Marquette’s Buzz Williams Runs Silent and Deep

Posted by CNguon on February 23rd, 2013

Joseph Dzuback is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after spending an evening keeping a close eye on Marquette head coach Buzz Williams.

Why does Marquette, a school about to earn consecutive NCAA bid #8, still struggle to secure a spot in the national limelight? Part of the answer is no doubt rooted in their coach. Buzz Williams, 5’11” with that North Texas drawl, is hardly a presence at Media Day confabs. Unlike Marquette’s legendary Al McGuire, whose height and New York City accent (and ever so slightly too-loud voice) could turn heads and draw ears. Tom Crean, Marquette’s 15th head coach, came with all of the pedigree expected to head a National Championship, two-time Final Four program with 21 bids and previously headed by legends like McGuire, Hank Raymond and Rick Majerus. When he departed Marquette to rebuild a struggling Indiana program, Crean left Williams (head coach #16) with a cupboard full of prep school ballers. Harvested from some of the best recruiting seed beds on the East Coast and Midwest, these players earned Marquette (and Crean) notoriety in basketball circles even before taking their first shot in the Bradley Center. Williams spent his first two off seasons recruiting a raft of unknown players from junior colleges throughout Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.

Buzz Williams might not be a media darling, but the man sure can coach (AP)

Buzz Williams might not be a media darling, but the man sure can coach. (AP)

Williams sustained the momentum established by Crean with junior college players like Dwight Buycks, Darius Johnson-Odom, Joe Fulce, Jimmy Butler and Jai Crowder, who rounded out the nucleus that included Jerel McNeal, Wesley Matthews, Dominic James and Lazar Hayward bequeathed to him by Crean. The mix-n-match crew garnered Williams 47 wins and a pair of NCAA bids in his first two seasons. And in the course of his first three off-seasons Williams has found what Crean could not — not one but two low post players good enough to move the tweeners out of the rotation. Davante Gardner and Chris Otule have helped Marquette earn another 49 (and counting) wins in seasons #3 and #4. This season the win count is 16 and climbing. The Golden Eagles’ 10 conference wins put them in a three-way tie for first place in Big East conference play, but co-leaders Georgetown and Syracuse have drawn greater national recognition for their seasons.

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Big East M5: End of the World (And I Feel Fine) Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on December 21st, 2012

bigeast_morning5(2)

  1. The system that Buzz Williams has put into place at Marquette has generally done a good job of preventing major letdowns after the Golden Eagles lose significant contributors. However, this year’s Marquette squad has struggled at times, especially during Wednesday’s loss to Wisconsin-Green Bay. What looked to be a solid core that includes Vander Blue, Junior Cadougan, Davante Gardner, Jamil Wilson, and Chris Otule has really struggled to score this year, with only Blue and Gardner averaging double figures in points at just over 12 per game each. The Eagles are 162nd in the country in scoring this season, at 68.6 points per game
  2. Many coaches contend that some of the best games for a developing team are the ones that count in the win column but feel like losses. Jim Boeheim’s 900th career victory sure felt like a loss in many ways, and he will find plenty of teachable moments in Syracuse‘s near-collapse against Detroit. This was the first game all year where the Orange really had their backs against the wall, and that situation provides good feedback to Boeheim and his coaching staff. “These are things that usually you don’t learn from games that you win, but usually players almost need to lose a game to really think about things such as ‘this is what we have to do’ and I think this game feels more like a loss. It’s good to get one that feels like it but isn’t and I think we’ll be able to look at some plays.”
  3. The Kevin Ollie situation seems to be wearing on UConn, as evidenced by comments made by Shabazz Napier following a Thursday practice: “Warde (Manuel), our AD, we all know what he’s doing… After (beating) Michigan State, I felt like he was going to get this job, but sometimes it doesn’t seem that way. I’ve kind of come to terms that, no matter what we do, it’s not going to be in our hands. We can win as many games as we want, I still don’t believe it’s going to be in our hands where he’s going to give him a job.” With no postseason prospects to look forward to, the chance to win long-term job security for Ollie is one of the tangible things that the Huskies have to play for this year; but if new athletic director Manuel is really that difficult to win over, it will be interesting to see how the team reacts.
  4. One of the major categories that hurt USF early on this year was their mediocre efforts on the glass. Enter: Victor Rudd. After seeing the Bulls get dominated in the rebounding department through the first few games of the year, Rudd took it upon himself to excel in this area and he is now averaging 8.2 boards per game, good for third in the Big East. Rudd’s rebounding prowess, coupled with improved play from Toarlyn Fitzpatrick and Anthony Collins, has helped the Bulls recover from a slow start. USF has won four of its last five games, with the only loss coming to a ranked Oklahoma State squad.
  5. According to Blue and Gold Illustrated‘s Wes Morgan, Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant has a bruised back and may miss the Irish’s game against Niagara tonight. After scoring 14 points the last time out, Grant left Notre Dame’s game against Kennesaw State after a collision with an Owls player. Grant, who is second on the Irish in scoring this year, would be a big loss if he misses extended time, but Mike Brey’s squad should not have any issue with a 5-6 Niagara squad tonight with or without him in the lineup.
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Big East Summer Capsules: Marquette Golden Eagles

