Villanova: The Season Is Lost, But Hope Is On The Horizon

Posted by mlemaire on February 27th, 2012

Coaches often explain their team’s struggles by saying his group is “still learning to play together” all the time. And Villanova coach Jay Wright used the team’s furious comeback win over lowly Providence on February 7 as a chance to dust off the age-old coaching platitude once more. The only problem is that the season is almost over proving the Wildcats have had a more gradual learning curve than most.

Since that win over the Friars, the Wildcats have lost all four games they have played including games against Notre Dame and Connecticut in which they had a 20-point and 18-point lead respectively. Just three seasons removed from a Final Four appearance, the Wildcats now sit at 4-12 in the conference and have almost no shot at playing any postseason basketball, let alone games in the NCAA Tournament.

After Turning Villanova Into An Elite Program, Things Have Not Gone Well For Jay Wright This Season

Needless to say it has been a trying season for Wright, his team, and Wildcat fans who had grown accustomed to annual NCAA Tournament berths and the occasional Elite Eight appearance. The Wildcats were expected to struggle when they lost Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes, and Antonio Pena off last year’s squad, but Wright seemed to have amassed enough talent to make sure the decline wouldn’t be all that steep. Unfortunately, the Wildcats would miss that trio more than anyone could have imagined.

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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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Set Your Tivo: 02.28.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 28th, 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.

Can you believe March begins tomorrow? This is the final week of the regular season and a lot of mid-major conference tournaments begin over the next few days, as well. Tonight we kick the week off with three NCAA definites and a fourth likely headed for the Big Dance. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

#14 Villanova @ #9 Notre Dame – 7 pm on ESPN (****)

A Few Weeks Ago, Wright's Squad Looked Focused and Sharp, But It Appears Lately As If a Certain Ennui Has Arisen

The Wildcats are limping toward the finish line yet again, losers in four of their last six games, including two straight home defeats this past week. Villanova is actually a very solid 7-3 on the road but they’ll have to turn things around quickly in order to win at Purcell Pavilion, a place where Notre Dame is 16-0 this season.

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Set Your Tivo: 02.26-02.27

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 25th, 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 are now only about two weeks away from Selection Sunday. Teams are locking up bids and others are hurting their chances down the stretch. It’s another big weekend in the college hoops world, headlined by a top ten battle in the Mountain West. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

#20 Syracuse @ #11 Georgetown – 12 pm Saturday on CBS (****)

Coach Thompson and the Hoyas Will Likely Be Without Their Most Important Player on Saturday

The Orange will look to avenge another home defeat by winning on the road, this time in Washington, D.C. Here’s a quirky fact for you: Syracuse has lost to all three of its repeat opponents (Georgetown, Villanova and Seton Hall) at the Carrier Dome but a win on Saturday would give them wins in the home buildings of all three teams. That has become more likely in this one, after Chris Wright broke his hand in Wednesday’s loss to Cincinnati. As a talented senior point guard, Wright is Georgetown’s most indispensible player. He doesn’t wow you with his shooting but he passes the ball well and does an excellent job of running John Thompson III’s complex offensive sets.

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Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 22nd, 2011

Rob Dauster of Ballin’ Is A Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East conference.

A Look Back

Player of the Week: Dwight Hardy, St. John’s: For the second consecutive week, Hardy is winning our Big East player of the week award. It’s well deserved; the senior guard is making an impressive push for the Big East player of the year. He had 28 points, six boards, and five steals in a win at Marquette, and followed that up with 19 points, including the game winning basket, in St. John’s Saturday upset of Pitt. On the season, Hardy is averaging 17.2 PPG, but over his last seven games — in which the Johnnies have gone 6-1 and thrust themselves right back into the race for a top four seed in the Big East tournament — Hardy has averaged 24.4 PPG.

