Five Thoughts From the Big East Tournament: Wednesday Evening Editon

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 13th, 2013

Brian Otskey attended the evening session of the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night and filed this report. Follow him on Twitter @botskey

  1. Villanova likely clinched a bid by winning tonight. It’s not that a win against St. John’s gets the Wildcats in, it’s the fact that they didn’t lose and now have 20 wins, including victories against Louisville, Marquette, Syracuse, Georgetown and at Connecticut. Twenty wins isn’t what it used to be but Villanova, in my estimation, has done enough to get into the field of 68. The Wildcats didn’t play particularly well overall but they did what they do best: get to the free throw line and convert. Villanova went 19-of-23 from the charity stripe, making five more free throws than St. John’s even attempted. Jay Wright’s team was +10 at the line in a 13-point win, pretty much the difference in an otherwise evenly played game. Both teams committed 17 turnovers in a sloppy contest that was interesting at times but the outcome never really in doubt.

    Villanova Should Be Solidly Into the NCAAs Now

    Villanova Should Be Solidly Into the NCAAs Now

  2. St. John’s might not even make the NIT. Just six weeks ago, St. John’s was 14-7 overall and 6-3 in Big East play. The Johnnies were being talked about as a possible NCAA Tournament team as one of the surprise teams in the conference. The Red Storm has since fallen on hard times and tonight’s loss to Villanova was their fifth in a row and seventh in eight games. At just 16-15 overall, it begs the question if St. John’s will even receive an NIT invitation. An 8-10 Big East record is certainly good enough (even though five of the wins are against teams that played on Tuesday night of the league tournament) but if the NIT committee is anything like the NCAA committee, conference record supposedly does not matter. It would be a good experience for the (very) young Red Storm to continue playing this season with a chance to get to the NIT finals here at Madison Square Garden, one of their home arenas. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East M5: 03.13.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on March 13th, 2013

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  1. The Big East named Otto Porter and John Thompson III Player of the Year and Coach of the Year, respectively, on Tuesday. Porter was the unanimous choice for POY among coaches, and had been the only unanimous selection on the All-Big East First Team roster that was released Sunday. Barry Svrluga at the Washington Post recounts how unlikely that feat would have seemed in early January, when Porter shot 7-of-19 and had nine total rebounds in consecutive losses to open Big East play. After turning the ball over seven times against Louisville, Porter notched 34 assists to just nine turnovers in the Hoyas’ final 11 games –– a staggering 3.8 A/TO ratio. The 6’8″ sophomore is the eighth Big East POY winner from Georgetown, making the it the most successful program in that category.
  2. Prized recruit Aquille Carr announced yesterday that he would forgo a college career at Seton Hall to play professionally abroad next year, prompting the Star-Ledger’ Steve Politi to question whether Kevin Willard is repeating the mistakes of his predecessors. While recruiting success offered some hopeful silver lining during Seton Hall’s miserable 3-15 Big East regular season, that optimism evaporated in the span of less than a week. Willard’s only other commitment, Illinois shooting guard Jerron Wilbut, was arrested last Thursday for robbery and will likely never step foot on campus. Now with no recruits in the fold for 2013, Politi says Willard “can’t afford an entire goose egg for a recruiting class” if he wants to avoid the fates of former Pirates coaches Bobby Gonzalez and Louis Orr.
  3. CBS New York’s Jon Rothstein maintains that Rutgers AD Tim Pernetti made the right choice in retaining coach Mike Rice, and believes the Scarlet Knights are poised to turn the corner. It takes time to try to build a program that hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1991, and Rothstein cites Jay Wright-era Villanova and Mick Cronin’s Cincinnati as examples of programs that needed four or five years to do so. Moreover, “There is a distinct jump in production when a group of sophomores become juniors,” he says, and Rutgers’ roster boasts seven rising seniors, including leading scorers Eli Carter and Myles Mack.
  4. Cincinnati’s staff hopes to have Justin Jackson back in the fold against Providence tonight, after the 6’8″ junior missed the past three games with an ankle injury. Jackson has averaged 3.9 points and 3.9 rebounds per game, but Mick Cronin insists, “We need him. He’s an energy guy.  This time of year is when you rely on your veteran players.” On the topic of Cashmere Wright, Cronin admitted that his mercurial point guard is still hobbled by a tricky knee, which is preventing him from exploiting defenders off the dribble. “He’s giving us everything he can give us,” Cronin reiterated.
  5. UConn blog A Dime Back has been conducting a tournament-style bracket of the most historic Huskies in a feature dubbed “The Ultimate UConn Challenge.” The survey’s architects have given it a thoughtful treatment, having “researched, compiled, ranked and seeded 64 of the greatest players in Husky history” over the course of this season. Descriptions of each player display a level of research uncommon to the format, and contain some history that will appeal to inquisitive college basketball fans regardless of team allegiance. Ray Allen, Kemba Walker, Donyell Marshall and Emeka Okafor are the top seeds, while Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright are the only current players to make the field.
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Big East M5: 02.19.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on February 19th, 2013