Posted by mlemaire on August 6th, 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 Marquette.

1. Will the Golden Eagles get Todd Mayo back and when?

Marquette Needs Todd Mayo To Provide Scoring, Too Bad He Is Suspended Indefinitely. Photo: Getty Images

As a freshman last season, Todd Mayo showed moments of brilliance for Marquette. Sure, he was a streaky shooter who took some questionable shots and turned the ball over a lot for a guy who doesn’t work with the ball in his hands all that often, but he was also a freshman, and a very talented one. Coming into next season, many have pegged Mayo as the team’s breakout offensive star thanks to the increased touches he is likely to see with Darius Johnson-Odom gone and the assumption he would improve his game over the course of the summer. Those plans have been put on hold for now though as in late June news leaked that coach Buzz Williams had suspended Mayo indefinitely for a violation of team rules. Since then, absolutely no information has been released about what the violation was or how long Mayo will be suspended, but some have speculated the sophomore will miss a large chunk of time if he even returns at all. Williams wouldn’t have suspended Mayo indefinitely unless it was warranted, but this is a disappointing turn for both Mayo and the program. The 6-foot-3 guard had the look of a breakout player poised to become one of the more versatile offensive weapons in the country and his team definitely needed that scoring punch. Now everyone will just have to wait until the powers that be decide Mayo has served his punishment or that he is not worth the trouble, and who knows how long that wait will take.

2. How will they replace Jae Crowder?

With Vander Blue, Junior Cadougan,Trent Lockett, and potentially Mayo all returning to campus with another season of experience under their belts, the backcourt should be one of the team’s strengths, even with the news that junior college transfer T.J. Taylor is leaving the program for personal reasons. The real question will be how the Golden Eagles plan to replace their do-everything forward and reigning conference player of the year, Jae Crowder. Crowder was second on the team in scoring, first on the team in rebounding and steals, and was an irreplaceable defender because of his athleticism and versatility. The onus now falls on forwards Davante Gardner and Jamil Wilson. Both players were leaned upon heavily last season, and each showed flashes of their potential, especially Gardner who finished third on the team in scoring (9.7 PPG) despite starting just 19 games. Unless  Williams got hit on the head and changed his philosophy, the Golden Eagles will still be a stingy defensive team without Crowder, where Gardner and Wilson will really need to step up is on the offensive end of the floor and on the glass. The team has perimeter weapons, but in order to keep the defense honest, they will need one of their bruising forwards to become a consistent offensive threat. The presumptive favorite to fill that role best is Gardner, but he will need to stay healthy to make that happen.

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Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 13th, 2012

