Big East M5: 01.02.14 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on January 2nd, 2014

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  1. There were definite ups and downs to be found during the marathon that was the first day of Big East play on Tuesday. While those within the conference will admit that the play on the court didn’t often set the basketball world on fire, there is still belief in the future of the league as a basketball power. Commissioner Val Ackerman cites past experience when discussing this topic: “When I was with WNBA, I remember saying it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. The same should be said about the Big East. There’s a long history here, but with a new conference, what we do in the first year or two isn’t necessarily going to be indicative.” While Big East fans hope that the league makes a splash here in year one, the 10 programs aren’t going anywhere, and there is plenty of time for this new-look conference to get its legs under it.
  2. Creighton wasn’t great offensively in its first ever Big East game, but the Bluejays’ defense was able to stifle a struggling Marquette offense, leading to a 67-49 win on New Year’s Eve. Creighton only shot 40 percent from the floor, but they were able to known down 13 threes and kept up with a bigger Golden Eagles’ squad in the paint, where they were only outscored by four. While this win was huge for Creighton — its first-ever in a power basketball conference — the performance is perhaps more telling about Marquette, whose well-publicized offensive struggles seem to be getting worse, not better. The Eagles were the preseason favorite to win the league, but without improvement soon, Marquette will struggle to punch a ticket to the Dance come March.
  3. Gus Johnson and Bill Raftery are going to become very familiar voices for Big East fans (if they weren’t already), especially those who watched the entirety of Tuesday’s basketball marathon.  The team called noon’s Xavier-St. John’s game in Cincinnati and then hightailed it to Indianapolis for Butler-Villanova at 7:30. The IndyStar spent time with Fox Sports 1’s top team on the bus between games, allowing the two to reminisce about some of their favorite Big East and NCAA Tournament memories. Spoiler alert: Butler fans are going to appreciate this far more than… say… Syracuse, Kansas State, Michigan State, Pittsburgh, Florida, or Wisconsin fans.
  4. In anticipation of Tuesday’s Creighton/Marquette clash, Andy from Anonymous Eagle and Jacob Padilla from The Creightonian got together for an enlightening Q&A discussion. Among the topics covered: Bluejay fans’ excitement for this season and the Big East conference; the importance of the McDermotts to the Creighton program; Marquette’s early season struggles; and the best places to get a beer and a bite to eat in Omaha. Even though it predates the game won by Creighton, both pieces are still fun reads. Check out Jacob’s answers here and Andy’s here.
  5. To round out a very ‘Creighton vs. Marquette’ heavy M5 this morning, we have footage from a raucous CenturyLink Arena crowd.  On one play, the sold out crowd belted out Neil Diamond’s stadium staple “Sweet Caroline” after the arena speakers had already cut off the song, and it seemed to throw off the Golden Eagles, who promptly turned over the ball. You can judge for yourself, but NBC Sports‘ Rob Dauster seems to think the crowd played a part in the play.
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Five Must-See Days of Action During B1G Conference Play

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 27th, 2013

After a non-c0nference stretch that saw six B1G teams ranked at one point or another, and a combined record of 116-29 as of December 26 for the 12 teams in the league, conference play starts in earnest on December 31. Many storylines and potential subplots are sure to emerge during the conference season, so here is a quick guide giving you five key days when you have to be glued to your TV if you’re a follower of the league. Go ahead and clear your calendars now.

 Will Sheehey will play an important role when the Hoosiers take on Illinois on December 31st in Champaign (AP Photo/Michael Conroy).

Will Sheehey will play an important role when the Hoosiers take on Illinois on December 31 in Champaign (AP Photo/Michael Conroy).

December 31

  • Ohio State at Purdue (1:00 PM, ESPN2)
  • Indiana at Illinois (3:00 PM, ESPN2)
  • Michigan State at Penn State (5:00 PM, BTN)
  • Nebraska at Iowa (7:00 PM, BTN)

The first day of conference action is highlighted by a rematch of the classic Indiana-Illinois game from last season that made Tyler Griffey a household name. Purdue, Penn State, and Nebraska all get their first chances to notch a statement win if they can knock off their Top 25 opponents.