Team of the Week: West Virginia Mountaineers: The Mountaineers probably weren’t in serious danger of missing the NCAA Tournament, but they took a major step toward locking up a bid on Saturday with their win over Notre Dame. West Virginia is a tough team to peg right now, as their best players tend to be fairly inconsistent. You never know which Casey Mitchell or which Truck Bryant is going to show up, and Kevin Jones hasn’t quite developed into the star that most thought he would turn into this year. Joe Mazzulla has never been a serious offensive threat. John Flowers gets himself into too much foul trouble. When they are playing well, this is a team that has the potential to make a run in March. They also are a team with the potential to get knocked off in the first round of both the Big East Tournament and the NCAA Tournament.

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

1. Pittsburgh (24-3, 12-2) (1)
Last Week: 2/16 vs. South Florida 67-55, 2/19 @ St. John’s 59-60
This Week: 2/24 vs. West Virginia, 2/27 @ Louisville

Pitt may have been dropped in the national rankings this week, but that doesn’t mean that barring a collapse, the Panthers won’t be in line for a one-seed come Selection Sunday. The question right now is whether or not this team is built for March. The answer is … maybe? This isn’t a team loaded with future lottery picks. They don’t have a superstar. They don’t have the same kind of ceiling as one of the other potential one-seeds. Pitt cannot power their way through any tournament draw based on talent alone. That said, this season there aren’t many teams that match up that well with them. Maybe someone like a San Diego State or a Wisconsin. Keep an eye on the game against Louisville. The Panthers struggle against pressure at times. Louisville loves to press.

2. Notre Dame (21-5, 10-4) (2)
Last Week: 2/19 @ West Virginia 58-72
This Week: 2/23 @ Providence, 2/26 vs. Seton Hall

All five of Notre Dame’s losses have come on the road, and all five of them have been by double digits. They did beat Pitt on the road, but that is as much a fluke as anything, as Mike Brey has discovered the secret to beating the Panthers with the ‘Burn Offense’ (hence the Wisconsin mention above). I like this team. I like their offensive versatility. I love Ben Hansbrough. But their inability to perform on the road puts a major question mark on how well they are going to be able to do in the NCAA Tournament.

3. Georgetown (21-6, 10-5) (3)
Last Week: 2/16 @ UConn 70-78, 2/19 @ USF 61-55
This Week: 2/23 vs. Cincinnati, 2/26 vs. Syracuse

Winning on the road in Big East play is not an easy thing to do, which is why a close loss to UConn and a closer-than-expected win at South Florida shouldn’t be too disconcerting for Hoya fans. That said, with the spring swoons that John Thompson III‘s teams have been known to take, seeing this team struggle can only bring up bad memories. One thing that can be comforting for Hoya fans — this team is a lot deeper and more balanced than people think.

4. St. John’s (17-9, 9-5) (8)
Last Week: 2/15 @ Marquette 80-68, 2/19 vs. Pitt 60-59
This Week: 2/23 vs. DePaul, 2/26 @ Villanova

A short addendum to what I wrote above on Dwight Hardy — I am not completely sold on St. John’s yet. They are terrific in front of their home crowd, but I want to see a marquee win on the road. They can do that on Saturday at Villanova.

5. Louisville (20-7, 9-5) (5)
Last Week: 2/16 @ Cincinnati 54-63, 2/18 vs. UConn 71-58
This Week: 2/22 @ Rutgers, 2/27 vs. Pitt

Louisville seems to have a different guy step up every game. Last week, it was Kyle Kuric and Terrence Jennings. Before that, it was Peyton Siva and Preston Knowles. This week? How about Gorgui Dieng. The Senegalese freshman that has been banged up all season long had 13 points and 12 boards (six offensive) in the Cardinals’ win over UConn.

6. Syracuse (23-6, 10-6) (6)
Last Week: 2/19 vs. Rutgers 84-80 OT, 2/21 vs. Villanova 69-64
This Week: 2/26 @ Georgetown

Syracuse’s biggest issue right now is that they just don’t seem to be that intelligent of a team. They allow far too may open threes on the defensive end of the floor, take a lot of quick shots on the offensive end, and give away too any silly turnovers that lead to layups. The defensive issue is a team issue — communicating and locating shooters in a zone is not necessarily a singular responsibility. Offensively, Scoop Jardine is a honorable mention or third team all-Big East player that thinks he is a first team All-American while Kris Joseph has the talent to be an All-American but plays like he is a role player.

