What North Carolina Needs to Do to Beat Providence

Posted by Chris Kehoe on March 19th, 2014

North Carolina has its hands full tonight with its first round match-up against #11 Providence. The Friars are red-hot at the moment, coming off a Big East Tournament title that included an upset win over Creighton. Head coach Ed Cooley placed a premium on winning the title in Madison Square Garden because the Friars hadn’t won it since 1994 and only once in the past 34 years. Providence may have lucked out in avoiding top seed Villanova after the Wildcats were upset by Seton Hall at the buzzer, but they still managed to get past the Bluejays and college basketball’s likely NPOY. The Friars’ best player, senior guard Bryce Cotton, was a unanimous first team all-Big East selection and he is a handful for any defense. A capable scorer who has increased his distribution skills this year, Cotton is much like North Carolina’s Marcus Paige in that they are both rail-thin, ball-dominating guards that are relied upon heavily from the perimeter. Their battle at that position will be one of the key match-ups in this game, and if Paige can play Cotton even or better, the Tar Heels will be well positioned to advance.

Marcus Paige must be looking forward to his matchup with Bryce Cotton (Photo: Robert Willett/ Raleigh News & Observer)

The competitor in Marcus Paige must be looking forward to his matchup with Bryce Cotton ( Robert Willett/ Raleigh News & Observer)

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Rushed Reactions: Providence 65, #14 Creighton 58

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 15th, 2014

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Brian Otskey attended the Big East Championship at Madison Square Garden.

It Was a Dream Come True For Providence and Ed Cooley (AP)

It Was a Dream Come True For Providence and Ed Cooley (AP)

Three key takeaways.

  1. Dancing Friars. After living on the bubble for much of the season, the Friars left no doubt in clinching the Big East’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Providence won its first Big East Tournament crown since 1994 and will be in the Big Dance for the first time since 2004. It has been a long time coming for an old Big East program with a strong fan base that has been dying for a winner to rally behind. With this team, they have a great bunch of guys to root for. Providence’s late season surge after a mid-season slump has been impressive, with its only losses coming in double-overtime to league regular season champion Villanova and at Creighton on senior night for Doug McDermott and company.
  2. Is the book now out on Creighton? Providence made every Creighton basket a chore with a 2-3 zone that in many ways resembled what Jim Boeheim and Syracuse use. Ed Cooley mixed in some full court pressure at times and that made Creighton use a lot of the shot clock on many possessions. Cooley said he went zone “because I’m crazy,” but it was definitely a smart decision. Providence rotated perfectly in sync and frustrated Creighton all game long with it. Creighton outshot the Friars but Providence was able to get to the free throw line 26 times where the nation’s No. 2 free throw shooting team converted on 23. Offensively, Cooley and Providence made a concerted effort to work the post, specifically when Ethan Wragge was forced to defend Kadeem Batts. When combined with Cotton’s ability to penetrate, Providence was able to generate a number of quality looks around the rim.
  3. Ed Cooley coached a tremendous game. His team was motivated all tournament long and you could tell the confidence of his players was brimming. It felt as if the Providence players played even harder once they realized it was not just a pro-Creighton crowd. Cooley’s defense was physical and his team hit the glass hard, outrebounding the Bluejays by three on the offensive glass. The game plan was clearly to get out on the shooters and get the ball inside when on offense. With a great floor general in Bryce Cotton executing the plan, it worked fantastically for the Friars. Providence also utilized its frontcourt depth, posting up Ethan Wragge all night long, who didn’t stand much of a chance against the bigger and more physical Friars. After the game, Cooley said that was exactly what they planned to do on that end of the floor.

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Rushed Reactions: Providence 80, Seton Hall 74

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 14th, 2014

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Brian Otskey will be reporting from the Big East Tournament all week.

Bryce Cotton Has Led His Team to the Brink of a Big East Title (NYDN)

Bryce Cotton Has Led His Team to the Brink of a Big East Title (NYDN)

Three key takeaways.

