Big East M5: 03.06.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on March 6th, 2013

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  1. Syracuse’s senior game tonight against DePaul features two members of the Orange making their definite final appearances at the Carrier Dome as players: Brandon Triche and James Southerland. However, few would bet that these are the only two scholarship players who will move on after this season. The best bet is that Michael Carter-Williams will join them despite his recent bouts of poor play. Some Syracuse fans argue that he could use more seasoning in college, and they’re not wrong, but many forget that despite being a true sophomore, MCW is already 21 years old now and will be 22 before next season. MCW would be the eighth Syracuse player in six seasons to leave school early, with four of those players — Donte Greene, Jonny Flynn, Wes Johnson, and Dion Waiters — picked in the first round of the NBA Draft.  Waiters, who played with Carter-Williams last season, weighed in: “Michael’s a 6’6″ point guard. You can’t teach height. If he comes here, he’ll get nothing but better.” In his Syracuse.com piece on the subject, Bud Poliquin also mentions C.J. Fair and Rakeem Christmas as possible early departures, but those seem like stretches from this observer.
  2. In the classy moves by coaches department, Rick Pitino announced that junior Gorgui Dieng will be allowed to participate in Senior Day festivities in anticipation that the center will make the jump to the NBA after this season. “He has given us more than we have asked for. It is in his best interest to come out, and I think he is ready… He has been great for us. I have enjoyed coaching him so much. It is going to be a very difficult Senior Night. I have had some difficult ones, but this may be the most difficult.” There is definitely an argument to be made for keeping senior days for those who finish out their four years of eligibility, but I have no issue with exceptions being made for people like Dieng who were both great players and, by all accounts, students in addition to players during their time in college.
  3. This is the point of the season where teams look to ramp it up and start playing their best ball as they head into postseason play. Pitt’s Talib Zanna had been in an extended slump, averaging just 5.5 points per game for an extended period after averaging 13+ PPG for the first two months of the year. Recently, however, it seems like Zanna has started to find his rhythm again, and that doesn’t bode well for teams at the Garden next week. In Pitt’s last home game against Villanova, Zanna went off for 14 points and 19 rebounds in an overtime victory. Pitt closes the season at DePaul on Saturday before preparing for their final Big East Tournament.
  4. Cincinnati basketball hasn’t been the most beautiful version of the game this season, and things have only been worse in that regard with the constant injury issues that have befallen Cashmere Wright. He popped his shoulder out of the joint for the sixth time in Monday’s loss to Louisville, according to Mick Cronin. In the last few games, it seemed like Wright had been getting closer to 100 percent, which he clearly hasn’t been since a mid-January injury against DePaul. If Wright can’t find his shot and the lion’s share of the Bearcats’ scoring falls on Sean Kilpatrick’s shoulders in the postseason, Cincinnati will continue to struggle to score in the season’s most important games.
  5. Scott Martin’s career has been plagued by injuries, so if the Notre Dame forward can’t maintain a long career overseas, he has a fallback plan in coaching. Mike Brey believes that Martin is well-suited for the sideline: “I think he’s going to be a hell of a coach.” In a Chicago Tribune article, Martin discusses how he’s begun to watch the game through an analytical lens and former Irish teammate Ben Hansbrough admitted that he and Martin discussed coaching after their careers had wrapped. Martin’s constant injuries may have derailed a promising career, but it is good to hear that he has a strong plan for after basketball…well, after playing basketball, anyway.
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Big East M5: 12.14.12 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on December 14th, 2012