7. Connecticut (20-6, 9-6) (7)
Last Week: 2/16 vs. Georgetown 78-70, 2/18 @ Louisville 58-71
This Week: 2/24 vs. Marquette, 2/27 @ Cincinnati

Kemba Walker was terrific against Georgetown, playing his best game in over a month and reigniting talk of him being the national player of the year. He was horrible against Louisville, reminding us why he has been surpassed in the national consensus. How about this stat — outside of Alex Oriakhi and Jamal Coombs-McDaniel (who has been sensational the last two weeks), UConn was 6-30 from the floor for 29 points against Louisville. That includes Kemba.

8. Villanova (21-6, 9-6) (4)
Last Week: 2/15 @ Seton Hall 60-57, 2/19 vs. DePaul 77-75 OT, 2/21 vs. Syracuse 64-69
This Week: 2/26 vs. St. John’s, 2/28 @ Notre Dame

The good news for the Wildcats is that they got Corey Stokes back from the turf toe injury that had kept him out for three games. The bad news is that they looked just as lost offensively with him as they did without him. Against Syracuse, Villanova just had so much trouble executing, especially down the stretch. It didn’t help matters that Maalik Wayns was out with back spasms, but when Villanova is at full strength, he doesn’t start anymore. Jay Wright has some serious kinks he needs to work out with this team.

9. West Virginia (17-9, 8-6) (10)
Last Week: 2/19 vs. Notre Dame 72-58
This Week: 2/24 @ Pitt, 2/27 @ Rutgers

See the “Team of the Week” mention above.

10. Marquette (16-11, 7-7) (9)
Last Week: 2/15 vs. St. John’s 68-80, 2/19 vs. Seton Hall 73-64
This Week: 2/24 @ UConn, 2/27 vs. Providence

The February 24 game at UConn is the most important game of Marquette’s season. A road win against a top 25 team would be huge for their NCAA Tournament profile, which is as bubbly as it gets this season.

11. Cincinnati (21-6, 8-6) (11)
Last Week: 2/16 vs. Louisville 63-54, 2/19 @ Providence 93-81 OT
This Week: 2/23 @ Georgetown, 2/27 vs. UConn

Cincinnati’s last four games come against Georgetown (twice), Marquette, and UConn. The win over Louisville was very important for their tournament hopes, but if they are going to be dancing, they are going to have to play their way into the tournament. Given how week the Bearcats’ non-conference resume is, I would strongly suggest winning at least two of those games.

12. Rutgers (14-13, 4-10) (13)
Last Week: 2/19 @ Syracuse 80-84 OT
This Week: 2/22 vs. Louisville, 2/27 vs. West Virginia

The Scarlet Knights are not a team you want to play right now if you are a Big East team fighting for one of those top four spots in the Big East Tournament. They are scrappy, they play hard, they are brimming with confidence, and they are just talented enough to spring some upsets. I love this group.

13. Seton Hall (11-16, 5-10) (12)
Last Week: 2/15 vs. Villanova 67-70, 2/19 @ Marquette 64-73
This Week: 2/26 @ Notre Dame

Seton Hall just doesn’t have the horses to close out close games. It’s a shame. On paper, it looks like they do.

14. Providence (14-13, 3-11) (14)
Last Week: 2/17 vs. DePaul 76-79, 2/19 vs. Cincinnati 81-93 OT
This Week: 2/23 vs. Notre Dame, 2/27 @ Marquette

Providence looked like they had given up on the season after losing to DePaul and getting down by 16 to Cincy at home. Then they forced overtime in that game. Its a shame that Marshon Brooks can’t play on a better team.

15. South Florida (8-20, 2-13) (15)
Last Week: 2/16 @ Pitt 55-67, 2/19 vs. Georgetown 55-61
This Week: 2/26 @ DePaul

The Stan Heath‘s credit, he at least has this group competing. Jawanza Poland is going to be a serious player down the road.

