Morning Five: 02.08.11 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on February 8th, 2011

  1. The Mountain West has received a lot of attention this year due to the excellent play of top ten teams San Diego State and BYU and, of course, the NPOY candidacy of the Cougars’ Jimmer Fredette.  Yesterday the attention on the league was of a different sort, though, as Wyoming, dead last in the league standings at 1-8, fired head coach Heath Schroyer after three-plus seasons at the helm.  This move comes after the Cowboys lost its seventh consecutive game on Saturday, a three-point home loss to Colorado State.  Schroyer was 49-68 during his tenure in Laramie, with his best season coming in 2008-09 as Wyoming went 19-14 (7-9 MWC) and made the NIT.
  2. Ugh.  Oklahoma State forward Darrell Williams was charged with three counts of rape and one of sexual battery on Monday stemming from an incident in December where he allegedly assaulted two women at a party.  The junior college transfer has given head coach Travis Ford a solid season, averaging 7/7 in twelve starts and around 21 minutes per game, but according to the coach, he will be held out of the lineup and practice until his legal issues are resolved.  His preliminary hearing is scheduled for the first week in March, which probably means that Williams’ season is effectively over.  OSU has been playing better of late, beating Missouri and Oklahoma to get back to the middle of the Big 12 pack, but any further push will be that much more difficult without the sometime-starter available to bang bodies down low.
  3. Dan Wiederer delves further into the phenomenon known as Kendall Marshall going for a record sixteen assists in UNC’s destruction of Florida State over the weekend.   We didn’t know, for example, that Marshall has a tendency to pull a Bill Russell during halftime of games, but we do now and we’re quite sure that Roy Williams will provide the rookie with his own four-year supply of barf bags if he keeps dropping double-figure dimes the rest of the season.
  4. A new Monday meant another version of Seth Davis’ Hoop Thoughts.  In this week’s edition, he deplores the fly-by-night departure of Larry Drew II from the program (blaming Drew’s mother more than his famous father), St. John’s as the most interesting bubble team at this point, and a Kyrie Irving update that you haven’t seen anywhere else.
  5. The ten final candidates for the Bob Cousy Award given to the nation’s top point guard were announced on Monday, and there were a couple of surprising omissions.  The complete list is below, but as Mike Miller at Beyond the Arc points out, there’s really no legitimate excuse for leaving out Xavier’s Tu Holloway and Wisconsin’s Jordan Taylor.  Both players have been outstanding for their respective teams, and outside of the NPOY candidates Fredette, Smith and Walker, arguably better than any of the other names on this list.
  • Norris Cole, Cleveland State
  • Corey Fisher, Villanova
  • Jimmer Fredette, BYU
  • D.J. Gay, San Diego State
  • Brandon Knight, Kentucky
  • Demetri McCamey, Illinois
  • Mickey McConnell, St. Mary’s
  • Nolan Smith, Duke
  • Isaiah Thomas, Washington
  • Kemba Walker, UConn
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Set Your Tivo: 02.04-02.06

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 5th, 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.

On paper, this isn’t the best weekend of games. However, this is college basketball where anything can happen. You just never know what could happen and it may end up being a thrilling couple of days, anyway. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

West Virginia @ #12 Villanova – 12 pm Saturday on ESPN (****)

Yet another big game in the Big East features two teams tied for third place at 6-3 in league play. The winner will tie second place Notre Dame, just a game and a half behind first place Pittsburgh. West Virginia has won seven of nine games and rebounding has been a big reason why. The Mountaineers have not been out-rebounded by an opponent since a New Year’s Day game at Marquette, plus their defense has been solid. West Virginia has scored only 58 PPG over their last four games (three of them without leading scorer Casey Mitchell) but has held opponents to an average of 50 PPG over the same stretch, culminating in holding Seton Hall to 44 points on Wednesday. Bob Huggins’ team is #5 nationally in offensive rebounding percentage but will have to bring their A-game on the glass against Villanova. The Wildcats rank 20th in keeping opponents off the offensive boards and were led by the interior duo of Antonio Pena and Mouphtaou Yarou in their most recent win over Marquette. They combined for 32/15 and have been huge factors this season as Jay Wright isn’t counting exclusively on his guards to win games anymore. Although West Virginia has rebounded the ball extremely well of late, they still rank only #291 in opponent’s offensive rebounding percentage, allowing teams to grab 35.6% of their misses. Villanova will likely miss a lot of long range shots against West Virginia’s #2 ranked three point defense (allowing 27%) so offensive rebounding will be important for both teams, especially the Wildcats, in this game. Coach Huggins used 6’7 John Flowers on Seton Hall’s Jeremy Hazell in their last game and he successfully shut down the Pirates’ gunner. Might we see the same thing on Villanova’s Corey Stokes? It’s a good possibility, though Flowers may be needed inside more often to double Pena and Yarou. Flowers leads the Big East in blocked shots and needs to have another good defensive game against a Villanova team that can score in bunches. The Wildcats score 25.6% of their points from the foul line and attempted 33 free throws against Marquette. Villanova is very difficult to beat when they get to the stripe because they shoot 78% and get there so often. Dribble penetration from Corey Fisher and Maalik Wayns leads to good looks inside and plenty of free throw opportunities. West Virginia has to do a good job defending the dribble drive and Kevin Jones will be a key player in doing so. Jones is a taller player who, along with Flowers, will form the second line of defense if the Wildcat guards are able to get into the lane. Jones is also a warrior on the glass, going for 13/12 in his last game. With the status of Casey Mitchell still uncertain, West Virginia will have to stick to typical “Huggy-ball” more than ever, and that’s physical defense and great rebounding. Villanova is 16-0 when they score at least 70 points but only 2-4 when they fail to do so. With the way West Virginia is rebounding and playing defense right now, it’s very possible that this game could be in the 50’s or 60’s. We’re going to go with the upset and take the Mountaineers on the road in this game.

