Big 12 M5: 12.10.13 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 10th, 2013

morning5_big12

  1. Stefan Stevenson of the Star-Telegram states a case for the Big 12 being the best conference in the country. It’s still too early to make a definitive judgment of such nature, but there’s no denying that the league is off to a great start. Five teams are in the KenPom’s top 50, the conference has already clinched the Big 12-SEC Challenge with two games still to play, and its membership has a resume that includes wins over the likes of Duke, Kentucky, Memphis, Michigan, BYU, and Dayton, with close losses to Michigan State and Villanova.
  2. In Division I college hoops, a short memory can be pivotal for both players and head coaches. Bruce Weber and Kansas State had a November to forget and are trying to make up for some early-season mishaps. There aren’t quite enough opportunities in the short term for the Wildcats to wash out the stench of the season’s first four weeks, but they can definitely make some headway when they square off against Gonzaga and George Washington later this month.
  3. When the media and blogosphere talk about the game’s injection of international talent over the last few years, more often than not, they’re referring to Canadian players. That isn’t the case in Morgantown, though, as Remi Dibo, a native of France, and Gary Browne, who calls Puerto Rico home, have played important roles for the Mountaineers early on. West Virginia is looking to make a return to the NCAA Tournament, and if they do, their foreign players will be a big reason why.
  4. TCU head coach Trent Johnson made it a point to take his team on the road early and often this season (they’ve played just two home games so far), but with a six-game homestand taking place over the next few weeks, he is hoping the toughness the Horned Frogs showed on the road lead to some wins. A tournament bid isn’t anywhere close to their radar, but it would be nice to see TCU have a more competitive go-round in its second season as members of the Big 12.
  5. When it comes to Big 12 accolades, Iowa State is sharing the love. Yesterday, forward Dustin Hogue became the third Cyclone to win conference Player Of The Week honors. Hogue averaged 19.5 points and 15.0 rebounds in Iowa State’s two wins last week. While he isn’t as pivotal to his team’s long-term success as Melvin Ejim, Georges Niang, or DeAndre Kane, his productivity just makes it that much harder for opposing coaches to game plan against the Cyclones.
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Assessing the Season: West Virginia Mountaineers

Posted by KoryCarpenter on April 23rd, 2013

Heading into the season, you could have argued that West Virginia had a better talent and coaching combination than eight or nine teams in the Big 12. They returned a number of talented sophomores who seemed poised for breakout years, led by Keaton Miles (30 starts as a freshman) and Jabari Hinds, who started all 33 games as a freshman while averaging 7.4 PPG and 2.5 RPG. Gary Browne (6.5 PPG, 3.4 RPG) wasn’t bad, either, and expecting the trio to see big jumps in production after a year adjusting to the college game seemed fair. The Mountaineers also had a pair of talented Atlantic 10 transfers who would be eligible in guard Juwan Staten and center Aaric Murray. As a freshman at Dayton in 2010-11, Staten had led the Atlantic 10 in assists with 190 while starting all 34 games for the Flyers. In two seasons at La Salle, Murray had climbed all the way to No. 2 on the school’s all-time blocks list with 143. His 15.2 PPG, 7.7 RPG, and 2.3 BPG averages as a sophomore led the team, and it was obvious he should try his luck on a bigger stage. Then there was the bull on the block, senior forward Deniz Kilicli, the 6’9″, 260-pound forward who averaged 10.7 PPG in 2011-12.

It Wasn't An Easy Season For Bob Huggins.

It Wasn’t An Easy Season For Bob Huggins

As you can see, future Hall of Fame coach Bob Huggins had a talented roster heading into this season. But with that talent came a lot of question marks. Would the freshmen take that next step? Would the transfers adjust to stiffer competition in a major conference? Would there be program growing pains in their first season in the Big 12, a conference in which their closest road game (Iowa State) was nearly 900 miles from home?

As it turned out, Miles couldn’t get on the floor, averaging only 2.6 PPG. Browne shot only 32.5 percent from the field with 5.2 PPG, and while Hinds’ average stayed at 7.4 PPG, his shooting percentage plummeted from seven points to 35.1 percent. The transfers Murray (8.8 PPG, 5.9 RPG) and Staten (7.6 PPG) were good but not great. Perhaps the only pleasant surprise this season was freshman guard Eron Harris, who led the team with 9.8 PPG. It was a roster made up of many different pieces that never came together, and that may have been evident as early as opening night.

