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.
Share this story

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

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.
Share this story

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

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.
Share this story

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

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.

Midwest

West
  • 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 »
Share this story

The RTC Interview Series: One on One With Charles Barkley

Posted by rtmsf on March 15th, 2012

Rush The Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you periodically throughout the year. If you have any specific interview requests or want us to interview you, shoot us an email at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Hall of Fame power forward Charles Barkley has become without question one of the most entertaining analysts on sports television. TNT’s Inside the NBA has been must-watch television for over a decade now in large part because of his wit and wisdom, and Barkley’s recent foray into college basketball analysis with Turner Sports has helped pick up what had been a somewhat stuffy studio environment. For the past month, Rush the Court has been providing a weekly column  called What Would Charles Say? on Barkley’s website, and he was gracious enough to allow us to spend some time with him this week for a short Q&A. 

Charles Barkley Will Provide Analysis All March Long for the NCAA Tournament

Rush the Court: Charles, the big news early this week was the news that Fab Melo was ruled ineligible for the NCAA Tournament. I was hoping to get your take on how you feel that impacts the chances for Syracuse and Jim Boeheim to get to the Final Four and win a national championship this year?

Charles Barkley: Well, I think that they probably can’t win the championship, but they’re still deep enough to go deep into the Tournament. But I don’t think they can win it without him… but they’re still the deepest team in the Tournament, honestly, top to bottom.

RTC: So the news has come out that this relates to an academic issue for Melo, and with all the academic services that schools give these guys nowadays, how does that happen? How do you drop the ball so badly that you’re not even eligible for the Tournament?

CB: Well, to me it’s very frustrating, because if you get this deep in the season, you should already have all that stuff squared away. I mean… c’mon man. You’re really letting your team down at this point.

RTC: Certainly. Well let me ask you about last year, there was a little bit of criticism with you, Kenny [Smith], and Ernie [Johnson], as knowledgeable as you guys are about NBA stuff, coming in to the college basketball world and giving your takes with maybe not having watched games the whole season. But that ended very quickly with your take on the Big East — how it wasn’t as good as everybody thought — with nine out of the 11 teams gone by the end of the first weekend. Do you have any early takes this year on maybe a conference or teams that you’re just not buying?

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Second Round — Thursday Afternoon

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 15th, 2012

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

#6 Murray State vs. #11 Colorado State – West Region Second Round (at Louisville, KY) – 12:15 PM ET on CBS

Steve Prohm Brings His One-Loss Team to the Dance (US Presswire)

Anytime you enter the NCAA Tournament with just one loss and 4-0 record over NCAA Tournament teams, you’re a big story and a threat to go deep in the tournament. That’s the situation Murray State finds itself in. The fact that they’ve got a recent history of some success in the tournament (they knocked off Vanderbilt in the first round in 2010 before losing a heartbreaker to eventual national runner up Butler) makes them an even bigger challenge. In that 2010 loss to Butler, then-freshman guard Isaiah Canaan had the ball in his hands with the clock running down and threw an errant pass that got deflected by Gordon Hayward, effectively sealing the Racers’ fate. Two years later, Canaan is this team’s leader and one of the best guards in the nation, capable not only of getting his own opportunities in a variety of ways, but also creating for his teammates. And he’ll certainly be a problem for a Colorado State team whose guards, though talented scorers offensively, struggle to stay in front of their men on defense. Another issue for the Rams is the fact that they are one of the smallest teams in the nation (there are only five teams smaller, according to Ken Pomeroy’s effective height statistic), with a frontline that doesn’t go any larger than 6’6”. Murray may not have a lot more height (their two main interior players – Ivan Aska and Ed Daniel – go just 6’7”), but the lack of size has been an issue for CSU this year. Still, the Rams can score with just about anybody, but their inability to lock down defensively will be a problem. A bigger problem could be the fact that the Racers are playing not only within an easy drive of their campus, but that the hordes of Kentucky fans who show up for the early session will most certainly convert their allegiance to the Racers, at least temporarily.

