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

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.



  • 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

An ESPN Host Just Tried To Recruit Nerlens Noel To His Alma Mater

Posted by nvr1983 on March 13th, 2012

ESPN and other media outlets love to report on inappropriate behavior when schools get busted by the NCAA or more commonly by a select group of journalists. How about when one of their own violates ethical standards (and possibly NCAA regulations) by trying to recruit a player, perhaps the top recruit in the country, to come to his alma mater?

Assuming that he cannot claim ignorance with his typo, it is pretty clear that Burr, a 1994 graduate of the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse, was trying to recruit Nerlens Noel to play at Syracuse. While it was probably a joke in light of his favorite team having their dreams of a NCAA title likely dashed by Fab Melo being declared ineligible, at the very least it could be interpreted as unethical leading many to call for ESPN to punish, or at least reprimand, Burr for his tweet. The question of how the NCAA will respond to this is a little less clear as it depends on Burr’s affiliation with the school. If the NCAA chooses to come down hard, it could punish the school for Burr’s action particularly if he is a booster or maintains any active affiliation with the school. As for ESPN, which already deals with plenty of criticism regarding its objectivity, this latest incident certainly will not help.

Share this story

Syracuse’s Fab Melo To Miss NCAA Tournament Because of an Eligibility Issue

Posted by mlemaire on March 13th, 2012

The bad breaks just keep coming for Syracuse and its basketball program. After one of the team’s best seasons in recent history and right as they prepared for the NCAA Tournament as a #1 seed, they learned that starting center and key cog Fab Melo will miss the entire tournament due to an eligibility issue. Melo missed three games earlier this season because of academics, but it is unclear whether this eligibility issue is about academics or something else as the school would not provide any additional details. [Update: It’s apparently about academics and he is also apparently declaring for the NBA Draft]

It doesn’t take a basketball junkie to know that Melo’s absence is a potentially lethal blow to the Orange’s national title hopes. He was the best rebounder on a team that struggles to rebound the basketball and he was also the conference’s defensive player of the year this season. He is one of the main reasons why Syracuse limited opponents to an effective field-goal rate just 44 percent this season and the team’s staunch 2-3 zone relied on Melo to protect the rim — something he did very well during the regular season.

Fab Melo's Absence Could Crush Syracuse's National Title Aspirations

The onus now falls on freshman Rakeem Christmas and sophomore Baye Keita to pick up the slack and neither proved consistently capable of that during the regular season. The good news is that Keita and Christmas, while young, are athletic and energetic defenders who can block shots and rebound the basketball unless they run up against more experienced and physical post players. But the understated effect this blow might have on the Orange will be on the offensive end.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Fab Melo To Miss The NCAA Tournament

Posted by nvr1983 on March 13th, 2012

Syracuse‘s dreams of a second national title took a significant hit today when the school announced that starting center Fab Melo had been declared ineligible for the NCAA Tournament due to ongoing issues regarding his academic eligibility. Melo, who missed three games earlier this season while trying to sort out his eligibility issues, was the anchor of the team’s defense and averaged 7.8 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 2.9 blocks per game. Syracuse issued the following statement on the decision:

Syracuse University sophomore men’s basketball center Fab Melo did not travel with the team to Pittsburgh, and will not take part in the NCAA Tournament due to an eligibility issue. Given University policy and federal student privacy laws, no further details can be provided at this time.
The suspension is a big blow to a team that had title aspirations as it leaves a significant hole in the interior of their zone defense and weakens an already horrid defensive rebounding presence. As Luke Winn and numerous others have detailed the Orange’s defense suffers when Melo is out and with a potential Elite Eight match-up with Ohio State and Jared Sullinger looming this may end up costing the Orange a Final Four trip.
Share this story

Bracket Prep: East Region Analysis

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 12th, 2012

Throughout Monday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (9 AM), South (11 AM), Midwest (2 PM), West (4 PM). Here, Brian Otskey (@botskey) breaks down the East Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC East Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCeastregion).

You can also check out our RTC Podblast with Brian breaking down the East Region here.

East Region

Favorite: #1 Syracuse (31-2, 17-1 Big East). Despite losing to Cincinnati in the Big East semifinals, the Orange are the clear favorites and will have plenty of fans in Beantown to cheer them on, assuming they advance. SU features a transition attack that’s arguably the best in the nation, usually sparked by Dion Waiters off the bench.

