Let Them Play: A Case For UConn’s Big East Tournament Eligibility

Posted by mlemaire on October 19th, 2012

When the NCAA denied Connecticut‘s final appeal and ruled the Huskies ineligible for the 2013 NCAA Tournament, it seemingly slammed the door on any postseason opportunities for the team as the conference presidents ruled in March to bar any ineligible teams from the conference tournament. In fact, there can’t have been too many people who were even aware that UConn has one last card to play until New Haven Register reporter David Borges just casually dropped this  revelatory nugget in the middle of a recent blog post.

Of course, UConn won’t be able to participate in this year’s event. Or will it? While the chances are extremely slim, UConn is holding out a bit of hope that the league presidents change their mind on their decision last March to bar any postseason-ineligible teams from its conference tourney. The presidents meet again in a couple of weeks in Chicago for what would appear to be the Huskies’ last chance. UConn is hoping that, since the players responsible for the poor APR scores are long-gone (and, now, Jim Calhoun is gone, too), that the presidents may reconsider.

Now it should be noted that Borges immediately noted that this was extremely unlikely and quoted Big East commissioner Mike Aresco as saying that UConn had notified the presidents about making one final plea, but still, why the heck didn’t more people know about this last-ditch opportunity?

Jim Calhoun and the roster of the 2009-10 team are gone, so why can’t Connecticut play in its conference tournament? (AP Photo)

At any rate, UConn may not have told the league presidents whether it wants them to reconsider their decision, but we will gladly make their case for them. The program should not go unpunished for its academic shortcomings, but its current players and head coach — whom had no part in what caused the ineligibility in the first place — deserve something to play for.

In order to build a successful case, we need to examine how we even got here in the first place. In October of last year, the NCAA passed a new set of academic standards that stated that schools must have a two-year APR average of 930 or a four-year APR average score of 900. APR stands for Academic Progress Rate which the NCAA uses to determine the continued academic success of the players within a specific program. Unfortunately for UConn, the school’s APR for the 2009-10 school year was just 826, and even though the program’s APR bounced back to 978 for the 2010-11 season, the damage was done and the averages weren’t going to be up to snuff. Now feels like a good time to point out there is nothing wrong with the NCAA punishing schools that don’t graduate enough of their players. The NCAA may just be trying to prop up their claims of “academics first” but they are at least trying to hold schools accountable for the players in their care and under their direction.

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Jim Calhoun Expected To Retire

Posted by nvr1983 on September 12th, 2012

After years of speculation it appears that Connecticut‘s legendary head coach Jim Calhoun will finally retire. A local NBC affiliate in Connecticut was the first to report the news that Calhoun’s retirement was “imminent”. Calhoun, who turned 70 in May, has made a name for himself building up a Connecticut program that was not even on the map when he took over in 1986 to one of the premier programs in the country during his 26 seasons there. Calhoun’s credentials at Connecticut are nothing short of spectacular: three NCAA titles, seven Big East Tournaments titles, and nine Big East regular season titles to go along with several NBA stars. While Calhoun won big on the court he also went through his own trials and tribulations off it often battling the media (“not a dime back”) and dealing with a variety of medical issues. [Ed Note: For what it’s worth, in our limited interactions with Calhoun he always was courteous with us.]

Calhoun Appears To Finally Be Saying Goodbye

With the upcoming season essentially being a lost one for a program of Connecticut’s caliber (banned from the NCAA Tournament due to their low APR score) speculation was rampant that Calhoun would call it a career, but he remained committed (or indecisive depending on your point of view) to the program. However, his latest setback, a fall off his bike leading to a prolonged rehabilitation program, may have finally led Calhoun to step down. Now the next question is who will replace Calhoun. The most obvious choice would be Kevin Ollie at least on an interim basis although George Blaney is the one who has always served as the fill-in for Calhoun during his multiple absences over the years. Whether Ollie is able to shed the interim label will likely depend on the performance of this year Connecticut team. If they fail to live up to even the admittedly lowered expectations we could have one of the more interesting coaching searches in years to fill a spot at a marquee program that had essentially been created by the man leaving it.

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Four Thoughts: Connecticut vs. West Virginia Edition

Posted by mlemaire on March 7th, 2012

Game recaps are boring. If you want to read them, search your local newspaper or the Associated Press. With the Big East Tournament upon us, we figured we would try to offer four thoughts about several of the key games throughout the week.

