Where 2011-12 Happens: Reason #16 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on October 20th, 2011

Another preseason preview gives us reason to roll out the 2011-12 edition of Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball, our annual compendium of YouTube clips from the previous season 100% guaranteed to make you wish games were starting tonight. We’ve captured the most compelling moments from the 2010-11 season, many of which will bring back the goosebumps and some of which will leave you shaking your head in frustration. For the complete list of this year’s reasons, click here. Enjoy!

#16 – Where MSG Magic Happens

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-09, 2009-10, and 2010-11 seasons.

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Season in Review: By the (Jersey) Numbers

Posted by rtmsf on April 7th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is an RTC contributor.  When he’s not traveling all night to get to Vegas, Los Angeles, Tucson or Anaheim to cover games in the southwestern quadrant of the country, he’s acting as the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-10 Conferences and writing about whatever strikes his basketball fancy.

When it comes to wrapping up a college basketball season, I have a hard time doing an All-American team, because, for one, it just seems hard to narrow down four and a half months of basketball to just five names (or even ten or 15 if I add a second or third team – although, I’ll probably do that too). Instead, in the interests of recognizing more of the players that filled up my brain this season, what I’ll do here today is take all 37 possible uniform numbers (only digits zero through five are possible uniform numbers in NCAA basketball, to aid referees in calling fouls and the foulers) and pick one player for each jersey number.  Note that I am not always going to pick just the best player here. My own prejudices and likes/dislikes will factor in, plus I want to be able to pick a guy that I will most remember from this season. And, in the case of a tie, a senior will get the nod. So without further ado, here is my list of Players of the Year by uniform number.

A Famous Man Once Said We're All Rooting For Laundry, Ultimately

0 – Jacob Pullen, Sr, Kansas State – As I said before, tie goes to the senior, and in this case, the freshman Jared Sullinger gets beat out by a guy who left his heart on the court in his final game as a Wildcat, scoring 38 amazing points in a loss to Wisconsin in the Third Round of the NCAA Tournament. Pullen goes down in history as the all-time leading scorer in Kansas State history, and his exploits in March will be talked about there for years to come.

00 – Rick Jackson, Sr, Syracuse – As far as the scorekeeper is concerned, there is no difference between 0 and 00, but I see two big zeroes on Jackson’s back, and opponents saw a double-double machine for the majority of the season. He posted 17 double-dips on the season and, despite fading a bit down the stretch, was one of the most improved seniors in the country this year.

1 – Kyrie Irving, Fr, Duke – Irving’s college career is complete as he declared for the NBA Draft on Wednesday.  You won’t find his name on any all-timer lists in Durham, as he played just 11 games in his time as a Blue Devil due to a toe injury. When he was on the court, however, he was among the handful of the best players in the nation, with quickness, awareness and maturity rarely seen among freshmen.

2 – Nolan Smith, Sr, Duke – His college career ended with one of the worst games of his career, but for huge swaths of this season, Smith was in the conversation for National Player of the Year. He took over the point guard role when Irving went down with his injury and did a fantastic job of balancing his team’s need for a creator with its need for Smith to score.

3 – Jeremy Lamb, Fr, Connecticut – Jim Calhoun’s precocious freshman earned this honor almost entirely in March. Sure, he had a streak of eight-straight double-digit scoring games in January and early February, but in March, Lamb took his game to a new level and became a consistent second option to Kemba Walker. From the start of the Big East Tournament straight through to the National Championship game, Lamb never failed to score in double figures and averaged 15.3 points per game over that stretch.

4 – Jackson Emery, Sr, BYU – Aaron Craft almost got the nod here, but once again we’ll give the upperclassman the benefit of the doubt. And make no mistake, Emery is very deserving on his own merits, regardless of class, averaging 12.5 points and 2.7 steals per game as Jimmer Fredette’s sidekick in the Cougars’ playmaking backcourt. Emery goes down in history as the career steals leader at BYU.

5 – Kendall Marshall, Fr, North Carolina – I’m not sure Marshall is the best player in the country wearing a single five on his back, but he was likely the most important one – and the biggest story at that. He took over the starting point guard position in Chapel Hill in mid-January and led the Tar Heels to a 17-3 record from there, averaging 7.7 often spectacular assists per game and kick-starting much-heralded freshman wing Harrison Barnes along the way.

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Set Your Tivo: 03.10.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 10th, 2011

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

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

The power conferences take center stage on Thursday with quarterfinal matchups from New York to Kansas City to Los Angeles on the schedule. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

Big East Quarterfinals (at New York, NY): #3 Pittsburgh vs. #18 Connecticut – 12 pm on ESPN (****)

Dixon Will Have To Knock Off a Hot UConn Squad To Avoid Last Year's Fate

The double-bye was not kind to Pittsburgh last year, as they fell victim to Notre Dame on Thursday of last season’s conference tournament. They’ll look to avoid a similar fate today against a hot Connecticut team coming off two convincing wins in the first two rounds. These teams played way back on December 27 in the first Big East game of the year, a contest won by Pittsburgh, 78-63.

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Big East Wrap & Tourney Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 8th, 2011

Rob Dauster of Ballin’ Is A Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East conference. With action at Madison Square Garden set to tip Tuesday, get up to speed with RTC’s regular season recap and postseason preview.

