Marquette’s Buzz Williams Runs Silent and Deep

Posted by CNguon on February 23rd, 2013

Joseph Dzuback is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after spending an evening keeping a close eye on Marquette head coach Buzz Williams.

Why does Marquette, a school about to earn consecutive NCAA bid #8, still struggle to secure a spot in the national limelight? Part of the answer is no doubt rooted in their coach. Buzz Williams, 5’11” with that North Texas drawl, is hardly a presence at Media Day confabs. Unlike Marquette’s legendary Al McGuire, whose height and New York City accent (and ever so slightly too-loud voice) could turn heads and draw ears. Tom Crean, Marquette’s 15th head coach, came with all of the pedigree expected to head a National Championship, two-time Final Four program with 21 bids and previously headed by legends like McGuire, Hank Raymond and Rick Majerus. When he departed Marquette to rebuild a struggling Indiana program, Crean left Williams (head coach #16) with a cupboard full of prep school ballers. Harvested from some of the best recruiting seed beds on the East Coast and Midwest, these players earned Marquette (and Crean) notoriety in basketball circles even before taking their first shot in the Bradley Center. Williams spent his first two off seasons recruiting a raft of unknown players from junior colleges throughout Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.

Buzz Williams might not be a media darling, but the man sure can coach (AP)

Buzz Williams might not be a media darling, but the man sure can coach. (AP)

Williams sustained the momentum established by Crean with junior college players like Dwight Buycks, Darius Johnson-Odom, Joe Fulce, Jimmy Butler and Jai Crowder, who rounded out the nucleus that included Jerel McNeal, Wesley Matthews, Dominic James and Lazar Hayward bequeathed to him by Crean. The mix-n-match crew garnered Williams 47 wins and a pair of NCAA bids in his first two seasons. And in the course of his first three off-seasons Williams has found what Crean could not — not one but two low post players good enough to move the tweeners out of the rotation. Davante Gardner and Chris Otule have helped Marquette earn another 49 (and counting) wins in seasons #3 and #4. This season the win count is 16 and climbing. The Golden Eagles’ 10 conference wins put them in a three-way tie for first place in Big East conference play, but co-leaders Georgetown and Syracuse have drawn greater national recognition for their seasons.

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Why Villanova Will Win…

Posted by nvr1983 on April 3rd, 2009

As part of our ongoing attempt to bring you the best college basketball coverage anywhere, we enlisted the editors from the finest team-specific blogs we could find to write posts explaining why their team will win tomorrow.

Our first submission is brought to you by Pete of LetsGoNova.com.

Make no mistake about it: Villanova is the underdog tomorrow. North Carolina is favored by 7.5 points in Vegas and by 4 points by KenPom (with a 66 percent chance of victory).

More intuitively, common sense tells us the Tarheels are the superior team. North Carolina features five likely future first-round draft picks: Ed Davis, Danny Green, Tyler Hansbrough, Wayne Ellington, and Ty Lawson will all cash big NBA paychecks.

Villanova might sneak Dante Cunningham into this year’s second round, but that’s pretty much it in terms of NBA prospects as of right now. (Corey Fisher, Scottie Reynolds, and Corey Stokes are also plausible NBA candidates, but are not quite there yet.)

The Tar Heels have lost just four games this season compared to seven for Villanova. While the Wildcats squeaked by Pittsburgh last weekend in one of the all-time great NCAA tournament games, North Carolina blew out Blake Griffin and Oklahoma, with a 12-point margin of victory in a game that was not even that close.

Carolina has not really been challenged in the tournament so far, winning four blow-outs. Villanova trailed American by double digits in the second half before coming up with the win. The ‘Cats also played Pittsburgh to a virtual draw for 39 minutes and 55 seconds before Scottie Reynolds entered the pantheon of great NCAA tournament buzzer-beaters to win the game.

Reynolds hits "The Shot" (Credit: Getty Images)

Reynolds hits "The Shot" (Credit: Getty Images)

Villanova was able to blow out both UCLA and Duke, which is a good sign.

