Big East Checkpoint: Buy, Sell, Hold

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on December 14th, 2011

Midway through December and it has already been an eventful college basketball season.  Teams have logged a fair sampling of games as they head into final exams and finish up the non-conference portion of their schedules, so we thought it would be a good time to assess the state of the Big East by comparing each team to… itself.  Below is the Preseason Big East Coaches’ Poll by projected order of finish.  We are going a little Jim Cramer on you (BooYah Skee-Daddy!), placing a Buy, Sell or Hold rating based on the team’s play to date versus preseason expectations.

1 (tie). Connecticut (8-1): I am no stock market expert but when I see a team as loaded as UConn sitting at No. 9 in the most recent poll, buying stock in the Huskies is a no-brainer. Jim Calhoun has feuded with center Alex Oriakhi and questioned his team’s drive early in the season, but this team is too deep and too talented to be ranked that low in national polls. And when you consider how much freshmen Ryan Boatright and Andre Drummond will improve over the next few months, I am already starting to look for a new luxury sedan to buy with the money from my winning. Rating: BUY

Boatright Has Given the Huskies a Lift (John Wolke, Hartford Courant)

1 (tie). Syracuse (10-0): There is no way we can buy right now and that is good news for Syracuse fans, because the ‘Cuse is on top and can rise no higher at the moment. If this were a quick trade we’d sell and look to buy back after their first loss because it is hard to envision the #1 ranked team in the country staying there all year, but we are in this for the long haul and so are the Orange. Rating: HOLD

3. Louisville (9-0): It’s impossible not to be impressed with the job Rick Pitino has done at Louisville this season given the team’s rash of injuries and lack of top-flight scorers, but I am still selling the Cardinals. For starters, their early season schedule has been very soft and their only difficult opponent was Vanderbilt, whom they needed overtime to outlast. There is no doubt that their defense and depth makes them a top-10 team, but it’s hard to put them ahead of teams like UConn and North Carolina because  they just don’t have the scoring punch or the go-to player in crunch-time.  If you are determined to hold Louisville stock, you probably won’t lose much, but now is the time to sell high. Rating: SELL

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Checking In On… the Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 12th, 2011

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

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • Crosstown Knockout: Suspensions were handed down on Sunday for the embarrassing incident at the conclusion of Saturday’s Cincinnati/Xavier game, a 76-53 Musketeers victory. Yancy Gates, Cheikh Mbodj and Octavius Ellis each received six game bans while Ge’Lawn Guyn will sit out for one game. On the other side, Xavier suspended Dezmine Wells and Landen Amos (a walk-on) for four games while Mark Lyons will sit for a pair and Tu Holloway for one. As for Gates and company, six games doesn’t seem nearly enough, especially when only one of those is a Big East game (a probable loss at Pittsburgh to begin with). Mick Cronin’s comments certainly were interesting. The UC coach waxed poetic in the postgame press conference but didn’t follow those words up with strong actions. On the other hand, Cronin told ESPN.com’s Andy Katz that the suspensions were handed down by those above him in the Cincinnati administration. Even so, it would seem hard to believe the administration wanted to go easier on the players than the head coach. If Cincinnati wanted to be serious, it would have suspended Gates and the others for a large chunk of the Big East season and the rest of non-conference play, or simply kicked them off the team. Instead, this incident is yet another example of placing sports and winning games before justice and learning a life lesson. If this happened off the basketball court, Gates would likely have been charged with battery. Instead, Gates only has to sit six games against the steady diet of non-conference cupcakes Cronin has feasted on over the last two years. From the fight itself to the way the aftermath has been handled, this has been one huge embarrassment for both Cincinnati and Xavier.

To Many, Saturday's Brawl Between Xavier And Cincinnati Signifies A New Low For College Basketball (USAT)

