Ten Tuesday (Wednesday) Scribbles: On Underwhelming Teams, Soft Schedules, Wisconsin and More…

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 6th, 2013

tuesdayscribblesBrian Otskey is an RTC columnist. Every Tuesday during the regular season he’ll be giving his 10 thoughts on the previous week’s action. You can find him on Twitter @botskey

  1. The Super Bowl marks the beginning of a two month stretch where college basketball dominates the national sports scene. From now until April 8, the focus will be squarely on our terrific sport. Sure it can be frustrating for the diehard fans that have been following every game since early November but the attention of the casual fans is what drives coverage and television ratings. The unfortunate reality is that without casual fan interest, college basketball would exclusively be a niche sport. We all have had that NCAA Tournament pool experience where the person who starts watching in February or March and knows very little other than team names and rankings wins the pool while the person who studies the efficiency metrics and knows that Travis Trice is a great three point shooter but awful inside the arc (h/t Luke Winn) finishes near the bottom of the pool standings. Nevertheless, it is an exciting time of year as bubble talk, last four in and last four out quickly creep into the daily sports conversation. Games like Tuesday night’s Ohio State/Michigan classic are what drive interest in the sport. We’ve been treated to plenty of great games this season but this one couldn’t have come at a better time, a time when most of America is now squarely focused on college basketball. Strap in, it’s going to be really fun as we head into the part of the season where every game is so big and teams make their final push towards March.
  2. As we move into this crucial part of the season, the issue of teams peaking early can become a concern for some. The season is a process, an evolution if you will, and not every team is playing its best basketball come March. As I look across the nation, there are a few teams that may have already peaked or are peaking right now and may not be able to sustain their current level of play into March. Oregon, NC State, Miami and Butler come to mind. Two losses to the Bay Area schools have put a sour taste in everyone’s mouth. Is it a short term blip or a sign of things to come for the Ducks? Their ability to score and propensity for turnovers are causes for concern but Oregon’s defense is surprisingly solid. NC State’s issue is just the opposite. The Wolfpack certainly can score, although their offense was shut down in losses to Maryland and Virginia. However, defense has been a problem all year and NC State’s efficiency, ranked #141 in the country, is simply not at a level where you can win games consistently. Chances are the Wolfpack have already peaked and their inability to stop teams will catch up to them eventually. Miami is a case of a team that may be peaking as we speak. The Hurricanes have won 10 consecutive games in a variety of different ways. This fact (meaning they can play different styles/speeds) combined with a defensive efficiency ranked fourth in the country suggest Miami can sustain this level of play. Concerns for the Hurricanes include three point shooting, free throw shooting and offensive rebounding but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Miami hold steady, at least for the next few weeks. Butler is an interesting case. The Bulldogs are 18-4 (5-2) but have lost two of their four games since the emotional win over Gonzaga on January 19 while also struggling through a win over lowly Rhode Island. Butler’s league isn’t as tough as the other teams mentioned here so it will likely enter the NCAA Tournament with a very strong record. Of concern is the BU defense which is not at the elite level it was when the Bulldogs first went to the national title game three years ago. However, it would be foolish to doubt Brad Stevens and his group. With a soft schedule down the stretch, there is still time for Butler to pile up wins and gather confidence heading into the tournament. I would say Butler has not peaked yet despite some major wins already on its resume. Look out for the Bulldogs next month.

    C.J. Leslie and NC State may have peaked early (E. Hyman/RNO)

    C.J. Leslie and NC State may have peaked early (E. Hyman/RNO)

  3. As we head into February and the regular season begins to wind down, I figure this is a good time to look at a few of America’s underwhelming teams. There are teams out there with gaudy records but few quality wins or those who just haven’t gotten on track relative to preseason expectations. Notre Dame, UNLV, UCLA and Missouri come to mind immediately. Notre Dame is 18-5 and 6-4 in the Big East which appears good on the surface but this was a team many thought would finish third in that rugged conference. However, a closer inspection reveals the Irish have just two quality wins on their resume (Kentucky (maybe) and at Cincinnati). In Big East play, Notre Dame has lost twice on its home court, something that has been almost unheard of over the years in South Bend. Notre Dame has never been a defensive juggernaut under Mike Brey but this is arguably his worst defensive team in 13 years at the helm. UNLV is a team with lots of talent that always leaves you wanting more, always following up a stretch of good play with a disappointing loss. The Rebels struggle away from Vegas which is understandable but you would still like to see them beat a few good teams on the road. They have failed to do that. UNLV can still turn it around but I feel like we’ve seen this movie before. Three consecutive first round NCAA flameouts show that UNLV isn’t quite ready for primetime. In fact, the Rebels have not won a postseason game since a first round victory over Kent State in 2008. UCLA is still a work in progress but there is no denying it has been underwhelming. The Bruins have lost three of their last four games since winning 10 straight games after a disappointing 5-3 start. Defense has been a concern all season long but it’s the offense that has scuttled of late. Five of UCLA’s final seven games are on the road and one of the home games is against Arizona. Things could get a little dicey down the stretch for the Bruins. Missouri is the team I feel is the most overrated of all. Despite a resume that lacks one single freaking SEC road win and non-conference wins over fading Illinois and mediocre Stanford, the Tigers continue to be ranked in both major polls. Missouri is not a good defensive team and has given up a lot of points to pretty much every good team it has played. Phil Pressey can be a great distributor but he’s also a turnover machine and a poor jump shooter. Mizzou will probably make the NCAA Tournament but an early departure is highly likely. Read the rest of this entry »
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Tipping Off the Big East Countdown: #9 St. John’s

Posted by Dan Lyons on October 26th, 2012

Few programs in the country went through the adversity that St. John’s found itself facing last season.  Head coach Steve Lavin underwent surgery to treat prostate cancer in October of last year, and he was only able to coach four games in early November before deciding to sit out for the rest of the season. Multiple key players left during the season for various reasons, and at times the Red Storm were only able to play with a six-man rotation of scholarship players. This year should prove to be a challenge for the Johnnies, especially after the departure of Moe Harkless following last season, but they return a solid nucleus and add a number of talented freshmen who look to continue the restoration project that is Steven Lavin’s St. John’s basketball program.

