Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 3rd, 2012

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

Ed. Note – This post was written prior to Tuesday’s action, and was mistakenly removed briefly Tuesday night/Wednesday morning.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • Rick Pitino’s Interesting Announcement: I was one of the folks who questioned why Rick Pitino would announce he plans to retire five years from now when his contract with the University of Louisville runs out. You would figure this will hurt recruiting, but Pitino seemed relieved and at peace with his decision. Of course, many things can change over a five-year time frame, but I’ll take Pitino at his word. As ESPN.com’s Andy Katz writes, he will leave quite the influential mark on the college game once he exits the stage.
  • Conference Play Begins: At long last, Big East play is finally here. 13 conference games were played this past week and some storylines are already beginning to emerge. Pittsburgh is 0-2 for the first time under Jamie Dixon while Villanova is also 0-2 for the first time since the 2006-07 season. Syracuse has continued to steamroll through its schedule and is among the select few teams capable of winning a national championship. Slowly but surely, Connecticut seems to be finding its identity. Once the Huskies establish a leader on the floor, they may begin to take off. Georgetown and Seton Hall have surprised the conference this season, filling the void vacated by the Panthers and Wildcats in the top half of the league. While the conference is down a bit, this is sure to be another terrific Big East basketball season. Enjoy the ride over the next two months.

Is Fab Melo College Basketball's Most Improved Player? (Dennis Nett/Syracuse Post-Standard)

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (15-0, 2-0): Simply put, this team is rolling. Syracuse blasted its two opponents this past week, obliterating Seton Hall by 26 points and winning by 19 at DePaul. Most impressive was the game against the Pirates, one in which Fab Melo recorded 12 points, seven boards, and a school record 10 blocked shots as Syracuse avenged last season’s home loss to Seton Hall. Even more amazing is that Syracuse won by 26 without Kris Joseph scoring a single point. How’s that for depth? The Orange forced 23 Pirate turnovers and held them to 31.7% shooting, including an 0-11 FG line for Fuquan Edwin. Against DePaul, Syracuse held Brandon Young to 0-8 shooting. That’s 0-19 FG against Syracuse for two guys averaging a combined 31 points. Syracuse still needs to improve its rebounding (Seton Hall was +2 on the glass) but this team is scary good and some are saying it hasn’t even reached its full potential yet. This week: 1/4 @ Providence, 1/7 vs. #13 Marquette.
  2. Connecticut (12-1, 2-0): The Huskies struggled for most of the game at South Florida, but managed to pull away late behind Jeremy Lamb’s 23 points on 8-11 FG. In the St. John’s game, the Huskies shot a scorching 60.4% and assisted on 21 of their 29 made field goals. Andre Drummond helped out in a big way, going for 16/11. Connecticut won both games without Jim Calhoun but the final one without their headman will be the toughest. UConn visits Seton Hall on Tuesday and won’t have their energetic coach to fire them up against a much stronger opponent than either USF or St. John’s. On the road and without its coach, Connecticut is somewhat vulnerable. This team lacks a true leader like Kemba Walker, but it slowly moving up the Big East power rankings. This week: 1/3 @ Seton Hall, 1/7 @ Rutgers. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 27th, 2011

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

  • A Pair of Upsets: How many of you had Wagner winning at Pittsburgh? The Seahawks won their first game against a ranked team since P.J. Carlesimo was the head coach at the school in the late 1970’s, knocking off the Panthers 59-54. Even without point guard Tray Woodall, this is not a game Pittsburgh should have lost. While Ashton Gibbs certainly has to carry more of the load, his shooting has been sub-par this entire season. Against Wagner, the senior Big East Preseason POY shot 5-16 from the floor and 1-7 from deep, dropping his field goal percentage to 37.7% on the year. Usually one of the most efficient teams in the country, Pittsburgh was held to a stunning 89.2 efficiency rating against Wagner. Previously, Pitt’s season low had been 101.7 in a win over La Salle. Last Monday, LSU surprised Marquette in Baton Rouge, downing the previously undefeated Golden Eagles by a score of 67-59. While LSU isn’t an awful team, Marquette allowed the Tigers to shoot 53.5% for the game, something that has to concern Buzz Williams given how well Marquette has played defensively. If Marquette wants to contend for a conference title, it has to defend night in and night out.
  • Non-Conference Play Winds Down: There are 152 games remaining with Big East teams involved and 144 of those (94.7%) will be conference games. Four of the eight remaining non-conference games will take place over the coming week, so you can bet we here at RTC are more than ready to transition into conference play. As we head into the new calendar year, four Big East teams seem to be contenders while another four or five are in contention for NCAA bids. The bottom of the conference is broader and weaker than usual, with at least four and possibly six teams incapable of mounting a run at a bid. As to who wins the league (my poll question above), I am sticking with my preseason pick of Syracuse. The Orange go a legitimate ten deep and, while they do not have a superstar, they are strong defensively and play with great energy. Connecticut may be more talented and Louisville may play harder, but Syracuse is the best team in my estimation. I would love to hear the readers’ take (on this or anything else) in the poll above or in the comments section below.
  • Bob Huggins Wins His 700th Game: It took a crazy Gary Browne three-pointer to force overtime, but West Virginia was able to knock off Missouri State on Thursday night for Coach Huggins’ 700th career victory. He’s now in select company with the likes of Lefty Driesell, Lute Olson, Lou Henson, Henry Iba, Phog Allen and, Norm Stewart in the 700 club. Currently 58 years old and under contract with West Virginia through the 2018-19 season, Huggins has a chance to approach 900 wins if he stays healthy. After winning #700, he joins Jim Boeheim and Jim Calhoun as the only active Big East coaches to win at least 700 games. He is fourth on the active list of all-time wins, trailing his two Big East peers as well as Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.