16. DePaul (7-19, 1-13) (16)
Last Week: 2/17 @ Providence 79-76, 2/19 vs. Villanova 75-77 OT
This Week: 2/23 @ St. John’s, 2/26 vs. South Florida

Kudos must be given to the Blue Demons. Oliver Purnell has these kids playing hard despite having absolutely nothing but pride to play for. They also snapped a 24-game losing streak in Big East play.

A Look Ahead

There are a lot of very important games in the Big East this week. Marquette has a huge one at UConn. Cincy heads to Georgetown and then hosts UConn. Pitt plays Louisville and West Virginia. Syracuse heads to Georgetown in the league’s best rivalry. There is a lot to look forward to for the east coasters.

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Around The Blogosphere: February 22, 2011

Posted by nvr1983 on February 22nd, 2011

If you are interested in participating in our ATB2 feature, send in your submissions to rushthecourt@gmail.com. We will add to this post throughout the day as the submissions come in so keep on sending them.

Top 25 Games

  • #6 Kansas 92, Oklahoma State 55: “Kansas got some good news and some bad news headed into Monday nights game against Oklahoma State. Thomas Robinson would return to the court ahead of schedule, but the Jayhawks would be without the services of junior guard Tyshawn Taylor due to suspension. As for the performance on the court, Monday night was all good news for the Jayhawks as they cruised past an overmatched Oklahoma State Cowboy team.” (Rock Chalk Talk)

Pre-Game Analysis

  • Virginia Tech at Wake Forest: “The Magnificent Seven make their debut Tuesday as the Hokies try and pick up a road win in Winston-Salem against the lowly Deacs. This, plain and simple is a MUST WIN game. Must win to stay in the race for an ACC Tournament bye. Must win to keep NCAA Tournament hopes alive. Must win to keep Saturday meaningful as Gameday comes to the ‘Burg for the first time for hoops… oh, and Duke will be there, too.” (Tech Hoops)

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Set Your Tivo: 02.21.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 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.

With only two weeks left in the regular season, every game now becomes critical. Syracuse and Villanova battle it out tonight in Philly, trying to position themselves for a double-bye in the Big East Tournament. In Lawrence, a shorthanded Kansas team will look to keep rolling against Oklahoma State. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

#20 Syracuse @ #13 Villanova – 7 pm on ESPN (****)

The Orange Have To Limit How Many Slices They Allow Fisher To Make In That Zone

A Syracuse loss tonight would be their seventh in Big East play, likely knocking them out of contention for a double-bye at Madison Square Garden next month. If that happens, the Orange would still have to fight with a host of teams to avoid playing on Tuesday in the conference tournament. Villanova’s hopes would obviously be damaged with a loss as well, plus they have a tough remaining schedule. Whatever happens the rest of the way in the Big East, three teams with NCAA Tournament hopes will be playing on day one of the conference tournament and would have to win five games in five days to take the title. Read the rest of this entry »

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Morning Five: 02.16.11 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on February 16th, 2011