1. In a season marked by inconsistency, the good Shabazz Napier showed up for UConn down the stretch.

Shabazz Napier Stepped Up When His Team Needed Him Most

With the Huskies trailing West Virginia 55-48 with just under seven minutes left to play, Napier took matters into his own hands and pretty much ensured that his team would be dancing later this month. The streaky sophomore had a hand in all but two of the team’s final 15 points, scoring nine points in a row at one point to go with three assists and two steals as the Huskies fought back to send the game into overtime. If you want to nitpick, his three-pointer at the end of regulation was a questionable decision and he did foul out rather quickly in overtime. But his final line (26 points, six assists, four rebounds, three steals, and three blocks) showed just how large of an impact he made in every facet of the game. Jeremy Lamb carried the team offensively in the first half while Napier struggled to find his groove, but when they needed him the most, Napier put the team on his back and carried them into the quarterfinals.

2. If this was the last game of Kevin Jones’ college career, his teammates owe him a fruit basket.

While Napier used the final seven minutes of the game to show off his wide array of skills, West Virginia used the final seven minutes of the game to basically forget that they had the conference’s best player on their team. Jones’ last points of the game came on two free throws with a little more than six minutes to play. From that point on, including the overtime period, Jones attempted just three field goals — including zero in the last six minutes of regulation — and missed all of them.  For the first 30 minutes of this game, Jones showed off why he probably should have been the conference’s player of the year. He abused whomever the Huskies put on him, scored at will, and despite his disappearing act, finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds. It is an absolute shame that his teammates didn’t make more of a concerted effort to get him the ball down the stretch and if the Mountaineers end up on the outside of the bubble looking in, it will have been a disappointing end to an incredible season and career.

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Big East Afternoon Five: Leap Day Edition

Posted by mlemaire on February 29th, 2012

  1. We got off to a late start today so let’s make it a good one. Score this one in the “You have got to be kidding me!” category, but Connecticut‘s loss to Providence last night was a debacle that perfectly sums up its season. The Huskies shot 46% from the field, led by as many as 14 in the second half, and still let the lowly Friars climb back into the game and eventually win. Most are now saying that this team doesn’t belong in the NCAA Tournament and they really don’t. You can’t lose nine of your last 13 games in the regular season and still expect the Tournament Committee to look favorably upon you, and you can’t play a must-win game against the worst team in your conference and blow a late lead to lose. Blaming this on interim coach George Blaney is a cop-out, though. Blaney may be too passive and he may not lead the team with the iron fist of Jim Calhoun, but Blaney is not responsible for letting one of the conference’s least efficient offensive teams go on a 26-5 run in the middle of the second half. UConn fans can scapegoat whomever they want, but this failure is on the players, plain and simple.
  2. The difference between UConn and West Virginia — who routed its inferior opponent, DePaul, in a must-win game at home — is leadership. UConn is a team full of talented underclassmen. West Virginia is a team that will only go as far as their two excellent seniors, Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant, who combined for 50 points last night in what was their final home game as Mountaineers, take them. Bob Huggins‘ team has also been in a bit of a tailspin down the stretch, but if they can beat South Florida in Tampa this weekend, they may still be able to play their way into the NCAA Tournament.
  3. Looking ahead to tonight, the team with the best chance to impress the Tournament Committee is Cincinnati. The Bearcats play their final home game against No. 8 Marquette, a team that has been winning but hasn’t been dominating. The Golden Eagles are not the same team on the road as they are at home, and for Mick Cronin’s bunch, a win over a Top 10 team would likely cement their place in the NCAA Tournament heading into the Big East Tournament next week. The obvious matchup to watch will be the red-hot Jae Crowder squaring off with Cincinnati’s Yancy Gates who will be playing in his final home game.
  4. Allow me to take a minute to step away from bubble implications and talk about one player who is out of the spotlight thanks to his team’s unexpected struggles, and that is Pittsburgh do-it-all senior Nasir Robinson. Reading this article about Robinson’s season, it shouldn’t take long for you to love this guy. A 6’5″ power forward, Robinson doesn’t have a future in the NBA and his senior season has been a disappointment, but still he says he won’t make any excuses and all he does is talk about how he wants to help his teammates. The Panthers have had plenty of gritty players exactly like Robinson who make the most out of their limited potential (Brad Wanamaker immediately comes to mind) and that is a testament to coach Jamie Dixon‘s talent evaluation and coaching. This is why Robinson deserves some stand-alone recognition. He will be forgotten soon enough, but for now, let’s give the guy some love for an excellent career and leadership values he should be proud of.
  5. There will be a lot of mixed emotions in South Bend Friday night when Notre Dame seniors Scott Martin and Tim Abromaitis put on their uniforms for what might be the last time. Both players have petitioned the NCAA for a rare sixth year of eligibility but it seems unlikely that either will have their request granted. Of course Abromaitis will be in uniform but won’t play as he recovers from his torn ACL. There should be plenty of cheers from the Fighting Irish faithful, especially for Abromaitis, but there will also be a lot of people looking at him in uniform and wondering what could have been.
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Big East Morning Five: 02.28.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on February 28th, 2012

