Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 7th, 2010

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

[Ed. note: this post was written prior to Tuesday night's games]

A Look Back

Last week, I wrote about how the Big East had won a number of the early season tournaments.  Six, to be exact. Two other teams made the finals of their respective tournaments. I had this to say about it: But is it possible that, while looking at the Big East’s faults, we happened to overlook just how deep the conference is? Yes, apparently. I’m taking it a step further this week.

The Big East, as of today, might actually be the best conference in the country. There are 19 college basketball teams left without a loss on the season. Seven of them are members of the Big East conference — Pitt, Georgetown, UConn, Cincinnati, Syracuse, Notre Dame, Louisville. Three more have just one loss — St. John’s, Villanova, and a 9-1 Providence team off to their best start since 1988.  True, the Big East has 16 teams, more than any other conference. But in comparison, the Big Ten and the Big 12, the two other leagues that can realistically join the conversation, have just two undefeated teams each.

I think we can all agree, however, that this is not the best way to determine the strength of a conference. Is RPI? Because the Big East has the No. 1 conference RPI according to RealTimeRPI.com. If you want to get even more in depth, Albert Lancada of ESPN put together a formula that incorporates four different computer rankings as well as both polls, and he found that the Big East was a close second to the Big Ten when it came to the best conference.

Honestly, I don’t love breaking down conference rankings. I think it is actually pretty boring, but it is a good discussion starter. Anyone that follows me on twitter knows how much I enjoy a good twi-scussion.  Even the most die-hard Big Ten and Big 12 fans have to admit that the Big East may currently be leading that discussion.

Player of the Week: Chris Wright, Georgetown. Team of the Week: Georgetown Hoyas

This week, its all about Georgetown, and not just because the majority of the Big East didn’t play anyone this week. It’s about time that we start to consider Georgetown as one of the favorites to win the Big East and to reach the Final Four. That’s what happens when you start the season 8-0 with wins against teams like Old Dominion, Missouri, NC State and Utah State. Only the Utah State game was at home. Last week, the Hoyas beat two completely different teams. On Tuesday, they went into Kansas City to take on the Tigers in what was the single most entertaining game of the young season, 111-102 (OT).

On Saturday, the Aggies came to town. After playing a methodical first half which saw USU’s offense execute to precision, John Thompson III threw on a press in the second half which the Aggies could not handle. Turnovers and easy baskets led to a 68-51 win over the WAC favorites despite Chris Wright being the only player that reached double figures for the Hoyas.

Georgetown beat two very good teams this week. Those two teams played styles that are at opposite ends of the basketball spectrum. Both teams were able to execute their game plans to a degree — Missouri got the game into an uptempo shootout, forcing turnovers and scoring in transition while Utah State was able to keep Georgetown from shooting threes (the Hoyas were 2-9 from deep) and kept the pace methodical – the Hoyas won both games.

Chris Wright was Georgetown’s most valuable player this week. Against Missouri, he had 21 points, ten assists, and hit the three that forced overtime with 0.3 seconds left. He also had 21 against Utah State, the only player to reach double figures in the game.

Deserving of a shout-out: Brandon Young, DePaul (because we all know none of you will make it down to the DePaul section of this post)

Quickly, name the best freshman in the Big East. I bet the name Brandon Young never came up, did it? Young is the fifth-leading freshman scorer in the country at 16.3 PPG. He averaged 24.0 PPG last week as DePaul actually won two games, knocking off Central Michigan and Northern Illinois. Against Central Michigan, Young exploded for 31 points, the second most for a freshman this season and the most for a DePaul freshman since Quentin Richardson. He also went 6-6 from three after going into the game 1-9 on the season.

Power Rankings (last week’s rankings in parentheses)

1. Pitt 9-0 (1)
Last Week: 12/1 vs. Duquesne 80-66, 12/4 vs. Rider 87-68
Next Week: 12/8 vs. Delaware State, 12/11 vs. Tennessee

Brad Wanamaker had come back down to earth after a terrific start to the season, culminating in an ugly performance against Duquesne where the senior guard had four fouls and seven turnovers in just 16 minutes. He responded in a big way against Rider, scoring 16 points and dropping 11 dimes while turning the ball over just once. Ashton Gibbs is still playing terrific, efficient basketball. And Pitt’s front line is starting to come alive. Dante Taylor scored 21 points this week. Gary McGhee had 12 points, 13 boards, and 7 blocks against the Dukes. Nasir Robinson went for 14 in that game. Yeah. Pitt’s good.

2. Georgetown 8-0 (4)
Last Week: 11/30 vs. Missouri 111-102 OT, 12/4 vs. Utah State 68-51
Next Week: 12/9 @ Temple, 12/12 vs. Appalachian State

See above discussion of Team of the Week.

3. UConn 7-0 (2)
Last Week: 11/30 vs. UNH 62-55, 12/3 vs. UMBC 94-61
Next Week: 12/8 vs. FDU

Kemba Walker had another terrific week, putting 30 on New Hampshire before notching a triple double (24 points, 13 boards, ten assists) against UMBC. But the Huskies may have had their fatal flaw exposed this past week. Combined, the Huskies gave up over 30 offensive rebounds to two teams that should not be able to rebound with UConn. Alex Oriakhi is a horse inside, but he’s one of the only frontcourt players on that team with any strength. What happens when Roscoe Smith tries to box out Rick Jackson or Dante Taylor?

4. Villanova 6-1 (3)
Last Week: 12/3 vs. St. Joe’s 71-60
Next Week: 12/8 @ Penn, 12/12 @ La Salle

All of a sudden, the Wildcats have no depth. Nova was able to bounce back with a win over St. Joseph’s in one of the great college basketball rivalries, but they did it with Maurice Sutton out with ankle problems and Isaiah Armwood dealing with back spasms. Worse, however, is the fact that JayVaughn Pinkston got word this week that he will be forced to miss the entire season as a result of the fight he got in earlier this year. Throw in the struggles of Corey Fisher and Maalik Wayns the last two games, and Nova had to get bumped down.