  1. Providence was simply the better team. After the teams traded baskets for the first six minutes, Providence opened the game up with a quick 12-0 run and never really looked back. Seton Hall never led again and Providence kept the Pirates at arm’s length for the majority of the game. There were multiple sequences throughout this game where Seton Hall would miss a jump shot and Providence would make one on the next possession. It was that simple, as the Friars thoroughly outplayed the Pirates en route to their first conference championship game since 1994 when they beat Georgetown.
  2. Providence had fresh legs and played outstanding defense. When Ed Cooley showed zone, his team executed the game plan very well. Fresh Friars’ legs allowed the zone to rotate flawlessly and track Seton Hall’s perimeter shooters all game long. The Pirates finished the game 6-of-23 (26.1 percent) from the three-point line, a team that makes 36.1 percent on average. It was the difference in the game as Providence was able to make Seton Hall incredibly stagnant on offense for the better part of the night. Three-point defense had been a strength for Cooley’s team in conference play, and it vaulted them to a win tonight.
  3. NCAA ticket punched? Providence will not have to worry about the bubble if it wins tomorrow night, but is a run to the Big East Championship game enough on its own? One would think so. The Friars have played extremely well down the stretch after a midseason lull. Aside from a double-overtime loss to league champion Villanova and a setback at Creighton on Doug McDermott’s senior night, Providence has taken care of business in every game since losing four out of five games in early February. While the resume remains light on quality wins, one would think Providence has done enough to warrant a bid, especially when compared to other bubble teams throughout the nation.

Star of the Game: LaDontae Henton, Providence. Look no further than Henton when searching for reasons why Providence is playing for the Big East title tomorrow night. The lefty wing filled up the stat sheet with 26 points and 14 rebounds on 9-of-13 shooting. Seton Hall never had an answer for him and Henton made his name known in front of a big crowd and a national TV audience. This is a guy that needs more publicity as he has been productive in every season at Providence. He is a big time breakout candidate as a senior in 2014-15.

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Rushed Reactions: Providence 79, St. John’s 74

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on March 13th, 2014

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Brian Otskey will be reporting from the Big East Tournament all week.

Three Key Takeaways.

Providence Advances to the Big East Tourney Semifinals (USA Today)

Providence Advances to the Big East Tourney Semifinals (USA Today)

  1. Providence is alive. St. John’s, not so much. With the win today, Providence lives to see another day. I’m not quite sure that the Friars are in the field of 68 just yet, but they get another opportunity for a win tomorrow night. However, that win would have to come against Seton Hall, a sub-100 RPI team. Now we know the Pirates are not a bad team, but a loss to them would qualify as a “bad” loss on Providence’s NCAA resume. The Friars surely don’t want to lose that one and put themselves in jeopardy with a chance to win their way into the NCAA Tournament. As for St. John’s, it is the unfortunate loser of what was likely an NCAA elimination game. With 12 losses on its resume and not many quality wins to boot, the Red Storm appear to be NIT-bound. Still, it has been a remarkable turnaround for a team that started 0-5 in conference play.
  2. It was important for Providence to show it can win without a strong Bryce Cotton performance. Cotton, the star Friars senior, struggled to the tune of a 1-of-10 shooting night and yet the Friars still held a comfortable advantage for most of the game. Cotton made up for that by getting to the line 13 times (making 10), but it was certainly not a dominant game for him. It was interesting to note that Cotton played “only” 34 minutes, his lowest game total since playing 32 minutes against Vermont on November 18. The good news for Providence? Cotton isn’t likely to shoot this poorly tomorrow night, and as an additional bonus, should be relatively well-rested.
  3. Free throw shooting continues to serve Providence well. The Friars are the No. 2 team in free throw shooting nationally and Carson Desrosiers’ clutch makes at the end of the game sealed this win. For the game, the Friars got to the free throw line 30 times, making 22. When you can get to the line that often (specifically Cotton), great free throw shooting can be a lethal weapon. It quells runs and seals games in the final minute. If Providence does end up in the NCAA Tournament next week, don’t be surprised if it wins a game based on free throw shooting alone.