Brian Otskey is the RTC correspondent for the Big East conference. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • Big East Adds Memphis: While conference realignment is unfortunately all about football, the addition of Memphis to the Big East Conference is a boon for basketball. With the league losing Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia, it needed a strong basketball program to limit the damage of three venerable programs departing. Memphis is perhaps the best the Big East could do from a basketball perspective and the Tigers will begin competing in the conference in the 2013-14 academic year. While the Big East cannot replace a program with the stature of Syracuse, Memphis is arguably at least as good, if not better, than Pittsburgh and West Virginia. Temple would be the next logical choice from a basketball perspective but Villanova has long been rumored to be firmly in opposition to the Owls joining the league. Conference realignment is a new reality and won’t end any time soon. Expect some more dominoes to fall over the coming months and years.
  • West Virginia Reportedly Settles: Just 36 hours after Memphis joined the Big East, West Virginia reportedly settled with the Big East on an exit agreement, although no official announcement was made. If the Charleston Daily Mail report is correct, West Virginia will leave the Big East on July 1 of this year in order to join the Big 12 Conference. The reported agreement says that WVU will pay the Big East $11 million, with the Big 12 contributing $9 million. Big East bylaws require all member institutions to give 27 months notice before leaving the conference. If the Mountaineers do leave the conference, the Big East will have 15 basketball members for next season (2012-13) before expanding again in the summer of 2013. Of course, West Virginia’s early exit could pave the way for agreements with Syracuse and Pittsburgh, allowing those schools to leave early for the ACC. In a worst-case scenario, the Big East will have 13 basketball teams in 2012-13. One thing is for sure, this story is far from over. Stay tuned.
  • NCAA Denies Connecticut’s Waiver Request: In what was another good move by the increasingly tough NCAA, the governing body denied a request by Connecticut to retain eligibility for the 2013 NCAA Tournament in exchange for self-imposed penalties. Those penalties included forfeiting revenue and playing a shorter schedule. The Huskies would not quality for next year’s tournament because of their low APR rating, below the four-year minimum requirement of 900 or two-year average of 930. UConn will appeal the decision, one that, if denied, could have a huge effect on the basketball program in Storrs. Will Jim Calhoun stick around? Will recruits want to come there and knowingly sit out a year? Many questions still need to be answered as the Connecticut basketball program enters a period of uncertainty.
  • Win Number 880 for Jim Boeheim: The Syracuse legend now stands alone in third place on the all-time Division I wins list behind Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and Bob Knight after Syracuse beat Georgetown last week. Number 880 is one better than Dean Smith, a legend in his own right at North Carolina. While it is unlikely that Boeheim can catch Krzyzewski since both will keep winning, the Orange coach can pass Knight early next season, especially if Syracuse goes on a deep NCAA Tournament run. It’s so rare to see an athlete or a coach stay at one school for his entire career in sports these days but that’s exactly what Boeheim has done. The Hall of Famer has been at Syracuse as a coach since 1969 and played for the Orange from 1962-66. What a truly remarkable career spanning 50 years (and still going strong).

Josh Pastner Looks Forward To Embracing A More Challenging Change of Scenery In The Big East

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (25-1, 12-1) – The Orange dispatched their chief rivals in the Big East, Georgetown and Connecticut, in vastly different ways last week. Against the Hoyas, Syracuse needed overtime to put away a team that out-rebounded them 48-30 and slowed the pace to limit SU’s transition attack. Kris Joseph led Syracuse with a career-high 29 points and Fab Melo had six blocks as the Orange won by three in the extra session. Neither team played well, but Jim Boeheim picked up his 880th career win, moving ahead of Dean Smith and into sole possession of third place on the all-time list. Against Connecticut, the Orange broke open a close game in the second half with a 22-6 game-ending run. Syracuse shot much better (59%), including a scorching 63% from beyond the arc. Dion Waiters and C.J. Fair combined for 32 points and 16 rebounds off the bench while Scoop Jardine added 21 points on 8-of-9 shooting. It seems like Joseph is emerging as the go-to guy for this team, a question that had yet to be answered for the better part of the season. Syracuse faces a quick turnaround with a Big Monday game at Louisville, a team that has beaten them seven consecutive times. This week: 2/13 @ Louisville, 2/19 @ Rutgers. Read the rest of this entry »
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State Of the Big East Address

Posted by mlemaire on January 27th, 2012

It has been nearly three full days since President Barack Obama delivered his State of the Union address to the country, and it has also been nearly three full days since our brethren covering the SEC did their State of the SEC post. Since we are both slightly behind and also not creative enough to come up with our own ideas, we decided to take a belated look at the Big East in a similar (read: exactly the same) post.

Kris Joseph & Syracuse Are The Class Of The Conference Right Now (Getty Images/A. Lyons)

We would love to report that the state of the conference is strong, but as a whole, it has not been a good season for the Big East. The 2007-08 season was the last time the conference had only one team finish in the Top 10 but it is in danger of having that happen again. Syracuse will undoubtedly finish in the Top 10 and is a worthy national title contender, but after that, things get murkier. Last season the conference had five teams finish the regular season ranked inside the Top 15. As of now, the conference only has four teams in the Top 25. The reason for the slip is that consistent winners like Villanova and Pittsburgh have been really bad, and teams like Connecticut and Louisville lost a lot of key talent. But let’s take a closer look as well.