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  1. Otto Porter was named Big East Player of the Week yesterday for the first time in his two seasons at Georgetown. In the Hoyas’ recent big wins over Marquette and Cincinnati, the sophomore forward scored 18.5 points on 43.5% shooting, in addition to averaging 7.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 2.0 steals per contest. Despite picking up his third foul four minutes into the second half at Cincinnati, Porter made several crucial plays down the stretch, like hitting both free throws to extend Georgetown’s lead to two possessions in the final 1:16. In fact, Porter was a perfect 14-of-14 last week, and hasn’t missed from the charity stripe in the past three games.
  2. As if the loss to DePaul on Saturday wasn’t distressing enough, Rutgers also lost its two-time leading scorer after tests revealed Eli Carter had fractured his fibula and is done for the year. The sophomore guard was averaging 14.9 points per game, represented 22.4% of his team’s total points this year, and is second only to Russ Smith in possession percentage among Big East players by using nearly 29% of offensive trips. Mike Rice warned that the void left by Carter extends beyond the offensive end: “Defensively he always guarded one of the best perimeter guys. He had such a toughness to him and when he was going, we were playing at our best.” The Scarlet Knights lost their first game without Carter last night at Villanova, and it’s hard to identify a likely win on their remaining schedule. Rutgers blog On The Banks put the devastating loss in perspective: “Season over. Another sad, bizarre season for Rutgers fans.”
  3. Of the Georgetown-Syracuse rivalry that will ostensibly end this weekend, John Thompson III says, “I still anticipate us playing although it hasn’t been hammered out for next year or for the immediate (future).” It’s undeniably one of the more historic and passionate rivalries in the Big East, as evidenced by the 34,000 tickets Syracuse has sold to the upcoming game, and the fact that Jim Boeheim predicts “the most emotional game for me of any game I’ve ever coached in the regular season.” As much as the continuation of the St. John’s-Syracuse intrastate rivalry is exciting for basketball preservationists, Georgetown-Syracuse is the series that both athletic departments should most urgently seek to extend in perpetuity.
  4. USF’s eight-game losing streak is its longest since Stan Heath first took over in 2007-08. Tampa Tribune’s Martin Fennelly paints a grim portrait of the Bulls’ precipitous decline after last year’s top-four Big East finish and NCAA berth: “They’re 10-15, have lost 12 of their last 13 games and in the two games against Louisville this season, they scored 79 basketball points.” Regarding Rick Pitino’s comment after Louisville’s win in the Sun Dome that Heath is “one or two guys away,” Fennelly retorts, “I think the Washington Generals are one or two guys away from beating the Globetrotters, too.” Heath built enough capital by taking his moribund program to the NCAA Tournament last year to safely withstand a season like this, Fennelly points out, but it has been an utter disappointment for a team predicted to finish in the middle of the pack.
  5. After getting taken to overtime by DePaul at home and blown out by Providence in its last two games, Notre Dame appeared dead in the water when they shot 1-of-18 to open its game at Pittsburgh last night. But Mike Brey drew a technical that seemed to make an impression on both the officials and his team, and the result was a 51-42 victory in what was the second-lowest point total of Jamie Dixon’s tenure in the Steel City. In addition to blowing a 16-point first half lead, the Panthers logged a paltry 10 assists (seven below their average) and failed to score a single three-pointer. They also suffered their worst rebounding margin of the season, as the Irish outworked them by 15 boards on the glass. For a team whose identify is shaped around rebounding, the game was a huge red flag in the final stretch of the season, just when it seemed the Panthers were coalescing into a Big East contender.
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Big East M5: 01.25.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on January 25th, 2013