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Big East M5: 02.20.14 Edition

Posted by George Hershey on February 20th, 2014

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  1. St. John’s has been rolling, winning again in a rout of Butler on Tuesday, but they got some bad news prior to that game. Chris Obekpa, a shot-blocking machine, will be out for between 10-14 days due to an injured ankle he suffered in practice and will miss crucial games against Villanova and Xavier. Head coach Steve Lavin said about the matter: “Chris is a central part of what we do on both ends of the court. Our team will have to step up collectively in his absence.” The team will obviously miss his inside defensive presence, but with the way the Johnnies have been playing, they can still pull out two big wins in the coming week. The team has plenty of depth and God’sgift Achiuwa and Orlando Sanchez can fill in down low as capable replacements.
  2. Butler continues to struggle and Tuesday’s loss was another tough defeat to swallow for Brandon Miller’s team. After leading at the half by three, they were run out of the gym by the Red Storm, ultimately losing by 25 points. The team began conference play with a string of losses, but they were still fighting (several games went to overtime). Now, however, the Bulldogs are getting blown out in nearly every outing.  Zak Keefer takes a look at what has gone wrong with this storied program. Kameron Woods was suspended prior to Tuesday’s game and Rene Castro declared he would be transferring away from the program last week. There is considerable instability within and surrounding this program right now, a major cause for concern. Miller has respect from his peers, but losing seasons don’t wear very well at Butler, even given the uptick in competition.
  3. Villanova took another team’s best shot and responded with a double-overtime victory on the road at Providence on Tuesday. ESPN.com‘s Eamonn Brennan takes a look at the team’s response to getting ripped apart by Creighton for the second time this seasson. As one of the premier teams in the Big East, the Wildcats are often going to get their opponents’ best shot. Jay Wright’s team has yet to lose a game this season to a team not named Creighton or Syracuse, something that should help them a great deal on Selection Sunday.
  4. Villanova’s big win was Providence‘s tough loss. In great need of a profile-boosting win, the Friars fought for 50 minutes but simply didn’t have enough to outlast the Wildcats. A win likely would have pushed them well into the projected field of 68, but instead they will have to be nearly perfect down the stretch if they want to play in the NCAA Tournament. Fortunately for Friars fans, coach Ed Cooley is moving on and ready to keep fighting. He said after the loss: “We can put our heads down and feel sorry for ourselves, but at the end of the day we have to get back up and get ready for Butler on Sunday. I know a lot of people are disappointed. I know our fans wanted to win, everybody wanted to win. But you’re playing a top 10 team coming off a loss. Give them credit. They’re a great team.” The Friars have three very winnable games with Butler, Seton Hall, and Marquette coming up, but their season finale at Creighton could be the one that solidifies a postseason berth.
  5. It has been a rollercoaster season for Marquette and head coach Buzz Williams has turned to a number of different lineup combinations to try to find the players who can consistently score. Paint Touches wrote about the lineup that has been most effective for the team this season. Williams turned to that group on Saturday in a big win over Xavier, but unfortunately, the Golden Eagles followed up that win with a tough loss to Creighton Wednesday night. The lineup is equal parts positives and negatives. Derrick Wilson and Jake Thomas have their bright spots but usually do not contribute much offensively. Todd Mayo and Jamil Wilson are solid offensive players, but they are both inconsistent and prone to silly mistakes. Davante Gardner is the team’s best player, but he struggles on the defensive end of the floor. Together the group seems to fit well and complement each other’s strengths, but Marquette, like Butler, isn’t used to being in this position.
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Big East M5: 02.05.14 Edition