  • West Virginia and Marquette Involved in Thrillers: The Mountaineers ventured to Wichita, Kansas, and took on Kansas State in what was essentially a road game despite it being played away from the Little Apple. Bob Huggins was able to defeat his student, Frank Martin, but it took two overtime periods to do so. It was a thrilling game full of big shots and lots of toughness. It was very important for West Virginia to add a quality road win to its resume and while the Wildcats may not be as good as last season, this win could make a big difference if the Mountaineers find themselves on the bubble come March.  Marquette took on Washington at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night and found itself in a dogfight with the Huskies as UW took the early lead. Marquette fought back to take a three-point halftime lead when the game really ramped up. The high level of play led to numerous lead changes in an up-and-down affair that eventually came to an end when Jae Crowder knocked down a three from the corner to win it for the Golden Eagles, one of only nine undefeated teams remaining in college basketball as of this writing.
  • Big East Continues to Disappoint:  It’s still very early but it’s also hard not to notice that the conference may be looking at eight NCAA Tournament teams in a best case scenario. The Big East lost six games this past week, three by the dregs of the conference but three others by teams considered to be NCAA contenders. It was an awful week for Villanova as it blew two chances for quality wins away from home, losing in New York to Missouri and across town in Philadelphia to Temple. The Wildcats have lost four of their past five games and have zero wins of note on their resume to date. If Villanova doesn’t win at St. Joe’s this coming week, it may have to go 10-8 in conference play just to even be considered for the Tournament. Meanwhile, Cincinnati sits at 5-3 after the Xavier loss with key players in trouble due to the brawl. The Bearcats’ best win is a road victory over 4-5 Georgia, a bottom-tier SEC team. With no quality wins and two ugly losses already on their resume, the Bearcats probably have to beat Oklahoma on December 29 and go 10-8 in league play to have any chance.
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Big East Morning Five: 12.09.11 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on December 9th, 2011

  1. In the wake of news surrounding Big East expansion, St. John’s already anorexic roster experienced even more contraction.   The New York Daily News reported on Thursday that sophomore point guard Nurideen Lindsey has elected to transfer.  The report was later confirmed by Lindsey himself via Twitter, followed by  a release issued by the school.  The 6’3” Philadelphia native averaged 11.8 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.9 assists in nine games for the Red Storm, but his play had tailed off of late (five total points in his last two games).  St. John’s is left with just six scholarship players.  There will be much more to follow from RTC Big East on this story but initial reports indicate that there was a mutual feeling between Lindsay and St. John’s coach Steve Lavin that transferring represented his best option.  Lindsay has been gracious in his departure, expressing remorse and professing his love for St. John’s basketball and its fans.
  2. There have been a number of shots taken at the Big East’s realignment strategy, one of which has focused on its resulting diminished of stature in basketball.  While no one can deny the replacement of perennial powers Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia with Houston, Southern Methodist and Central Florida is a clear downgrade, Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin put it all in perspective. “Look around our league,” Cronin said, “Connecticut, Louisville, Cincinnati, how many (national) championships are there between us? How many Final Fours? How about the history of places like St. John’s, Seton Hall, DePaul, Georgetown, Villanova and Marquette?  Despite their lack of planking, Big East basketball maintains a solid and attractive core.  As Cronin stated, “so we go from having a league that’s been ridiculously hard to we still have a great league.”  While all of the movement and posturing are driven by football and football money, the Big East was born a basketball league, and will remain one at heart.
  3. It was confirmed on Thursday that Marquette center Chris Otule has suffered an injury to his left anterior cruciate ligament.  While not believed to be a season-ending tear, the overall extent of the injury is not yet known.   Medical personnel will continue to evaluate the situation to determine how long it may keep the 6’11” junior out of action. The injury occurred during the Golden Eagles’ Jimmy V Classic victory over Washington on Tuesday.  Otule (5.0 PPG, 4.4, RPG, 1.6 BLK) has a history of battling injuries, already missing the bulk of two seasons with foot injuries.
  4. With Houston now set to join the Big East in 2013 we have our first official ‘Old Big East – New Big East’ rivalry in the making.  There will be no love lost the first time Houston visits Providence, and the tension centers around a Houston freshman with the most unassuming of names, Joseph Young.  Young, a 6’3” guard who received All-America honors out of Houston’s Yates High School, originally signed a letter of intent to attend Providence.  Shortly after signing, Young asked for a release from his Providence commitment, citing a need to be closer to home due to a family member’s health issues.  However, Joseph’s father, Michael, a former Celtics draft pick and current Houston Director of Basketball Operations, was rumored to be against the signing from the start, believing that Houston was the best place for Joseph.  Providence refused to release Young from his letter, setting off a contentious battle where the elder Young was publicly vocal and personal with his commentary.  Both Youngs were viewed as villains in Providence circles as a result.  The matter ultimately was appealed to the NCAA and denied.  Young then enrolled at Houston and sat out a year under NCAA transfer rules.   He is currently averaging 9.9 points, 3.1 rebounds and 3.5 assists for the 4-4 Cougars.  The Dunkin’ Donuts Center awaits.
  5. It is early assessment time in Piscataway.  Rutgers is 4-5 after its disappointing 59-57 loss to Princeton on Wednesday.  Admirably, Rutgers coach Mike Rice was not looking any further than the mirror when determining where to start pointing fingers.  “I have not connected with this team,” said Rice, “I need to figure that out. They’re not listening and I’m not coaching them well enough, not making them listen. With young players sometimes it’s hard. Usually you have some of the older guys self-policing. There are coaching tricks — making sure that when they make those mistakes — it’s not a pleasant practice for the next hour or two. We just keep doing that and thinking it’s going to be, ‘I’m going to make the difference.’ It was a selfish performance.”  The fact of the matter is, despite having talent, the Scarlet Knights are uber-young with four freshmen averaging over 20 minutes per game.  Unless you are Kentucky, that is a recipe for struggles, and things do not promise to get any easier with the Big East schedule looming.  Rice may have done some of his best coaching of the season during his press conference on Wednesday when he attempted to take some of the heat off of his young players while still holding them accountable.
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Morning Five: 12.09.11 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on December 9th, 2011

