Three Takeaways on Wednesday’s Big East Action

Posted by George Hershey on November 14th, 2013

Here are three quick thoughts on Wednesday night’s Big East action:

1.   Providence can still win when Bryce Cotton doesn’t have a great shooting game. Last night Providence was able to hold off Brown even though Cotton only had six points, going 2-of-12 from the field. Cotton is the unquestioned leader of the team, but it was reassuring to see players like LaDontae Henton and Tyler Harris step up when he wasn’t shooting the ball very well. With Cotton and Kadeem Batts (19/11) leading the way, the Friars could become a dangerous team if Henton and Harris can provide additional offense and rebounding like they did last night. Hopefully for the Friars, this goes down as Cotton’s worst game of the year, but it’s good to see some other players capable of raising their game.

Sterling Gibbs helped lead Seton Hall to a win last night (Jim O'Connor/ USA TODAY Sports)

Sterling Gibbs helped lead Seton Hall to a win last night (Jim O’Connor/ USA TODAY Sports)

2.   DePaul should have won a big non-conference game. DePaul let an early lead evaporate quickly as they led by 10 points midway through the first half before Southern Mississippi went on a run and led by five at halftime. The Blue Demons were frustrating to watch as they played great for stretches, but what did them in was that they started heaving up deep, contested threes early and often (they ended 7-of-26 from deep). They also played sloppily and lost all their momentum late in the game when they failed an alley-oop on a fast break, leading to a Golden Eagles layup on the other end. DePaul was impressive at times, though, as the team stuck with the Conference USA favorites for the whole game and got turnovers from their full court press. Overall, it’s a disappointing loss for DePaul as they had a great chance to get a big early win, but they have the pieces in place to have their most successful season in years.

3.   Sterling Gibbs is the real deal. Seton Hall held off an impressive Kent State team last night. Most importantly for the long term success of the Pirates was the way Texas transfer Sterling Gibbs played. Gibbs had a great all-around game as he led the team with 20 points and six assists and also contributed five rebounds. Gibbs could be the key for the Pirates as they have two excellent players in Fuquan Edwin and Gene Teague, but the point guard position had been unstable. He attacks the basket aggressively, and it showed as he took 13 free throws in last night’s game. Having a player who can distribute the ball and attack the rim at a high level bodes well for the Pirates this season.

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Big East M5: 11.11.13 Edition

Posted by George Hershey on November 11th, 2013

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  1. The college basketball season has begun! Friday night saw seven Big East teams play and the other three played on Saturday. Big East teams went 8-2 to begin and the losses were to two ranked teams, Oregon and Wisconsin. Georgetown battled with Oregon in South Korea and although the Hoyas came away with a loss, there were some positives for the team. Newcomer Joshua Smith showed his top-notch talent on the offensive end and Markel Starks took control of the offense and showed his ability to score. Smith was a beast in the post as he scored 25 points and Starks contributed 16 of his own (including the only Hoya three-pointer). Georgetown teams have gotten off to slow starts during the past few seasons, but John Thompson III typically transforms his teams into contenders by mid-season. Although they lost the game, there shouldn’t be too much concern as the Hoyas will buckle down on defense and the shooting will improve.
  2. One of the most talked about topics over the weekend was the new foul rules. The often criticized change was apparent in all the games. Games stretched well over two hours and several records for fouls in a game and free throws attempted were set. Marquette got to the line 53 times against Southern and Seton Hall and Niagara combined for 102 total attempts. Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said after the game that “it’s going to take everyone a little bit of time to adjust to. Players are going to take a little time. Refs need to take a little time. It was one of those ugly, early games, but I’m just glad we won.” In Providence‘s win over Boston College, each team had three players foul out in an important, tightly-contested game. Fans were upset throughout the night and referees heard it all over the nation. Teams are obviously going to have to adapt to the rules and modify the way they play defense, but one has to hope that big games at the end of the season don’t come down to the 10th guy on the bench shooting free throws to win the game.
  3. Providence came into the season with high hopes of a return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004. Those hopes have faded slightly in the past week. Stud sophomore Kris Dunn hurt his shoulder going after a loose ball in the Friars’ scrimmage last week. There is particular concern because Dunn missed the beginning of last season with a torn labrum in his right shoulder. Dunn was ruled questionable for Friday’s season opener and he did not play. The Friars also were without freshmen Brandon Austin and Rodney Bullock, who are suspended indefinitely for “not upholding their responsibilities as student-athletes.” Austin was supposed to have an important role from the start and earned national prominence for his dunk at Late Night Madness. Hopefully Dunn is able to return to the lineup soon and the freshmen are reinstated before Providence gets too far into the season, including a fun match-up with Kentucky in Brooklyn.
  4. Brandon Miller won his first game as Butler’s new head coach. Miller has big shoes to fill after Brad Stevens left for the Boston Celtics, but he got off to a good start with a convincing win over Lamar. Zak Keefer of the Indy Star pointed out some interesting stats after the Bulldogs’ win. Khyle Marshall was the best player on the floor Saturday, pouring in 19 points and 13 rebounds. Last year, Butler went 16-1 when Marshall scored in double figures and this year the team will probably go as far as he takes it. The team didn’t shoot the ball well, but were still able to win easily even with Kellen Dunham having an off night. The Bulldogs have a strong, well-balanced starting lineup, and if some reserves can contribute meaningful minutes, Butler could make a push in the Big East standings.
  5. One of the most surprising and impressive players this weekend was DePaul‘s freshman center, Tommy Hamilton IV. Hamilton poured in 16 points and grabbed 11 rebounds as he beat down Grambling State’s front line. The freshman has slimmed down considerably and is down to 267 pounds. He had not played in a meaningful game in two years after a knee injury derailed his junior year campaign in high school. Hamilton acknowledged he could have played better, but his performance bodes well for the Blue Demons. If Hamilton is able to play a significant amount of minutes each night at center, it will allow star Cleveland Melvin to play on the wing instead of in the post. Hamilton may have been fairly unknown coming out of high school, but his immediate contributions could be a massive help to Oliver Purnell’s squad.
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Introducing the RTC Big East Preseason Power Rankings