5. Syracuse 8-0 (5)
Last Week: 11/30 vs. Cornell 78-58, 12/4 vs. NC State 65-59
Next Week: 12/7 vs. Michigan State, 12/11 vs. Colgate

The Orange have yet to really put together an impressive performance this season. This week, the NC State team that lost to Wisconsin by 39 points went into the Carrier Dome and nearly beat the Orange. While they continue to struggle to find their range from three, we at least have a reason for Fab Melo‘s slow start — he’s playing with an injured achilles and a dislocated finger.

6. Notre Dame 8-0 (7)
Last Week: 11/30 vs. Indiana State 81-72
Next Week: 12/8 vs. Kentucky, 12/11 vs. Gonzaga

We will have to wait until next week to really get a feel for the Irish. The win over Wisconsin is nice, but the Badgers haven’t been the most impressive team here early in the season. Notre Dame will get Kentucky on the road before playing host to the Zags. It will be interesting to see how the Irish match up with a team as athletic as Kentucky or Gonzaga.

7. Louisville 6-0 (8)
Last Week: 12/1 vs. FIU 92-55, 12/4 vs. South Alabama 97-70
Next Week: 12/8 vs. San Francisco, 12/11 vs. UNLV

The Cardinals still haven’t done anything wrong, but they really haven’t had an opportunity to. The win over Butler is looking less impressive after the Bulldogs lost to Evansville. They will get a really good test on Saturday when UNLV pays the Yum! Center a visit.

8. Cincinnati 7-0 (11)
Last Week: 12/1 vs. Wright State 77-69, 12/4 @ Toledo 81-47
Next Week: 12/11 vs. Utah Valley

The Bearcats are, in fact, 7-0. But they also haven’t beaten much of anyone this season as Dayton is not as good as many believed they would be. The sad thing is that Cincy can realistically make it to the new year undefeated if they can handle Xavier on New Year’s Eve.

9. Marquette 6-2 (9)
Last Week: 12/4 vs. Longwood 96-65
Next Week: 12/7 vs. Texas A&M-CC, 12/11 vs. Wisconsin

Marquette needs to spend their Christmas break down time taking jumpers, because the Golden Eagles’ biggest issue right now is that they are shooting under 30% from beyond the arc. Once those jumpers start dropping, this will be a different team.

10. West Virginia 5-2 (6)
Last Week: 12/1 vs. American 71-50, 12/4 @ Miami FL 76-79
Next Week: 12/7 vs. Robert Morris, 12/12 @ Duquesne

Perhaps the biggest testament to the strength of this conference is that West Virginia is 10th in our rankings. Tenth! That’s what happens when the same team that battled Minnesota for 40 minutes for the Puerto Rico Tip-Off title loses to Miami. Casey Mitchell finally came back to earth, finishing just 5-15 from the floor after breaking the 25-point mark in five straight games.

11. St. John’s 5-1 (10)
Last Week: 12/1 vs. Wagner 69-61
Next Week: 12/7 vs. St. Bonaventure, 12/11 @ Fordham

The Johnnies have now won five in a row after knocking off Wagner 69-61. I hope you didn’t write this team off after their loss to St. Mary’s. DJ Kennedy, who has been struggling, came off the bench to score 20 points, a personal season high.

12. Providence 9-1 (14)
Last Week: 12/1 vs. Northeastern 77-72, 12/4 vs. URI 87-74, 12/6 vs. Brown 91-64
Next Week: 12/8 @ Boston College, 12/11 vs. Alabama

The Friars are off to their best start to a season in a long time. You always have to consider the competition and pace of play, but Providence currently sits 11th in the country in rebounds per game. Not bad for a team whose big knock in past year’s was their extreme guard orientation. If they win at Boston College, it’ll be time to start talking about the Friars.

13. Seton Hall 3-3 (12)
Last Week: Nothing
Next Week: 12/11 @ UMass

The Pirates didn’t play last week, but they still lost. Jeremy Hazell is out at least another month after having surgery on his broken wrist.

14. South Florida 5-4 (13)
Last Week: 12/1 vs. VCU 60-59, 12/4 @ Florida Atlantic 42-50
Next Week: 12/12 @ Kent State

It’s a shame South Florida had to go and lose to Florida Atlantic. I was just starting to like this team. They were coming off of back-to-back wins against Texas Tech and VCU, and did not have a bad loss on their resume.

15. Rutgers 4-2 (15)
Last Week: 12/1 vs. NJIT 66-54
Next Week: 12/8 vs. Marist, 12/11 vs. Auburn

Auburn vs. Rutgers on Saturday will air in 3D on ESPN, according to a tweet from Mike DeCourcy. With Auburn being one of nation’s worst Power Six teams and Rutgers struggling to generate interest even in their own fanbase, I’ll bet five people see it, and none in 3D.

16. DePaul 3-4 (16)
Last Week: 12/2 vs. Northern Illinois 86-84, 12/5 vs. Central Michigan 71-62
Next Week: 12/8 @ Indiana State, 12/11 vs. Ball State

Brandon Young’s status as an overlooked freshman was chronicled earlier in this space. As one of the nation’s lowest “Power Six” schools in KenPom’s rankings, there’s not much else to get up for with this group.

A Look Ahead

While some teams use the holiday season to feast on cupcakes, that’s not the case with the Big East. High-profile opponents this week include Michigan State (Syracuse), Tennessee (Pittsburgh), Kentucky and Gonzaga (Notre Dame), and Wisconsin (Marquette).

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RTC Conference Primer: #2 – Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 5th, 2010

Rob Dauster of Ballin’ is a Habit is the Big East correspondent for Rush The Court.