  1.  We were very afraid of this when we saw it happen live on Tuesday night, and sure enough, the results came back yesterday. Marquette center Chris Otule has torn his left ACL and may miss the rest of the season depending on the severity of the tear and the treatment decision between he and his doctors. As we mentioned in that night’s After the Buzzer, we really hate this for the 6’11″ junior. Not only is he playing with the severe disadvantage of only having vision in one eye, but he’s suffered broken bones in both his left and right foot during his time in Milwaukee. Despite his best efforts, the guy has seemingly never been able to stay healthy. No matter his decision on a treatment plan, he’s only been able to play in 57 games in four seasons, so we’re crossing our fingers that he’ll get at least one more injury-free season of basketball at Marquette.
  2. How about some better injury news? Texas A&M’s Khris Middleton is expected to officially return to his team for Saturday’s game against Louisiana-Monroe after spending the better part of the last month rehabilitating a hamstring injury suffered in the first game of the season. His loss hasn’t impacted A&M’s fortunes terribly against a light schedule, as the Aggies have only one loss against Mississippi State so far, but he will be needed on the floor for an upcoming game against Florida and of course the 18-game Big 12 schedule. In other good news, Ohio State sounds like it expects to have its NPOY candidate, Jared Sullinger, back in action for Saturday’s monster game versus Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse. Although Thad Matta played coy with his answers in the article, if Sullinger is “dancing around” his dorm room, he’ll be ready to play this weekend.
  3. In a somewhat odd turn of events, St. John’s sophomore point guard Nurideen Lindsey has decided to transfer out of the program. What makes it peculiar is that the starter has averaged nearly 30 minutes per game and is putting up good numbers in the first month of the season — 12.5 PPG, 4.5 RPG. His statements about leaving are even more confounding: “I came to St. John’s for a couple of reasons. One was to be close to my mom, whose health has been up and down due to some past experiences. The second was to play for Coach Lav. In both instances, it has not worked out how I envisioned.” He surely isn’t holding Lavin’s own health issues against him, so there has to be something else going on here. More on this later today on RTC’s Big East microsite.
  4. The number of D-I schools is apparently set to grow again, as Northern Kentucky will join the Atlantic Sun Conference and start playing a full conference slate as soon as next season. Even though the school will not be eligible for league championships and revenue sharing for a few years while going through a probationary period, NKU preferred to join the much-farther geographic footprint of the A-Sun rather than the closer-to-home OVC because it was willing to let them play games next season. The A-Sun is generally located in the deep South — Georgia, South Carolina, Florida — although it does have two schools in Tennessee and as we’ve learned in conference realignment theater, geography rarely matters anymore. The article reports that the average road trip within the league will be around 580 miles, though, which can seriously add up for mid-major school budgets.
  5. You’ve been waiting patiently for it, well here it is: Luke Winn‘s weekly power rankings. Per usual, there’s more graphs, still frame images, and thoughtful analysis than you can shake Seth Davis’ stick at, but if you look carefully, you’ll find his All-Americans after one month, his analysis as to why Louisville fails to impress us, and an rundown of why Saturday’s delightful stack of games without the annoyance of football is something worth carving your day around.  Enjoy.
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ATB: Jimmy V, Jae Crowder, Mizzou & Washington’s Late Game Management Issues…