#10 Kentucky @ Florida – 9 pm Saturday on ESPN (****)

With a win on Saturday night, Florida can really create some separation between themselves and Kentucky. With a win against the Wildcats, Florida will hold a two and a half game lead over UK and remain ahead of Tennessee, a team they beat on the road already. Quite simply, a win here puts Florida in a commanding position in the SEC East. Of course, that won’t be so easy against the nation’s fourth ranked team in eFG% defense. The Gators have won 9 of 11 games but Kentucky will be their toughest test since a meeting with Ohio State back in November. The Wildcats are coming off a loss at Ole Miss earlier this week, a game in which they committed 18 turnovers and didn’t defend the three point line well at all. Freshman point guard Brandon Knight had six of those turnovers and needs to do a better job tonight. Young teams can’t turn it over and expect to win on the road no matter how talented they are and Kentucky is finding out the hard way. With a 2-4 record in true road games, the Wildcats need to grow up quick if they want to play deep into March. Knight needs to create shots for himself and others, taking advantage of UK’s 40% shooting from deep. With Doron Lamb shooting the ball very well recently, Kentucky has plenty of threats to win this game. A key battle in this game will be at the forward spot as Kentucky’s freshman Terrence Jones goes up against Florida senior Chandler Parsons. Jones averages 18/9 and had 22/12 at Ole Miss while Parsons has been on an absolute tear on the glass of late. Controlling the boards will be critically important in a game that could be all about pace. The Gators would like to slow the game down and work in the half court while the Wildcats are comfortable at a quicker pace. To keep the tempo in their favor, Florida has to win the rebounding battle and make shots. The Gators are #10 in offensive rebounding percentage but the matchup between Jones and Parsons, as well as Vernon Macklin and Josh Harrellson at the center position, will likely determine who controls the glass in this game. If Harrellson can shut down Macklin (Festus Ezeli of Vanderbilt did a good job of this in the last game), the onus will be on Parsons to carry the Gators yet again. With Erving Walker hitting only 7 of his last 33 threes (21%), Florida will work the ball inside even more than they already do. The Gators get 56.8% of their points from two point range but will face the #4 interior defense in the country. Kentucky allows opponents to shoot only 41% from two point range while Florida is making 50.5% of their two point shots. This should be a physical game and whoever controls the interior will likely come out on top. Despite their road woes, we think John Calipari’s team will be ready to play tonight and hand the Gators their fourth home loss, disappointing the big crowd sure to be at the O-Dome for ESPN Game Day.

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Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 25th, 2011

Rob Dauster of Ballin’ is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East.

A Look Back

Generally, at this point in the season — late January — I have a pretty good feel for the college hoops landscape. This season? Bleh. It seems like every time I expect a team to begin their turnaround, they start to slump. Every time I expect a collapse, I get a winning streak.  The Big East is no exception. Louisville looked great last week, then lost to ProvidenceWest Virginia beat Purdue, then had two players get suspended. Notre Dame, who struggles on the road, went to Pitt and won on Big Monday.  Yeah. I got nothing.

Player of the Week: Ben Hansbrough, Notre Dame: You know you had a good week when you go for 28 points, six assists, and five boards against a team like Marquette and it’s not your best performance. Notre Dame paid a visit to the Petersen Events Center on Monday night and played their the ‘burn’ — as in burn the clock, and possibly your eyeballs — offense, slowing the game to a crawl. For the first 25 minutes, it was somewhat effective, but for the final 15 minutes of the game, Mike Brey did nothing but put the ball into Hansbrough’s hands. Seemingly every possession, the Irish ran him off of a high screen, and Hansbrough took advantage of the resulting mismatches, scoring 15 of his 19 points and handing out three of his seven assists over that stretch. The Irish would go on to beat Pitt 56-51 and pick up a huge road win, their first of the season.

Team of the Week: UConn Huskies - The Huskies won two big games this week, knocking off Villanova last Monday before upending Tennessee at home in the Vols’ first game with Bruce Pearl in two weeks. Kemba Walker has come back to earth in the past few weeks — which was expected — but it has been the emergence of UConn’s role players, most recently Jeremy Lamb, who have kept the Huskies notching wins. How crazy has this season been? No one had UConn in the NCAA Tournament in the preseason. Now? They are getting slotted into a No. 1 seed on a lot of bracket projections.

Power Rankings (overall and conference records, and last week’s ranking in parentheses)

1. Pittsburgh (19-2, 7-1) (1)

Last Week: 1/22 @ DePaul 80-50, 1/24 vs. Notre Dame 51-56

Next Week: 1/29 @ Rutgers

Despite what the box score might look like, Pitt was not terrible offensively in their 56-51 loss to Notre Dame. When there are only 48 possessions in the game, 51 points actually isn’t too bad. The issue is on the defensive end of the floor. The Panthers were absolutely shredded by Ben Hansbrough coming off of a high ball screen. Their help side defense was terrible, as were their defensive rotations, and it resulted in layups and wide opens threes. That said, Pitt was playing much better on the defensive end. Chalk this one up to a great performance by the Irish?

