Season In Review: Syracuse Orange

Posted by mlemaire on May 16th, 2013

The 2012-13 college basketball season for the Syracuse Orange was nothing if not entertaining to watch and follow. Hopes were high after the team rattled off 18 wins in its first 19 games including a gutty road win over then-No.1 Louisville. The optimism faded quickly as off-the-court issues sprung up again, the team lost seven of its final 12 regular season games, and some began to wonder whether the Orange had quit. Of course the Orange made those people look foolish in the Big East Tournament by reaching the title game and then made the doubters really eat crow by cruising with relative ease all the way to the Final Four before losing to Michigan. The team heads for the ACC next season and coach Jim Boeheim’s future remains murky, but for now, Orange fans have reason to walk a little taller these days.

Preseason Expectations

Everyone agreed that the Orange were at least a half-class below Louisville in the preseason conference pecking order, especially considering they had lost three of their four leading scorers from a year ago and one of the conference’s best defenders in big man Fab Melo. Despite all of that, expectations were still high for the Orange who had plenty of talent to fill the holes and now had a year of college basketball experience. Both the coaches and our microsite picked the Orange to finish second in the conference and while the regular season didn’t shake out that way, the NCAA Tournament vindicated our predictions.

Michael Carter-Williams Was The Big Reason Syracuse Was So Good.

Michael Carter-Williams Was The Big Reason Syracuse Was So Good.

The Good

Even if you didn’t watch any Syracuse basketball you could still say that Syracuse’s defense was excellent and feel good about your chances of being right. Boeheim’s 2-3 zone defense has become famous, but this year’s team was particularly well-suited for it. There may not have been a longer and more athletic team in the country than Syracuse and opponents did not enjoy trying to score against that zone, just ask Indiana in the Sweet Sixteen or Marquette in the Elite Eight. The Orange’s team defense is the reason the team made it all the way to the Final Four. If you are one who likes to nitpick, you could point out that Michael Carter-Williams turned the ball over too much and has a long way to go before he becomes a shooting threat. That still won’t change the fact that MCW (11.9 PPG, 7.3 APG, 39.9% FG) was one of the best players in the entire country and a big reason why Syracuse was so successful this year. He was a difference-maker on both ends of the floor and in every facet of the game and opponents should be glad he has moved on to the NBA. Efficient senior seasons from Brandon Triche and James Southerland helped the Orange get over the rough stretches of the season and junior C.J. Fair (14.5 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 47.0% FG) came into his own this season, especially in the NCAA Tournament when he was a two-way monster for the Orange.

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Big East M5: 11.15.12 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on November 15th, 2012

  1. College basketball’s signing day isn’t quite as frenzied for recruitniks as football’s, in large part due to the early signing period, which allows schools to ink recruits early, thus securing their commitment and ending much of the signing day “will he or won’t he” speculation. Cincinnati pulled in a nice three-player class with the opening of the early signing period yesterday, including Summit Country Day guard Kevin Johnson, a lifelong Bearcats fan who has flown under the radar due to injury. Mick Cronin heaped a lot of praise on his future guard: “He fits the mold of a lot of our current players. He can play a couple of different positions and he’s good with the ball in his hands. He’s an extremely unselfish player. He can beat his man whenever he wants.”
  2. It’s fairly common for the coach of a top-ranked team to downplay its abilities, especially early in the year, in order to reel his team in. Rick Pitino did just that when describing Louisville’s rebounding issues heading into the “Battle 4 Atlantis”, a preseason tournament featuring Duke, Missouri, and Memphis: “We are not ready to play in the Battle 4 Atlantis for that type of competition,” Pitino said. “We are not ready yet because we’re not rebounding the ball well enough.” This may not all be motivational bluster from Pitino, however. Louisville has gotten outrebounded by Bellarmine in an exhibition game and Manhattan already this season.
  3. Much has been written about Notre Dame’s experienced starting line up. While a number of players on the Irish have been making an impact for a few seasons, point guard Eric Atkins is becoming the straw that stirs the drink in South Bend. Atkins has stepped into a leadership role for Notre Dame, driven by the failure of last year’s team to put away 10th seeded Xavier in the NCAA Tournament after holding a double-digit lead over the Musketeers. The once-carefree guard is all business this year: ”I thought it would be beneficial for me — just being serious all the time, just trying to perfect everything I’m doing, being focused the whole time… in a game, I’m still smiling. But when it comes down to practice time and getting stuff done, I’m going to be serious.”
  4. Former Syracuse basketball players Fab Melo and Kris Joseph, both of whom were drafted by the Boston Celtics, have been sent to the D-League’s Maine Red Claws. Where the D-League used to be a death sentence for a player’s career, it has recently been more utilized as a minor league system for NBA teams to develop fringe talent. Melo is still a raw player with less than five years of formal basketball under his belt, while Joseph is behind Paul Pierce and former Georgetown great Jeff Green at the small forward slot in Boston. Both players should benefit from the increased playing time at that level more than they would riding the pine in Boston.
  5. The Big East will never quite be the same after the Syracuse-Georgetown rivalry ends, or at the very least crosses conference lines, after this season. The rivalry is unique in that it is almost entirely based on mutual disdain from on-court events, rather than proximity or other factors that usually spurn hated rivalries. This season’s games promise to be especially heated, with both fan bases signing on for “the most vitriol-ridden, hate-spewing iteration of the Syracuse-Georgetown rivalry ever seen in the 30-plus year history of the teams’ membership in the Big East Conference.”  The flames of the rivalry were fanned by an unusual source today – U2 front man Bono, who spoke at Georgetown today, and, among other things, called beloved Syracuse mascot Otto “a fruit” to the bemusement of the present Hoya faithful. This isn’t the first time that celebrities have pandered to Syracuse or Georgetown fans while on campus by putting down the other school.  During a basketball game at the Carrier Dome last season, Shaquille O’Neal uttered the popular Syracuse catch phrase “Georgetown still sucks” while promoting an anti-binge drinking campaign. At Syracuse’s 2012 commencement, screenwriter and Syracuse alumnus Aaron Sorkin discussed accepting the different viewpoints of others “unless they’re Georgetown grads, then they can go to hell.” Needless to say, that final game in the Big East rivalry on March 9 at the Verizon Center is going to be a fun one.
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Tipping Off The Big East Countdown: #2 Syracuse

