Checking In On… the Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 29th, 2011

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

Reader’s Take

The Week That Was

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

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

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (6-0) – After feasting on four cupcakes to begin the season, the Orange were impressive late in victories over Virginia Tech and Stanford in the NIT Season Tip-Off. They struggled for the better part of both games, but the ability of this team to flip the switch and play like the top five team it is is something that will suit them well outside of conference play. However, Syracuse had better play well for 40 minutes once the Big East season arrives or else they’ll lose more games than you think. Jim Boeheim’s team ranks in the top ten nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency, one of only four teams at the moment. Syracuse has done a great job forcing turnovers leading to easy points in transition. Dion Waiters appears to have taken his game to the next level as a sophomore with transition play being a big part of that. How this team is affected by the Bernie Fine investigation, if at all, is something to watch over the next few weeks. This week: 11/29 vs. Eastern Michigan, 12/2 vs. #6 Florida.
  2. Louisville (6-0) – Rick Pitino was successful last year by molding a team of role players into a cohesive unit with no superstars through an incredible focus on defense. Louisville looks to be following that same formula again in 2011-12. The Cardinals rank third nationally in defensive efficiency and only one opponent has scored more than 54 points. Of course, offense is Louisville’s biggest challenge. Peyton Siva is back, but Pitino’s rotation has been scaled back due to injuries to Wayne Blackshear and Mike Marra. Blackshear may be back but Marra is lost for the season with a torn ACL. Louisville struggled against Ohio and has another tricky game with Long Beach State on Monday. Freshman Chane Behanan (9/9) is stepping up in the absence of Blackshear while Gorgui Dieng has been a shot-blocking machine in the paint at three rejections per game. This is a big week for the Cardinals as their competition gets stronger. This week: 11/28 vs. Long Beach State, 12/2 vs. #20 Vanderbilt. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East Morning Five: 11.22.11 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on November 22nd, 2011

  1. The Big East announced its first men’s basketball weekly awards on Monday.  Seton Hall forward Herb Pope took home Player of the Week honors as he led the Pirates to a 3-1 start averaging a double-double for the week (22.5 PPG, 11,5 RPG).  Pope recorded double-doubles in three of the four games, missing by just one rebound in that contest, an 80-73 loss to Northwestern in which Pope scored 32 points.  Notre Dame guard Jerian Grant earned the Rookie of the Week award after averaging 14 points, 3.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists in four Fighting Irish wins.  Grant, a sophomore, sat out last year thus preserving his rookie status.  Honor Roll recipients consisted of: Connecticut guard Shabazz Napier (18.0 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 6.5 APG) who messed around and got a triple-double in a win over Coppin State; Providence guard Bryce Cotton (22.0 PPG, 60% 3PT) who recorded successive career highs in each of Providence’s three victories on the week; Marquette Darius Johnson-Odom (20 PPG, 2.8 REB, 4.2 APG) highlighted by a 24-point, six-assist effort against Norfolk State; Pittsburgh guard Tray Woodall (19.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 8.0 APG) including 25 points, six rebounds and 10 assists versus Albany; and Villanova guard Dominic Cheek (22.0 PPG, 6 RPG) who scored eight overtime points in a win over city rival La Salle.
  2. South Florida big man Augustus Gilchrist injured his shoulder in the first half of Sunday’s 53-49 Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament loss to Penn State, and could sideline Gilchrist for Wednesday’s game against Georgia Southern.  According to the Tampa Tribune‘s Adam Adkins, per his Twitter account, Bulls coach Stan Heath declared his senior leader questionable for the contest.  Coming into the Penn State game, in which he played just 13 minutes, Gilchrist was averaging 14 points and eight rebounds per game. Lady luck was not on South Florida’s side at Mohegan Sun as in addition to Gilchrist’s injury, the Bulls took their first two losses of the season over the weekend, the other being a 68-66 overtime setback to Old Dominion after starting the year with three straight wins.  Georgia Southern will bring a 1-2 record to Tampa on Wednesday after dropping a pair of nine-point losses to Valparaiso and Wake Forest followed by an 84-61 triumph over NAIA Webber International.  Should Gilchrist miss Wednesday’s game, fans will look toward South Florida’s next contest on Saturday at home against Florida Atlantic.
  3. Notre Dame senior forward Tim Abromaitis made his season debut last night and led the team in points and rebounds with 22  and eight, respectively. Unfortunately for the fifth-year senior, the rest of his team shot just better than 30 percent from the field and Missouri ran away with a 87-58 win, the worst loss for the Irish since 1999. Mike Brey’s team (4-1) easily won their first four games against overmatched foes, but they wilted in their first real test of the season. Brey called it “a rude awakening” for his young team. The return of Abromaitis really only proved that, while he will be excellent individually this season, there is a lot of unproven talent around him, and point guard Eric Atkins was proof last night. The sophomore also made his return after missing the last two games because of illness, but his return — eight points, three turnovers, just one assist — didn’t go quite as smoothly. They are going to need him to do his best to replace some of the production Ben Hansbrough left behind.
  4. The Louisville basketball program is finally getting to put out beneficial injury news for once. Well, kind of. The Cardinals are saying that point guard Peyton Siva will miss tonight’s game against Arkansas State but should be ready to play Friday when the Cardinals host Ohio. But there’s also more sort-of good news for Rick Pitino as the team hopes to get forward Rakeem Buckles back to practice in the next week. Buckles hasn’t been able to do much physical activity since anterior cruciate ligament surgery last February, and the team isn’t desperate to even think about playing him until he is ready, but this is a step in the right direction.
  5. Providence recruit and native Ricky Ledo may want to stay in his South Kent (CT) dorm for Thanksgiving as opposed to coming home to Rhode Island where future head coach Ed Cooley may be waiting on his door step to discuss Ledo’s recent video-taped interview with Five Star Basketball, in which Ledo volunteered the names of recruits the Friars are after.  While the players he mentioned (Chris Obekpa, JaKarr Sampson and Nerlens Noel) are well publicized and documented Friar targets, Ledo has to understand that the NCAA acts and works in mysterious ways so he does not want to do anything that could be construed as an infraction.  We are sure Cooley will very diplomatically ensure that this understanding is reached in short order.  Cooley keeps a treadmill he calls the “Focus Machine” on the sideline at practice. He may personally deliver Ledo a dose of focus very soon and give him an opportunity to work off that turkey and stuffing.  Do not hold your breath waiting for new Ricky Ledo interviews any time in the near future, Friar fans.

