Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 6th, 2012

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

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • Fab Melo Returns: After missing three games due to an academic issue, Fab Melo returned to the Syracuse lineup Saturday afternoon in New York. Melo scored a career-high 14 points in 21 minutes but, more importantly, changed the dynamic of Syracuse on both ends of the floor. Melo’s return adds some rebounding, opens up the middle for others to drive and score/dish and gives the Orange a defensive anchor in the middle of their zone. Melo doesn’t block every shot, but he alters a very high number. With the Brazilian big man roaming the paint, Syracuse is a legitimate national championship contender, something that was plainly evident on Saturday. Despite a backloaded schedule coming into view over the next few weeks, I’d be surprised if Syracuse loses another regular season game.
  • Pittsburgh Is Back: Oh Jamie Dixon, why did we doubt you? We should have known better. After starting the conference season 0-7, Pittsburgh has won four straight games and is actually in a position to make a run at the NCAA Tournament. The Panthers’ resurgence has been keyed by the return of Tray Woodall and better play defensively. Woodall scored a career-high 29 points against Villanova on Sunday and the Panthers held the Wildcats to 36% shooting. That’s the Pittsburgh defense we’ve grown accustomed to over the years and if it keeps up, Pittsburgh will go dancing. Pitt faces a crucial week. It must take at least one (preferably both) road game of the two at South Florida and Seton Hall between now and Sunday. If the Panthers can get both, they’ll be 6-7 with three of their final five games at home. I actually feel safe saying something that would have been considered outrageous just two weeks ago: I believe Pittsburgh will be in the NCAA Tournament.

Fab Melo's Importance To The Orange Was On Full Display Last Week

  • Order Being Restored: Pittsburgh has won four straight. Seton Hall has lost six straight. South Florida lost by 30 at Georgetown on Saturday. Louisville has turned it around. All of that tells you something, doesn’t it? The Big East is shuffling back into place as we head into the home stretch of the season. While the Pirates and Bulls were nice early-season surprises and feel-good stories, reality has set in. Seton Hall was ranked in the top 25 as recently as January 9, but hasn’t won a game since a victory over DePaul the following day. The Pirates are anemic offensively and can hardly shoot 30% against any opponent. I wrote a piece last week about what has gone wrong at the Hall, but it shows no signs of stopping this tailspin anytime soon. South Florida remains at 6-4, but four of its final seven games are on the road as the schedule stiffens. The Bulls will play Pittsburgh twice, Syracuse, Cincinnati, Louisville and West Virginia down the stretch. Expect their 6-4 record to turn into something like 8-10 rather quickly. Even if that happens, it has still been a successful season for Stan Heath and his team. Nobody expected them to win even six or seven league games.

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (23-1, 10-1) – What a difference one player makes. Syracuse played only once last week, but Fab Melo’s return sparked the Orange to dunk-filled 95-70 win over hapless St. John’s at Madison Square Garden. The win, Jim Boeheim’s 879th, pulled him into a tie with legendary North Carolina coach Dean Smith for third place on the all-time wins list. Boeheim has this team humming right along and it shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. Syracuse scored 53 bench points against the Red Storm, once again showing off its incredible depth and talent. Michael Carter-Williams electrified the Garden crowd with this dunk while C.J. Fair, Dion Waiters and Kris Joseph also played very well for the Orange. Syracuse shot 56% for the game. The schedule gets tougher in February but Syracuse should be favored in every game from here on out. This week: 2/8 vs. #15 Georgetown, 2/11 vs. Connecticut. Read the rest of this entry »
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Tracking The Four: Cuse Get Juiced and Leaves One Unbeaten Team Standing

Posted by EJacoby on January 24th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC contributor & correspondent. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. TT4 will cover four selected teams of interest – Syracuse, Indiana, Murray State, and UNLV – by tracking their ups, downs, and exciting developments throughout the course of the season.

Welcome back to TT4, where the lowest ranked team of the four in this week’s RTC Top 25 also happens to be the only undefeated squad left in the country. Will Murray State lose a game before the Big Dance? They continue to win in impressive fashion and are now getting a key cog back in the lineup for the stretch run. Meanwhile, our two major-conference teams are coming off poor weeks and UNLV keeps quietly handling their business. All four TT4 teams remained ranked in the Top 20 and have important games this week. Let’s look at what’s new:

Murray State Racers

Isaiah Canaan and Murray State Continue Pushing Towards Perfection (AP Photo/S. Dennee)

  • Trending UP Because… – They are the only undefeated team left in the country! After being down at halftime, the Racers climbed back to defeat Morehead State on Wednesday, 66-60, in a huge road win that was their toughest remaining test. Please raise your hand and leave a comment below if you had Murray State as the last team to lose this season. Not only is MSU unbeaten but they are getting their third-leading scorer Ivan Aska back any day now, as the senior forward has been cleared to play by doctors. All things are looking up for the Racers (20-0, 8-0 OVC), and all of their remaining games have suddenly become must-watch, or at least must-follow action as they try to make history.
  • This Week’s Key CogIsaiah Canaan. The star guard was named Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Week after going for 20 points in the win at Morehead State and 21 points, five rebounds, three assists, and two steals in a road win over SIU Edwardsville on Saturday night.
  • Play of the Week – The Racers were down by one against Morehead State until Canaan hit this deep three-pointer with 3:58 left to give Murray State a lead they would not relinquish.
  • Talking Point – The head coach of SIU-E, Lennox Forrester, was thoroughly impressed by the Racers on Saturday, and thinks they may have a special season ahead: “They carry a swagger about them. They’re at least a Sweet Sixteen team and maybe Elite Eight. They could be a so-called Butler.”
  • Coaching Tree of Life - The last time Murray State was ranked before this season (1998), Mark Gottfried was the head coach. The last Racers’ rookie head coach to win 20 games was Mick Cronin in 2003-04, and the in-jeopardy MSU single-season wins record of 31 came under Billy Kennedy’s watch in 2009-10. Gottfried, Cronin, and Kennedy are all major coaches at NC State, Cincinnati, and Texas A&M, respectively, today; perhaps coach Steve Prohm is next in line for a big-time job. Then again, Prohm could also be deserving of a major raise and extension there in Murray.
  • Stats Central – They’ve earned praise for proficient three-point shooting, but an underrated aspect of Murray State’s offensive game is their attacking prowess. The Racers have a season-long free throw rate (which measures FTA/FGA) of 45.1%, which ranks 19th nationally. But they’re even more outstanding in conference play, with a rate of 52.8% that ranks third in the country amongst all teams in their conference games.
  • What’s Next? – The Racers have just one game on tap for this week, at home against Eastern Illinois on Saturday (8:00 PM ET). EIU is 2-4 in OVC conference play and coming off three straight losses.

UNLV Runnin’ Rebels

  • Trending EVEN Because… – They took care of business this week by thrashing TCU at home before then opening up a big second-half lead and defeating New Mexico at home as well on Saturday. The Runnin’ Rebels continue to look the part of a consistent, elite team and they’ve even slid into the Top 10 of this week’s RTC Top 25. UNLV (18-3, 2-1 MWC) has only lost on the road to three teams that are either ranked (SDSU) or receiving votes (Wisconsin, Wichita State) this week. They are ranked sixth in the RPI and should get a very strong look at a top three NCAA Tournament seed if they continue to play this well.
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