Postseason Preview


Tourney Favorite: Notre Dame: The Irish have been rolling through conference play, winning 11 of their last 12 games. Ben Hansbrough and Tim Abromaitis are playing as well as they have all season long. The Irish are the second best team in the conference, and they have owned the best team (Pitt) the past two seasons.

And If They Lose?: Pitt Panthers: The Panthers’ biggest strength — their offensive rebounding ability — has taken a hit with Talib Zanna going to the bench with a broken thumb. But they still have Gary McGhee and Dante Taylor, and experienced leaders in their backcourt (Ashton Gibbs, Brad Wanamaker, Travon Woodall).

Sleeper: West Virginia Mountaineers: Is this team really a sleeper? They are ranked in the top 25, they won this tournament last season, and they made the Final Four. That said, the ‘Eers seem to finally be hitting their stride, as Kevin Jones and Joe Mazzulla are playing their best ball of the season.

Don’t Bet Against: St. John‘s Red Storm: The Johnnies have been great at home this season. Guess where the Big East Tournament is being held?

You Should Bet Against: The UConn/Georgetown Winner: The Hoyas are still playing without Chris Wright. Since he went out, the Hoyas scored four field goals in the second half in a loss to Cincinnati, scored 51 points in a loss to Syracuse, and scored just 47 points in another loss to the Bearcats. UConn has struggled down the stretch as teams have begun to figure out how to stop Kemba. When they run into capable defensive teams (i.e. Pitt), they struggle.

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Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 2nd, 2011

Rob Dauster of Ballin’ Is A Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference.

A Look Back

Players of the Week: Ben Hansbrough and Tim Abromaitis, Notre Dame: Ben Hansbrough was sensational this week. In three games, he averaged 27.7 points, 5.3 assists, and 3.3 rebounds per game. He shot 25-40 (62.5%) from the field, 12-20 from three (60%), and 21-25 (84%) from the line. Efficient much? Abromaitis was just as good. Prior to this week, Abro had scored 13 points just once since January 8. He scored at least 22 points in each games this week, averaging 26.7 PPG and 5.7 RPG. He shot 27-49 (55.1%) from the floor and 17-29 (58.6%) from three. When those two are clicking like that, the Irish are going to be very tough to beat.

Team of the Week: Louisville: The Cardinals just keep rolling along. After sweeping Rutgers and Pittsburgh this week, Louisville has now won three games in a row to move into a tie with St. John’s for third place in the conference standings. Finishing in the top four would give the Cardinals one of the double-byes in the Big East Tournament. The bad news? The Cardinals lost Rakeem Buckles for the season with a torn ACL in the win over Pitt.

Power Rankings (overall and conference records, and last week’s ranking in parentheses)

1. Pittsburgh (25-4, 13-3) (1)
Last Week: 2/24 vs. West Virginia 71-58, 2/27 @ Louisville 59-62 OT
This Week: 3/2 @ South Florida, 3/5 vs. Villanova

I’ve been saying it all season long — Pitt is susceptible to being upset when they are pressured. Ashton Gibbs, Brad Wanamaker, and Travon Woodall are all terrific basketball players, but none of them are what you would consider a great ball handler. It cost them against Louisville. But they were also hurt against the Cardinals with their inability to get to the offensive glass. The biggest reason Pitt is such an offensively efficient team is their ability to score on second and third shots.

2. Notre Dame (24-5, 13-4) (2)
Last Week: 2/23 @ Providence 94-93, 2/26 vs. Seton Hall 60-48, 2/28 vs. Villanova 93-72
This Week: 3/5 @ UConn

See the above “Player of the Week” feature to read about the surprise near the top of the standings.

3. Louisville (22-7, 11-5) (5)
Last Week: 2/22 @ Rutgers 55-37, 2/27 vs. Pitt 62-59 OT
This Week: 3/2 vs. Providence, 3/5 @ West Virginia

See this week’s “Team of the Week” to see what has the Cardinals rolling into March

4. St. John’s (19-9, 11-5) (4)
Last Week: 2/23 vs. DePaul 76-51, 2/26 @ Villanova 81-68
This Week: 3/3 @ Seton Hall, 3/5 vs. South Florida

The Johnnies just keep on winning. After knocking off Villanova on Saturday, their streak has been extended to seven consecutive wins in the Big East (seven of eight overall, as there was a trip to UCLA thrown in that mix). The catalyst has been Dwight Hardy, also known as the “Baddest Man on the Planet”, who is averaging 28.3 points per game over the last eight games to throw his name into the mix for Big East player of the year.

5. Syracuse (24-6, 11-6) (6)
Last Week: 2/26 @ Georgetown 58-51
This Week: 3/5 @ DePaul

Here’s my concern with Syracuse: they blew a big lead to Georgetown, who was without Chris Wright, and had to rely on Scoop Jardine to save the day. Scoop’s a good player, but he’s not exactly what I would term “consistent.” They got nothing from Kris Joseph or Brandon Triche in the game. Rick Jackson is a glorified glue guy (and I mean that as an enormous compliment). Road wins at Villanova and Georgetown will move you up in the Power Rankings, but I’m not buying this team in the long term.

6. Connecticut (21-7, 9-7) (7)
Last Week: 2/24 vs. Marquette 67-74 OT, 2/27 @ Cincinnati 67-59
This Week: 3/2 @ West Virginia, 3/5 vs. Notre Dame

I wrote an extensive post on the Huskies and their reliance on Kemba Walker‘s offensive output yesterday. Essentially, the key for UConn on the offensive end is to get movement going around Kemba. Defenses are going to collapse on him, but help defense is much tougher when the offensive players are moving without the ball. UConn struggles when they are reduced to standing around and watching Kemba try to score.