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RTC Conference Primers: #1 – Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 14th, 2011

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

Reader’s Take I

 

Top Storylines

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

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

  • Cautious Optimism at Georgetown, Villanova and West Virginia: These traditional powers lose a lot of talent and figure to be lodged in the middle of the conference. All three programs return key cogs but the departures of Austin Freeman, Chris Wright, Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes, Antonio Pena, Casey Mitchell, John Flowers and Joe Mazzulla leave more questions than answers. These teams all need someone to step up and become a deep shooting threat while maintaining a low post presence. Guards win in college basketball but you also have to be able to rebound and score inside occasionally. Hollis Thompson, Mouphtaou Yarou and Deniz Kilicli must become better all-around post men if their respective teams hope to make the NCAA Tournament. At 6’7”, 205 lbs., Thompson isn’t one to bang with the big guys but he’s going to have to score in the paint at times. Each team has a nice recruiting class coming in, but it’s up to the returning players to make the ultimate difference.
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Morning Five: 07.13.11 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on July 13th, 2011

  1. It’s one thing to win a national player of the year award, but it’s quite another to parlay (trifecta?) your fame into having a race horse named after you.  JimmerMania has now officially jumped the shark with the news out of Saratoga (NY) that a two-year old colt owned by Elliott Walden and WinStar Farms was named “Jimmer.”  What… no The?  The connection is that the wife of Glens Falls (NY) HS head coach, Tony Hammel, works on the barn staff at WinStar and suggested the name to the owners.  We may have to wait a while to see The Jimmer on the game’s greatest stage, but if you have some free time this summer, you can always take the New York State Thruway up a bit past Albany to see his equine namesake eating some oats, trotting around a track, and whatever else it is that these elegant animals do.  (h/t Larry Brown Sports)
  2. An otherwise mundane story by Gary Parrish about Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis‘ presence in Lexington and the allegations surrounding his recruitment last summer that suggested the player’s family took $200,000 caused a bit of a firestorm Tuesday night on Twitter.  The article rehashed last August’s report from Chicago Sun-Times writer Michael O’Brien that Davis’ father negotiated a deal to send his son to UK, but Parrish was careful to articulate that there have been no further allegations to that effect and that the support for it was “thin.”  UK’s sports information director DeWayne Peevy later tweeted out about “one media seat that will be available at Rupp this year,” a clear shot across the bow of Parrish for daring to write about the Davis situation.  Quite a few in the twitterati (including ourselves, a group who have collectively had nothing but good experiences with the Kentucky administrator) were surprised about the reaction, and an hour later Peevy tweeted that he may feel differently tomorrow, but he is always going to “protect [his] kids.”  Protect them from what, exactly, we’re not certain.  Having now carefully read Parrish’s article several times, we fail to see much to get excited about, but we’ll presume that everyone will come to their clearer senses today and this thing will be soon forgotten.
  3. Speaking of UK, A Sea of Blue did an interesting recent analysis of the value per win among the ten highest-paid coaches in college basketball over the last two seasons.  Forgiving the standard disclaimers that the sample size is very small and ASoB’s assumptions of valuation are mere estimates, the data shows that from 2009-11, at least, Connecticut’s Jim Calhoun and Ohio State’s Thad Matta provide the most bang for the buck.  Add Calhoun’s 2011 national title to the mix, and it’s quite clear that the irascible New Englander has been well worth the money, despite what Ken Krayeske has to say about it these days.  Interestingly, Louisville’s Rick Pitino finishes tenth on this list, making the second-most money (tied with John Calipari, but behind Mike Krzyzewski) but earning the fewest overall wins and zero NCAA wins in this two-year period.