Jim Boeheim and Syracuse Are The Favorites, But The Path to New Orleans Is Loaded With Tough Opponents (AP)

Should They Falter: #2 Ohio State (27-7, 13-5 Big Ten). I was tempted to slot #3 Florida State in this space but the Seminoles are too inconsistent for my liking to be a legitimate Final Four threat. Ohio State is a terrific team but not nearly as good as last year’s outfit which had Jon Diebler to bury a perimeter jumper. Even so, the Buckeyes are still capable of reaching New Orleans.

Grossly Overseeded: #11 Texas (20-13, 9-9 Big 12). This is an exaggeration because I thought the Selection Committee did a very nice job with the seeding across all regions. But I have to pick someone, right? I’ll go with the Longhorns, a team I didn’t have in my projected field of 68. Texas has four RPI top 50 wins but three of those came against teams seeded on the eighth line in this tournament. The Longhorns are 4-11 against top 100 competition, a fact that I felt should have kept them out of the Big Dance.

Grossly Underseeded: #5 Vanderbilt (24-10, 10-6 SEC). Again, this is a very minor quibble. As I said before, I thought the Committee did an admirable job seeding the teams. I had Vanderbilt pegged for a #4 seed after beating the best team in the country (Kentucky) in the SEC championship on Sunday. The Commodores won 16 games against the RPI top 100, with two of those coming against top 10 opponents either on the road (Marquette) or a neutral site (Kentucky). In fact, only one of Vandy’s five RPI top 25 wins has come at home. That’s impressive and an indicator of a team that can do some damage in this event despite its recent history of early flameouts.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big East Wrap-Up And Postseason Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 6th, 2012

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

Conference Tournament Preview

  • Can Anyone Beat Syracuse? – Yes, but only a handful of teams are capable. Notre Dame has proven they can do it and I feel Marquette has a solid chance. Georgetown took the Orange to overtime by slowing the pace and exposing Syracuse’s rebounding issues. In my opinion, those are the only three teams who can knock off the Orange. Given the Madison Square Garden crowd is going to be highly in favor of Syracuse, this is a tall order for any team to pull off.
  • Bubble Teams With Work To Do – South Florida, Seton Hall, Connecticut and West Virginia, the pressure is officially on. I think USF and SH have the most work to do. The Bulls and Pirates won’t feel safe unless they win two games at the Garden and even that may not be enough depending what happens in other conference tournaments. Seton Hall absolutely has to beat Providence and Louisville back to back and then put up a solid showing against Marquette in a quarterfinal game. South Florida has a bye but must knock off Rutgers/Villanova before beating Notre Dame the next night. Connecticut has plenty of top 50 wins and strong computer numbers so I feel they’re safe provided they get by DePaul on Tuesday. As for West Virginia, the win at South Florida on Saturday was critical. The Mountaineers earned a first-round bye and will likely play Connecticut at noon on Wednesday. I think WVU is going to be in regardless, but beating the Huskies should lock up a bid for sure.
  • Is There A Sleeper Team? – I doubt it, but South Florida, Connecticut and even St. John’s would be my candidates. The Bulls can win an ugly game against Notre Dame in the quarterfinals, but UConn may actually have the best draw. The Huskies open up with DePaul, coincidentally the same exact matchup as last season. They’ll face a West Virginia team they’ve beat already in the second round. Should they advance to the quarters, Connecticut will go up against Syracuse. The Huskies have played fairly well against the Orange twice this season and would have a reasonable chance to pull the upset. St. John’s is a team that’s playing better basketball and drew a favorable bracket. It wouldn’t shock me if St. John’s lost its opening round game but, playing on its home floor, the Johnnies could surprise.

Regular Season Recap

You could say this was easily a down year in the Big East, but the conference does have ten teams in contention for the NCAA Tournament as the season winds down, only one fewer than last season. However, the league is clearly not as strong from top to bottom. Syracuse was dominant, but no team came close to challenging the Orange for conference supremacy all year. The Orange were projected to win the league in my preseason conference primer, but it was my second and third place teams who completely flopped. Pittsburgh and Connecticut had highly disappointing seasons, even though the Huskies are still in the NCAA picture. The Panthers finished 16-15 (5-13), good enough for 13th place. Jamie Dixon’s squad was hurt by injuries and a notable defection, but on the court, this team did not defend at a high level. Pitt finished the regular season ranked 161st nationally in defensive efficiency, a far cry from their average of #27 over Dixon’s previous eight seasons on the sidelines at the Petersen Events Center. Ashton Gibbs had a disappointing senior season and the team was never able to put it together at any point.