Posted by Dan Lyons (@Dan_Lyons76) on November 8th, 2013

College basketball is back! Seven Big East teams open their seasons tonight, including a few big match-ups like St. John’s vs. Wisconsin and Georgetown vs. Oregon. There is no better time to unveil the Big East microsite’s preseason rankings, with comments and analysis from our group of Big East writers:

Marquette Needs to Go Inside Against Davidson

Marquette tops Rush the Court’s preseason Big East rankings.

10. DePaul

  • Dan Lyons – With Cleveland Melvin and Brandon Young heading into their senior years, this might be DePaul’s best chance to get out of the Big East basement, but I’m definitely taking a wait and see approach with the Blue Demons.
  • George Hershey – It’s DePaul… They have some talent in Melvin and Young, but they don’t play defense.
  • Todd Keryc – It doesn’t matter what league they play in or who else is in it, the poor Blue Demons are destined for the cellar almost every year.
 9. Butler
  • DL – With the injury to Roosevelt Jones, Butler is without a returning double-figure scorer this season. I’m not one to bet against the Bulldogs, with or without Brad Stevens, but this inaugural Big East campaign isn’t shaping up too well for this Cinderella.
  • GH – They lose many pieces from last year’s team. Roosevelt Jones’ injury really hurts, but they are Butler and they always surprise everyone. Expect Kellen Dunham to have a big year.
  • TK – Bad timing for the Bulldogs. They ride two straight national title appearances into two straight conference upgrades, only to see their boy wonder coach Brad Stevens leave for the NBA.

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The RTC Interview Series: Big East Preview with Jon Rothstein

Posted by Walker Carey on November 5th, 2013

Rush The Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you periodically throughout the offseason. If you have any specific interview requests or want us to interview you, shoot us an email at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. To read through the entire 2013-14 preseason interview series, click here. As part of our national preview with the Big East, RTC correspondent Walker Carey recently had the pleasure of speaking with a Big East expert in CBS Sports Network College Basketball Insider Jon Rothstein.

Jon Rothstein Shares His Big East Preseason Thoughts With Us

Jon Rothstein Shares His Big East Preseason Thoughts With Us

Rush the Court: The new Big East has formed with its roots based almost exclusively on basketball. What will that do for the conference’s reputation from a national standpoint?

Jon Rothstein: I think we are going to have to wait and see how these schools that are left in the conference perform on a national level. From the periphery, I think everyone is looking at the Big East as a conference that can send either five or six teams to the NCAA Tournament. That would put the Big East probably on the same par as the American Athletic Conference. A lot of its reputation is going to be formed by how many teams the Big East will send to the Tournament on a consistent basis.