2011-12 Record: 13-19, 6-12

2011-12 Postseason: None

Steve Lavin returns to the St. John’s bench in 2012-13. Can he bring back the success of the 2010-11 campaign?

Schedule

St. John’s non-conference schedule is fairly light. The Storm open with Detroit and the ever-dangerous Ray McCallum at Carnesecca Arena before heading to Charleston, South Carolina, for the DirecTV Charleston Classic. In the opening round of the tournament the Storm take on host College of Charleston before facing either Auburn or Murray State. The field also features Big 12 power Baylor, Boston College, Colorado, and Dayton. St. John’s will also host South Carolina in Queens in the Big East/SEC Challenge.  St. John’s plays one non-conference game in Madison Square Garden, against Fordham, and will play one game in Brooklyn’s new Barclays Center against St. Francis. In the Big East, the team opens at Villanova on January 2, and has home-and-homes with Rutgers, Georgetown, Notre Dame, and DePaul.

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Big East Summer Capsules: St. John’s Red Storm

Posted by mlemaire on July 25th, 2012

While most relish the onset of Summer, college basketball junkies do not. Most of the news surrounding the sport is recruiting rumors and commitments or injuries and transfer news. In order to help keep folks up-to-date on what their teams are doing during the summer, we put together these summer capsules for each team in the conference. Next up is St. John’s.

1. It’s probably time to fill out the coaching staff.

Former assistant and interim coach Mike Dunlap took the head gig with the Charlotte Bobcats and he left a giant hole on Coach Steve Lavin’s staff that still hasn’t been filled. Dunlap was considered an excellent tactician with a knack for developing young players and rumors are that the Red Storm will hire De La Salle (CA) High School coach Frank Allocco to fill the same role. Allocco has known Lavin since the latter’s days at UCLA and he has New Jersey roots, so the move makes a lot of sense for a number of reasons, but Lavin has said he won’t make a final decision until August. The Red Storm have dealt with plenty of upheaval in the last two years, so an absent assistant coach won’t faze them, but Lavin would be wise to get the deal done as soon as he feels comfortable so that whomever he hires can start recruiting and coaching.

2.  Looking good Steve! Feeling good team!

Steve Lavin Is Feeling Better And Ready To Lead St. John’s Again

If you don’t get the reference, go rent Trading Places and thank me later. Lavin went through prostate cancer surgery last season and despite his attempts to return to the bench, fatigue and treatment got the best of him so that he spent most of the season away from the sidelines. Now Lavin is healthy, tearing up the recruiting trail like only he can, and preparing to patrol the sideline for a St. John’s team that should engender a lot of optimism from their fan base thanks to the amount of returning talent on the roster. Now the question becomes exactly how healthy is Lavin? He already proved that he can overcome the nagging questions about his health on the recruiting trail, but if the questions come back he may not be able to overcome the uncertainty again. More importantly, he needs to be on the sideline. The players on his team committed to the program in large part because of Lavin and his personality; one can assume they would like to play for the coach who recruited them.

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Pac-12 Morning Five: 06.15.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on June 15th, 2012

  1. It may be the slowest of slow times in the college basketball year, but there’s always at least something going on. This week, Utah was fairly busy, adding to its staff and adding its second commitment for the 2013 class. First, on the recruiting front, head coach Larry Krystkowiak got good news when Salt Lake City’s own Parker Van Dyke, a combo guard who averaged 25 points per game as a junior on his way to the Utah Class 4A Most Valuable Player award (as named by The Salt Lake City Tribune), committed to the program on Monday, joining point guard Julian Jacobs in the 2013 class. However, there is something of some bad news mixed in with this signing, as Van Dyke expects to serve an LDS mission following his high school graduation, meaning he won’t actually put on a Ute uniform until 2015. Chalk it up to doing business in the state of Utah.
  2. The other change in the Utah program is with the addition of a couple new staff members. First, former Ute player Phil Cullen is returning to campus to become the new director of player development and camps for Krystkowiak. Cullen played for the Utes between 1998 and 2002 and was most recently an assistant coach at Grand Canyon University. The other hire is Charles Stephenson, who will be the program’s first-ever strength and conditioning coach. In the past, the basketball program shared strength and conditioning coach Greg Argust with the football team, but now Stephenson’s responsibility will be entirely with the men’s basketball program.
  3. Oregon State also scored a commitment this week as 7’1” center Cheikh N’Diaye out of Carlsbad, California, announced his attention to attend the Corvallis campus. He’s now the second 2013 recruit to commit to the Beavers, joining point guard L.J. Westbrook, who committed last summer. The big man is a work in progress offensively, but is a monster blocking shots on the defensive end. A native of Senegal, N’Diaye is no relation to Washington center Aziz N’Diaye.
  4. Washington State sophomore forward Patrick Simon announced his decision to transfer out of the program last week. It was a disappointing stay with the Cougs for the sharpshooter, playing just over 400 total minutes in his career and tallying only 152 points. He got off to a rousing start, scoring 27 points in 39 minutes over his first three games (including 5-of-10 shooting from deep), but by the end of the season as his jumper left him, he was getting spot minutes at best. Simon will be better off sliding down the ladder a bit, perhaps winding up at a Big Sky school, or even dropping down to Division II and becoming eligible next year.
  5. Then there’s Oregon, who learned this week that top-100 recruit Chris Obekpa, who the Ducks had been in hot pursuit of, had chosen St. John’s over them. As a result, barring last minute developments, Oregon will have two open scholarships for next season. Also of some note to Oregon fans, former Duck Matt Humphrey, who transferred out of the program in the Ernie Kent-to-Dana Altman transition and played with Boston College last year, is on the move again, on his way to finish up his college career in West Virginia.
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Pac-12 Weekly Five: 05.11.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on May 11th, 2012