Predicted Order of Finish

  • 1. Villanova (15-3)
  • T2. Pittsburgh (14-4)
  • T2. Syracuse (14-4)
  • 4. Georgetown (12-6)
  • T5. West Virginia (11-7)
  • T5. Marquette (11-7)
  • 7. Seton Hall (10-8)
  • T8. Notre Dame (9-9)
  • T8. St. John’s (9-9)
  • T10. Connecticut (8-10)
  • T10. Louisville (8-10)
  • T12. South Florida (7-11)
  • T12. Cincinnati (7-11)
  • T14. Providence (3-15)
  • T14. Rutgers (3-15)
  • T14. DePaul (3-15)

All-Conference Team (key stats from last season in parentheses)

  • G: Corey Fisher, Villanova (13.3 ppg, 3.9 apg, 2.8 rpg)
  • G: Kemba Walker, UConn (14.6 ppg, 5.1 apg, 4.3 rpg, 2.1 spg)
  • F: Austin Freeman, Georgetown (16.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 44.4% 3pt)
  • F: Kris Joseph, Syracuse (10.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.4 spg)
  • F: Kevin Jones, West Virginia (13.5 ppg, 7.2 rpg)

6th Man

Tim Abromaitis, Notre Dame (16.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 42.9% 3pt)

Impact Newcomers

  • Fab Melo, Syracuse: Melo should have an immediate impact as the starting center for the Orange. Regarded as one of, if not the, best center in the class, Melo has more polish offensively than most bigs do as freshman, but his size in the middle of the Syracuse 2-3 zone may be more important.
  • Vander Blue, Marquette: Blue should step in and start immediately for the Golden Eagles. He’s everything you imagine when you think of a Marquette wing player. He’s tough, athletic, and can slash to the basket. He’ll remind some of Jerel McNeal.
  • Nate Lubick, Georgetown: With the Hoyas losing Greg Monroe to the NBA, they will have a gaping hole in the middle. Lubick has the skill set to be the high post forward of the future for John Thompson III, and he could immediately slide into the starting lineup.

Jay Wright has Villanova in the driver’s seat, with Pittsburgh nipping at the Wildcats’ heels. (AP/Michael Perez)

What You Need To Know

As much as it pains me to say it, the Big East is going to be down this season, especially near the bottom of the league. The two best players in the conference are probably Austin Freeman and Corey Fisher, and while I don’t want to take anything away from those two — I love the way that both play — they are a long way from being lottery picks. Providence, Rutgers and DePaul are as bad as any three teams at the bottom of the power conferences, which is saying a lot considering what the cellar of the Pac-10 and SEC have to offer. Now think about this: If the Big East wants to get more than six teams into the Big Dance, the teams that will likely be fighting for the last couple of at-large bids this season are Seton Hall, St. John’s, Notre Dame and UConn. And that assumes that Marquette and West Virginia are dancing. Yuck.

Predicted Champion

Villanova (NCAA #2 Seed): I like Villanova a lot more than other people do. I think Corey Fisher has a chance to become a star this season as he steps out of the shadow of Scottie Reynolds. I think Maalik Wayns has a chance to come into his own as well. Corey Stokes and Dominic Cheek should provide some size, athleticism, and versatility on the perimeter, while Jayvaughn Pinkston and Isaiah Armwood provide the same along the front line. The trio of Antonio Pena, Mouphtaou Yarou and Maurice Sutton is one of the better front lines in the conference. More than anything, however, I think that Jay Wright has answered the biggest questions his team had last season. Without a doubt, Villanova will be better inside with Yarou healthy, Pinkston on the roster, and Armwood and Sutton a year stronger. They should also be better defensively without Reynolds and Fisher sharing the floor. This team has a great mixture of size, athleticism, youth, experience, and versatility. They remind me quite a bit of the Villanova team that made the 2009 Final Four.
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Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by rtmsf on February 6th, 2010


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

Pitt started the Big East season on fire. They won five straight out of the gates, including a three game road trip in which they took down Syracuse, UConn and Cincinnati.  But after a loss to West Virginia in the Backyard Brawl, the Panthers have dropped four of their last five games to fall to 6-4 in league play, just a half-game in front of Louisville and a game in front of South Florida, Marquette, Cincinnati, and Notre Dame.

So what happened?  How did Pitt go from the darling of the national media to a team in free fall?

Its simple. They can’t score.  Through five Big East games, the Panthers were averaging 74.0 ppg. In their last five, that number has dropped to 60.3 ppg. When the Panthers were 5-0, Ashton Gibbs was averaging 20.0 ppg, shooting 52.0% from the field, and hit 16-22 threes. In his last five games, he’s averaging just 13.4 ppg while shooting 26.4% from the field and 6-29 from deep.

Don’t put it all on Gibbs, however. He isn’t the only one struggling. Brad Wanamaker is averaging just 9.6 ppg over the last five games, including being shut out against the Mountaineers. Jermaine Dixon sprained his ankle in the St. John’s game and missed the Panther’s loss to South Florida. Dante Taylor hasn’t scored in four games, and Travon Woodall has just eight points in that span. Gary McGhee, Pitt’s 6’10, 260-lb center, couldn’t hit a layup if his life depended on it. There is no reason someone should go 3-11 from the field when they don’t take a shot outside of two feet from the rim. Nasir Robinson has scored 23 points in five games in his 26 point outburst against Louisville. Gilbert Brown is really the only guy playing well offensively right now, and even he has been painfully in consistent. He scored 20 and was 8-9 from the floor in the loss to Georgetown, but scored just 16 points on 3-13 shooting over his next two games. After dropping 25 in the loss to South Florida, Brown was shut out against West Virginia.

Its really that simple. The biggest reason that Pitt was thought to be down this season was their lack of firepower offensively. There isn’t anyone on this roster that is considered a go-to scorer. Even Ashton Gibbs, who has been one of the most improved players this season in the Big East, is more of a secondary scoring option. He’s not great at creating his own shot, especially against a set defense, and it is starting to be exposed.  But Pitt has never exactly been known as a team with tremendous offensive prowess. They aren’t going to be scoring 85 points a game and beating teams in a shootout.  Pitt’s success hinges on their ability to defend, which is something they haven’t exactly been doing great of late either. Their four losses have been some of their worst defensive performances of the season.  What is a good way to go on a losing streak?  Struggle to score the ball while playing shoddy defense.