7. Georgetown (22-7, 10-7) (3)
Last Week: 2/23 vs. Cincinnati 46-58, 2/26 vs. Syracuse 51-58
This Week: 3/5 @ Cincinnati

The Hoyas clearly still have fight in them, but without Chris Wright, this team is thoroughly mediocre. They simply don’t have enough offensive firepower. Wright is the Hoyas’ best playmaker and best creator. When he isn’t on the floor, Georgetown’s offense is no where near as dynamic or dangerous.

8. Villanova (21-8, 9-8) (8)
Last Week: 2/26 vs. St. John’s 68-81, 2/28 @ Notre Dame 72-93
This Week: 3/5 @ Pitt

Villanova is in a free fall. Honestly, I have no idea what to make of this team. They’ve lost five of seven and seven of 11. They certainly have talent on their roster, especially in the backcourt, but for the second straight season, the wheels have come off.

On the Bubble:

9. West Virginia (18-10, 9-7) (9)
Last Week: 2/24 @ Pitt 58-71, 2/27 @ Rutgers 65-54
This Week: 3/2 vs. UConn, 3/5 vs. Louisville

West Virginia probably isn’t in any danger of missing the NCAA Tournament, but if they lose to both UConn and Louisville this week, then bow out in the first round of the Big East Tournament, the committee is going to have to take a look.

10. Marquette (18-11, 9-7) (10)
Last Week: 2/24 @ UConn 74-67 OT, 2/27 vs. Providence 86-62
This Week: 3/2 vs. Cincinnati, 3/5 @ Seton Hall

Marquette’s win over the Huskies on Thursday all but sent Buzz Williams’ team to the NCAA Tournament. If they can close out against Cincy and Seton Hall, they will lock up their bid.

11. Cincinnati (22-7, 9-7) (11)
Last Week: 2/23 @ Georgetown 58-46, 2/27 vs. UConn 59-67
This Week: 3/2 @ Marquette, 3/5 vs. Georgetown

Cincinnati can probably feel a bit safer than Marquette at this point. They have fewer losses and a better RPI. But with Marquette and Georgetown on the schedule for this week, they need to play like they’re still trying to get in.

Off The Bubble:

12. Rutgers (14-15, 4-12) (12)
Last Week: 2/22 vs. Louisville 37-55, 2/27 vs. West Virginia 54-65
This Week: 3/2 @ DePaul, 3/5 @ Providence

13. Seton Hall (11-17, 5-11) (13)
Last Week: 2/26 @ Notre Dame 48-60
This Week: 3/3 vs. St. John’s, 3/5 vs. Marquette

14. Providence (14-15, 3-13) (14)
Last Week: 2/23 vs. Notre Dame 93-94, 2/27 @ Marquette 62-86
This Week: 3/2 @ Louisville, 3/5 vs. Rutgers

15. South Florida (8-21, 2-14) (15)
Last Week: 2/26 @ DePaul 86-76
This Week: 3/2 vs. Pitt, 3/5 @ St. John’s

16. DePaul (7-19, 1-13) (16)
Last Week: 2/23 @ St. John’s 51-76, 2/26 vs. South Florida 76-86
This Week: 3/2 vs. Florida, 3/5 @ Syracuse

A Look Ahead
There are some really important games down the stretch that will determine the seeding for the Big East tournament as well as seeding (and bids) for the NCAA Tournament. With five teams currently sitting with seven or eight losses in the 7-11 spots in the standings, the race will be on to see who gets those last two first-round byes.

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Ten Tuesday Scribbles

Posted by zhayes9 on March 1st, 2011

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.

Some bad news for those of you expecting the bubble to shrink in the next two weeks: the number of potential bid stealers is smaller than I can ever remember. The most likely candidates in previous years were out of Memphis-dominated Conference USA, Butler-dominated Horizon or WCC-dominated Gonzaga, but this season none of those three perennial powerhouses are locks for the dance, rendering each conference a one (or two in the WCC with Saint Mary’s) league. In fact, all three likely need to win their respective tournaments to feel safe on Selection Sunday. The Missouri Valley is also shaping up as a one-bid league for the fifth straight year and BYU, San Diego State and UNLV (playing the tournament at their home floor in Vegas) are so far ahead their Mountain West competition it’s highly unlikely any major upsets come to fruition. The same theory applies to Utah State in the WAC. One team that I do feel could snag a bid from a mediocre bubble team is Southern California out of the Pac-10 in a replay of 2009 when the #6 seed Trojans at 9-9 in the league rode DeMar DeRozan, Daniel Hackett and Taj Gibson to a surprising automatic berth. With 12 losses overall on the season – including black marks against Rider, Bradley and TCU from early in the campaign– Kevin O’Neill’s squad clearly needs to complete a sweep of the conference tournament to go dancing. Depth and consistent scoring has been a recurring issue all season, but the talent is in place with a frontcourt duo of Nikola Vucevic (17.5 PPG, 10.3 RPG) and Alex Stephenson and the growing comfort level of point guard transfer Jio Fontan, who tied a season-high with 21 points in Thursday’s upset win over Arizona. USC also has the highest defensive efficiency in the Pac-10 and limited Arizona star Derrick Williams to just eight points. Watch out for the Trojans in two weekends as a sneaky candidate to turn the Pac-10 a four-bid league.