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  1. It’s become overwhelmingly clear that the seven Big East Catholic basketball schools will publicly articulate their plan to split off from the league, although it appears outright dissolution is off the table; “a more likely scenario will be that they simply break away and start anew.” As one of the departing ADs told Kevin McNamara at the Providence Journal, “the train has left the station. Get on board or get run over.” The basketball schools will likely shun the wandering eyes of UConn and Cincinnati in favor of raiding the A-10 of programs like Butler and Xavier, who will view a centralized Catholic basketball league as a destination rather than a stepping stone affiliation. There remain a tremendous number of loose ends to tie up before either of the splintering Big East factions can move forward developmentally. Branding rights (the “Big East” title––however toxic––carries AQ status); a tournament venue in Madison Square Garden; exit fees; NCAA Tournament units, which are much more lucrative than television revenue, and will provide a rolling annuity for another five or six years –– we’re entering uncharted territory, and these issues will be painstakingly hammered out in court for months or years to come. Pete Thamel’s piece (linked above) does the best job of depicting the tedium of what has quickly become the most convoluted episode in the realignment saga to date. As one AD told Thamel, “If anyone tells you they know what’s going to happen with the legal issues, the brand, the name, Madison Square Garden and all those issues, I don’t think they’re being honest.”
  2. Michael Carter-Williams describes the exasperation he experienced in his freshman year, as the former McDonalds All-American resigned to riding the pine behind a veteran backcourt. Yahoo!’s Jeff Eisenberg presents a vignette from the Syracuse locker room after a win at Providence in January: The freshman sat by himself after his teammates left, dreading the disapproval of his local friends and family who had traveled to see him play only to watch the Scoop Jardine and Dion Waiters show for all but four minutes. The notion of a blue-chip recruit waiting his turn is an old-school ethic that’s becoming harder and harder for coaches to sell, and Carter-Williams demonstrated a patience that would have eluded many 18-year-olds accustomed to the superstar treatment. “Michael had to pay his dues like when I went through high school and college,” said MCW’s high school coach, Mike Hart. “He got very frustrated at times. But we all knew his time would come and I’m glad everyone was patient.” Syracuse fans probably share that sentiment.
  3. Two weeks after undergoing surgery to install an orthopedic screw in his fractured left hand, Louisville’s Gorgui Dieng is out of his cast and could return to the court in about a week. Pitino was initially hoping his center could return by the Cards’ Big East opener against Providence on Junary 2, and my pessimistic outlook for Dieng-less Louisville had been predicated on that timetable (the joke is on me for credulously accepting one of Pitino’s infamously conservative injury prognoses). On his Wednesday night radio show, the UofL coach said he was eying the December 22 Western Kentucky game as a good opportunity to ease Dieng back into the lineup. The coach said he’d “love to get 15-18 minutes out of him” against WKU to prepare for the Battle for the Bluegrass five days later. Though Kentucky will presumably enter the Yum! Center with a “3” in its loss column rather than beside its initials, Pitino won’t trivialize any Calipari-coached UK team after losing four straight against the Cats. Barring a medical relapse, you can bank on Gorgui Dieng playing 20-plus minutes in that game.
  4. Rutgers AD Tom Pernetti has suspended Mike Rice for three games without pay and fined him $50,000 for inappropriate behavior in practices. Rice has caught flak in the past for sideline misanthropy, and was cautioned by his AD after being ejected for the first time in his career in a loss at Louisville last season. So it wasn’t much of a shocker when Brendan Prunty at the Newark Star-Ledger reported that the suspension was triggered by an internal investigation that revealed “abusive, profane language” he used towards his team and an episode in his first two seasons “in which Rice threw basketballs at some players’ heads during practice.” The timing couldn’t be any worse for the RU coach, whose team will play decent UAB and Rider squads without him before tripping to Syracuse to play the role of sacrificial lamb in Cuse’s Big East opener. Rutgers is off to a 6-2 start –– its best since 2010-11. In that season, Rice’s inaugural campaign ended in a 6-15 nosedive. This is the kind of distraction that could trigger a similar collapse.
  5. With the imminent addition of Vincent Council, Kris Dunn and Sidiki Johnson to Ed Cooley’s arsenal, Friarblog declares “the gang’s all here.” Not only will the Providence coach have a bevy of skilled bodies at his disposal after struggling to field the most spartan rotation all year, but that depth will grant Cooley wider latitude in exploiting mismatches on offense and not forcing players to play roles outside of their comfort zones. For example, he can slide LaDontae Henton primarily to the three-spot, and stop plugging an uncomfortable Josh Fortune in at point guard due to attrition at the position. It will be a relief to see Providence finally catch a break and watch what they can do with a promising roster at full strength.
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Tipping Off The Big East Countdown: #2 Syracuse

Posted by Dan Lyons on November 11th, 2012

In our St. John’s preview, we stated that the Johnnies went through about as much adversity as one team could in a single season. If that’s the case, Syracuse was a close second. The Bernie Fine scandal would have been enough to derail most teams, but it seemed to put a chip on the shoulder of the Orange, who spent a portion of the year ranked first in the nation after Kentucky lost at Indiana. The Fab Melo saga was harder to overcome, and came to a head in Syracuse’s Elite Eight loss to Ohio State. Syracuse lost four of its main rotation players from last season – guards Scoop Jardine and Dion Waiters, forward Kris Joseph, and center Fab Melo – but look to plug in a couple of impressive underclassmen and make another run at a final Big East championship and perhaps a Final Four.