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  1. In the words of the immortal Roseanne Roseannadanna, “it’s always something” with Syracuse basketball. This year’s something — or second something on the heels of Michael Carter-Williams Lord & Taylor mishap — is the current academic ineligibility of James Southerland. Details and rumors have been leaking out around the Internet, as they are wont to do in circumstances like this, and new information from Jim Boeheim seems to give credence to one of them“He’s a senior, he has worked hard to be in school, to stay in school – he has worked hard on and off the court. He had a great semester last fall academically. I am hoping that through the process you have to go through that he will be able to come back.” There has been speculation that Southerland’s issues may stem from a fraudulent term paper which is being investigated by the NCAA. While there is always the chance that the NCAA discovers that the NCAA wrote Southerland’s paper and that the NCAA will now impose sanctions on the NCAA, most Syracuse fans aren’t too optimistic about the situation.
  2. Louisville‘s been in this spot before. After running through a huge chunk of its schedule with one blemish against their record, the Cardinals have dropped two straight, the latter being a heart-breaker at the hands of Villanova in Philadelphia. The 2010-11 Cardinals lost to a much stronger Villanova team at the time, but the feelings are the same as they were a few seasons ago – something must change. That team found its leadership in Preston Knowles, who rallied the team following the loss to ‘Nova and led them to the NCAA Tournament. This squad does not have a Knowles to lean on, but it does have a number of experienced veterans who have plenty of wins under their belt. If any team is equipped to handle a down spell, it is probably Louisville. I don’t think this year’s squad will be falling to any #13 seeds in March either.
  3. Many have complained about the Big East scheduling this season and it is justified criticism, but UConn and Shabazz Napier are currently the benefactor of some serious time off. Napier had been playing with an injured shoulder and was not able to provide what UConn needs from its star, and as a result the Huskies dropped two games. After a week of rest, UConn takes on Rutgers at the XL Center Sunday, and Napier should be in much better shape than he has been over the last few weeks.
  4. Speaking of Rutgers, the Scarlet Knights are in a bit of a quandary when it comes to Eli Carter. He is one of the team’s only reliable scorers and the offense suffers without him on the floor, but Carter has gone absolutely ice cold and shot the Knights out of the game on multiple occasions this season. Scorers will go through droughts, and staying aggressive is one way to get through them, but having multiple one-field goal games is unacceptable. The Star-Ledger‘s Brendon Prunty believes that Carter should come off the bench as a spark plug for Rutgers if he cannot be the consistent scorer in the starting lineup that he was expected to be.
  5. Despite recent success, Cincinnati is a long way from selling out Fifth Third Arena on a regular basis, but an increase in student turnout has helped create a spike in attendance from last season. Cincy moved from an assigned seat to a general admission student model that many schools use, set up a loyalty rewards program, and has implemented some creative marketing to help drive student turnout. However, the biggest factor is the team’s success, according to athletic director Whit Babcock: “We’re not satisfied until every game is sold out, but I like the steps that we’ve taken. Mick and the team should get the bulk of the credit.”
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Big East Opening Weekend: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

Posted by mlemaire on November 12th, 2012

College basketball tipped off Friday and as the weekend drew to a close, all but two Big East teams have played and only two of them lost. From Connecticut’s shocking win over Michigan State to South Florida’s disastrous debut against Central Florida, Big East fans who weren’t able to get to their televisions this weekend missed a lot of good action. Rather than recap each game individually or only focus on some of the games, we figured the best way to get the uninformed up to speed was with a broad look at some of the best and worst from conference programs this weekend.

The Good

UConn’s Surprising Victory in Germany Represented a Big East Highlight of the Weekend

  • Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie’s debut. The first year coach couldn’t have scripted a better start to his career than his team’s gritty 66-62 win over No. 14 Michigan State in Germany. Not only did the rookie head coach beat a legend in Tom Izzo, but his team played with passion and determination, especially considering they don’t have a postseason to look forward to. The good Shabazz Napier (25 points and zero turnovers) showed up for the Huskies and the defense held the Spartans to just 37.5 percent from the field for the game. Ollie isn’t going to earn a long-term contract after one game, but if he can get his team to play that hard all season, he may win over the decision-makers in Storrs.
  • Jack Cooley’s first game as Notre Dame’s offensive focal point. The team effort wasn’t great and if it wasn’t for the all-around performance of Cooley (19 points, 11 rebounds, six blocks) the Fighting Irish may have lost their season opener to Evansville. The obvious elephant in the room is that the Aces didn’t have anyone in their frontcourt remotely capable of dealing with Cooley’s size and strength, and that will definitely not be the case every week. But Cooley was ruthlessly efficient, active defensively and on the glass, and smart with the ball in the post. The Fighting Irish will need to be better on the perimeter if they want to meet expectations this season, but it is always nice to have an anchor in the post if they need it. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East Summer Capsules: Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Posted by mlemaire on August 17th, 2012

While most relish the onset of Summer, college basketball junkies do not. Most of the news surrounding the sport is recruiting rumors and commitments or injuries and transfer news. In order to help keep folks up-to-date on what their teams are doing during the summer, we put together these summer capsules for each team in the conference. Last but not least is Rutgers.

1. Wally Judge is ready to play, but is he ready to replace Gilvydas Biruta?

Just when it seemed like coach Mike Rice had the rebuilding train rolling, the wheels started to wobble a bit. The Scarlet Knights weren’t awful last season and they seemed poised for a winning season next year considering that it appeared they would return pretty much every worthwhile contributor. Then, right after the season ended, third leading scorer and second leading rebounder Gil Biruta announced he was transferring out of the program. Despite all of his physical gifts and ability, Biruta often displayed a poor attitude and was a frequent target of Rice’s wrath, but still, it isn’t easy replacing 9.7 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, especially when you consider Biruta added toughness and physicality to the young team. Replacing Biruta’s production now falls on the shoulders of Kansas State transfer Wally Judge. A highly touted recruit coming out of high school, Judge may actually be more talented and athletic than Biruta, but now the question is whether he can turn that talent and athleticism into production. The DC native averaged 5.5 points and  3.8 rebounds per game in 17 contests as a sophomore for the Wildcats, but as one of the Scarlet Knights’ only viable interior players, he will be asked to do a lot more than that this season. By all accounts Judge has put in the work and is impressive in team workouts and summer games, but time will tell whether he can become the immediate presence that the Scarlet Knights so desperately need in their frontcourt.