  1. It appears that Nerlens Noel, the #1 recruit in the class of 2012, has cut his list of finalists from seven to five, resulting in two Big East schools left wanting. Noel was interviewed as part of a WCVB 5 Boston segment on him and his Tilton School teammates. In the interview Noel stated he has “narrowed it down” to Kentucky, Syracuse, Florida, Georgetown, and North Carolina. Omitted from Noel’s original list of seven were Connecticut and Providence.  Noel made similar news recently in a radio interview when he seemingly cut his list only to quickly clarify via Twitter that his list had not changed. Fans of Connecticut and Providence will hold out hope of an inadvertent omission once again, but all had been quiet in the Noel camp as of late Monday evening. In a related story, Jim Calhoun and Ed Cooley have retained Ryan Braun’s lawyers because they believe the WCVB 5 news feed was tampered with in post-production.
  2. Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun underwent successful back surgery yesterday according to a statement issued by the school. Calhoun has been away from coaching since February 3 due to a painful condition called spinal stenosis. As part of the two-hour procedure conducted at New York’s Beth Israel Medical Center, doctors removed a “large extruded disk fragment” which was believed to be contributing heavily to Calhoun’s discomfort. Recovery time is not expected to be extensive and Calhoun could be back on the sideline for Connecticut’s regular season finale against Pittsburgh on March 3. George Blaney will continue to coach the team until Calhoun returns. The Huskies play a road contest versus Providence tonight.
  3. For the first time this season the Big East has a back-to-back Player of the Week as Marquette’s Jae Crowder has once again claimed the crown. Crowder, who may be the front runner for Big East Player of the Year, did it all for the Golden Eagles as usual in a 2-0 week posting averages of 26.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.0 steals and, 2.5 blocks per game. St. John’s had an impressive two-win week, including an upset of then red hot Notre Dame. Much of the Red Storm’s success had to do with the Big East Rookie of the Week, Moe Harkless. Harkless played every minute in both games and nearly averaged a double-double at 18.0 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. Last week’s Rookie of the Week, Anthony Collins begins this week’s Big East Honor Roll.  Collins made two huge free throws to give the Bulls an important win over Cincinnati, and averaged 13.0 points and 7.5 assists in a 1-1 week.  Other Honor Roll recipients were: Providence’s LaDontae Henton who put up a career-high 29 points against DePaul, with the most important two coming with 1.7 seconds left in the game to give the Friars the 73-71 win. Henton also had 15 rebounds; Connecticut’s Jeremy Lamb who also notched a career-high with 32 points in a win over Villanova and averaged 25.5 points and 6.0 rebounds in a 1-1 week; Syracuse’s Kris Joseph kept the Orange rolling, averaging 16.5 points and 9.5 rebounds in victories over South Florida and Connecticut; Seton Hall’s Jordan Theodore had a, guess what…career-high 29 points in the Pirates’ upset of Georgetown and averaged 23.0 points and 7.0 assists on the week.
  4. It’s late February which means you can either toil over who your favorite baseball team’s left-handed setup man will be or you can check out the college basketball rankings as you gear up for conference and NCAA tournament play. We actually love baseball here at RTC Big East so why not make it this week’s corny poll theme? Syracuse (29-1, 16-1) is the Big East’s version of a five-tool player and remains in the two-hole after holding off Connecticut on Saturday.  We don’t know if it was chicken and beer in the club house or not but Marquette (24-5, 13-3) weathered in-game suspensions to three key players and pulled out a road win at West Virginia as Buzz Williams and his Golden Eagles waltzed ahead two spots to #8. Georgetown (22-6, 12-5) does it the old fashioned way with pitching and defense but their setback against Seton Hall knocked the Hoyas down two notches to #11. Louisville and their Tony LaRussa-like tactician, Rick Pitino could not pull the right strings in a tough environment at Cincinnati and as a result of their loss to the Bearcats, Louisville also slipped two spots to #19.  Notre Dame (20-10, 12-5) has that ‘Moneyball’ look about them and the Irish held serve to remain at #20 this week despite a setback to St. John’s, which has now turned into a two-game losing streak on the heels of the Irish’s Monday night loss to Georgetown.
  5. The potential loss of Nerlens Noel notwithstanding, Providence head coach Ed Cooley has made plenty of noise on the recruiting trail in his brief time at Providence. While incoming players have made all the headlines, Cooley’s first recruiting coup may have been the luring of Andre LaFleur away from conference rival Connecticut to join his staff as associate head coach. When Connecticut visits Providence tonight it will be a reunion of sorts as it marks the first time the two teams meet since LaFleur’s departure. There has been speculation since LaFleur, who was an assistant coach at Connecticut, came to Providence around his reasons for leaving. One prevailing theory is the rising star that is Kevin Ollie provided more writing on the wall than LaFleur could stomach leading to somewhat of a mutual departure. Many believe Ollie is being groomed as Calhoun’s heir apparent. LaFleur dispelled that idea yesterday in an interview with the New Haven Register, saying he felt the increased responsibilities associated with the move to Providence would best help him build toward his goal of being a head coach.
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Set Your TiVo: 02.06.12