Posted by Dan Lyons on November 11th, 2012

In our St. John’s preview, we stated that the Johnnies went through about as much adversity as one team could in a single season. If that’s the case, Syracuse was a close second. The Bernie Fine scandal would have been enough to derail most teams, but it seemed to put a chip on the shoulder of the Orange, who spent a portion of the year ranked first in the nation after Kentucky lost at Indiana. The Fab Melo saga was harder to overcome, and came to a head in Syracuse’s Elite Eight loss to Ohio State. Syracuse lost four of its main rotation players from last season – guards Scoop Jardine and Dion Waiters, forward Kris Joseph, and center Fab Melo – but look to plug in a couple of impressive underclassmen and make another run at a final Big East championship and perhaps a Final Four.

Jim Boeheim has been knocking on the door of his fourth Final Four over the last few years.  Will this young Syracuse squad be the one to break through? (AP)

Schedule

Syracuse doesn’t have too many marquee games on the non-conference slate. Their most intriguing match-up is their first game against San Diego State, which will be played on the deck of the USS Midway in San Diego on Sunday afternoon. SU also travels to Arkansas for the SEC-Big East challenge, and will take on one of the teams filling the void they are leaving in the Big East – Temple – at Madison Square Garden. In the Big East schedule, Syracuse shares home-and-homes with Villanova, Providence, Louisville, and Georgetown. The Hoyas host the Orange in their last ever Big East game, which should be one for the ages.

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Morning Five: 06.20.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on June 20th, 2012

  1. There are many coaching hires where the logical process makes normal and complete sense to everyone – a longtime assistant is promoted to the top job; a big personality moves on to a school to match his ego; a mid-major guy is looking for more resources and talent. Occasionally, though, a random hire has everyone around the industry scratching his head wondering what they missed. It’s not very often that you’ll see a career assistant coach — mostly at the collegiate level, at that — make the jump to NBA head coach, but that’s exactly what St. John’s assistant Mike Dunlap did this week. Other than a handful of games when head coach Steve Lavin was out with prostate cancer last season, Dunlap has spent the last six seasons as an assistant, and the extent of his head coaching experience came at Division II Metro State from 1997-2006. Dunlap reportedly beat out more prominent names such as Jerry Sloan, Brian Shaw, and Quin Snyder for the position, and although according to Jeff Goodman everyone knows he can coach, this is a real gamble on the part of the GOAT as part owner of the Charlotte Bobcats.
  2. If a player only sets foot on your campus for the better part of eight months, is it OK for an alumnus to claim that star as one of his own? That’s the question posed by Grantland’s Bryan Curtis as a Longhorn considering the provenance of one Kevin Durant, one of the NBA’s brightest stars but a player who probably wasn’t around Austin long enough to even witness the bats on Congress Avenue Bridge. Curtis ultimately settles on the answer “yes,” – shocking, we know – but he actually digs up some thoughtful and relevant examples of other prominent Texas grads who were early entries into the work force well before it was fashionable. A couple of those names? Walter Cronkite and Michael Dell.
  3. Stop the presses, but Fab Melo has decided to speak about his suspensions last season at Syracuse. If you recall, the Big East DPOY was suspended twice during the season, including a devastating NCAA Tournament suspension that essentially killed the Orange’s realistic chances at a national title. The reason: (drum roll) academics. Melo is touring around the country in an effort to improve his draft stock, and he decided to talk about his time away from Jim Boeheim’s team during his sophomore year this week. To wit, “They ask, I explain (what) happened — that I came from another country and until four years ago didn’t even speak English.” This is all fine and well, but if we were an NBA scout, we might be willing to look past one indiscretion — but dropping the ball during the most important month of his collegiate career is an altogether different story. Did he forget how to stay eligible between the first part of his sophomore year and his second? Or did he realize he was going to be a millionaire soon and decided to stop caring about classes? That’s the question that should be asked — whether the answer is relevant to his future prospects as a ball player isn’t for us to decide.
  4. With all the bad blood surrounding conference realignment, we’re actually surprised that we haven’t seen what the CAA has decided to do more often. The league announced on Tuesday that departing members Old Dominion and Georgia State – both of which will remain in the league in 2012-13 – will not be eligible to compete for conference championships next year. The CAA’s Council of Presidents voted unanimously to uphold a longstanding rule meant to dissuade schools from jumping ship. VCU, which will join the Atlantic 10 next month, will obviously not be impacted, but this goes to show that conference realignment at its core is something of a bloodsport, and memories of such influential people at the highest levels tend to not easily erase.
  5. We sorta love it when in-state rivalries are exacerbated through the local media, and NC State is only the latest and greatest to use the old standbys — billboards and television ads — to make declarations of grandeur based on nothing more than marketing, spit, and perhaps a little duct tape. Whether you measure it by success or fans, there’s virtually no possible way to justify an assertion that the great state of North Carolina belongs to NC State, but hey, whatever gets the juices running (and it’s still funny). Of course, even if NC State has won the last 10,000 football games against UNC, Duke, and Wake Forest combined, that’s still not what matters in the Tar Heel State any more than Auburn beating Alabama in basketball matters a lick. Kudos to NC State for giving it a shot, but nobody is fooled.
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RTC NBA Draft Profiles: Fab Melo