  1. Some injury information for your Wednesday morning.  Pitt’s Ashton Gibbs will be out until at least Saturday with his injured left MCL, even though he says he’s back to 100% as of yesterday.  St. John’s and Steve Lavin, Pitt’s weekend opponent, cannot be pleased with this news.  On the other end of the Commonwealth, Villanova’s Corey Stokes will remain out of the Wildcat lineup at least through the weekend as he tries to come back from turf toe on his left foot.  Team doctors think he’ll be ready to re-join his squad by next Big Monday’s game against Syracuse.
  2. Missouri’s Kim English (ed. note: corrected) seems to have his head on straight with respect to a hate crime that went down on his campus over the weekend.  Someone had painted racist graffiti in front of a residence hall, but English, rather than getting angry, stated that he understands that it was simply the work of “one idiot” and not representative of most people in general.  It’s always nice to see young people have a healthy sense of perspective when it comes to the ugly side of the real world.
  3. Radford suspended its head coach, Brad Greenberg, for the remainder of the regular season as a result of NCAA violations relating to impermissible team travel and benefits for an ineligible player.  It’s questionable whether the 5-21 (2-14 Big South) Highlanders will miss him much, as Radford is suffering through its worst season in a generation.  Greenberg probably isn’t in any long-term trouble, though, as Radford is coming off two seasons where they won forty games and enjoyed an NCAA appearance in 2009.
  4. It’s nearing the end of the regular season, and as we saw yesterday with Jim Boeheim’s presser where he attacked the media after a win, people start saying interesting things as the pressure increases.  Here’s a couple of examples.  Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin, in reference to UC fans booing a pouting Yancy Gates when it appeared he was coming back into the game over the weekend, said that’s a life lesson at the level of big-time college hoops: “At the big-time level, there is a trade-off.  You get to play on ESPN. You get name recognition that helps you, theoretically, get a job. I had a real problem with anybody getting on a kid from Murray State, riding buses all over the Ohio Valley Conference.  … At our level it’s definitely different, because there are residual benefits. It goes with it. It’s not easy for them, but  it’s life’s lessons.”  Meanwhile, down at Kentucky, Terrence Jones called out his teammates without actually naming them when he said about UK’s road woes, “I feel we play two different ways when it’s home and away when it comes to older guys or guys stepping up. A different guy can step up at home but it seems like certain guys go away when we are away.”  Maybe we should just add a quote of the day to the site from here on forth, because it’s always interesting this time of year.
  5. Realizing of course that Northwestern has generally blown some golden opportunities this season to get itself onto the bubble and quite possibly into the (expanded) NCAA Tournament for the first time ever, Lake the Posts is already out there calling for head coach Bill Carmody’s dismissal.  We certainly understand the frustration and agree that NW has hurt itself in key spots this year, but some progress is better than no progress and the likelihood of three straight NIT appearances is the start of something bigger.
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Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 15th, 2011

 

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

A Look Back

  • Player of the Week: Dwight Hardy, St. John’s: Hardy has caught fire the past two weeks. He’s averaging 24.8 points per game over the past five games, including the 33 points he put on Connecticut on Thursday night. Then on Sunday afternoon, Hardy scored 18 big points as the Johnnies picked up a huge bubble victory at Cincinnati. We already know how good St. John’s is at home. The 17-point win over the Huskies wasn’t even one of their best two wins on their home court. What was impressive was going into Cincinnati and picking up a close win, albeit with the help of a Rashad Bishop lane violation. The Red Storm is not a lock to make the tournament just yet, but as long as they avoid a Georgetonian collapse down the stretch,Steve Lavin‘s crew will be dancing.
  • Team of the Week: Pittsburgh Panthers: The Panthers had one of the more impressive weeks that any team has put together this season. Playing without their leading scorer Ashton Gibbs, Pitt went into West Virginia and won in the Backyard Brawl rivalry game. Then on Saturday night on ESPN’s Gameday, Pitt held on against Villanova in an in-state battle. If it hasn’t been proven to you yet, the Panthers are a team that is greater than their individual parts. They are good enough that they deserve to be in the conversation not just for a No. 1 seed, but as the No. 1 team in the country.

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

1. Pittsburgh (23-2, 11-1) (1)
Last Week: 2/12 @ Villanova 57-54
This Week: 2/16 vs. South Florida, 2/19 @ St. John’s

See the above “Team of the Week” portion.

2. Notre Dame (21-4, 10-3) (3)
Last Week: 2/9 vs. Louisville 89-79 OT, 2/12 @ South Florida 78-55
This Week: 2/19 @ West Virginia

With Kemba Walker‘s continuing struggles, there is a legitimate argument to be made for Ben Hansbrough as the Big East’s player of the year. Notre Dame‘s offense is based around their ball movement, but Hansbrough is the guy who has the ball in his hands at the end of a clock. He’s the best creator that Mike Brey has, their leader in scoring and assists, and the best on-ball defender on the team. He also has all the intangibles you look for in a point guard. I love kids like Austin Freeman and Marshon Brooks and Rick Jackson, but I’m not sure there is a player in the conference that I would take over Hansbrough.