2. Connecticut (15-2, 4-2) (3)

Last Week: 1/17 vs. Villanova 61-59, 1/22 vs. Tennessee

Next Week: 1/25 @ Marquette, 1/29 vs. Louisville

See the above “Team of the Week” feature to see why UConn keeps winning despite the regression of Kemba Walker.

3. Villanova (17-3, 5-2) (4)

Last Week: 1/17 @ UConn 59-61, 1/22 @ Syracuse 83-72

Next Week: 1/26 @ Providence, 1/29 vs. Georgetown

When you split road games at UConn and Syracuse, you have to consider the week a win. It finally seems as if the Wildcats’ three backcourt stars are all clicking. Corey Fisher had 28 points against UConn; Maalik Wayns led the way against Syracuse, scoring 17 of his 21 points in the first half and finding (albeit briefly) his stroke from deep. Corey Stokes found his stroke as well after slumping for the past ten days or so. The most underrated aspect of this team, however, is Antonio Pena. He’s always been a tough defender and rebounder, but now he is knocking down jumpers as well.

4. Syracuse (18-2, 5-2) (2)

Last Week: 1/17 @ Pitt 66-74, 1/22 vs. Villanova 72-83

Next Week: 1/25 vs. Seton Hall, 1/29 @ Marquette

The Orange have now lost two games in a row after starting the season off with 18 straight wins, and both teams did it by slicing up the Syracuse zone. Well, Pitt sliced up their zone, Villanova simply bombed away from deep and hung on late. Should Orange fans be concerned? Not in the least. There is no shame in losing at Pitt without Kris Joseph (though Notre Dame may disagree) or at home to Villanova when their backcourt players get it going. Speaking of Joseph, he had 23 points against Villanova in his return from a concussion. Another item of note – Scoop Jardine is now 8-30 from the floor in his last three games.

5. Notre Dame (15-4, 6-3) (9)

Last Week: 1/19 vs. Cincinnati 66-58, 1/22 vs. Marquette 80-75, 1/24 vs. Notre Dame 56-51

Next Week: None

See above.

6. Louisville (15-4, 4-2) (5)

Last Week: 1/19 vs. St. John’s 88-63, 1/22 @ Providence 67-72

Next Week: 1/26 vs. West Virginia, 1/29 @ UConn

Just three days after smoking St. John’s and playing one of their most complete games of the season, the Cardinals went into Providence and lost to the fired up Friars. Marshon Brooks had 20 of his 27 points in the second half as Louisville ended up shooting just 4-23 from three. I’ve said it since day one with this team — they are going to win games they shouldn’t win and lose games they shouldn’t lose. Live by the three…

7. Marquette (13-7, 4-3) (7)

Last Week: 1/18 vs. DePaul , 1/22 @ Notre Dame 75-80

Next Week: 1/25 vs. UConn, 1/29 vs. Syracuse

Another game, another tough loss for the Golden Eagles. With the way this team has competed against some very tough competition, it is difficult to believe that they are not good enough to be in the NCAA Tournament. Now they just have to prove it. With home games against UConn and Syracuse on tap this week, now is as good of a time as any to start.

8. West Virginia (13-5, 4-2) (6)

Last Week: 1/19 vs. Marshall 71-75, 1/23 vs. South Florida 56-46

Next Week: 1/26 @ Louisville, 1/29 @ Cincinnati

Since I named West Virginia the team of the week when they knocked off Purdue, the ‘Eers have proceeded to lose to Marshall after being down by 24 points, have a player (Dan Jennings) get kicked off the team for leaving the bench during the South Florida game, and saw their leading scorer (Casey Mitchell) suspended indefinitely for the second time this year.

9. Georgetown (13-5, 3-4) (10)

Last Week: 1/18 @ Seton Hall 80-75

Next Week: 1/26 vs. St. John’s, 1/29 @ Villanova

The Hoyas picked up a nice little come-from-behind win against Seton Hall on the road. The bad news is that while Austin Freeman looks like he’s back in his groove shooting from three, the Hoyas still did not play all that well. Georgetown has a chance to avenge a loss to St. John’s on Wednesday at the Verizon Center before heading to Philly for a showdown with Villanova. Of note: Julian Vaughn was seen walking about campus in a boot this week, although reports are that it was precautionary.

10. Cincinnati (17-3, 4-3) (11)

Last Week: 1/19 @ Notre Dame 58-66, 1/22 @ St. John’s 53-51

Next Week: 1/26 vs. Rutgers, 1/29 1/29 vs. West Virginia

The Bearcats got a must-win game on the road against the Johnnies on Saturday thanks to a Yancy Gates three-point play with eight seconds left. If Cincy really wants a shot at making the dance, they are going to have to put themselves into good position heading into the end of February. Five of their last seven games come against ranked opponents with Marquette in that mix as well.

11. St. John’s (11-7, 4-4) (8)

Last Week: 1/19 @ Louisville 63-88, 1/22 vs. Cincinnati 51-53

Next Week: 1/26 @ Georgetown, 1/30 vs. Duke

Not only did St. John’s get embarrassed on the road by Louisville, they lost an important game at home to Cincinnati when they couldn’t hit their free throws late. With Georgetown and Duke coming up this week, the Johnnies seem to be running out of chances.