Posted by George Hershey on February 5th, 2014

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  1. After dislocating his right kneecap, Grant Gibbs has not played in a game for Creighton in nearly a month and is still unsure when he will return. After taking three weeks to rest, he has started to do some light exercise in an effort to get ready to play again. Based on the initial prognosis that he would be out for four weeks, he should be ready to go shortly. In his absence, the team has played excellent basketball, going 5-1 and gaining significant national exposure as a member of the new Big East. Jahenns Manigat and Devin Brooks have helped pick up the load in the interim, but the team is obviously awaiting its sixth-year senior’s return to the lineup. Gibbs knows the Bluejays’ offense as well as anybody and brings the requisite leadership and experience that is crucial in March.
  2. Providence head coach Ed Cooley was selected as an assistant coach for the upcoming Team USA U-18 team next summer. He joins head coach Billy Donovan and fellow assistant Sean Miller on the bench. After hearing the news, Cooley said, “This is special to be able to work with two future Hall of Fame coaches. I feel blessed to have this opportunity to work with and learn from Billy and Sean, not to mention we get to represent our country. It is very inspiring.” Cooley will make his debut as a coach for a national team, but he was a training camp coach last year for Team USA’s U-19 team.
  3. Xavier came into February as one of the hottest teams in the Big East. The Musketeers were bordering on the Top 25 and seemed like a likely NCAA Tournament team. In the past week-plus, though, things have gone downhill as they have lost three straight games. Banners on the Parkway takes a look at some of the problems plaguing the team and some possible solutions. Semaj Christon and Matt Stainbrook are noted as players providing great effort, but Justin Martin and Dee Davis are starters who maybe should come off the bench. Pressing is another suggestion because the half-court defense has been ineffective and it could help increase the tempo and force turnovers. Obviously this Xavier team is pretty good, but it has fallen into a lull and some lineup and strategic changes could help re-energize the team down the stretch.
  4. Georgetown is one of the most historic and prestigious basketball schools in the nation. Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning and Roy Hibbert are some of the big man greats who went to school in DC. This year, though, the team doesn’t have any start players and thus has had to fight through adversity as it tries to find itself. Reid Forgrave at FoxSports writes about the battle the Hoyas have faced with this unfamiliar situation. After losing star Otto Porter to the NBA and Joshua Smith to academic suspension, the offense sputtered through a five-game losing streak. Forgrave concludes that this team doesn’t have the firepower to make a big run to win the Big East Tournament, but it won’t lose it’s morale either, and will continue to fight all season.
  5. St. John’s continued its torrid stretch last night with a big win on the road at Providence. If you watched the Johnnies’ last five games, you would assume it was a team that would be playing well into March. They may be playing great in early February, but they dug themselves a giant hole from November to January. Roger Rubin wrote about the work Steve Lavin’s team has cut out for it to earn a bid to March Madness. They have eight games left and a few good opportunities for big wins. They welcome Creighton to the Garden on Sunday night and visit Villanova on February 22. Besides those two games, nearly everything else is a must-win. They only have three games on the road, with one of those at DePaul, so if they can clean up at home they should be in good position. It would be quite the turnaround for St. John’s to go from 0-5 Big East cellar-dweller to NCAA Tournament team.
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Otskey’s Observations: Episode X

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on January 29th, 2014

Each week throughout the season, RTC columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) will run down his observations from the previous week of college basketball.

Michigan Proving the Doubters Wrong

No team in America had a better month of January than the Michigan Wolverines. Since the calendar flipped to 2014, Michigan has reeled off seven consecutive wins to start Big Ten play and has won nine straight since a two-point home loss to No. 1 Arizona on December 14. Of those seven wins, an astounding four have come on the road in ridiculously tough environments. Seriously, who wins at Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Michigan State in just over a three-week span? Michigan has established itself as a Big Ten contender with a pretty favorable schedule the rest of the way. How have the Wolverines done it? Offense. Believe it or not, Michigan’s 2013-14 adjusted offensive efficiency is greater than the number posted by last year’s Trey Burke-led squad that reached the national championship game. A lot of that can be attributed to the increase in fouls called this season, but it is impressive nonetheless. The Wolverines are shooting the ball fantastically, putting up at least 71 points in all but one of their Big Ten games. Derrick Walton Jr.’s growth has been fun to watch, encapsulated in the and-one that essentially won the game at Michigan State last Saturday. Nik Stauskas’ game speaks for itself and he should be in the running for the National Player of the Year award. Yes, national. (Side note: I love how a guy like Stauskas can back up his trash talk and swag with his game on the court. There are some guys who just run their mouths for the heck of it but Stauskas actually backs it up on the floor. I have no problem with that whatsoever.) Glenn Robinson III has emerged as a steady presence and a fairly reliable scorer behind Stauskas, something that needed to happen for Michigan to take the next step.

Nik Stauskas is leading the way for the red-hot Michigan offense. (USA TODAY Sports)

Nik Stauskas is leading the way for the red-hot Michigan offense. (USA TODAY Sports)

I am a bit concerned about Michigan’s defense which is allowing an adjusted 105.3 points per 100 possessions in Big Ten play, good for eighth in a 12-team league. The Wolverines’ interior defense is not good at all and that’s the place where they miss Mitch McGary the most. That said, all the talk about McGary having such a negative effect on this team was a bunch of hot air from the media who became obsessed with him after last year’s NCAA Tournament. The fact is McGary bogged down Michigan’s offense (without Trey Burke feeding him) in addition to being not 100 percent healthy. We’ve seen the results without him and you cannot tell me Michigan isn’t better. Michigan has been criminally underrated all year long because of the McGary injury combined with a few close losses to very good teams. May I remind you of what I wrote in this very column a week before Christmas. Michigan has always been a factor and it has hit its stride against a strong schedule. The Wolverines are here to stay but really, they never went anywhere. Michigan has been at least top 20 good all year long, now it is a top 10 caliber team.