Posted by EJacoby on June 7th, 2012

The 2012 NBA Draft is scheduled for Thursday, June 28, in New York City. As we have done for the last several years, RTC’s team of writers (including Andrew Murawa, Kevin Doyle, Evan Jacoby, Matt Patton, and Danny Spewak) will provide comprehensive breakdowns of each of the 35 collegians most likely to hear his name called by David Stern in the first round on draft night. We’ll work backwards, starting with players who are projected near the end of the first round before getting into the lottery as June progresses. As an added bonus, we’ll also bring you a scouting take from NBADraft.net’s Aran Smith at the bottom of each player evaluation.

Note: Click here for all published 2012 NBA Draft profiles.

Player Name: Fab Melo

School: Syracuse

Height/Weight: 7’0” / 255 lbs.

NBA Position: Center

Projected Draft Range: Late First Round

After Being in Coach Boeheim's Doghouse For One Season, Fab Melo Improved Dramatically as a Sophomore (AP Photo)

Overview: After playing less than 10 minutes per game as a freshman and looking like a complete stiff, Fab Melo showed drastic improvements in his second season at Syracuse. He was one of the most indispensable parts of a 34-3 team, witnessed by the fact that the Orange lost two of their three games when Melo was not with the team. He is incredibly mobile for a seven-footer and possesses a 7’3” wingspan, making him an elite shot-blocker who dominated the paint in Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone. He averaged 2.9 blocks as a sophomore in just over 25 minutes per game, good for the best block percentage in the Big East. With improved mobility and conditioning, the big man became more of a factor offensively (7.8 PPG) on mainly lob passes and putbacks. Melo is still incredibly raw on offense in terms of one-on-one post moves, but his exponential improvement over the past year is a good sign that he can still add to his game. His impact on the game goes beyond the box score, as he alters opposing shots and game plans with his imposing defensive presence, and he also helps open up driving lanes for teammates by eating up space on the offensive end. Melo was academically ineligible twice during the 2011-12 season, including during the most crucial time of the season (the NCAA Tournament). There are still some concerns about his attitude, temperament, and ability to stay focused on basketball. But when he is locked in, Melo is a legitimate defensive force that still has much room for improvement.

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Morning Five: The Morning After