2. Rutgers has a point guard problem, except it’s the good kind of problem.

Rutgers Coach Mike Rice Has His Hands Full Deciding Which Of His Three Talented Guards Will Play

It’s probably not a reach to say that the three best players on the Scarlet Knights’ roster are sophomores Myles Mack, Jerome Seagears, and Eli Carter. The only issue is that all three of the tantalizing sophomore basically play the same position — point guard. Rice knows he will need to find a way to make sure all three players are on the floor as often as possible, which will likely mean that the head coach is going to do some rotation juggling this summer. Carter, the team’s leading scorer last season, is a high volume shooter and probably belongs off the ball where his shooting ability can be put to better use. Mack, the smallest of the trio, also has a propensity for chucking but seems like the most natural fit to assume the role of primary ball-handler. Seagears, the team’s leading assist man last season, is a smaller combo guard who will probably get plenty of opportunities to play on and off the ball. Common sense dictates that Rice should play all three of his star guards at once; after all, plenty of other Big East teams have had success employing similar lineups. The only issue is that the Scarlet Knights do not have a lot of size up front or experience for that matter, so is Rice really willing to sacrifice all that size just to get his best lineup on the floor? The best-case scenario is that this situation sorts itself out with each player becoming comfortable in his role and helping the team in a number of different ways, but Rice will need to do an incredible job of finessing this situation, otherwise someone might end up upset.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking In On… The Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 20th, 2012

Brian Otskey is the RTC correspondent for the Big East conference. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • Bubble Teams Hanging On: Four Big East squads reside in the purgatory known as Bubbleville, but all are still hanging on to their projected NCAA bids. Cincinnati, Seton Hall, West Virginia, and Connecticut are all projected to be in the NCAA Tournament field as of this writing according to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, but it’s the Pirates who are really skating on thin ice. The Hall is one of the “last four in” and has a huge opportunity this week against Georgetown. Cincinnati has a similar opportunity against Louisville while West Virginia has two excellent chances to seal the deal this week. As for Connecticut, the Huskies appear to be imploding. How UConn responds against Villanova on Monday night and Syracuse this coming Saturday will determine its fate.
  • South Florida Guaranteed a Winning Record: With its win at Pittsburgh on Sunday night, South Florida won its tenth Big East game for the first time ever and is now guaranteed at least a 10-8 Big East finish. However, the Bulls have their sights set higher. Thanks in part to a backloaded schedule, USF’s best win to this point is over bubble team Seton Hall, but upcoming games against Cincinnati and West Virginia could push the Bulls towards the field if they can win. South Florida needs to finish at least 12-6 in order to have a chance at a bid. Even with that, the Bulls will likely need to do a lot of work in New York City. A 12-6 league record is usually automatic, but not when your best non-conference win is Cleveland State. How much does Stan Heath want the close losses to Southern Miss (two points) and Connecticut (three points) back now?

Darius Johnson-Odom And The Golden Eagles Embarrassed The Huskies On Saturday.

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (27-1, 14-1) – I can hardly remember a year with zero change at the top of the league rankings. Syracuse is simply a cut above every other team in this league although Marquette and Georgetown have closed the gap a little bit over the last few weeks. Syracuse flirted with losses twice last week, but won gutty road games at Louisville and Rutgers. The Orange held Louisville without a point over the final 3:30 and won by a point despite shooting 1-15 from deep and Scoop Jardine going 0-8. Syracuse shot 34% for the game, but limited Louisville to 35%. Against Rutgers, Syracuse shot 50% and Jardine played much better (17 points, 7 assists). C.J. Fair had a stellar game, scoring 21 points and grabbing eight rebounds off the bench. Kris Joseph added 14 for the victors as they moved their overall record to 27-1. Rebounding remains a concern (31-26 Rutgers on the glass), but the Orange continue to roll along. Syracuse will battle Kentucky for the top overall seed in next month’s NCAA Tournament. This week: 2/22 vs. South Florida, 2/25 @ Connecticut. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 13th, 2012