  1. We’re at that time of the year when we the rosters start to solidify. Most of the key recruits have made their picks, and teams are beginning to add the finishing touches to their recruiting classes. For instance this week Washington State added junior college big man James Hunter, a guy who will have three seasons of eligibility in Pullman. Hunter is a raw work-in-progress, but he is a good athlete who runs the floor well and could be a good body for the Cougs in future years. Meawhile, Oregon got a commitment from combo guard Willie Moore, the sixth player signed by Dana Altman so far this season. Moore had originally committed to Duquesne, but was released from his letter of intent after the Dukes fired head coach Ron Everhart.
  2. The signing of Moore leaves the Ducks with just one remaining scholarship for the 2012-13 season, and they’re certainly hoping that they get good news about their seventh signee of the year in the coming days, as power forward Anthony Bennett, rated the seventh-best recruit in this class (by ESPNU) is expected to choose between Oregon and UNLV. Oregon is also still in the mix for Chris Obekpa, a center ranked in the top 100 recruits as well, meaning that Moore’s signing likely indicates that the Ducks have received word that they’re unlikely to land one or both of those players. And while some in the UO community seem pleased that the Ducks at least outlasted Kentucky and Florida on Bennett’s list, taking second place in a recruiting battle is no win at all. Bennett is expected to announce his decision in the next week, although he is clearly in no hurry.
  3. The other bit of intrigue remaining in the summer are the landing spots for the multitude of transfers still uncommitted. For Arizona State transfer Trent Lockett, that decision is already in the books, as last weekend he announced his decision to transfer to Marquette. Lockett, who has already earned his degree in business communications, wanted to be closer to his mother, who has been diagnosed with cancer.
  4. Once all the 2012 commitments are complete, the next big thing around the conference will be the summer trips. UCLA announced its long-rumored trip to China this week, a venture that could accomplish plenty for both the team and the conference. Most important for the Bruins is the chance to get in extra work during the summer for a talented team chock-full of newcomers. Ben Howland will get a chance to put his team through 10 practices prior the team’s flight to China on August 21. Once there, the Bruins will play a handful of Chinese teams that are expected to be “the equivalent of NCAA competition,” according to Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott. The team will likely also get a crack at the Chinese national team during its visit. The other benefit of the trip is the beginning of Scott’s master plan to take the Pac-12 brand to Asia. Scott expects that this will be the first of yearly trips by Pac-12 teams to China for similar summer events. Washington also announced it own plans for a summer international trip, with an itinerary that will take the Huskies to Spain, France, Monaco and Senegal. The visit to Senegal will be especially important, given that it is the home country of senior center Aziz N’Diaye. The Huskies will play one game in Senegal’s capital, Dakar, as well as putting on several basketball clinics elsewhere in the country.
  5. Lastly, a good story to read about. Utah senior guard Josh “Jiggy” Watkins was kicked off the Ute basketball team in January. But, instead of taking the easy route and quitting school, Watkins stuck around Salt Lake City and, last week, earned his bachelor’s degree in sociology. Watkins and his mom met with Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak prior to the ceremony and Watkins admits that, while it was hard to have basketball taken away from him, he harbors no ill will towards his former coach and still thinks of him as a “great coach.” Watkins now expects to pursue a professional basketball career overseas, and we here at RTC wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors. It was a rough senior season basketball-wise for Watkins, but in the end, he finished off a major accomplishment. Well done, Josh.
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Pac-12 Weekly Five: 05.04.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on May 4th, 2012

  1. About a month into the offseason now, the incoming recruiting classes are just about set, while the comings and goings of Division I transfers are beginning to sharpen in focus. In the past week, we’ve learned that Washington State would be welcoming in former Iowa State center Jordan Railey, who saw limited time in his two seasons in Ames, but could be a factor up front for the Cougars in 2013-14. Utah will be the landing spot for Loyola Marymount graduate transfer Jared DuBois, who was a double-figure scorer in all of his previous seasons in Los Angeles (he redshirted his junior year after playing 175 minutes early prior to a season-ending injury). While DuBois can be a little wild at times, he should give head coach Larry Krystkowiak a sorely-needed offensive punch. Then there is former Tennessee forward Renaldo Woolridge (aka Swiperboy), who will spend his final season of eligibility at USC after graduating from the Knoxville school this spring. Reign of Troy expects Woolridge to step right into the starting lineup for Kevin O’Neill, but given his lack of accomplishments with the Volunteers and the influx of new talent for the Trojans, that may be overly optimistic. He should earn a significant spot in the rotation though.
  2. Meanwhile, a couple of outgoing transfers announced their landing spots, as Curtis Washington, formerly of USC, will head to Georgia State, while Arizona State refugee Kyle Cain will matriculate at UNC Greensboro, both becoming eligible in 2013-14. But the biggest name among outgoing Pac-12 transfers is Josiah Turner, heavily rumored to be heading to SMU and their new head coach Larry Brown, but who has not made any official announcement yet. Perhaps the decision was delayed some by the latest in a long line of bad decisions made by the talented youngster, as Turner was busted by university police last Thursday morning for a DUI, along with driving without a license, registration and insurance. After wasting a season in Tucson, it could be up to Brown to revive a once promising basketball career, but he’ll have to convince Turner to take his off-court life more seriously before any progress can be made. Percy Allen has a complete rundown of all the conference transfers.
  3. A couple conference schools landed more recruits this week, as Utah scored a commitment from swingman Dakarai Tucker this week, wrapping up an eight-man recruiting class (including DuBois) for the Utes. With four incoming freshmen to go with redshirt freshman Jeremy Olsen (back from a Mormon mission) and a pair of junior college transfers, hopefully Krystkowiak can begin to stem the tide of wild roster turnover every offseason in Salt Lake City. Likewise, in Eugene, Dana Altman scored a commitment from three-star wing Fred Richardson, a smart shooter who was considering a handful of other major conference schools. However, all is not done for Altman this year, as he continues to pursue top-ten recruit Anthony Bennett and four-star center Chris Obekpa, both of whom are still in the process of deciding where they will attend school.
  4. Last stop in terms of player movement: Mark Lyons, formerly of Xavier, is on the market and strongly considering Arizona as a landing spot for his final season of play next year. Lyons is also considering Kansas and Kentucky, but he will visit Sean Miller’s program this weekend. Lyons already knows Miller well, having been recruited to the Cincinnati school by him and having spent a redshirt season under the former head coach. Also, Lyons hosted current Wildcat wing Kevin Parrom when he took a recruiting visit to Xavier in 2009. Miller could sure use Lyons next season, as the Wildcats lack a clear answer at the point guard slot. While Lyons is a combo guard (at best), he is certainly a more obvious answer at the point than anyone else currently on the Wildcat roster.
  5. And lastly, speaking of Parrom, the Wildcat junior was named one of the winners of the 2012 Wilma Rudolph Award, an honor given to student-athletes who “have overcome great personal, academic and/or emotional odds to achieve academic success while participating in intercollegiate athletics.” Parrom was shot in the leg in September while visiting his mother at her home in New York City as she was trying in vain to fight off cancer. Parrom’s mother’s death just weeks later came on the heels of his grandmother’s death earlier last summer. And, as just the icing on Parrom’s difficult season, his year ended early when he broke his foot in late January and missed the rest of the team’s games. This is a deserving honor for the player who has had to deal with so much in the past calendar year.
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Big East Morning Five: 03.20.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on March 20th, 2012