North Carolina also will enjoy a tremendous coaching edge. I don’t care how much you like Jay Wright; Roy Williams is one of the all-time greats. I don’t think there can be much debate about that.

Positives for Villanova include a rapid, intense improvement in quality of play late in the season, a versatile bunch of players who can multitask on the court, a superior half-court defense, and a likely favorable crowd in Detroit, especially if Michigan State wins the opener.

Conventional wisdom also says that the Wildcats play “tougher” than the Heels, but I am not so sure toughness matters so much when your opponent has a lineup full of NBA players. (I do think it matters some.) We shall see.

So, in the face of these long odds, how can Villanova actually win the game?

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Boom Goes the Dynamite: NCAA Tournament Day Four

Posted by nvr1983 on March 21st, 2009

dynamiteAfter a thrilling finish last night that made Demetri Goodson a household name for at least a few days, we think the tournament has officially begun. Even being fairly selective, we think there are at least 3 outstanding games today. Here’s a quick rundown of the games we’ll be covering tomorrow:

  • 12:10 PM: #6 Arizona State vs. #3 Syracuse
  • 2:20 PM: #12 Wisconsin vs. #4 Xavier
  • 2:30 PM: #11 Dayton vs. #3 Kansas
  • 2:40 PM: #13 Cleveland State vs. #12 Arizona
  • 2:50 PM: #8 Oklahoma State vs. #1 Pittsburgh
  • 4:50 PM: #6 Marquette vs. #3 Missouri
  • 5:00 PM: #10 USC vs. #2 Michigan State
  • 5:20 PM: #9 Siena vs. #1 Louisville

A couple thoughts on the scheduling: (1) It’s nice to see the early finish for those of us who have to work on Monday morning and (2) I think the NCAA and CBS might have finally figured out the spacing issue. Outside of the early game, I don’t think there should be any point during the other 2 sets of games where  we have all the games at halftime. I’m guessing the NCAA and/or CBS must have hired a bunch of McKinsey consultants at $500/hr to figure out how to stagger the games. Now I’m looking at it without a fancy Excel model, but this looks like a reasonable set-up, which should get the job done, but I’ve been wrong before. . .

12:08 PM: One piece of big news from the morning: Dominic James has been cleared to play today. I’m not sure what kind of experimental medical techniques they have up at Marquette, but that’s a shocking piece of news. I’d be surprised if he could even go 10 minutes today as he was expected to be out for at least 2 months when he broke his foot (don’t remember which bone) back on Febraury 25th, but we will wait and see.

12:25 PM: This game looks like it should be fairly entertaining and competitive. Interesting back story about Jonny Flynn and James Harden. I know the old school guys won’t like it, but with the growth of AAU and all these summer camps I think it should be expected that stuff like that will happen.

12:30 PM: For those of you who questioned my earlier assertion that the arenas looked dead this year, the NCAA is backing me up. I guess it should be somewhat expected with the economy although most tickets are purchased via the lottery well in advance. The 50% in Miami is appalling though. One more thing to remember about these numbers. . .they reflect the number of tickets purchased not the attendance. I’m sure there are a lot of tickets that have been purchased by ticket brokers that have not been purchased by people who actually go to the games.

12:40 PM: As talented as Harden is, I really question his tendency to disappear for long stretches. Is he unable to play hard for 40 minutes or is he “letting the game come to him”?

12:47 PM: Arizona State is getting run out of the gym right now. I wonder how much the early start hurts the West Coast teams here. I’m not sure if any of you have data on this.

12:50 PM: We just posted the next part of our Mascot Challnege. Be sure to vote for your favorite mascots and help him/her win the national title.

12:52 PM: Rihards Kuksiks is single-handedly keeping the Sun Devils in this game with 15 of their first 30 points. Syracuse goes into half with a 41-32 lead. Harden still doesn’t have a point. If I’m a NBA GM, his tendency to do this drops him a few spots on my board.

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NCAA Preview: Marquette Golden Eagles

Posted by rtmsf on March 16th, 2009

MARQUETTE (#6, West, Boise pod)

vs. Utah State (#11)
March 20th, 12:30 P.M.