3. Georgetown (20-5, 9-4) (5)
Last Week: 2/9 @ Syracuse 64-56, 2/13 vs. Marquette 69-60
This Week: 2/16 @ UConn, 2/19 @ USF

The Hoyas won two games this week, but what was impressive was how they did it. On the road against Syracuse, the Orange took over down the stretch, keeping Syracuse from getting scoring opportunities while going on a game-ending, 15-3 run. Against Marquette, Georgetown dominated the second half on the defensive end of the floor and on the glass. They allowed the Golden Eagles to score just 25 points, held them to a 36.3% eFG, gave up just 11.1% OR, and forced Marquette into nine turnovers and 0.69 PPP. Not exactly the Georgetown team we have become accustomed to under John Thompson III.

4. Villanova (19-6, 7-5) (2)
Last Week: 2/9 @ Rutgers 76-77, 2/12 vs. Pitt 54-57
This Week: 2/15 @ Seton Hall, 2/19 vs. DePaul

The loss against Pitt is acceptable. Losing by three at home without a starter (Corey Stokes missed this game and the second half against Rutgers with turf toe) to the best team in the league and possibly the best team in the country is far from a bad loss. The Rutgers loss, on the other hand, is another story. The Wildcats blew a 13-point lead with five minutes left and an eight point lead with two minutes left. They turned the ball over, they allowed open threes, and, at the end of the game, Corey Fisher fouled Jonathan Mitchell shooting a three. He made it and made the free throw, and Rutgers picked up a huge win.

5. Louisville (19-6, 8-4) (6)
Last Week: 2/9 @ Notre Dame 79-89 OT, 2/12 vs. Syracuse 73-69
This Week: 2/16 @ Cincinnati, 2/18 vs. UConn

What got into Kyle Kuric this week? The sophomore shooting guard had 28 points against Notre Dame in an overtime loss and followed that up with 23 points in the Cardinals’ win over Syracuse on Saturday. For the week, Kuric was 9-14 from three. He’s shooting 46.9% from deep on the season while averaging 10.0 points per contest. He needs to be a consistent scoring option for the Cardinals, as does Terrence Jennings. Jennings is only averaging 9.6 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, but over his last five, he’s averaging 14.2 and 7.8.

6. Syracuse (21-6, 8-6) (4)
Last Week: 2/9 vs. Georgetown 56-64, 2/12 @ Louisville 69-73, 2/14 vs. West Virginia 63-52
This Week: 2/19 vs. Rutgers

The Orange picked up a much needed win on Monday night, knocking off West Virginia at home to snap a three-game Carrier Dome losing streak. The biggest problem Syracuse has right now is a complete inability to defend the three point line. Their other issues — poor decision-making from the backcourt, Kris Joseph‘s inconsistency, Fab Melo missing practice — are second in importance to figuring out how to keep teams from hitting 10, 11, and 12 threes against them.

7. Connecticut (19-5, 7-5) (7)
Last Week: 2/10 @ St. John’s 72-89 , 2/13 vs. Providence 75-57
This Week: 2/16 vs. Georgetown, 2/18 @ Louisville

When Kemba Walker is playing like Kemba Walker, as opposed to Super Kemba, UConn is a good team, but they aren’t much more than an upper-half Big East team. Prior to Sunday’s win against Providence, UConn had lost three out of four in league play to fall back into the middle of the pack. This is a big week for he Huskies coming up, with Georgetown and Louisville.

8. St. John’s (15-9, 7-5) (10)
Last Week: 2/10 vs. UConn 89-72, 2/13 @ Cincinnati 59-57
This Week: 2/15 @ St. John’s, 2/19 vs. Marquette

See the above “Player of the Week” portion.

9. Marquette (15-10, 6-6) (8)
Last Week: 2/9 @ South Florida 59-58, 2/13 @ Georgetown 60-69
This Week: 2/15 vs. St. John’s, 2/19 vs. Seton Hall

Sunday’s loss to Georgetown was Marquette’s worst loss of the season. By nine points. Think about that. The Golden Eagles need to start winning some of these close games down the stretch, but is there any team in the country that is more competitive than the Golden Eagles?