Posted by nvr1983 on April 3rd, 2012

  1. We suspected that Fab Melo would be leaving Syracuse as soon as it was announced that he was declared academically ineligible just before the NCAA Tournament, but yesterday it became official with the announcement that Melo had signed with an agent. Of course, the next question on the minds of Syracuse fans (especially Ryan Burr)  was how this would affect their recruitment of Nerlens Noel, who had narrowed his list down to Syracuse, Kentucky, and Georgetown. It turns out that Noel was at least interested in the news. We are not sure what this means for his decision other than the fact that the three fan bases will certainly overanalyze it. We are sort of surprised that Syracuse had not already sent him a message or other form of communication indicating that there was now a big hole in the middle for him to occupy next season.
  2. After a one-year hiatus from the sidelines, Keno Davis will be back coaching as he was named the new head coach at Central Michigan. Davis, who went 46-50 overall and 18-36 in three seasons at Providence, inherits the program from Ernie Zeigler, who was fired last month. Not only will Davis have to turn around a struggling program. He will also have to do it without Trey Zeigler, Ernie’s son who was granted a release from the program after his father’s firing. It may take Davis a while to turn things around but hopefully the administration remembers that Davis was very successful in his one season at Drake going 28-5 in his one season at the school.
  3. John Groce‘s task of turning around the Illinois program got a little harder yesterday when Meyers Leonard announced that he was entering the NBA Draft. The sophomore center is expected to be a borderline lottery pick so it seems like a reasonable choice for the talented big man instead of waiting to see how he fits into a new coach’s system. The Illini now find themselves with a big hole in the middle and that will likely delay any turnaround that Illini fans were hoping for in the next year or two.
  4. It looks like the initial reports on Alex Oriakhi‘s “list” were erroneous as the Connecticut transfer is currently considering Duke, North Carolina, Missouri, Kentucky, and Xavier. The original reports that came out when Oriakhi was released that he would not consider Duke, which always seemed strange to us, but perhaps after reconsidering the situation and the potential departure of several key players for the Blue Devils it appears like Oriakhi is considering them again. As we have said despite only being available for one more year of eligibility Oriakhi should be one of the most coveted transfers on the market given his skill set, size, and championship experience.
  5. Remember that big push for a stipend for players to help cover some of their cost of living expenses? The decision on the stipend is getting pushed back as the NCAA reevaluates it due to significant dissension among the member schools. The committee that is working on the policy will not be done with its work until August at which point the member schools can consider adopting it or rejecting it. Based on our understanding of how this rule was implemented the athletes who signed while this rule was in place are still eligible for the stipend, but the rest who waited are not until the committee puts it back in place.
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Big East Morning Five: 03.27.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on March 27th, 2012

  1. Syracuse’s super sixth man Dion Waiters is not going to wait around for his starting slot next season with the Orange as Waiters announced he will be entering the NBA Draft.  The athletic 6’4” guard will sign with an agent, eliminating any possibility of returning for his junior year.  Waiters did not start a game this season for Syracuse but was widely regarded as the team’s most talented player.  He posted averages of 12.6 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 2.6 assists in 24.1 minutes per game while being named the Big East’s Sixth Man of the Year and making All-Big East Third Team.  There could be quite a bit of roster turnover this offseason as Waiters joins departing seniors Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph, while fellow sophomore Fab Melo, who was suspended for the NCAA Tournament due to academic issues, may be soon to follow Waiters into the NBA draft.
  2. Another Big East guard, Providence’s Vincent Council, ended speculation that he might be leaving school to turn pro when he told Brendan McGair of the Woonsocket (RI) Call, who reported via Twitter,  “I wasn’t really thinking about leaving (Providence College) at all.”  It had been said Council was considering foregoing his senior year and that academics may have been a driver.  An All-Big East Third Team selection this past season, Council averaged 15.9 points, 4.1 rebounds and a conference best 7.5 assists per game. The 6’2” New Yorker figures to be one of the top returning Big East point guards in what should be an entertaining backcourt next year as the Friars welcome in top 25 recruits Ricardo Ledo and McDonald’s All-American Kris Dunn.
  3. There are so many storylines around the Louisville versus Kentucky Final Four matchup there could be a two-week Super Bowl-type hype period to analyze and dissect.  While everyone loves some good old-fashioned overkill, the good news is we only have until Saturday to anticipate how this historic match-up might play out.  Certainly the head coaches are at, or near, the forefront of it all and as Yahoo! Sports’ Dan Wetzel points out, Louisville’s Rick Pitino will enjoy playing the underdog role in an effort to perhaps tighten Kentucky coach John Calipari and his team up a bit.  While there is no question the pressure rests on Calipari and Kentucky, it is hard to fathom the magnitude of the moment getting by either team.  As much as Pitino might love his side to play loose, he and his team both know the margin for error will be thin on Saturday.
  4. Plane ticket from Kentucky to New Orleans? $500-$1800.  Hotel room in New Orleans? $400-$600 per night.  Ticket to see Louisville take on Kentucky in the Final Four? $377.  A chance to see one of the most anticipated match-ups in college basketball history?  Well…pricey!  If this weekend is any barometer of the economic state of our country things are progressing nicely.  Despite the price tag demand is high for all of the above and supply is getting low as basketball crazy residents of the Bluegrass state have been more than willing to pony up. Getting to New Orleans is one thing.  Plane seats are limited and anything involving a gas powered vehicle, whether car, SUV or bus comes with the pain of surging gas prices.  What to do when one gets there is another. As of yesterday there were only about 2,200 of New Orleans’ 22,000 hotel rooms available even with hotels setting four-night minimums. It is great to go to a big game but will also be interesting to see if television sales in Final Four markets increase this week as people decide to ditch the planes, trains, and automobiles and use that money to purchase a longer-lasting Toshiba.
  5. The Associated Press revealed its All-America teams yesterday and while the Big East cannot boast any first teamers, the conference was well represented overall.  Big East Player of the Year Jae Crowder of Marquette (17.6 PPG, 8.4 RPG) and West Virginia’s Kevin Jones (19.9 PPG, 10.9 RPG) represented two of the six players who received second team honors while Connecticut’s Jeremy Lamb (17.7 PPG, 4.9 RPB) took home an honorable mention distinction.  Members of the first team included: Anthony Davis (Kentucky), Draymond Green (Michigan State), Doug McDermott (Creighton), Thomas Robinson (Kansas), and Jared Sullinger (Ohio State).  Robinson was a unanimous selection.
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Big East Afternoon Five: 03.26.12 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on March 26th, 2012