As for the teams that surprised, you can start with South Florida. The Bulls were nothing more than an afterthought as late as January, but a commitment to defense and the play of freshman point guard Anthony Collins has vaulted the Bulls to the brink of their first NCAA Tournament bid since 1992. Although USF has just one top 50 win, this season has been a rousing success for the men from Tampa, who played all of their home games away from the Sun Dome due to renovations. Stan Heath may have saved his job in the process.

Marquette, Notre Dame and Georgetown were also surprises. Those teams were projected to finish sixth, ninth and tenth, respectively, in our conference preview. Marquette looks like a threat to go very deep in the NCAA Tournament while Notre Dame’s style of play and Georgetown’s defense will keep them in pretty much any game they play. The Golden Eagles have two of the best player in the conference and an unquenchable will to win.

As for the teams that projected out according to form, Cincinnati went 12-6 in the league as predicted, Rutgers went 6-12 and Providence went 3-15. In addition to those three, West Virginia, Seton Hall, St. John’s and DePaul finished about where they were expected to. The Mountaineers and Pirates have a chance for the NCAA’s while St. John’s showed some late-season progress and could be a tough out on their home court at Madison Square Garden this week. Louisville finished 22-9 (10-8), three games worse than where I had projected it. The Cardinals started the year hot, but went just 10-9 after sprinting out to a 12-0 record through December 23.

Villanova was another team that disappointed. The Wildcats weren’t expected to be great, but many thought they could find their way to the NCAA Tournament. Instead, Villanova struggled all year as players who were expected to improve did not before injuries took a huge toll on the Wildcats late in the season. Villanova’s future is relatively bright, but this was definitely a lost season on the Main Line. VU’s streak of seven consecutive NCAA appearances will come to an end unless there is some divine intervention in the form of five wins in five days in New York.

Jim Boeheim And The Orange Have Locked Up A One-Seed, But Will Reports Of Unpunished Failed Drug Tests Knock Them Off Their Path? (Mark Konezny/US Presswire)

Coach of the Year

Jim Boeheim, Syracuse – This was a really tough choice. Do you go with the coach of the best team by far or pick someone like Stan Heath or Mike Brey who led teams projected in the bottom half to finishes closer to the top of the league? Guys like Buzz Williams and John Thompson III also deserve consideration. In the end I chose Boeheim because this year’s Syracuse team was historic. Sure, I picked them to win the league from the start, but in no way did I think this team would go 30-1 (17-1). The Orange are the first team in Big East history to get through the entire regular season with only a single loss. Boeheim has assembled a rotation that can go ten deep and kept the team focused through some off-court distractions. He’s a Hall of Famer for a reason and was the best coach in the league this season.

Player of the Year

Jae Crowder, Marquette – This may be a controversial choice to some, but here’s why I picked Crowder over Kevin Jones. Yes, Jones had better statistics throughout the year, but Crowder has out-played Jones over the last month and plays for a team considerably better than West Virginia. Plus, what fun would it be if we just looked at the statistics and ignored intangibles? Crowder averaged 24.7 points and 9.2 rebounds per game over his last six and won the head-to-head matchup with Jones in convincing fashion on February 24. Crowder put up very similar numbers using 21.9% of his team’s possessions compared to 23.3% for Jones. Not a huge difference, but I feel it matters when one team is 25-6 (14-4) while the other is 19-12 (9-9) and has lost seven of its last 11 games heading into the postseason. Crowder, along with Darius Johnson-Odom, has put Marquette on his back and carried it to heights not seen since Dwayne Wade played at the Bradley Center. He’s played his best ball at the right time while Jones has not led his team in nearly the same manner down the stretch. Crowder is also a better defender (2.4 steals per game) and a more efficient shooter from inside as well as the perimeter. I felt that also helped to push him over the top. I don’t have a problem with either player winning the award, but I usually go for the player on the better team when it’s a close call like this is.