Nikola Vucevic and USC is a possible bid stealer in two weeks

A tip of the cap is in order for Frank Martin and his Kansas State Wildcats. Most skewered the hard-nosed coach for losing control of his program during K-State’s numerous low points –from the loss in Kansas City to UNLV sans Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly to the embarrassing blowout at rival Kansas with Gameday in the house to once-heralded recruit Wally Judge leaving the team – but it’s my opinion that Martin’s demanding style may have actually kept this team afloat while coaches that run their program with a softer hand may have had a total implosion on their hands. The combination of Martin’s constant yearning for focus, effort and execution out of his players and a senior in Pullen who flat-out refused to let his team hit rock bottom has led to a resurgence that would have been unfathomable three weeks ago. If you told me in early February that Kansas State, amidst all their turmoil and turnover, would win in Austin against what appeared to be a powerhouse Texas squad, I’d never have believed you. The Wildcats now shape up extremely well not only to make the NCAA Tournament – stellar RPI/SOS, wins over Kansas, Texas and Missouri and an ascent up the Big 12 standings – but also to make a Sweet 16-type run behind Pullen, the improving play of Curtis Kelly and the underrated contributions of Rodney McGruder.

BYU doesn’t exactly have the most glowing NCAA Tournament history. In fact, their first round victory over Florida last year was BYU’s first tournament win since 1993. The same reprieve is often played out under the bright lights of March: the softer, finesse, untested Cougars face a tough, physical, athletic opponent from a power six league and go into the fetal position. My admiration for Fredette was the singular reason I chose BYU as my second round upset pick last year to beat K-State. After an opening 10-0 run, BYU was thoroughly dismantled by the springy Wildcats and Jacob Pullen outplayed his counterpart Fredette. This trend was precisely why I believed San Diego State would take care of business last Saturday. Sure, the Cougars took care of business in a building they rarely ever lose in late January, but the Aztecs are that nightmarish matchup – a team full of bouncy, athletic, board-banging skilled players like Kawhi Leonard and Malcolm Thomas – that give the Cougars fits historically. Then BYU came out and blocked seven shots. They were barely out-rebounded. Thomas scored nine points and Leonard was limited to six field goals. Along with Fredette’s wizardry and the jump shooting ability of his teammates, I was doubly impressed by BYU’s attitude and toughness in such a raucous environment against an opponent I perceived as a matchup problem. Their zone defense was fantastic and their offensive execution – both in the halfcourt when Fredette was constantly doubled off of ball screens and in transition opportunities – was picture perfect. I’m a buyer.

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BGTD: Early Afternoon Games Analysis

Posted by jstevrtc on February 26th, 2011

The only question on a day like today after the early flight of games is…how’s the bubble? The biggest worry for bubble teams is not necessarily racking up good wins late in the year, because the schedule is, of course, already set. What you don’t want to do is give the selection committee something negative on which to hang their hat so they can leave you out. In other words, don’t play yourself out of the Tournament. So far today…

  • Let there be no doubt about Kansas State. They’ve already done enough to get in, but if you’re a bubble team you still don’t want to trip up late and drop games at home. The Wildcats, knowing that they’re in, could have come out complacent in an early game today against Missouri and  just gone through the motions. No, sir. The raves will pile up for Jacob Pullen (24 points on 6-10 and 4-4 from three) and Curtis Kelly (15/6 on 7-9), and with good reason. Pullen’s vocal leadership late in the season has been a revelation for KSU, but let’s give some juice to the Kansas State bench today, chipping in 29 points, 16 rebounds, and eight assists. And look at the unselfishness on display. The Wildcats hit 28 shots…off of 23 assists!
  • For a team playing themselves out of The Dance, look no further than VCU. A few weeks ago all the talk was about how the CAA might get two or three teams in, with VCU an obvious choice. Over the past two weeks, all the Rams have done is drop four of five, including today’s senior day game against Colonial sixth-placers James Madison (72-69). No disrespect to the Dukes, because you don’t win 21 games (so far) without being a solid squad, especially in a rapidly improving conference. But despite NCAA selectors confirming that the “last 10 games” criteria isn’t considered, bubble teams that run into late losing streaks tend to wind up on the outside looking in on post-selection Monday. Barring a CAA Tournament title, you’ve got to figure that VCU is done.
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The Week That Was: Feb. 15-21

Posted by jstevrtc on February 22nd, 2011

David Ely is an RTC Contributor 

Introduction

Monday’s Syracuse-Villanova and Kansas-Oklahoma State games kicked off Judgment Week at ESPN, and TWTW has no idea what that exactly means. Are our opinions (or “judgments,” if you will) supposed to be dramatically altered based on this week’s outcomes? Syracuse’s win over ’Nova doesn’t mean they’re no longer a flawed team that’s capable of looking great one night and mediocre the next. And barring any game-changing injury, you shouldn’t think differently about a squad based on a couple of games at the end of February. You are who you are at this point — no extra judgments are necessary. So why does ESPN feel the need to dub almost every week now? Just stop at Rivalry Week. Sometimes games are just games, they don’t need any extra labels. There’s only one real judgment to be made this week — Battle: Los Angeles looks like a god-awful movie. 