The Hoyas Have Outperformed Preseason Projections Thanks To Two Wins Over Memphis And A Big Road Victory In Tuscaloosa. (Richard Lipski/AP)

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (13-0) – Among many other things, Syracuse has done a terrific job in turnover margin. The Orange lead the Big East by a wide margin in that department and rank in the top ten nationally in both offensive and defensive turnover percentage. Fueled by Dion Waiters off the bench, the Syracuse transition attack has been sensational. Big East play begins this week with a visit from upstart Seton Hall followed by a trip to DePaul. Surprisingly, Syracuse was out-rebounded by Tulane, including 15-9 on the offensive glass. This week: 12/28 vs. Seton Hall, 1/1 @ DePaul.
  2. Louisville (12-0) – It hasn’t been easy, but Louisville just keeps winning. The Cardinals trailed Charleston and Western Kentucky this week before putting those teams away late in the game. Against Charleston, Rick Pitino made a great adjustment late in the game by putting the more versatile Kyle Kuric at the free throw line to attack the Charleston zone instead of Gorgui Dieng.  Dieng still had a great week, going for 14/12 against the Cougars and 13/15 against the Hilltoppers. Louisville ranks fourth nationally in defensive efficiency, but its offense continues to be a work in progress. As I said in this spot last week, the longer the Cardinals can keep winning before getting their roster back to full strength, the better. This week offers a huge test against two teams that can really put the ball in the basket. This week: 12/28 vs. #15 Georgetown, 12/31 @ #2 Kentucky. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East Morning Five: 12.13.11 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on December 13th, 2011