  4. The most hated man in basketball apparently has trouble even impressing collegiate stars these days.  Marquette’s rising senior guard Darius Johnson-Odom is coming off some time spent at the LeBron James’ Skills Academy this summer, and to hear him tell it, his team defeated the world’s greatest runner-up twice while he was there.  When queried as to playing with James, DJO said, “he’s a solid player” with a straight face before elaborating about the “King’s” passing skills.  Realizing that the game has changed an awful lot in the intervening years, we still have to wonder what might have happened if some young guy circa 1989 had beaten Michael Jordan’s team in pick-up ball.  And then said in an interview that he was “solid.”  Is there any question, really?
  5. Ken Pomeroy is nothing if not creative.  In a blog post yesterday, he brought to light what he calls ScheduleMatic, a new algorithm that attempts to solve the problem of worthless early season mismatches by pitting two similarly-talented local teams in competitive games.  Call it KenPom Fantasy Camp, if you like, but what he suggests makes sense.  One of the particularly annoying problems we’ve derided for long on this site is that the college basketball season begins with a whimper.  For the past couple of years, a random early November Monday has served as “Opening Night,” and nobody outside of our insular community much cared.   As Pomeroy puts it, “with ScheduleMatic, 344 compelling games [each team plays a home and road game] are added to the first week of play, each with some doubt surrounding the outcome. Exciting finishes would be frequent and every team would have a significant test or two on which to be judged early.”  Even he recognizes that the NCAA and its participating schools would never go for something like this, but perhaps his creative thinking on the topic will help the suits in Indianapolis and Bristol continue to think through more interesting ways to start the regular season.  [note: both the Veterans Day aircraft carrier game and the 24 Hours of Hoops are examples of this kind of thinking; we just need more if it.]
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RTC Summer Updates: Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on July 11th, 2011

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

Readers’ Take

Summer Storylines

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

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

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

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Conference Report Card: Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 19th, 2011

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

Conference Recap

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

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

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

  1. Pittsburgh (28-6, 15-3): The regular season was terrific once again for Jamie Dixon and the Panthers but, as has become common over the years, they fell short of their goal–getting to the Final Four. Pittsburgh lost four of their final eight games after starting the season 24-2. A mid-season injury to Ashton Gibbs was thought to bring them down a peg, but Pitt responded with wins at West Virginia and Villanova without him to quiet any doubters. That turned out to be their peak. Dixon did not really test his team out of conference except for two games at Madison Square Garden against Maryland and Texas back in November as part of the 2K Sports Coaches vs. Cancer event and a “home” game (in Pittsburgh) against Tennessee, which they lost. Looking back, one theory could be that an average non-conference schedule did not adequately prepare this team for the NCAA Tournament which is all about match-ups and teams you haven’t seen before from other leagues. While Big East coaches love to use the strength of the league as a crutch when questioned about a lack of non-conference heft to their schedule, I think this is a theory that has to be taken into consideration. Big East play is obviously rough and tumble every night but that can actually be a detriment come tournament time when games are officiated tighter and you don’t have as much time to prepare for an opponent who you likely don’t know very well, if at all. Pitt will lose Gilbert Brown, Brad Wanamaker, and Gary McGhee to graduation while Gibbs tests the NBA waters. I expect Gibbs to come back to join a very good recruiting class led by five-star forward Khem Birch. Despite the loss of three senior leaders, look for Pitt to be in the thick of the Big East race yet again next season. Dixon has established a culture of winning and I have learned never to doubt him after witnessing the 2009-10 campaign, a season that certified Dixon as one of the best basketball minds in the country. While this year was a great success during the regular season, Pitt’s inability to get to the Sweet Sixteen and eventually the Final Four renders this year a disappointment. GRADE: B- Read the rest of this entry »
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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.23.11