Highs

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Diagnosing the West Virginia Fiasco

Posted by dnspewak on January 28th, 2013

Tonight, it really begins. West Virginia will find out what the Big 12 is really all about when it steps into the national spotlight on Big Monday, facing none other than the program that has won the league every year since the dawn of time (or at least seems to have). The Mountaineers saw teams like Kansas in the Big East, sure. They are ready for the level of competition, but tonight’s match-up will truly indoctrinate the Mountaineeres into the Big 12 Conference. Since Day One, it hasn’t been an easy transition for Bob Huggins‘ team. West Virginia embarrassed itself in its season opener by losing big to Gonzaga to kick off ESPN’s Tip-Off Marathon. It then finished 1-2 in the Old Spice Classic, lost at Duquesne (currently 7-13 and 0-6 in the A-10) and has now started 2-4 in the Big 12, with the only victories coming against Texas and TCU. Oh, and the Mountaineers played a CBS game against Purdue a few weekends ago where they lost by 27 points. So that’s where the Mountaineers stand heading into Big Monday: 9-10 overall, 2-4 Big 12, and with an angry Huggins, who seems to rip his team a new one after every single loss.

Bob Huggins and Deniz Kilicli Aren't Happy Campers

Bob Huggins and Deniz Kilicli Aren’t Happy Campers

You can’t blame him. Over Huggins’ storied career, he has become accustomed to coaching and developing hard-nosed players who don’t back down from challenges and fight on each and every possession. His teams are usually famous for their toughness, defense, and ferocious rebounding. That’s why it was stunning to see this team bow out so pathetically in a blowout loss to Gonzaga in the NCAA Tournament a year ago. With transfers Aaric Murray and Juwan Staten joining a promising sophomore class, it almost seemed like a foregone conclusion that Huggins would find a way to regain that tenacity. With his track record, he deserved the benefit of the doubt. Instead, disaster has struck.

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Big 12 Team Preview #5: West Virginia Mountaineers

Posted by KoryCarpenter on November 8th, 2012

Over the next two weeks, we’ll bring you the obligatory team previews here at the Big 12 microsite. West Virginia at the #5 position is next on our list. 

The Skinny

2011-12 record: 19-14, 9-9 Big East

Key Contributors Gone: F Kevin Jones, G Darryl “Truck” Bryant

Head Coach: Bob Huggins, 6th season

Projected Finish: 5th

Huggy Bear is Back (AP)

Bob Huggins is back in the Big 12, and that’s nothing but good news for the conference. The former Kansas State head coach bolted for West Virginia in 2007 and is back after the Mountaineers joined the conference along with TCU this summer. His one year stint in the Big 12 in 2006-07 could help his team’s transition. Or not. “I don’t know,” Huggins said when asked about his familiarity in the league. “I know where to eat.” Huggins is just funny enough and just somber enough that you never quite know if he’s being serious or cracking a joke, like when he talked about the new round-robin schedule that will take him to every Big 12 campus this season. “I didn’t get to go to Lubbock,” he said of his 2006-07 season at Kansas State. “I almost wanted to stay so I cold get to go to Lubbock the next year.”

Huggins’ acrimonious remark towards the West Texas town was dead on to anyone who has been there, and it’s a reminder to Big 12 fans that the conference has personality again, like the days when Norm Stewart and Johnny Orr and Billy Tubbs roamed the sidelines and wrote writer’s stories with their quotes. Huggins might not be so familiar with Big 12 locales, but he is familiar with a tough basketball league. He battled Louisville, UConn, and Syracuse for conference titles in the Big East. Now he’s faced with Kansas, Baylor, and Texas. Getting to those schools won’t be easy, either. “They asked me who our rivalry in the conference was going to be,” Huggins said. “I said it’s probably Iowa State, they’re only 853 air miles away.” Travel nightmares notwithstanding, the Mountaineers seem equipped to battle the Big 12′s top teams on a yearly basis. They’ve won 24 games a season every year Huggins as been in Morgantown. But like a lot of programs in the conference, they face a fair amount of roster turnover in their opening season, losing the top two scorers off last year’s team.

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Big 12 Summer Update: West Virginia Mountaineers

Posted by dnspewak on August 1st, 2012

In an effort to remind you that college basketball does in fact exist during the summer, Big 12 microsite writer Danny Spewak (@dspewak) will roll out three summer updates per week during the next month. The goal is to compile every bit of news and information from the summer months for each team and package it into neat, easy-to-read capsules for your convenience. Next on the list — Big 12 newcomer West Virginia. 

2011-12 Record: 19-14, 9-9 Big East

It’s been four months since Gonzaga beat the pulp out of West Virginia in the NCAA Tournament, a debacle which prompted Bob Huggins to admonish his team as the “worst defensive team I’ve ever had in 30 years.” Much has changed since that fateful Thursday in March, however. For starters, the Mountaineers don’t even play in the same conference after making the official transition from the Big East to the Big 12 last month. More importantly, Huggins’ roster has changed significantly. Leading scorers Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant graduated, three other players transferred, and his top Class of 2012 recruit had to reclassify and enroll in prep school. After losing nine of its final 13 games a year ago, it’s a season of transition for Huggins and his Mountaineers. Headlined by three Division I transfers — a class which rivals Iowa State’s Korie Lucious and Will Clyburn as the best group of transfers in the Big 12 — Huggins must use this critical summer period to establish roles for not only his newcomers, but also a giant sophomore class ready to bear more responsibility on this team in 2012-13.