  1. Cincinnati held a press conference to discuss the suspensions it issued to four players following the ugly brawl that occurred in the waning seconds of an almost equally hideous 76-53 loss to cross-city rival Xavier on Saturday. The precedings included remarks from head coach Mick Cronin, who noted the suspended players will have to earn their way back if they want to play once their suspensions end. Each of the four suspended players (Yancy Gates, Cheikh Mbodj, and Octavius Ellis received six games while Ge’Lawn Guyn will sit out one) were present to give their public apologies. Gates, who had one of the most active and high profile roles in the fracas throwing several punches, one of which bloodied Xavier’s Kenny Frease, appeared genuinely apologetic and regretful, ultimately breaking down in tears while taking questions. Particularly when noting references to his being a “thug” and a “gangster”. “I want to apologize really to the whole city of Cincinnati for my actions,” Gates said, “The actions that I displayed are not what I’m about. This is not what the University of Cincinnati is about. It’s not what my family’s about.” Gates, a senior, also said he feared his actions may have led to the end of his collegiate career.  Should all players earn their way back after six games, they would be available to play on January 4 at home versus Notre Dame, after missing just one Big East contest on New Year’s Day at #15 Pittsburgh.  The Bearcats’ first short-handed test takes place Wednesday at Wright State (4-6).
  2. A few people involved in Saturday’s Cincinnati – Xavier fight-marred game learned on Monday that they escaped further diciplinary action. That would be the game’s referees. Reggie Greenwood, the Atlantic 10 conference’s coordinator of officials confirmed that the game’s officiating crew–Mike Roberts, Tony Crisp, and Jeff Anderson–would not face punishment in connection to Saturday’s events. The trio was subject to criticism for their handling of the game, including strong commentary from Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin. “They were sent into an ambush,” Cronin said. “They had no idea they were walking into it.” Cronin indicated in a press conference on Monday that typically with heated rivalry games between Big East and Atlantic 10 teams (Cincinnati-Xavier, Providence-Rhode Island, Villanova-St. Joseph’s) at least one member of the officiating crew has experience with such games, but that was not the case on Saturday. He also said that there was conversation with the referees throughout the game about handing out technical fouls to minimize some of the outbursts and trash talking that had started prior to tip-off. Cronin indicated a referee told him to do so would include some of his players receiving techicals and that he urged the official to give technicals to anyone on his team that deserved one in order to prevent things from escalating.
  3. This week’s Big East awards are out and West Virginia’s Darryl “Truck” Bryant has earned Player of the Week honors. Bryant scored a career-high 27 points, including five threes, in a win over Miami on Saturday. He averaged 25.5 points and four rebounds in a 2-0 week for the Mountaineers. For the second consecutive time Providence forward LaDontae Henton took home Rookie of the Week accolades. Henton averaged 17.7 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks in three Friar victories, including a career-high 21 points versus Boston College and a double-double (13 points and 12 rebounds) to go with five blocked shots against Bryant University. Leading the Honor Roll recipients this week is Seton Hall’s Herb Pope who is playing as well as anyone in the conference right now, averaged a double-double for the week (25.5 PPG, 10.0 RPG) in two Pirate wins. Rounding out the Honor Roll were DePaul’s Cleveland Melvin (21.3 PPG, 6.7 RPG) who had a career-high 30 poins to go with eight boards in a win over Chicago State, Louisville center Gorgui Dieng (16.0 PPG, 12.0 RPG) also scored a career-high this past week, netting 18 in a win over IUPUI, Marquette forward Jae Crowder (16.5 PPG, 6.5 RPG) who buried a game winning three-pointer in the Golden Eagles’ 79-77 victory over Washington, and Notre Dame forward Jack Cooley who stuffed the stat sheet to the tune of 22.0 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 3.0 blocks in two badly needed Fighting Irish wins.
  4. The latest rankings are out and your Syracuse Orange (10-0) are the nation’s #1 team on the heels of Kentucky’s thrilling loss to Indiana on Saturday. This has to be especially sweet for Jim Boeheim and company given all of the non-basketball related news that has swirled around the program with the sexual misconduct against former assistant coach Bernie Fine story. Louisville (9-0) moved up one spot yet again this week to crack the top four.  Connecticut (8-1) knocked Harvard out of the polls with their victory over the Crimson last Thursday but it was not enough to improve their own raking, as they remain at #9. Marquette (9-0) and Pittsburgh (9-1) also stood pat at #11 and #15 respectively while Georgetown (8-1) jumped up two spots to #16 by virtue of taking down Howard on Saturday.  
  5. As for the latest in the Bernie Fine case, Onondaga District Attorney William Fitzpatrick participated in an online chat facilitated by a Syracuse newspaper, The Post-Standard.  Our personal favorite exchange in this chat had nothing to do with the case. A participant named “John” asked “Why are you doing this today? Isn’t enough, enough already?” To which Fitzpatrick cordially responded, “Don’t read it.” In terms of relevant content, Fitzpatrick revealed that he has not had any contact with the Fine family saying, “No, I have not attempted to interview the Fines out of respect for the federal investigation.” Fitzpatrick also clarified neither ESPN nor The Post-Standard would face charges for failing to turn over the now infamous recording of a 2002 phone call between one of the accusers, Bobby Davis, and Fine’s wife, Laurie. However, he reiterated a previous point that he would have liked to have seen Bobby Davis turn the tape over to authorities instead of any media outlet. Fitzpatrick went on to note that the length of the federal investigation should not be used to handicap the case as to whether or not they have collected or will collect enough evidence to arrest Fine.
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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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Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by rtmsf on December 5th, 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

Dominating the SEC:  In the newly expanded Big East/SEC Challenge, the Big East came away with a decisive 8-4 victory over the SEC. Only two Big East teams (DePaul and Rutgers) lost on their home floor while four conference members snagged important road wins across the south. The most impressive was Georgetown, a 57-55 winner over Alabama at Coleman Coliseum, a victory that should put the Hoyas in the national rankings this week. Providence earned a nice win at South Carolina while Pittsburgh and Cincinnati took care of business against Tennessee and Georgia. While this event doesn’t have the buzz of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge for instance, I thought this was a success for both leagues. It’s good to get some quality games early in the season instead of fattening up on cupcakes. It’s a shame four Big East schools (Marquette, Villanova, Notre Dame and South Florida) had to sit out but that’s just the way it goes since the SEC only has 12 teams.

The Emergence of Georgetown and Marquette: As mentioned above, Georgetown knocked off Alabama, part of a 3-0 week bookended by two cupcakes. At 7-1 with a close loss to Kansas, the Hoyas look much better than originally advertised. Despite Georgetown’s admirable success, the most significant Big East win this past week came courtesy of Marquette. The Golden Eagles knocked off in-state rival and top ten Wisconsin in Madison on Saturday. The Badgers almost never lose at the Kohl Center so any team that comes out of there with a win deserves major props and earns my respect. I had my doubts about Buzz Williams’ team (ranked fifth here last week) but the win at Wisconsin is as impressive as it gets. Not to mention it was without starting point guard Junior Cadougan, suspended for the game by Williams for an unspecified violation of team rules, plus Jae Crowder was saddled with foul trouble most of the game. I’m officially on board the MU bandwagon.