RTC: Marquette has been the popular preseason pick to win the league. The Golden Eagles lost Junior Cadougan, Vander Blue and Trent Lockett from last season’s Elite Eight team, so what is it about this season’s squad that makes it so formidable?

Rothstein: This is the deepest and most talented frontcourt that Buzz Williams has had since he has been the head coach at Marquette. On the other hand, this is also going to be the least experienced backcourt that he has had. I initially picked Marquette to win the Big East at the start of the offseason, but going back on it now, I wish I had picked Georgetown to win the league.

RTC: What makes you believe Georgetown has the talent to win the league?

Rothstein: To me, Georgetown replenishes talent as well as any team in the country. The thing about the Hoyas that is interesting to me is that they are able to win with different styles. You saw them feature a perimeter attack when they had Chris Wright, Jason Clark and Austin Freeman. You saw them use an inside attack with Henry Sims leading the way. Last season, we saw Otto Porter really blossom and do a bit of everything. Georgetown always finds a way to win consistently, but it does it in different ways.

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Big East M5: 11.04.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on November 4th, 2013

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  1. Headlined by national player of the year candidate Doug McDermott, Creighton is probably the most intriguing new member of the Big East, and with the season fast approaching, they want everyone to know that they are not afraid of the spotlight.  Fox Sports‘ Reid Hargrave went in depth on the Bluejays, and their fit within the new-look conference, coming away under the impression that Creighton should fit in just fine: “Just watch these kids play, spreading the floor and using non-stop ball screens and attacking from the perimeter with deadly shooting and always looking for the extra pass. This isn’t grind-it-out Big East basketball. This is the finesse game you’re more likely to see in Europe… But there’s nothing traditional about this new Big East, a conference still searching for its basketball identity.” Hargrave believes that the team’s offensive prowess takes credit away from what should  be a sound defensive unit, even when stacked up against a deeper lineup of conference rivals than what they are accustomed to. The story also includes this note — which should terrify the rest of the league — from head coach Greg McDermott on his superstar son: “But being with him every day, there’s no question he’s getting that shot off quicker.”
  2. A lot of the questions surrounding Creighton have to do with the schedules that they’ve faced in the past.  Doug McDermott thinks that recent history shows that the Bluejays are not afraid of playing high major competition, and the league that they’re coming from had quality teams similar to what they will face this winter. McDermott cites a stat that Creighton’s only losses in 11 recent games against power conference foes have been to the likes of Duke and North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament. Omaha.com‘s piece also brings up 2013 Final Four participant, Wichita State – a team from the Missouri Valley with high-major type talent that Creighton faced annually. The major adjustment in schedules for Creighton, Butler and Xavier will come in the consistent talent and athleticism that they will face on the floor, even from lesser Big East competition like DePaul and Seton Hall.
  3. The new Big East is quite attractive because of the basketball focus of the league. While most schools would love to have remained in a conference with the Syracuses, Louisvilles and UConns of the world, getting away from the myriad of issues surrounding college football is a good thing for the basketball-focused Big East programs, and  the league’s coaches, like Georgetown’s John Thompson III, seem to agree: “The identity is basketball is our religion. It’s a basketball conference.”  The three schools joining the “Catholic Seven” –  Butler, Creighton, and Xavier – definitely share the sentiment, as evidenced by the environments in which they play. Creighton is a regular among top-10 attendance lists, as the Bluejay faithful pack CenturyLink Center, while Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse is one of the toughest places to play in the country. The Big East may not send 11 teams to the NCAA Tournament anymore, or have a handful of top 10 teams at any given moment, but it is back to being all about the hoops.
  4. There is a lot that is new about DePaul basketball this year. The school is in a new league, the staff has added two new coaches, and the roster features eight new players this season. This isn’t a bad thing, as the Blue Demons have struggled to get the program jump-started and have gone without an NCAA Tournament bid since 2004. Oliver Purnell returns a few established players in Cleveland Melvin and Brandon Young who he hopes can guide a young roster back towards the pack in the Big East. Despite being chosen at the bottom of the conference, with two established star players returning, the Blue Demons may surprise some teams yet.
  5. Villanova blog VU Hoops took a look at recruiting in the Big East and how the 10 teams compare with one another and other power conferences across the nation. Seven of the programs have at least one four-star recruit verballed already, with schools like Georgetown, Marquette  and Seton Hall — who has arguably landed the biggest name in guard Isaiah Whitehead — controlling the coveted rankings. The article goes on to compare the Big East to the rest of the recruiting landscape: “When it all shakes out, the new conference will most likely trail the SEC, ACC and Big Ten in terms of the number of commits ranked in the top 150 but not by much. Considering the Big East has fewer teams than each of those conferences, I think the numbers are very impressive and a good sign as the conference moves into the future.”
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Big East M5: 10.30.13 Edition

