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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Set Your Tivo: 02.11-02.13

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 11th, 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.

So many games, so little time to talk about them. Here are the biggest games of the weekend and why you should pay attention to them. Fair warning: it’s a long list. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

#12 Syracuse @ #19 Louisville – 12 pm Saturday on ESPN (****)

The Cards Need Knowles To Catch Fire Over the Angry Syracuse Zone

With Rakeem Buckles and Gorgui Dieng practicing again for Louisville, the Cardinals are starting to get some of their depth back. Their status for this game is unknown but there’s a chance at least one of them will play. The Cardinals beat Syracuse twice last season and they’ll look to do it again in what is an important separation game for both teams. Only one game in the loss column separates third and eleventh place in the Big East with both of these teams in the thick of that jumbled mess.

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ATB: Rhythm Of The Saints And Baseline Complaints

Posted by jstevrtc on February 11th, 2011

The Lede. It was Day Four of Rivalry Week, and though the tag of “rivalry” on some of the games might have been questionable, there was no lack of storylines. Connecticut might have been indoors but still got caught up in one heck of a Storm, and Vanderbilt managed to dodge an entire Tide, though the majority of our friends and Twitter followees feel that the Commodores may have gotten a little help at the end. Oh, and there’s a little WCC team on whom you might want to keep an eye. Let’s jump in…

St. John's Had Walker Frustrated All Night (F. Franklin/AP)

Your Watercooler Moment. There were very few points in this game at which Connecticut appeared to be playing at full speed, and even fewer at which St. John’s appeared to play at anything less. Sure, the Garden may have had a little to do with the Johnnies’ 89-72 win over the Huskies, but the bigger factor was that one team showed up for whole game and the other didn’t. UConn didn’t play its best basketball in the first half but at least seemed interested and stayed close enough to where their talent could have pulled them through in the end. Instead, in the second half, Connecticut didn’t defend in the half-court, didn’t get back in transition defense, didn’t seem at all prepared for St. John’s’ match-up zone, and did nothing to stop SJU’s Dwight Hardy. The St. John’s senior guard dropped 33 on the Huskies and got help with 20 more from D. J. Kennedy, whose 11 boards helped the Red Storm to a 41-31 rebounding edge. UConn got the help it’s been wanting from its non-Kemba corps — Roscoe Smith (16/6), Alex Oriakhi (12/8), Jeremy Lamb (13/5) all played well, though Lamb’s 2-7 from three was a bit of a pinch — it just didn’t defend for most of the game. Nobody expected that from a team who came into MSG ranked in the top ten nationally in FG% defense, especially inside the three-point arc. [Note: For our RTC Live summary and link to the coverage, see below.]

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Set Your Tivo: 02.10.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 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.

It’s another big night with post-season implications, as Connecticut and Vanderbilt look to improve their seeding while the other six teams need wins to make their cases or avoid falling farther towards the bubble. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

#10 Connecticut @ St. John’s – 7 pm on ESPN (***)

St. John’s is an interesting case when it comes to the possibility of inclusion in the NCAA Tournament. They’ve beaten a bunch of quality teams, but the record isn’t anything special, just 13-9 (5-5) coming into tonight’s game. A loss would give the Johnnies double-digit losses, not something you want to brag about before the Selection Committee. More importantly, they’d dip under .500 in conference play and would obviously need to win plenty of games down the stretch — and they’ve got a few tough ones left.

Lavin's First Year Has Been Better Than Expected, Though We're Sure He's Nowhere Near Content

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Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 8th, 2011

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

Team of the Week: Syracuse Orange: The Orange reached a critical point in their season on Wednesday. They had lost four consecutive games, there were all kinds of rumors involving turmoil within the locker room, and the team was heading to Hartford to take on then-No. 7 Connecticut. But the Orange were able to slow down Kemba Walker and knock off the Huskies, regaining some confidence along the way, before going into Tampa and whooping up on South Florida. James Southerland has seen his minutes cut, playing just two minutes in the past three games, while CJ Fair and Baye Moussa Keita — who are more active on the glass and better defenders than Southerland — have taken those minutes. Dion Waiters has also played better since he was benched at Marquette, scoring 19 points the past two games. Syracuse has a big week coming up, as they play Georgetown, Louisville, and West Virginia in the span of six days.