12. Rutgers (12-7, 3-4) (13)

Last Week: 1/20 vs. South Florida 71-62, 1/22 @ Seton Hall 66-60

Next Week: 1/26 @ Cincinnati, 1/29 vs. Pitt

This group plays hard, they just don’t have the talent in the program to beat the big boys yet. That said, Mike Rice is doing a good job with this group. Don’t be surprised if he builds a tournament-worthy team in the next two to three years.

13. Providence (12-8, 1-6) (15)

Last Week: 1/22 vs. Louisville 72-67

Next Week: 1/26 vs. Villanova, 1/30 @ Seton Hall

The Friars picked up a nice win at Louisville. Its really a shame that no one gets to see Marshon Brooks play, because he’s the real deal.

14. Seton Hall (8-12, 2-6) (12)

Last Week: 1/18 vs. Georgetown 75-80, 1/22 vs. Rutgers 60-66

Next Week: 1/25 @ Syracuse, 1/30 vs. Providence

This season has been an absolute disaster. The Pirates lost two more tough ones this week. I really do feel for those guys. They have been through a lot, with Bobby Gonzalez’s firing, Robert Mitchell‘s arrest, Herb Pope‘s heart problems, and Jeremy Hazell‘s wrist injury and shooting.

15. South Florida (7-14, 1-7) (14)

Last Week: 1/20 Rutgers 62-71, 1/23 @ West Virginia 46-56

Next Week: 1/27 vs. DePaul

If you don’t have anything nice to say…

16. DePaul (6-13, 0-7) (16)

Last Week: 1/18 @ Marquette 64-94, 1/22 vs. Pitt 50-80

Next Week: 1/27 @ South Florida

Looks like we’re headed for a showdown on the 27th…

A Look Ahead

Louisville takes on UConn and Georgetown heads to Villanova on Saturday, both at noon, but beyond that, it’s a rare quiet week in the Big East in terms of marquee matchups.

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Set Your Tivo: 01.21-01.23

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 21st, 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.

Almost all of the action is on Saturday but what a day it will be. A couple of huge games start us off right away at noon but the rest of the day will not disappoint. It’s very unfortunate but #21 St. Mary’s @ #23 Vanderbilt is not on television and neither is Belmont at East Tennessee State on Sunday, a battle for first in the Atlantic Sun. You obviously won’t be able to watch those games unless you’re attending but definitely check and see how they play out. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#1 Ohio State @ #18 Illinois – 12 pm Saturday on CBS (****)

Sylvester and the Buckeyes Had the Last Laugh When Illinois Was #1 in 2005

It should be a crazy environment in Champaign on Saturday when the #1 team in the land pays a visit. Illinois is having a good year but probably not as good as some of the more optimistic Illini fans would have hoped. That can change in a big way with a marquee win over the Buckeyes. You’ll recall what happened almost six years ago in Columbus. Illinois was #1 at 29-0 on the last day of the regular season and lost on a Matt Sylvester three with five seconds to play as the unranked Buckeyes knocked off the eventual national runner up. By the way: Gus Johnson was working that one in 2005 and he’ll be in Champaign on Saturday if you even needed another reason to tune in.

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Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 18th, 2011

Rob Dauster of Ballin is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East.

 

A Look Back

The Big East seems like it is beginning to break into three groups at the top. You have the contenders at the top in Pitt and Syracuse, then you have a second tier of Villanova and UConn.

Beyond that, you may as well start flipping a coin.

Right now, Louisville and West Virginia look to be the best of the rest. This comes a week after Notre Dame and Georgetown looked like they were the best of the rest. Marquette is good enough to beat anyone in the league, but they haven’t been closing games. Cincinnati is still a bit of an unknown, as they have lost to Syracuse and Villanova on the road, but have taken care of everyone else they have played in conference play. St. John’s is another enigma, as seen by a 20-point loss and a 20-point win versus Notre Dame in the span of a week.

The craziest part? Every single one of those 11 teams I just mentioned has a real shot of earning an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. There is no way that happens — there is too much parity in the league and these teams are going to be beating up on each other for another month and a half — but depending on how the rest of conference play turns out, I can realistically see nine teams earning themselves a bid.

That is, of course, assuming teams like Georgetown and Notre Dame figure out how to turn their season around and Cincinnati and St. John’s turn out to be for real. If those teams end up being the worst case scenario, I can also see a situation arising where only six or seven teams earn a bid.

The only thing I am sure of?

This league is going to be a fun one to follow for the next two months.

Player of the WeekPreston Knowles, Louisville: Rick Pitino has said it time and again — this Cardinals team doesn’t have a star. They don’t have a go to player. And as easy as that is to believe, Knowles is certainly close to becoming ‘the man’ for this team. In three games since we last did a Big East check-in, Knowles averaged 17.7 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 3.3 APG, and 2.3 SPG, all while hitting 11 of 24 from three. Knowles’ best statistical performance came in Louisville’s loss at Villanova on Wednesday, but he was the catalyst for their impressive comeback against Marquette. He scored 15 points in the second half, including four threes and two assists in the final 5:45 as Louisville overcame an 18-point deficit to win. He had the game winning assist with four seconds left, finding Kyle Kuric for a layup. Knowles’ transformation from a defensive specialist to an offensive star has been an impressive one to watch.

