around the same time Wright suffered his shoulder injury. Wright has played much better down the stretch, which is good news for the Bearcats, because they will need him to score against a Creighton team that is one of the most efficient offensive teams in the country. Cincinnati will undoubtedly play tougher, more physical defense than the Bluejays are used to, but the Bearcats don’t exactly score easily and they rely heavily on Wright and backcourt mate Sean Kilpatrick to spark the offense. So yeah, I guess Cincinnati fans should be rooting for Wright.
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Big East Tournament Day Three: Best and Worst Case Scenarios

Posted by Dan Lyons on March 14th, 2013

The quarterfinals are here, which means the Big East tournament is in full swing, and the top four seeds will get their chance at the league as-we-know-it’s final crown.  Georgetown and Cincinnati open today’s festivities at Noon, followed by a 21st century ACC donnybrook between Syracuse and Pittsburgh.

#9 Cincinnati

Cincy

The Bearcats knocked off Providence 61-44 yesterday afternoon.

No. 9 seed Cincinnati had a strong showing against Providence yesterday afternoon, defeating the Friars 61-44 behind 17 points from Sean Kilpatrick and 15 points and 10 rebounds from JaQuon Parker.

Next game: Cincinnati will look to upset top seeded Georgetown at Noon.

  • Best Case: Cincinnati nearly took down Georgetown at Fifth Third Arena in February, losing a tight one, 62-55.  Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright were a combined 3-of-15 from three point range in that one; if Cincinnati’s guards can knock down some shots from the outside they should not have much of an issue keeping up with Georgetown’s scoring.  Consistent guard play is the key for the Bearcats; if Kilpatrick keeps up his solid play and Wright finally returns to the level that he was playing at before he missed time due to injury, Cincinnati can make a run in this tournament.
  • Worst Case: The Bearcats get frustrated against Georgetown’s probing Princeton offense and Otto Porter flashes his normal brilliance, and the Hoyas run away with a double-digit victory.  Cincinnati’s next conference tournament game is played in front of 4,000 fans at the Izod Center against Tulane.

#5 Syracuse

C.J. Fair continues to act as a steadying presence for Syracuse.

Syracuse struggled down the stretch of the regular season, but a strong second half propelled them to a 75-63 win over Seton Hall. The Orange dropped their game at The Pete earlier this year, but were without forward James Southerland. Will an Orange-friendly crowd and Southerland’s three-point prowess make the difference for Jim Boeheim’s squad?

Next game: Syracuse faces No. 4 seed Pittsburgh in the 2:00 PM slot.

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Big East M5: 03.13.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on March 13th, 2013