Posted by rtmsf on December 7th, 2011

Tonight’s Lede. We Will Not Give Up. On this same night every year, we feel compelled to join Dick Vitale and the rest in our support of the V Foundation in its fight against cancer. And every year, we find that we as a society have come a little bit closer to defeating the scourge that takes so many of our friends’ and families’ loved ones away from them too soon. As a bitter contemporary reminder, one of our colleagues lost her father to the disease yesterday. Another friend’s daughter was diagnosed with leukemia last year. Yet another friend recently underwent surgery to remove a precancerous polyp. Medical research is painstakingly slow and expensive and there’s unlikely to be a one-hit wonder out there that can ‘cure’ cancer, but treatments are improving. The V Foundation has given over $100 million dollars to fund 92 cancer research grants nationwide in its nearly 20-year history, and the benefits that have resulted from those dollars are certainly immeasurable. No matter who you might feel about Vitale, or Jim Valvano, or even ESPN, this is a noble and just cause. The page to donate is located here — and remember, the V Foundation passes along 100% of its donations directly to research initiatives.

Your Watercooler Moment. Crowder Not Crowded On the Right Wing. The second half of the Jimmy V Classic was more entertaining than the first tonight, even though it appeared that only a few hundred fans were in attendance for Marquette vs. Washington. A back-and-forth game that rarely saw either team take a lead of more than three points came down to execution in the clutch. After Washington’s Terrence Ross (a future star who had 19/9/3 assts) knocked in a tough heave off glass from the lane to give his team a one-point advantage with 19 seconds left, Marquette immediately went into its offensive set, confused two UW defenders who ended up falling on each other, and found Jae Crowder standing all alone in the corner for three. His bucket from the right wing gave Marquette the win, and showed just how important coaching is in late-game situations. Marquette is now 8-0 and playing like one of the better offensive teams in America. We just love watching Buzz Williams’ guys perform in close games.

Jae Crowder Silences the Small But Boisterous Washington Contingent in MSG (AP/F. Franklin)

Dunkdafied. Washington’s Terrence Ross and Marquette’s Vander Blue one-upped each other with huge dunks in the second half of tonight’s Jimmy V Classic nightcap.

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RTC Conference Primers: #1 – Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 14th, 2011

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

Reader’s Take I

 

Top Storylines

  • The Realignment Circus Continues: The latest blow to the Big East came just recently as West Virginia was accepted into the Big 12. That leaves the Big East with 13 basketball schools remaining and a handful of others (football schools) desperately trying to flee the sinking ship. Commissioner John Marinatto has said he is committed to holding Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia to the 27-month notice provision in the conference’s bylaws but one has to wonder if a financial settlement will be worked out in order to expedite the transition and move the conference into rebuilding mode. It’s going to be quite awkward if these three schools remain in the league until 2014. All of the current Big East members should eventually find a stable home in one form or another, but the days of Big East basketball as we know it will soon come to an end. Enjoy the 2011-12 season because it just might be the last year of this remarkable 16-team behemoth.
  • How Many Bids This Year?: After sending a record 11 teams to the NCAA Tournament last year, can the Big East reach that mark again? That seems unlikely but you never know how things will truly play out. I’d say there are ten contenders for NCAA bids and to make 11 you would need all of those teams plus one of the three New York City-area schools to have a wildly successful year and snatch a bid. The Big East is quite possibly the best conference in the land yet again but 11 NCAA teams is far-fetched. Eight or nine bids this season would seem to be much more realistic.
  • Can Connecticut Repeat?: The technical answer is yes but it will be extremely tough to do. There’s a reason only two teams have gone back-to-back in the last 20 years. College basketball is as deep as ever in terms of talent and quality teams, plus there’s someone missing from last year’s Connecticut team. Kemba Walker is now in the NBA and, despite Jim Calhoun’s impressive recruiting haul, there is a major leadership void to be filled. This team is stocked with talent but Walker was a one-of-a-kind leader who took complete control in Maui and parlayed that into a way of life for the rest of the season. Jeremy Lamb figures to take control but remember how young this group is. They’ll get better as the season progresses and may even win the Big East but when the chips are down in the NCAA Tournament, they won’t be able to call on Kemba and that’s why I feel they will not repeat.