Team of the WeekWest Virginia: All of a sudden, the Mountaineers look like a team capable of making a run at the top four in the league. Kevin Jones had a slow start to the season, but he’s come on strong of late, averaging 17.0 points and 10.0 rebounds per game — with 18 offensive boards — in the last three games. John Flowers is one of the best glue guys and arguably the best defender in the league. Casey Mitchell is always a threat to go for 25 points. If defenses key on him, Truck BryantDenis Kilicli, and Joe Mazzulla all have shown the ability to be double figure scorers. They have role players, they can defend, and when they are hustling and playing the blue collar game that Bobby Huggins loves, this team is dangerous. Ask Georgetown and Purdue, as both took a loss to WVU this week.

Power Rankings (overall and conference records, and last week’s ranking in parentheses)

1. Pittsburgh (18-1, 6-0) (2)

Last Week: 1/8 vs. Marquette 89-81, 1/12 @ Georgetown 72-57, 1/15 vs. Seton Hall 74-53, 1/17 vs. Syracuse 74-66

Next Week: 1/22 @ DePaul, 1/24 vs. Notre Dame

Efficiency is the name of the game for this Pitt team offensively. They may be the best team in the country when it comes to executing offensively. They always seem to get the shot that they want, whether it is a post touch for Gary McGhee or a three for Ashton Gibbs coming off of a screen. If they miss, 45.6% of the time they get the offensive rebound. They also don’t turn the ball over in the half court, meaning that they maximize their possessions offensively as well as anyone. They’ve been knocked on the defensive end of the floor, but the last three games have looked much better. If there is an Achilles heel, it is that they struggle against pressure. Providence nearly beat them by forcing turnovers with a press while Syracuse and Georgetown got the Panthers to turn the ball over late using a press.

2. Syracuse (18-1, 5-1) (1)

Last Week: 1/8 @ Seton Hall 61-56, 1/12 @ St. John’s 76-59, 1/15 vs. Cincinnati 67-52, 1/17 @ Pitt 66-74

Next Week: 1/22 vs. Villanova

The Orange suffered their first loss of the season Monday night, but take it with a grain of salt. The loss came at Pitt when the Orange were missing Kris Joseph, and they were nearly able to overcome a 19-0 start by the Panthers. The Orange look like the best team in the conference on the defensive end of the floor, and the numbers back it up. The question all season long has been on the offensive end, but with Joseph’s recent scoring surge and the emergence of James Southerland as a spot-up shooter at the three/four spot, that may be less of an issue. The Orange aren’t getting a lot of pub right now, but this team is for real.

3. Connecticut (15-2, 4-2) (6)

Last Week: 1/8 @ Texas 82-81 OT, 1/11 vs. Rutgers 67-53, 1/15 @ DePaul 82-62, 1/17 vs. Villanova 61-59

Next Week: 1/22 vs. Tennessee

All of a sudden, UConn has a supporting cast. Alex Oriakhi has been fantastic the past four games, averaging 13.3 points and 12.5 rebounds per game while showing off some nice post moves. Jeremy Lamb has been playing very well on both ends of the floor. Shabazz Napier and Roscoe Smith both have shown the ability to be second and third scoring options this season. Kemba Walker‘s efficiency numbers have been dropping as defenses focus on him, but his teammates have shown an increasing confidence to take and make big shots when they are left open. As UConn continues to improve defensively — forcing turnovers and clearing the defensive glass — they are only going to get better as a team.

4. Villanova (16-2, 4-1) (3)

Last Week: 1/9 vs. Cincinnati 72-61, 1/12 vs. Louisville 88-74, 1/15 vs. Maryland 74-66, 1/17 @ UConn 59-61

Next Week: 1/22 @ Syracuse

Villanova’s first loss in conference play came on a Kemba Walker buzzer beater in Gampel without Dominic Cheek. It also came on a night when Corey Fisher looked like Mr. 105 while the rest of his teammates struggled to get anything going offensively. I like what his team can do defensively, but I still have concerns on the offensive end of the floor. Maalik Wayns is talented, but he is inconsistent and needs to learn how to run a team and not just be a dribbler. Fisher has been up and down, although he looked terrific against UConn. The key may be Mouphtaou Yarou. If he can get better scoring on the block, the emergence of Antonio Pena‘s jump shot will give him a lot of opportunities down low with space.

5. Louisville (14-3, 3-1) (7)

Last Week: 1/9 @ South Florida 86-77, 1/12 @ Villanova 74-88, 1/15 vs. Marquette 71-70

Next Week: 1/19 vs. St. John’s, 1/22 @ Providence

See the “Player of the Week” feature above to see why Rick Pitino has Preston Knowles and the Cardinals rolling.

6. West Virginia (12-4, 3-2) (11)

Last Week: 1/8 @ Georgetown 65-59, 1/13 vs. Providence 93-63, 1/16 vs. Purdue 68-64

Next Week: 1/19 vs. Marshall, 1/23 vs. South Florida

See the “Team of the Week” feature above for my thoughts on the Mountaineers.

7. Marquette (12-6, 3-2) (10)

Last Week: 1/8 @ Pitt 81-89, 1/10 vs. Notre Dame 79-57, 1/15 @ Louisville 70-71

Next Week: 1/18 vs. DePaul, 1/22 @ Notre Dame

Marquette still hasn’t been able to figure out how to win the close games this season. The talent is clearly there — it wasn’t a fluke that they were up by 18 in Louisville – but the ability to finish games isn’t quite there yet. The perfect example — Marquette was up 70-69 against Louisville with less than 30 seconds left when they broke the Cardinals’ press. Instead of pulling the ball out, Dwight Buycks attacked Terrence Jennings and had his shot blocked. At the other end, the Golden Eagles lost track of Kyle Kuric on a dribble handoff, and it resulted in a wide open layup for the win.