Brian Otskey is the RTC correspondent for the Big East conference. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • Big East Adds Memphis: While conference realignment is unfortunately all about football, the addition of Memphis to the Big East Conference is a boon for basketball. With the league losing Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia, it needed a strong basketball program to limit the damage of three venerable programs departing. Memphis is perhaps the best the Big East could do from a basketball perspective and the Tigers will begin competing in the conference in the 2013-14 academic year. While the Big East cannot replace a program with the stature of Syracuse, Memphis is arguably at least as good, if not better, than Pittsburgh and West Virginia. Temple would be the next logical choice from a basketball perspective but Villanova has long been rumored to be firmly in opposition to the Owls joining the league. Conference realignment is a new reality and won’t end any time soon. Expect some more dominoes to fall over the coming months and years.
  • West Virginia Reportedly Settles: Just 36 hours after Memphis joined the Big East, West Virginia reportedly settled with the Big East on an exit agreement, although no official announcement was made. If the Charleston Daily Mail report is correct, West Virginia will leave the Big East on July 1 of this year in order to join the Big 12 Conference. The reported agreement says that WVU will pay the Big East $11 million, with the Big 12 contributing $9 million. Big East bylaws require all member institutions to give 27 months notice before leaving the conference. If the Mountaineers do leave the conference, the Big East will have 15 basketball members for next season (2012-13) before expanding again in the summer of 2013. Of course, West Virginia’s early exit could pave the way for agreements with Syracuse and Pittsburgh, allowing those schools to leave early for the ACC. In a worst-case scenario, the Big East will have 13 basketball teams in 2012-13. One thing is for sure, this story is far from over. Stay tuned.
  • NCAA Denies Connecticut’s Waiver Request: In what was another good move by the increasingly tough NCAA, the governing body denied a request by Connecticut to retain eligibility for the 2013 NCAA Tournament in exchange for self-imposed penalties. Those penalties included forfeiting revenue and playing a shorter schedule. The Huskies would not quality for next year’s tournament because of their low APR rating, below the four-year minimum requirement of 900 or two-year average of 930. UConn will appeal the decision, one that, if denied, could have a huge effect on the basketball program in Storrs. Will Jim Calhoun stick around? Will recruits want to come there and knowingly sit out a year? Many questions still need to be answered as the Connecticut basketball program enters a period of uncertainty.
  • Win Number 880 for Jim Boeheim: The Syracuse legend now stands alone in third place on the all-time Division I wins list behind Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and Bob Knight after Syracuse beat Georgetown last week. Number 880 is one better than Dean Smith, a legend in his own right at North Carolina. While it is unlikely that Boeheim can catch Krzyzewski since both will keep winning, the Orange coach can pass Knight early next season, especially if Syracuse goes on a deep NCAA Tournament run. It’s so rare to see an athlete or a coach stay at one school for his entire career in sports these days but that’s exactly what Boeheim has done. The Hall of Famer has been at Syracuse as a coach since 1969 and played for the Orange from 1962-66. What a truly remarkable career spanning 50 years (and still going strong).

Josh Pastner Looks Forward To Embracing A More Challenging Change of Scenery In The Big East

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (25-1, 12-1) – The Orange dispatched their chief rivals in the Big East, Georgetown and Connecticut, in vastly different ways last week. Against the Hoyas, Syracuse needed overtime to put away a team that out-rebounded them 48-30 and slowed the pace to limit SU’s transition attack. Kris Joseph led Syracuse with a career-high 29 points and Fab Melo had six blocks as the Orange won by three in the extra session. Neither team played well, but Jim Boeheim picked up his 880th career win, moving ahead of Dean Smith and into sole possession of third place on the all-time list. Against Connecticut, the Orange broke open a close game in the second half with a 22-6 game-ending run. Syracuse shot much better (59%), including a scorching 63% from beyond the arc. Dion Waiters and C.J. Fair combined for 32 points and 16 rebounds off the bench while Scoop Jardine added 21 points on 8-of-9 shooting. It seems like Joseph is emerging as the go-to guy for this team, a question that had yet to be answered for the better part of the season. Syracuse faces a quick turnaround with a Big Monday game at Louisville, a team that has beaten them seven consecutive times. This week: 2/13 @ Louisville, 2/19 @ Rutgers. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 6th, 2012

Brian Otskey is the RTC correspondent for the Big East conference. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • Fab Melo Returns: After missing three games due to an academic issue, Fab Melo returned to the Syracuse lineup Saturday afternoon in New York. Melo scored a career-high 14 points in 21 minutes but, more importantly, changed the dynamic of Syracuse on both ends of the floor. Melo’s return adds some rebounding, opens up the middle for others to drive and score/dish and gives the Orange a defensive anchor in the middle of their zone. Melo doesn’t block every shot, but he alters a very high number. With the Brazilian big man roaming the paint, Syracuse is a legitimate national championship contender, something that was plainly evident on Saturday. Despite a backloaded schedule coming into view over the next few weeks, I’d be surprised if Syracuse loses another regular season game.
  • Pittsburgh Is Back: Oh Jamie Dixon, why did we doubt you? We should have known better. After starting the conference season 0-7, Pittsburgh has won four straight games and is actually in a position to make a run at the NCAA Tournament. The Panthers’ resurgence has been keyed by the return of Tray Woodall and better play defensively. Woodall scored a career-high 29 points against Villanova on Sunday and the Panthers held the Wildcats to 36% shooting. That’s the Pittsburgh defense we’ve grown accustomed to over the years and if it keeps up, Pittsburgh will go dancing. Pitt faces a crucial week. It must take at least one (preferably both) road game of the two at South Florida and Seton Hall between now and Sunday. If the Panthers can get both, they’ll be 6-7 with three of their final five games at home. I actually feel safe saying something that would have been considered outrageous just two weeks ago: I believe Pittsburgh will be in the NCAA Tournament.