Do Not Sleep on Louisville

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Big East M5: 01.29.14 Edition

Posted by Jameson Fleming on January 29th, 2014

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  1. Providence coach Ed Cooley is living proof that it’s never too late to positively change your life. From nearly 350 pounds down to 230, Cooley has spent the last six months redefining his eating and exercising habits in order to get healthy. CBSSports.com’s Matt Norlander detailed the incredible transformation of Cooley as he battled obesity and dealt with a house fire. He’s done all this while turning his Friars around. Providence is coming off one of its best stretches during the last decade and is closer to being a NCAA Tournament than anybody expected after some devastating early-season injuries.
  2. Are Georgetown‘s problems the fault of John Thompson III or circumstances out of his control? For FoxSports.com’s Reid Forgrave, it’s the latter. He thinks the Hoyas are just one part away from being a good team. That part could be Joshua Smith, who is now gone for the year, or Otto Porter. who went pro. It’s hard to buy that explanation because the talent at Georgetown has slowly declined since Thompson took over in the mid-2000s. He’s had a few stars come through, but for the most part the Hoyas’ depth has seemingly decreased each year. It’s come to a head in 2014 with the injuries and suspensions turning Georgetown into one of the worst teams in the Big East.
  3. Creighton’s Grant Gibbs occasionally blogs on For The Win to give college hoops fans a look inside the life of a student athlete. His latest entry gives insight over the way he bonds with his teammates, particularly Will “Big Swag” Artino. His tales about Snapchatting with “Big Swag” are a nice reminder that these college hoops players are just like many of us were in college.
  4. After Creighton thrashed Villanova for 21 three-pointers, questions about whether Villanova was going to collapse popped up. After all, Jay Wright’s clubs from 2010-2012 were a train-wreck defensively so their performance against the Blue Jays probably brought back nightmares from their awful 2012 season. Despite Villanova’s issues against Creighton, Eamonn Brennan says that loss was an anomaly thanks to two consecutive road victories.
  5. Is it time for Marquette to start thinking about next year? The Golden Eagles are 11-9 and one more loss would probably eliminate them from NCAA Tournament contention. Anonymous Eagle, SBNation’s Marquette blog, writes Buzz Williams needs to cut Jamil Wilson‘s and Jake Thomas‘ minutes. They’re both seniors and they’re both having a negative impact on the current team. Wilson is an offensive black hole–a high usage, low efficiency player–while Thomas doesn’t contribute anything except the occasional three. Anonymous Eagle wants to see more minutes going to freshmen John Dawson, Deonte Burton, and Jajuan Johnson.
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Big East M5: 01.08.14 Edition