  1. St. John’s freshman and reigning Big East Rookie of the Year Moe Harkless confirmed speculation and announced yesterday in a press conference held at Madison Square Garden that he will be leaving the Red Storm for the NBA. “It has been my lifelong dream to play in the NBA and I am excited to have that opportunity to make the jump,” said Harkless.  He also confirmed that he will hire an agent, which would prevent him from returning to school.  The 6’8” forward is currently projected as a mid-to-late first round pick.  Certainly his status can, and likely will, change as other early entrants make themselves eligible and overseas names emerge but should Harkless be selected in the first round he would be guaranteed an NBA contract.
  2. Moe Harkless’ declaration to turn pro made him the second Big East player to do so thus far, following Villanova’s Maalik Wayns who made his intentions known last week, but, unlike Harkless, he does not plan on retaining an agent. Players with early draft entry on their minds have until 11:59 pm ET on April 29 to decide and CBSSports.com has come up with a watch list of those most likely to be considering the move.  While this appears to be a link to Kentucky’s roster, if you look close enough among those cited you will see Connecticut’s Andre Drummond and Jeremy Lamb as well. While Drummond could use a bit more seasoning and Lamb’s stock has perhaps dropped some, with Connecticut currently banned from next year’s NCAA Tournament due to Academic Performance Rating (APR) issues, it feels like a foregone conclusion that they will both opt for the NBA.  However, if NCAA Tournament eligibility is a deciding factor, Drummond and Lamb may hold off on a decision until the last minute given Connecticut has an appeal in progress on which a ruling could come during April. The other apparent no-brainer on the list when it comes to Big East players is Syracuse’s Fab Melo.  On the heels of the academic ineligibility ruling that has forced Melo to sit out this year’s NCAA Tournament, it has been widely speculated that his Syracuse days are over. Melo’s Syracuse teammate Dion Waiters is the only other Big East player on the watch list.
  3. And then there were three.  Nerlens Noel, the number one prospect in the class of 2012, has narrowed his college choices to Kentucky, Syracuse and Georgetown. North Carolina and Connecticut are the latest schools to be cut.  Noel was scheduled to visit Tar Heel country this week but has since canceled. As for Noel’s interactions with the three finalists, the shot-blocking center took an official visit to Georgetown last week, was scheduled to have an in-home visit with Kentucky yesterday, and another with Syracuse tomorrow. A decision could come shortly thereafter as Noel’s official reclassification to the class of 2012, which had been pending, is now complete.
  4. They say success breeds success. Well Cincinnati is sitting pretty in the Sweet Sixteen and just picked up a commitment yesterday from junior college star Titus Rubles.  Rubles, a slashing 6’8” forward from Blinn Community College in Texas, averaged 16.0 points and 10.0 rebounds for the Buccaneers. This commitment does not come as much of a surprise to those who either follow the Bearcats closely or know how to operate Twitter, as Rubles’ Twitter handle is a somewhat revealing “@bearcatbound.” Even with Rubles in the fold, Cincinnati remains in hot pursuit of center Chris Obekpa, arguably the most sought-after recruit among Big East schools as he is also garnering significant interest from Connecticut, DePaul, Providence, Seton Hall and St. John’s.
  5. Speaking of Cincinnati, the Bearcats have certainly come quite far from what appeared to be a season on the brink following an embarrassing November loss to Presbyterian and that ugly brawl-marred loss to Xavier which led to multiple suspension.  As we wrote at the start of the season, Cincinnati carried with it perhaps the highest increase in expectations among Big East squads as the Bearcats returned their top four scorers from a 26-9 team that made it to the third round of last year’s NCAA Tournament. Playing through the suspensions seemed to unlock some individual potential and lineup combinations that may have otherwise been left untapped as head coach Mick Cronin has rallied his troops to another 26 wins and at least a round further in the Big Dance than last year to this point.
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Big East Morning Five: 03.15.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on March 15th, 2012