Buzz Williams And Marquette Picked Up A Huge Win At Wisconsin

Jim Boeheim Apologizes: Syracuse’s important 72-68 victory over a quality Florida team took a back seat in the press room Friday night as Orange head coach Jim Boeheim apologized to those who accused former associate head coach Bernie Fine of sexual molestation. Saying he “misspoke very badly,” Boeheim appeared somber yet nervous as he stood in front of the large media contingent. He clearly looked like a man under a lot of pressure and he admitted as much, saying how difficult of a time this has been for him, his family, and his staff. On the surface it appears the Orange players are not distracted by all that is going on but it would be naïve to think they aren’t paying attention in some fashion. With the investigation ongoing and agencies such as the FBI and US Secret Service involved, it is highly likely that more information will come to light. The Orange players have to do their best to block out the distractions as they march deeper into a season full of high expectations. Two weeks into this, there still isn’t anyone out there who can confidently say what will happen over the next few months with regards to this investigation.

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (8-0) — Off the court issues aside, Syracuse sure is taking care of business on the court. The Orange destroyed former assistant Rob Murphy’s Eastern Michigan squad before getting by Florida on Friday at the Carrier Dome. Syracuse didn’t shoot particularly well against the Gators but managed to get to the line 21 times while out-rebounding Florida. Florida’s 20 turnovers also helped the cause. On the broadcast, Jay Bilas said Brandon Triche could become Syracuse’s best player. I can’t disagree. Triche is a solid three-point shooter who is terrific in transition and defensively on the outer flank of Jim Boeheim’s zone defense. The junior’s statistics are up pretty much across the board in five fewer minutes of game action. This week: 12/6 vs. Marshall, 12/10 vs. George Washington.
  2. Louisville (7-0) – The Cardinals had to rally to defeat Vanderbilt on Friday evening with Peyton Siva sealing the win in the final seconds. A lot of people think Louisville is overrated but I’m not one of them. While the Cardinals certainly are banged up, Rick Pitino always gets the most out of his players. If Wayne Blackshear is able to make it back onto the court, watch out. This team could do a lot of damage with its defense come Big East play and has just enough capable offensive players to be satisfactory on that end once they put it all together. It also helps when you have such an advantage like this team does at the KFC YUM! Center. This week: 12/7 vs. IUPUI, 12/10 vs. Fairleigh Dickinson. Read the rest of this entry »
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Set Your TiVo: 12.05.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 5th, 2011

Brian Otskey is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

This is a very light night of hoops but you may want to check out two games between bottom-tier Big East teams and a pair of Midwestern mid-majors.

St. John’s @ Detroit – 7:00 PM EST on ESPN2 (**)

Godsgift Achiuwa and Friends Have Faced a Tough Early Schedule

  •  St. John’s has been in an early-season slide, having lost four of its last five games. The Red Storm play only seven men and the tired legs are already starting to catch up. St. John’s is one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the country at 26.2% and averages only 35 rebounds per game. This will likely be an up-tempo game because the Red Storm has athletes that like to run and Detroit loves to maximize the number of possessions in a game. One thing St. John’s does very well is to keep opponents off the foul line and it will have to do just that against a Titans team that shoots 78.4% from the charity stripe. Moe Harkless and God’s Gift Achiuwa played well at Kentucky last week and more progress against a severely depleted Detroit front court is something the Johnnies should count on tonight.
  • As mentioned, Detroit’s roster has been decimated. Head coach Ray McCallum, Sr., has only eight scholarship players available after Eli Holman’s legal troubles, Nick Minnerath’s torn ACL and a host of other issues including academics and other personnel departures. Chase Simon and Ray McCallum, Jr.,have to lead the Titans and score points in transition against the turnover-prone Nurideen Lindsey (3.9 turnovers per game) and company. Unfortunately for Detroit, Simon and McCallum are just as prone to giveaways.
  • This game will be a war of attrition with foul trouble and fatigue playing a major role. St. John’s is the better team but not by much. With Detroit playing at home against a Big East team while honoring former head coach Dick Vitale with a special ceremony, there will be some buzz in the arena. We have no idea who will win this one and the Vegas line agrees, calling this game a pick’em.

Milwaukee @ DePaul – 9:00 PM EST on SNY, Sports 32, ESPN3.com (**)

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Big East/SEC Challenge Face-Off: Thursday Night Games

Posted by Brian Joyce on December 1st, 2011

To preview the match-ups in the Big East/SEC Challenge, the RTC Big East & SEC Microsites are facing off in conversational analysis. Brian Joyce and Michael Lemaire take on Ole Miss vs. DePaul and Alabama vs. Georgetown. 