Player of the Week: Corey Fisher, Villanova: Villanova head coach Jay Wright switched around Villanova’s starting lineup, sliding Maalik Wayns to the bench, Corey Fisher over to the point, and moving Dominic Cheek and Isaiah Armwood into the starting lineup at different times. Wright did it for two reasons — he wanted to make Villanova a better defensive team, and he wanted a bigger team on the glass. More importantly, however, he wanted one more player on the floor willing to get the ball into the big guys inside. And believe it or not, this Villanova team is actually at their best when they run from the inside-out. How did Fisher respond? By averaging 16.5 points, 5.5 assists, and 2.5 steals per game while shooting 55% from the floor in wins over Marquette and West Virginia.

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

1. Pittsburgh (21-2, 9-1) (1)
Last Week: 2/5 vs. Cincinnati 71-59, 2/7 @ West Virginia 71-66
Next Week: 2/12 @ Villanova

The Panthers win at West Virginia on Monday proved just how good the program is that Jamie Dixon runs. Pitt won at West Virginia, a rivalry game on the road, without their most dangerous offensive weapon (Ashton Gibbs is out for two weeks with a strained MCL) against a team that was tied for second in the league standings. Nothing in the Panthers’ game plan changed. They still ran their same offense and they still crashed the glass, grabbing 18 offensive rebounds. Saturday’s matchup with Villanova should be quite a bit of fun, even if Gibbs is out.

2. Villanova (19-4, 7-3) (3)
Last Week: 2/2 vs. Marquette 75-70, 2/5 vs. West Virginia 66-50
Next Week: 2/9 @ Rutgers, 2/12 vs. Pitt

See the “Player of the Week” section for a breakdown on Jay Wright’s tinkering with the starting lineup, and how Corey Fisher in particular has benefited.

3. Notre Dame (19-4, 8-3) (5)
Last Week: 2/3 @ DePaul 83-58, 2/6 vs. Rutgers 76-69
Next Week: 2/9 vs. Louisville, 2/12 @ South Florida

I’m still not sold on Notre Dame being the third-best team in the conference, but they continue to win and own the single most impressive victory in the league, a win at Pitt. Ben Hansbrough was once again sensational this week, averaging 24.5 points per game in two wins that, frankly, didn’t tell us much. The Irish blew out DePaul like they are supposed too before winning a tougher-than-expected game against Rutgers.

4. Syracuse (20-4, 7-4) (4)
Last Week: 2/2 @ UConn 66-58, 2/5 @ South Florida 72-49
Next Week: 2/9 vs. Georgetown, 2/12 @ Louisville

See the “Team of the Week section” for analysis on Syracuse getting back on the right track despite undue stress.

5. Georgetown (18-5, 7-4) (9)
Last Week: 1/31 vs. Louisville 62-59, 2/5 vs. Providence 83-81
Next Week: 1/9 @ Syracuse, 1/13 vs. Marquette

The Hoyas are arguably the hottest team in the Big East right now. With wins over Louisville and Providence, they Hoyas have won six in a row after starting off Big East play 1-4. That winning streak becomes all the more important with a trip to the Carrier Dome coming on Wednesday. Julian Vaughn has played very well of late despite having a bad ankle. He had ten points, including a number of important buckets, and four blocks against Louisville and followed that up with a 14-point, 11-rebound performance against Providence.

6. Louisville (18-5, 7-3) (6)
Last Week: 1/31 @ Georgetown 59-62, 2/5 vs. DePaul 61-57
Next Week: 2/9 @ Notre Dame, 2/12 vs. Syracuse

Right now, Louisville is simply surviving, as Rick Pitino put it after the Cardinal’s four-point win against DePaul. The issue for the Cardinals isn’t their talent level (which is low, given their ranking) or Pitino’s coaching (which has been as impressive as anyone in the country), it’s simply that they cannot get healthy. The latest injury has come to leading scorer Preston Knowles, who sat out the win over the Blue Demons with a hamstring injury.

7. Connecticut (18-4, 6-4) (2)
Last Week: 2/2 vs. Syracuse 58-66, 2/5 @ Seton Hall 61-59
Next Week: 2/10 @ Providence, 2/13 vs. St. John’s

The Kemba Walker riddle has been solved — play UConn in a zone. Syracuse did it. So did Seton Hall. It makes it easy to help onto Walker and prevent him from getting one-on-one opportunities, and with the youth and inexperience on the UConn roster, it is very easy to get this team out of an offensive rhythm. Zones are difficult to beat when you don’t have great passing big men, and if you have seen Charles Okwandu or Alex Oriakhi play this season, you know they are not exactly Greg Monroe.