  1. Villanova junior point guard Maalik Wayns will test the professional waters and declare himself eligible for the 2012 NBA Draft. Wayns will not hire an agent and therefore could pull his name out of the draft and return for his final collegiate season. That decision would need to take place by April 10. Sources told the Philadelphia Inquirer that while Wayns not projected to be a first round NBA pick, and therefore not in line for guaranteed money, there is a strong chance he will remain draft eligible, even if it means not getting drafted and playing professionally overseas next year. Wayns led the Wildcats in scoring and assists (17.6 PPG, 4.6 APG) and was named to the All-Big East second team this season.
  2. This was reported earlier in the week, but not widely so we thought it was worthy of a mention here. Another star junior point guard, Providence’s Vincent Council is considering entering the NBA Draft. Council, a third team All-Big East selection this year, has led the conference in assists the past two seasons. Academic issues are rumored to be the main driver behind Council’s potential departure as he currently does not project as an NBA draftee and figures prominently in Ed Cooley’s plans for next season should it return. Perhaps also playing a part in the decision is the pending arrival of Friar signee, and McDonald’s All-America point guard Kris Dunn. However conventional wisdom says Council would relish the opportunity to play with Dunn as they both possess off-the-ball skills and could excel in a backcourt that would also include another star recruit in Ricardo Ledo to go with veterans Bryce Cotton and Gerard Coleman.
  3. Even with the NCAA tournament upon us, all things Nerlens Noel remain a major topic of discussion. Noel’s process continues with a visit to North Carolina next week but many are wondering if the possible departure of Syracuse center Fab Melo for the NBA is moving the Orange up in Noel’s pecking order. When ESPN anchor, and Syracuse alum, Ryan Burr sent a Tweet on Monday encouraging Noel to fill the Melo void it raised questions around improper contact with a recruit. If Burr, who has since deleted the Tweet, is defined as a Syracuse booster his Twitter overture could be viewed by the NCAA as impermissible contact, and could result in the university being penalized.  Should the NCAA venture into social media it may be biting off more than it can chew given the daunting task of trying to set parameters around regulation of that environment.  While Burr’s tweet likely does not represent a recruiting violation, it certainly showed a lack of judgment and professionalism that warrants the consideration of disciplinary action by ESPN. It should also be noted that Syracuse already has a highly touted class of 2012 center lined up for next year in Dajuan Coleman so the Orange appear to be in good shape if Melo leaves regardless of Noel’s decision.
  4. Speaking of social media,  Twitter was not the friend of Connecticut’s Alex Oriakhi earlier this season when he appeared to direct some cyber venting at head coach Jim Calhoun upon being removed from the starting lineup.  There is no question it has been a difficult year on the court for Oriakhi.  Aside from opposing centers, no one has felt the impact of Andre Drummond’s presence more than he. The junior’s minutes slipped from 29.1 a year ago to 21.4 this season and his productivity has followed suit, averaging 6.8 points and 4.8 rebounds per game this year versus 9.6 and 8.7 respectively last year. However, as this New Haven Register piece by David Borges points out, Oriakhi and Calhoun have maintained a strong relationship and Oriakhi has maintained a team-first attitude throughout. “One thing’s for sure: (Alex) loves coach Calhoun to death,” Oriakhi’s mother, Angela, told the New Haven Register. “Nobody can complain about coach Calhoun in front of him.” Further, any frustration Oriakhi has experienced as a basketball player has not translated into the classroom, nor hurt the Huskies’ much publicized Academic Performance Rating (APR). Oriakhi notched a team-high (for scholarship players) 3.6 grade-point average in the fall semester.
  5. St. John’s and head coach Steve Lavin did not qualify for post season play but they remain in action on the recruiting front.  Lavin, scored a local commitment when Our Savior New American’s (OSNA) Felix Balamou announced via Facebook he is heading to St. John’s.  Balamou, a 6’3” wing and OSNA’s leading scorer this past season on a 25-5 team, was also considering Connecticut, Oregon, Virginia Tech and West Virginia. Prior to Balamou’s commitment, Lavin stated he wanted to sign four or five more players for next season and that number could increase should star forward Moe Harkless head to the NBA after one season in Queens. Highly regarded center Chris Obekpa is high on Lavin’s wish list. Obekpa happens to be Balamou’s teammate which has led to speculation that a package deal is in the works.  However, OSNA assistant coach Eric Jaklitsch confirmed that Balamou’s and Obekpa’s decisions are independent of one another. Then to finish the night strong, Lavin landed Jakarr Sampson, who had decommitted from the school after not becoming eligible this past season.
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Big East Morning Five: 03.02.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on March 2nd, 2012