Vegas Line: Marquette -4.5

marquette-ncaa-graph

Thanks to Vegas Watch for providing these graphs that measure the moving average of a team’s spread (moving avg.) over time vs. the spread for each individual game (indiv).  If a team’s moving average is higher than zero, then Vegas currently has a higher opinion of them than Pomeroy, and vice versa.

General Profile

Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Conference:
Big East, at-large bid
Coach:
Buzz Williams, 24-9 at Marquette
08-09 Record:
24-9, 13-7 Big East
Last 12 Games:
5-7
Best Win:
79-72 v. Villanova, February 10th
Worst Loss:
56-57 v. South Florida, February 6th
Off. Efficiency Rating:
117.7/ 9th overall
Def. Efficiency Rating:
94.2/ 56th overall

Nuts n Bolts

Star Player(s):  Jerel McNeal- 19.7 points/game, 4.6 rebounds/game, 4.0 assists/game, 2.1 steals/game ;Wesley Matthews- 18.4 points/game, 5.6 rebounds/game, 2.6 assists/game, 48.8 FG%
Unsung Hero:  Lazar Hayward-
16.1 points/game, 8.6 rebounds/game, 35.5 3PT%
Potential NBA Draft Pick(s):  Jerel McNeal-
projected 52nd overall
Key Injuries:  Dominic James-
season-ending broken left foot
Depth:
24.6%/ 311th overall
Achilles Heel:
It is not just a lack of depth that has been exacerbated with the loss of Dominic James, the Golden Eagles were essentially a four-horse team and almost all of their meaningful production came from McNeal, Matthews, James, and Hayward. Without James, Maurice Acker takes over, but he isn’t the same type of threat. This is still an extremely talented team, but you could tell down the stretch how they hang with teams for awhile, and then fade.
Will Make a Deep Run if…:
If the Golden Eagles shoot the lights out, they could make a deep run. The team loves to shoot and McNeal, Matthews, and Hayward have no qualms about chucking it up. If they shoot the ball well, they will beat a lot of teams because they play great defense and don’t turn the ball over a tremendous amount. They need their Big Three to play well in every game, if they don’t it will be a short first tournament for Buzz Williams.
Will Make an Early Exit if…:
If McNeal or Matthews or Hayward has an off-night, Marquette just doesn’t have the players to make up for that type of scoring loss…period.

NCAA History

Last Year Invited: 2008, lost to Stanford in the Round of 32
Streak
: Three straight years
Best NCAA Finish:
They won the National Championship in 1977
Historical Performance vs. Seed (1985-present):
-0.20 wins per appearance

Other

Six Degrees to Detroit: None
Distance to First Round Site:
1736.47 miles away from Boise, Idaho
School’s Claim to Fame:
Al McGuire was the coach of the Marquette Golden Eagles from 1964-1977, won their only National Championship, and is still celebrated like a king at that school. Known for his colorful personality, he is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame and he could probably be elected Mayor in Milwaukee, Wisconsin had he not died in 2001.
School Wishes It Could Forget:
In 2007, the school played Michigan State in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament and the whole school turned out to see the game, even though it was during spring break. The Golden Eagles then proceeded to get shut out for the first nine minutes of the game and make it a very long spring break for Marquette fans and students.
Prediction:
The Golden Eagles are still a good team without Dominic James, and they have more than enough talent to beat Utah State. But if Missouri makes it through to the second round, their full court press will wreck havoc on the Golden Eagles, especially Acker. They don’t have the depth to play with the Tigers for 40 minutes.

Major RTC stories:  ATB: Marquette’s Dominic James Out for the Season

Preview written by… Mike Lemaire

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This Week’s RTC Blogpoll

Posted by nvr1983 on March 1st, 2009

This week’s poll was tough because so many top 25 teams lost and it’s kind of hard to compare the relative strength/weakness of each loss. I also wasn’t sure what to do with Marquette. I dropped them quite a bit because of the loss of Dominic James, but I came away impressed after watching their loss at Louisville particularly with Jerel McNeal having an awful day.