What We Learned

Smith And the Devils Are Back On Top of the Polls, But It Means Less At This Time of Year

We thought that Tristan Thompson was just speaking for Texas when he said that the Longhorns would prefer not to replace Kansas as the No. 1 team in the next AP poll — turns out he was expressing the sentiments for just about every possible No. 1 team in the nation. On Saturday #4 Pittsburgh went down at St. John’s, followed by #2 Texas at Nebraska, and then on Sunday #3 Ohio State lost at Purdue. ESPN Stats & Information said it was the first time that the #1-4 teams in the ESPN/USA Today poll all lost in the same week since 2003 — yikes. But this isn’t the first week that we’ve seen this level of attrition in the polls; remember, it was just a few weeks ago that 13 of the AP’s Top 25 lost and half of the top 10. So who deserves to be #1 now? Duke got the nod on Monday, but do the Blue Devils deserve to be vaulted all the way from #5 to the top? In all honesty, you could probably just put the top six teams on a dartboard (top seven if you want to include BYU who got two first place votes), close your eyes, throw your dart, and there’s your #1 team. Not that it matters — during the season #1 in college hoops has always felt like a superficial title to TWTW. What’s really important is who’s in position for a #1 seed. It’s not important to determine who’s #1 now. The competition to watch is the race to distinguish between teams #4 and #5.

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Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 22nd, 2011

Rob Dauster of Ballin’ Is A Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East conference.

A Look Back

Player of the Week: Dwight Hardy, St. John’s: For the second consecutive week, Hardy is winning our Big East player of the week award. It’s well deserved; the senior guard is making an impressive push for the Big East player of the year. He had 28 points, six boards, and five steals in a win at Marquette, and followed that up with 19 points, including the game winning basket, in St. John’s Saturday upset of Pitt. On the season, Hardy is averaging 17.2 PPG, but over his last seven games — in which the Johnnies have gone 6-1 and thrust themselves right back into the race for a top four seed in the Big East tournament — Hardy has averaged 24.4 PPG.

Team of the Week: West Virginia Mountaineers: The Mountaineers probably weren’t in serious danger of missing the NCAA Tournament, but they took a major step toward locking up a bid on Saturday with their win over Notre Dame. West Virginia is a tough team to peg right now, as their best players tend to be fairly inconsistent. You never know which Casey Mitchell or which Truck Bryant is going to show up, and Kevin Jones hasn’t quite developed into the star that most thought he would turn into this year. Joe Mazzulla has never been a serious offensive threat. John Flowers gets himself into too much foul trouble. When they are playing well, this is a team that has the potential to make a run in March. They also are a team with the potential to get knocked off in the first round of both the Big East Tournament and the NCAA Tournament.

Power Rankings (overall and conference records, and last week’s ranking in parentheses)

1. Pittsburgh (24-3, 12-2) (1)
Last Week: 2/16 vs. South Florida 67-55, 2/19 @ St. John’s 59-60
This Week: 2/24 vs. West Virginia, 2/27 @ Louisville

Pitt may have been dropped in the national rankings this week, but that doesn’t mean that barring a collapse, the Panthers won’t be in line for a one-seed come Selection Sunday. The question right now is whether or not this team is built for March. The answer is … maybe? This isn’t a team loaded with future lottery picks. They don’t have a superstar. They don’t have the same kind of ceiling as one of the other potential one-seeds. Pitt cannot power their way through any tournament draw based on talent alone. That said, this season there aren’t many teams that match up that well with them. Maybe someone like a San Diego State or a Wisconsin. Keep an eye on the game against Louisville. The Panthers struggle against pressure at times. Louisville loves to press.

2. Notre Dame (21-5, 10-4) (2)
Last Week: 2/19 @ West Virginia 58-72
This Week: 2/23 @ Providence, 2/26 vs. Seton Hall

All five of Notre Dame’s losses have come on the road, and all five of them have been by double digits. They did beat Pitt on the road, but that is as much a fluke as anything, as Mike Brey has discovered the secret to beating the Panthers with the ‘Burn Offense’ (hence the Wisconsin mention above). I like this team. I like their offensive versatility. I love Ben Hansbrough. But their inability to perform on the road puts a major question mark on how well they are going to be able to do in the NCAA Tournament.

3. Georgetown (21-6, 10-5) (3)
Last Week: 2/16 @ UConn 70-78, 2/19 @ USF 61-55
This Week: 2/23 vs. Cincinnati, 2/26 vs. Syracuse

Winning on the road in Big East play is not an easy thing to do, which is why a close loss to UConn and a closer-than-expected win at South Florida shouldn’t be too disconcerting for Hoya fans. That said, with the spring swoons that John Thompson III‘s teams have been known to take, seeing this team struggle can only bring up bad memories. One thing that can be comforting for Hoya fans — this team is a lot deeper and more balanced than people think.

4. St. John’s (17-9, 9-5) (8)
Last Week: 2/15 @ Marquette 80-68, 2/19 vs. Pitt 60-59
This Week: 2/23 vs. DePaul, 2/26 @ Villanova

A short addendum to what I wrote above on Dwight Hardy — I am not completely sold on St. John’s yet. They are terrific in front of their home crowd, but I want to see a marquee win on the road. They can do that on Saturday at Villanova.