Despite the swirling off-the-court issues, the Carrier Dome has been rocking all season and for good reason. The Orange are an excellent blend of experience, talent and depth. Star forward Kris Joseph is going to end up on the All-Big East team and sophomore combo guard Dion Waiters could find himself on the short list for that team as well. Their lone blemish is an ugly road loss to Notre Dame and that looks more like an aberration that signs of a regression.

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There’s No “I” In Team, But There Is “Team” in Marquette

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on January 23rd, 2012

Patrick Prendergast filed this report after Saturday’s Marquette-Providence game.

Typically when analyzing a team, one player surfaces as somebody that team cannot do without. I had the opportunity to cover the Marquette – Providence game on Saturday night and went in with the intention of confirming who fills that inexpendable role for the Golden Eagles.  As the game went on and Marquette methodically pulled away from the Friars (ultimately coming away with a 79-72 win), it became more and more apparent that focusing on just one player would be doing Marquette a disservice. The thing that makes this Golden Eagles team go, and seemingly every Buzz Williams bunch, is how they function as a unit, putting the team over the individual.  Please do not interpret this as a knock on Marquette’s talent.  Sure, on paper they do not look big, especially without injured 6’11’ center Chris Otule. After Otule, the Golden Eagles top out at 6’8” and that is only with one player, sophomore Devante Gardner.  Gardner checks in at 290 pounds, so maybe he’s worth two. Further, some may say on the surface Marquette does not appear all that deep.  They have just three players averaging in double figures  and one of them, Todd Mayo, is right at ten points per game. However, as we all know, looks can be deceiving.  Marquette’s talent level is significant and it is vast.  They spread the wealth well, with eight players averaging at least 19.7 minutes per game.  Additionally, Williams plays as many as 10 players in meaningful situations during any given contest.  He and his squad do not seem to care if anyone notices. In fact, as the wins continue to accumulate in the same fashion as the snow that fell in Providence Saturday, maybe they prefer it that way.

Buzz Williams Owns a Career 42-27 Record Versus Big East Foes (Associated Press)

It’s Marquette’s versatility, basketball IQ and fundamental soundness that sets them apart. They play a fast, efficient brand and make their opponents adjust to them, rather than vice versa. Their two senior leaders, Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder, fittingly personify this.  Johnson-Odom, affectionately known as “DJO,” is the team’s leading scorer (18.1 PPG).  He does most of his damage from the perimeter, shooting the ball confidently with picture-perfect rotation even when he is bothered defensively. He’s the guy you draw it up for when you need a key bucket. However Johnson-Odom is not just some spot up shooter.  At 6’2” and 215 pounds, he is built like an NFL safety and as such is not afraid to stick his nose in there, as evidenced by his 3.2 rebounds per game.

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Checking In On… The Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 16th, 2012

Brian Otskey is the RTC correspondent for the Big East conference. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • Syracuse A Cut Above: With wins over Villanova and Providence this week, Syracuse has moved its record to 19-0 (6-0), equaling the best start in school history (1999-2000). On Monday night, the Orange will try to move to 20-0 for the first time ever when they host Pittsburgh, a team they have lost to five straight times. With 12 games remaining, people are starting to wonder if Syracuse can run the table. It would be a surprise if Jim Boeheim’s team lost at home to anyone, despite visits by Georgetown and Connecticut to the Dome in February. On the road, possible tough trips to Cincinnati, Connecticut, and Louisville appear to be the only obstacles standing in the way of an undefeated season. Syracuse has a 13.7% chance of going 31-0, according to the Pomeroy ratings, but I would put it higher. I think the Orange have a 40% chance to go all the way and those odds are getting better each and every day.
  • Connecticut Back On Track: After consecutive losses to Seton Hall and Rutgers almost two weeks ago, some had wondered if this Connecticut team would ever live up to its preseason billing as a top-five team. While I doubt that is true, the Huskies responded in a big way this past week by defeating West Virginia and Notre Dame. UConn used a 17-3 second half run, sparked by a Jim Calhoun technical, to overcome a ten-point deficit against the Mountaineers before going on the road and snapping Notre Dame’s 29-game home court winning streak. Andre Drummond had a terrific week, but the bigger story might be Alex Oriakhi showing signs of improvement. The junior forward had been in a season-long slump but managed to score 20 points this week, including a 12/7 performance in the win against the Fighting Irish.  However, there was some bad news mixed in for UConn last week. Ryan Boatright was suspended by the NCAA on Friday night for the second time over eligibility concerns.
  • Pittsburgh and Louisville Embarrassed: Raise your hand if you predicted these scores at the beginning of the year: Providence 90, Louisville 59. Rutgers 62, Pittsburgh 39 (at Pitt). Two of the power programs in the conference were waxed by two perennial bottom-feeders, all part of what has been an unpredictable season in the Big East. Louisville has lost four of six while Pitt is in more dire straits having lost six consecutive games. That could easily be seven in a row after the Panthers return from Syracuse tomorrow night. The good news for both teams? They bounced back and played fairly well in games on Saturday with the Cardinals disposing of DePaul and the Panthers nearly stealing an impressive road win at Marquette. Pitt lost the game, but Jamie Dixon had to have picked up some encouraging vibes from that performance. Pittsburgh and Louisville will get together this Saturday in the Steel City.