Jim Boeheim has been knocking on the door of his fourth Final Four over the last few years.  Will this young Syracuse squad be the one to break through? (AP)

Schedule

Syracuse doesn’t have too many marquee games on the non-conference slate. Their most intriguing match-up is their first game against San Diego State, which will be played on the deck of the USS Midway in San Diego on Sunday afternoon. SU also travels to Arkansas for the SEC-Big East challenge, and will take on one of the teams filling the void they are leaving in the Big East – Temple – at Madison Square Garden. In the Big East schedule, Syracuse shares home-and-homes with Villanova, Providence, Louisville, and Georgetown. The Hoyas host the Orange in their last ever Big East game, which should be one for the ages.

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RTC NBA Draft Profiles: Dion Waiters

Posted by EJacoby on June 19th, 2012

The 2012 NBA Draft is scheduled for Thursday, June 28, in New York City. As we have done for the last several years, RTC’s team of writers (including Andrew Murawa, Kevin Doyle, Evan Jacoby, Matt Patton, and Danny Spewak) will provide comprehensive breakdowns of each of the 35 collegians most likely to hear his name called by David Stern in the first round on draft night. We’ll work backwards, starting with players who are projected near the end of the first round before getting into the lottery as June progresses. As an added bonus, we’ll also bring you a scouting take from NBADraft.net’s Aran Smith at the bottom of each player evaluation.

Note: Click here for all published 2012 NBA Draft profiles.

Player Name: Dion Waiters

School: Syracuse

Height/Weight: 6’4” / 215 lbs.

NBA Position: Shooting Guard

Projected Draft Range: Mid-First Round

Dion Waiters Shows No Fear on the Floor, Which Should Help Him in the NBA (AP Photo/K. Rivoli)

Overview: Dion Waiters’ disappointing first year at Syracuse included a falling out with Jim Boeheim and contemplations about whether to leave the program. But the former top 20 recruit came back a completely different player in year two, where he was arguably the best and most impactful player on an elite Syracuse team. Waiters didn’t start a single game as a sophomore but was a game-changing reserve who could score points in bunches (12.6 PPG) and cause havoc with his perimeter defense (1.8 SPG). A player whom Boeheim said after his first year “played no defense last year – none” turned into the leading catalyst of the nation’s top team in steals. Waiters is a bully at 6’4” and 215 pounds who overpowered weaker defenders on his drives to the basket, leading to an impressive highlight reel of explosive dunks. His physicality also allows him to create space on the perimeter to get his shot off, where he shot 36.3% from three-point range. Waiters is extremely efficient in transition, and he is difficult to stop once he gains steam towards the basket. He also thrived in the pick-and-roll as a threat to shoot, drive, or create for his teammates. His shot selection was questionable at times, but he still recorded a strong 47.6% field-goal percentage, and he turned the ball over just 1.3 times per game in 24 minutes. Despite his strength, Waiters is a bit undersized for a two-guard and he’ll be facing much stronger and athletic players at his position at the next level.

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Big East Morning Five: 03.27.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on March 27th, 2012