Huggins Was a Little Ticked Off After a Poor Finish Last Year

Summer Orientation: Let’s start with the most recent addition to West Virginia’s basketball program: Matt Humphrey. He’s not the most celebrated transfer on this squad (see below), but he joined the Mountaineers’ squad this summer after graduating from Boston College and using the graduate school loophole. Humphrey, who actually began his career by spending two years at Oregon, is somewhat of an enigma. Unlike Huggins’ other highly-coveted transfers, Humphrey brings a few question marks. Despite averaging double figures in scoring as a junior at Boston College, he was not an efficient offensive player, shooting 35 percent from the field and just 31 percent from three. Playing on a horrid team for a coach (Steve Donahue) who emphasizes the three-ball, Humphrey averaged more shot attempts than any other Eagle and did not appear to fit well with the offense. However, there’s a reason an established coach like Huggins saw something in Humphrey, and a closer look at his skill set reveals he may actually be a major coup for the Mountaineers as a late addition. That’s because he will not play the same role as he did at Boston College. He won’t need to lead the team in shot attempts — Huggins has plenty of other scoring options to lean on. All he needs to do is add depth and veteran savvy to a rather young group, and Huggins has already praised his ability to defend on the perimeter and disrupt opponents with his 6’5” frame. Matt Humphrey won’t need to be a savior, so all things considered, it’s a good pickup for Huggins.

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Set Your TiVo: 01.30.12

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 30th, 2012

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Pittsburgh finally won two games last week and will look to win its third in a row at the Backyard Brawl in Morgantown. In Austin, Texas looks to stun highly-ranked Missouri. Rankings are subject to change with a new RTC Top 25 coming out today.

Pittsburgh at #22 West Virginia – 7:00 PM EST on ESPN (****)

  • After getting hosed by the referees at Syracuse, West Virginia returns home on Monday night to face rival Pittsburgh. While the Panthers have won two straight games after losing eight in a row, the Mountaineers remain a strong favorite despite Tray Woodall’s return to the Pitt lineup. The Panthers look like a different team with a healthy Woodall in the fold and Bob Huggins’ team will have to come up with a strong defensive effort in order to limit the Pitt point guard from getting into a flow. West Virginia’s two-point defense is not good, ranked #239 in Division I. If Woodall and Ashton Gibbs can get inside, Deniz Kilicli and Kevin Jones will have a hard time defending Nasir Robinson (9-9 FG vs. Georgetown) and Lamar Patterson. West Virginia’s biggest defensive strength is guarding the three-point line (25.9% in Big East play). If the Mountaineers can shut down Gibbs company from deep, they will have an easier time defending the paint and keeping the Panthers off the offensive glass, where they rank #1 in the nation.

    Huggins and the Mountaineers Will Be Fired Up After Their Controversial Loss at Syracuse

  • Pittsburgh’s offense has run much smoother with Woodall back but the biggest change might be defensively. The Panthers held Georgetown to 60 points and 47.5% interior shooting (below Pitt’s 51% in Big East play), something that will be very important against Jones and a West Virginia team that struggles from deep. If Pitt can force Truck Bryant into a bad shooting night (he’s had many of those), the Panthers will be in the game for all 40 minutes. Defending Jones is a very difficult task but Jamie Dixon just might be content to let Jones get his points and focus on shutting down Bryant and West Virginia’s young supporting cast. The Mountaineers need contributions from players like Gary Browne and Jabarie Hinds in order to win consistently.
  • This is the 183rd meeting between these longtime rivals. Pittsburgh won both meetings last year and has won 16 of the last 23. We have a feeling this game will be closer than some might think. The Panthers look like a different team with Woodall back and healthy but West Virginia has the best player on the floor in Jones. Offensive rebounding is going to be the key in this game. Neither team defends the paint well but each crashes the offensive glass with authority. Pittsburgh has had problems with turnovers but that may not be the case with Woodall running the show. If West Virginia can’t create turnovers, it will have to score in the half court against a team playing with some renewed confidence. Call us crazy but we think Pitt has a legitimate chance to win this game. This one will come down to offensive rebounding and the play of Jones and Bryant.