  1. And then there was only one. The Final Four is set and only one Big East team — Louisville — will be heading to New Orleans this season. The Cardinals got there thanks to a late furious rally that allowed them to eke out a victory over Florida despite being outplayed by the Gators for most of the game. The victory sets up an intrastate showdown with Kentucky and the Bluegrass State is already starting to reach critical mass with anticipation. Predictably, the Louisville Courier-Journal will be milking this match-up all week long. If you have a hankering from some occasionally unhinged trolling, head over to the paper’s interactive feature called “The Argument,” which basically allows readers to state their case in favor of their team. I have spent 30 minutes on it this morning, and I am already hooked. It should be required reading this week for anyone looking for insight into how intense this game will be for the good folks in Kentucky.
  2. The conference had a chance to put two teams in the Final Four this weekend, but regular season champion and top-seeded Syracuse couldn’t hang on against an Ohio State team that is playing as well as anyone in the country not named Kentucky. ‘Cuse fans want to blame the referees and their seemingly one-sided foul calls, but the absence of Fab Melo may have cost them this game. The Orange were never a great rebounding team in the first place, but they were badly beaten on the boards against a bigger Buckeyes’ squad and it is hard to win when you give a talented team 13 offensive rebounds. As if the news wasn’t bad enough for ‘Cuse fans, a source told Adam Zagoria after the game that super sophomore Dion Waiters has definitely played his last collegiate game. It looks like next season might be a rebuilding one in upstate New York.
  3. In news that should surprise absolutely nobody, Connecticut center and captain Alex Oriakhi is transferring out of the program following a disappointing junior season. The jist seems to be that Oriakhi will be eligible to play immediately because of UConn’s likely postseason ban next season, which should make Oriakhi one of the more sought-after transfers in the country. After a great sophomore campaign, Oriakhi fell out of Jim Calhoun’s favor this season and didn’t exactly respond well to the small demotion. It will be very interesting to see if a change of scenery will recharge his batteries and make him a force to be reckoned with, or if his best days are truly behind him.
  4. File this under “things that absolutely should not happen under any circumstances,” but future Big East program SMUis trying to poach a future conference rival’s coach in Marquette boss Buzz Williams. Knowing they shouldn’t stand a chance, the reports are that SMU is prepared to lavish Williams — a Texas native — with a huge contract to go with their new practice facility and arena renovations. All the money in Texas still shouldn’t be enough to pry Williams loose from the Golden Eagles. Marquette has become one of the premier programs in the country first under Tom Crean and now Williams, and while they will lose a lot of good players this season, they will always be a competitive team, something that cannot be said about the Mustangs. It probably won’t and shouldn’t happen, but let’s talk about it anyway, because if it does happen, it is gigantic news.
  5. We will use our final note here to make an impassioned plea to members of the media and most importantly, Rick Pitino. We agree, mercurial sophomore Russ Smith does some ridiculous things on the basketball court, both good and bad, but let’s retire the “Russ-diculous” before it really gets off the ground. First of all, it is not even a particularly clever play on a word. Secondly, I know Pitino himself is responsible for the nickname, but collectively we can come up with something more creative than that. College basketball is a sport riddled with amazing nicknames, and there is no way a player as maddening and spectacular as Smith deserves such a crummy one. Of course I am not saying I have any alternatives in mind (I am incredibly not creative), but I am imploring those with a few better ideas to start putting them out there so I don’t have to read that terrible pun anymore.
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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Elite Eight Saturday

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 24th, 2012

#4 Louisville vs. #7 Florida – West Regional Final (at Phoenix, AZ) – 4:30 PM ET on CBS

RTC Region correspondents Andrew Murawa (West) and Brian Otskey (East) contributed to this preview.

Pitino & Donovan Have a Great Amount of Respect For Each Other (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