Fab Melo's Importance To The Orange Was On Full Display Last Week

  • Order Being Restored: Pittsburgh has won four straight. Seton Hall has lost six straight. South Florida lost by 30 at Georgetown on Saturday. Louisville has turned it around. All of that tells you something, doesn’t it? The Big East is shuffling back into place as we head into the home stretch of the season. While the Pirates and Bulls were nice early-season surprises and feel-good stories, reality has set in. Seton Hall was ranked in the top 25 as recently as January 9, but hasn’t won a game since a victory over DePaul the following day. The Pirates are anemic offensively and can hardly shoot 30% against any opponent. I wrote a piece last week about what has gone wrong at the Hall, but it shows no signs of stopping this tailspin anytime soon. South Florida remains at 6-4, but four of its final seven games are on the road as the schedule stiffens. The Bulls will play Pittsburgh twice, Syracuse, Cincinnati, Louisville and West Virginia down the stretch. Expect their 6-4 record to turn into something like 8-10 rather quickly. Even if that happens, it has still been a successful season for Stan Heath and his team. Nobody expected them to win even six or seven league games.

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (23-1, 10-1) – What a difference one player makes. Syracuse played only once last week, but Fab Melo’s return sparked the Orange to dunk-filled 95-70 win over hapless St. John’s at Madison Square Garden. The win, Jim Boeheim’s 879th, pulled him into a tie with legendary North Carolina coach Dean Smith for third place on the all-time wins list. Boeheim has this team humming right along and it shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. Syracuse scored 53 bench points against the Red Storm, once again showing off its incredible depth and talent. Michael Carter-Williams electrified the Garden crowd with this dunk while C.J. Fair, Dion Waiters and Kris Joseph also played very well for the Orange. Syracuse shot 56% for the game. The schedule gets tougher in February but Syracuse should be favored in every game from here on out. This week: 2/8 vs. #15 Georgetown, 2/11 vs. Connecticut. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… The Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 30th, 2012

Brian Otskey is the RTC correspondent for the Big East conference. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • A Bad Saturday for Big East Referees:  It started in Philadelphia in the noon game between Villanova and Marquette. The referees made themselves the story of that game, calling three technical fouls and 45 total foul in a 40-minute game. That game lasted well over two hours as the officials used their whistles to take all the rhythm out of what was a very good game. James Breeding doesn’t have the best reputation across the conference for the quality of his calls, but apparently he has a short fuse as well. Breeding called all three techs and embarrassed himself on national television in the process. I realize the Big East and NCAA want better sportsmanship, but nothing Jay Wright, Buzz Williams, or Maalik Wayns did warranted a technical foul. It’s never good when officials make themselves the story of the game, but that’s exactly what James Breeding did. The bad officiating continued in the Syracuse-West Virginia game as the crew of Karl Hess, Gene Steratore and, Brian O’Connell blew a goaltending call that was obvious to the 28,740 Syracuse fans in attendance at the Carrier Dome, the ESPNU commentators, and anyone who was watching the game. While the proper call would have only resulted in a tie game and actually given Syracuse a chance to win it in regulation, it denied West Virginia a chance to force overtime. Too often, we see officials swallow their whistles in the final minute to “not affect the outcome of the game.” Once again, a crew of officials decided to do just that and that decision negatively affected the outcome. While there’s no guarantee West Virginia would have won if the game went to the extra session, the Mountaineers were denied that chance by incompetent officiating. My beef is as follows:  I’m all for player safety, but this season it has been ridiculous how many times officials have gone to the television monitor to review elbows that may or may not have been thrown during the course of a game. If they can review every elbow that was ever thrown (not needed in my opinion) as well as end-of-half scoring plays, why can’t they review a call like that? Nobody likes slow games, but the officials should be permitted to review every call they aren’t 100% sure about. All in all, Saturday was a disgrace to the officiating profession.
  • Mike Brey, Coach of the Year?: At this point, it would be hard to argue against him. The Notre Dame head coach led his team to two road wins at Seton Hall and Connecticut last week, holding the home teams to a combined 90 points. Brey’s team executed the burn offense to perfection, protected the basketball and got timely rebounds. Notre Dame, considered an afterthought after Tim Abromaitis went down with a season-ending ACL tear, is now in the thick of the NCAA Tournament conversation. Brey seems to get the most out of his teams when expectations are low, and that reputation is holding true as we head into the crucial month of February. The Irish still have work to do in order to overcome a lackluster non-conference performance but Brey has his team well on its way towards a top half conference finish.
  • Pittsburgh Wins a Pair: After starting league play 0-7, Pittsburgh has won two straight. With Tray Woodall healthy and back in the lineup, the Panthers are a team nobody wants to face down the stretch. Jamie Dixon’s NCAA dreams are almost surely extinguished, but the Panthers have an opportunity to finish the season strong and end with a respectable record. Pittsburgh’s offensive efficiency improved in a big way with Woodall’s return, but its defense was outstanding in Saturday’s win over Georgetown. The Panthers posted an 86.5 defensive efficiency rating, by far their best against a quality opponent. Their season-best was 81.0 against St. Francis (PA) on December 20, their last win before beating Providence last week. With a softer schedule in February, Pittsburgh has the potential to make some noise over the season’s final nine games.