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 23rd, 2011

Throughout the NCAA Tournament, we’ll be providing you with the daily chatter from around the webosphere relating to what’s going on with the teams still playing.

East

  • Ohio State freshman big man Jared Sullinger was named Sporting News Freshman of the Year. Sullinger averages 17.1 points per game for the nation’s top team, and this is far from the last piece of hardware he’s going to receive from this season’s efforts.
  • Remember John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, and Eric Bledsoe? Well, this year, Kentucky has Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones. John Calipari has mastered the art of turning freshmen into NBA prospects.
  • Darius Johnson-Odom, a native of North Carolina, is making his dream come true playing for Marquette in the Sweet 16. Interestingly enough for Johnson-Odom, Marquette’s Sweet 16 opponent is the North Carolina Tar Heels.
  • Battling a knee injury while being forced to guard the opponent’s top scorer is no easy task, but UNC guard Dexter Strickland has performed the task admirably. While Strickland is not much of a scorer, his defensive tenacity is just as important to the Tar Heels as Tyler Zeller‘s hook shots and Kendall Marshall‘s passing accuracy.
  • Marquette head coach Buzz Williams has been rumored to take the Oklahoma job ever since the Sooner position opened up. If Oklahoma wants to secure Williams’ services, it will have to open up the wallet.

Southeast

  • Butler struggled throughout much of the early portion of the season; however, things began to change for the Bulldogs around February 1. Head coach Brad Stevens attributes this change to the elevation in the play of guard Shelvin Mack.
  • Some may call the swing offense employed by Wisconsin “boring,” but this offense has been effective for Bo Ryan‘s squad for many years. It should not matter if an offense is not very entertaining to watch. What should matter is if it works.
  • Brigham Young head coach Dave Rose has seen his star rise in the coaching world during the Cougars’ magical season. The question emerges of whether Rose will return to Provo next season.
  • After not winning a tournament game since cutting down the nets in 2007, Billy Donovan has his Florida team primed to make another Final Four run. While no players from the ’07 team remain, the program still knows how to get it done late in the tournament.
  • Butler has won several games down the stretch this season, including its first two tournament games. This clutch success can be attributed to the even-keel demeanor that the Bulldogs exhibit throughout the late stages of a game.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits – 03.17.2011

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 17th, 2011

Throughout the NCAA Tournament, we’ll be providing you with the daily chatter from around the webosphere relating to what’s going on with the teams still playing.

East

  • When Jay Wright speaks, his Wildcat squad listens. The veteran coach knows how to communicate with his players and that is one of the reasons he has had such a successful tenure.
  • A key for West Virginia‘s resurgence this season has been the turnaround of senior guard Casey Mitchell. Mitchell, who was thought to be a consistent player for the Mountaineers, battled inconsistency and conduct problems throughout the early part of the season.
  • UNC head coach Roy Williams revealed guard Dexter Strickland has been battling a knee injury for a few weeks. Strickland’s health will be a key to Carolina’s chances of making a deep run.
  • Marquette has struggled with defensive inconsistencies all season, but they have had great success getting to the hoop and drawing fouls. Look for Jimmy Butler and Darius Johnson-Odom to exploit the Musketeers in an attempt to get easy hoops.
  • #13 seed Princeton is seeking a monumental upset as they prep to face Kentucky. The Tigers do have a history of pulling huge shockers in March, as they stunned defending champion UCLA in the first round in 1996.