  1. Syracuse’s super sixth man Dion Waiters is not going to wait around for his starting slot next season with the Orange as Waiters announced he will be entering the NBA Draft.  The athletic 6’4” guard will sign with an agent, eliminating any possibility of returning for his junior year.  Waiters did not start a game this season for Syracuse but was widely regarded as the team’s most talented player.  He posted averages of 12.6 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 2.6 assists in 24.1 minutes per game while being named the Big East’s Sixth Man of the Year and making All-Big East Third Team.  There could be quite a bit of roster turnover this offseason as Waiters joins departing seniors Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph, while fellow sophomore Fab Melo, who was suspended for the NCAA Tournament due to academic issues, may be soon to follow Waiters into the NBA draft.
  2. Another Big East guard, Providence’s Vincent Council, ended speculation that he might be leaving school to turn pro when he told Brendan McGair of the Woonsocket (RI) Call, who reported via Twitter,  “I wasn’t really thinking about leaving (Providence College) at all.”  It had been said Council was considering foregoing his senior year and that academics may have been a driver.  An All-Big East Third Team selection this past season, Council averaged 15.9 points, 4.1 rebounds and a conference best 7.5 assists per game. The 6’2” New Yorker figures to be one of the top returning Big East point guards in what should be an entertaining backcourt next year as the Friars welcome in top 25 recruits Ricardo Ledo and McDonald’s All-American Kris Dunn.
  3. There are so many storylines around the Louisville versus Kentucky Final Four matchup there could be a two-week Super Bowl-type hype period to analyze and dissect.  While everyone loves some good old-fashioned overkill, the good news is we only have until Saturday to anticipate how this historic match-up might play out.  Certainly the head coaches are at, or near, the forefront of it all and as Yahoo! Sports’ Dan Wetzel points out, Louisville’s Rick Pitino will enjoy playing the underdog role in an effort to perhaps tighten Kentucky coach John Calipari and his team up a bit.  While there is no question the pressure rests on Calipari and Kentucky, it is hard to fathom the magnitude of the moment getting by either team.  As much as Pitino might love his side to play loose, he and his team both know the margin for error will be thin on Saturday.
  4. Plane ticket from Kentucky to New Orleans? $500-$1800.  Hotel room in New Orleans? $400-$600 per night.  Ticket to see Louisville take on Kentucky in the Final Four? $377.  A chance to see one of the most anticipated match-ups in college basketball history?  Well…pricey!  If this weekend is any barometer of the economic state of our country things are progressing nicely.  Despite the price tag demand is high for all of the above and supply is getting low as basketball crazy residents of the Bluegrass state have been more than willing to pony up. Getting to New Orleans is one thing.  Plane seats are limited and anything involving a gas powered vehicle, whether car, SUV or bus comes with the pain of surging gas prices.  What to do when one gets there is another. As of yesterday there were only about 2,200 of New Orleans’ 22,000 hotel rooms available even with hotels setting four-night minimums. It is great to go to a big game but will also be interesting to see if television sales in Final Four markets increase this week as people decide to ditch the planes, trains, and automobiles and use that money to purchase a longer-lasting Toshiba.
  5. The Associated Press revealed its All-America teams yesterday and while the Big East cannot boast any first teamers, the conference was well represented overall.  Big East Player of the Year Jae Crowder of Marquette (17.6 PPG, 8.4 RPG) and West Virginia’s Kevin Jones (19.9 PPG, 10.9 RPG) represented two of the six players who received second team honors while Connecticut’s Jeremy Lamb (17.7 PPG, 4.9 RPB) took home an honorable mention distinction.  Members of the first team included: Anthony Davis (Kentucky), Draymond Green (Michigan State), Doug McDermott (Creighton), Thomas Robinson (Kansas), and Jared Sullinger (Ohio State).  Robinson was a unanimous selection.
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Big East Afternoon Five: 03.26.12 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on March 26th, 2012

  1. And then there was only one. The Final Four is set and only one Big East team — Louisville — will be heading to New Orleans this season. The Cardinals got there thanks to a late furious rally that allowed them to eke out a victory over Florida despite being outplayed by the Gators for most of the game. The victory sets up an intrastate showdown with Kentucky and the Bluegrass State is already starting to reach critical mass with anticipation. Predictably, the Louisville Courier-Journal will be milking this match-up all week long. If you have a hankering from some occasionally unhinged trolling, head over to the paper’s interactive feature called “The Argument,” which basically allows readers to state their case in favor of their team. I have spent 30 minutes on it this morning, and I am already hooked. It should be required reading this week for anyone looking for insight into how intense this game will be for the good folks in Kentucky.
  2. The conference had a chance to put two teams in the Final Four this weekend, but regular season champion and top-seeded Syracuse couldn’t hang on against an Ohio State team that is playing as well as anyone in the country not named Kentucky. ‘Cuse fans want to blame the referees and their seemingly one-sided foul calls, but the absence of Fab Melo may have cost them this game. The Orange were never a great rebounding team in the first place, but they were badly beaten on the boards against a bigger Buckeyes’ squad and it is hard to win when you give a talented team 13 offensive rebounds. As if the news wasn’t bad enough for ‘Cuse fans, a source told Adam Zagoria after the game that super sophomore Dion Waiters has definitely played his last collegiate game. It looks like next season might be a rebuilding one in upstate New York.
  3. In news that should surprise absolutely nobody, Connecticut center and captain Alex Oriakhi is transferring out of the program following a disappointing junior season. The jist seems to be that Oriakhi will be eligible to play immediately because of UConn’s likely postseason ban next season, which should make Oriakhi one of the more sought-after transfers in the country. After a great sophomore campaign, Oriakhi fell out of Jim Calhoun’s favor this season and didn’t exactly respond well to the small demotion. It will be very interesting to see if a change of scenery will recharge his batteries and make him a force to be reckoned with, or if his best days are truly behind him.
  4. File this under “things that absolutely should not happen under any circumstances,” but future Big East program SMUis trying to poach a future conference rival’s coach in Marquette boss Buzz Williams. Knowing they shouldn’t stand a chance, the reports are that SMU is prepared to lavish Williams — a Texas native — with a huge contract to go with their new practice facility and arena renovations. All the money in Texas still shouldn’t be enough to pry Williams loose from the Golden Eagles. Marquette has become one of the premier programs in the country first under Tom Crean and now Williams, and while they will lose a lot of good players this season, they will always be a competitive team, something that cannot be said about the Mustangs. It probably won’t and shouldn’t happen, but let’s talk about it anyway, because if it does happen, it is gigantic news.
  5. We will use our final note here to make an impassioned plea to members of the media and most importantly, Rick Pitino. We agree, mercurial sophomore Russ Smith does some ridiculous things on the basketball court, both good and bad, but let’s retire the “Russ-diculous” before it really gets off the ground. First of all, it is not even a particularly clever play on a word. Secondly, I know Pitino himself is responsible for the nickname, but collectively we can come up with something more creative than that. College basketball is a sport riddled with amazing nicknames, and there is no way a player as maddening and spectacular as Smith deserves such a crummy one. Of course I am not saying I have any alternatives in mind (I am incredibly not creative), but I am imploring those with a few better ideas to start putting them out there so I don’t have to read that terrible pun anymore.
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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Elite Eight Saturday