Dante Taylor And The Panthers Are Still A Proud Bunch. (Matt Freed/Post-Gazette)

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (22-1, 9-1) – After suffering its first defeat at Notre Dame, the Orange responded well in a win at Cincinnati two days later. Kris Joseph led the victors with 17 points on eight of 11 shooting. Still without Fab Melo, the Orange big men did an admirable job in his place. Rakeem Christmas had nine rebounds as Syracuse survived an early onslaught of Bearcat three-pointers. Syracuse then beat West Virginia on Saturday in a closer-than-expected game as the Mountaineers were able to score against the zone, mostly because of rebounding. Syracuse was out-rebounded 36-20, but committed only six turnovers as it survived the blown goaltending call in the final seconds. Brandon Triche had 18 points in the win. Rebounding has been a concern all season, but it’s obvious that Syracuse is not nearly as dominant with Melo out of the lineup. Free throw shooting came and went (33% at Cincinnati, 76.5% against West Virginia) but mental toughness is one of its biggest strengths. As we head into the teeth of the season, Syracuse is more prepared to absorb and respond to every team’s best shot. This week: 2/4 @ St. John’s.
  2. Marquette (18-4, 7-2) – I’m not overly impressed every time I watch this team, but it makes the winning plays when needed most. The Golden Eagles won a pair of games last week to push their winning streak to six games. Darius Johnson-Odom, Jae Crowder, and Davante Gardner combined for 47 points in a home win over South Florida on Tuesday, equaling the total points scored by the Bulls. Marquette ventured to Villanova on Saturday and was involved in one of the more bizarre games I have seen all season across college basketball. The game lasted two and a half hours and didn’t even go to overtime. 45 fouls (three technical) were called and 57 free throws were attempted in a game that wasn’t the finest moment for the officiating crew of James Breeding, Tim Clougherty, and Pat Driscoll. Breeding in particular had a short fuse, whistling Buzz Williams for a technical when the coach simply slipped and fell down. Memo to Breeding: Get over yourself, he wasn’t showing you up. Johnson-Odom had 26 points, Crowder added 20 points and 11 boards for Marquette and Jamil Wilson added 12 points off the bench. Marquette rallied from an 18-point deficit and forced 20 Villanova turnovers to key the comeback. This is a good basketball team, but one that has a ceiling. I’m not sure the Golden Eagles have the scoring depth to make a big run in March. This week: 1/31 vs. Seton Hall, 2/4 @ Notre Dame. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 23rd, 2012

Brian Otskey is the RTC correspondent for the Big East conference. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.

Reader’s Take

The Week That Was
  • Number One Goes Down:  For the seventh time, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish took down a top-ranked team in the Joyce Center, knocking off Syracuse 67-58. Despite all of that prior success, the Irish hadn’t beaten a #1 team at home in 25 years. That didn’t matter on Saturday night. Taking advantage of Fab Melo’s absence, Notre Dame slowed the pace and worked the ball inside, scoring in the paint or kicking it out to an open shooter on the wing. Notre Dame shot 50% for the game and limited the Orange to 34%. Using a +13 edge on the glass, Notre Dame was able to control the tempo and prevent Syracuse from getting out in transition where it is so lethal. I have to say I was surprised. Looking at Syracuse’s schedule last week, I thought the Orange could run the table. They had played better than any team in the nation on a consistent basis but drove into a buzzsaw on Saturday. Even if Melo had played, I’m not sure it would have made a major difference.
  • South Florida On A Roll: It seems as if nobody has noticed, but South Florida is 5-2 in the Big East after a 2-0 week with wins over St. John’s and DePaul. USF has won on the road at improving Villanova and also took down Seton Hall at home when the Pirates were ranked. The Bulls also beat Rutgers, one game after the Scarlet Knights beat Florida. How has USF done it? Jawanza Poland has played very well since returning from a back injury and Stan Heath is getting timely contributions from guys like Victor Rudd and Ron Anderson Jr. However, the two main reasons for USF’s success are point guard play and defense. Freshman Anthony Collins has been fantastic at the point, averaging 5.3 APG in Big East play to go with a #28 national ranking in assist rate. Although he’s turning the ball over a bit too much, Collins has given the Bulls a huge boost at the most important position in college basketball after years of bad guard play in Tampa. On the defensive end, South Florida’s opponents average only 57.6 PPG, tops in the Big East. With a combination of defense, good rebounding and timely scoring, USF is starting to make some noise in the crowded middle of the Big East.