 

Ask The Never-Satisfied Jim Boeheim What He Thinks Of His Team's Chances At An Undefeated Season, And This Will Likely Be His Reaction. (Frank Ordoñez / The Post-Standard)

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (19-0, 6-0) – This team just keeps on chugging along and nobody has really threatened the Orange in a big way this season. There have been close calls here and there (Stanford, Florida, and Marquette), but Syracuse is a cut above every other team in this conference. As I mentioned above, I believe there is a good chance this team runs the table in conference play. Dion Waiters scored 20 points at Villanova, part of 47 bench points for the Orange, compared to 32 for the starters. Syracuse held the Wildcats to 33% shooting on their home floor at the Wells Fargo Center. Against Providence, it was all Orange from the start. Syracuse had 12 steals and forced 22 Friar turnovers. Scoop Jardine played like a quality point guard, scoring ten points but dishing out nine assists. The Orange blocked ten Providence shots and shot 73% in the second stanza. Syracuse continues to rank in the top ten in both offensive and defensive efficiency, but the Achilles heel for this team seems to be rebounding specifically on the defensive end. The Orange rank #307 in defensive rebounding percentage, but I don’t anticipate that being a major problem until tournament time. This week: 1/16 vs. Pittsburgh, 1/21 @ Notre Dame. Read the rest of this entry »
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Four Thoughts: Marquette v. Georgetown Edition

Posted by mlemaire on January 5th, 2012

Game recaps are boring. If you want to read them, search your local newspaper or the Associated Press. Four Thoughts is our brand new, not-so creatively titled feature where, in lieu of a game recap, we give you four thoughts about key Big East action from the night before. Enjoy!

1. It has been obvious for sometime, but now it’s confirmed, Jason Clark is nobody’s second fiddle.

Jason Clark: From Third Option to First Option

Clark should never have been this easy to hide in Georgetown‘s system since the minute he stepped on campus. He played 18.3 minutes per game as a freshman and has played more than 30 minutes per game and averaged at least 10 points per game in every season since. But playing behind Chris Wright and Austin Freeman meant that Clark was a major contributor who received very little attention and acclaim. Freeman and Wright are gone now, and they left a whole lot of offense and shots behind the them.

Fortunately for the Hoyas, Clark has picked up right where they left off and is in the midst of a better senior season than Wright had. Once considered more of a perimeter player, Clark was just 2-7 from behind the three-point arc last night — and he still finished 9-14 with 26 points at the end of the game. It didn’t matter who Buzz Williams put on him — especially in the second half — Clark consistently beat his opponent off the dribble and the Hoyas shot 76 percent in the second half. Nobody thought Georgetown would be 13-1, just like nobody considered Clark a favorite for All-Big East honors. A lot has changed in two months.

2. Georgetown will not be able to keep up their “Cardiac Kids” act all season. 

Nobody should be trying to downplay what the Hoyas have done this season with an inexperienced lineup and a lot more contributors than stars, but they aren’t exactly the type of conference juggernaut you expect to roll through a rugged conference schedule. This a team that scored just 49 points in a win over Providence and they probably won’t shoot 76% in the second half again all season. They are also very young and their rotation is barely eight deep. John Thompson III and his team have already proven they belong in the NCAA Tournament, and there are definitely enough wins on the schedule to earn themselves a high seed. Just don’t be surprised if this team loses one or two or even three games down the stretch that they probably shouldn’t. There just isn’t enough experience on the roster to keep winning these nail-biters forever.