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 24th, 2012

#4 Louisville vs. #7 Florida – West Regional Final (at Phoenix, AZ) – 4:30 PM ET on CBS

RTC Region correspondents Andrew Murawa (West) and Brian Otskey (East) contributed to this preview.

Pitino & Donovan Have a Great Amount of Respect For Each Other (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

It’s master versus pupil in a battle for the Final Four. Billy Donovan and Rick Pitino first gained national attention at roughly the same time as Donovan was the star player on Pitino’s 1987 Providence College team that made an improbable run to the Final Four, but their relationship didn’t stop there. Dovovan’s single year in the NBA was spent with Pitino as his head coach, and when he gave up his job on Wall Street to get back into basketball, it was to Pitino’s staff at Kentucky that he went. Since then, Donovan has had plenty of success, including back-to-back national championships, giving him one more for his career than his mentor, but in head-to-head matchups, Donovan’s teams have never won in six meetings. As for this meeting, we’ve got a couple of really interesting clashes here. First and foremost, we get to watch a Florida offense that is the third most efficient offense in the country competing against a Louisville team who has, on the strength of Thursday night’s absolute destruction of a good Michigan State offense, taken over the number one spot in defensive efficiency. The Cardinals did a lot of things right defensively in that game (grabbing over 80% of defensive rebound opportunities and limiting their opponent to just a 33.7% eFG night among them), but perhaps the key to the game was their ability to force turnovers on 25% of the Spartans’ possessions. That type of thing could be very hard to come by against a guard-heavy Gator team that generally does not turn the ball over with great regularity. Furthermore, when the Cards’ opponents do get into the halfcourt against them, their goal is often to force the other team into making tough shots over them, something that Florida can do very well. Not only are guards Kenny Boynton, Erving Walker and Bradley Beal all very capable shot-makers from both beyond and inside the three-point line, but stretch-four Erik Murphy is capable of pulling a defender like Chane Behanan away from the basket and further opening things up in the lane. On the other side of the court, it is no secret that Louisville has trouble scoring; they’ve only scored 0.98 points per possession over the course of their current seven-game postseason winning streak (which goes to show how good their defense has been – 0.86 PPP against good competition). And Florida’s defense is definitely on the uptick, as they’ve allowed just 0.78 PPP in the NCAA Tournament, including just 0.87 against a very good Marquette offense. Further, if the Cards are unable to force turnovers with regularity, they’re not going to be able to get out in the open court and get easy baskets, meaning they’ll need to find some type of consistent offense in the halfcourt game. If that’s the case, they’ll need the good Russ Smith to show up, they’ll need Chris Smith and Kyle Kuric knocking down threes, and, most of all, they’ll need an aggressive Peyton Siva getting penetration and finding offense for himself and for his teammates. All of those things can happen, but sooner or later, the lack of offensive coherency is going to come back to cost the Cards, and the Gators look to be the perfect team to take advantage of it.