Mississippi at DePaul – 9:00 p.m. (ET) ESPNU

Mike: At first glance, this looks like one of the least compelling match-ups. A tale of two teams we still really don’t know much about, DePaul doesn’t play defense (#190 in adjusted defense), but their only blemish is a one-point loss to 6-1 Minnesota. Mississippi is #29 in adjusted defense, but they haven’t played a difficult schedule and their loss was a 30-point bludgeoning at the hands of Marquette. The Blue Demons have two talented sophomores in Brandon Young (12.6 PPG, 3.7 APG) and Cleveland Melvin (14.3 PPG, 5.0 RPG), but their bench is very young. All things equal I would be inclined to pick Mississippi, but they are coming off a tiring 64-61 overtime win against Miami and they are due for a letdown. Prediction: DePaul 70 — Mississippi 68

Brian: I agree that this doesn’t appear to be especially compelling, but this game could get interesting. The difference in the Minnesota-DePaul game was the 23 offensive rebounds by the Golden Gophers. That and Trevor Mbakwe’s 16 points and 12 rebounds. In short, the Blue Demons struggled on the interior, and that is exactly where Ole Miss will attack. 6’7” forward Murphy Holloway (10.8 PPG, 10.2 RPG) and 6’9” forward Terrance Henry (12.2 PPG, 5.5 RPG) will be tough for Depaul to stop on the low block. I think this game will be a close one, but the Rebels have too much inside for Depaul to handle. Prediction: Mississippi 64 – DePaul 60

Will Thompson and his Hoyas be ready for Alabama's defense?

Georgetown and Alabama should be one of the more interesting games of the entire Big East/SEC challenge.

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Checking In On… the Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 29th, 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

  • A Rough Week for the Big East: Conference teams lost 13 times this past week to the likes of UCF, Illinois State, Northeastern, and Richmond among others. Only three undefeated teams (Syracuse, Louisville, and Marquette) remain and of the 13 teams with at least one loss, only three (DePaul, Seton Hall and Georgetown) have not yet recorded a bad loss. As we enter December, the middle of the conference doesn’t appear to be as strong as in years past. The Big East has a handful of great teams and a host of teams that appear to be very average at this point. It’s a long season, but the chances of seeing nine or ten NCAA bids from this league are certainly not promising.
  • Syracuse and Marquette Take Home Titles: The Orange defeated Virginia Tech and Stanford at their second home, Madison Square Garden, to win the NIT Season Tip-Off while Marquette took home the Paradise Jam championship, albeit against a so-so field. Both teams struggled in their respective championship games, but managed to pull it out down the stretch, the sign of a good team. Each team’s schedule ramps up this week against a pair of top ten teams as Syracuse hosts Florida on Friday and Marquette visits in-state rival Wisconsin on Saturday.
  • Tim Abromaitis Tears ACL: There was awful news out of South Bend late last week when it was announced that Notre Dame fifth year senior forward Tim Abromaitis tore the ACL in his right knee during practice on Friday. The loss of Abromaitis is a huge blow to a Notre Dame team already with two neutral court losses on its resume and a pair of road games coming up this week. The Fighting Irish rotation is pretty much only seven deep now with only three or four reliable scorers. Point guard Eric Atkins has played very well, but Scott Martin and Pat Connaughton will have to step up in a big way for Notre Dame to have any chance of making the NCAA Tournament.

With A Big Game Against Florida Looming Friday, How Will Jim Boeheim Keep His Team Focused Amid The Bernie Fine Scandal?

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (6-0) – After feasting on four cupcakes to begin the season, the Orange were impressive late in victories over Virginia Tech and Stanford in the NIT Season Tip-Off. They struggled for the better part of both games, but the ability of this team to flip the switch and play like the top five team it is is something that will suit them well outside of conference play. However, Syracuse had better play well for 40 minutes once the Big East season arrives or else they’ll lose more games than you think. Jim Boeheim’s team ranks in the top ten nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency, one of only four teams at the moment. Syracuse has done a great job forcing turnovers leading to easy points in transition. Dion Waiters appears to have taken his game to the next level as a sophomore with transition play being a big part of that. How this team is affected by the Bernie Fine investigation, if at all, is something to watch over the next few weeks. This week: 11/29 vs. Eastern Michigan, 12/2 vs. #6 Florida.
  2. Louisville (6-0) – Rick Pitino was successful last year by molding a team of role players into a cohesive unit with no superstars through an incredible focus on defense. Louisville looks to be following that same formula again in 2011-12. The Cardinals rank third nationally in defensive efficiency and only one opponent has scored more than 54 points. Of course, offense is Louisville’s biggest challenge. Peyton Siva is back, but Pitino’s rotation has been scaled back due to injuries to Wayne Blackshear and Mike Marra. Blackshear may be back but Marra is lost for the season with a torn ACL. Louisville struggled against Ohio and has another tricky game with Long Beach State on Monday. Freshman Chane Behanan (9/9) is stepping up in the absence of Blackshear while Gorgui Dieng has been a shot-blocking machine in the paint at three rejections per game. This is a big week for the Cardinals as their competition gets stronger. This week: 11/28 vs. Long Beach State, 12/2 vs. #20 Vanderbilt. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East Morning Five: 11.29.11 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on November 29th, 2011