The RTC Certified Pick: Murray State

#8 Kansas State vs. #9 Southern Miss – East Region Second Round (at Pittsburgh, PA) – 12:40 PM ET on truTV

This could be an ugly game right off the bat. Neither of these two teams shoots the ball particularly well, especially Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles have an awful two point field goal percentage (43.3%) and rank second to last among NCAA Tournament teams in effective field goal percentage. Only 16th seeded Western Kentucky is worse. Despite the poor shooting numbers, Larry Eustachy’s Golden Eagles have a respectable offensive efficiency number thanks to a minimal turnover percentage and solid offensive rebounding. If Southern Miss is going to win this game, it must rebound the basketball and score on second chance opportunities. While Kansas State is regarded as a team that plays terrific defense and rebounds well, the Wildcats are vulnerable on the defensive glass. Provided Southern Miss and point guard Neil Watson can keep a good handle on the ball and get some decent looks, this team will hang around. For Kansas State, it must get Rodney McGruder going early and often. McGruder is the best offensive player on this team and has been playing at a high level of late. Kansas State should win the game if it rebounds well and plays its typical brand of physical hard-nosed basketball. The Wildcats should get plenty of offensive rebounding opportunities against a Southern Miss team that has just one player taller than 6’7.” The free throw battle could be important as well. Each team gets to the line well but also fouls a lot when playing defense. The Golden Eagles shoot it much better from the stripe and they’ll need to today in order to offset the rebounding disadvantage.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big East Morning Five: 03.15.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on March 15th, 2012

  1. Villanova junior point guard Maalik Wayns will test the professional waters and declare himself eligible for the 2012 NBA Draft. Wayns will not hire an agent and therefore could pull his name out of the draft and return for his final collegiate season. That decision would need to take place by April 10. Sources told the Philadelphia Inquirer that while Wayns not projected to be a first round NBA pick, and therefore not in line for guaranteed money, there is a strong chance he will remain draft eligible, even if it means not getting drafted and playing professionally overseas next year. 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.
  2. This was reported earlier in the week, but not widely so we thought it was worthy of a mention here. Another star junior point guard, Providence’s Vincent Council is considering entering the NBA Draft. Council, a third team All-Big East selection this year, has led the conference in assists the past two seasons. Academic issues are rumored to be the main driver behind Council’s potential departure as he currently does not project as an NBA draftee and figures prominently in Ed Cooley’s plans for next season should it return. Perhaps also playing a part in the decision is the pending arrival of Friar signee, and McDonald’s All-America point guard Kris Dunn. However conventional wisdom says Council would relish the opportunity to play with Dunn as they both possess off-the-ball skills and could excel in a backcourt that would also include another star recruit in Ricardo Ledo to go with veterans Bryce Cotton and Gerard Coleman.
  3. Even with the NCAA tournament upon us, all things Nerlens Noel remain a major topic of discussion. Noel’s process continues with a visit to North Carolina next week but many are wondering if the possible departure of Syracuse center Fab Melo for the NBA is moving the Orange up in Noel’s pecking order. When ESPN anchor, and Syracuse alum, Ryan Burr sent a Tweet on Monday encouraging Noel to fill the Melo void it raised questions around improper contact with a recruit. If Burr, who has since deleted the Tweet, is defined as a Syracuse booster his Twitter overture could be viewed by the NCAA as impermissible contact, and could result in the university being penalized.  Should the NCAA venture into social media it may be biting off more than it can chew given the daunting task of trying to set parameters around regulation of that environment.  While Burr’s tweet likely does not represent a recruiting violation, it certainly showed a lack of judgment and professionalism that warrants the consideration of disciplinary action by ESPN. It should also be noted that Syracuse already has a highly touted class of 2012 center lined up for next year in Dajuan Coleman so the Orange appear to be in good shape if Melo leaves regardless of Noel’s decision.
  4. Speaking of social media,  Twitter was not the friend of Connecticut’s Alex Oriakhi earlier this season when he appeared to direct some cyber venting at head coach Jim Calhoun upon being removed from the starting lineup.  There is no question it has been a difficult year on the court for Oriakhi.  Aside from opposing centers, no one has felt the impact of Andre Drummond’s presence more than he. The junior’s minutes slipped from 29.1 a year ago to 21.4 this season and his productivity has followed suit, averaging 6.8 points and 4.8 rebounds per game this year versus 9.6 and 8.7 respectively last year. However, as this New Haven Register piece by David Borges points out, Oriakhi and Calhoun have maintained a strong relationship and Oriakhi has maintained a team-first attitude throughout. “One thing’s for sure: (Alex) loves coach Calhoun to death,” Oriakhi’s mother, Angela, told the New Haven Register. “Nobody can complain about coach Calhoun in front of him.” Further, any frustration Oriakhi has experienced as a basketball player has not translated into the classroom, nor hurt the Huskies’ much publicized Academic Performance Rating (APR). Oriakhi notched a team-high (for scholarship players) 3.6 grade-point average in the fall semester.
  5. St. John’s and head coach Steve Lavin did not qualify for post season play but they remain in action on the recruiting front.  Lavin, scored a local commitment when Our Savior New American’s (OSNA) Felix Balamou announced via Facebook he is heading to St. John’s.  Balamou, a 6’3” wing and OSNA’s leading scorer this past season on a 25-5 team, was also considering Connecticut, Oregon, Virginia Tech and West Virginia. Prior to Balamou’s commitment, Lavin stated he wanted to sign four or five more players for next season and that number could increase should star forward Moe Harkless head to the NBA after one season in Queens. Highly regarded center Chris Obekpa is high on Lavin’s wish list. Obekpa happens to be Balamou’s teammate which has led to speculation that a package deal is in the works.  However, OSNA assistant coach Eric Jaklitsch confirmed that Balamou’s and Obekpa’s decisions are independent of one another. Then to finish the night strong, Lavin landed Jakarr Sampson, who had decommitted from the school after not becoming eligible this past season.
Share this story

NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.14.12 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 14th, 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.

South

Midwest

  • The Creighton Bluejays aren’t bothered by Alabama‘s defensive prowess going into their opening round matchup. Creighton has pulled off wins against athletic teams in Long Beach State, Wichita State and San Diego State, but in an elimination setting, the margin of error becomes thinner.
  • Kansas forward Thomas Robinson responded to some early smack talk from Detroit‘s Eli Holman prior to the team’s departure for Omaha. Holman was probably doing his best to keep confidence high, but likely generated some bulletin board material in doing so. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

Morning Five: 03.14.12 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 14th, 2012

  1. The big news yesterday was the announcement by Syracuse that starting center Fab Melo would not participate in the NCAA Tournament due to issues with his eligibility. Although the school did not openly admit as much, word has come out that it was due to Melo not being academically eligible, which should not be news to anybody since he missed three games earlier this season while trying to rectify the matter. Most people expect Melo to declare for the draft, which prompted ESPN host Ryan Burr to tweet out a plea for Nerlens Noel to come to Syracuse to fill Melo’s spot next season, which may wind up being a NCAA violation. And of course there is the report from Jeff Goodman that the NCAA is looking at Melo’s schoolwork, which doesn’t sound promising. Overall, it was a pretty bad day for Syracuse fans.
  2. Everybody knows about Anthony Davis, but as Luke Winn points out there is more to Kentucky‘s defense than just the #1 overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. As we noted yesterday, Winn tends to delve into fairly advanced statistical analysis, but may be the best in the business at making it accessible to those who are less inclined to look at these type of stats. The radar plot of the #1 and #2 seeds is particularly useful and illustrates the shortcomings of the top seeds although the data points on a certain #1 certain seed will need to be adjusted after yesterday’s events.
  3. Despite a tumultuous few weeks, UCLA decided to bring Ben Howland for at least one more year. For his part, Howland reiterated his love for the program and he would work hard to make it improve (what else did you expect him to say?). With an incoming class that should be solid, but probably won’t be as loaded as some might have expected before the Shabazz Muhammad-financial adviser scandal. Still with the incoming talent and the talent he already has the Bruins should be expected to compete at the top of the Pac-12 next season.
  4. Three other coaches were not as fortunate as Howland and ended up getting their pink slips. The most well-known name was Matt Doherty, who was fired by Southern Methodist after going 80-109 in six seasons. The former Tar Heel coach was not the only coach fired as South Carolina fired Darrin Horn (60-63 in four seasons) while Samford fired Jimmy Tillette (229-219 in 15 seasons). Interestingly, from the reports we have seen Tillette’s firing appears to have been the most confrontational. While Doherty is by far the biggest name thanks to his time in Chapel Hill, Horn has actually gone the furthest in the NCAA Tournament out of the three as he made the Sweet Sixteen in his last year at Western Kentucky before leaving the school. We have not heard any word on who these schools are pursuing, but we suspect all three of the coaches will wind up on their feet somewhere particularly Horn, who was one of the hottest coaches in the country just four years ago.
  5. His father is one of the most famous names in high school basketball and his brother is still the NCAA’s all-time assist leader, but Dan Hurley appears to be making a name for himself at Wagner and others including Rhode Island have taken notice. Yesterday, news broke that Rhode Island had asked for and been granted permission to speak with Hurley about potentially becoming their next head coach. From the look of things at Wagner, this does not appear to be Dan living off the family name either as he has completely turned around the Wagner basketball program taking a team that was 5-26 the year before he was hired to 25-5 in just two season. A move to Rhode Island would be the next step for someone who appears to be one of the rising stars in college basketball.
Share this story