  1. This evening figures to be an unusual one emotionally for injured senior star Tim Abromaitis once senior night festivities commence prior to Notre Dame’s contest with Providence.  Abromaitis has been forced to watch for the majority of this season due to an ACL tear he suffered in November, and is trying to make peace with the fact that his career at Notre Dame may very well be over. The thing that will keep Abromaitis in a state of emotional flux is the battle between the finality of senior night and the faint glimmer of hope that he may be granted a rare sixth year of eligibility and play for the Irish again next year.  As for tonight, Abromaitis will suit up for show but will not play in any fashion, including warm-ups. To Abromaitis’ credit he is keeping things in perspective and holds no delusions of grandeur when it comes to playing again.  “I’ve kind of looked at it both ways – there’s a chance I’m coming back, so do what I need to do to keep that door open,” Abromaitis told the Chicago Tribune. “But at the same time, I am pretty rational about knowing that it very well could be the last time out there and could be a little emotional for me. I’m just trying to take it in stride and be glad for the opportunities I have had.”
  2. Villanova has not enjoyed tremendous success on the court this season but they could be receiving some good news about their future very soon as top Class of 2013 recruit Allerik Freeman narrowed his choices to Villanova and Kansas according to his Olympic (NC) High School coach Ty Baumgardner.  Freeman, a 6’4” guard who is ranked 13th nationally by ESPN.com and 24th by Rivals.com had been pursued by the likes of Georgetown, Arizona, Kansas State, North Carolina State, Ohio State, and others. Freeman has visited both Villanova and Kansas unofficially, meaning he paid his way, and could decide before taking any official visits.
  3. In keeping with the high school scene, rosters for the All-American Championship were announced yesterday.  The event, which started last year, is an all-star showcase that features four teams who will play a doubleheader on April 1 in New Orleans’ Lakefront Arena.  ESPN3 will carry the games live beginning at 3 PM EST and ESPNU will replay at 9 PM EST. Two highly sought-after Big East 2012 recruits, Nerlens Noel and Chris Obekpa, will be playing in the game.  Noel recently trimmed his list but Syracuse, Georgetown and Connecticut still appear to be in the running.  Obekpa’s list includes Cincinnati, Connecticut, DePaul, St. John’s, Providence and West Virginia. Highly touted high school juniors and brothers, Andrew and Aaron Harrison, will be there as well.  Both are being recruited by Villanova while Andrew also holds an offer from Georgetown. There are also a number of committed Big East players who will appear: Omar Calhoun (Connecticut), Ricardo Ledo (Providence), Dajuan Coleman (Syracuse), Jerami Grant (Syracuse), D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera (Georgetown) and Cameron Biedscheid (Notre Dame).
  4. Perhaps Connecticut fans will be treated to a Willis Reed-like event, but it is not looking like head coach Jim Calhoun will make his return to the sideline on Saturday as hoped when the Huskies take on Pittsburgh.  Calhoun is reported to be feeling better after surgery on Monday to alleviate pain and discomfort caused by a spine-thinning condition called spinal stenosis as well as a “large disk fragment” that was found when doctors went in, but was not able to attend practice on Thursday.  Should Calhoun not be ready for Connecticut’s practice this afternoon it renders his chances of coaching on Saturday to virtually nil.  The Huskies (17-13, 7-10 Big East) somewhat remarkably remain in contention for an at-large NCAA berth despite their well-documented struggles. A loss on Saturday would certainly figure to firmly put them on the outside looking in, even in the minds of the pundits.
  5. The Naismith Men’s Basketball Player of the Year is obviously a huge honor and just to be considered is certainly something to be proud of.  To that end, the Atlanta Tipoff Club announced its somewhat oddly named ‘Midseason 30’, which is a a list of the 30 finalists for the award.  Four Big East players made the cut: Marquette’s Darius Johnson-Odom, West Virginia’s Kevin Jones, and two from Syracuse in Kris Joseph and Dion Waiters. The Naismith recipient will be announced and awarded during the Final Four, which we presume implies that the second “half” of the season will be played in the next four weeks.
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Big East Morning Five: 02.22.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on February 22nd, 2012

  1. Not many have noticed but South Florida is having a fine season at 17-10 overall and 10-4 in the Big East.  The ten conference wins are already good for a school record.  The Bulls do not play the sexiest brand of basketball (Sports Illustrated’s suimsuit issue is on newstands now however), preferring to slow the pace, use their bulk and shut opponents down with stifling defense, but head coach Stan Heath has his squad positioning itself for an NCAA tournament bid.  But there’s a problem.  Not only do most bracketologists and pundits have South Florida out of field, they have them solidly on the uphill side of the bubble, citing a lack of quality wins coupled with resume marring losses to Penn State and Old Dominion.  However, as CBSSports.com’s Jeff Goodman points out, South Florida’s body of work is not as it appears on the surface.  Injuries and suspensions to key players in the early part of the season have led to a late jelling for the Bulls.   Augustus Gilchrist (3) and Jawanza Poland (11) missed a combined 14 games.  However freshman point guard Anthony Collins has perhaps provided the greatest impact.  As Goodman notes, Collins missed the first five games of the season, including the previously mentioned losses and has played in all of his team’s conference games.  A team like South Florida who plays a half court style needs a steady point guard to run the offense and do the little things that win games.  Collins fits the bill, shooting 47.4% from the field and 84.2% percent from the line while averaging 5.3 assists per game, which is good for sixth in the league.  Even with the season winding down, South Florida will have plenty of chances to track down those elusive quality wins as they take on Syracuse, Cincinnati, Louisville, and West Virginia in their last four regular season games.
  2. Chris Obekpa, one of the most sought after class of 2012 recruits among Big East schools will resume his conference tour today when he visits Cincinnati.  Obekpa, a 6’8″ center from New York’s Our Savior New American will spend three days on campus and attend the Bearcats’ game tomorrow against Louisville.  Cincinnati will have two scholarships open for next year and has yet to fill either one.  Obekpa is viewed as the Bearcats primary target up front, but head coach Mick Cronin has his work cut out for him. Conference foes Connecticut, DePaul, Georgetown, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John’s, and West Virginia are all vying for the big man’s services as are a number of schools outside of the Big East.  Obekpa has been busy. He visited Connecticut on Saturday afternoon, taking in the Huskies’ game against Marquette then attending Providence’s home loss to Georgetown later that evening.  Providence head coach Ed Cooley and associate head coach Andre LaFleur were in attendance for Obekpa’s game last night.
  3. There has been much speculation around when Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun, who has been out on medical leave since February 3 due to a condition called spinal stenosis, will return to the Huskies’ bench.  We could learn more as early as today when Calhoun meets with his doctor to assess the situation.  “We might make a decision then,” the coach told the Hartford Courant yesterday.  Calhoun also indicated he is still experiencing “a lot” of lower back pain and season-ending surgery remains a possibility.  Coming off an emotional comeback overtime win against Villanova on Monday, the Huskies are clinging to slim NCAA tournament hopes and would love nothing more than to have their coach back for Saturday’s huge home contest versus #2 Syracuse.
  4. It is always great to have options.  While the argument can certainly be made that Notre Dame lacks depth, when it comes down to crunch time head coach Mike Brey knows he can count on a number of his players to deliver.  Notre Dame has not squandered leads late while displaying the ability to steal victory from the clutches of defeat as evidenced by their comeback overtime win over Villanova (this is a recording) on Saturday where sophomore Jerian Grant and freshman Pat Connaughton shook off tough early shooting displays to hit key threes down the stretch and in the extra period.  Brey has also praised the close-and-late play of another sophomore, Eric Atkins.  Atkins, along with Grant, gained valuable experience in practice as freshmen going up against the starters in late game situational simulations, often coming out on top.  Further, there has been the consistent play of junior forward Jack Cooley who rose to the occasion and had one of his best games of the season in Notre Dame’s upset of then undefeated and #1 Syracuse.  “I love the fact that when we’re in game situations, we’ve really been good,” Brey told the Chicago Tribune. “If you want to keep playing in March in both tournaments, it’s going to come up again. That identity, that (at) the under-4-minute media timeout it’s ‘our time’ — that’s a heck of a thing.”
  5. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, and it ain’t broke in Syracuse.  Jim Boeheim has been Syracuse’s head coach for 36 seasons. If he has not been playing zone since he started it certainly seems like it.  Further, nobody has been able to figure the zone out yet, so why change now?  For this reason alone it is curious that Sports Illustrated’s Michael Rosenberg asked Boeheim why he has not considered switching to man-to-man.  We will give Rosenberg the benefit of the doubt and assume he asked just to elicit a vintage Boeheim response.  So good job Michael because Boeheim did not disappoint. “If you’re a man-to-man coach and the other team hits three or four shots, do you take timeout and go to zone?” Boeheim mused. “Of course not. So, I’m a zone coach. Am I supposed to take timeout and go to man? Why would I do that? It doesn’t make sense. We’re a zone team.”
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Big East Morning Five: 02.20.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on February 20th, 2012