8. St. John’s (11-5, 4-2) (9)

Last Week: 1/8 @ Notre Dame 61-76, 1/12 vs. Syracuse 59-76, 1/16 vs. Notre Dame 72-54

Next Week: 1/19 @ Louisville, 1/22 vs. Cincinnati

I still can’t figure this team out. I thought I had them pegged — a fraud — after they were blown out by both Syracuse and Notre Dame, but then the Johnnies went and beat the Irish by 18 in a rematch on Sunday. They can defend, they are physical, and they have a couple of players that are dangerous when they get it going, but I’m not completely sold yet. Win at Louisville on Wednesday, and we’ll talk.

9. Notre Dame (14-4, 3-3) (4)

Last Week: 1/8 vs. St. John’s 76-61, 1/10 @ Marquette 57-79, 1/16 @ St. John’s 54-72

Next Week: 1/19 vs. Cincinnati, 1/22 vs. Marquette

There are two different Notre Dame teams — the one that plays at home and the one that plays on the road. The Irish have four losses on the season — by 14 at Kentucky, by 12 at Syracuse, by 22 at Marquette, and by 18 at St. John’s. I love the roster makeup of this group. The mental makeup is a different story.

10. Georgetown (13-5, 2-4) (5)

Last Week: 1/8 vs. West Virginia 59-65, 1/12 vs. Pitt 57-72, 1/15 @ Rutgers 74-65

Next Week: 1/18 @ Seton Hall

I’ve written off the Hoyas … for now. I’ve seen this happen too many times. It feels like a rerun of the 2009 campaign, when Georgetown jumped all the way to eighth in the country after a win at UConn to kick off Big East play before collapsing and getting bounced in the first round of the NIT. They are a small team up front and they aren’t a great defensive team, but they haven’t been good enough on the offensive end to make up for it.

11. Cincinnati (16-2, 3-2) (8)

Last Week: 1/9 @ Villanova 61-72, 1/12 vs. South Florida 74-66, 1/15 @ Syracuse 52-67

Next Week: 1/19 @ Notre Dame, 1/22 @ St. John’s

My opinion of the Bearcats hasn’t changed. I like the pieces they have, but I am not sure if they are good enough to make the tournament. Yancy Gates is inconsistent and their perimeter has had a tough time against good teams. They have two winnable road games against fellow tourney contenders this week. Win one and make a statement.

12. Seton Hall (8-10, 2-4) (13)

Last Week: 1/8 vs. Syracuse 56-61, 1/12 @ DePaul 78-67, 1/15 @ Pitt 53-74

Next Week: 1/18 vs. Georgetown, 1/22 vs. Rutgers

The best story of the week belonged to Jeremy Hazell, who made a return from a broken wrist that required surgery and a gunshot wound to score 23 points against DePaul. I’m hoping that he can be the spark that the Pirates need to salvage their season.

13. Rutgers (10-7, 1-4) (14)

Last Week: 1/8 vs. Providence 85-72, 1/11 @ UConn 53-67, 1/15 vs. Georgetown 65-74

Next Week: 1/20 vs. South Florida, 1/22 @ Seton Hall

This group plays hard, they just don’t have the talent in the program to beat the big boys yet.

14. South Florida (7-12, 1-5) (16)

Last Week: 1/9 vs. Louisville 77-86, 1/12 @ Cincinnati 66-74, 1/16 vs. Providence 79-72

Next Week: 1/20 Rutgers, 1/23 @ West Virginia

15. Providence (11-8, 0-6) (12)

Last Week: 1/8 @ Rutgers 72-85, 1/13 @ West Virginia 63-93, 1/16 @ South Florida 72-79

Next Week: 1/22 vs. Louisville

16. DePaul (6-11, 0-5) (15)

Last Week: 1/12 vs. Seton Hall 67-78, 1/15 vs. UConn 62-82

Next Week: 1/18 @ Marquette, 1/22 vs. Pitt

I’d say there is a 25% chance that none of these three teams gets a win against any of the top 13 teams in the Big East. Who else is happy that TCU is joining the mix in 2012?

A Look Ahead

The big day for the Big East this week looks to be Wednesday, when St. John’s and Cincinnati get their cracks at Louisville and Notre Dame, respectively, on the road. Both teams need a win. Not just for their resume, but to make a statement. The way to earn respect in this league is by winning on the road against good teams. On Saturday, make sure you’re up early as Syracuse and Villanova tip at noon.

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The Week That Was: Jan. 11-Jan. 17

Posted by jstevrtc on January 18th, 2011

David Ely is an RTC Contributor

Only three undefeated teams are left in the nation after Duke and Syracuse suffered their first losses of the season within the past week. Who will be the next team to go down? Ohio State travels to Illinois on Saturday and Kansas hosts Texas. TWTW wouldn’t be shocked if San Diego State is the only unbeaten team remaining in this space next week.

What We Learned

Kemba Walker Is The Governor: He Always Saves You At the Last Moment (J. Woike/Hartford Courant)

When ESPN uses its full arsenal, it can put on a great day of college basketball. Monday (in honor of MLK Day) ESPN had a 24 Hours of Hoops Lite. They gave us four great games, three of which pitted two teams in the top 25 against each other, while the other featured a nice matchup in Kansas-Baylor.