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Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 23rd, 2012

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

Reader’s Take

The Week That Was
  • Number One Goes Down:  For the seventh time, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish took down a top-ranked team in the Joyce Center, knocking off Syracuse 67-58. Despite all of that prior success, the Irish hadn’t beaten a #1 team at home in 25 years. That didn’t matter on Saturday night. Taking advantage of Fab Melo’s absence, Notre Dame slowed the pace and worked the ball inside, scoring in the paint or kicking it out to an open shooter on the wing. Notre Dame shot 50% for the game and limited the Orange to 34%. Using a +13 edge on the glass, Notre Dame was able to control the tempo and prevent Syracuse from getting out in transition where it is so lethal. I have to say I was surprised. Looking at Syracuse’s schedule last week, I thought the Orange could run the table. They had played better than any team in the nation on a consistent basis but drove into a buzzsaw on Saturday. Even if Melo had played, I’m not sure it would have made a major difference.
  • South Florida On A Roll: It seems as if nobody has noticed, but South Florida is 5-2 in the Big East after a 2-0 week with wins over St. John’s and DePaul. USF has won on the road at improving Villanova and also took down Seton Hall at home when the Pirates were ranked. The Bulls also beat Rutgers, one game after the Scarlet Knights beat Florida. How has USF done it? Jawanza Poland has played very well since returning from a back injury and Stan Heath is getting timely contributions from guys like Victor Rudd and Ron Anderson Jr. However, the two main reasons for USF’s success are point guard play and defense. Freshman Anthony Collins has been fantastic at the point, averaging 5.3 APG in Big East play to go with a #28 national ranking in assist rate. Although he’s turning the ball over a bit too much, Collins has given the Bulls a huge boost at the most important position in college basketball after years of bad guard play in Tampa. On the defensive end, South Florida’s opponents average only 57.6 PPG, tops in the Big East. With a combination of defense, good rebounding and timely scoring, USF is starting to make some noise in the crowded middle of the Big East.

Pat Connaughton Celebrated With Fans After The Irish Stung The Top-Ranked Orange. (Matt Cashore/U.S. Presswire)

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (20-1, 7-1) – The Orange remain the best team by far in the Big East and I still think they are the best team in the nation even after losing at Notre Dame. Nothing went right for the Orange against the Fighting Irish. The Orange were out-shot 50% to 34%, out-rebounded by 13, and couldn’t string stops together when they were trying to get back in the game.  Should we have seen this coming? The cracks in the foundation appeared in a closer-than-expected win over Pittsburgh last Monday. The Panthers probed the Syracuse zone fairly well, getting to the free throw line area and making good interior passes. Fab Melo had 10 points, 10 rebounds, and six blocks in that game, but didn’t play in South Bend due to a mysterious academic issue. Pitt out-rebounded Syracuse 38-24, meaning the Orange were minus-27 on the glass for the week. Syracuse ranks #320 in defensive rebounding percentage, an issue that needs to be addressed immediately by Jim Boeheim, with or without Melo. Syracuse is struggling from three point land as well, tenth in three-point percentage in Big East games (31.9%). Scoop Jardine had 12 points and ten assists against the Panthers, but didn’t make a field goal (0-5) against Notre Dame. A tougher than expected week is ahead. Could the Orange lose again after winning 20 games in a row? This week: 1/23 @ Cincinnati, 1/28 vs. West Virginia. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East Afternoon Five: 01.23.12 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on January 23rd, 2012