10. West Virginia (16-9, 7-6) (9)
Last Week: 2/12 vs. DePaul 72-61, 2/14 @ Syracuse 52-63
This Week: 2/19 vs. Notre Dame

There is something missing from this West Virginia team, but I can’t quite put my finger on what it is. Kevin Jones is inconsistent, John Flowers is foul-prone, Casey Mitchell is a head case, and no one seems willing to box out.

11. Cincinnati (19-6, 6-6) (11)
Last Week: 2/8 @ DePaul 71-68, 2/13 vs. St. John’s 57-59
This Week: 2/16 vs. Louisville, 2/19 @ Providence

Mick Cronin seems to have finally gotten fed up with Yancy Gates‘ actions and apathy towards playing. The five-star recruit who is no better as a junior than he was as a freshman played just 16 minutes against DePaul and 13 minutes against St. John’s after sitting out against Pitt.

12. Seton Hall (11-14, 5-8) (12)
Last Week: 2/12 vs. Rutgers 69-64
This Week: 2/15 vs. Villanova, 2/19 @ Marquette

Keon Lawrence and Jamel Jackson were kicked off the team on Friday after missing curfew to go to a party. Both were disappointments in their time in Jersey.

13. Rutgers (13-12, 4-9) (13)
Last Week: 2/9 vs. Villanova 77-76, 2/12 vs. Seton Hall 64-69
This Week: 2/19 @ Rutgers

The Scarlet Knights deserved that upset against Villanova. Mike Rice has his team playing so hard every night, they just have come up on the short end of the talent stick. I hope they enjoyed it.

14. Providence (14-11, 3-9) (14)
Last Week: 2/13 @ UConn 57-75
This Week: 2/17 vs. DePaul, 2/19 vs. Cincinnati
You have six more games to get the chance to see Marshon Brooks play as a collegian. It’s worth it.

15. South Florida (8-18, 2-11) (15)
Last Week: 2/9 vs. Marquette 58-59, 2/12 vs. Notre Dame 55-78
This Week: 2/16 @ Pitt, 2/19 vs. Georgetown

Why does USF struggle? Gus Gilchrist uses as many possessions as Marshon Brooks and Kemba Walker, but he has an offensive rating of 89.0.

16. DePaul (6-18, 0-12) (16)
Last Week: 2/8 vs. Cincinnati 68-71, 2/12 @ West Virginia 61-72
This Week: 2/17 @ Providence, 2/19 vs. Villanova

DePaul gets more competitive with every game they play. I think Oliver Purnell can make something out of that program.

A Look Ahead

This is a huge week for the UConn Huskies. Not only are they playing Georgetown on Wednesday, they get a rematch with Louisville on Friday night. Are the Huskies truly a contender in the Big East, or was the start of their season more of a fluke than anything?

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Set Your Tivo: 02.11-02.13

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 11th, 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.

So many games, so little time to talk about them. Here are the biggest games of the weekend and why you should pay attention to them. Fair warning: it’s a long list. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

#12 Syracuse @ #19 Louisville – 12 pm Saturday on ESPN (****)

The Cards Need Knowles To Catch Fire Over the Angry Syracuse Zone

With Rakeem Buckles and Gorgui Dieng practicing again for Louisville, the Cardinals are starting to get some of their depth back. Their status for this game is unknown but there’s a chance at least one of them will play. The Cardinals beat Syracuse twice last season and they’ll look to do it again in what is an important separation game for both teams. Only one game in the loss column separates third and eleventh place in the Big East with both of these teams in the thick of that jumbled mess.

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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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Set Your Tivo: 01.28-01.30

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 28th, 2011

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

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor

This weekend brings us yet another great slate of games with plenty of ranked teams heading out on the road to face unranked opponents. How many will go down this time? All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#21 Georgetown @ #6 Villanova – 12 pm Saturday on ESPN (****)

Despite their win at the Carrier Dome over Syracuse last week, Villanova has lost two of its last three games and now welcomes their rival Georgetown Hoyas to the Wells Fargo Center. The Hoyas have won three straight over the New York-area schools to climb back to 4-4 in Big East play. Georgetown has won four true road games but none of those wins were against teams the caliber of Villanova.

If Freeman and the Hoyas Plan On Finishing Strong, Tonight's a Good Night To Start

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