1. The Big East revealed the second installment of its men’s basketball weekly awards on Monday. Syracuse senior forward Kris Joseph earned the Player of the Week award as he led the Orange to an NIT Pre-Season Tip-Off  win, averaging 19.0 points and 9.5 rebounds in the tournament including 18 points, 9 rebounds and 4 steals in the final against Stanford.  Rookie of the week honors went to Connecticut freshman center Andre Drummond who responded to his newfound starting role by posting averages of 11.3 points, 8.0 rebounds and 4.0 blocks in three games, including a near triple-double in the Bahamas against Florida State (12 PTS, 10 REB, 7 BLK).  As for the Honor Roll, Pittsburgh’s Tray Woodall checks in with his second consecutive appearance (10.3 PPG, 9.0 APG) powered by double-doubles against La Salle and Robert Morris;  Sophomore Cleveland Melvin has DePaul off to a 4-1 start and backed up his Old Spice Classic All-Tournament Team selection with this conference honor; Georgetown senior guard Jason Clark who averaged 23.0 points and 4.3 rebounds in Maui including 26 huge points in an overtime victory over then No. 8 Memphis; Seton Hall double-double machine and last week’s Player of the Week, Herb Pope, posted two more double-doubles, raising his Big East-leading season total to five; and West Virginia’s Kevin Jones only had one game this past week but he made it count racking up 23 points, 10 boards and two blocks in a win over Morehead State.

2. Last week was a rough week overall for the Big East with a slew of losses but for the most part the top of the league held serve and maintained their Top 25 rankings. Connecticut, on the heels of their 68-63 upset at the hands of Central Florida, represented the only Big East team to record a drop in the Associated Press poll as they slid four spots to #8.  Syracuse shook off the Bernie Fine controversy to win in the Garden and earned a one spot promotion to #4 while Louisville bit back at the injury bug and jumped up a notch to #6 while Marquette (#16) and Pittsburgh (#17) stood pat as compared to last week to help the Big East maintain a total of five ranked teams. Georgetown is within shouting distance of becoming the sixth, receiving 46 votes which would be good for 30th, and has a date on Thursday with #12 Alabama in the SEC-Big East Challenge that could propel the Hoyas into next week’s poll with a victory (assuming they get by N.J.I.T on Saturday).

3. Speaking of the Big East’s less than glorious week, there are currently seven teams with two or more losses in the early going: Notre Dame, South Florida, Providence, Villanova, Cincinnati, St. John’s, and Rutgers.  Clearly the most, and perhaps only, surprising inclusions on this list are Cincinnati and Villanova as they were predicted to finish fifth and eighth respectively in the Big East pre-season coaches poll.  Presbyterian over Cincinnati was a clunker for sure but even including the Blue Hose’s (had to work that in) 3-3 record, the teams that beat Villanova and Cincinnati are a combined 18-5, including a now ranked St. Louis squad (#25).  Further, Villanova gave up the last ten points of the game in a one-point loss to Santa Clara. As far as the single-loss teams go, Pittsburgh and Connecticut falling to inferior teams has to be mentioned, but it is not time to panic just yet. Plus this gives us yet another chance to remind you where UCONN was when the Big East tournament began last year and where they ended up.  OK, enough with the ifs and buts.  Here’s the bottom line: While it is not likely this year’s ninth place finisher takes it the distance again, all that has gone on thus far is a testament to the truth lying somewhere between the conference not being as strong and deep as it was a year ago and the fact that there are simply so many good players and coaches out there today that the big boys need to bring it at a high level every night or risk getting tripped up.

4. Jim Boeheim has found himself moving closer to the center of the Bernie Fine controversy as discussed here at RTC Big East yesterday. The latest has a number of public cries by interested parties, including support and advocate groups for sexual abuse victims, for the head coach’s job whether by firing or resignation.  While Syracuse officials have remained tight-lipped, the NCAA is keeping tabs and issued the following statement on Monday:

NCAA President Mark Emmert spoke today with Chancellor Nancy Cantor to let her know the NCAA is carefully monitoring the developments at Syracuse University, and Chancellor Cantor pledged her full cooperation in determining the facts. The accusations of child sexual abuse reported in the media involving a former assistant men’s basketball coach are deeply troubling. Furthermore, to have similar allegations involving coaches at two of the nation’s major universities saddens every member of the Association. As facts emerge, we will determine what actions may be necessary regarding NCAA bylaws. As always, criminal justice proceedings, if any, take precedence over any NCAA actions.”