Rank Team Delta
1 Connecticut 2
2 Pittsburgh 1
3 North Carolina 1
4 Oklahoma 2
5 Louisville 1
6 Memphis 1
7 Michigan St. 2
8 Duke 1
9 Kansas 7
10 Wake Forest
11 Villanova 3
12 Louisiana St. 5
13 Purdue 6
14 Gonzaga 1
15 UCLA 6
16 Missouri 2
17 Marquette 6
18 Washington
19 Xavier 1
20 Clemson 7
21 Arizona St. 9
22 Illinois
23 Butler
24 Syracuse
25 Texas
Last week’s ballot
Dropped Out: Florida St. (#23).
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Boom Goes the Dynamite: 03.01.09 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 1st, 2009

dynamiteWell it’s finally here. The month of March is upon us. Here at RTC, we’ll be coming up with a ridiculous number of posts (I’m not sure how we will be able to do it with our other “lives”) so be sure to check back throughout the month as we will have posts for conference recaps, our unique bubble watch, frequent bracket updates by our resident bracketologist Zach, our favorite NCAA tournament memories, and the most comprehensive NCAA tournament preview anywhere. Ever.

11:00 AM: Just to set the table for today (and before I run out to grab some lunch before the games start), we’ll be following all three of the major games today, which will all be on CBS. At noon, Dominic James-less #10 Marquette will travel to #6 Louisville. Then at 2 PM, #8 Missouri will travel to Lawrence to take on the defending national champs, #15 Kansas. (CBS will also be airing the Tennessee-Florida game at 2. We will be very unhappy if we end up with that game instead.) The last time these teams met, Missouri shocked the Jayhawks with a Zaire Taylor 10-footer to hand Kansas its only loss in their last 13 games. A win here for Kansas would essentially seal the Big 12 regular season title for Kansas since they own the tie-breaker over Oklahoma (thanks to Blake Griffin‘s absence). Finally at 4 PM, #9 Michigan State will go to #20 Illinois. Like the preceding game, a win here would essentially clinch the Big 10 regular season title for the Spartans. In addition, we will be following the aforementioned UT-UF game (hopefully online instead of on our TVs) as well as a handful of bubble match-ups (Providence at Rutgers, Cincinnati at Syracuse, Michigan at Wisconsin, and West Virginia at South Florida).

11:50 AM: If any of you are wondering if I might decide to ditch this and go outside to enjoy the beautiful March weather, here’s your answer. On a side note, I just saw myself on ESPN for the second time this season (thanks to the miracle of HD).

11:55 AM: Wow. I just saw the Blake Griffin play from yesterday where we went over the scorer’s table. Pretty impressive after his concussion against Texas.

Noon: CBS just announced they will be have an interview with Jamie Dixon at halftime. So the Pittsburgh fans might want to tune in for that if a top 10 match-up in their own conference wasn’t enough.

12:05 PM: Rick Pitino is wearing his Colonel Sanders suit for the white out. As the CBS guys mentioned, last year he had to switch at halftime. Let’s see if it is more effective this year.

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ATB: Marquette’s Dominic James Out For the Season

Posted by rtmsf on February 26th, 2009

afterbuzzer1

RTC Intern Mike Lemaire contributed to tonight’s ATB.

Marquette Loses Their Heart & SoulConnecticut 93, Marquette 82.  Marquette announced at halftime that their senior leader and heart/soul of the team,  PG Dominic James, had broken the fifth metatarsal in his left foot and will not play again this season.  He hurt it on a seemingly innocuous play just four minutes into the first half, but the x-rays don’t lie, and this is a potentially devastating blow to the Golden Eagles as we approach the postseason.  James had re-invented his game this year, becoming less of a scorer and more of a set-up man (#31 nationally in assists and #22 in steals) with the ascent in production from Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews.  Marquette will need to regroup quickly with games at Louisville, at Pitt and vs. Syracuse in the next ten days.  As for this game, AJ Price was the other story – he was simply phenomenal, with 36/6/6 assts, including one ridiculous ankle-breaking move (see below) that crystallized the kind of night he was having.  Hasheem Thabeet added 14/15/5 blks and Stanley Robinson contributed 19/10.  When UConn is playing like this, they are the best team in the nation – the problem is that we don’t always see this level of effort from the Huskies.  McNeal and Matthews combined for 46/9/9 assts to pick up some of the slack from James’ injury, but Maurice Acker (and his 2.2 ppg) will be asked to carry the load that James is leaving behind.  No easy task.