Pat Connaughton Celebrated With Fans After The Irish Stung The Top-Ranked Orange. (Matt Cashore/U.S. Presswire)

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (20-1, 7-1) – The Orange remain the best team by far in the Big East and I still think they are the best team in the nation even after losing at Notre Dame. Nothing went right for the Orange against the Fighting Irish. The Orange were out-shot 50% to 34%, out-rebounded by 13, and couldn’t string stops together when they were trying to get back in the game.  Should we have seen this coming? The cracks in the foundation appeared in a closer-than-expected win over Pittsburgh last Monday. The Panthers probed the Syracuse zone fairly well, getting to the free throw line area and making good interior passes. Fab Melo had 10 points, 10 rebounds, and six blocks in that game, but didn’t play in South Bend due to a mysterious academic issue. Pitt out-rebounded Syracuse 38-24, meaning the Orange were minus-27 on the glass for the week. Syracuse ranks #320 in defensive rebounding percentage, an issue that needs to be addressed immediately by Jim Boeheim, with or without Melo. Syracuse is struggling from three point land as well, tenth in three-point percentage in Big East games (31.9%). Scoop Jardine had 12 points and ten assists against the Panthers, but didn’t make a field goal (0-5) against Notre Dame. A tougher than expected week is ahead. Could the Orange lose again after winning 20 games in a row? This week: 1/23 @ Cincinnati, 1/28 vs. West Virginia. Read the rest of this entry »
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Top Ten Diaper Dandies: Midseason Edition

Posted by zhayes9 on January 13th, 2012

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

Compiling a list of the nation’s top freshmen in mid-January is admittedly unfair. Whether they’re a high-profile athlete or a science lab dork, ask anyone to reminisce about their first semester at school and the phrase “learning experience” comes to mind. Over the next two months, the grind of conference play will quickly mold youthful freshmen into hardened veterans. As Jeremy Lamb can attest, there’s still plenty of time for collegiate rookies to become a household name.

With that important caveat in mind, let’s gauge where this year’s talented rookies rank in terms of production and instant impact. Not all of the inclusions were ballyhooed recruits and high school All-Americans, but instead I present to you the collection of players who possess the maturation, intelligence and skill level to succeed immediately during such a difficult transition both on and off the court.

Cody Zeller has lived up to the lofty billing

Honorable Mention

Thomas Gipson, Kansas State- Gipson has proven a tremendous frontcourt compliment to the more perimeter-oriented Jamar Samuels, bulldozing opponents with his sturdy 6’7” frame to the tune of 9.2 PPG and 6.3 RPG through his first half season at Manhattan. Gipson ranks in the top-60 in the country in both offensive rebounding percentage and fouls drawn per 40 minutes.

Tony Mitchell, North Texas- Since becoming eligible on December 18 after failing to qualify at Missouri, Mitchell immediately scored in double-figures his first four games at North Texas. His banner performance to date was a 34-point, 16-rebound effort against South Alabama. The former five-star recruit is shooting an efficient 65% from inside the arc.

Quincy Miller, Baylor- The jewel of Scott Drew’s recruiting class may not post the raw numbers of other rookies due to the abundance of talent on his roster, but Miller has shown flashes of a future lottery pick, including a smooth step-back three down the stretch in Baylor’s win over Kansas State this past week. Miller is a versatile matchup nightmare as a double-figure scorer that shoots 35% from three and also snatches over five rebounds per contest.

Eli Carter, Rutgers- Carter didn’t come to Piscataway with quite the sterling reputation of some of his fellow classmates, but he’s been the most productive freshman from day one. Carter uses the most shots and possessions on a per-minute basis on the Scarlet Knights, and as long as he’s scoring over 14 a game, shooting 43% and posting 31/7/7 efforts like he did in their upset over Florida, Mike Rice will keep the green light on.

Tony Wroten, Washington- The Seattle native has been a Jekyll and Hyde act early for an equally enigmatic Huskies team. The turnovers (4.1 per game), defensive lapses and shot selection are sometimes mind-numbing, but you’ll live with some faults when your 6’5” guard is shooting 55% from inside the arc and grabbing 4.6 rebounds per game. Wroten has scored 20+ points in three of his first five conference outings.

10. Rodney Hood, Mississippi State- Dee Bost, Renardo Sidney and Arnett Moultrie receive the bulk of the attention, but Hood has provided a steady and efficient complimentary scoring option for Rick Stansbury. The southpaw is averaging 12.6 PPG on 53% from two and 44% from three and turns the ball over roughly once every 34 minutes. Improve from the charity stripe (59%) and Hood could be an all-SEC contender as soon as next season.

9. Austin Rivers, Duke- If you can filter out all of the unrealistic expectations, Rivers has completed a very respectable first semester serving as Duke’s primary dribble-drive threat and crunch-time scoring option. Rivers leads Duke in scoring, shoots 45% from two, 40% from three and put together 20+ point performances against top-15 Ohio State and Michigan. Look for Rivers to cut down on his turnovers as the game slows down and his decision-making improves.

8. Andre Drummond, Connecticut- Outside of #1 on this list, no player has as much room to grow from now until March as Drummond. Just as impressive as his highlight reel dunks during a 20-point, 11-rebound outing against West Virginia last Monday were two baseline jumpers he nailed during the second half. If Drummond can expand his offensive repertoire to include occasional mid-range/post scoring to compliment his explosiveness and pick-and-roll prowess, Connecticut may emerge as the second best team in the Big East by season’s close.

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