Other News and Notes

  • I told you South Florida was going to be good, didn’t I? Believe it or not, USF is now on the bubble. They are 15-7 and 5-5 in the Big East. Their RPI is in the mid-40s. They have wins over Pitt and at Georgetown (not that it makes a difference, but that win came just three days after the Hoyas smacked Duke). While the Bulls are just 2-4 against the RPI top 50, they are 6-6 against the top 100. They have one ugly loss against Central Michigan, but that can be somewhat excused as it was their first game playing without Gus Gilchrist. Speaking of Gilchrist, the 6’10 center who was averaging 18.8 ppg and 7.4 rpg before suffering a severe high-ankle sprain is scheduled to return against either Notre Dame or Marquette. With their schedule down the stretch (they only play one game at Villanova against a team with an RPI higher than 48 and a winning record in the Big East) and Gilchrist’s pending return, if USF could get to ten Big East wins and 20 wins on the season, which may actually be shooting low, they have a very good chance at getting a bid.
  • Jeremy Hazell was pulled late in Seton Hall’s loss to Villanova on Tuesday. Hazell had scored 32 points, but also had thrown up three terrible shots in a row. Bobby Gonzalez benched him with 4:06 left and the lead only at 11. Many speculated that it was the result of poor shot selection by Hazell, but Gonzo cleared it up during the Big East conference call by saying that Hazell “didn’t run back on defense” and that he did “not join his teammates in the huddle.”
  • Did any team in the league have a stranger week than Georgetown? On Saturday, the Hoyas beat the snot out of Duke in a game that was nowhere near as close as the final score indicated. Four days later, the Hoyas became the fourth victim in South Florida’s run. And, as you should be accustomed to by now, Chris Wright struggled in the loss and flourished in the win. He has yet to score double-digits and lose this season.
  • Want another crazy prediction? Marquette is going to make the tournament. The hardest of the hard-luck losers this season (their five Big East losses have come by a total of eight points, and their three non-conference losses were by one, four, and nine points), Marquette has won three straight Big East games to get to 5-5 in the league. They have a pretty easy schedule the rest of the way, as they don’t play any of the Big East’s big four, they get Pitt at home, and play just one of their four road games against a team in the RPI top 50 (Cincy).
  • Cincinnati, on the other hand, won’t make the tournament. And it isn’t due to a lack of talent as much as it is a lack of coaching. Or effort. Or something. Because in a game they needed Thursday night against Notre Dame, the Bearcats were embarrassed. Luke Harangody had 37 points and 14 boards as Cincy was outrebounded and out-toughed. By Notre Dame. Cincinnati is a team that is supposed to pride themselves on their toughness, their defense, and their board work. Notre Dame is a finesse team. It looks like the Bearcats may have given up on the season.
  • Villanova’s schedule gets a whole lot tougher over the next month, starting this week. On Saturday, they head to Georgetown before going to West Virginia on Monday. Don’t be surprised if the Wildcats are in third place in the conference come Tuesday. That said, going 2-0 over that stretch could all but seal a #1 seed come Selection Sunday.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Dominique Jones, South Florida

Jones went for 37 points on Sunday against Pitt and 29 points Wednesday against Georgetown. He’s averaging 35.0 ppg in the Bulls’ four-game winning streak. In those four games, he is shooting 61% from the floor and has gotten to the free throw line (…wait for it) 63 times! I think the best way to describe Jones’ game is that he attacks the rim with ruthless efficiency. He’s too strong to be defended by smaller guards, and too quick to be guarded by small forwards. He goes right almost every time he puts the ball on the floor, and yet teams are still struggling to slow him down. Up next for Jones is Notre Dame, a team that ranks 255th in defensive efficiency, far and away the worst in the Big East. Could Jones go for 50?

TEAM OF THE WEEK: West Virginia

Its really South Florida, but I’m sick of writing about the Bulls, so I’m giving West Virginia the team of the week award. The Mountaineers have gone 2-0 since you last checked in with us, beating Louisville on Saturday and knocking off Pitt in the Backyard Brawl on Wednesday. WVU has now won five straight games since they lost three of five. The biggest reason for their resurgence has been the play of Truck Bryant. Bryant was banged up earlier in the season, but has started coming on of late, playing really solid basketball. He knocks down open jumpers, he can get in the lane and draw a foul, he can create shots for his teammates, and he does so without turning the ball over. Over his last five games, Bryant is averaging 11.8 ppg, 4.8 apg, and has turned the ball over just eight times.

POWER RANKINGS

1. Villanova: 20-1, 9-0

Last Week: 2/2 vs. Seton Hall 81-71

This Week: 2/6 @ Georgetown, 2/8 @ West Virginia

2. Syracuse: 22-1, 9-1

Last Week: 1/30 @ DePaul, 2/2 vs. Providence

This Week: 2/7 @ Cincinnati, 2/10 vs. UConn

3. West Virginia: 18-3, 7-2

Last Week: 1/30 vs. Louisville 77-74, 2/3 vs. Pitt 70-51

This Week: 2/6 @ St. John’s, 2/8 vs. Villanova

4. Georgetown: 16-5, 6-4

Last Week: 1/30 vs. Duke 89-77, 2/3 vs. South Florida 64-72

This Week: 2/6 vs. Villanova, 2/9 @ Providence

5. Pitt: 16-6, 6-4

Last Week: 1/31 @ South Florida 61-70, 2/3 @ West Virginia 51-70

This Week: 2/6 vs. Seton Hall, 2/8 vs. Robert Morris

6. Louisville: 14-8, 5-4

Last Week: 1/30 vs. West Virginia 74-77, 2/1 vs. UConn 82-69

This Week: 2/6 vs. Rutgers, 2/11 @ St. John’s

7. Marquette: 14-8, 5-5

Last Week: 1/30 @ UConn 70-68, 2/3 vs. DePaul 80-69

This Week: 2/6 @ Providence

8. South Florida: 15-7, 5-5

Last Week: 1/31 vs. 61-70, 2/3 @ Georgetown 72-64

This Week: 2/7 @ Notre Dame

9. Notre Dame: 16-7, 5-5

Last Week: 1/30 @ Rutgers 73-74, 2/4 vs. Cincinnati 83-65

This Week: 2/7 vs. South Florida, 2/11 @ Seton Hall

10. Cincinnati: 14-8, 5-5

Last Week: 1/30 vs. Providence 92-88, 2/4 @ Notre Dame 65-83

This Week: 2/7 vs. Syracuse

11. Providence:12-10, 4-6

Last Week: 1/30 @ Cincinnati 88-92, 2/2 @ Syracuse 68-85

This Week: 2/6 vs. Marquette, 2/9 vs. Georgetown

12. UConn: 13-9, 3-6

Last Week: 1/30 vs. Marquette 68-70, 2/1 @ Louisville 69-82

This Week: 2/6 vs. DePaul, 2/10 @ Syracuse

13. Seton Hall: 12-8, 3-6

Last Week: 2/2 @ Villanova 71-81

This Week: 2/6 @ Pitt, 2/11 vs. Notre Dame

14. Rutgers: 11-11, 2-8

Last Week: 1/30 vs. Notre Dame 74-73, 2/3 vs. St. John’s 84-72

This Week: 2/6 @ Louisville, 2/9 vs. Caldwell College

15. St. John’s: 12-9, 2-7

Last Week: 2/2 @ Rutgers 72-84

This Week: 2/6 vs. West Virginia, 2/11 vs. Louisville

16. DePaul: 8-14, 1-9

Last Week: 1/30 vs. Syracuse 57-59, 2/3 @ Marquette 69-80

This Week: 2/6 @ UConn

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Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by jstevrtc on January 15th, 2010

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

Let me paint you a picture.