Operation ScheyerFace Didn’t WorkDuke 78, Maryland 67. You have to hand it to Maryland – when Grievis Vasquez picked up his fourth foul less than two minutes into the second half, you had to wonder where Maryland’s offense would come from. But they showed a lot of heart by matching Duke basket for basket in the second half. In the end there was just too much Gerald Henderson for the Terps to handle. Freshman Sean Mosley did a good job on Henderson man-to-man, but the Blue Devils did a great job of setting screens and getting Henderson free for open looks. Vasquez’s absence finally caught up to the Terps in the final four minutes of the game as the team (with the exception of Landon Milbourne) struggled to get good looks as the Blue Devils clamped down on defense. Maryland was a completely different team from the guys we saw blow big leads in the first half of the season, but Duke showed a lot of grit by stuffing the Maryland momentum coming off their huge upset of UNC.  As for Maryland, they have two winnable road games (@ NCSU; @ UVa) and Wake at home – they can still get to 9-7 in the ACC with a strong finish, but their margin of error is thin the rest of the way.  Speaking of screens, check out this pick on Nolan Smith that had the sophomore hearing bells the rest of the game.

Some Other Games of Interest.

  • Northwestern 75, Indiana 53.  Northwestern ended 41 years of futility in Bloomington with this win tonight.  Tom Crean said his undermanned Hoosiers are running out of steam at this point in the season.
  • Texas 87, Texas Tech 81.  UT got 24 from AJ Abrams and 20/11 from Damion James, but Texas Tech hung around until the final minute in this one behind ten three-pointers.
  • Utah 70, UNLV 60.  Utah continued to pace the Mountain West with another home win to go 11-2 in the conference behind Luke Nevill’s 19/13.
  • Notre Dame 70, Rutgers 65.  ND survived a closer-than-it-shoulda-been game despite Luke Harangody’s 20/15.  The Irish’s Saturday game at UConn will be huge for this team.
  • Davidson 70, UNC-Greensboro 49.  Stephen Curry dropped 20/10/5 assts as the Wildcats rebounded from their loss to Butler with a convincing SoCon win.
  • Rhode Island 93, Dayton 91 (OT).  Dayton dropped its second consecutive game due to Marquis Jones’ driving flip layup at the buzzer which pushes UD one game behind Xavier and Temple in the A10 standings.
  • Virginia Tech 80, Clemson 77.  Huge bubble road win for Va Tech behind Malcolm Delaney’s 26/4/6 assts and AD Vassallo’s 21/5.  Clemson got double-doubles from Trevor Booker and KC Rivers, but Va Tech made the plays down the stretch in a game that went back and forth all night.
  • South Carolina 77, Kentucky 59.  UK now probably needs to win its last three games to force the Committee to leave them out.  SC, on the other hand, probably only needs one more win to become a lock.  Sam Muldrow had seven of SC’s school-record sixteen blocks tonight.
  • Villanova 74, Depaul 72. Depaul got closest to its first Big East win of the year than any other previous loss, but it still wasn’t to be as the Blue Demons moved to 0-15.  Scottie Reynolds and Dante Cunningham each had 18 pts for Villanova.
  • Michigan St. 62, Iowa 54.  MSU never really put Iowa away, but Iowa never really threatened either.  Tom Izzo didn’t think his Spartans played all that well, but they’re now 1.5 games ahead of Purdue in the Big Ten race anyway.
  • Missouri 94, Kansas St. 74.  Mizzou moved to 17-0 at home behind DeMarre Carroll’s 21/14.  The streaking Tigers go to Kansas this weekend and will host Oklahoma in Columbia next Monday.
  • Tennessee 81, Mississippi St. 76.  In this bubblicious game, UT held off the Bulldogs behind Scotty Hopson’s 21 pts.  MSU’s bubble is close to bursting, having now lost four of their last five games.
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Checking in on the… Big East

Posted by rtmsf on February 18th, 2009

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

Player of the year.