It’s master versus pupil in a battle for the Final Four. Billy Donovan and Rick Pitino first gained national attention at roughly the same time as Donovan was the star player on Pitino’s 1987 Providence College team that made an improbable run to the Final Four, but their relationship didn’t stop there. Dovovan’s single year in the NBA was spent with Pitino as his head coach, and when he gave up his job on Wall Street to get back into basketball, it was to Pitino’s staff at Kentucky that he went. Since then, Donovan has had plenty of success, including back-to-back national championships, giving him one more for his career than his mentor, but in head-to-head matchups, Donovan’s teams have never won in six meetings. As for this meeting, we’ve got a couple of really interesting clashes here. First and foremost, we get to watch a Florida offense that is the third most efficient offense in the country competing against a Louisville team who has, on the strength of Thursday night’s absolute destruction of a good Michigan State offense, taken over the number one spot in defensive efficiency. The Cardinals did a lot of things right defensively in that game (grabbing over 80% of defensive rebound opportunities and limiting their opponent to just a 33.7% eFG night among them), but perhaps the key to the game was their ability to force turnovers on 25% of the Spartans’ possessions. That type of thing could be very hard to come by against a guard-heavy Gator team that generally does not turn the ball over with great regularity. Furthermore, when the Cards’ opponents do get into the halfcourt against them, their goal is often to force the other team into making tough shots over them, something that Florida can do very well. Not only are guards Kenny Boynton, Erving Walker and Bradley Beal all very capable shot-makers from both beyond and inside the three-point line, but stretch-four Erik Murphy is capable of pulling a defender like Chane Behanan away from the basket and further opening things up in the lane. On the other side of the court, it is no secret that Louisville has trouble scoring; they’ve only scored 0.98 points per possession over the course of their current seven-game postseason winning streak (which goes to show how good their defense has been – 0.86 PPP against good competition). And Florida’s defense is definitely on the uptick, as they’ve allowed just 0.78 PPP in the NCAA Tournament, including just 0.87 against a very good Marquette offense. Further, if the Cards are unable to force turnovers with regularity, they’re not going to be able to get out in the open court and get easy baskets, meaning they’ll need to find some type of consistent offense in the halfcourt game. If that’s the case, they’ll need the good Russ Smith to show up, they’ll need Chris Smith and Kyle Kuric knocking down threes, and, most of all, they’ll need an aggressive Peyton Siva getting penetration and finding offense for himself and for his teammates. All of those things can happen, but sooner or later, the lack of offensive coherency is going to come back to cost the Cards, and the Gators look to be the perfect team to take advantage of it.

The RTC Certified Pick: Florida

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Big East Morning Five: 03.23.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on March 23rd, 2012

  1. Remember that 1962 NCAA Tournament final when Cincinnati beat Ohio State for the second straight year to win it all?  That was awesome. (Late, great Chris Farley voice).  Thankfully for the Buckeyes, given the fact that they and Cincinnati are in state rivals, Ohio State has had plenty of chances since to avenge those two devastating losses, right?  Wrong.  Heading into last night’s Sweet Sixteen battle Cincinnati and Ohio State have only faced each other ONE time since, in a 2006 regular season game (won by Ohio State 72-50).  Let’s continue to break all the rules and ask yet another question…What’s up with that?  These schools should be playing on some type of regular basis in basketball, and football for that matter (or Matta if you are from New England, or just trying unsuccessfully to be funny). Fortunately it appears there is still plenty of rivalry in this non-rivalry as Cincinnati fans chafe at the idea that Ohio State will not schedule the Bearcats. Buckeye supporters have their beef too.  They blame Bob Huggins, who at the time was Cincinnati’s head coach, for leaking possible recruiting violations by the Buckeyes to the NCAA in 1993.  The kicker there is the player in question with regard to those violations, Damon Flint, wound up going to Cincinnati.
  2. If there remained any “Syracuse cannot survive in the NCAA tournament without Fab Melo” talk leading into last night’s game versus Wisconsin, it simply had to stop once the Orange survived and advanced to the Elite Eight with a 64-63 win over the Badgers.  Jim Boeheim and his team have played virtually the entire season in the face of some form of adversity and all they have done is gone 34-2 and sit three wins away from a national title.  It has been said all year that Syracuse is the deepest team in the country and this has proven true in the tournament.  Certainly Melo was a big key, especially on the defensive end, but Boeheim has so much talent that making tactical adjustments and shortening the rotation has not resulted in a meaningful decline when it comes to stopping opponents.  Small sample size notwithstanding, Syracuse is giving up just two more points per game in NCAA tournament games (62.3) versus all other games (60.4).  Ironically they are scoring 4.3 fewer points per game (74.6 versus 70.3).  However points per possession numbers are up on both ends, indicating an effort to slow the game down to accommodate for Melo’s loss.
  3. As has been widely publicized, per current NCAA Academic Progress Rate (APR) standards, Connecticut is not eligible for next year’s NCAA tournament.  The school was hoping what could be the last stage of its appeal process would be decided upon next month but it was reported yesterday they may have to wait until July.  Connecticut has already lost an NCAA appeal on the matter and has since taken its case to the NCAA’s Committee on Academic Performance. Based on rule changes instituted last year, a two-year average APR of 930 is needed to retain NCAA tournament eligibility based on APRs for the 2009-10 and 2010-11 academic years.  Connecticut has no chance of meeting the current standard based on their 2009-10 score of 826, and their final appeal is based on the argument that the starting point for the average should be the 2010-11 year so that score could be thrown out.  The CAP will meet next month but its chairman, Walter Harrison, indicated there may not be enough time to resolve the matter April so it could spill over into July when the committee next meets. In a related note, Alex Oriakhi, who decided to transfer from Connecticut because of the NCAA sanctions, would have to sit out a year should the Huskies win their appeal and become eligible for next year’s tournament.
  4. Speaking of transfers, Rutgers announced that Gilvydas Biruta will be transferring.  The 6’8” sophomore was a steady contributor for the Scarlet Knights, averaging 9.7 points and 5.5 rebounds per game over his two years in Piscataway.  He started all but one game during that time and averaged 23.5 minutes per contest.  Biruta’s motivation for transferring and his next destination are not known.  This move comes as a bit of a surprise.  Rutgers has a very young team and presumably Biruta would have continued to command significant playing time as well as presumably assume a leadership role on the team should he have desired one.
  5. Villanova announced yesterday that Maalik Wayns definitely will not return for his senior season as he will pursue an NBA career. Wayns had previously announced his intentions to test the NBA waters and although those close to the Wildcat program believed the move to be permanent, the 6’2” point guard initially left the door open for a return to school by saying he would not hire an agent. Wayns led the Wildcats in scoring and assists (17.6 PPG, 4.6 APG) and was named to the All-Big East second team this season. He is currently not projected to be a first round pick in the NBA draft.
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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen Thursday