All-Conference First Team

  • Jae Crowder, Marquette (17.6 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 2.4 SPG, 51.2% FG) – Crowder was the do-it-all player for the Golden Eagles, leading them to their best regular season record since a 23-4 mark in 2002-03.
  • Kevin Jones, West Virginia (20.0 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 51.5% FG) – Without Jones, the Mountaineers would be in the bottom third of the league. The senior had the best season of his career, leading the conference in scoring and rebounding pretty much from start to finish.
  • Darius Johnson-Odom, Marquette (18.3 PPG, 40.1% 3FG) – Crowder and DJO form perhaps the most potent one-two punch in college basketball on a team that could be a Final Four sleeper.
  • Kris Joseph, Syracuse (14.1 PPG, 5.0 RPG) – The amazing thing about Syracuse is not one player on a 30-1 (17-1) team is in the top 18 in scoring. Joseph ranks 19th, but came up big when it mattered most, averaging 17 points for the Orange in their six games decided by five points or less.
  • Jeremy Lamb, Connecticut (17.6 PPG, 47.5% FG, 82.6% FT) – Connecticut underachieved, but the best returning player from last year’s national championship squad posted double figures in all but three games for a team that struggled to find its way on the offensive end. A career-high 32 points in a late season win at Villanova just might have saved his team’s season (at least for now).

A Late-Season Push Propelled Jae Crowder Past Kevin Jones For Player Of The Year Honors.

All-Conference Second Team

  • Vincent Council, Providence (16.2 PPG, 7.5 APG) – A lot of people may not know about Council, but that’s about to change next season when Providence welcomes in more talent to be on the receiving end of passes from the best assist man in the Big East.
  • Scoop Jardine, Syracuse (8.6 PPG, 4.9 APG, 47.7% FG) – The statistics aren’t eye-popping,  but Jardine was the point guard for a team that lost once in 31 games. He took much better care of the basketball this season and improved his shooting efficiency despite a drop in scoring from last year. On a team with ten legitimate players, he doesn’t need to score in double figures.
  • Jordan Theodore, Seton Hall (16.0 PPG, 6.7 APG, 1.9 SPG) – Not surprisingly, Seton Hall’s season went as Theodore’s did. When he was on, he looked like the best point guard in the conference (29 points, 5 assists against Georgetown). When he wasn’t (10 points, 5 turnovers against DePaul), Seton Hall looked awful. Despite the inconsistency from the senior, Theodore deserves the bulk of the credit for getting the Pirates in the NCAA Tournament conversation.
  • Jason Clark, Georgetown (14.3 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 47.8% FG) – Underappreciated for four seasons in Washington, Clark led his team in scoring and vaulted the Hoyas well into the top 25 after they were projected to be a bubble team in the preseason. Clark was a model of consistency and a great glue guy on a strong defensive team.
  • Jack Cooley, Notre Dame (12.5 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 62.1% FG) – Cooley came out of nowhere to become the anchor in the paint for a Notre Dame team that took the conference by storm. He recorded a double-double in six of his last eight games and would be my pick for most-improved player.

Honorable Mention

  • Dion Waiters, Syracuse (11.9 PPG, 1.9 SPG, 47.1% FG) – Perhaps the best sixth man in the nation, Waiters sees starter’s minutes on one of the elite teams in the nation. A spark on both ends of the floor with his dynamic transition game, Waiters’ improvement is a big factor in Syracuse’s success.
  • Henry Sims, Georgetown (11.1 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 3.4 APG, 1.4 BPG) – It’s not often you see a 6’10” player lead his team in assists, but that’s exactly what Sims did (and by a wide margin). A candidate for most improved player, Sims was a major reason why Georgetown exceeded preseason expectations.
  • Cleveland Melvin, DePaul (17.4 PPG, 7.3 RPG) – Melvin has been a solid player for two years now. It’s too bad he plays on a bad team.
  • Herb Pope, Seton Hall (15.3 PPG, 10.3 RPG) – A very early frontrunner for conference POY honors, Pope’s production really tailed off in conference play.  Still, his presence in the middle and strong rebounding is vital to the Hall’s success.
  • Maalik Wayns, Villanova (17.5 PPG, 4.6 APG, 89.3% FT) – Wayns will never be confused with efficiency, but he’s a guard who can create contact and get to the line with the best of them. One of the better free throw shooters in the nation knows how to play to his strengths.