Pitt is loaded. They have the Big East player in the post, an all-conference 20 PPG scorer on the wing, and a senior leader at the point running the show. They have depth, balance, quality role players, and one of the most unappreciated coaches in the game.

That was last season.

This season its a different story.

DeJuan Blair is gone. Sam Young is gone. Levance Fields is gone.

Before the season started, the consensus seemed to be that with those three went Pitt’s hopes of an NCAA Tournament trip. Nothing the Panthers did before the start of Big East play changed that assumption. Not coming back from a 13 point second half deficit against Wofford. Not an ugly, two overtime win over Duquesne. Not the 47 points they scored against New Hampshire. Not the loss to Indiana in Madison Square Garden.

But there’s something we didn’t take into consideration.

Jamie Dixon isn’t like most coaches.

Jamie Dixon doesn’t rely on talent to win. He doesn’t need a roster full of McDonald’s all-Americans. In fact, when Dixon brought freshman Dante Taylor into the program, he was Pitt’s first McDonald’s all-american since Bobby Martin and Brian Shorter joined the Panthers in 1987.

What we ignored was the fact that Dixon develops players. He grooms the kids that are overlooked by other programs to fit his system. Like Keith Benjamin and Ronald Ramon and Tyrell Biggs and even Levance Fields and Sam Young before them, guys like Ashton Gibbs, Brad Wanamaker, and Gary McGhee bided their time last year. They played their limited minutes while practicing every day against some of the best players in the country, while learning how to defend, execute, and carry themselves like Big East champions.

Now that Jermaine Dixon and Gilbert Brown are back in the rotation, now that this Pitt team is finally complete, we are finally seeing just how good the Panthers are; just how good of a program and system that Jamie Dixon runs.

Pitt’s team is built on toughness, defense, and execution on both sides of the ball. While we pointed out in the preseason that the Panthers had flaws this year — they don’t have any sure-fire lottery picks, they don’t have a dynamic playmaker at the point, they don’t have anyone that can go out and get you 25 points on a given night — what we didn’t point out was that they have a group of kids that bought into what Dixon was selling.

Like every team in Dixon’s tenure, this year’s Panthers defend. They rebound. They get seemingly every loose ball. They run their offense until they get an open look or a lane to the rim. They hit big shots. They demonstrate the physical toughness and the mental make-up required to compete with more talented teams, and to beat them on the road.

And they have just enough natural talent to get by.

Proof?

How about a 4-0 start in the Big East.

Three of those wins came on the road — in Syracuse, in Cincinnati, and in Hartford. All three are difficult places to play, and all three were NCAA tournament caliber teams.

When playing the cream of the Big East crop, there will be few games where the Panthers will be considered the more talented team on the floor even with their run the last two weeks. But rest assured, the Panthers will come away with more than their share of wins.

If the Big East was a car show, Jamie Dixon would be me and Pitt would be my 1995 Honda Accord. While the Jags breakdown, and the Lambo’s get speeding tickets, and the Corvette’s are traded in for newer models, and the Hummers guzzle gas, my Accord keeps getting the job done. The paint may be chipped on the side, the AC may be broken, there may be four blown out speakers that are useless because I don’t have a CD player and the radio antenna was ripped off, but you better believe that Accord gets me where I need to go and gets me there on time, all on 30 miles-per-gallon.

And while Pitt may not be the most aesthetically pleasing basketball team to watch, Dixon keeps steering this team right where it wants to be.

Atop the Big East standings.

Other notes from this week

  • I think it is safe to say we have the choke of the year, possibly in the country. Up 50-48 with 15 seconds left, Cinci’s Rashad Bishop took the ball out of bounds under St. John’s basket. He thought he had Deonta Vaughn open deep, but pulled a Pennington and underthrew the baseball pass. It was picked off by Dwight “Buckets” Hardy, who was fouled, making both free throws. With the game now tied and just 8.5 seconds on the clock, Lance Stephenson threw an inbounds pass away, which was stolen by Hardy who, again, knocked down two free throws. Vaughn missed a three at the buzzer that would have won it as the Bearcats snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
  • Speaking of “Buckets” Hardy, one thing I’ve noticed in watching, and attending, a lot of these games is the number of fantastic nicknames in this conference. You know about Lance “Born Ready” Stephenson, but how about Jamine “Greedy” Peterson of Providence, Stanley “Sticks” Robinson of UConn, Robert “Sticks” Mitchell of Seton Hall, or Darryl “Truck” Bryant of West Virginia. I know there are more out there, as well.
  • Pitt wasn’t the only team getting to 100% as the season progressed. Villanova has now played six games with Reggie Redding, who has been exactly what we expected – 10.7 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 3.8 APG, 1.8 SPG. Take away a two points/seven turnover debacle in Monday’s yuck-fest against Louisville, and those numbers are much more impressive. Nova also got Mouph Yarou back. Yarou had been out with Hepatitis B, but came back on Jan. 6th against DePaul. While his numbers have been less than stellar as he works his way into the rotation, what has impressed about Yarou is his conditioning (Wright is on record saying Yarou is in better-than-expected shape). If Yarou can provide some strength on the glass and on defense, he could end up being a very nice complement to Antonio Pena. All of a sudden, with these two in the line-up, Villanova got a lot more physical.
  • Samardo Samuels was a monster against Villanova. He finished with 21 points and seven boards, hitting every shot he took (4-4 from the floor, 13-13 from the line) and blocking four shots. The problem? Louisville was too concerned about shooting threes to consistently get Samuels the touches he deserved in the paint. The Cardinals will be at their best when they play inside-out, because if Samuels is scoring and defenses are helping down on him (which will more often than not be the case), it will get the Louisville guards better looks on the perimeter.