  1. You will have to excuse the late posting as I attended the NFC Championship game last night in San Francisco and completely shirked my Morning Five duties, so instead, you folks get an afternoon five. It’s hardly news at this point but No. 1 Syracuse suffered its first loss of the season at the hands of Notre Dame on Saturday. The Orange shot the ball terribly (18-53 for the game) and the Fighting Irish couldn’t miss, especially from behind the arc, but it certainly didn’t help that ‘Cuse center Fab Melo didn’t play in the game due to an academic suspension. ESPN‘s Andy Katz reported that the school hopes to get Melo back in time for next Saturday’s game against West Virginia, which means Syracuse fans shouldn’t be unduly worried. But Jim Boeheim’s squad does play a very good Cincinnati team tonight on the road, and they will need to rebound aggressively to make up for their center’s absence.
  2. After beating Cincinnati in overtime on Saturday, we figured it was time to give Bob Huggins and his West Virginia Mountaineers they credit they deserve, and the Charleston Daily Mail agreed. The Mountaineers were considered a tournament team before the season started, but now they are just a game behind Syracuse in the loss column and angling for a top-four seed in the NCAA Tournament. The team is led by runaway favorite for Big East Player of the Year, Kevin Jones, and volume-scoring point guard Truck Bryant, but they are also getting contributions from freshmen guards Jabarie Hinds and Gary Browne as well. Last week, we argued that it was still early to call the Bearcats the conference’s second-best team; well, it’s still too early to consider the Mountaineers the conference’s second-best team, but they have inserted themselves in the discussion.
  3. Tennessee is an improving team, especially now that they added stud freshman Jarnell Stokes in the middle of the season, but losing to the Volunteers on Saturday was a bad loss for Connecticut and their hopes for a top seed come tournament time. It is never a good thing when two players (Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier) take 35 shots and its even worse when they combine to make just 14 of those shots. Andre Drummond looked like he had turned a corner last week, but Saturday was his second-straight subpar performance and Stokes thoroughly outplayed him on both ends of the floor. Perhaps the most distressing aspect of the loss was that Niels Giffey and Roscoe Smith, two of the players supposed to replace suspended freshman Ryan Boatright‘s offensive production, were basically non-factors. The Huskies desperately need one of those two guys to get going if they are going to get back to their winning ways.
  4. Not too many people expected Louisville‘s Kyle Kuric or Pittsburgh‘s Tray Woodall to suit up when the two teams met on Saturday, but both did, to drastically different results. Kuric buried five three-pointers and finished with 21 points in 33 minutes, while Woodall went 0-5 from the field and had more turnovers (three) than assists (two) in 21 minutes as the Panthers lost and fell to a shocking 0-7 in the conference. Obviously it is good news for both teams that either player even made it onto the court, but it seems clear that Woodall is still a ways off from being 100% and he is arguably more important to Pittsburgh than Kuric is to Louisville. The Cardinals still have enough athletes to fill the scoring void of Kuric, at least in part. But the Panthers need Woodall’s playmaking ability to help the offense and also allow Ashton Gibbs to return to the wing, where he is more effective and more comfortable. It will be interesting to see if Pitt coach Jamie Dixon tries to rush Woodall back in the midst of what is looking like a lost season at this point.
  5. The last of the five is reserved for observations about someone we have already mentioned — UConn freshman Andre Drummond. Physically and athletically, Drummond is a stud. There might not be another player in the country that has his combination of size, strength, athleticism, skill, and speed. You just wouldn’t know it from watching him play recently. Saturday against Tennessee, Drummond managed just six points on eight shots in 31 minutes. And the game before, a loss to Cincy, Drummond had just four points and six rebounds on nine shots. The linked observations make a good point, it is no longer a question of talent, it is a question of desire and consistency. Drummond should not be criticized for his mild-mannered attitude off the court, it is what makes him one of the more refreshing and likable stars in college basketball. But he needs to start being more assertive on the court, and once he does, the rest of the country better look out.
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Checking In On… The Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 9th, 2012

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

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • Top Tier Chaos: As you see in the poll question, it’s awfully hard to rank the top half of this league right now. Syracuse is the clear #1 by a wide margin, but the second spot is up for grabs between six teams: Seton Hall and West Virginia are playing the best basketball but Connecticut, Georgetown, Marquette, and Louisville remain threats. Big East teams always beat each other up in conference, play but that usually happens in the middle of the league. This year, it is happening at the top. One thing is for sure: the race for second place will be an up-and-down affair over the next two months.
  • UConn Hates Jersey: Before Tuesday, Connecticut had won 21 combined games in a row against Seton Hall and Rutgers. After Saturday, the Huskies headed back up the New Jersey Turnpike with two losses to Jersey’s Big East teams. Kevin Willard has his team rolling at 14-2 and absolutely crushed the Huskies on Tuesday night in Newark while Mike Rice continued to show signs of improvement in a 67-60 win Saturday night in Piscataway. As Jeff Borzello put it on Twitter, the North Jersey road trip has become a whole lot tougher. If St. John’s can get back to where it was last year and Seton Hall and Rutgers continue to improve, New York City-area basketball could be on the verge of a renaissance.
  • Seton Hall Ranked?: We will see what happens on Monday, but Seton Hall is on the verge of a top 25 ranking for the first time since January 30, 2001. That year, the Pirates were headed in the opposite direction, out of the top 25 after a preseason top ten ranking. Tommy Amaker (now at Harvard) had signed a ballyhooed freshman class highlighted by the late Eddie Griffin, Andre Barrett, and Marcus Toney-El, but it all fell apart for the Pirates as they finished 16-15 and lost in the first round of the NIT to Alabama. Seton Hall came close to a ranking in 2004, but never made it into the poll. This time around, the Pirates are 14-2 (3-1) with wins over VCU and St. Joe’s on a neutral floor and Dayton on the road, in addition to West Virginia and Connecticut at home. The Hall is in position for a terrific seed in the NCAA Tournament if it keeps up this level of play and Kevin Willard, along with John Thompson III and Jim Boeheim, has to be among the top contenders for Big East Coach of the Year. The Pirates were picked 13th in the preseason Big East coaches poll. 