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Set Your TiVo: 01.04.12

Posted by EJacoby on January 4th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist and contributor. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Huge games in the Big East and Big 12 highlight tonight’s action, along with Duke’s final non-conference test. Here’s your schedule for tonight:

#8 Duke at Temple – 7:00 PM EST on ESPN2 (***)

Will Dunphy Have His Owls Ready To Upset K's Devils? (Getty)

  • The Blue Devils have shockingly stayed out of the spotlight for the past few weeks, quietly handling their business in the non-conference. Perhaps the shellacking that Mike Krzyzewski’s team took in Ohio State in November was the wake-up call that this team needed, as Duke has won five straight in impressive fashion since that game. Coach K’s team is ranked 4th in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive rankings, boasting the nation’s third-best true shooting percentage (60.6%) and eighth-best points per possession statistic (1.16 PPP), amongst many other impressive offensive numbers. As Austin Rivers continues to improve his decision-making and efficiency offensively, Duke gets harder to defend. The freshman is now up to a team-leading 15.4 points per game while shooting 46% from the field and 41% from three. If Rivers can penetrate the Owls’ defense to create good looks for the other Duke guards and himself, Duke will be in good shape.
  • Temple is an elite perimeter defensive team, where the Owls hold opponents to shoot 25.6% from three-point range, the fourth-best percentage in the country. Against a Duke team that loves to shoot the three, guarding the perimeter will again be priority number one in this game. In addition, Temple is strong with the ball and their 1.28 assist-to-turnover ratio is a top-30 national number, far better than Duke’s 1.02 ratio. By limiting their opponent’s long-range makes and winning the turnover battle, Temple will seek to gain an advantage at home. Their trio of guards Ramone Moore, Juan Fernandez, and Khalif Wyatt, all at 13.3 PPG or better, will look to neutralize Duke’s own trio in the scoring department. However, their best big man Michael Eric remains out with a knee injury, which could spell trouble against Duke’s 6’10” Plumlee brothers.
  • Duke is a seven-point favorite in this game and will be well-prepared in their final non-conference game. But the Blue Devils haven’t played a road game since their blowout loss at OSU, and Temple has the guards to match Duke. With Eric missing down low, Temple is without a key defensive cog, but they’ve been playing without him for over a month. Expect a hard fought game in Philly.

#17 Marquette at #9 Georgetown- 7:00 PM EST on ESPNU (****)

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Big East Morning Five: 12.21.11 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on December 21st, 2011