CO-PLAYERS OF THE WEEKScottie Reynolds, Villanova, and Austin Freeman, Georgetown

Georgetown was dead in the water against UConn. The Huskies had absolutely imposed their will on this game, forcing Georgetown into turnovers and poor shot selection while making it a glorified pick-up game. In other words, they were playing Husky basketball. In Jim Calhoun’s words, it was UConn’s best half of the season. But during the break, Georgetown regrouped and came out more focused on the offensive end. They started to run their offense, to work through their sets, and as a result got much better looks at the rim. It just so happened the majority of those looks came with the ball in Austin Freeman’s hands. Freeman would go on to score 28 of his career-high 33 points in the second half (his previous career high was 21). For the week, Freeman averaged 23.0 PPG  as the Hoyas went 2-1.

Scottie Reynolds, on the other hand, solidified himself among the best player’s in the country with the most efficient display of clutch shooting I’ve ever seen. Villanova, down 17 points at one time in a first half that saw them turn the ball over 17 times, turned the tables on Louisville in the second 20 minutes, and Reynolds was the reason why. He scored 30 second half points, 36 on the game, while shooting just 9-10 from the floor, 13-17 from the line, and making all five attempts from three. For the week, the Wildcats went 3-0, and Reynolds averaged 24.0 PPG in the three games.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Clearly, the team of the week was Pitt, but seeing as I’ve already wasted the majority of this column on the Panthers, I’m giving the Irish the nod. All-in-all, the Irish are not a bad team. They have the most productive player in the conference in Luke Harangody. They have two solid shooters/scoring options on the perimeter in Tim Abromaitis and Psycho-B Ben Hansbrough. They have a veteran point guard in Tory Jackson. They have some talent coming off the bench. But what the Irish didn’t have was a win to justify their record. They got that on Saturday, as they hit their first nine shots and opened up a 25-4 lead on West Virginia before the Mountaineers decided to start playing. While Notre Dame wasted away just about all of that cushion when WVU got hot (they hit 9-19 from deep in the second half), Harangody scored a big bucket with three minutes left to answer a Dalton Pepper three and put the Irish back up, 69-66. After getting some key stops down the stretch, the Irish can now add claim a resume win.

POWER RANKINGS

1. Villanova: 15-1, 4-0

Last Week: 1/6 vs. DePaul 99-72, 1/9 vs. Marquette 78-76, 1/11 @ Louisville 92-84

Next Week: 1/17 vs. Georgetown

2. Pittsburgh: 14-2, 4-0

Last Week: 1/13 @ UConn 67-57

Next Week: 1/16 vs. Louisville

3. Syracuse: 16-1, 3-1

Last Week: 1/6 vs. Memphis 74-57, 1/10 vs. South Florida 82-65, 1/13 @ Rutgers 81-65

Next Week: 1/16 @ West Virginia, 1/18 @ Notre Dame

4. Georgetown: 13-2, 4-1

Last Week: 1/6 @ Marquette 59-62, 1/9 vs. UConn 72-69, 1/14 vs. Seton Hall 85-73

Next Week: 1/17 @ Villanova

5. West Virginia: 13-2, 4-1

Last Week: 1/6 vs. Rutgers 86-52, 1/9 @ Notre Dame 68-70, 1/13 @ South Florida 69-50

Next Week: 1/16 vs. Syracuse

6. Connecticut: 11-5, 2-3

Last Week: 1/6 vs. Seton Hall 71-63, 1/9 @ Georgetown 69-72, 1/13 vs. Pitt 57-67

Next Week: 1/17 @ Michigan

7. Louisville: 12-5, 3-1

Last Week: 1/6 @ Providence 92-70, 1/9 vs. St. John’s 75-68, 1/11 vs. Villanova 84-92

Next Week: 1/16 @ Pitt

8. Notre Dame: 14-3, 3-1

Last Week: 1/9 vs. West Virginia 70-68

Next Week: 1/16 @ Cincinnati, 1/18 vs. Syracuse

9. Marquette: 10-6, 1-3

Last Week: 1/6 vs. Marquette 62-59, 1/9 @ Villanova 76-78

Next Week: 1/17 vs. Providence

10. Cincinnati: 11-6, 2-3

Last Week: 1/6 vs. Cal St. Bakersfield 87-58, 1/9 @ Seton Hall 76-83, 1/13 @ St. John’s 50-52

Next Week: 1/16 vs. Notre Dame

11. Providence: 11-6, 3-2

Last Week: 1/6 vs. Louisville 70-92, 1/9 vs. Rutgers 94-81, 1/14 @ DePaul 79-62

Next Week: 1/17 @ Marquette

12. St. John’s: 11-5, 1-3

Last Week: 1/9 @ Louisville 68-75, 1/13 vs. Cincinnati 52-50

Next Week: 1/17 vs. DePaul

13. Seton Hall: 10-6, 1-4

Last Week: 1/6 @ UConn 63-71, 1/9 vs. Cincinnati 83-76, 1/14 @ Georgetown 73-85

Next Week: N/A

14. South Florida: 10-6, 0-4

Last Week: 1/10 @ Syracuse 65-82, 1/13 vs. West Virginia 50-69

Next Week: 1/16 vs. Rutgers

15. Rutgers: 9-7, 0-4

Last Week: 1/6 @ West Virginia 52-86, 1/9 @ Providence 81-94, 1/13 vs. Syracuse 65-81

Next Week: 1/16 @ South Florida

16. DePaul: 7-9, 0-4

Last Week: 1/6 @ Villanova 72-99, 1/14 vs. Providence 62-79

Next Week: 1/17 @ St. John’s

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Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by rtmsf on January 6th, 2010

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

It has been a long time since there was a good college basketball team in the NYC metro area.  Unless you consider Storrs, CT, in the NYC metro area.

This season was supposed to be different. Seton Hall had added transfers Herb Pope, Jamel Jackson, Jeff Robinson, and Keon Lawrence to a solid core. St. John’s was bringing everyone back, including one of the most underrated players in the league in DJ Kennedy. Rutgers lost Corey Chandler, but with Mike Rosario returning alongside Gregory Echinique and Hamady Ndiaye, the Scarlet Knights were expected to be much more competitive in the league.