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Big East M5: 10.28.13 Edition

Posted by George Hershey on October 28th, 2013

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  1. Fox Sports 1 kicked off its coverage of the Big East with its Tip-Off Party on Friday night. Rob Stone, Bill Raftery and Tarik Turner led viewers around the Big East as most teams have now had their season opening events/scrimmages. The Fox hosts talked with several of the league coaches as well as preseason POY Doug McDermott. Fox has invested a lot of money in the new league and is already pushing its games with plenty of commercials and a new show for Bill Raftery, whom they lured away from ESPN. Bringing in a big name like Raftery and placing him alongside everyone’s favorite play-by-play announcer, Gus Johnson, will help draw some casual viewers. The Big East/Fox Sports 1 relationship will be a crucial one for both sides this season as both entities are new ventures and will need to have some early success to gain credibility.
  2. St. John’s center Chris Obekpa was recently suspended for the the Red Storm’s tip-off event and their two preseason scrimmages for violating university rules. Luckily for Obekpa and Steve Lavin, he will be able to practice and will be available for the team’s crucial season opener against Wisconsin on November 8. Obekpa had the second most blocks in the nation last year and is a huge presence down low. He is an irreplaceable player for the Red Storm so it is paramount that he does not have any more rules violations that could keep him out of the lineup. Lavin said, “We expect our student-athletes to conduct themselves in a responsible manner in representing St. John’s University. Chris understands this suspension can serve as a learning experience.” Hopefully he does not suffer too much from missing the exhibition games and will be 100 percent ready for the Badgers in a little more than a week.
  3. Villanova and Marquette both had their preseason intra-squad scrimmages this weekend. Villanova split into the Blue team, led by Ryan Arcidiacono, and White team, led by JayVaughn Pinkston. The Blue team won by 15 points and was in control from the start. VUHoops.com was impressed by Arcidiacono, who is looking to build off a very successful freshman campaign, as well as freshman Josh Hart, who was a menace defensively. In Milwaukee, Buzz Williams decided to have a “pseudo practice”, as Andrei Greska of PaintTouches.com put it. Freshman point guard John Dawson was impressive for a guy who was looked at as a project by most, but with the loss of Duane Wilson for a few months, he will be called upon to play a few minutes each night. The other two freshman, JaJuan Johnson and Deonte Burton, were impressive and had some nice plays on offense. The most impressive player of all, though, according to Greska, was Juan Anderson. The junior wing seems to be putting it all together after a summer where he decided to leave and then return to the program.
  4. Georgetown reeled in four-star 6’8″ power forward Marcus Derrickson over the weekend. He is ranked 55th in the class of 2015 by Rivals and is the Hoyas’ first verbal commitment in the class. This weekend was huge for recruiting for several teams that held their preseason tip-offs. Seton Hall had their excellent 2014 commitments Khadeen Carrington, Isaiah Whitehead, Angel Delgado, and Ismael Sanogo in attendance as well as several local targets in the classes of 2015 and 2016. Kevin Willard is turning it around big time with the 2014 class and having all the recruits on campus will hopefully bring in some additional top talent. St. John’s also had some big recruits on campus with Isaiah Briscoe and Cheick Diallo in Carnesecca Arena. Both would be huge gets for Steve Lavin who has had great success recruiting at St. John’s.
  5. Several of the tip-off parties had some special appearances and performances on Friday night. Providence brought in singer Nick Cannon to DJ the event and Villanova had Nicki Minaj perform.  There were also some superb dunk contests. St. John’s freshman Rysheed Jordan won theirs with an amazing dunk over former Red Storm center God’s Gift Achiuwa. Another freshman, Providence’s Brandon Austin, had an incredible between-the-legs dunk to win theirs. Probably the most bizarre event from Friday around the league was at Seton Hall. Pirates coach Kevin Willard challenged competitive eater Takeru Kobayashi to a hot-dog eating contest. Willard decided to drink wine and put some mustard on his hot dog as the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest champion devoured 10 hot dogs in a minute and then chugged a gallon of milk.
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Big East M5: 10.21.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on October 21st, 2013