  1. Connecticut has a lot working against them these days and things are beginning to boil over. The Huskies (16-10, 6-8)  have lost seven of nine games after falling to Marquette 79-64 at home on Saturday, head coach Jim Calhoun remains out indefinitely while dealing with spinal stenosis and the future of the program remains cloudy as the Huskies face a 2013 NCAA tournament ban due to Academic Performance Rating (APR) struggles. Connecticut co-captain Shabazz Napier showed his frustration and aired grievances after the Marquette loss by calling his teammates’ heart into question. “Sometimes we look like we’re coming over the hump and then we face a good team and we all let up,” said Napier. “One thing I hate to say is, I’ve got to question a lot of these guys’ hearts.” Napier did not like how his team failed to battle down the stretch against Marquette in a game that was within reach in the final six minutes.  “We get punched and some guys throw pillows back. You’re not supposed to throw pillows back,” summed up Napier. While Connecticut possesses enough talent to compete at the highest levels, and find themselves in a somewhat similar spot to last year before they caught fire, do not look for a repeat performance this time around.
  2. Maryland Athletic Director Kevin Anderson has taken a bold move to restore an on-court rivalry with Georgetown. Maryland will not schedule a game against the Hoyas in any sport until the two power conference basketball teams agree to tip it off once again. Despite their proximity, because of various things that some call reasons, Georgetown and Maryland have not played a scheduled regular-season men’s basketball game since 1993 although they have met twice in tournament play since 1993. In short, the hoop rivalry is so natural it has transcended the hardwood and kept the sides from actually playing. Anderson and Georgetown Athletic Director Lee Reed met last year on the matter and there appeared to be some initial momentum that has since stalled.  Reed did not comment on Anderson’s edict but Georgetown Sports Information Director, Mike Carey did…sort of. “We do not make a habit of commenting on the scheduling practices of other schools,” Carey said.  Skeptics will say Anderson is making a desperate effort to save his financially floundering athletic department. An athletic department that could see nearly a third of its varsity teams cut if not turned around soon. However by most accounts, including this one, it simply makes all the sense in the world for Maryland and Georgetown to start playing again.
  3. Notre Dame tied a school record on Saturday night when the Fighting Irish notched their eighth straight conference victory in a thrilling 74-70 overtime victory over Villanova.  Even considering the school record aspect, Morning Fives do not typically focus on a single game or a recap but we are wading into those waters today based on how Notre Dame managed the accomplishment.  They put a Villanova on Villanova. Two weeks ago Villanova charged back from a 19-point deficit to overtake Providence at home. On Saturday Notre Dame trailed by as many as 20, but rode the sharp and deep shooting of freshman Pat Connaughton who scored all 21 of his points via the three. In some ways the Villanova game represents a microcosm of Notre Dame’s season with the Irish discarding adversity and conventional wisdom in favor of a winning approach. Notre Dame will attempt to break their consecutive conference victory record on Wednesday when they host West Virginia.
  4. As noted here on Friday there is a big shot blocker not named Noel that has captured the attention of a number of Big East schools, Chris Obekpa. With Mr. Noel enjoying a visit to Kentucky this weekend, Obekpa, a 6’8” center from Our Savior New American in New York, had a busy Saturday. Obekpa blazed his own recruiting trail through the northeast. Obekpa and Our Savior assistant coach, Eric Jaklitsch, first attended Connecticut‘s noon affair with Marquette in Hartford (a 79-64 Marquette victory) as a guest of the Huskies. Obekpa and his traveling party then headed east to take in Providence‘s home contest against Georgetown on Saturday night (a 63-53 Georgetown win). While Obekpa did not bring either suitor any luck on Saturday, he certainly stands to bring whomever he chooses much more once he hits the floor for them. In addition to Connecticut and Providence, Obekpa is also being pursued by conference foes Cincinnati, DePaul, Seton Hall, St. John’s, and West Virginia with some recent buzz about Georgetown getting into the picture. Out of conference Obekpa is hearing from the likes of Florida, Georgia Tech, Memphis, Oregon, UCLA, and Washington.
  5. This has not been the senior season Pittsburgh’s Ashton Gibbs dreamed about. The pre-season Big East Player of the Year selection and his team have not lived up to expectations, and look like they will miss the NCAA tournament for the first time in Gibbs’ career. Despite the Panthers’ (15-13, 4-11) struggles, Gibbs allowed himself to feel nostalgic leading up to his final regular season home game and senior night festivities last night against South Florida. Gibbs certainly has left his mark. From an individual standpoint, he is among Pittsburgh’s top ten all-time leading scorers (1650 points through last night) and could get to seventh before it is all said and done. Gibbs is also Pittsburgh’s all time leader in three pointers made and attempted. From a team standpoint Pittsburgh won at least 25 games and reached the NCAA tournament in each of Gibbs’ first three seasons, including an Elite Eight appearance in 2008-09. Gibbs struggled last night against a stingy South Florida team, tallying just two points on 1-7 shooting in the Panthers’ 56-47 loss.
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Big East Morning Five: 02.17.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on February 17th, 2012