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It’s a Love/Hate Relationship: Volume VII

Posted by jbaumgartner on January 18th, 2011

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC contributor.  In this piece he’ll spend each week reviewing the five things he loved and hated about the previous week of college basketball. This week, Jesse gives props to the Hopson coiffure and reveals his man crush on Jay Wright — then alienates the entire city of Pittsburgh. We’re sorry…ya Yinzers.

The Five Things I Loved This Week

I LOVED…..listening to a Pac-10 nail-biter – that’s right, listening – on a radio this week since the game wasn’t televised. Everything in today’s media market is so visual and video-based, and you can get almost any game on the tube with the right cable package. But there was something very appealing about trying to picture exactly what was happening on the court with 2.5 seconds left using just a single voice and the crowd noise during the Washington vs Stanford game. I’d argue it even upped the drama.

I LOVED…..how I found myself wondering just how in the world Villanova coach Jay Wright always has short, athletic guards every year who can do it all. Every. Freaking. Year. Corey Fisher, Scottie Reynolds, Randy Foye, Allan Ray, and so on. While I always have to pick against ‘Nova in the tourney because I think they’ll run into someone too big, you have to appreciate the fearless perimeter play that Wright gets from his small guys.

Fisher Is Yet Another Product of the Jay Wright Short Athletic Guard Factory

I LOVED…..Scotty Hopson’s Scottie Pippen haircut. So classic. When you have by far the best name ever for a basketball player, it’s important that you back it up with the best basketball haircut of all time – the unbeatable fade. Props to you Scotty, you’re doing Pippen and Will Smith proud with the ‘do.

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ATB: Kemba Is For Closers

Posted by rtmsf on January 18th, 2011

Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man’s sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true.  — MLK, 1963

The Lede.  We hope everyone had a brilliant MLK Day Weekend.  We know that you had a great MLK Day with the great hoops on all afternoon, culminating in two top ten matchups between Big East teams (aren’t all 16 Big East teams in the top ten?).  Hopefully you were off work to enjoy it, but if you weren’t, let’s get you caught up.

Walker is Big Time in the Clutch (H-C/J. Woike)

Your Watercooler MomentKemba Is For Closers. We still don’t really believe that UConn is a legitimate Final Four contender (which you are, by definition, as a top ten team), but we will say this without reservation.  If UConn can keep itself within reach at the five-minute point of the game, they are capable of beating anybody and have the best closer in college basketball.  You can have Jared Sullinger, Jimmer Fredette, Nolan Smith or whoever else you want — we’ll take Kemba.  His ability to use the dribble to create space for himself and get off clean and makeable looks sets him apart from all of the others, and essentially gives Jim Calhoun an x-factor that no other team can counter.  Witness Jay Wright’s comments after the game — Villanova knew Walker was going to get the ball for the final shot, sent two men at him, so he simply split them anyway en route to hitting a ridiculously tough game-winning floater in the lane with two seconds left. Walker didn’t even enjoy the biggest game (that belonged to Corey Fisher and his 28 points and six assists), nor did he look dominant as he bricked his way to a 6-18 shooting afternoon, but when the outcome is on the line he’s proven again and again that he’s up to the task.  We said this repeatedly back in Maui two months ago, but it’s worth noting that as talented as Walker is and has performed this season, the success of the Huskies will ultimately depend on the support he receives.  Alex Oriakhi has played like a man possessed in the four games since his donut performance against Notre Dame, averaging 14/13 and providing great interior defense so that his team will be in the game until the end for Walker to do his magic.  So long as he plays at a similar level, Jim Calhoun will continue to snicker at all of his naysayers, and deservedly so.

Pitt's Retro Media Guide Cover (h/t Luke Winn)

Your Watercooler Moment, Pt. TwoSyracuse Drops From the Unbeatens. It was expected once Syracuse declared that starting forward and leading scorer Kris Joseph would be held out of tonight’s game against Pittsburgh due to a nasty knock on the head he suffered on Saturday, but the way in which it happened was still surprising.  For a while, it appeared that Jim Boeheim’s team must have left their entire offense back home as Syracuse’s defense faltered early, allowing Pittsburgh to run out to a quick 19-0 lead in front of a raucous crowd at the Peterson Events Center.  Then, just as quickly as they got down, Cuse battled back with a 17-0 run of its own.  We’re not sure we’ve ever seen a game start like that before, but nevertheless, it portended what would become a close game the rest of the way.  The difference was that Pittsburgh was simply better — they said they’d been practicing for a few days against a zone, and it showed in their execution (1.08 PPP was the third-best performance against the zone this year).  Time and time again the Panthers moved the ball inside-out to find the open shooter on the perimeter or found success pounding the ball down low to Nasir Robinson (21/7).  With the win, Pitt moves to the top of the line in the Big East with a flawless 6-0 record.  With upcoming games vs. DePaul, Notre Dame, Rutgers and Cincinnati in the next four, the Panthers look very good for heading into mid-February with a 10-0 conference record.