Posted by George Hershey on October 30th, 2013

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  1. Renowned college basketball stats guru Ken Pomeroy released his preseason rankings for the upcoming season. The Big East comes in as the second best conference in the nation, behind the Big Ten. This is surprising after Louisville, Syracuse, and several other quality teams left, as well as seeing ESPN writer Dan Hanner have the Big East in the middle of the pack of the power seven conferences. Pomeroy has Creighton leading the league, ranked 13th, with Georgetown right behind them at 14. Marquette and Villanova follow at 24 and 26. Pomeroy’s rankings look fairly different than Hanner’s, which has Marquette as the top team in the league and ranks the bottom seven teams lower giving the Big East a much lower rating. Pomeroy admits that his predictions have the “simplest algorithm possible without being a complete joke.” This is not the best way to predict how well a team will play during the season, but it is fun to see what a respected statistician says about the upcoming season. The high ranking for the Big East should give fans optimism and reason to believe the Big East will compete to be one of the top conferences in the nation.
  2. CBS Sports writer Jeff Borzello wrote an interesting piece about the team outside his top 25 that he thinks has the most potential and St. John’s was his clear cut choice. With so much talent, it is easy to see why. The Red Storm return all five starters as well as Jamal Branch and God’s Gift Achiuwa, who will have major roles. He points out that the biggest addition is freshman Rysheed Jordan. Steve Lavin said “He has tremendous poise and makes good judgments on the court. He plays with a hard edge, which is an indication of his competitiveness and that’s why he has had success since a young age on the court.” Jordan was named Big East Preseason Rookie of the Year and his addition raises the potential even higher. Last year’s team also had talent, but a lot of inexperience. This year players like D’Angelo Harrison and JaKarr Sampson will have to take a big step forward in becoming more complete and smarter basketball players. Lavin will also have to impress this year after having a reputation for being a great recruiter, but not being able to win with top talent. All the pieces are in place for this to be a big season in Queens.
  3. Last night, Butler scrimmaged against Nova Southeastern and won handily 101-64. Obviously it was an easy game for them, but it is still nice to see it wasn’t close, as opposed to DePaul‘s scrimmage against Lewis University, which saw the Blue Demons trail at halftime before using an early run in the second half to win by five. Zak Keefer of the Indianapolis Star took a look at Butler freshman Rene Castro. Castro is a point guard who looks like he could end up being a key contributor this season and possible starter by the end of the season, as Keefer predicts. Castro has a good bit of improving to do especially on the defensive side of the ball and needs to adjust to the college game, but he has impressed and is working hard on his outside shot. First-year coach Brandon Miller could use Castro’s physical abilities to bring another aspect to the team. If Castro is the real deal, he could make sophomore Kellen Dunham’s life much easier by using his quickness to get into the lane and kick it out to him for three’s. Castro has big goals, saying “Our goal is to make the NCAA Tournament and fight for a championship.”
  4. The Big East is benefiting from the thrilling World Series on Fox, as Kevin McNamara of the Providence Journal points out. Fox is airing several commercials publicizing the upcoming season on Fox Sports 1 and is reaching millions as game 4 on Sunday night outdrew the NFL. The commercials are pushing it’s opening night games of Providence-Boston College and Lafayette-Villanova. Fox Sports also announced its lineup of announcers for the upcoming season. Besides the already announced star combo of Gus Johnson and Bill Raftery, Justin Kutcher, Dick Stockton, Thom Brennaman, Brian Anderson, Eric Collins and Kevin Kugler will have play-by-play duties and Kevin O’Neill, Gary Williams, Donny Marshall as well as several other former players and coaches will serve as analysts. FS1 has some big names announcing games with Stockton and Brennaman being well-known announcers who have plenty of experience. O’Neill and Williams should be interesting to have in the booth as they will be making their debuts, but have had great success coaching and will have interesting analysis.
  5. The Big East announced that it has hired Tom Jernstedt as senior adviser. He will be tasked with helping commissioner Val Ackerman on officiating, scheduling, postseason play and an entire strategic plan. Jernstedt worked for the NCAA for almost 40 years and Ackerman says that “few have as keen a grasp as he does of the intricacies of the NCAA and the college basketball world.” ESPN’s Dana O’Neill makes the point that the hiring is very important as it gives the Big East credibility from the start. His past experience will be key in getting the Big East through the tough early stages of establishing itself as a power conference. Their is a lot of work to be done and Ackerman will benefit from having someone who knows the ins and outs of the NCAA and the college basketball world.
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Pac-12 Team Preview: Arizona State Sun Devils