All-Freshmen Team

  • Moe Harkless, St. John’s (15.0 PPG, 8.6 RPG) – Harkless put up some dominant numbers right away because he was able to see plenty of minutes on a thin team, but he’s a terrific piece to build around as the Johnnies move forward. A special talent.
  • Anthony Collins, South Florida (8.0 PPG, 5.3 APG, 49.3% FG) – Almost singlehandedly, Collins has willed the Bulls to the brink of the NCAA Tournament. After missing five games with an injury, Collins took over the point guard duties and led South Florida to a 12-6 conference record.
  • LaDontae Henton, Providence (14.3 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 40.2% 3FG) – Henton was a surprise on a Friars team that remained competitive despite a poor record. Henton was thrown into the fire right away, playing 37.1 minutes per game on a very thin team. He responded well and didn’t hit a wall late in the season as most freshmen do.
  • D’Angelo Harrison, St. John’s (17.0 PPG) – Harkless’ sidekick actually led St. John’s in scoring and played his best basketball in February.
  • Otto Porter, Georgetown (9.0 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 51.0% FG) – A player with a great motor who has a ton of upside, Porter has a high basketball IQ and the toughness needed to excel in Georgetown’s system. He’s as good of a rebounder as I’ve seen for a freshman.

Defensive Player of the Year

Fab Melo, Syracuse (3.1 BPG) – Melo led the conference by a wide margin in blocks in conference games (3.73), but finished behind Louisville’s Gorgui Dieng in the block totals for all games. Melo’s presence anchoring Syracuse’s zone changed so many shots and made it easier for Syracuse to defend opponents on the perimeter. When he didn’t play against Notre Dame, the Irish went wild from deep because the Orange didn’t have their big man on the back line to defend drives. A case can be made for Dieng, but Melo was a dominant force defensively for the nation’s #2 team.

Game of the Year

January 21 – Notre Dame 67, Syracuse 58: There is no clear-cut winner for this award, but I’m going to go with Syracuse’s only loss of the season. Notre Dame handed the Orange, playing without Fab Melo, their first and only loss of the season. The Fighting Irish shot 50% for the game and won by a score of 67-58, Notre Dame’s first win against a top-ranked opponent in 25 years. However, it was ND’s eighth win all time against a #1 team and seventh in South Bend. It was a magical night for the Irish and the first win in what would become a nine-game winning streak, a decisive run that pushed Notre Dame solidly into the NCAA Tournament field.

Other nominees: Marquette 61, West Virginia 60 (February 24). Syracuse 64, Georgetown 61 (OT, February 8). Notre Dame 67, Louisville 65 (2OT, January 7). Georgetown 73, Marquette 70 (January 4).

An Outstanding Point Guard In Anthony Collins Has USF In The Running For A Tournament Bid.