The RTC Certified Pick: Florida

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Big Ten Morning Five: 03.23.12 Edition

Posted by Ryan Terpstra on March 23rd, 2012

  1. Bad news for Big Ten fans last night, as Michigan State fell to Louisville, 57-44.  Not only were the Spartans the best chance for the conference to claim a national championship, they also became the first #1 seed to fall.  Michigan State looked sloppy and out of sync all game long, thanks to the swarming pressure defense of the Cardinals, and also the shot-blocking presence of Gorgui Dieng, who swatted 7 shots.  Many other stats were disappointing for Spartan fans to look at, including the final score, 44, which is the lowest total point output by a 1-seed in the college basketball shot clock era.
  2. One Spartan who had a game to forget was sophomore point guard Keith Appling.  Appling scored just one basket, and had four turnovers, struggling withe the Louisville pressure.  Following the game, Appling was dejected in the locker room, with the realization of how quickly fortunes can change in the NCAA tournament washing over him.  He’ll be expected to lead the transition out of the Draymond Green era next season, so hopefully Appling doesn’t keep his head down for long.
  3. Wisconsin came oh-so-close to upsetting Syracuse, but the Badgers fell just short, as Jordan Taylor and Josh Gasser could not covert last-second attempts.  Wisconsin was able to slow the pace down, as evidence by the 64-63 score, but the Badgers also ruled the three-point line, knocking down 14 of 27 for a stunning 52% from beyond the arc.  It wasn’t enough though, as Dion Waiters scored 13 points, and also had some key baskets down the stretch that helped the Orange hold on.
  4. The Big Ten only had one successful team on the evening, and that was Ohio State, who’s win over Cincinnati put the Big ten at 1-2 on the night (against the Big East no less), but more importantly sent the Buckeyes to the Elite Eight, a place they haven’t been since the school went to the Final Four in 2007.  Things looked dicey as Ohio State coughed up a 10-point halftime lead five minutes into the second half.  But Thad Motta’s crew collected themselves, and behind 26 points from Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State guaranteed the conference will have Elite Eight representation.
  5. As brackets continue to bust this weekend, Nebraska basketball fans are keeping tabs on a quiet coaching search taking place in Lincoln.  No big names are linked to the Husker jobs, but that doesn’t mean the search lacks for interesting candidates.  Colorado State head coach Tim Miles is a name that not many have talked about, but after taking his Rams to the NCAA tournament and helping turn around that program, he seems like a good fit for a struggling Nebraska.
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ATB: Syracuse Survives, OSU Recovers, and Upset City in the West…

Posted by EJacoby on March 23rd, 2012

Tonight’s Lede. Half of our Elite Eight teams are set, with the East and West regions completing their semifinal matchups on Thursday night. The East Region in Boston finished as expected, with chalk advancing to the Elite Eight in the form of Syracuse and Ohio State for what should be a fantastic regional final on Saturday. But the story in Phoenix was much different, as the favored #1 and #3 seeds went down in games that were dominated by the lower seeds. Only one game on the night finished in single digits but there was plenty of exciting basketball that took place. And the one game that was a close one happened to be one of the Big Dance’s best. Let’s break it down… 

Your Watercooler Moment. Jordan Taylor’s Shot Falls Short, #1 Syracuse Survives.

Wisconsin is Devastated After Coming so Close Against Syracuse (Getty Images/J. Rogash)

Our first game of the night was a classic, one that featured two very different teams that both executed at an extremely high level offensively. Four-seed Wisconsin brought its patented ball-control, super-slow tempo game plan into Boston with hopes of knocking off top-seeded Syracuse with a methodical approach, good shooting, and strong collective defense. But no defense could stop what either team was bringing to the table in this one. The Badgers executed their plan offensively, hitting an amazing 14-27 from three-point range in a wonderful display of outside shooting that would usually be enough for a victory. But the Orange were just as strong on the other end, converting 55.1% of their field goals with easy baskets in the paint from a variety of one-on-one scorers. The two teams combined for just 12 turnovers and this game came down to the very last shot, one that fell short on a long three-point attempt from Jordan Taylor on a broken offensive play. Despite the fairly low 64-63 final score, the game featured crisp execution throughout its entirety. Syracuse was just one possession better, thanks to its easy offense earned through superior athleticism and playmaking in the half court. It’s on to the Elite Eight for the Orange!

Also Worth Chatting About. The First #1-Seed to Fall are Tom Izzo’s Spartans.

Everyone knows that March is Michigan State’s month. Tom Izzo has brought the Spartans to six Final Fours in his tenure, and he had never been knocked out of the NCAA Tournament before the final weekend when his team was a #1 seed. That came to an end on Thursday, when Michigan State was outplayed from the start by Rick Pitino’s #4 Louisville Cardinals. The Spartans racked up more turnovers (15) than made field goals (14) while shooting 28.6% from the field. Louisville was too athletic and strong defensively, essentially beating Michigan State at its own game. The Cardinals won the battle on the boards, in the turnover margin, and from behind the arc (they shot 9-23 compared to 5-21 for MSU). Gorgui Dieng racked up seven blocks and three steals to go along with nine rebounds in an elite defensive performance, and Peyton Siva ran the offense well with nine assists. Izzo’s March mystique could not get his players to put the ball in the basket, and our first #1 seed finally goes down.