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  1. New York Times writer Zach Schonbrun experienced a sense of relief among the various schools at last week’s Big East Media Day in Manhattan. After many seasons played under the shroud of conference realignment, culminating with the awkwardness of last season’s farewell tour for Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and Notre Dame, the Big East is now a settled, basketball-driven league focused on private schools in metropolitan markets. While the conference’s new members — Butler, Creighton, and Xavier — are all located in the Midwest, they fit into the league quite well culturally. St. John’s head coach Steve Lavin actually thinks the new schools fit in better than some of the public universities that have moved on to the American Athletic Conference, and the schools who left for the ACC for largely football-based reasons: “It’s not like a ‘Sesame Street’ deal — which one doesn’t belong… You’ve got a tree, a bush, some seaweed and then a truck. It just didn’t fit. I think now we have a league that’s more similar.”
  2. Georgetown lost an excellent player to the NBA Draft in standout forward Otto Porter, but guard Markel Starks thinks that the Hoyas are more than just one player and that his team will look to prove that this season: “We play as a unit… We play as a group. Obviously, we just lost a great player. Even still, with or without him, we play as a unit. … I think we can still be a very dangerous team.” Starks, now a senior, will probably bear much of the weight of Porter’s absence in the scoring column, after averaging 12.8 points per game last season. He will be joined in the backcourt by D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, who proved capable of exploding for big point totals last season. Smith-Rivera scored at least 14 points in three of his last four regular season games last season, and dropped 33 in 34 minutes against DePaul on February 20.
  3. One of the major changes fans will notice in the conference this year is a lack of legendary coaches on the sidelines, although the Big East will not be hurting for talent in that spot. Gone are Hall of Famers like Jim Boeheim and Rick Pitino, but rising stars like Marquette’s Buzz Williams and Georgetown’s John Thompson III are poised to lead the conference into this new era. Thompson agrees that the coaching talent in the league is very high: “If you look around the room, the quality of coaching is outstanding. Yes, we lost some Hall of Fame coaches, but I don’t think too many teams want to go up against the guys in this room. Every game is going to be a battle. That was true last year; that’s going to be true this year.” Williams also believes in the overall quality of the league, and thinks it stands up with the best conferences in college basketball: “Every coach is going to say they play in the best league, but if you objectively study the numbers, I think what this league has done the last five years speaks for itself. I think this year that will hold firm, too.”
  4. Even without the likes of Syracuse, Louisville, and UConn, many are excited about the prospects of the Big East, especially those at the league’s three new schools: Butler, Creighton, and Xavier. Between the television contract with Fox Sports 1 and the ability to play at Madison Square Garden, the Big East provides a great increase in exposure for the former Horizon League, Missouri Valley Conference, and Atlantic 10 teams. Rumble in the Garden‘s Chris Ronca caught up with Xavier’s Chris Mack and Creighton’s Greg McDermott, who were both very excited about these new possibilities. Mack says his players are excited about playing at MSG:  “Playing for your conference championship in the Mecca is an amazing opportunity for Xavier fans and players.” McDermott talked about the league’s TV contract and it’s impact on the Creighton program: “[Creighton’s] fans have longed for this for awhile.” McDermott went on to say that “with Fox [Sports] 1, it’s very exciting for the program… there’ll be a lot of new ideas with how [Creighton’s] product is shown nationally.”
  5. Sports Illustrated‘s [and RTC‘s] Chris Johnson’s “Stock Watch” series sets its gaze on the Big East, and he’s quite bullish on Villanova, while throwing a bit of shade on Butler. Johnson cites Villanova’s surge in the middle of last season, where the Wildcats knocked off top five Louisville and Syracuse outfits in a a five-day stretch, as evidence that Jay Wright’s club is very dangerous. He likes the combination of Ryan Arcidiacono, JayVaughn Pinkston, and Daniel Ochefu, and believes that if the team continues to get to the free throw line and play stingy defense, it can push for the top of the league standings. As for Butler, Johnson believes that the loss of Brad Stevens in conjunction with an increase in the difficulty of conference play will hurt the Bulldogs, as will the departures of Rotnei Clark and Andrew Smith as well as the injury to Roosevelt Jones.
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Morning Five: 08.08.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on August 8th, 2013