Southeast

  • Kansas State standout guard Jacob Pullen is battling the flu, but is expected to be a full participant in tonight’s tilt with Utah State. If Pullen is not 100%, one can assume Utah State’s chances for an upset get significantly stronger.
  • The fresh infusion of talent provided to Gonzaga by the emergence of Marquise Carter, David Stockton, and Sam Dower have been key to the Zags’ late season run. The play of all three will undoubtedly dictate if Mark Few‘s squad will make any noise.
  • Tom Izzo knows this season did not go exactly the way he wanted it to, but an experienced squad can be a huge factor if the Spartans make a run. Izzo is a great veteran coach, who has Final Four experience, so a big run may not be that surprising.
  • St. John’s associate head coach Mike Dunlaphas interest in the opening at Wyoming. Dunlap has a great track record as an assistant and a lower-level head coach and could thrive as the head man at Wyoming.
  • An interesting story has emerged about how Old Dominion head coach Blaine Taylor has endured bouts with alcoholism. His road to redemption is quite inspiring, as he did not let his demons put an end to his career.

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Set Your Tivo: 03.09.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 9th, 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.

Only two auto-bids go out tonight, but a couple of interesting games from the Big East are also on the slate. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

Big East Second Round (at New York, NY): #18 Connecticut vs. Georgetown – 12 pm on ESPN (***)

He and His Droogs Dispatched DePaul Last Night; Tonight, Alex Descends Into MSG For a Battle With the Hoyas

The Huskies drew a pretty good bracket by Big East standards, getting bottom feeder DePaul in the first round and a depleted Georgetown team this afternoon. Connecticut ended its winless drought in this tournament, blowing out DePaul yesterday for their first Big East Tournament win since 2005. Alex Oriakhi had 13 points and 19 rebounds, making his presence known at the start of the tournament after a regular season full of inconsistency. Kemba Walker added 26/7/5 as the Huskies cruised. Things get considerably tougher today against Georgetown, but the Hoyas are a reeling squad. They’ve lost four of their past five games, including a loss to UConn, and have not looked competitive since senior point guard Chris Wright went down with a broken hand. The Hoyas haven’t scored more than 51 points in three games without Wright and will have to play a strong defensive game if they want to knock off the Huskies.

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Set Your Tivo: 03.02.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 2nd, 2011

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

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

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

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

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

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

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ATB: Rest, Ye Merry Gentlemen

Posted by jstevrtc on February 25th, 2011

The Lede. Who doesn’t love a nice thick Thursday full of excellent college hoops storylines? We’ve got 17 more days to talk bubble teams and seed lines, and we’ll get to the big boys here soon enough. Tonight we start the ATB in the only place even considered for the honor, a 3,000-seat gym in Shreveport, Louisiana. Gold Dome. 0-28. Centenary.

Nakwaasah Was One of Two Gents Who Put Up Career Highs Tonight

Your Watercooler Moment. This entire season has been a lame duck endeavor for the Centenary Gentlemen. This is their last season in Division I, and not only are they demoting themselves, they’re sublimating straight to Division III after this year. For weeks they’ve been the only D-I team without a win. All season long up until a couple of weeks ago, while we were worried about undefeated squads, Centenary was unvictorious. As evening began to fall on the college season, prognosticators began glancing at Centenary’s schedule, wondering if a win was going to happen for the Gentlemen, and which game presented the most likely chance. We mean no disrespect to any supporters of the Western Illinois Leathernecks, the school, or the team itself, but when you looked at the records of Centenary’s upcoming opponents and you noticed that WIU, on its own floor, had only beaten the Gentlemen by six back on December 4th, the return game on February 24th was the one at which you pointed as a possible win for CC. The nation wanted it. It takes a lot of guts for kids to lose 28 times in a row, go through the practices and hear the whispers for an entire year, and still show up night after night.

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Set Your Tivo: 02.15.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 15th, 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.

Kansas State revived their Tournament chances (at least for now) with a big win last night. Can Michigan State do the same? Plus, first place is on the line in the Colonial. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

George Mason @ VCU – 7 pm on ESPNU (****)

Shaka Smart and VCU Can Even Things Up In the Patriot Tonight

Entering tonight, VCU sits one game behind George Mason as the teams meet for the only time in the regular season. The Patriots are one of the hottest teams in the nation, currently on an 11 game winning streak, while the Rams suffered their first home loss in over a year at the hands of Old Dominion on Saturday. To avoid a second straight home loss, VCU will have to contain George Mason’s potent guard-oriented attack.

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