  1. With the sudden and surprising departure of star freshman Khem Birch, Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon is looking for answers up front and one of the players he will need to step up is sophomore forward Talib Zanna. Luckily, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review at least, Zanna is showing improvement and playing efficiently offensively. Physically, at 6’9″ and 230 pounds, Zanna is much bigger than Birch, but he doesn’t possess the same skill-set or athleticism which means his offensive game won’t come as naturally. Frankly, the Panthers don’t need Zanna to make an impact offensively — although he is shooting 67.6% from the field. They need him to be an intimidating defensive player or at the very least a big body who knows where he is supposed to be on the floor. He also shed some light about Birch’s departure earlier in the week, so read away our like-minded friends.
  2. I must admit, when Marquette center Chris Otule went down early in December with a knee injury, I didn’t expect to see him back on the floor until the new year at the earliest, but it looks like the big man could be ready to play as soon as next Monday according to coach Buzz Williams. Okay, maybe the quote says next Monday they will gauge his progress, but still, that’s impressive given the usual severity of knee injuries. It seems silly to rush Otule back, especially since the conference slate will be a grind, but the faster the Golden Eagles can get the big man back, the better their defense and their rebounding will be because of it.
  3. Everybody is getting good news on the injury front these days (knock on wood) as a Rutgers source told Adam Zagoria that talented redshirt freshman Kadeem Jack is making great progress and could be ready to play in time for the Big East opener at the beginning of the new year. Also in the report, true freshman Malick Kone is making strides in his return from an issue with knee fluid. Kone gives the team depth but if Jack is healthy and can contribute, he instantly becomes a key member of the frontcourt that basically features only Gilvydas Biruta and Austin Johnson. Now, Jack still hasn’t played a single collegiate minute, but he is a skilled power forward who coach Mike Rice is counting on to become a centerpiece for this team in the near future. Rice won’t want to rush him back too quickly, but everyone in Piscataway should be excited he is close to getting on the court.
  4. It’s a story only tenuously tied to Big East basketball, but Big East fans who were hoping to see talented center Michael Chandler when Central Florida moved to the conference in 2013 will be disappointed to hear that the Golden Knights have backed off the 6’10″ center because of potential contact with agents and runners. Chandler still hopes he can attend UCF, but given the Golden Knights’ recent issues surrounding the recruitment of Kevin Ware, coach Donnie Jones will probably want to avoid the big man no matter how talented he is. While there is no concrete evidence that agents and runners are influencing his decision, it is interesting that a center from Indiana with power conference schools hot on his tail would choose a mid-level program in Orlando. But that’s just pure speculation, so we will save our breath.
  5. Tip of the cap to our researcher Walker Carey for digging up this interesting story about the insane dichotomy of Syracuse‘s season. In the midst of one of the best starts in the program’s recent history and sitting atop the college basketball polls, the Orange are riding high on the court. Off the court, the Bernie Fine scandal continues to infect the news surrounding the team and that isn’t going to stop for the rest of the season or at least until the offseason comes around. As much as I hate reading stories about Fine and his scandal, the Orange’s pursuit of a National Championship while weathering this scandal is easily the most compelling storyline of the season this far. Coach Jim Boeheim has done an excellent job of keeping his players focused, and of course it helps when you can trot out any of 10 guys and still beat most teams easily. Still, conference play hasn’t yet started and there might still be some twists and turns in the Fine saga left. Stay tuned… as if you weren’t already.
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Big East Morning Five: 12.20.11 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on December 20th, 2011

  1. It’s Big East weekly honors time and Louisville sophomore guard Russ Smith checks in as your Player of the Week.   This represents Smith’s first career Player of the Week honor as he made the most of his third career start with career highs in points (24) and steals (7) in Louisville’s 95-87 win over Memphis.  The seven thefts by Smith tied him for third all-time in Louisville history for steals in a game. Connecticut center Andre Drummond wrestled Rookie of the Week honors back from Providence’s LaDontae Henton with a career high 24 points in a win over Holy Cross to go along with eight rebounds and five blocks.  This is Drummond’s second Rookie of the Week honor of the year.    As for the Honor Roll, guess who’s back, back again? Pope is back, back again.  Seton Hall big man Herb Pope continued his weekly award streak as he overwhelmed Mercer with 24 points and 17 boards in an overtime win for the Pirates; Cincinnati junior guard Cashmere Wright (18.5 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 7.0 APG), who stepped up for a short-handed Bearcat squad to lead them to two wins on the week; Marquette freshman guard Todd Mayo picked up his first career weekly honor and is first career start this past week, netting a career-high 22 points in a win over Northern Colorado; Syracuse sophomore guard Dion Waiters who also hit for 22 points in his team’s 88-72 victory over NC State; and West Virginia senior forward Kevin Jones, who shot 11 for 16 from the floor on his way to,  you guessed it, 22 points in the Mountaineers’ 84-64 rout of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
  2. There was not a lot of movement in the polls amongst Big East teams this week, but that is more attributable to the fact that it gets crowded at the top than anything else. The conference now boasts four top ten teams as Marquette (10-1) grabbed the #10 spot, joining Syracuse (11-0) who maintained its perch atop the rankings, Louisville (10-0) who held steady at #4 and Connecticut (9-1) as the Huskies climbed a notch to #8.  Pittsburgh (10-1) and Georgetown (9-1) also held their spots at #15 and #16, respectively.  We are starting to see a clear separation in the league with six teams in the top 16 and no other squad garnering so much as a vote in the Associated Press poll, although Seton Hall (9-1) did scratch out one tally in the ESPN/USA Today rankings.
  3. Former Connecticut star Kemba Walker claimed the Bob Cousy Collegiate Point Guard of the Year Award last year among the many honors and accolades he received for his exploits in the Huskies’ National Championship run.  This year’s nominees for the Cousy Award were revealed yesterday by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and, to the surprise of no one, the Big East was well represented.  Was it represented well enough though? Conference nominees include Connecticut sophomore Shabazz Napier, Louisville junior Peyton Siva, Pittsburgh senior Ashton Gibbs, Villanova junior Maalik Wayans and a pair from Syracuse in senior Scoop Jardine and junior Brandon Triche.  Let the debate begin as notable omissions include Providence junior Vincent Council and Seton Hall senior Jordan Theodore.
  4. Marquette is still not certain if injured first string center Chris Otule will be back this season but Buzz Williams and company have been encouraged by the play of replacement starter Davante Gardner. With the #10 Golden Eagles soaring, Gardner is keeping his role in perspective, and the team’s goals in mind saying, “I’ve got to come through now since Chris might be out for the season.  When he got hurt, I got down a little bit, but I knew I had to start picking it up and do more for the team.” Gardner, a 6’8” sophomore, tipped the scales last season at 300-plus pounds en route to averages of 4.6 points and 2.2 rebounds in just nine minutes per game.  Following his freshman campaign, Gardner worked hard with strength and conditioning coach Todd Smith and dropped an estimated 10-15 pounds while shedding about half of his body fat.  While he still needs work on the defensive end, Gardner has put up solid offensive numbers in Otule’s absence over Marquette’s last two games, averaging 14 points and six rebounds while shooting 60% from the floor and 91% from the foul line.
  5. Kids say the darndest things.  And that is what Louisville’s youngster, freshman forward Chane Behanan, did after his team’s 95-87 victory over Memphis on Saturday when he declared, “we’re the number one team in the country in my eyes. We’re going undefeated. Point blank, period.”  You can bet Behanan will have a media relations course on his schedule next semester after that one.  While this will probably not amount to much in the grand scheme of things, it would have still been better left unsaid as it really can do nothing but hurt the team’s cause.  The Cardinals had themselves in an advantageous position psychologically as many have questioned their lofty ranking while they continued to win and rise in the polls. The no respect card plays well, and Behanan now has the Cardinals drawing into a new deck.
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Big East Morning Five: 12.16.11 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on December 16th, 2011