5. Louisville (20-7, 9-5) (5)
Last Week: 2/16 @ Cincinnati 54-63, 2/18 vs. UConn 71-58
This Week: 2/22 @ Rutgers, 2/27 vs. Pitt

Louisville seems to have a different guy step up every game. Last week, it was Kyle Kuric and Terrence Jennings. Before that, it was Peyton Siva and Preston Knowles. This week? How about Gorgui Dieng. The Senegalese freshman that has been banged up all season long had 13 points and 12 boards (six offensive) in the Cardinals’ win over UConn.

6. Syracuse (23-6, 10-6) (6)
Last Week: 2/19 vs. Rutgers 84-80 OT, 2/21 vs. Villanova 69-64
This Week: 2/26 @ Georgetown

Syracuse’s biggest issue right now is that they just don’t seem to be that intelligent of a team. They allow far too may open threes on the defensive end of the floor, take a lot of quick shots on the offensive end, and give away too any silly turnovers that lead to layups. The defensive issue is a team issue — communicating and locating shooters in a zone is not necessarily a singular responsibility. Offensively, Scoop Jardine is a honorable mention or third team all-Big East player that thinks he is a first team All-American while Kris Joseph has the talent to be an All-American but plays like he is a role player.

7. Connecticut (20-6, 9-6) (7)
Last Week: 2/16 vs. Georgetown 78-70, 2/18 @ Louisville 58-71
This Week: 2/24 vs. Marquette, 2/27 @ Cincinnati

Kemba Walker was terrific against Georgetown, playing his best game in over a month and reigniting talk of him being the national player of the year. He was horrible against Louisville, reminding us why he has been surpassed in the national consensus. How about this stat — outside of Alex Oriakhi and Jamal Coombs-McDaniel (who has been sensational the last two weeks), UConn was 6-30 from the floor for 29 points against Louisville. That includes Kemba.

8. Villanova (21-6, 9-6) (4)
Last Week: 2/15 @ Seton Hall 60-57, 2/19 vs. DePaul 77-75 OT, 2/21 vs. Syracuse 64-69
This Week: 2/26 vs. St. John’s, 2/28 @ Notre Dame

The good news for the Wildcats is that they got Corey Stokes back from the turf toe injury that had kept him out for three games. The bad news is that they looked just as lost offensively with him as they did without him. Against Syracuse, Villanova just had so much trouble executing, especially down the stretch. It didn’t help matters that Maalik Wayns was out with back spasms, but when Villanova is at full strength, he doesn’t start anymore. Jay Wright has some serious kinks he needs to work out with this team.

9. West Virginia (17-9, 8-6) (10)
Last Week: 2/19 vs. Notre Dame 72-58
This Week: 2/24 @ Pitt, 2/27 @ Rutgers

See the “Team of the Week” mention above.

10. Marquette (16-11, 7-7) (9)
Last Week: 2/15 vs. St. John’s 68-80, 2/19 vs. Seton Hall 73-64
This Week: 2/24 @ UConn, 2/27 vs. Providence

The February 24 game at UConn is the most important game of Marquette’s season. A road win against a top 25 team would be huge for their NCAA Tournament profile, which is as bubbly as it gets this season.

11. Cincinnati (21-6, 8-6) (11)
Last Week: 2/16 vs. Louisville 63-54, 2/19 @ Providence 93-81 OT
This Week: 2/23 @ Georgetown, 2/27 vs. UConn

Cincinnati’s last four games come against Georgetown (twice), Marquette, and UConn. The win over Louisville was very important for their tournament hopes, but if they are going to be dancing, they are going to have to play their way into the tournament. Given how week the Bearcats’ non-conference resume is, I would strongly suggest winning at least two of those games.

12. Rutgers (14-13, 4-10) (13)
Last Week: 2/19 @ Syracuse 80-84 OT
This Week: 2/22 vs. Louisville, 2/27 vs. West Virginia

The Scarlet Knights are not a team you want to play right now if you are a Big East team fighting for one of those top four spots in the Big East Tournament. They are scrappy, they play hard, they are brimming with confidence, and they are just talented enough to spring some upsets. I love this group.

13. Seton Hall (11-16, 5-10) (12)
Last Week: 2/15 vs. Villanova 67-70, 2/19 @ Marquette 64-73
This Week: 2/26 @ Notre Dame

Seton Hall just doesn’t have the horses to close out close games. It’s a shame. On paper, it looks like they do.

14. Providence (14-13, 3-11) (14)
Last Week: 2/17 vs. DePaul 76-79, 2/19 vs. Cincinnati 81-93 OT
This Week: 2/23 vs. Notre Dame, 2/27 @ Marquette

Providence looked like they had given up on the season after losing to DePaul and getting down by 16 to Cincy at home. Then they forced overtime in that game. Its a shame that Marshon Brooks can’t play on a better team.

15. South Florida (8-20, 2-13) (15)
Last Week: 2/16 @ Pitt 55-67, 2/19 vs. Georgetown 55-61
This Week: 2/26 @ DePaul

The Stan Heath‘s credit, he at least has this group competing. Jawanza Poland is going to be a serious player down the road.

16. DePaul (7-19, 1-13) (16)
Last Week: 2/17 @ Providence 79-76, 2/19 vs. Villanova 75-77 OT
This Week: 2/23 @ St. John’s, 2/26 vs. South Florida

Kudos must be given to the Blue Demons. Oliver Purnell has these kids playing hard despite having absolutely nothing but pride to play for. They also snapped a 24-game losing streak in Big East play.