Good Things Come In Threes For Seton Hall (Jim O'Conner/US Presswire)

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (17-0, 4-0) – Marquette put a second-half scare into the Orange at the Carrier Dome on Saturday, but Syracuse made the winning plays down the stretch to hang on. Syracuse remains a juggernaut and an easy (by Big East standards) road schedule awaits. Syracuse already went to DePaul and Providence and has trips to Villanova, Notre Dame, Cincinnati, St. John’s, and Rutgers on the schedule. Quite frankly, that sequence is a joke for a team everyone knew would be at or near the top of the league. I realize this team has a target on its back every night, but the only true road tests for the Orange could be at Louisville and Connecticut in February. Syracuse shot 61% for the game at Providence on Wednesday, placing six players in double figures. No Syracuse player took over eight shots, a testament to this team’s depth and balance. Scoop Jardine had 11 assists and only one turnover in the victory. Against Marquette, Syracuse jumped out to a huge lead but let the Golden Eagles climb back in it. Dion Waiters was the spark off the bench yet again, totaling 12 points and seven assists. The Orange shot only 39% at home against MU, but escaped with the win. This week: 1/11 @ Villanova, 1/14 vs. Providence.
  2. Georgetown (13-2, 3-1) – Let the controversy begin. Truth be told, ten different people could very well come up with ten different ways to rank the top seven teams in the Big East. Despite losing at West Virginia and struggling for the balance of the game against Marquette, I’m moving the Hoyas up to the second spot. Why? It has more to do with the performances of Louisville, Connecticut and Marquette rather than Georgetown itself. After all, the Hoyas did beat a good team (Marquette) this week, something none of the aforementioned three teams can say. The Hoyas overcame a 17-point deficit against Marquette, led by Jason Clark‘s 26 points. That 26 could have been 30+ if Clark made his free throws (6-13 from the stripe). Hollis Thompson also added 16 points on 6-7 shooting as Georgetown shot a sizzling 63% against the Golden Eagle defense. Against West Virginia, Georgetown allowed the Mountaineers to shoot 50% but the Hoyas couldn’t convert from deep (2-14 3FG). Thompson led the way with 20 points, but it wasn’t enough on the road. Regardless of what the rankings may have said coming into the game, I’m not going to hammer the Hoyas for losing at West Virginia, an extremely difficult place to play. Believe it or not, I don’t think Georgetown is as good as its resume. That may sound confusing but I’m not sure Georgetown is as good as its record. However, the Hoyas may not lose again until early February if they play to their potential. A relatively soft stretch begins this week. This week: 1/9 vs. Cincinnati, 1/15 @ St. John’s. Read the rest of this entry »
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Set Your TiVo: New Year’s Weekend Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 30th, 2011

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the official RTC Star System.

A quality Friday night Big East game leads us into a Saturday full of terrific matchups. There are a couple good games on Sunday, but if you’re going to watch any basketball around the New Year’s holiday, make sure you are in front of a television on Saturday.

West Virginia @ Seton Hall – 9:00 PM EST Friday on ESPN2 (***)

Kevin Jones Has His Mountaineers Surging

  • Since losing at Mississippi State four weeks ago, West Virginia has reeled off six wins in seven tries with the only loss coming in overtime to a top 10 Baylor squad. The Mountaineers have an imposing trio of Kevin Jones, Truck Bryant and Deniz Kilicli but the timely contributions of freshmen such as Jabarie Hinds, Gary Browne, and Aaron Brown have pushed West Virginia over the top in a few of these close games. Bob Huggins runs the vast majority of his offensive sets through Bryant and Jones with Kilicli chipping in as well. West Virginia is not a good outside shooting team but it should be able to take advantage of Seton Hall’s interior defense, rated #258 in two-point percentage.
  • Seton Hall ran out to a hot 11-1 start but the reality check came at the hands of Fab Melo and top-ranked Syracuse on Wednesday night. Melo blocked 10 Pirate shots in the blowout win, a game that got out of hand shortly after the opening tip for Seton Hall. Kevin Willard’s team needs to rebound in a big way tonight, the second of three difficult games to open their Big East schedule. Going up against Jones, Herb Pope has to stay on the floor and play a strong game. After a strong start to his season, Pope has averaged only 8.7 PPG over his last three outings. If he doesn’t get well into double figures, Seton Hall will have a hard time winning. Jordan Theodore needs to be a pass-first point guard in this game rather than a guy who shoots 15+ times. Getting Pope, Fuquan Edwin and three point specialist Aaron Cosby involved will be important for the senior Pirate point guard.
  • It’s likely that Pope/Jones and Bryant/Theodore cancel each other out meaning the game will be decided by the supporting casts. Kilicli could be that guy for West Virginia while Seton Hall will look to Edwin and/or Cosby to make a winning impact. Edwin had an awful game against Syracuse but he should rebound nicely in front of the home folks and a less imposing front line. These teams have played five overtime games between them and another could be in the offing here. West Virginia is probably the better team but the Hall playing at home evens this contest up. Neither team shoots the ball well from the charity stripe but it’s something that just may decide this game.