  1. The revolving door of healthy players at Louisville continues to spin as Rick Pitino announced freshman Kevin Ware will likely play Saturday against Memphis. A talented combo guard, Ware was a Tennessee commit until Bruce Pearl left, and a Central Florida commit until questions arose about his recruitment. It will take time, but Ware seems talented enough to make the rotation, although the Cardinals would likely prefer some frontcourt depth again.
  2. It seems petty for us to dissect a fun exercise like building a 2011-12 dream team, but we recognize it is good conversation fodder, so why not examine it. Pay attention to the rules before you read it, but only three Big East players are mentioned. Jeremy Lamb was in three out four pundits’ top eight players, and Dion Waiters and Ryan Boatright were both considered the best “true” bench players. It’s disappointing to see the conference so poorly represented, but its hard to argue with the selections. It’s early but the conference doesn’t seem as strong top to bottom as it has been in the past five years. But, again, it’s still early.
  3. When Xavier forward Kenny Frease reached out to Cincinnati forward Yancy Gates to clear the air after last weekend’s brawl, we softened our stance that the punishments weren’t harsh enough. It was easy to watch the brawl and think that some players and at least Gates deserved long punishments. But Frease is forgiving, Gates apologized, and that’s just as cool as story as they fight itself. Frease proves that he is one tough hombre, and Gates shows remorse. This is exactly why there is no reason to ban this matchup, just limit the trash talk.
  4. Credit to The Mikan Drill for highlighting one of the primary reasons Villanova has struggled early this season — its inefficient zone offense. The Wildcats are just 6-4, and BU exposed their lack of a legitimate three point threat or a true drive-and-kick guard. There are a lot of athletes on this team, so the Wildcats will always be competitive this season. But they just don’t seem to have the same offensive punch they had when they made the Final Four, and that’s why they continue to break down late in games and lose leads like they had against Temple.
  5. Raise your hand if you thought the primary player to replace Marquette‘s injured center Chris Otule was point guard Vander Blue. Now keep your hand raised if you knew that, right now, Blue was the team’s third-leading rebounder, and that statistic includes Otule. The question of Buzz Williams’ point guard controversy is pretty much over. Blue and Junior Cadougan can co-exist, even on the court together, and both will play crucial roles this season.
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