A Look Ahead

There are a lot of very important games in the Big East this week. Marquette has a huge one at UConn. Cincy heads to Georgetown and then hosts UConn. Pitt plays Louisville and West Virginia. Syracuse heads to Georgetown in the league’s best rivalry. There is a lot to look forward to for the east coasters.

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Set Your Tivo: 02.18-02.20

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 18th, 2011

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

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

With only two weeks left in the regular season, it’s time for teams to make their moves. This weekend provides ample opportunities for some to do so. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

VCU @ Wichita State – 7 pm Friday on ESPN2 (***)

Skeen Leads VCU In Scoring (14.6 PPG), But Is Also Top Ten In the CAA In Rebounding (7.7 RPG) And PP40 (19.0)

This could very well prove to be an elimination game. VCU has lost two straight games at home and now has to venture out of conference on the road. Wichita State has lost three games at home already this season, however, and probably has to win out and make a run in the MVC Tournament in order to have a chance at a bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Shockers don’t have a win in the RPI top 50 and those three home losses are really holding them back. VCU was blasted on the boards by Old Dominion recently (40-21) and it’s going to be hard to avoid that again in this game. If the Rams can’t create extra possessions through turnovers, it’s going to be a very long night.

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Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 15th, 2011

 

Rob Dauster of Ballin’ Is A Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East.

A Look Back

  • Player of the Week: Dwight Hardy, St. John’s: Hardy has caught fire the past two weeks. He’s averaging 24.8 points per game over the past five games, including the 33 points he put on Connecticut on Thursday night. Then on Sunday afternoon, Hardy scored 18 big points as the Johnnies picked up a huge bubble victory at Cincinnati. We already know how good St. John’s is at home. The 17-point win over the Huskies wasn’t even one of their best two wins on their home court. What was impressive was going into Cincinnati and picking up a close win, albeit with the help of a Rashad Bishop lane violation. The Red Storm is not a lock to make the tournament just yet, but as long as they avoid a Georgetonian collapse down the stretch,Steve Lavin‘s crew will be dancing.
  • Team of the Week: Pittsburgh Panthers: The Panthers had one of the more impressive weeks that any team has put together this season. Playing without their leading scorer Ashton Gibbs, Pitt went into West Virginia and won in the Backyard Brawl rivalry game. Then on Saturday night on ESPN’s Gameday, Pitt held on against Villanova in an in-state battle. If it hasn’t been proven to you yet, the Panthers are a team that is greater than their individual parts. They are good enough that they deserve to be in the conversation not just for a No. 1 seed, but as the No. 1 team in the country.

Power Rankings (overall and conference records, and last week’s ranking in parentheses)

1. Pittsburgh (23-2, 11-1) (1)
Last Week: 2/12 @ Villanova 57-54
This Week: 2/16 vs. South Florida, 2/19 @ St. John’s

See the above “Team of the Week” portion.

2. Notre Dame (21-4, 10-3) (3)
Last Week: 2/9 vs. Louisville 89-79 OT, 2/12 @ South Florida 78-55
This Week: 2/19 @ West Virginia

With Kemba Walker‘s continuing struggles, there is a legitimate argument to be made for Ben Hansbrough as the Big East’s player of the year. Notre Dame‘s offense is based around their ball movement, but Hansbrough is the guy who has the ball in his hands at the end of a clock. He’s the best creator that Mike Brey has, their leader in scoring and assists, and the best on-ball defender on the team. He also has all the intangibles you look for in a point guard. I love kids like Austin Freeman and Marshon Brooks and Rick Jackson, but I’m not sure there is a player in the conference that I would take over Hansbrough.

3. Georgetown (20-5, 9-4) (5)
Last Week: 2/9 @ Syracuse 64-56, 2/13 vs. Marquette 69-60
This Week: 2/16 @ UConn, 2/19 @ USF

The Hoyas won two games this week, but what was impressive was how they did it. On the road against Syracuse, the Orange took over down the stretch, keeping Syracuse from getting scoring opportunities while going on a game-ending, 15-3 run. Against Marquette, Georgetown dominated the second half on the defensive end of the floor and on the glass. They allowed the Golden Eagles to score just 25 points, held them to a 36.3% eFG, gave up just 11.1% OR, and forced Marquette into nine turnovers and 0.69 PPP. Not exactly the Georgetown team we have become accustomed to under John Thompson III.

4. Villanova (19-6, 7-5) (2)
Last Week: 2/9 @ Rutgers 76-77, 2/12 vs. Pitt 54-57
This Week: 2/15 @ Seton Hall, 2/19 vs. DePaul

The loss against Pitt is acceptable. Losing by three at home without a starter (Corey Stokes missed this game and the second half against Rutgers with turf toe) to the best team in the league and possibly the best team in the country is far from a bad loss. The Rutgers loss, on the other hand, is another story. The Wildcats blew a 13-point lead with five minutes left and an eight point lead with two minutes left. They turned the ball over, they allowed open threes, and, at the end of the game, Corey Fisher fouled Jonathan Mitchell shooting a three. He made it and made the free throw, and Rutgers picked up a huge win.