In further news, Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick’s concerns were heard and addressed as Syracuse police agreed to provide Fitzpatrick’s office additional information regarding the case after he called them out as failing to provide.

5. Louisville continues to roll with the punches and get wins despite the revolving door to the trainer’s room.  One game after junior guard Peyton Siva returned from an ankle injury, sophomore guard Elisha Justice was forced to miss last night’s game against Long Beach State after breaking his nose in practice. Despite the continued shuffling of personnel, Rick Pitino’s Cardinals continued their winning ways, surviving foul trouble and fighting off tough 49er squad en route to a 79-66 victory. Senior guard Chris Smith led the charge with 18 points, including four three-pointers, in 33 minutes of action. Siva turned the ball over six times, but also stuffed the stat sheet with eleven points, three rebounds, five assists and five steals. Freshman Chane Behanan continued his solid play with 13 points and seven rebounds. Louisville (6-0) faces a test on Friday versus #20 Vanderbilt (5-2 after last night’s overtime loss to #11 Xavier) in their leg of the SEC-Big East Challenge.

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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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RTC Summer Updates: Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on July 11th, 2011

With the completion of the NBA Draft and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. Our Big East update comes from frequent RTC contributor Brian Otskey, co-author of Get to the Point.

Readers’ Take

Summer Storylines

  • Connecticut Revels In National Championship Glory: Connecticut’s storybook year continued on into the offseason as the Huskies were invited to the White House for an event with President Obama on May 16. The team presented the president with a #1 UConn jersey and posed for photographs after being lauded for their remarkable accomplishment. Connecticut made one of the most improbable runs ever en route to the third national championship in school history, all coming since 1999, going 23-0 outside of Big East regular season play. Nobody could have predicted the way last season unfolded and the NCAA Tournament as a whole was a microcosm of that. Connecticut’s national title made up for a lackluster performance by many of the record 11 Big East teams participating in the tournament. Only one other Big East team (Marquette) managed to make it to the second weekend’s Sweet 16. Life without Kemba Walker has begun in Storrs and while the Huskies will be among the 2011-12 Big East favorites, it’ll be very interesting to see who steps up and how the team performs without its warrior. Jeremy Lamb appears to be ready to take over but the way Shabazz Napier and Alex Oriakhi handle their larger roles will be the difference between a team contending for a Big East title and one that finishes fourth or fifth.

Kemba & Co. Celebrated in Style (H-C/B.Hansen)

  • The Ed Cooley Era Begins In Friartown: After Keno Davis stumbled to an 18-36 Big East record over three seasons in Providence, the Friars desperately needed someone to revive their moribund program. Providence has made only two NCAA Tournaments since its 1997 appearance and the last one was eight seasons ago in 2003-04. Enter Ed Cooley, a Providence-born 41-year-old with the fire in his belly needed to succeed in arguably the toughest job in the Big East Conference. Cooley will instill a system of discipline and fundamentals with a special attention to defense, three attributes of successful programs that were sorely lacking under Davis. Cooley’s Fairfield team ranked #22 in the nation in defensive efficiency last season and he improved the Stags’ record each and every year he was there. Providence, a small Catholic school with hardly any recruiting base along with limited facilities and resources, is an incredibly difficult job even before you have to go up against bigger schools like Syracuse, Louisville and Pittsburgh along with tradition-rich programs such as Georgetown, Villanova and Marquette. Cooley must spend his first season laying the foundation for longer term success. He won’t turn this program around overnight but more discipline on and off the court and hard work on the recruiting trail can turn Providence into a solid Big East competitor. We can’t think of many people better suited than Cooley to get the job done at Providence. While it will be a long and difficult process, brighter days are ahead for the Providence program with Ed Cooley at the helm.
  • Signs Of Life In The New York Area: New coach Steve Lavin and St. John’s brought the buzz back to the Big Apple last winter as the Red Storm earned its first NCAA bid in nine seasons. “Lavinwood” has moved east, but St. John’s now enters a year full of mixed feelings. Cautious optimism as well as uncertainty rules the day with nine new faces, part of the nation’s second-ranked recruiting class, making their way to Queens in 2011-12. Malik Stith is the only returnee of note after Dwayne Polee, II, decided to transfer closer to home at San Diego State. St. John’s may be the most unpredictable team in the Big East entering this season. The potential exists for a terrific year if Lavin can mold all this raw talent into a cohesive unit capable of playing with any team in the conference. However, issues with young players, commonly involving playing time and egos, are also very possible and it takes only one incident to destroy the locker room and wreck the season. The Johnnies have enough talent to make the NCAA Tournament again, but Lavin will have to totally adjust his approach to make that happen. With hardly any experience on the roster, he can’t simply roll the ball out and hope for the best. This season will be the biggest test of Lavin’s coaching career on the court, but he faced an even more difficult challenge last year, coaching the entire season with prostate cancer while keeping it a secret until this spring. Turning St. John’s around with that constantly in the back of his mind is an a commendable achievement and we obviously wish Coach Lavin the best of luck fighting this awful disease.
  • Across the Hudson River in New Jersey, Mike Rice and Rutgers appear to be building a program to be reckoned with down the road. The Scarlet Knights have been a dormant program for 20 years, never once enjoying a winning season in any of its 16 years as a Big East member. That may be about to change, although it appears unlikely that Rutgers will crack the .500 mark in league play this season. The fiery Rice reeled in a top 25 recruiting class and now must build on a season of close calls and what-ifs. Rutgers was competitive last year, but could only manage five Big East victories. It’ll take time for the new players to adjust to the collegiate level but bigger and better things should be expected from Rutgers in the years to come. Rutgers, a large state school, has the capability of becoming a pretty good program. All it needs is a commitment from the administration, facility upgrades and great recruiting. Rice is taking care of the latter, now it’s time for the Rutgers brass to provide him with the resources needed to build a top flight program. Rutgers needs major facility upgrades (a RAC renovation has been talked about for over a year), but fundraising has been a major problem. With New Jersey Governor Chris Christie trying to get the state’s financial house in order, there is going to be a lot of resistance to an ambitious project such as this one at the state’s flagship university.