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  1. The Big East named Otto Porter and John Thompson III Player of the Year and Coach of the Year, respectively, on Tuesday. Porter was the unanimous choice for POY among coaches, and had been the only unanimous selection on the All-Big East First Team roster that was released Sunday. Barry Svrluga at the Washington Post recounts how unlikely that feat would have seemed in early January, when Porter shot 7-of-19 and had nine total rebounds in consecutive losses to open Big East play. After turning the ball over seven times against Louisville, Porter notched 34 assists to just nine turnovers in the Hoyas’ final 11 games –– a staggering 3.8 A/TO ratio. The 6’8″ sophomore is the eighth Big East POY winner from Georgetown, making the it the most successful program in that category.
  2. Prized recruit Aquille Carr announced yesterday that he would forgo a college career at Seton Hall to play professionally abroad next year, prompting the Star-Ledger’ Steve Politi to question whether Kevin Willard is repeating the mistakes of his predecessors. While recruiting success offered some hopeful silver lining during Seton Hall’s miserable 3-15 Big East regular season, that optimism evaporated in the span of less than a week. Willard’s only other commitment, Illinois shooting guard Jerron Wilbut, was arrested last Thursday for robbery and will likely never step foot on campus. Now with no recruits in the fold for 2013, Politi says Willard “can’t afford an entire goose egg for a recruiting class” if he wants to avoid the fates of former Pirates coaches Bobby Gonzalez and Louis Orr.
  3. CBS New York’s Jon Rothstein maintains that Rutgers AD Tim Pernetti made the right choice in retaining coach Mike Rice, and believes the Scarlet Knights are poised to turn the corner. It takes time to try to build a program that hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1991, and Rothstein cites Jay Wright-era Villanova and Mick Cronin’s Cincinnati as examples of programs that needed four or five years to do so. Moreover, “There is a distinct jump in production when a group of sophomores become juniors,” he says, and Rutgers’ roster boasts seven rising seniors, including leading scorers Eli Carter and Myles Mack.
  4. Cincinnati’s staff hopes to have Justin Jackson back in the fold against Providence tonight, after the 6’8″ junior missed the past three games with an ankle injury. Jackson has averaged 3.9 points and 3.9 rebounds per game, but Mick Cronin insists, “We need him. He’s an energy guy.  This time of year is when you rely on your veteran players.” On the topic of Cashmere Wright, Cronin admitted that his mercurial point guard is still hobbled by a tricky knee, which is preventing him from exploiting defenders off the dribble. “He’s giving us everything he can give us,” Cronin reiterated.
  5. UConn blog A Dime Back has been conducting a tournament-style bracket of the most historic Huskies in a feature dubbed “The Ultimate UConn Challenge.” The survey’s architects have given it a thoughtful treatment, having “researched, compiled, ranked and seeded 64 of the greatest players in Husky history” over the course of this season. Descriptions of each player display a level of research uncommon to the format, and contain some history that will appeal to inquisitive college basketball fans regardless of team allegiance. Ray Allen, Kemba Walker, Donyell Marshall and Emeka Okafor are the top seeds, while Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright are the only current players to make the field.
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Big East M5: 03.06.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on March 6th, 2013

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  1. Syracuse’s senior game tonight against DePaul features two members of the Orange making their definite final appearances at the Carrier Dome as players: Brandon Triche and James Southerland. However, few would bet that these are the only two scholarship players who will move on after this season. The best bet is that Michael Carter-Williams will join them despite his recent bouts of poor play. Some Syracuse fans argue that he could use more seasoning in college, and they’re not wrong, but many forget that despite being a true sophomore, MCW is already 21 years old now and will be 22 before next season. MCW would be the eighth Syracuse player in six seasons to leave school early, with four of those players — Donte Greene, Jonny Flynn, Wes Johnson, and Dion Waiters — picked in the first round of the NBA Draft.  Waiters, who played with Carter-Williams last season, weighed in: “Michael’s a 6’6″ point guard. You can’t teach height. If he comes here, he’ll get nothing but better.” In his Syracuse.com piece on the subject, Bud Poliquin also mentions C.J. Fair and Rakeem Christmas as possible early departures, but those seem like stretches from this observer.
  2. In the classy moves by coaches department, Rick Pitino announced that junior Gorgui Dieng will be allowed to participate in Senior Day festivities in anticipation that the center will make the jump to the NBA after this season. “He has given us more than we have asked for. It is in his best interest to come out, and I think he is ready… He has been great for us. I have enjoyed coaching him so much. It is going to be a very difficult Senior Night. I have had some difficult ones, but this may be the most difficult.” There is definitely an argument to be made for keeping senior days for those who finish out their four years of eligibility, but I have no issue with exceptions being made for people like Dieng who were both great players and, by all accounts, students in addition to players during their time in college.
  3. This is the point of the season where teams look to ramp it up and start playing their best ball as they head into postseason play. Pitt’s Talib Zanna had been in an extended slump, averaging just 5.5 points per game for an extended period after averaging 13+ PPG for the first two months of the year. Recently, however, it seems like Zanna has started to find his rhythm again, and that doesn’t bode well for teams at the Garden next week. In Pitt’s last home game against Villanova, Zanna went off for 14 points and 19 rebounds in an overtime victory. Pitt closes the season at DePaul on Saturday before preparing for their final Big East Tournament.
  4. Cincinnati basketball hasn’t been the most beautiful version of the game this season, and things have only been worse in that regard with the constant injury issues that have befallen Cashmere Wright. He popped his shoulder out of the joint for the sixth time in Monday’s loss to Louisville, according to Mick Cronin. In the last few games, it seemed like Wright had been getting closer to 100 percent, which he clearly hasn’t been since a mid-January injury against DePaul. If Wright can’t find his shot and the lion’s share of the Bearcats’ scoring falls on Sean Kilpatrick’s shoulders in the postseason, Cincinnati will continue to struggle to score in the season’s most important games.
  5. Scott Martin’s career has been plagued by injuries, so if the Notre Dame forward can’t maintain a long career overseas, he has a fallback plan in coaching. Mike Brey believes that Martin is well-suited for the sideline: “I think he’s going to be a hell of a coach.” In a Chicago Tribune article, Martin discusses how he’s begun to watch the game through an analytical lens and former Irish teammate Ben Hansbrough admitted that he and Martin discussed coaching after their careers had wrapped. Martin’s constant injuries may have derailed a promising career, but it is good to hear that he has a strong plan for after basketball…well, after playing basketball, anyway.
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Big East M5: 03.04.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on March 4th, 2013