8. Marquette (14-9, 5-5) (7)

Last Week: 2/2 @ Villanova 70-75
Next Week: 2/9 @ South Florida, 2/13 @ Georgetown

Once again, the Golden Eagles suffered a tough loss against a quality opponent. But that doesn’t mean that this team is in any danger whatsoever of missing the NCAA Tournament. They’ve lost five of their last eight games, although in that eight game stretch, Marquette played seven teams (seven!) currently ranked in the top 15 in the country. All five of those losses were to top 15 teams, while the Golden Eagles also boast wins over the likes of Syracuse and Notre Dame. Only two of their last eight games are against ranked teams.

9. West Virginia (15-7, 6-4) (8)
Last Week: 2/2 vs. Seton Hall 56-44, 2/5 @ Villanova 50-66, 2/7 vs. Pitt 66-71
Next Week: 2/12 vs. DePaul, 2/14 @ Syracuse

This is not a typical Bob Huggins team. There’s no toughness on this squad, mentally or physically. They are an atrocious 310th in the country on the defensive glass after Monday night’s debacle against Pitt. Kevin Jones and John Flowers are inconsistent and get pushed around inside too easily when they aren’t in foul trouble. Deniz Kilicli can score on the block, but he can’t defend anyone and doesn’t appear to know what a box out is. Cam Thoroughman is a blue-collar player that is tough and physical, but he just doesn’t have the talent to be an impact player. This team, believe it or not, is soft.

10. St. John’s (13-9, 5-5) (11)
Last Week: 2/2 vs. Rutgers 58-56, 2/5 @ UCLA 59-66
Next Week: 2/10 vs. UConn, 2/13 @ Cincinnati

Dwight Hardy went for 32 against UCLA, which was impressive, but the rest of the Red Storm decided to not make the trip to LA. It’s a shame, because the Johnnies really could have used that win. Thanks to their blowout of Duke, all this team needs to do is finish above .500 in the Big East to make the dance.

11. Cincinnati (18-5, 5-5) (10)
Last Week: 2/5 @ Pitt 59-71
Next Week: 2/8 @ DePaul, 2/13 vs. St. John’s

The bubble may be obscenely weak this season, but the Bearcats still look like they could end up being a longshot to make it. They played the 284th-best non-conference schedule, and while their win over Xavier looks better every day, they need to notch a victory over one of the top teams in the Big East. That will be tough if Yancy Gates, who didn’t make the trip to Pittsburgh on Saturday, remains suspended.

12. Seton Hall (10-14, 4-8) (14)
Last Week: 2/2 @ West Virginia 44-56, 2/5 vs. UConn 59-61
Next Week: 2/12 vs. Rutgers

Seeton Hall is playing well, but they cannot close out games. Unfortunately, after digging themselves a hole early in the season, the Pirates cannot afford losing close games.

13. Rutgers (12-11, 3-8) (12)
Last Week: 2/2 @ St. John’s 56-58, 2/6 @ Notre Dame 69-76
Next Week: 2/9 vs. Villanova, 2/12 vs. Seton Hall

The Scarlet Knights have now played three straight tournament teams down to the wire. Mike Rice has this team playing the right way. Once he gets some better talent into the program, Rutgers will be alright.

14. Providence (14-10, 3-8) (13)
Last Week: 2/2 vs. South Florida 68-63, 2/5 @ Georgetown 81-83
Next Week: 2/13 @ UConn

Marshon Brooks is now the leading scorer in the Big East at 24.1 points per game after dropping 43 on Georgetown in a losing effort.

15. South Florida (8-16, 2-9) (15)
Last Week: 2/2 @ Providence 63-68, 2/5 vs. Syracuse 49-72
Next Week: 2/9 vs. Marquette. 2/12 vs. Notre Dame

On Saturday, South Florida was outnumbered by Syracuse fans 3:1 in their own arena. Shameful.

16. DePaul (6-16, 0-10) (16)
Last Week: 2/3 vs. Notre 58-83, 2/5 @ Louisville 57-61
Next Week: 2/8 vs. Cincinnati, 2/12 @ WVU
The Blue Demons nearly got one against injury-depleted Louisville.