Posted by George Hershey on January 8th, 2014

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  1. Only a few days after announcing his departure from the Providence basketball team, Brandon Austin has decided to transfer to Eugene to play for Dana Altman and Oregon. The impact of his loss has already been discussed, but Brendan McGair of the Woonsocket Call takes a look at Ed Cooley‘s burden after Kris Dunn was hurt in an exhibition game and the school’s administration suspended two of his players. He points out that Cooley’s job has gotten much more difficult on his quest to transform Providence back into a basketball power. Now in his third year, Cooley has shown he can recruit at a high level but his teams have failed to win enough games to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament. As if things couldn’t get any worse after a 30-point pasting at Villanova on Sunday, Cooley’s house suffered some damage after catching fire earlier this week. Luckily he and his family were safe.
  2. Villanova picked up its second commitment in the class of 2015 with Delaware shooting guard Donte DiVincenzo choosing the Wildcats over Syracuse. DiVincenzo has good size and will probably play shooting guard for Jay Wright’s squad. He can shoot the ball very well, has great athleticism, and looks like a good passer and facilitator. He is the second highly ranked player coming to Villanova next year, and he appears to be a great fit as someone who will be able to learn from Ryan Arcidiacono as a freshman.
  3. Big East teams are finally gaining some respect from Top 25 voters. Villanova rose three spots to eighth in the latest AP poll while Creighton is now 23rd in the USA Today Coaches Poll. Xavier also received some votes for the first time this season, as the Musketeers have impressed with recent wins over Cincinnati, Butler, Alabama, Wake Forest and St. John’s. Xavier hosts Marquette on Thursday and will travel to Creighton for a big tilt on Sunday. Georgetown could also work its way into the rankings over the next two weeks with upcoming games against Butler and Xavier. Reid Forgrave of FoxSports.com thinks that the Big East will improve come March and that some teams — Creighton, Villanova — are setting themselves up nicely while others — Marquette, Seton Hall, Providence — are digging themselves holes.
  4. Creighton was able to pull out a tough win against DePaul last night, but the bigger news of the night for the Bluejays was the injuries sustained by the team’s two best players. Grant Gibbs came down awkwardly at one point and was unable to make it off the court under his own power because of what looked to be a knee injury. He did not return and the severity of the injury is still unknown, but he is expected to undergo an MRI today. Doug McDermott dealt with a shoulder problem all night after running into the Blue Demons’ Sandi Marcius; the NPOY candidate finished the game and said he was fine afterward, but he was clearly hurting throughout. Losing Gibbs for any period of time would be a huge blow to the Bluejays’ long-term success, as Gibbs as the point guard runs one of the nation’s most efficient offenses. Over the summer, Gibbs received a surprising sixth year of eligibility so losing him would be a tragedy for Greg McDermott’s team. Here’s hoping that Gibbs and McDermott both recover quickly from their respective injuries. 
  5. Seth Davis of Sports Illustrated wrote his annual Stock Report piece, taking a look at 63 teams and deciding whether to buy, sell, or hold each going forward. Davis mentions seven Big East teams in his piece. He is optimistic about all three of the league’s new members — Xavier, Butler and Creighton —  as he rates them all a buy. Davis gives Georgetown a hold as the Hoyas have a tough stretch upcoming, but they have proven capable thus far. He gives three teams a sell, with Villanova leading that group because he thinks they won’t be able to keep up their tremendous play all season. He also is selling Marquette because they have been unable to score effectively, and he thinks St. John’s has been terribly disappointing with its over-reliance on D’Angelo Harrison and several bad losses so far this season. Overall, there were some positive signs for most of the teams and this was a fun read for fans.
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Big East M5: 12.19.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on December 19th, 2013