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  1. Twelve points doesn’t seem like a particularly crazy total, but in a 58-53 defensive deadlock in a bustling Carrier Dome against a Syracuse team desperate to get back in the win column, Luke Hancock‘s four three-pointers were key to Louisville‘s big Saturday win. As Adam Himmelsbach writes, three of Hancock’s treys came in the final nine minutes of the game, the final one breaking a 48-all tie and giving the Cardinals the momentum to ride to the victory. While Louisville struggled against Syracuse’s zone for much of the game, Hancock brought a three-point threat to the floor which the Cardinals had lacked for much of the game, and he hit big shot after big shot down the stretch.
  2. While there aren’t too many optimists in Central New York right now, one important person is keeping faith that the Orange can right the ship come tournament time: Jim Boeheim. After the loss to Louisville, Boeheim discussed the recent three game slide, and his team’s prospects going forward: “I like what we can be… We’ve lost to three ranked teams. We haven’t played very good. We haven’t shot very good and we could’ve won two of the three. If we were getting beat by 15 or 20 points, I’d be worried. I’d be very worried. But we’re right there.’’ Syracuse has a brief reprieve from their brutal season-ending stretch with a game against DePaul before heading down to Washington for their last Big East regular season game, a fitting match-up with Georgetown.
  3. The Marquette-Notre Dame rivalry is another that may be lost after conference realignment rears its head. The Golden Eagles can count another victory over the Irish after a comfortable eight point win this weekend. Without Jack Cooley, Notre Dame had no answer for Marquette bigs Chris Otule and Davante Gardner. Chicago Sun-Times writer Dan McGrath suggests that the nature of this rivalry added a lot of weight to this game, especially for Marquette: “Notre Dame’s perceived haughtiness over a higher national profile and stronger academic reputation can stir resentment in the most level-headed Marquette types. So a victory over the Irish in anything is cause for celebration on a campus that embraces celebrating as part of the culture.”
  4. The winner of the Big East’s regular season is usually a good bet for a number one seed in the NCAA tournament, and this year it is looking more and more like Georgetown will hold on to win that crown. However, many projections haven’t included Georgetown on the top line of their brackets. The Hoyas have moved into the top five in the polls and they’re winners of 11 straight games going back to a now-inexplicable loss to USF, not to mention that they have one of the nation’s best players in Otto Porter. With the top few teams losing seemingly every week, it shouldn’t shock anyone that a consistent winner like Georgetown could be staring at a top seed at this point, as crazy at that may have sounded just a few weeks ago.
  5. After a gutty 20-point, five-rebound, three-assist game that helped propel Cincinnati over UConn, Mick Cronin heaped plenty of praise on guard Sean Kilpatrick: “Mental toughness and work ethic is the hardest thing to find in recruiting, and you really don’t know until you get a guy in practice. I knew during his redshirt year the way that guy attacked practice every day with the life and the energy he had.” Cronin also went out of his way to mention Kilpatrick among Bearcat greats like Kenyon Martin and Steve Logan. Kilpatrick has carried Cincinnati with 17.7 points per game, and was especially key during stretches mid-season when Cashmere Wright and JaQuon Parker struggled to give the Bearcats strong secondary scoring options.
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