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on October 29th, 2013

We continue unveiling our team-by-team breakdowns, in roughly the reverse order of where we expect these teams to finish in the conference standings.

Arizona State Sun Devils

Strengths. The combination of the lightning-quick Jahii Carson and sharpshooter Jermaine Marshall gives head coach Herb Sendek one of the top one-two punches in the conference. Carson, arguably one of the top 10 point guards in the nation, will run the offense and is as dangerous as anyone in the Pac-12 in crunch time. Complementing the sophomore in the backcourt will be the Penn State transfer Marshall, whose ability to score from the perimeter and by driving to the basket will take some of the load off Carson. Sendek will employ a faster offense this season looking to maximize the speed and talent the pair provides. If Carson develops a strong left hand and even just on occasion forces defenses to play him more honestly, Arizona State can score enough points to compete with anyone in the Pac-12. All of this should result in its first NCAA Tournament trip since the 2008-09 campaign.

Everything Will Go Through Carson For Arizona State This Season (credit: Zach Long)

Everything Will Go Through Carson For Arizona State This Season (credit: Zach Long)

Weaknesses. As good as Carson and Marshall are, there will be nights when a little depth is required. And that’s where ASU could get into trouble. The next best guard is cornerman Shaquielle McKissic, who is in from Edmonds Community College. McKissic has some raw talent and athleticism, but he will be called upon often and doesn’t appear to be Pac-12 ready.

Non-Conference Tests. Arizona State starts the year with a trio of cupcakes before playing seven consecutive solid opponents. That’s almost unheard of in power conference basketball, so it will be interesting to see how the Sun Devils fare during the brutal two-and-a-half week stretch. Known games with UNLV (in Las Vegas), Marquette (in Tempe), and Creighton (in Fullerton) highlight the slate, while possible match-ups with San Diego State and Miami (FL) are also possible. They’ll remain on the road following the Wooden Legacy for a game at DePaul, which is still a Big East road game no matter how bad the Blue Demons might be.

Toughest Conference Stretch. Sendek’s team will get to face the two toughest teams in the Pac-12 back-to-back on the road near the front end of the league schedule. They’ll get a brief reprieve when hosting Utah following the Arizona game, but a visit from dangerous Colorado two days later accelerates things once more.

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Breaking Down Dan Hanner’s Big East Projections

Posted by George Hershey on October 28th, 2013

Economist and college hoops writer Dan Hanner posted  his annual projections for ESPN Insider on Friday. It is a very interesting article and a recommended read for any college basketball stats junkie. He puts a unique spin on his projections by starting at the player level instead of the team level. The advantage, as he puts it, “is that not all additions have the same impact everywhere. For example, transfer Trae Golden is expected to have a huge impact on Georgia Tech because the Yellow Jackets had a big hole at PG. But if he had been added to a team like Duke, with multiple quality ball-handlers, his impact would have been much smaller. The player-level model can account for these kind of differences.” His rankings take into account player upside as well as downside and he gives a best-case and worst-case position for each team.

Grant Gibbs and Creighton need to shore up their defense to reach their full potential this season.

Grant Gibbs and Creighton need to shore up their defense to reach their full potential this season.

The Big East is well-considered by Hanner. The league’s 10-team average is 53.9, slightly behind the Big Ten at 49.2 and well ahead of the AAC at 79.9. Last year’s Big East would have scored considerably higher with Louisville in the second spot as well as Syracuse and Connecticut in the top 25. This year, the Big East does not have as many teams at the top with Marquette leading the way at #17, but there is great balance with DePaul the only team lower than #100. It does not look like any teams will be battling for #1 seeds this season, but there could be seven or eight squads fighting for spots in the NCAA Tournament come February and March.