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  1. In joining the Big East, Creighton hoped that the better competition and brand-name league would help raise the program’s status, and vault successful Bluejays outfits to more advantageous seeding come March. While the Big East is undoubtedly an upgrade in many regards from Creighton’s old home, the Missouri Valley, the league hasn’t quite panned out as many had hoped thus far. ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi only has four teams from the Big East currently in his field, including Marquette, the league’s preseason favorite, in a play-in game. While no Big East team is truly out of the running yet this year, fans would have probably hoped for more from the top of the conference, but today Villanova is really the only squad really making a name for itself on a national scale. 
  2. While Creighton has dropped a few games it would like to have back, the team seems to be building depth behind star Doug McDermottEthan Wragge and Will Artino have swapped positions in the starting five, with Wragge entering the lineup as the Bluejays’ second leading scorer at 12.5 points per game and Artino more effective as a reserve, totaling 27 points in his last three games (after 40 through his first seven). Avery Dingman and Devin Brooks have also stepped up as of late, each filling the scorebook in a win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Coach Greg McDermott was effervescent in his praise of the two players, who have made great strides in recent weeks: “Avery Dingman has had three of the best days as a Bluejay as he’s ever had. His last two days of practice and today’s game, he’s shown more confidence and urgency to his play… Devin is getting better every single day. There’s no question from the start of practice until today, he’s our most improved player… I’m really proud of him, and that’s a credit to him.”
  3. Rysheed Jordan was the crown jewel in Steve Lavin’s freshman class at St. John’s, but until the last few games, he had yet to find himself in the college game. Sunday’s match-up with New York rival Syracuse and one of the nation’s top freshman point guards, Tyler Ennis, brought out the best in Jordan, who scored a season-high 13 points. Jordan followed this game up with another strong performance — 10 points and four assists — against San Francisco on Wednesday night. St. John’s is among the most talented teams in the Big East, and if Jordan can break out to go along with established players like JaKarr Sampson, D’Angelo Harrison, and Phil Greene IV, the Johnnies will be quite dangerous in time for postseason play.
  4. Red Storm head coach Steve Lavin has put together an incredibly diverse, eclectic staff with men of all ages and backgrounds, including 77-year old college basketball legend Gene Keady as a special advisor. Keady, who helped launch Lavin’s coaching career by putting him on his staff at Purdue, brings a great deal of knowledge and experience to the group, and players and coaches agree that his basketball acumen has paid off. Forward JaKarr Sampson describes the impact that Keady has on everyone in the program: ”Whenever he talks, everybody listens, even Coach Lav. With Coach Lav, I feel like he’s still learning from him. It’d be foolish not to listen to what he’s got to say.”
  5. Providence has been playing this season under a cloud of injuries and suspensions, and it is still uncertain when freshmen Brandon Austin and Rodney Bullock will be allowed to suit up for the Friars. Without the highly touted Austin, the scoring burden for the Friars has fallen to veteran Bryce Cotton, whose importance to his team grows with every game that his team spends without the freshmen. According to head coach Ed Cooley, he is taking this leadership responsibility in stride: “What everybody has to know is our team has really taken on the heartbeat of Bryce. I have seen him grow unbelievably in the last two, three weeks. Vocally, his spirit, his energy. We knew he’d play well today based on how he prepared. I’m really proud of the man he is becoming. He has grown so much.”
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Big East M5: 12.13.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on December 13th, 2013

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  1. Sports on Earth‘s Will Leitch compiled a list of the 25 ‘best jobs’ in college basketball, and only one Big East team made the cut: Georgetown. In his one sentence recap of the pick, Leitch says “In retrospect, it’s insane that anyone not named John Thompson ever coached this team.” With its academic profile, location in Washington D.C., a strong basketball city, and tradition, it’s hard to argue against the attractiveness of the Hoyas job. While Georgetown is the only team in his top 25, the “just missing the cut” list includes Butler, Creighton, Marquette, Villanova and Xavier. It’s interesting to see the three new members of the Big East on that list, certainly bolstered by the combination of good recent tradition and a boost by the new conference.
  2. One of the major debates about the new Big East is whether the league should be considered a “power conference.” Villanova blog VU Hoops tackled this question, looking at how the league stacks up according to national basketball analysts, including Jeff Sagarin and Joe Lunardi. Sagarin’s most recent rankings place the Big East fourth among power conferences, while Lunardi has six Big East teams in his current NCAA Tournament field. While the conference lacks power at the top — only Villanova is currently ranked in the Top 25 — the top eight teams all look competitive and the league should be well represented come March. Whether that makes it a power conference is probably open to interpretation, but Big East fans have some good basketball ahead of them.
  3. Numerous publications have released “__ most surprising teams in college basketball” lists as we hit the first quarter mark of the season, and Villanova is getting a lot of play in that category. Yahoo! Sports has the Wildcats second on its list, only behind undefeated Wisconsin. Jeff Eisenberg praises Villanova’s strong rebounding despite its smaller lineups, and their tenacious on-ball defense: “Despite often playing four guards and nobody taller than 6’7″, the Wildcats have been effective rebounding the ball and dominant defensively, surrendering a Big East-best 0.89 points per possession and forcing 16.7 turnovers per game.” Coming into the season the Wildcats were generally projected to finish in the top four or five spots in the conference and likely earn an NCAA bid, but expectations are soaring after a surge into the top 10 in the AP poll and all of the big wins that they picked up in the Bahamas.
  4. St. John’s hosts Syracuse at MSG this Sunday, renewing an old Big East rivalry. The game is big for both sides, but thoughts on this game are quite different between the two fan bases. For St. John’s, this game is a chance to avenge a number of bad losses to Syracuse over the last few years and to reclaim the title of “New York’s College Team,” a slogan that Syracuse proudly boasts both in upstate New York and in Midtown Manhattan. St. John’s fans also don’t love the fact that Syracuse’s strong New York City alumni come out in droves for games at Madison Square Garden. On the other side, Syracuse fans covet games in the Garden but don’t look at the Red Storm as a major rival, at least not since the halcyon days of Lou Carnesecca and Chris Mullin in the 1980s. Georgetown and UConn take the top two slots on most Orange fans’ lists of rivals, followed by some combination of Villanova, Pittsburgh, Louisville and the Johnnies, largely depending on when that person began following the Orange. Rumble in the Garden reflected on this upcoming game, and what it means for fans of both sides.
  5. Kris Dunn‘s Providence career has been marred by injury to this point, and he will unfortunately miss the rest of this season after shoulder surgery, the second on his right shoulder during his time at PC. In an article from The Day‘s Gavin Keefe, Dunn’s father John Seldon didn’t seem thrilled by the way his son’s shoulder issues were handled, especially considering that Dunn experienced some discomfort heading into a game against Rhode Island College in early November: “I’m not a doctor and not the coach. I’m just a parent. [Coach Ed Cooley] runs his program the way he runs his program. I’m not mad at the coach… If I’ve got a kid coming off an injury, I’m going to be watching him. The kid came back from a major injury and was healthy. I would try to take care of him.” Dunn hadn’t been putting up huge numbers for the Friars, but he is a major talent and was expected to combine with Bryce Cotton to form one of the better backcourts in the Big East.
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Big East M5: 12.06.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on December 6th, 2013

