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 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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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Third Round – Saturday

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 17th, 2012

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

#1 Syracuse vs. #8 Kansas State – East Region Third Round (at Pittsburgh, PA) – 12:15 PM ET on CBS

Jim Boeheim's Team Appears Vulnerable: Will They Find Steady Footing?

You can make a case that Syracuse shouldn’t even be here after the officiating disaster at the end of its first game. However, the Orange survived and now are being questioned by many fans and commentators. A word of caution: Thursday’s game against UNC-Asheville may have been what Syracuse needed to get over the jitters of playing without Fab Melo. While that’s not likely to be a popular opinion, it may be enough to move Syracuse to at least the Sweet Sixteen. The Orange are not going to have an easy time with Kansas State’s physical defense but the big question mark is if the Wildcats can score enough to keep pace. Kansas State is actually somewhat vulnerable on the defensive glass and Syracuse did a nice job of offensive rebounding against Asheville. Obviously the Wildcats have a significant edge on their end of the floor when it comes to offensive rebounding but we actually like the matchups for Syracuse. The Orange have a lot more talent, are deeper and can pressure a Kansas State team that averages 14 turnovers per game. Syracuse won’t get out on the break often but all it needs is a couple stretches of turnovers and fast break points in order to create a cushion. Experience also matters and the Orange feature two seniors in Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph while Kansas State has freshman Angel Rodriguez running its offense. Syracuse isn’t nearly as good without Melo but we think the Orange are good enough to advance past the Wildcats in this game.

The RTC Certified Pick: Syracuse.

#2 Ohio State vs. #7 Gonzaga – East Region Third Round (at Pittsburgh, PA) – 2:45 pm ET on CBS

There are a ton of fascinating matchups in this game. From Gonzaga’s front court guarding Jared Sullinger to the nation’s most efficient defensive team going up against a Gonzaga team that can certainly put up points. Aaron Craft is widely considered to be one of, if not the best perimeter defender in the nation. Thad Matta will count on his sophomore point guard to shut down Gonzaga freshman Kevin Pangos, an absolute sniper from the arc. Gonzaga shoots the ball very well as a team but Pangos is the guy who really provides the spark for this team. The Bulldogs demolished West Virginia on Thursday but facing Ohio State is going to be a totally different animal. Gonzaga does have the front court depth needed to double Sullinger and make it difficult for the big fella to score inside. The key to beating Ohio State is to make them take jumpers while frustrating Sullinger and Gonzaga can do that with its strong front line. However, foul trouble could become a major concern for the Zags if they’re not careful. A matchup on the wing between Elias Harris and Deshaun Thomas are also intriguing, as is Gonzaga’s ability to get to the foul line against a defense that is physical but doesn’t foul a lot. If the Bulldogs can’t get to the stripe that means Sullinger isn’t in foul trouble and they’re going to be forced to make shots against a really tough Buckeye defense. This is going to be a really fun game to watch between two very talented teams. In fact, it may be the best Saturday matchup on a day in which there will be many.

The RTC Certified Pick: Ohio State.

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Big East Morning Five: 03.16.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on March 16th, 2012

  1. If anyone had questions about how the loss of starting center Fab Melo would impact Syracuse in the NCAA Tournament… they should still have questions.  The East Region’s #1 seeded Orange needed about 39 ½ minutes and a few controversial calls to finally discard a pesky UNC Asheville squad in a game where Bulldogs’ Head Coach Eddie Biedenbach believed his team had the best of it.  “Tonight, we were better than Syracuse,” Biedenbach said. “These guys played their tail off for 40 minutes and played better than Syracuse. This is the better team tonight.”  All that said, this was a game where Syracuse would not have ended the scrutiny involved without Melo in the lineup regardless of the result.  If they had won in a landslide, critics would simply say they should have won in a landslide as a #1 versus as #16.  We are sure to learn more on Saturday when Syracuse faces a much stiffer and battle-tested opponent in Kansas State.
  2. Following Syracuse’s narrow win over UNC Asheville, head coach Jim Boeheim was admittedly upset. However it had nothing to do with his team’s performance yesterday. Boeheim was reacting to comments made by Arne Duncan, the U.S. Secretary of Education who insinuated that Boeheim was against the NCAA’s Academic Performance Rating (APR) system and that his team would not have qualified for this year’s NCAA Tournament under the recently tightened standards that will impact teams’ eligibility next year. A team that fails to meet a minimum 930 APR score will not be eligible for next year’s Tournament. Boeheim vehemently denied that his team would have failed to qualify this year, saying, “I think people need to get better information. Syracuse would be eligible to play in the Tournament this year. We are qualified. We are over 930. Under this year’s rules or last year’s rules, we would be eligible to play in the Tournament.” Boeheim also took umbrage to Duncan’s quoting Boeheim as saying the APR standard was “completely nuts,” stating that his words were taken out of context as he was referencing specific parts of the APR calculation that he is opposed to.
  3. The West Virginia men’s basketball team has played its last game as a member of the Big East and the #10 seeded Mountaineers did not go out in style as they were outclassed by #7 Gonzaga, 77-54.  The game was never really in doubt but remained entertaining nonetheless simply because the facial expressions of a less than jovial Bob Huggins are worth the price of admission every time.  In the irony department West Virginia ended its run on the home floor of their most hated Big East rival, Pittsburgh, in a game where the Mountaineers figured to have an advantage due to their proximity to  home against a west coast team. West Virginia will learn all they want to and more about travel in their next life as they navigate the Big 12.
  4. Steve Lavin scored his second recruiting commitment of the week and it was a big one as JaKarr Sampson will head to St. John’s after all.  Sampson, an athletic 6’8” wing, was a highly regarded class of 2011 player who had signed with the Red Storm hoping to begin his college career in 2011-12.  However, after being ruled academically ineligible, Sampson opted to re-open his recruitment and head back to Brewster Academy (NH) for another prep year.  St. John’s remained on his list throughout but it was widely believed Sampson was leaning toward suitors such as Kansas, Baylor and Providence, who had been recruiting him hard.  Re-landing Sampson represents a huge statement by Lavin, whose program has been on tenuous ground since his difficult recovery from prostate surgery sidelined him for most of the year. Despite rumors he may not be back next year and stories of opposing recruiters using his health against him, Lavin has publicly remained confident St. John’s would acquire another huge recruiting class.  He has quelled any doubts with the addition of Sampson.
  5. Connecticut’s Jim Calhoun and Kentucky’s John Calipari certainly compete for recruits as they lead national programs perennially seeking Final Fours and NCAA Championships. Not to mention that the Huskies and Wildcats were on a collision course for a third round NCAA Tournament matchup before Connecticut fell to Iowa State last night. With that in mind, one has to wonder if the wily veteran Calhoun was exhibiting a bit of gamesmanship when he commented that he would not be surprised to see Calipari making a jump back to the NBA on the heels of the New York Knicks and Mark D’Antoni parting ways. “Can I imagine John going in the NBA or anything else? Yes,” said Calhoun. “I think John very simply marches… to his own drummer,” he added. Upon D’Antoni’s exit, Calipari’s name quickly surfaced as a possible replacement. Calipari responded to the buzz by saying he intends to stay at Kentucky.
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ATB: Big Dance Day One Roundup — Two Upsets, Top Four Seeds Roll, Defending Champs Are Gone…