5. Louisville (19-6, 8-4) (6)
Last Week: 2/9 @ Notre Dame 79-89 OT, 2/12 vs. Syracuse 73-69
This Week: 2/16 @ Cincinnati, 2/18 vs. UConn

What got into Kyle Kuric this week? The sophomore shooting guard had 28 points against Notre Dame in an overtime loss and followed that up with 23 points in the Cardinals’ win over Syracuse on Saturday. For the week, Kuric was 9-14 from three. He’s shooting 46.9% from deep on the season while averaging 10.0 points per contest. He needs to be a consistent scoring option for the Cardinals, as does Terrence Jennings. Jennings is only averaging 9.6 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, but over his last five, he’s averaging 14.2 and 7.8.

6. Syracuse (21-6, 8-6) (4)
Last Week: 2/9 vs. Georgetown 56-64, 2/12 @ Louisville 69-73, 2/14 vs. West Virginia 63-52
This Week: 2/19 vs. Rutgers

The Orange picked up a much needed win on Monday night, knocking off West Virginia at home to snap a three-game Carrier Dome losing streak. The biggest problem Syracuse has right now is a complete inability to defend the three point line. Their other issues — poor decision-making from the backcourt, Kris Joseph‘s inconsistency, Fab Melo missing practice — are second in importance to figuring out how to keep teams from hitting 10, 11, and 12 threes against them.

7. Connecticut (19-5, 7-5) (7)
Last Week: 2/10 @ St. John’s 72-89 , 2/13 vs. Providence 75-57
This Week: 2/16 vs. Georgetown, 2/18 @ Louisville

When Kemba Walker is playing like Kemba Walker, as opposed to Super Kemba, UConn is a good team, but they aren’t much more than an upper-half Big East team. Prior to Sunday’s win against Providence, UConn had lost three out of four in league play to fall back into the middle of the pack. This is a big week for he Huskies coming up, with Georgetown and Louisville.

8. St. John’s (15-9, 7-5) (10)
Last Week: 2/10 vs. UConn 89-72, 2/13 @ Cincinnati 59-57
This Week: 2/15 @ St. John’s, 2/19 vs. Marquette

See the above “Player of the Week” portion.

9. Marquette (15-10, 6-6) (8)
Last Week: 2/9 @ South Florida 59-58, 2/13 @ Georgetown 60-69
This Week: 2/15 vs. St. John’s, 2/19 vs. Seton Hall

Sunday’s loss to Georgetown was Marquette’s worst loss of the season. By nine points. Think about that. The Golden Eagles need to start winning some of these close games down the stretch, but is there any team in the country that is more competitive than the Golden Eagles?

10. West Virginia (16-9, 7-6) (9)
Last Week: 2/12 vs. DePaul 72-61, 2/14 @ Syracuse 52-63
This Week: 2/19 vs. Notre Dame

There is something missing from this West Virginia team, but I can’t quite put my finger on what it is. Kevin Jones is inconsistent, John Flowers is foul-prone, Casey Mitchell is a head case, and no one seems willing to box out.

11. Cincinnati (19-6, 6-6) (11)
Last Week: 2/8 @ DePaul 71-68, 2/13 vs. St. John’s 57-59
This Week: 2/16 vs. Louisville, 2/19 @ Providence

Mick Cronin seems to have finally gotten fed up with Yancy Gates‘ actions and apathy towards playing. The five-star recruit who is no better as a junior than he was as a freshman played just 16 minutes against DePaul and 13 minutes against St. John’s after sitting out against Pitt.

12. Seton Hall (11-14, 5-8) (12)
Last Week: 2/12 vs. Rutgers 69-64
This Week: 2/15 vs. Villanova, 2/19 @ Marquette

Keon Lawrence and Jamel Jackson were kicked off the team on Friday after missing curfew to go to a party. Both were disappointments in their time in Jersey.

13. Rutgers (13-12, 4-9) (13)
Last Week: 2/9 vs. Villanova 77-76, 2/12 vs. Seton Hall 64-69
This Week: 2/19 @ Rutgers

The Scarlet Knights deserved that upset against Villanova. Mike Rice has his team playing so hard every night, they just have come up on the short end of the talent stick. I hope they enjoyed it.

14. Providence (14-11, 3-9) (14)
Last Week: 2/13 @ UConn 57-75
This Week: 2/17 vs. DePaul, 2/19 vs. Cincinnati
You have six more games to get the chance to see Marshon Brooks play as a collegian. It’s worth it.

15. South Florida (8-18, 2-11) (15)
Last Week: 2/9 vs. Marquette 58-59, 2/12 vs. Notre Dame 55-78
This Week: 2/16 @ Pitt, 2/19 vs. Georgetown

Why does USF struggle? Gus Gilchrist uses as many possessions as Marshon Brooks and Kemba Walker, but he has an offensive rating of 89.0.

16. DePaul (6-18, 0-12) (16)
Last Week: 2/8 vs. Cincinnati 68-71, 2/12 @ West Virginia 61-72
This Week: 2/17 @ Providence, 2/19 vs. Villanova

DePaul gets more competitive with every game they play. I think Oliver Purnell can make something out of that program.

A Look Ahead

This is a huge week for the UConn Huskies. Not only are they playing Georgetown on Wednesday, they get a rematch with Louisville on Friday night. Are the Huskies truly a contender in the Big East, or was the start of their season more of a fluke than anything?

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Set Your Tivo: 02.15.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 15th, 2011

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

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

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

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

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

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

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