The following are the 10 Big East teams in descending order:

  • POFF – Projected offense, median prediction for points scored per 100 possessions
  • PDEF – Projected defense, median prediction for points allowed per 100 possessions

1. Marquette Golden Eagles

17. POFF: 116.1 | PDEF: 92.5 Best case: 7th | Worst case: 29th

Hanner ranks the Golden Eagles in the same spot as the USA Today poll. Buzz Williams’ squad is ranked highly in both offense and defense, but neither is extraordinarily high. For Marquette to reach its best case scenario, they would need their three new starting guards to come close to last year’s production from the trio of Junior Cadougan, Vander Blue and Trent Lockett, a very difficult task. The frontcourt returns everyone, but Jamil Wilson and Davante Gardner will have to become the go-to scorers and also rebound well while Chris Otule locks down the paint defensively. With Williams’ track record, it seems unlikely that his team would drop out of the top 25 unless the guards are unable to step up and contribute at a high level.

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Pac-12 Team Preview: Oregon State Beavers

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on October 26th, 2013

We continue unveiling our team-by-team breakdowns, in roughly the reverse order of where we expect these teams to finish in the conference standings.

Oregon State Beavers

Strengths. Oregon State boasts one of the finest frontcourts in the conference. Starting the group off is senior Devon Collier, a strong small forward who can score either driving to the hoop or with a nifty little jumper. Senior center Angus Brandt missed the majority of last season after tearing his ACL in the fourth game of the year, and his ability to score from both inside and behind the arc took away a big threat from that team. Finally, there’s Eric Moreland. Moreland’s career in Corvallis has been an up-and-down one, including two “violation of team rules” suspensions in the past 10 months and a declaration for the NBA Draft (which he later pulled out of and decided to return). Now he is serving that second suspension and will miss the first 14 games of the 2013-14 campaign, but will provide a monster boost on both the glass and the defensive end of the court when he returns.

Devon Collier Can Beat Defenders Playing Either As A Physical Small Forward Or Face-Up Four (credit: Andy Wooldridge)

Devon Collier Can Beat Defenders Playing Either As A Physical Small Forward Or Face-Up Four (credit: Andy Wooldridge)

Weaknesses. This team has very little experience on the bench. The backup point guard is Malcolm Duvivier, a true freshman who was originally in the Class of 2014 but reclassified to join the team immediately. Backing up Roberto Nelson at the two will be the newcomer that Beaver fans should be most excited about, Hallice Cooke out of St. Anthony High School (NY). And the best option to spell Brandt will be sophomore Olaf Schaftenaar, who shot a completely unnecessary amount of three-pointers his initial season in Corvallis, and at a 30.9% clip to boot.

Non-Conference Tests. A trip to College Park to face Maryland awaits Craig Robinson’s team just seven days after its season opener. DePaul isn’t exactly a “test,” but the Blue Demons present a challenge at home against the Beavers on December 1. The toughest stretch comes in the four games before Christmas break, beginning with a visit from Towson, a team that came from 19 down last year at Gill Coliseum to top the Beavers in overtime. After that they head to the Islands to face Akron in their Diamond Head Classic opener. Either Iowa State or George Mason will be on tap in the second game, and a solid group of choices, headlined by Saint Mary’s, are in play for the Christmas Day finale.

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Big East M5: 10.23.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on October 23rd, 2013