How do you define it. Who put up the best stats? Who is the best player on the best team? The most valuable player? Maybe the guy that, if you were to have a draft involving every player in the league, you would pick first?

My criterion is simple – who is the best player? Easy enough, right?

As of now, there are only four players that should be considered for the award, and another few that deserve a mention in the conversation.

  1. DeJuan Blair, Pitt – 15.7 ppg, 12.8 rpg, 5.8 Orpg, 60% FG
  2. Jerel McNeal, Marquette – 19.9 ppg, 4.0 apg, 4.7 rpg, 2.2 spg, 44% 3PT
  3. Terrence Williams, Louisville – 12.1 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 4.6 apg, 2.1 spg, 1.93 a/t
  4. Hasheem Thabeet, UConn – 13.2 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 4.3 bpg, 64% FG

Others deserving mention: Luke Harangody, Jonny Flynn, Jeff Adrien, Levance Fields, and Da’Sean Butler.

Right now, I have no idea who deserves the award. Two weeks ago, I thought McNeal would run away with it. Last week, I thought Thabeet would made a run at national player of the year. This week, well, just scroll down and read about the player of the week.

There are great arguments to be made for each of these four, as well as the five players deserving mention (I mean, Luke Harangody is the only player in the country to be in the top five of points and rebounds per game, and barely cracks the top five for Big East POY?).

What it is going to come down to is who leads their team to the Big East regular season title. Each of the four players listed are the MVPs of the four teams currently tied (in the loss column) atop the Big East.

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Set Your Tivos: 01.26.09

Posted by nvr1983 on January 26th, 2009

Set Your TivosA really weak set of games tonight and only one really worth watching. To be honest, this is a surprisingly weak week of games. I would say there are only a handful of games that I would consider worth watching this week, but I’ll get to that in another post.

Game of the Night (The only one worth watching)
#10 Marquette at #19 Notre Dame at 7 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: This game might answer some of the questions I posed this weekend about the Big East. I think the conference is not as good as everyone says they are. I think there are only 3 great teams (Pittsburgh, UConn, and the reborn Louisville Cardinals) and a whole bunch of borderline teams. I am actually starting to think the ACC would match-up pretty well against the Big East if you account for the Big East having approximately 1/4th of D-1 in the conference.

While Marquette has an impressive record (17-2), they have not faced a good team all year (Villanova is questionable and that game was at home). A win at Notre Dame would certainly erase some of the doubts that many in the media have. Do I count as the media? Even though Notre Dame’s aura of invincibility in South Bend went up in smoke on Saturday against UConn, winning there will still be quite challenging. Buzz Williams, who has done a good job replacing Tom Crean, will need big games out of Wesley Matthews, Jerel McNeal, Lazar Hayward, and Dominic James if he wants to steal one in South Bend and have his Golden Eagles stake a legitimate claim as a Big East title contender.

That said, how likely is it that the Irish, who had a three-year, 45-game home winning streak snapped on Saturday night by UConn, would lose two in a row at home?  Not very.  Mike Brey’s team went stone cold in that game, shooting a miserable 33%, highlighted by Kyle McAlarney’s 12 bricks in a row (after starting 3-3) and a combined 2-15 from Zach Hillesland and Ryan Ayers.   Luke Harangody was the only scorer that showed for ND in that game (particularly in the second half when UConn’s defense was spectacular), so I expect that we’ll see a much-better Irish team tonight.  They sorta have to win this game – they’ve already lost their last three and a trip to Pittsburgh looms next.  A five-loss losing streak could crush this team’s confidence. 