The non-conference season seemed promising. They combined to go 28-7 before the Big East season, which included wins over Temple, Siena, and Cornell, three teams that could very well be playing in the Tournament.  Hell, it seemed like both the Pirates and the Johnnies had a good shot at making a run to the Dance.

But a week into league play, these teams have yet to win a game, going 0-5. What’s worse is that four of those five losses have come at home.  So what happened?

For starters, injuries have played a big role. St. John’s is just getting Justin Burrell back after a sprained ankle held him out for a couple weeks, and still hasn’t had Anthony Mason, Jr., who is battling hamstring problems. Rutgers lost Gregory Echinique for the season to an eye injury. And if you look closer, four of those five losses came against teams that look destined to be dancing. In each of those four games, the loser wasn’t blown out as much as outlasted.

But the bigger issue may a bit more subtle. You see, winning is a skill; a learned trait. It takes experience, it takes leadership, and it takes smarts. It’s the ability to understand time and score, knowing when to step on the gas and when to rein it in offensively and run some clock. Its knowing what is a good shot, and the ability to run your offensive sets and get those good shots.

After watching any (or all) of these games, do you believe that Seton Hall, St. John’s, or Rutgers knows how to win a close game?

I don’t.  Can the same be said for Marquette?

The Golden Eagles were written off by a lot of people before the season started, but after an impressive showing at the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, it seemed like Buzz Williams’ team might be better than some of us thought.  But Marquette has had just as much trouble in close games. They are currently sitting at 9-5 on the season, losing those five games by a combined 17 points, three of which came on the final possession.  Two of those losses came in Marquette’s first two Big East games, as Da’Sean Butler and Scottie Reynolds both hit game-winners in the final seconds.

What does this all mean?

Well, what we know for sure is that Marquette is much better than expected, Seton Hall has a ton of talent, and that St. John’s is good (they beat Temple in Philly, and regardless of what Kansas did on Saturday, beating this Temple team in Philly is impressive) and will only get better when Mason returns.

Maybe this says more about the Big East conference as a whole than anything about a specific team.  Maybe this proves what we expected – that the Big East is incredibly balanced this season.  Maybe this shows us that the difference between finishing 12-6 and 6-12 in the league, the difference between making the Tournament and heading to the NIT, isn’t a matter of talent. Its a matter of leadership, of experience, of smarts.

Maybe the difference is simply having guys that know how to win these close games.

Other Notes

  • Of the 16 teams in this conference, there are only three that I am ready to write off: Providence, Rutgers and DePaul. One team that you may notice missing from that list is South Florida. Yes, the Bulls have started Big East play 0-2. No, the Bulls don’t have many impressive wins this season (their best are UVa and San Diego). But keep in mind that Stan Heath’s club is currently missing two of their best players – Gus Gilchrist, their leading scorer who has missed the last six games and will be out for about another month with a severely sprained ankle, and Anthony Crater, an Ohio State transfer that was suspended after he became eligible in mid-December. The Bulls are not a deep team – without Crater and Gilchrist they basically go five deep – but a seven man rotation headlined by Crater, Gilchrist, Jarrid Famous and Dominique Jones, one of the best kept secrets in the country, the Bulls will make a lot of believers.
  • UConn might be the best team in the conference in transition. Kemba Walker can lead the break as well as anyone, Stanley Robinson may be the best in the country at finishing above the rim, and Jerome Dyson attacks the rim like a running back hitting the hole on third and short. That said, where UConn will struggle is in the halfcourt until Walker learns how to run a team and an offense. Far too often, the Huskies pass the ball around the perimeter for 30 seconds, ending a possession with a headlong drive at the rim. UConn had the same problem last season, but AJ Price was excellent at taking the ball with 10 seconds on the shot clock, beating his defender, and either finding a big man at the rim or setting up an iso on the wing. Walker can’t do that. He also hasn’t developed Price’s best shot – the 10 foot pull-up. Walker isn’t going to be finishing at the rim against a set defense in this league, but he is quick enough to get into the paint any time he wants. Until Walker becomes the on-court leader that Price was, the Huskies will continue to struggle.
  • Another UConn note: has Gavin Edwards been the most surprising player in the conference this year? Probably not, but there are few that have impressed more people than Edwards. He is the Huskies’ only real threat to score in the post on anything other than a catch-and-dunk, he rebounds the ball well, he plays smart defense, and he doesn’t make mistakes. Hell, he has played well enough to garner attention from the NBA. I guarantee not one person thought this kid had a shot at the league after his first two seasons.
  • West Virginia’s point guard issues were exposed by Pitt. They couldn’t run any offense in the second half, committed far too many live-ball turnovers, and as a result dug themselves into a big hole as Purdue got layup after layup. But we knew that was going to happen as the Mountaineers dealt with injuries to Truck Bryant and Joe Mazzulla. The bigger concern may have been on the glass. Granted, there are few teams in the country as adept at boxing out as the Boilermakers, but WVU still managed just seven offensive rebounds. With how much this team struggles in the halfcourt offensively, they aren’t going to win many games without easy second-chance points.
  • We’ll talk about Pitt in a bit, but if you’re a Cuse fan, don’t read all that much into the loss to Pitt. I guarantee that Jim Boeheim will put a stop to that lackadaisical defense very quickly, and there won’t be too many games where the Orange goes 1-13 from deep while their opponents shoot 10-24.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Ashton Gibbs, Pitt.  Pitt thrust themselves back into the Big East conversation with wins over Syracuse and Cincinnati this week. (Oh, and should I mention they were both on the road? Well, they were.) And Gibbs was the biggest reason why, averaging 21.5 ppg. He wasn’t just scoring points either, he was scoring important points. Against the Orange, he knocked down a number of big threes in the second half as the oft-scoring-deficient Panthers posted 53 points to overtake the Cuse. In the Cincy game, Gibbs hit the important free throws down the stretch as the Bearcats were trying to mount a comeback. With Jermaine Dixon and Gilbert Brown back for the Panthers, this team has a number of weapons on the perimeter and is playing as well as any Jamie Dixon-coached team has. But it is Gibbs’ leadership and scoring ability that is going to determine how far this team goes. When he’s efficient, they are good. When he isn’t, just go back and rewatch the Indiana loss to see what happens.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Pittsburgh Panthers.  I don’t like doing this. I don’t like giving the POTW and the TOTW awards to the same program. But who else deserves this? Georgetown went 2-0 this week, but beating St. John’s at home and DePaul shouldn’t get you a TOTW. Villanova won at Marquette, but is that anywhere near as impressive as Pitt winning at Syracuse and Cincinnati? West Virginia and Louisville both lost marquee non-conference games. Everyone else had a loss during the week. Marquette was two good defensive possessions away from being 2-0 with wins over two of the Big East favorites, but as it stands they went 0-2 on the week.  Which leaves us with Pitt. In the paragraph above, you already learned about Pitt’s two impressive road wins. Perhaps the key for the Panthers this week was their two mid-season additions. Jermaine Dixon scored 21 big points against Syracuse, while Gilbert Brown had 13 of his 17 points in the second half to hep the Panthers pull away from Cincy. What this means is that Pitt now has four or five legitimate scoring threats on their perimeter. While neither Dante Taylor, Nasir Robinson or Gary McGhee will be confused with an offensive force in the paint, the three provide toughness, defense, and the ability to finish at the rim. All of a sudden, the Panthers have enough offensive firepower to allow them win games with their defense. Is this just a flash in the pan, or is Pitt for real? I’m leaning towards the latter after this week.