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  1. Just weeks before the start of the 2013-14 season, Marquette forward Jameel McKay has decided to leave the Golden Eagles to pursue his college basketball career elsewhere. Marquette Tribune writer Patrick Leary was especially taken aback by the announcement, based on a conversation he had with McKay just days earlier, when he “raved about how excited he was to play for Buzz and the Golden Eagles.” McKay, a junior college transfer who did not log any time for Marquette last season, was expected to be behind forwards Davante Gardner, Chris Otule, and Jamil Wilson at the forward spots. Leary speculates that playing time may have been a concern for the junior, although time would have opened up next season when all three of those players will have graduated. There do not seem to be any hard feelings between McKay and the program, at least based on his Twitter feed where he stated: ““I appreciate the coaching staff and fans no hard feeling at all GoodLuck to them this year!” shortly after announcing the transfer.
  2. Another day,another transfer player is being held up in the vortex that is the office where the NCAA clears up these matters. Today, Georgetown awaits the fate of UCLA transfer Josh Smith. Coach John Thompson III acknowledges that waiting is, in fact, the hardest part: “It’s the nature of the beast. It’s the nature of the system. Would I prefer it not be this way? Probably. But at the same time, I understand it takes time.” Smith would be a big addition to a Hoyas frontcourt that is already without forward Greg Whittington, who tore his ACL this spring after missing most of last season with academic concerns. Like Smith, Thompson doesn’t have a substantive update on Whittington’s status: “Only God knows when Greg’s going to be able to play. I have no idea when he will be able to get back on the court.”
  3.  Even within a largely new conference, DePaul‘s status remains the same. The Blue Demons have once again been voted to finish last in the league, but the players are excited for what the future holds in the Windy City. The team returns two stalwart seniors who have averaged double figure points in each of their first three years in forward Cleveland Melvin and guard Brandon Young, and adds an exciting freshman class highlighted by guard Billy Garrett Jr. To his credit, Garrett looks forward to playing on the big stage: “Playing with expectations is something I’ve gotten used to. It’s something I don’t pay that much attention to because you have to go out there and perform.” While many bemoan the loss of former conference rivals to the AAC and ACC, DePaul and other members of the Big East who struggled against the UConns and Syracuses of the world may welcome the change simply because it makes things a bit more manageable. The new league, combined with a roster that features both stars of years past and new players who are not used to all the losing years that DePaul has experienced, could make for a fresh start for a once proud program.
  4. A new league means a new court for Providence, who is set to unveil Dave Gavitt Court this season. The Friars’ new hardwood moves away from the old design, which heavily featured black, with a cleaner silver and gray look around the perimeter, and is adorned by former Providence coach, athletic director, and first Big East commissioner Dave Gavitt’s name at center court.  With so many other programs installing crazy court designs in recent years, this sleek, streamlined design is much appreciated. Now if they can just do something about the total nightmare-fuel giant inflated Friar near the tunnel at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center…
  5. As a Syracuse fan, it was hard to get excited about Hilby the German Juggle Boy as the main source of extracurricular entertainment at this year’s Midnight Madness in the Carrier Dome. Take note, Syracuse, as Seton Hall has this Midnight Madness entertainment thing figured out. During this Friday night’s event in South Orange, head men’s coach Kevin Willard and women’s coach Tony Bozzella will participate in a hot dog eating contest against the infamous Kobayashi.  If you’re a Seton Hall fan, you too can compete by entering an Instagram contest describing why you should be given a shot against Willard, Bozzella, and Kobayashi. So good luck to you, intrepid Pirates fans. I am incredibly jealous that Jim Boeheim is not participating in this one.
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Big East M5: 10.21.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on October 21st, 2013