#10 Louisville @ #3 Kentucky – 12:00 PM EST Saturday on CBS (*****)

Jones and Company Invite Louisville to Rupp Saturday Afternoon

  • Kentucky has blasted every inferior team it has played this season but the Wildcats have played closer games against Kansas, North Carolina and Indiana. Louisville is the fourth good team Kentucky will see so far, and given the passion in this rivalry, another relatively close game should be expected. The Wildcats are the better team but you can throw rankings and records out in rivalries as bitter as this one. Kentucky must use its superior offensive talent to its advantage, namely Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb. Louisville is highly vulnerable to the deep shot making Lamb a key player. Jones is the best player on the floor and needs to use his versatility to rack up fouls on Louisville’s interior players or step out and knock down a deep ball. Six Kentucky players average double figures and Louisville just can’t match the Wildcats offensively.
  • Where Rick Pitino’s team can match Kentucky is on the defensive end. Louisville’s game plan has to be intense full court defense, making Marquis Teague work for every dribble and every pass. Teague averages 3.2 turnovers per game and Louisville is one of the better teams in the nation at forcing turnovers. Offensively, this is not a typical Pitino team. Louisville doesn’t shoot the three-ball well but Gorgui Dieng, Russ Smith and Kyle Kuric can put the ball in the basket. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, they don’t do it consistently enough to be an offensive force as a team. Peyton Siva has to be the catalyst in this game. The quick Louisville point guard has good vision but must cut down on turnovers. If Kentucky is getting runouts, it’s lights out for Louisville.
  • It’ll be hard for Louisville to score points on the road against the elite Kentucky defense but the Cardinals can force turnovers and get easy buckets. Both coaches don’t mind speeding up the game but that would favor John Calipari in this particular matchup. Pitino has to design a game plan that adeptly probes the Kentucky defense and gets quality shots. Siva is the key to execute that, plus the Cardinals must crash the boards and get second chance opportunities. That’s easier said than done against Jones and Anthony Davis. Davis has the potential to neutralize Dieng and anyone else who dares enter the paint for Louisville. The Cardinals will defend but they simply lack the offensive firepower needed to win this game at Rupp. We would be surprised if Kentucky loses at home for the first time under Calipari but this will be a fun game to watch regardless.
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Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 27th, 2011

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

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • A Pair of Upsets: How many of you had Wagner winning at Pittsburgh? The Seahawks won their first game against a ranked team since P.J. Carlesimo was the head coach at the school in the late 1970’s, knocking off the Panthers 59-54. Even without point guard Tray Woodall, this is not a game Pittsburgh should have lost. While Ashton Gibbs certainly has to carry more of the load, his shooting has been sub-par this entire season. Against Wagner, the senior Big East Preseason POY shot 5-16 from the floor and 1-7 from deep, dropping his field goal percentage to 37.7% on the year. Usually one of the most efficient teams in the country, Pittsburgh was held to a stunning 89.2 efficiency rating against Wagner. Previously, Pitt’s season low had been 101.7 in a win over La Salle. Last Monday, LSU surprised Marquette in Baton Rouge, downing the previously undefeated Golden Eagles by a score of 67-59. While LSU isn’t an awful team, Marquette allowed the Tigers to shoot 53.5% for the game, something that has to concern Buzz Williams given how well Marquette has played defensively. If Marquette wants to contend for a conference title, it has to defend night in and night out.
  • Non-Conference Play Winds Down: There are 152 games remaining with Big East teams involved and 144 of those (94.7%) will be conference games. Four of the eight remaining non-conference games will take place over the coming week, so you can bet we here at RTC are more than ready to transition into conference play. As we head into the new calendar year, four Big East teams seem to be contenders while another four or five are in contention for NCAA bids. The bottom of the conference is broader and weaker than usual, with at least four and possibly six teams incapable of mounting a run at a bid. As to who wins the league (my poll question above), I am sticking with my preseason pick of Syracuse. The Orange go a legitimate ten deep and, while they do not have a superstar, they are strong defensively and play with great energy. Connecticut may be more talented and Louisville may play harder, but Syracuse is the best team in my estimation. I would love to hear the readers’ take (on this or anything else) in the poll above or in the comments section below.
  • Bob Huggins Wins His 700th Game: It took a crazy Gary Browne three-pointer to force overtime, but West Virginia was able to knock off Missouri State on Thursday night for Coach Huggins’ 700th career victory. He’s now in select company with the likes of Lefty Driesell, Lute Olson, Lou Henson, Henry Iba, Phog Allen and, Norm Stewart in the 700 club. Currently 58 years old and under contract with West Virginia through the 2018-19 season, Huggins has a chance to approach 900 wins if he stays healthy. After winning #700, he joins Jim Boeheim and Jim Calhoun as the only active Big East coaches to win at least 700 games. He is fourth on the active list of all-time wins, trailing his two Big East peers as well as Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.