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Boom Goes the Dynamite: 01.24.09

Posted by nvr1983 on January 24th, 2009

dynamite1After my trip to Chapel Hill last weekend where rtmsf handled all of the duties for Boom Goes the Dynamite while I mingled with ESPN personalities and college basketball stars, I will be in charge of today’s edition while rtmsf does relationship stuff with his significant other. Pretty weak if you ask me. . .

11:00 AM: Although we are a men’s college basketball site, we feel that it’s appropriate to mention the passing of Kay Yow, the former NC State coach, to breast cancer (or more precisely complications related to breast cancer). We can’t really do justice to her impact on the women’s game so it’s probably better just to refer you to a chronology of her life.

11:10 AM: The Notre Dame GameDay crowd looks a lot larger than what I saw last weekend at UNC. I am not sure if it is just a bunch of camera tricks by the GameDay crew, but they definitely have more signs. It may be that UConn is much, much better than Miami was last week or that the UNC crowd may be a bit jaded, but the Chapel Hill crowd was not as into the GameDay experience as I expected them to be.

11:45 AM: Digger Phelps has been doing a good job of working the crowd, which he also did last week at Chapel Hill (even off camera), taking the homer pick of Luke Harangody as his choice of tough player after the other analysts picked Blake Griffin, Tyler Hansbrough, and Stephen Curry to boos. As expected the crowd went wild with Digger’s pick. A little later in the show, the crowd gave the stereotypical college crowd response to a Duke segment by chanting “overrated”. Not surprisingly, the analysts all defend Duke. Appropriately enough, Bobby Knight calls out the Notre Dame students by questioning their education. It looks like he is getting more comfortable with his role on ESPN.

11:50 AM: Another awful half-court shot. Where does ESPN find these guys? He deserved to be embarrassed like that on national TV for popping his collar. Someone should tell him that hasn’t been cool since. . .actually it has never been cool. Congrats on the airball.

Noon: Wow. All of the GameDay guys except Knight picked LSU to beat #13 Xavier. I guess it’s in Baton Rouge, but Xavier is definitely the better team. Least surprising pick of the day: Digger picks Notre Dame. Knight abstains from picking a team.

12:15 PM: Duke is off to a good start against Maryland after Jon Scheyer opens the game with two 3s. What’s going on with Brian Zoubek? He actually looks like a legitimate center today. I have seen him play several times this year and he certainly has improved from last year, but he has never played like this. If he can do this even for spurts this year, Duke might have a legitimate chance to win the title this year instead of their usual great regular season and flop in March.

12:20 PM: Villanova is tied at 10 with USF 6 minutes into the game. Dante Cunningham has 8 of Villanova’s 10 points. I don’t have much else to say about this game since I don’t have ESPN360 available since I am out of town. If anybody has this game on TV, let me know if anything interesting happens.

1:00 PM: Duke goes into halftime with a 25-point lead despite having one of the ugliest possessions I have ever seen to end the half. Do you remember when the Duke-Maryland games used to be the best games of the season? I still remember trying to figure out where I could go to watch the game on TV my freshman year of college. (My school didn’t believe in providing cable to dorm rooms.) Meanwhile in Tampa, Villanova is struggling against USF (tied at 32 at halftime).

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Checking in on the… Big East

Posted by nvr1983 on January 14th, 2009

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

Give me an honest answer. What do you think is a more impressive accomplishment? Winning the Big East regular season title, winning the Big East Tournament, or reaching the Final Four?

Me? I’m going with the Big East regular season title. Every single time you step on the court in this league, it is a dogfight. It’s ridiculous what these teams go through. Take a look at the next six days for Syracuse: they head to DC on Wednesday to take on Georgetown, return back to Syracuse to face Notre Dame on Saturday, then travel to Pittsburgh to face the Panthers for Big Monday. Three games against top 15 teams in the span of six days culminating in a date with the #1 team in the country. And that isn’t an uncommon occurrence this year. Every team does it at least once (Running the Gauntlet, we’ve gone over this kiddies). The only conference that can match a run like that is the ACC, and that would have to mean one of Wake Forest, Clemson, Duke, or UNC plays the all of the other three. Tennessee playing Kentucky, Florida, and Arkansas in the span of a week just isn’t quite the same thing.