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Conference Report Card: Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 19th, 2011

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor. We will be publishing a series of conference report cards over the next week for conferences that got multiple NCAA bids to recap the conference, grade the teams, and look at the future for the conference.

Conference Recap

  • College basketball has never witnessed a season like this year’s Big East. The conference destroyed its own record of eight NCAA bids by placing 11 clubs in the Big Dance this year and also claimed the national champion with Connecticut, which spent most of the season in the middle of the pack in the Big East. The Huskies also gave the conference its first title since the Huskies last did the trick in 2004. While there was not a truly great team in the Big East (including Connecticut), the league was better than any other from top to bottom. Of the five teams that failed to make the NCAA Tournament, only South Florida and DePaul were truly uncompetitive. Rutgers showed signs of improvement while Seton Hall managed to win seven league games and gave some good teams a major scare in the process. Even Providence, which finished 4-14, knocked off Louisville and Villanova in consecutive games back in January. Despite the lackluster NCAA showing by most Big East members, it says here the conference boasted the best player in the nation (sorry, Jimmer) and a deserving national champion. Additionally, ten Big East teams were ranked in the AP Top 25 at some point this season. Say what you want about its postseason performance (it’s certainly fair to bash the league in that regard), but this was by far the best conference in the nation this year.

Jim Calhoun (left) and Kemba Walker will be inextricably linked to UConn's memorable NCAA Tournament run. (Reuters/Lucy Nicholson)

Team-by-Team (teams are in order of finish, but grades are based on performance vs. expectations):

  1. Pittsburgh (28-6, 15-3): The regular season was terrific once again for Jamie Dixon and the Panthers but, as has become common over the years, they fell short of their goal–getting to the Final Four. Pittsburgh lost four of their final eight games after starting the season 24-2. A mid-season injury to Ashton Gibbs was thought to bring them down a peg, but Pitt responded with wins at West Virginia and Villanova without him to quiet any doubters. That turned out to be their peak. Dixon did not really test his team out of conference except for two games at Madison Square Garden against Maryland and Texas back in November as part of the 2K Sports Coaches vs. Cancer event and a “home” game (in Pittsburgh) against Tennessee, which they lost. Looking back, one theory could be that an average non-conference schedule did not adequately prepare this team for the NCAA Tournament which is all about match-ups and teams you haven’t seen before from other leagues. While Big East coaches love to use the strength of the league as a crutch when questioned about a lack of non-conference heft to their schedule, I think this is a theory that has to be taken into consideration. Big East play is obviously rough and tumble every night but that can actually be a detriment come tournament time when games are officiated tighter and you don’t have as much time to prepare for an opponent who you likely don’t know very well, if at all. Pitt will lose Gilbert Brown, Brad Wanamaker, and Gary McGhee to graduation while Gibbs tests the NBA waters. I expect Gibbs to come back to join a very good recruiting class led by five-star forward Khem Birch. Despite the loss of three senior leaders, look for Pitt to be in the thick of the Big East race yet again next season. Dixon has established a culture of winning and I have learned never to doubt him after witnessing the 2009-10 campaign, a season that certified Dixon as one of the best basketball minds in the country. While this year was a great success during the regular season, Pitt’s inability to get to the Sweet Sixteen and eventually the Final Four renders this year a disappointment. GRADE: B- Read the rest of this entry »
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