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (30-1, 17-1) – The Orange are playing with house money in New York as they are a lock for a #1 seed in next week’s NCAA Tournament. Syracuse has a tough draw with West Virginia or UConn waiting in the quarters before going up against possibly Cincinnati or Georgetown in the semifinals on Friday night. The only question could be if the Orange play the Big East Tournament on cruise control, knowing their NCAA situation is secure.
  2. Marquette (25-6, 14-4) – Marquette is playing the best basketball of any team outside of central New York. The Golden Eagles won 13 of their last 15 games and can absolutely win this tournament. A BET win could give Buzz Williams’ team a #2 seed in the big dance.
  3. Georgetown (22-7, 12-6) – This team has been solid all year, but its normally stout defense was exposed in late season losses to Seton Hall and Marquette. The Hoyas gave Syracuse all it could handle on February 8 at the Carrier Dome and another meeting at MSG isn’t out of the question. Georgetown will get a nice seed in the NCAA Tournament, but the Hoyas have to bring it defensively in order to avoid another early exit.
  4. Cincinnati (22-9, 12-6) – Despite a horrid non-conference schedule, the Bearcats have plenty of top 50 wins on their resume. I believe this team should be and will be in the NCAA Tournament no matter what happens in New York. Still, beating Georgetown/St. John’s/Pitt in the quarterfinals wouldn’t hurt. Cincinnati won five of its last six games, making a strong case to the NCAA Committee in the process.
  5. Notre Dame (21-10, 13-5) – The Irish lost two of their last three games, but it was a remarkable season for Mike Brey’s squad. Considered to be done after losing Tim Abromaitis, Notre Dame re-invented itself and locked up a tournament bid with a one month long nine-game winning streak. The Fighting Irish are a threat in the bottom part of this week’s bracket.
  6. South Florida (19-12, 12-6) – It was encouraging to see the Bulls go into Louisville and win the game they had to have. It was a wildly successful season for USF. The team completely changed its trajectory when Anthony Collins returned from injury and played at an extremely high level. The Bulls have plenty of work to do this week but pass the eye test to some. It seems crazy, but USF won 12 Big East games and has just one RPI top 50 win. That says a lot about the strength of this year’s Big East.
  7. Louisville (22-9, 10-8) – A few weeks ago, most folks were praising Louisville for getting back on track. Since February 13, it has been a different story. The Cardinals have lost four of their last six games heading into the conference tournamen,t but will still be headed to the NCAA Tournament next week. Louisville’s two wins during this stretch? Overtime at DePaul and a home squeaker over a bad Pitt team. Barring a huge effort to refocus this week, Louisville is ripe for the picking by Seton Hall or Providence in its second round game.
  8. West Virginia (19-12, 9-9) – It wasn’t pretty, but the Mountaineers took care of business at South Florida to get back to .500 in the league. West Virginia is right about where most had them at the beginning of the season despite losing seven of 11 games down the stretch. Kevin Jones had an outstanding year and this team remains a threat in New York and in the NCAA Tournament, assuming it gets there. WVU could win a game or two in the big dance.
  9. Connecticut (18-12, 8-10) – It was a rough year for the Huskies, but they have a chance to start over and turn it around this week at MSG. Connecticut will start exactly where it started a year ago when it beat DePaul, the first of 11 straight victories en route to a national championship. This team won’t do that again, but I could realistically see it winning two or three games this week. I believe the Huskies should be in the NCAA Tournament, but a loss to DePaul would significantly complicate matters.
  10. Seton Hall (19-11, 8-10) – When you have a chance to get to your first NCAA Tournament in six years, it’s not good to shoot yourself in the foot. That’s exactly what Seton Hall did with consecutive late season losses to Rutgers and DePaul. The Pirates were blown out of Chicago in absolutely embarrassing fashion and now probably have to win at least two games to keep their NCAA chances alive. The Hall has quality wins over Georgetown, Connecticut, West Virginia and VCU as well as victories over bubble squads Dayton and St. Joe’s, but those two bad losses will sting. You can put the Pirates to bed if they lose to Providence on Tuesday night, a game that won’t be easy for Seton Hall.
  11. Rutgers (14-17, 6-12) – You can’t win big in the Big East with young players and that’s the issue Rutgers faced this year. Mike Rice is building the program in solid fashion, but Rutgers still has a ways to go. Next year could be the year Rutgers starts to turn the corner and gets into contention for some kind of postseason bid. The Scarlet Knights won’t be an easy out at MSG.
  12. St. John’s (13-18, 6-12) – Mike Dunlap did an admirable job filling in for Steve Lavin this season as the Red Storm saw player defections and persevered with one of the thinnest and youngest rosters you will ever see. St. John’s was competitive and seemed to play better basketball as the season progressed. The Johnnies won three straight games late in the season but enter this week’s tournament on a two game losing streak. Still, I wouldn’t want to play SJU at the Garden.
  13. Pittsburgh (16-15, 5-13) – The departure of Khem Birch and injury to Tray Woodall derailed any hope this team had of turning the season around after early losses to Long Beach State and Wagner. The Panthers floundered in conference play, losing their first seven games. Pitt provided us with some hope when it won four straight from January 25 to February 5 but then proceeded to lose six of its final seven after that. With West Virginia going to the Big 12 next season, will Pittsburgh and Syracuse try to follow suit and settle with the Big East to get out earlier than expected?
  14. Villanova (12-18, 5-13) – What a miserable season for Jay Wright. The Wildcats have been to seven consecutive NCAA Tournaments, but didn’t come close to extending that streak this year. Villanova stumbled right out of the gate, losing four games before mid-December. The future is brighter with everyone coming back next year, but Wright has a lot of work to do in order to get this team on the same page over the summer.
  15. Providence (15-16, 4-14) – Despite losing 14 conference games, the Friars were competitive. Ed Cooley is going to get it going rather quickly in Friartown, especially with a ballyhooed recruiting class coming in next season. LaDontae Henton surprised many observers as a freshman and should be a big piece going forward along with superb point guard Vincent Council, who will lead the team as a senior in 2012-13.
  16. DePaul (12-18, 3-15) – The Blue Demons won only three times in league play but saved their best for last, blowing out Seton Hall this past Saturday in Chicago. Oliver Purnell has clearly established his style of play, now it’s up to him to get better players in the mix. Cleveland Melvin is underappreciated because he plays on this team, but he’s a nice piece to build around. You have to believe Purnell will eventually get DePaul back to respectability, but the process will be a long one.
Share this story