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Rushed Reaction: #1 Syracuse 64, #4 Wisconsin 63

Posted by nvr1983 on March 22nd, 2012

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Syracuse weathers the storm. People have said a lot of things about this Syracuse program over the past five months, but they are definitely resilient. From the Bernie Fine scandal to the Fab Melo suspension (both of them), the Orange have persevered and now find themselves on the verge of taking Jim Boeheim to just his fourth Final Four in his storied career. Tonight the Orange were able to fend off some ridiculously hot shooting from the Badgers who went 14-27 from the 3-point range including six straight three-pointers in less than four minutes midway through the second half. The Orange managed to withstand the barrage and are on the verge of heading to New Orleans.
  2. Berggren in foul trouble. When someone looks at the box score from this game in the future they will probably barely notice Jared Berggren‘s 3 fouls, but those who watched the game will know that the second foul he picked up with 12:03 left in the first half had a huge impact in the game. Berggren had just scored 10 straight Wisconsin points in 3:17 stretch that turned a 7-5 Syracuse lead into a 15-9 Wisconsin lead. From that point forward, Berggren did not play a single second in the first half. The Orange then went on a 24-8 run to give themselves a 10-point lead before a late four-point spurt by the Badgers cut the halftime deficit to six.
  3. Contrasting styles made for a great game. Early in the game nearly every media member was tracking how much of the shot clock Wisconsin was using before they took a shot. On the other end, we could barely keep up with how quickly Syracuse was getting its shots off. The contrast was also notable in the team’s shot selection. Wisconsin scored 42 of its 63 points from beyond the arc while only 15 of Syracuse’s 64 points came from three-point range. In the end, Wisconsin had exactly what it wanted–the ball in the hands of its senior All-American point guard. Wisconsin could have called a timeout to set up a play, but you can hardly fault Bo Ryan for letting Jordan Taylor work against a Syracuse defense that the Badgers had picked apart in the second half with its three-point shooting. This time though, Syracuse stepped up and forced Taylor into an ugly desperation three that the Badgers didn’t need and their last gasp came up short.

Star of the Game. C.J. Fair, Syracuse. Berggren may have had the big first half and Dion Waiters may have exploded towards the end of the first half, but it was fair who gave the Orange 15 points, seven rebounds, and four steals that probably was the decisive factor. Fair has been quiet offensively over the past six games totaling just 20 points over that period, which spanned a month, but he gave his team the lift it needed to get over a tough Wisconsin team.

Sights & Sounds. Our seat was next to the Wisconsin bench and while we didn’t get to watch Jim Boeheim’s facial expressions we got an earful of Bo Ryan yelling about every single call. As we noted earlier Ryan was particularly vocal about his thoughts that the officials were favoring the Orange, which was not evident as Syracuse was actually called for one more foul (13-12). The one time when Ryan did not have something to say was when a reporter asked him what he said immediately after the game to Jordan Taylor.

What’s Next?  The Orange will be taking on the state of Ohio in some form. They could get a Big East match-up with Cincinnati, who they split the season series with winning at Cincinnati in January, but then dropping the Big East semifinal to a surging Cincinnati team. Or they could get a game against Ohio State that Orange fans have feared with the presence of Jared Sullinger potentially highlighting the absence of Fab Melo on the inside.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.20.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 20th, 2012

The NCAA Tournament is here and there’s more news, commentary and analysis than any of us can possibly keep up with. To make things a little easier, we’ll bring you a list of daily links gathered about teams in each of the four regions all the way through the Final Four.

South Region

Midwest Region

  • Fans and media aren’t the only ones caught up in great performances by major talent among the mid-major ranks. It was recently revealed that in 2010, Baylor coach Scott Drew and then-Tennessee head coach Bruce Pearl allegedly contacted Ohio‘s D.J. Cooper about transferring, which would constitute NCAA violations if the allegations are true. It will be interesting to see whether the subject is raised during Baylor’s media session this week.
  • Yahoo! Sports’ Pat Forde opines that even if North Carolina guard Kendall Marshall returns to the fold for a potential regional final, the odds are stacked heavily against the Heels.
  • The Tar Heels’ aren’t the only team from the state recovering from some health concerns. N.C. State will face Kansas Friday, and C.J. Williams and C.J. Leslie are recovering from fatigue. The severity isn’t even comparable to North Carolina’s situation, but a few days of rest will be especially helpful to the Wolfpack.
  • Basketball Prospectus’ C.J. Moore breaks down how Kansas topped Purdue on Sunday, from Elijah Johnson‘s fortitude to Bill Self‘s halftime adjustments.
  • There are already two coaching vacancies in the Big Ten, and Ohio coach John Groce could fit the bill at either Nebraska or Illinois after the season. Groce’s Big Ten connections, when combined with his team’s head-turning performance this postseason, make him appealing to the Cornhuskers. Nebraska is a tough job, but with a heavy commitment to hoops, Athletic Director Tom Osborne could find a catch.
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Big East Morning Five: 03.20.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on March 20th, 2012