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  1. We mentioned in this space yesterday that Jahii Carson along with Marcus Smart were not only two of the best point guards in college basketball, but that they are also both rising sophomores who have already publicly stated that next season will be their last in the amateur ranks. Both players are likely to have All-America campaigns ahead of them, but Smart in particular is on everyone’s short list as a NPOY candidate, and with good reason. The latest published results of a poll of coaches from CBSSports.com staff shows that Smart is the most coveted player in all of the land, coming in with a bit more than one-third of the vote (34%). Next on the list was Creighton superstar Doug McDermott (24%), followed by wunderkind Andrew Wiggins at Kansas (15%). A number of other players received votes, including Ohio State’s Aaron Craft, Michigan’s Mitch McGary and Syracuse’s CJ Fair, but the naming of five other freshmen after Wiggins reveals just how strong this year’s incoming class is perceived to be. One notable omission from the list was Louisville’s Russ Smith (his teammate Montrezl Harrell actually received a vote instead), but as the article notes, the choices make clear that coaches value experience and sustained leadership over unproven (or sometimes unstable) commodities. While all this conjecture is great, it’s ultimately meaningless until we start the games in November.
  2. And what about those games, the reason we all watch these players in the first place? Wednesday was a good day for folks like us — fans of the sport who like to have concrete games on the schedule to sink our teeth into. ESPN released its Big Monday lineup for 2013-14, and the most notable thing about the 16-game set over eight weeks is that the new slot of ACC games at 7:00 PM ET considerably resembles vintage Big East offerings. The Big 12 still carries the 9:00 PM slot (Andrew Wiggins, anyone? Kansas is involved in half of the broadcasts), but half of the ACC Big Monday games will involve teams who were still Big East entities as recently as 40 days ago. One game in particular — Notre Dame vs. Syracuse on February 3 — comes straight from the old Big East rivalry playbook. Welcome to the new ACC, indeed. Now can we get a west coast flavor at Midnight ET to sweeten the deal even further, like we used to have with the Big West and UNLV slotted there once upon a time?
  3. Some other interesting scheduling news hit on Wednesday surrounding the build-up and planning for Super Bowl XLVIII in New York City, as it appears there will be a basketball extravaganza at the World’s Most Famous Arena on the Saturday before the NFL’s title bout. Madison Square Garden, in partnership with Fox Sports 1, will host a hoops triple-header to give people in town for the football game a little something to feast on beforehand. St. John’s will play an as-yet-undetermined Big East opponent in the early afternoon slot (Marquette is rumored to be that team), followed by a blockbuster Georgetown-Michigan State match-up in the late afternoon, and capped off with an NBA tilt between the Knicks and the Miami Heat in the evening. It’s an impressive lineup, for certain, and is suggestive that programmers of college basketball really need to learn to capitalize on those empty weekends starting in late January and through to mid-March… before March Madness hits in earnest and captures the attention of everyone else.
  4. Is it too early to already be looking forward to games the following season? We’re talking about 2014-15 here, but hey, it’s a light news cycle. It’s always, always, always a good thing when top 10 programs meet in non-conference match-ups during the regular season, and it appears we’re going to have a good one when regional rivals Louisville and Indiana will face off in the Jimmy V Classic on December 9, 2014. Although the two rosters are likely to look considerably different than they do even this coming season, both Tom Crean and Rick Pitino are recruiting so well that you can count on this being a fantastic game. Even if it won’t tip off until some 16 months from now.
  5. It must have been Pac-12 preview Wednesday around the interwebs yesterday, as both ESPN.com and SI.com featured the much-maligned basketball league with a summer update post. The WWL’s piece is more comprehensive in scope, but Andy Glockner’s writeup is the better read. They both have high hopes for Sean Miller’s Arizona Wildcats, while agreeing that the league as a whole is once again on the uptick after a period from 2010-12 that was as bad as many have ever seen. There’s a lot of good information in both pieces, though, so we suggest that you check it out lest you find yourself come November wondering why the league has three or maybe even four teams ranked in the preseason AP poll.
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Bill Raftery and Gus Johnson Calling Games Together? Yes, Please…

Posted by Chris Johnson on July 1st, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

The college basketball viewing experience in enhanced by exciting play-by-play commentary. This is not a difficult concept to grasp: Watching games on TV is more fun when the people explaining the dynamics of those games, a) know what they’re talking about; b) don’t go off on too many Vitale-ian tangential rants; and c) employ proper diction and tone, using the inflection of their vocal cords, to accentuate the most thrilling moments. There are but a few commentators who have genuinely mastered their craft, and needless to say, Bill Raftery is one of them. This name should sound familiar; Raftery’s ties to Big East hoops run deep – he’s practically synonymous with ESPN’s “Big Monday” series. When the foundational core of the league’s membership broke off from its unglamorous Conference USA cohorts this season to form its own 10-team conference, taking the Big East league name out the door, it signed a new media rights deal with Fox and ended its long and fruitful connection with Big Monday. That left Raftery with a rather crucial decision to make: Stick with ESPN, where he became part of one of the sport’s best broadcast teams with Jay Bilas and Sean McDonough? Or follow his Big East roots to the upstart sports network Fox Sports 1 (set to debut on August 17)? Raftery wisely chose the latter, and college hoops fans will very much appreciate the implications of his decision.

Adding Raftery is a fantastic move for Fox Sports 1's college basketball broadcast team (AP).

Adding Raftery is a fantastic move for Fox Sports 1’s college basketball broadcast team (AP).

If Raftery is the most professional hoops announcer in the business, Gus Johnson is easily the most exciting. Johnson, one of Fox’s top play-by-play men across numerous sports (including college football and soccer), was already set to become a part of Fox Sports 1’s Big East coverage. Raftery joined Fox with the understanding he’d be allowed to continue calling Big East games. I’ve basically drawn the dots for you – now all you have to do is connect them. YES: Johnson and Raferty will be calling games together next season. Fox confirmed the dream pairing in a release last Thursday.

Adding a renowned, popular veteran like Bill Raftery to a family of announcers at FOX Sports that already includes many of sports television’s biggest names is an incredible coup,” said FOX Sports Executive Vice President and Executive Producer John Entz. “More importantly, in teaming Bill with Gus, we have reunited the most energized, entertaining college basketball broadcast team ever, and we can’t wait for them to work their first game.”

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