Looking Ahead
We have four terrific Big East matchups this week. On Wednesday, Georgetown heads to Syracuse in the first of their two games this season, while Louisville makes the trip to South Bend to take on Notre Dame. On Saturday, Syracuse and Louisville do battle while arguably the two best teams in the conference tip off in ESPN’s Gameday game as Pitt travels to Villanova.

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Set Your Tivo: 02.04-02.06

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 5th, 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.

On paper, this isn’t the best weekend of games. However, this is college basketball where anything can happen. You just never know what could happen and it may end up being a thrilling couple of days, anyway. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

West Virginia @ #12 Villanova – 12 pm Saturday on ESPN (****)

Yet another big game in the Big East features two teams tied for third place at 6-3 in league play. The winner will tie second place Notre Dame, just a game and a half behind first place Pittsburgh. West Virginia has won seven of nine games and rebounding has been a big reason why. The Mountaineers have not been out-rebounded by an opponent since a New Year’s Day game at Marquette, plus their defense has been solid. West Virginia has scored only 58 PPG over their last four games (three of them without leading scorer Casey Mitchell) but has held opponents to an average of 50 PPG over the same stretch, culminating in holding Seton Hall to 44 points on Wednesday. Bob Huggins’ team is #5 nationally in offensive rebounding percentage but will have to bring their A-game on the glass against Villanova. The Wildcats rank 20th in keeping opponents off the offensive boards and were led by the interior duo of Antonio Pena and Mouphtaou Yarou in their most recent win over Marquette. They combined for 32/15 and have been huge factors this season as Jay Wright isn’t counting exclusively on his guards to win games anymore. Although West Virginia has rebounded the ball extremely well of late, they still rank only #291 in opponent’s offensive rebounding percentage, allowing teams to grab 35.6% of their misses. Villanova will likely miss a lot of long range shots against West Virginia’s #2 ranked three point defense (allowing 27%) so offensive rebounding will be important for both teams, especially the Wildcats, in this game. Coach Huggins used 6’7 John Flowers on Seton Hall’s Jeremy Hazell in their last game and he successfully shut down the Pirates’ gunner. Might we see the same thing on Villanova’s Corey Stokes? It’s a good possibility, though Flowers may be needed inside more often to double Pena and Yarou. Flowers leads the Big East in blocked shots and needs to have another good defensive game against a Villanova team that can score in bunches. The Wildcats score 25.6% of their points from the foul line and attempted 33 free throws against Marquette. Villanova is very difficult to beat when they get to the stripe because they shoot 78% and get there so often. Dribble penetration from Corey Fisher and Maalik Wayns leads to good looks inside and plenty of free throw opportunities. West Virginia has to do a good job defending the dribble drive and Kevin Jones will be a key player in doing so. Jones is a taller player who, along with Flowers, will form the second line of defense if the Wildcat guards are able to get into the lane. Jones is also a warrior on the glass, going for 13/12 in his last game. With the status of Casey Mitchell still uncertain, West Virginia will have to stick to typical “Huggy-ball” more than ever, and that’s physical defense and great rebounding. Villanova is 16-0 when they score at least 70 points but only 2-4 when they fail to do so. With the way West Virginia is rebounding and playing defense right now, it’s very possible that this game could be in the 50’s or 60’s. We’re going to go with the upset and take the Mountaineers on the road in this game.

#10 Kentucky @ Florida – 9 pm Saturday on ESPN (****)