  1. St. John’s freshman and reigning Big East Rookie of the Year Moe Harkless confirmed speculation and announced yesterday in a press conference held at Madison Square Garden that he will be leaving the Red Storm for the NBA. “It has been my lifelong dream to play in the NBA and I am excited to have that opportunity to make the jump,” said Harkless.  He also confirmed that he will hire an agent, which would prevent him from returning to school.  The 6’8” forward is currently projected as a mid-to-late first round pick.  Certainly his status can, and likely will, change as other early entrants make themselves eligible and overseas names emerge but should Harkless be selected in the first round he would be guaranteed an NBA contract.
  2. Moe Harkless’ declaration to turn pro made him the second Big East player to do so thus far, following Villanova’s Maalik Wayns who made his intentions known last week, but, unlike Harkless, he does not plan on retaining an agent. Players with early draft entry on their minds have until 11:59 pm ET on April 29 to decide and CBSSports.com has come up with a watch list of those most likely to be considering the move.  While this appears to be a link to Kentucky’s roster, if you look close enough among those cited you will see Connecticut’s Andre Drummond and Jeremy Lamb as well. While Drummond could use a bit more seasoning and Lamb’s stock has perhaps dropped some, with Connecticut currently banned from next year’s NCAA Tournament due to Academic Performance Rating (APR) issues, it feels like a foregone conclusion that they will both opt for the NBA.  However, if NCAA Tournament eligibility is a deciding factor, Drummond and Lamb may hold off on a decision until the last minute given Connecticut has an appeal in progress on which a ruling could come during April. The other apparent no-brainer on the list when it comes to Big East players is Syracuse’s Fab Melo.  On the heels of the academic ineligibility ruling that has forced Melo to sit out this year’s NCAA Tournament, it has been widely speculated that his Syracuse days are over. Melo’s Syracuse teammate Dion Waiters is the only other Big East player on the watch list.
  3. And then there were three.  Nerlens Noel, the number one prospect in the class of 2012, has narrowed his college choices to Kentucky, Syracuse and Georgetown. North Carolina and Connecticut are the latest schools to be cut.  Noel was scheduled to visit Tar Heel country this week but has since canceled. As for Noel’s interactions with the three finalists, the shot-blocking center took an official visit to Georgetown last week, was scheduled to have an in-home visit with Kentucky yesterday, and another with Syracuse tomorrow. A decision could come shortly thereafter as Noel’s official reclassification to the class of 2012, which had been pending, is now complete.
  4. They say success breeds success. Well Cincinnati is sitting pretty in the Sweet Sixteen and just picked up a commitment yesterday from junior college star Titus Rubles.  Rubles, a slashing 6’8” forward from Blinn Community College in Texas, averaged 16.0 points and 10.0 rebounds for the Buccaneers. This commitment does not come as much of a surprise to those who either follow the Bearcats closely or know how to operate Twitter, as Rubles’ Twitter handle is a somewhat revealing “@bearcatbound.” Even with Rubles in the fold, Cincinnati remains in hot pursuit of center Chris Obekpa, arguably the most sought-after recruit among Big East schools as he is also garnering significant interest from Connecticut, DePaul, Providence, Seton Hall and St. John’s.
  5. Speaking of Cincinnati, the Bearcats have certainly come quite far from what appeared to be a season on the brink following an embarrassing November loss to Presbyterian and that ugly brawl-marred loss to Xavier which led to multiple suspension.  As we wrote at the start of the season, Cincinnati carried with it perhaps the highest increase in expectations among Big East squads as the Bearcats returned their top four scorers from a 26-9 team that made it to the third round of last year’s NCAA Tournament. Playing through the suspensions seemed to unlock some individual potential and lineup combinations that may have otherwise been left untapped as head coach Mick Cronin has rallied his troops to another 26 wins and at least a round further in the Big Dance than last year to this point.
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