POWER RANKINGS

1. Syracuse: 13-1, 1-1

Last Week: 1/2 vs. Pitt 72-82

This Week: 1/6 vs. Memphis, 1/10 vs. South Florida

2. Villanova: 12-1, 1-0

Last Week: 1/2 @ Marquette 74-72

This Week: 1/6 vs. DePaul, 1/9 vs. Marquette

3. West Virginia: 11-1, 2-0

Last Week: 1/1 @ Purdue 62-77

This Week: 1/6 vs. Rutgers, 1/9 @ Notre Dame

4. Pitt: 13-2, 3-0

Last Week: 1/2 @ Syracuse 82-72, 1/4 @ Cincinnati 74-71

This Week: N/A

5. Georgetown: 11-1, 2-0

Last Week: 12/31 vs. St. John’s 66-59, 1/3 @ DePaul 67-50

This Week: 1/6 @ Marquette, 1/9 vs. UConn

6. UConn: 10-3, 1-1

Last Week: 12/30 @ Cinci 69-71, 1/2 vs. Notre Dame 82-70

This Week: 1/6 vs. Seton Hall, 1/9 @ Georgetown

7. Cincinnati: 10-4, 2-1

Last Week: 12/30 vs. UConn 71-69, 1/2 @ Rutgers 65-58, 1/4 vs. Pitt 71-74

This Week: 1/6 vs. Cal St. Bakersfield, 1/9 @ Seton Hall

8. Louisville: 10-4, 0-1

Last Week: 12/30 vs. South Florida 73-52, 1/2 @ Kentucky 62-71

This Week: 1/6 @ Providence, 1.9 vs. St. John’s

9. Marquette: 9-5, 0-2

Last Week: 1/2 vs. Villanova 72-74

This Week: 1/6 vs. Georgetown, 1/9 @ Villanova

10. Notre Dame: 13-3, 2-1

Last Week: 12/30 vs. Providence 93-78, 1/2 @ UConn 70-82, 1/5 vs. South Florida 74-73

This Week: 1/9 vs. West Virginia

11. South Florida: 10-4, 0-2

Last Week: 12/30 @ Louisville 52-73, 1/5 vs. Notre Dame 73-74

This Week: 1/10 @ Syracuse

12. St. John’s: 10-4, 0-2

Last Week: 12/31 @ Georgetown 59-66, 1/3 vs. Providence 74-59

This Week: 1/9 @ Louisville

13. Seton Hall: 9-4, 0-2

Last Week: 1/2 vs. Virginia Tech 94-103 OT

This Week: 1/6 @ UConn, 1/9 vs. Cincinnati

14. Providence: 9-5, 1-1

Last Week: 12/30 @ Notre Dame 78-93, 1/2 @ St. John’s 74-59

This Week: 1/6 vs. Louisville, 1/9 vs. Rutgers

15. Rutgers: 9-4, 0-1

Last Week: 1/2 vs. Cincinnati 58-65

This Week: 1/6 @ West Virginia, 1/9 @ Providence

16. DePaul: 7-7, 0-2

Last Week: 1/3 vs. Georgetown 50-67

This Week: 1/6 @ Villanova

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2009-10 Conference Primers: #3 – Big East

Posted by rtmsf on November 5th, 2009

seasonpreview

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

Predicted order of finish:

  1. Villanova
  2. West Virginia
  3. UConn
  4. Cincinnati
  5. Louisville
  6. Georgetown
  7. Syracuse
  8. Seton Hall
  9. Pittsburgh
  10. Notre Dame
  11. Marquette
  12. South Florida
  13. Rutgers
  14. Providence
  15. St. John’s
  16. DePaul

Preseason Awards.

  • Player of the Year. Luke Harangody, Notre Dame
  • Newcomer of the Year. Lance Stephenson, Cincinnati
  • Breakout Player of the Year. Kemba Walker, UConn

big east logo

All-Conference First Team.

  • Kemba Walker, UConn
  • Scottie Reynolds, Villanova
  • Devin Ebanks, West Virginia
  • Greg Monroe, Georgetown
  • Luke Harangody, Notre Dame

All-Conference Second Team.

  • Jerome Dyson, UConn
  • Deonta Vaughn, Cincinnati
  • Da’Sean Butler, West Virginia
  • Wesley Johnson, Syracuse
  • Lazar Hayward, Marquette

All-Conference Third Team.

  • Lance Stephenson, Cincinnati
  • Corey Fisher, Villanova
  • Jeremy Hazell, Seton Hall
  • Stanley Robinson, UConn
  • Samardo Samuels, Louisville

All-Rookie Team.

  • Lance Stephenson, Cincinnati
  • Peyton Siva, Louisville
  • Maalik Wayns, Villanova
  • Dante Taylor, Pitt
  • Mouphtaou Yarou, Villanova

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