What I love about this year’s version of the Big East is the unpredictability. I could legitimately see four different teams winning the regular season title and three others that, if they get hot, could reel off six or seven straight wins and end up on top. Before league play started, it was UConn. Then they lost to Georgetown on opening night, and the Hoyas became the team to beat. Then Pitt rolled through DC to become the new and current favorite. Who is next? Pitt plays Louisville and Syracuse this week. If one of those two knocks off the Panthers, are they the favorite of the week?

The more I think about it, winning the Big East tourney title may be a tougher feat than reaching a Final Four as well. For the first time, all 16 teams will be headed to Madison Square Garden to participate in the conference tournament, which just so happens to be the number of teams that play in each regional in the NCAA’s.

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Checking in on the… Big East

Posted by rtmsf on December 25th, 2008

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

With conference play starting next week, four teams have emerged as the favorites to win the league – UConn, Georgetown, Pitt and Syracuse. After that, it is a mess of talented but enigmatic teams. Notre Dame, Marquette, West Virginia, Louisville and Villanova have all shown flashes of dominance, but have also had their flaws exposed on national TV.  By far the biggest disappointment has been Louisville. The Cardinals were a top 5 preseason team on pretty much everyone’s list, but unless Santa leaves a jumpshot under the tree for their each of the perimeter players, it could be a long year for the ‘Ville.

I’m at a cross roads right now. Is the Big East really not as good as they were made out to be, or were expectations for this conference so high that they could not have possibly lived up to them?  Clearly, Louisville is not who anyone expected them to be. Notre Dame has struggled, but they are still a top 15 team. Marquette, Villanova, and West Virginia were all borderline top 25 teams in the preseason, and not much has changed six weeks into the season.  I guess what I’m saying is that while the conference has hit a few bumps in the road, it is still as good as any conference I can remember. One thing is for sure – any Big East team that reaches the dance is going to be battle-tested.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: AJ Price, UConn

AJ Price was the reason that UConn rose from a middle of the pack Big East team to a conference title contender and a top 15 team last season. But coming off of off-season ACL surgery, Price has not been himself. Going into the Gonzaga game, he had no confidence in the strength of his knee, which is why he was not penetrating like he did last year. He was playing so poorly that Jim Calhoun was actually considering benching him (the same guy that was a top 5 point guard in the country in the last three months of the ’07-’08 season) for freshman Kemba Walker. Against Gonzaga, he returned to the Price of old. He finished with 24 points and 10 assists, getting to the line eight times (three less than he had the rest of the season combined) and hitting big shot after big shot. He hit six threes, including four in the last 11 minutes of the game. UConn’s biggest knock is their lack of perimeter shooting, which combined with their quick guards and finishers inside means that a lot of teams are going to go zone against the Huskies. Having an AJ Price that can penetrate and create against a zone makes them a much more balanced team.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Syracuse

The Orange proved a lot to me with their win over Memphis on Saturday. I’ve been up and down on the ‘Cuse team this season, mainly because of their inability to start a game strong. It happened again versus Memphis, as Syracuse found themselves down 19-9 early on before coming back to win. What was most impressive about the come back is how they did it. Eric Devendorf missed the game (but had his season long suspension reduced, maybe to as short as two games) which meant that Jonny Flynn was their only ball handler against a tough Memphis defense. Flynn, despite finishing with 24 and 6 dimes, had an up and down game where he took some ill-advised shots and made some bad passes. Neither Arinze Onuaku or Andy Rautins played all that well. Kristoff Ongenaet played just a few seconds in the first half after being benched for Rick Jackson. Outside of Jackson, no one (except maybe Paul Harris) played their best game. And Syracuse still beat a pretty good Memphis team. One more note, if Rick Jackson can emerge as another scoring threat in the post, it makes Syracuse so much tougher. Onuaku is one of the best big men in the Big East, but he has a tendency to fade during games. It almost seems as if he is pouting because of a lack of touches on the inside. Jackson has averaged 12.7 ppg and 7 rpg in the last three.

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