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 22nd, 2012

RTC Region correspondents Brian Otskey (East) and Andrew Murawa (West) contributed to this preview.

#1 Syracuse vs. #4 Wisconsin – East Region Semifinals (at Boston, MA) – 7:15 PM ET on CBS

Bo Ryan Is Looking For His Second Trip to the Elite Eight at Wisconsin

Perhaps the most fascinating matchup to date in the entire NCAA Tournament will take place in tonight’s first game from Boston. Wisconsin, the most patient and deliberate team in the country, takes on a Syracuse team that has won 33 games due in large part to a lethal transition attack. While Syracuse ranks #202 in tempo, the Orange thrive on the fast break. You hear a lot about Jim Boeheim’s team struggling on the defensive glass and some of that is due to the fact that his guards already start out on the break when a shot goes up, taking them completely out of position to rebound. Without Fab Melo around to man the middle, Syracuse’s rebounding issues could be a major problem against the physical and deliberate Badgers. It’s always easier to slow a game down than to speed it up and that’s what Wisconsin is going to do. Syracuse will be forced to score in the half court against one of the strongest defenses in the entire nation. The big question will be whether Syracuse, already not one of the better half court teams, can get the ball inside and avoid settling for jump shots. At times this season the Orange have been frustrated and forced into shooting contested jumpers. Syracuse needs to utilize strong ball screening action in order to free up shooters. Wisconsin’s players will fight through screens and stick with you so using the pick-and-roll also wouldn’t be a bad idea. As for Wisconsin, the Badgers match up very well on the defensive end. The question for them will be whether they can score enough to win. Syracuse obviously has more offensive weapons but Bo Ryan has Jordan Taylor to take control of the game for his team. Taylor is the only player on Wisconsin capable of creating his own shot and that will be critical against Syracuse’s 2-3 zone. Wisconsin shoots a bunch of three-pointers and it will have to make quite a few in order to knock off the top-seeded Orange. Syracuse’s zone encourages opposing teams to shoot over it but Wisconsin can actually make them, a major difference from Kansas State last week. If Boeheim chooses to extend his zone out on Wisconsin’s shooters, that will free up the Melo-less middle for Jared Berggren to go to work off screen and rolls in addition to opening up driving lanes for Taylor. Expect Jim Boeheim to adjust how his defense attacks Wisconsin as the game goes along, something he certainly has experience with. This will be a clean game between two teams with great defenses and terrific ball protection. Should it come down to free throws, Wisconsin has the edge. Syracuse is the better team and has many more offensive threats but the Tournament is all about matchups. We think the Badgers will make just enough shots to pull off the upset.

The RTC Certified Pick: Wisconsin

#1 Michigan State vs. #4 Louisville – West Regional Semifinal (at Phoenix, AZ) – 7:47 PM ET on TBS

One of the things we college basketball fans tend to really like about this time of year are the surprises. Not just the obvious ones like Butler running to the national title game or Villanova playing the perfect game against Georgetown, but more subtle ones like teams unveiling a new wrinkle to their offense or players making plays that you hadn’t known they were able to make. As for this game, however, don’t expect many surprises; we all more or less know how this is going to go down. We’ve seen Tom Izzo and Rick Pitino enough over the years to know what they want to do, and we’ve seen the 2012 vintages of both of these clubs to know what they are capable of. Michigan State is going to defend like crazy in the halfcourt, pound the glass on both ends of the court and try to knock Louisville around enough so that the Cards will be forced into submission late in the game. The Cardinals, meanwhile, are going to turn up the pressure defensively, try to force turnovers, rely on Gorgui Dieng to block shots in the middle and watch Peyton Siva get penetration and create offense off the bounce. It is likely going to be a low-scoring game that is still in doubt late into the second half and it will come down to which of these teams is capable of making the most plays down the stretch. While Siva’s numbers on the season are not great, he has been a different player since the Big East Tournament started, getting into the lane seemingly at will, creating opportunities for himself and for others and pitching in everywhere on the floor on his way to 13 points, 5.7 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 2.5 steals per game over the six-game stretch. He does a lot of damage in the pick-and-roll game, so not only will Spartan guard Keith Appling have to be on his game defensively, but whichever big man gets involved in the screen needs to do a good job of keeping Siva out of the lane. Draymond Green is clearly the big factor for Michigan State, and he too has been on fire of late, averaging 20 points, 12.5 rebounds, 8.0 assists and shooting it at a 64.3% eFG in the NCAA Tournament. Freshman Chane Benahan appears to be the most obvious individual matchup for Green, but it is going to have to be a full team effort for the Cards to slow the All-American down. Louisville will need to pressure the Spartan guards, keeping them from getting into their halfcourt offense easily and, perhaps more importantly, dedicate themselves to keeping Spartans like Green, Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix off the offensive glass. However, given their relative lack of size (only Dieng is taller than 6’8”) and struggles with defensive rebounding, this could be the eventual downfall of the Cards. While they’ll certainly get their share of stops and turnovers, allowing Green and company second opportunities is a recipe for disaster.