    1. Super swatter Nerlens Noel, the #1 high school prospect in the class of 2012, spoke about his recruitment yesterday in a radio interview with Jeff Goodman on SiriusXM’s Inside College Basketball.  While it is anticipated Noel will sign during the April signing period, he stressed that he is not going to rush his decision. “I don’t really have a timeframe,” Noel told Goodman. “I just want to make sure I get in all my visits to these schools. However long that takes.” As far as what he is looking for in a school Noel said,”“Just a good program where I can go and play and be comfortable with the coaching staff, the whole program,” Noel said. “I know I can develop as long as I’m there, as a player and a person.” The interview led to a brief bit of controversy with regard to Noel’s list. On February 1 when Noel announced his intent to reclassify to the class of 2012, he released a list of seven finalists: Syracuse, Connecticut, Providence, Kentucky, Florida, Georgetown, and North Carolina. Yesterday on Goodman’s show Noel named only six, omitting Providence. The shockwaves created in the Ocean State almost caused the pineapple overlooking Providence’s Federal Hill to crumble to the ground. Noel, who will visit Kentucky this weekend, later confirmed via Twitter that he is still considering the Friars.
    2. Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim is getting in on the “Linsanity” and says those who think his former player, currently injured Knick star Carmelo Anthony, and Jeremy Lin, perhaps you have heard of him, will not be able to coexist when Anthony returns should Melo-out. Boeheim appeared on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” and summed it up this way, “For somebody to assert that Carmelo Anthony can’t play with somebody it’s the most ridiculous thing that I’ve ever heard.” Boeheim went on to say he experienced Anthony as a team player citing their 2003 National Championship run. In an interview with Stephan A. Smith on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” Anthony also made strong comments in response to the allegations he is a selfish player, “That’s like a slap in the face. None of my teammates I’ve ever played with would say that I was a selfish player. Nobody.”
    3. Perhaps lost in the ‘Nerlensanity’ is Chris Obekpa, another highly regarded class of 2012 big man being who is being courted by a number of Big East suitors. Obekpa is a 6’8” center who attends New York’s Our Savior New American and has Big East scholarship offers from Connecticut, Cincinnati, DePaul, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John’s, and West Virginia. Like Nerlens Noel, Obekpa is best known for his shot blocking ability and defensive prowess. Obekpa’s stock has risen mightily by virtue of a great summer on the AAU circuit as well as some dominating prep performances this season. He is ranked nationally by both ESPN (50) and Rivals.com (105). Obekpa will reportedly take an unofficial visit to Connecticut this weekend and has already visited Georgia Tech, Providence, Seton Hall, and St. John’s.
    4. ESPN’s latest power rankings were released yesterday so let’s take a look at how the Big East is trending. Syracuse remains firmly entrenched in the #2 hole as they continue to firm up a one seed in the NCAA tournament. Georgetown’s close loss did not hurt their positioning, and justifiably so, as the Hoyas remained at #9. There are few coaches doing a better job than Marquette’s Buzz Williams who has his Golden Eagles, winners of nine of their last ten, getting primed for post-season play. That momentum is reflected in the power rankings as Marquette jumped up four spots to #11. Louisville has shaken off a bit of a mid-season funk and is back in the thick of it as the Cardinals surged eight spots to #15. Notre Dame is probably the story of the year in the Big East and speaking of coaches doing a great job, say hey Mike Brey. Winners of seven in a row, the Fighting Irish vaulted five notches to #20.
    5. It was approaching midnight on Thursday.  A Morning 5 hung in the balance.  Four items were complete.  The fifth proved elusive. Then it happened.  Thank you @CardChronicle for tweeting this great Louisville Courier-Journal story by C.L. Brown about Cardinals freshman Wayne Blackshear’s encouraging and discouraging path to Louisville. The discouraging part is well-documented as Blackshear was not able to appear in a game for Louisville until last weekend due to a series of setbacks. He was named a McDonald’s All-American coming out of high school in Chicago but was not able to play in the game due to a left-shoulder injury. As he was recovering from the resulting surgery, Blackshear also waited for the NCAA Clearinghouse to approve his academic qualification. Shortly after he received clearance both academically and physically he tore the labrum in his right shoulder which was the injury that ultimately held him out for the better part of this season. The encouraging part of Blackshear’s story his mother’s influence in keeping him focused and grounded. “I’d always tell him, ‘You didn’t do nothing, that was nothing. I’ll tell you when you do something,’” she told the Courier-Journal. “I just didn’t ever want him to think he arrived, because he’s got a long way to go.” Yes he does but he clearly has a good guide.
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