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 6th, 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.

Connecticut can join a crowded bunch and move above .500 in the Big East with a win tonight while Louisville looks to continue its hot play of late. In the Big 12, Texas faces a pivotal game with regards to its NCAA chances. Rankings are subject to change with a new RTC Top 25 coming out today.

Connecticut @ Louisville – 7:00 PM EST on ESPN (****)

  • Louisville has won four straight games and five of its past six since getting destroyed at Providence on January 10. Rick Pitino’s team is playing much better offensively, scoring at least 73 points in three of the four wins during the current streak. Against Connecticut, Louisville’s guards must set the tone. While Louisville isn’t forcing turnovers at the clip usually seen from Pitino teams, the Cardinals can pressure the Huskies into turnovers. UConn has struggled all year with this and the Cards will have the home crowd to help them out by creating energy in the building. Offensively it’s going to be tough for Louisville to score. This is not a great jump shooting team and the Huskies have a terrific interior defense. Russ Smith and Kyle Kuric are going to have to hit jumpers in order for Louisville to win this game. It’ll also be interesting to see how freshman Chane Behanandoes against UConn’s impressive front line. Behanan had 23 points and 11 rebounds in Saturday’s win over Rutgers, making 11 of his 12 field goal attempts.

    UConn's Ryan Boatright Will Be A Key Player To Watch In Tonight's Contest

  • With Jim Calhoun out, George Blaney will coach the Huskies again. Blaney used a three-guard starting lineup in Saturday’s win over Seton Hall, a first for Connecticut this season. It worked well as Ryan Boatright sparked the Huskies to a blowout win. Boatright will be important again tonight. He’s the only guy on UConn’s roster that can score quickly in transition and provide an instant offensive spark. With Boatright and Shabazz Napier feeding Andre Drummond in the post, Connecticut has a lot of weapons to throw at Louisville’s rock solid defense. If Boatright can get into the lane and draw Gorgui Dieng away from Drummond without turning it over, the Huskies will find a lot of success. That’s easier said than done but a quick guard with a lot of hops like Boatright can do it and Drummond is certainly capable of finishing around the tin. Jeremy Lamb also has to make shots for the Huskies. Lamb is a good spot up shooter and a terrific slasher but he may encounter some problems with Dieng and Behanan in the paint. Lamb is UConn’s best three point threat and has to knock down some triples in order to take the pressure off of Boatright to make things happen. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 6th, 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