The Hoyas Have Outperformed Preseason Projections Thanks To Two Wins Over Memphis And A Big Road Victory In Tuscaloosa. (Richard Lipski/AP)

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (13-0) – Among many other things, Syracuse has done a terrific job in turnover margin. The Orange lead the Big East by a wide margin in that department and rank in the top ten nationally in both offensive and defensive turnover percentage. Fueled by Dion Waiters off the bench, the Syracuse transition attack has been sensational. Big East play begins this week with a visit from upstart Seton Hall followed by a trip to DePaul. Surprisingly, Syracuse was out-rebounded by Tulane, including 15-9 on the offensive glass. This week: 12/28 vs. Seton Hall, 1/1 @ DePaul.
  2. Louisville (12-0) – It hasn’t been easy, but Louisville just keeps winning. The Cardinals trailed Charleston and Western Kentucky this week before putting those teams away late in the game. Against Charleston, Rick Pitino made a great adjustment late in the game by putting the more versatile Kyle Kuric at the free throw line to attack the Charleston zone instead of Gorgui Dieng.  Dieng still had a great week, going for 14/12 against the Cougars and 13/15 against the Hilltoppers. Louisville ranks fourth nationally in defensive efficiency, but its offense continues to be a work in progress. As I said in this spot last week, the longer the Cardinals can keep winning before getting their roster back to full strength, the better. This week offers a huge test against two teams that can really put the ball in the basket. This week: 12/28 vs. #15 Georgetown, 12/31 @ #2 Kentucky. Read the rest of this entry »
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Set Your TiVo: 12.23.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 23rd, 2011

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Las Vegas is the place to be on this Friday night before Christmas. Sin City hosts three quality basketball games at two different venues this evening .

California @ #20 UNLV – 5:00 PM EST on CBS Sports Network (****)

Moser Has Been Outstanding in a UNLV Uniform (LV Sun/S. Morris)

  •  Chace Stanback was simply fantastic for the Runnin’ Rebels on Monday against Louisiana-Monroe, scoring 29 points on 10-13 shooting (including 8-9 from downtown). UNLV needs its swingman to have another solid game against a very good California team. The Rebels play fast and shoot lots of threes but Mike Moser can have the biggest impact on the game in the post. When Moser is playing well, it’s so much easier for Dave Rice’s team to get open looks from deep. Playing that inside-outside game with good distributors at the guard position in Anthony Marshall and Oscar Bellfield, UNLV has no problem getting into an up-and-down game where it’s often easier for them to make shots in transition. The Rebels are a well-balanced team capable of hanging plenty of points on the opposition.
  • California has been dealing with plenty of health issues recently. Senior leaders Jorge Gutierrez and Harper Kamp have been fighting illnesses while Richard Solomon is out with a stress fracture. Gutierrez and Kamp should play tonight and that will be important as the Golden Bears need to show poise in a tough environment on the road. Guards Gutierrez and Justin Cobbs need to play smart and control the tempo by protecting the ball and running efficient half court sets. Cobbs had 25 points on 10-12 FG against UC Santa Barbara on Monday for the 10-2 Golden Bears. California doesn’t shoot many threes but Allen Crabbe is a big time deep threat for Mike Montgomery. The budding sophomore hits on 45.8% of his triples and represents a major threat to a UNLV defense ranked #205 against the three-ball.
  • Cal’s two losses have come against the better teams on its schedule. This is another chance for the Golden Bears to prove they’re the best team in a watered down Pac-12, something they’ve yet to do in convincing fashion. California has a strong interior defense led by Kamp and freshman David Kravish, although the absence of Solomon could cause problems if Cal’s big men get in foul trouble. Cal needs to control the backboards against Moser and company. If Gutierrez and Cobbs can control tempo, Cal will have a good chance to pull off the road victory. One area to watch is if Cal can keep UNLV off the foul line. The Golden Bears have the #4 defensive free throw rate, an important statistic against a Rebels team that shoots 73.4% from the stripe. With all of that being said however, it’s hard to predict a Golden Bears victory in what should be a raucous Thomas and Mack Center. California hasn’t proven it can win a big game yet and until they do, UNLV has to be the choice.

#5 Baylor vs. West Virginia (at Las Vegas, NV) – 9:00 PM EST on ESPN (****)

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