Posted by EJacoby on March 16th, 2012

Tonight’s Lede – It’s madness, baby!!! The real start of the NCAA Tournament arrived on Thursday afternoon, as did the collective drop of productivity from employees across the country. March Madness brings the best sick days, mobile apps, and computer split screens out of us, in the pursuit of tracking our brackets and following our favorite teams throughout the day. This Thursday is always special; the mark of the most exciting postseason in sports, and this year was no different. Despite the lack of buzzer-beaters and major upsets, day one was still a fantastic day of college basketball with plenty of key storylines. More fascinating finishes and thrilling games are surely on the way, but let’s take a look at all the action from the first half of the round of 64…

Your Watercooler Moment. #12 VCU Pulls Another Shaka.

Wichita State Was Devastated After Shaka Smart's Boys Pulled Another Upset (US Presswire)

It was just last year when Shaka Smart’s VCU Rams pulled off one of the all-time great Cinderella runs in NCAA Tournament history, winning five games as a #11 seed to go from the First Four to the Final Four in the 2011 Big Dance. In 2012, things were expected to be different — VCU is no longer a sleeper, the Rams were stuck with an even worse seed, and they had to take on a fellow strong mid-major team with Sweet Sixteen aspirations of their own. But the VCU boys did it again, or at least completed stage one of another improbable run. The #12 seed Rams defeated #5 Wichita State in a thrilling game, 62-59, for the biggest upset of day one. VCU jumped to a quick advantage and led by nine at halftime, but a late run by the Shockers gave WSU the lead with about two minutes to play. Bradford Burgess, the lone returning starter from last year’s Final Four team, answered with the biggest shot of the night — a three from the corner that would give VCU a lead that it did not relinquish. Joe Ragland and Toure’ Murry did their best to keep Wichita State’s dreams alive, but VCU was not to be denied on this day. Burgess finished with 16 points, five boards, four assists, and two steals in the win, which sends VCU to a date with #4 Indiana on Saturday.

Also Worth Chatting About. #16 UNC Asheville Nearly Makes History. #16 seeds were 0-108 all-time in the NCAA Tournament coming into Thursday, but nobody told the Bulldogs, a senior-laden team that was fired up to take on a reeling Orange team after word that their center Fab Melo would be ineligible for the Tournament. Without Melo, Syracuse was completely out of sorts, though the player’s absence was no excuse for the rest of the team to play so poorly on both ends. ‘Cuse survived and will move on to Saturday while putting this game behind them, but the story was UNC Asheville’s incredible effort to nearly win this game. The Bulldogs led by four points at halftime and hung tough for the entire 40 minutes despite leading scorer Matt Dickey only shooting 1-13 with five points! Asheville got 18 points from J.P. Primm and all of the team box score statistics were very similar in this game, but Syracuse’s late-game execution proved to be too much. Plenty of fans and media members will say that poor officiating was a large factor in the outcome, as UNCA may have gotten jobbed on several calls in the final four minutes. There was one undoubtedly awful call against Asheville that should have resulted in a Syracuse turnover, but blaming the loss on the referees is not something coach Eddie Biedenbach would do. It was a valiant effort by the Bulldogs that just came short, ending in a seven point win for Cuse. The Orange survive to play #8 Kansas State in the next round on Saturday.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.15.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 15th, 2012

The NCAA Tournament is here and there’s more news, commentary and analysis than any of us can possibly keep up with. To make things a little easier, we’ll bring you a list of daily links gathered about teams in each of the four regions all the way through the Final Four.


  • LIU Brooklyn coach Jim Ferry isn’t backing down from the mighty Michigan State Spartans. While it’s nice to see a mid-major steer away from the “happy to be here” angle, it’ll be interesting to see how long the Blackbirds can stick with Draymond Green and company.
  • In many of its losses, Michigan has shown an inability to bounce back from early deficits. A hot start would do wonders for the Wolverines’ confidence as they get ready for Ohio tomorrow night. Read the rest of this entry »
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