Tonight’s Quick Hits

  • The Ginormous MLK Monday.  All four of today’s games were great matchups on paper and we hope that ESPN keeps this up in future seasons.  There’s just something always a little cool about daytime basketball on a weekday — a little like you’re getting away with something by watching it.  The two Big East games ended up better than the Big 12 games, but we loved every bit of it.
  • The Morris Twins.  It’s like these two boys connected by genes suddenly decided to become grown men in the last two weeks.  After tonight’s combined 44/14, Marcus is averaging 24/13 in the last four games while brother Markieff is contributing 14/10 during the same period.  With point guard Josh Selby still struggling to adjust to the world of elite college basketball, it’s been the Morris twins who have pulled the Jayhawks through a series of recent close games against Michigan, Iowa State and Nebraska.  This buys Bill Self some time while his young but talented quarterback continues to develop over the next six weeks prior to March.
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Set Your Tivo: 01.17.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 17th, 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.

The first official ESPN Big Monday of the season tips off with two top ten clashes in the Big East and a couple of nice matchups from the Big 12. Park yourself on the couch from 3:30 until about 11:30 and you’ll be just fine. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#7 Villanova @ #9 Connecticut – 3:30 pm on ESPN (*****)

Jay Wright's Name Belongs in Any Conversation About Elite Active College Coaches

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Set Your Tivo: 01.12.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 12th, 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.

We’re going to mix it up today with this feature. With so many good games tonight (one of the best nights of the season thus far) here are some quick hitters on 10 important games you should be following this evening, including the top five teams in the land all playing on the road. Additionally, key conference battles are on tap throughout the night. Enjoy it, folks. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#2 Ohio State @ Michigan – 6:30 pm on Big Ten Network (***)

The Wolverines nearly knocked off Kansas on Sunday and they’ll get another crack at a top three team tonight when their rivals visit Ann Arbor. Michigan has to shoot the three well to win but that’ll be difficult against an Ohio State defense ranked in the top five in efficiency. Though Darius Morris (15.0 PPG, 7.0 APG) will try his best, Ohio State has too much talent and offensive firepower for Michigan to handle. Michigan needs their best defensive effort of the year combined with an off night for the Buckeyes in order to have a chance. John Beliein can rotate plenty of bodies on Jared Sullinger but that may be a futile effort against the uber-talented big man.

Sullinger, Lighty, and Co. Have Bucknuts Already Looking Forward to March (and April)

#5 Pittsburgh @ #19 Georgetown – 7 pm on ESPN (****)

The Hoyas are in serious danger of dropping to 1-4 in conference play as Pitt comes to DC. Georgetown hasn’t shot the ball well recently and has lost three of four as a result. The inconsistent play of point guard Chris Wright can certainly be blamed, but take a deeper look at the numbers. Georgetown’s defense is rated #61 in efficiency; not terrible, but it’s the lowest-rated Hoyas defense in six years (#66 in the ’04-’05 season). The Hoyas have given up 66.6 PPG, not a good number when your adjusted tempo is only 66.5 possessions and rated #228 in the country, indicating a slower pace. Georgetown’s dynamic guard trio has certainly struggled, a key reason why they’ve lost three of four, but the defense has also played a part and must get better. It’ll be put to the test against a Pitt offense rated the best in the land. The Panthers can punish you inside and out as well as on the glass. Yours truly has maintained for a while that this Pitt team is the best interior passing group in America and I see no reason to back off that statement. What Jamie Dixon has built in Pittsburgh year after year is quite remarkable but this may be his best offensive squad ever. The Panthers have played just one true road game all year (at Providence) but they’re experienced and so well-coached that it doesn’t figure to affect them all that much. Expect a desperate Georgetown team to come out ready to play, but we’ll take the Panthers here in a close one.

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Set Your Tivo: 01.07-01.09

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 7th, 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.

The first big hoops weekend of 2011 features many important games across the land. Here are five key games followed by a host of others. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

Cleveland State @ Butler – 7 pm Friday on ESPNU (****)

With Butler’s loss at Milwaukee on Monday, folks in the Horizon League used to the Bulldogs’ dominance are excited that this may be the year someone else takes the title. Cleveland State leads the league by a game over Detroit and Wright State while holding a one and a half game lead over Butler heading into tonight’s game. Should the Vikings win on the road tonight and plow through the rest of their Horizon schedule, expect to see Cleveland State win the league. Obviously we’re a long way off from that but CSU is currently in a nice position. Butler’s problems have been on the defensive end. The Bulldogs have given up an average of 73.6 PPG in their losses while their defensive efficiency has dropped significantly from their top five ranking of a year ago.

The Bulldogs Need Mack Back On Track Tonight, And From Now On

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RTC Live: Temple @ Villanova

Posted by rtmsf on December 30th, 2010

Game #83.  RTC Live heads to the City of Brotherly Love for one of the best rivalries in all of college basketball.

The battle for Philadelphia bragging rights is on the line when Temple invades the Pavilion to take on Villanova tonight at 7 p.m. The two squads, which have combined to win or share every Big 5 title since Jameer Nelson and St. Joe’s won it in 2003-04, are far and away the cream of the city crop once again. The eighth-ranked Wildcats, led by high-scoring guards Corey Stokes (15.7 ppg) and Corey Fisher (15.5 ppg), can wrap up the Big 5 title tonight as they’ve already beaten Penn, La Salle, and St. Joe’s. This will be Temple’s first Big 5 game of the season but the No. 25 Owls are riding a six-game winning streak and are coming off a Big 5 crown of their own. Last year, Fran Dunphy’s Owls stunned then-No. 3 Villanova, 75-65, on their way to a perfect 4-0 city record. The winner of this year’s game will almost certainly win the quirky Philadelphia round-robin tournament — and also charge into the new year as perhaps the best team in their respective conference.

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