With a win on Saturday night, Florida can really create some separation between themselves and Kentucky. With a win against the Wildcats, Florida will hold a two and a half game lead over UK and remain ahead of Tennessee, a team they beat on the road already. Quite simply, a win here puts Florida in a commanding position in the SEC East. Of course, that won’t be so easy against the nation’s fourth ranked team in eFG% defense. The Gators have won 9 of 11 games but Kentucky will be their toughest test since a meeting with Ohio State back in November. The Wildcats are coming off a loss at Ole Miss earlier this week, a game in which they committed 18 turnovers and didn’t defend the three point line well at all. Freshman point guard Brandon Knight had six of those turnovers and needs to do a better job tonight. Young teams can’t turn it over and expect to win on the road no matter how talented they are and Kentucky is finding out the hard way. With a 2-4 record in true road games, the Wildcats need to grow up quick if they want to play deep into March. Knight needs to create shots for himself and others, taking advantage of UK’s 40% shooting from deep. With Doron Lamb shooting the ball very well recently, Kentucky has plenty of threats to win this game. A key battle in this game will be at the forward spot as Kentucky’s freshman Terrence Jones goes up against Florida senior Chandler Parsons. Jones averages 18/9 and had 22/12 at Ole Miss while Parsons has been on an absolute tear on the glass of late. Controlling the boards will be critically important in a game that could be all about pace. The Gators would like to slow the game down and work in the half court while the Wildcats are comfortable at a quicker pace. To keep the tempo in their favor, Florida has to win the rebounding battle and make shots. The Gators are #10 in offensive rebounding percentage but the matchup between Jones and Parsons, as well as Vernon Macklin and Josh Harrellson at the center position, will likely determine who controls the glass in this game. If Harrellson can shut down Macklin (Festus Ezeli of Vanderbilt did a good job of this in the last game), the onus will be on Parsons to carry the Gators yet again. With Erving Walker hitting only 7 of his last 33 threes (21%), Florida will work the ball inside even more than they already do. The Gators get 56.8% of their points from two point range but will face the #4 interior defense in the country. Kentucky allows opponents to shoot only 41% from two point range while Florida is making 50.5% of their two point shots. This should be a physical game and whoever controls the interior will likely come out on top. Despite their road woes, we think John Calipari’s team will be ready to play tonight and hand the Gators their fourth home loss, disappointing the big crowd sure to be at the O-Dome for ESPN Game Day.

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RTC Live: Duke @ St. John’s

Posted by nvr1983 on January 30th, 2011

Game #121. RTC heads to Madison Square Garden (aka “The World’s Most Famous Arena”) as the defending champs invade The Big Apple.

The Red Storm head into today’s game having finished what is likely the hardest seven-game stretch that any team has faced this season and things won’t get any easier as Coach K and the Blue Devils come to town. After initially raising expectations in New York City after a 3-point will over Georgetown on January 3rd Steve Lavin and the Red Storm have fallen on hard times losing 5 of their last 6 games. If the Red Storm are to reverse their fortunes today they will need big games out of Dwight Hardy and Justin Brownlee and try to find a way to contain Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler while defending the 3-point line against a Blue Devil team that is loaded with excellent shooters, but has struggled from 3-point range since starting ACC play.
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Set Your Tivo: 01.28-01.30

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 28th, 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

This weekend brings us yet another great slate of games with plenty of ranked teams heading out on the road to face unranked opponents. How many will go down this time? All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#21 Georgetown @ #6 Villanova – 12 pm Saturday on ESPN (****)

Despite their win at the Carrier Dome over Syracuse last week, Villanova has lost two of its last three games and now welcomes their rival Georgetown Hoyas to the Wells Fargo Center. The Hoyas have won three straight over the New York-area schools to climb back to 4-4 in Big East play. Georgetown has won four true road games but none of those wins were against teams the caliber of Villanova.

If Freeman and the Hoyas Plan On Finishing Strong, Tonight's a Good Night To Start

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Set Your Tivo: 01.21-01.23

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 21st, 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.

Almost all of the action is on Saturday but what a day it will be. A couple of huge games start us off right away at noon but the rest of the day will not disappoint. It’s very unfortunate but #21 St. Mary’s @ #23 Vanderbilt is not on television and neither is Belmont at East Tennessee State on Sunday, a battle for first in the Atlantic Sun. You obviously won’t be able to watch those games unless you’re attending but definitely check and see how they play out. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#1 Ohio State @ #18 Illinois – 12 pm Saturday on CBS (****)

Sylvester and the Buckeyes Had the Last Laugh When Illinois Was #1 in 2005

It should be a crazy environment in Champaign on Saturday when the #1 team in the land pays a visit. Illinois is having a good year but probably not as good as some of the more optimistic Illini fans would have hoped. That can change in a big way with a marquee win over the Buckeyes. You’ll recall what happened almost six years ago in Columbus. Illinois was #1 at 29-0 on the last day of the regular season and lost on a Matt Sylvester three with five seconds to play as the unranked Buckeyes knocked off the eventual national runner up. By the way: Gus Johnson was working that one in 2005 and he’ll be in Champaign on Saturday if you even needed another reason to tune in.

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