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  1. Marquette is struggling a bit this year, having lost three of six games heading into this weekend’s intrastate rivalry game with Wisconsin. ESPN.com’s Myron Metcalf believes that the Golden Eagles and the Big East as a whole could really use a big non-conference win to boost their bona fides: “Marquette is approaching desperation in its quest for the resume-boosting non-conference victories that will pay off on Selection Sunday… A series of mishaps in holiday tournaments diminished the Big East’s buzz. The conference’s contenders failed in recent non-conference match-ups that would have enhanced their respective NCAA tournament hopes/seeds.” Don’t expect this to be the most beautiful game of hoops that anyone has ever watched — Marquette has struggled to score against quality opponents while undefeated Wisconsin is coming off a match-up where they surrendered only 38 to a solid Virginia squad.
  2. St. John’s and Fordham play almost every year, but is the annual New York City game a true rivalry? Rumble in the Garden examined the series, in which the Johnnies have been victorious in all but two of the last 23 meetings. The last few seasons have seen a number of close games, and interestingly enough Fordham’s last win was in 2010 when they overcame two significant deficits to upset a St. John’s team that ended the year with an NCAA Tournament berth. Fordham looks like it may be a feisty mid-major this year while St. John’s has been up and down so far this season, so Big Apple fans may be in for another close one on Saturday.
  3. The intrastate rivalry theme continues, as Providence managed to hold off nearby URI for a 50-49 win last night. The Rams’ E.C. Matthews had a final shot to win the game, but he was unable to knock it down, giving the Friars the victory. Tensions were reportedly high in the Ryan Center, as head coaches Ed Cooley and Dan Hurley had to be separated at one point after Cooley took exception to Hurley’s position far away from the Rams bench.
  4. Seton Hall must be happy to come away with a win against LIU-Brooklyn last night, but not all was positive in South Orange after the game. The Pirates’ top player Fuquan Edwin left the game with a sprained ankle just two minutes after tip-off, an injury that may sideline him for a few weeks. Without Edwin in the lineup, veterans Brian Oliver and Gene Teague were the obvious players for the Pirates to lean on and they performed well. Oliver went 8-of-17 with all of his shots coming from beyond the arc, finishing with 26 points. Teague added 17 points and 16 rebounds, and was a presence on the interior that LIU-Brooklyn struggled to match. Seton Hall will faces rival Rutgers on Sunday for the first time as a non-conference opponent since the split of the Big East, and without Edwin, the team will need Oliver and Teague to continue their strong recent play.
  5. As previously discussed hereCreighton is going through a rebranding of its program in conjunction with the move to the Big East, and they will take another big step this weekend with the unveiling of the new “Billy Bluejay” before the team’s game with Nebraska.  Details have been scarce, although according to Omaha.com, Creighton has described the new-look Billy as “vibrant,” “more athletic,” and released this photo of the mascot’s new kicks.
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