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Big East Morning Five: 03.20.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on March 20th, 2012

  1. St. John’s freshman and reigning Big East Rookie of the Year Moe Harkless confirmed speculation and announced yesterday in a press conference held at Madison Square Garden that he will be leaving the Red Storm for the NBA. “It has been my lifelong dream to play in the NBA and I am excited to have that opportunity to make the jump,” said Harkless.  He also confirmed that he will hire an agent, which would prevent him from returning to school.  The 6’8” forward is currently projected as a mid-to-late first round pick.  Certainly his status can, and likely will, change as other early entrants make themselves eligible and overseas names emerge but should Harkless be selected in the first round he would be guaranteed an NBA contract.
  2. Moe Harkless’ declaration to turn pro made him the second Big East player to do so thus far, following Villanova’s Maalik Wayns who made his intentions known last week, but, unlike Harkless, he does not plan on retaining an agent. Players with early draft entry on their minds have until 11:59 pm ET on April 29 to decide and CBSSports.com has come up with a watch list of those most likely to be considering the move.  While this appears to be a link to Kentucky’s roster, if you look close enough among those cited you will see Connecticut’s Andre Drummond and Jeremy Lamb as well. While Drummond could use a bit more seasoning and Lamb’s stock has perhaps dropped some, with Connecticut currently banned from next year’s NCAA Tournament due to Academic Performance Rating (APR) issues, it feels like a foregone conclusion that they will both opt for the NBA.  However, if NCAA Tournament eligibility is a deciding factor, Drummond and Lamb may hold off on a decision until the last minute given Connecticut has an appeal in progress on which a ruling could come during April. The other apparent no-brainer on the list when it comes to Big East players is Syracuse’s Fab Melo.  On the heels of the academic ineligibility ruling that has forced Melo to sit out this year’s NCAA Tournament, it has been widely speculated that his Syracuse days are over. Melo’s Syracuse teammate Dion Waiters is the only other Big East player on the watch list.
  3. And then there were three.  Nerlens Noel, the number one prospect in the class of 2012, has narrowed his college choices to Kentucky, Syracuse and Georgetown. North Carolina and Connecticut are the latest schools to be cut.  Noel was scheduled to visit Tar Heel country this week but has since canceled. As for Noel’s interactions with the three finalists, the shot-blocking center took an official visit to Georgetown last week, was scheduled to have an in-home visit with Kentucky yesterday, and another with Syracuse tomorrow. A decision could come shortly thereafter as Noel’s official reclassification to the class of 2012, which had been pending, is now complete.
  4. They say success breeds success. Well Cincinnati is sitting pretty in the Sweet Sixteen and just picked up a commitment yesterday from junior college star Titus Rubles.  Rubles, a slashing 6’8” forward from Blinn Community College in Texas, averaged 16.0 points and 10.0 rebounds for the Buccaneers. This commitment does not come as much of a surprise to those who either follow the Bearcats closely or know how to operate Twitter, as Rubles’ Twitter handle is a somewhat revealing “@bearcatbound.” Even with Rubles in the fold, Cincinnati remains in hot pursuit of center Chris Obekpa, arguably the most sought-after recruit among Big East schools as he is also garnering significant interest from Connecticut, DePaul, Providence, Seton Hall and St. John’s.
  5. Speaking of Cincinnati, the Bearcats have certainly come quite far from what appeared to be a season on the brink following an embarrassing November loss to Presbyterian and that ugly brawl-marred loss to Xavier which led to multiple suspension.  As we wrote at the start of the season, Cincinnati carried with it perhaps the highest increase in expectations among Big East squads as the Bearcats returned their top four scorers from a 26-9 team that made it to the third round of last year’s NCAA Tournament. Playing through the suspensions seemed to unlock some individual potential and lineup combinations that may have otherwise been left untapped as head coach Mick Cronin has rallied his troops to another 26 wins and at least a round further in the Big Dance than last year to this point.
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