Calhoun Won't Have His Mr. Everything Around This Season

  • Cautious Optimism at Georgetown, Villanova and West Virginia: These traditional powers lose a lot of talent and figure to be lodged in the middle of the conference. All three programs return key cogs but the departures of Austin Freeman, Chris Wright, Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes, Antonio Pena, Casey Mitchell, John Flowers and Joe Mazzulla leave more questions than answers. These teams all need someone to step up and become a deep shooting threat while maintaining a low post presence. Guards win in college basketball but you also have to be able to rebound and score inside occasionally. Hollis Thompson, Mouphtaou Yarou and Deniz Kilicli must become better all-around post men if their respective teams hope to make the NCAA Tournament. At 6’7”, 205 lbs., Thompson isn’t one to bang with the big guys but he’s going to have to score in the paint at times. Each team has a nice recruiting class coming in, but it’s up to the returning players to make the ultimate difference.
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Set Your Tivo: 03.02.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 2nd, 2011

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

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Every night is big this time of year for different reasons. Four Big East teams fight for a bye in the conference tournament while one bubble team will try to make a huge statement on the road at Duke. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

#15 Connecticut @ West Virginia – 7 pm on ESPN2 (****)

Huggins and the 'Eers End the Year With Not One, But Two Home Games, Starting With UConn

After West Virginia lost at Syracuse two weeks ago, there was some talk out there about them slipping towards the bubble. The Mountaineers have won twice since then (including a win over Notre Dame) and have locked up a bid even if they drop their final two home games. With a double-bye in the Big East Tournament out of reach for both teams, the focus now turns towards NCAA seeding and getting a single bye past the first day of the conference tournament. These teams are part of a four-way tie with Cincinnati and Marquette (also playing each other tonight) for seventh place at 9-7. They’re remarkably similar on paper; each has some shooting struggles, but they defend well, plus both dominate the offensive glass yet have a hard time clearing the defensive boards. This game will come down to offensive rebounding and whoever shows up with the most intensity on defense.

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Set Your Tivo: 02.24.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 24th, 2011

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

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

This is one of the biggest Thursday nights we’ve had this year in terms of quality games with NCAA bids and conference titles on the line. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

West Virginia @ #3 Pittsburgh – 9 pm on ESPN (****)

Are Dixon and the Panthers #1? #6? Does It Matter, As Long As It's #4 Or Better?

The Backyard Brawl (Part II) takes place in Pittsburgh tonight. The Panthers won the first meeting in Morgantown on February 7, a game they played without their star Ashton Gibbs. Gibbs returned to the lineup with a bang, scoring 26 points, including 6-9 from deep, in the team’s loss to St. John’s last Saturday. Gibbs will play a central role in a matchup between the Big East’s best three-point shooting team (Pitt) and the best three point defense (WVU). The Panthers are shooting 40% from deep in conference play and 38.4% overall while the Mountaineers allow 28.4% shooting overall and 29.1% in league games.

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Chris Otule & Kevin Laue Remind Us to Stop Complaining

Posted by rtmsf on January 6th, 2011

The human body is an amazingly adaptable entity when faced with adversity.  If it’s extremely cold, blood rushes from its extremities into the core to keep the central organs warm and functioning.  If it’s too hot, buckets of sweat seep from its pores to act as an internal cooling mechanism.  When injured, the fight-or-flight mechanism often makes a dangerous situation into a survivable one by buying time for the individual to get to safety.  We all know these things to be true, and therefore it should be no surprise when we learn of astonishing people in the athletic realm doing astonishing things with their bodies.  And yet we are.

Chris Otule (in goggles) Was Outed as Having One Eye Last Week (AP)

Such was the case late last week when, during the Marquette-Vanderbilt game on ESPN2, commentator Mark Gottfried told the viewing audience that Golden Eagle center Chris Otule has only one functional eye.  Come again?  Most people, including many members of the Marquette fanbase, were not aware of the redshirt sophomore’s physical limitation, which begs the question of how Gottfried knew about it (did he recruit Otule while still at Alabama?) and why he chose a national television audience to out the player.  Notwithstanding the possible HIPAA violation that Gottfried committed while on air, the bigger question is this: HOW ON EARTH DO YOU PLAY DIVISION ONE BASKETBALL WITH ONE EYE???

This is phenomenal.  See, the beauty of having two eyes in our heads is that it provides us with what the smart folks call stereoscopic binocular vision, or essentially, the ability to see clearly in three dimensions.  That third dimension relating to depth perception is the key, because it allows other animals an ability to gauge how far away their prey is and how fast it is going, while also allowing us human folks the convenient ability to accurately pass, catch and shoot a basketball while on the move.  Now, with only one eye, a person can still gauge depth, but it becomes much more difficult, especially at close ranges.  Even at farther lengths, it takes longer for a single eye to make determinations of relative distances, and the accompanying field of peripheral vision has been estimated as 25% smaller.

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