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  1. New York Times writer Zach Schonbrun experienced a sense of relief among the various schools at last week’s Big East Media Day in Manhattan. After many seasons played under the shroud of conference realignment, culminating with the awkwardness of last season’s farewell tour for Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and Notre Dame, the Big East is now a settled, basketball-driven league focused on private schools in metropolitan markets. While the conference’s new members — Butler, Creighton, and Xavier — are all located in the Midwest, they fit into the league quite well culturally. St. John’s head coach Steve Lavin actually thinks the new schools fit in better than some of the public universities that have moved on to the American Athletic Conference, and the schools who left for the ACC for largely football-based reasons: “It’s not like a ‘Sesame Street’ deal — which one doesn’t belong… You’ve got a tree, a bush, some seaweed and then a truck. It just didn’t fit. I think now we have a league that’s more similar.”
  2. Georgetown lost an excellent player to the NBA Draft in standout forward Otto Porter, but guard Markel Starks thinks that the Hoyas are more than just one player and that his team will look to prove that this season: “We play as a unit… We play as a group. Obviously, we just lost a great player. Even still, with or without him, we play as a unit. … I think we can still be a very dangerous team.” Starks, now a senior, will probably bear much of the weight of Porter’s absence in the scoring column, after averaging 12.8 points per game last season. He will be joined in the backcourt by D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, who proved capable of exploding for big point totals last season. Smith-Rivera scored at least 14 points in three of his last four regular season games last season, and dropped 33 in 34 minutes against DePaul on February 20.
  3. One of the major changes fans will notice in the conference this year is a lack of legendary coaches on the sidelines, although the Big East will not be hurting for talent in that spot. Gone are Hall of Famers like Jim Boeheim and Rick Pitino, but rising stars like Marquette’s Buzz Williams and Georgetown’s John Thompson III are poised to lead the conference into this new era. Thompson agrees that the coaching talent in the league is very high: “If you look around the room, the quality of coaching is outstanding. Yes, we lost some Hall of Fame coaches, but I don’t think too many teams want to go up against the guys in this room. Every game is going to be a battle. That was true last year; that’s going to be true this year.” Williams also believes in the overall quality of the league, and thinks it stands up with the best conferences in college basketball: “Every coach is going to say they play in the best league, but if you objectively study the numbers, I think what this league has done the last five years speaks for itself. I think this year that will hold firm, too.”
  4. Even without the likes of Syracuse, Louisville, and UConn, many are excited about the prospects of the Big East, especially those at the league’s three new schools: Butler, Creighton, and Xavier. Between the television contract with Fox Sports 1 and the ability to play at Madison Square Garden, the Big East provides a great increase in exposure for the former Horizon League, Missouri Valley Conference, and Atlantic 10 teams. Rumble in the Garden‘s Chris Ronca caught up with Xavier’s Chris Mack and Creighton’s Greg McDermott, who were both very excited about these new possibilities. Mack says his players are excited about playing at MSG:  “Playing for your conference championship in the Mecca is an amazing opportunity for Xavier fans and players.” McDermott talked about the league’s TV contract and it’s impact on the Creighton program: “[Creighton’s] fans have longed for this for awhile.” McDermott went on to say that “with Fox [Sports] 1, it’s very exciting for the program… there’ll be a lot of new ideas with how [Creighton’s] product is shown nationally.”
  5. Sports Illustrated‘s [and RTC‘s] Chris Johnson’s “Stock Watch” series sets its gaze on the Big East, and he’s quite bullish on Villanova, while throwing a bit of shade on Butler. Johnson cites Villanova’s surge in the middle of last season, where the Wildcats knocked off top five Louisville and Syracuse outfits in a a five-day stretch, as evidence that Jay Wright’s club is very dangerous. He likes the combination of Ryan Arcidiacono, JayVaughn Pinkston, and Daniel Ochefu, and believes that if the team continues to get to the free throw line and play stingy defense, it can push for the top of the league standings. As for Butler, Johnson believes that the loss of Brad Stevens in conjunction with an increase in the difficulty of conference play will hurt the Bulldogs, as will the departures of Rotnei Clark and Andrew Smith as well as the injury to Roosevelt Jones.
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Media Day Launches New Era for Big East, Same As It Never Was

Posted by Todd Keryc on October 17th, 2013

The next generation of the Big East officially kicked off Wednesday with the conference’s annual basketball media day in New York. It was a day marked more by who was missing than who was in attendance. Gone was one of the faces (and mouths) the original Big East was built upon, Jim Boeheim. Gone were the defending national champions, Louisville and Rick Pitino. Gone was even a man who had never coached a game in the conference but whose arrival was expected to help the revamped league, Brad Stevens. Even the traditional Big Monday with Sean McDonough, Jay Bilas and Bill Raftery on ESPN is a thing of the past.

It's a New Era in the Big East Conference

It’s a New Era in the Big East Conference

Yes, there’s still a Thompson roaming the sidelines at Georgetown. There’s still Villanova, St. John’s, Providence and Seton Hall, schools bonded together by their Big East heritage and lack of high-level football. But the 2013-14 season will be decidedly different in the Big East. Marquette, always solid but not spectacular since the days of Dwyane Wade, was the media’s choice to win the league. The preseason player of the year, Doug McDermott, plays college hoops in Nebraska at Creighton. The team the closest removed from playing for the national title is Butler, which only has DePaul to thank for avoiding the cellar in the preseason poll.

New Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman vowed in her address to “make the Big East a force in college basketball.” The key word here is “make.” Yes, there’s clear talent this year but there are question marks everywhere. McDermott is a two-time All-American, but one who will face steeper competition night in and night out this season. Marquette returns the frontcourt of a team that was a win away from the Final Four, but must replace talented backcourt performers like Vander Blue and Junior Cadougan. Georgetown lost to Dunk City (Florida Gulf Coast) early in the NCAA Tournament last season and then lost Otto Porter to the NBA.  They were still picked to finish second.

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