  • Fab Melo Returns: After missing three games due to an academic issue, Fab Melo returned to the Syracuse lineup Saturday afternoon in New York. Melo scored a career-high 14 points in 21 minutes but, more importantly, changed the dynamic of Syracuse on both ends of the floor. Melo’s return adds some rebounding, opens up the middle for others to drive and score/dish and gives the Orange a defensive anchor in the middle of their zone. Melo doesn’t block every shot, but he alters a very high number. With the Brazilian big man roaming the paint, Syracuse is a legitimate national championship contender, something that was plainly evident on Saturday. Despite a backloaded schedule coming into view over the next few weeks, I’d be surprised if Syracuse loses another regular season game.
  • Pittsburgh Is Back: Oh Jamie Dixon, why did we doubt you? We should have known better. After starting the conference season 0-7, Pittsburgh has won four straight games and is actually in a position to make a run at the NCAA Tournament. The Panthers’ resurgence has been keyed by the return of Tray Woodall and better play defensively. Woodall scored a career-high 29 points against Villanova on Sunday and the Panthers held the Wildcats to 36% shooting. That’s the Pittsburgh defense we’ve grown accustomed to over the years and if it keeps up, Pittsburgh will go dancing. Pitt faces a crucial week. It must take at least one (preferably both) road game of the two at South Florida and Seton Hall between now and Sunday. If the Panthers can get both, they’ll be 6-7 with three of their final five games at home. I actually feel safe saying something that would have been considered outrageous just two weeks ago: I believe Pittsburgh will be in the NCAA Tournament.

Fab Melo's Importance To The Orange Was On Full Display Last Week

  • Order Being Restored: Pittsburgh has won four straight. Seton Hall has lost six straight. South Florida lost by 30 at Georgetown on Saturday. Louisville has turned it around. All of that tells you something, doesn’t it? The Big East is shuffling back into place as we head into the home stretch of the season. While the Pirates and Bulls were nice early-season surprises and feel-good stories, reality has set in. Seton Hall was ranked in the top 25 as recently as January 9, but hasn’t won a game since a victory over DePaul the following day. The Pirates are anemic offensively and can hardly shoot 30% against any opponent. I wrote a piece last week about what has gone wrong at the Hall, but it shows no signs of stopping this tailspin anytime soon. South Florida remains at 6-4, but four of its final seven games are on the road as the schedule stiffens. The Bulls will play Pittsburgh twice, Syracuse, Cincinnati, Louisville and West Virginia down the stretch. Expect their 6-4 record to turn into something like 8-10 rather quickly. Even if that happens, it has still been a successful season for Stan Heath and his team. Nobody expected them to win even six or seven league games.

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (23-1, 10-1) – What a difference one player makes. Syracuse played only once last week, but Fab Melo’s return sparked the Orange to dunk-filled 95-70 win over hapless St. John’s at Madison Square Garden. The win, Jim Boeheim’s 879th, pulled him into a tie with legendary North Carolina coach Dean Smith for third place on the all-time wins list. Boeheim has this team humming right along and it shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. Syracuse scored 53 bench points against the Red Storm, once again showing off its incredible depth and talent. Michael Carter-Williams electrified the Garden crowd with this dunk while C.J. Fair, Dion Waiters and Kris Joseph also played very well for the Orange. Syracuse shot 56% for the game. The schedule gets tougher in February but Syracuse should be favored in every game from here on out. This week: 2/8 vs. #15 Georgetown, 2/11 vs. Connecticut. Read the rest of this entry »
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Jim Calhoun Takes Indefinite Leave of Absence, Leadership Void Grows

Posted by mlemaire on February 3rd, 2012

Today, the University of Connecticut announced that coach Jim Calhoun will take an indefinite leave of absence to deal with his spinal stenosis, a lower back condition that he has been suffering from for months and has hampered his general movement. There is no doubt that spinal stenosis is a painful condition and Calhoun’s primary concern should be nursing himself back to good health, but the announcement could not come at a worse time for the Huskies, who are free-falling through the Big East standings and look uninspired and listless on the court.

With Jim Calhoun on Indefinite Medical Leave, It's Up To His Team To Save The Season.

Just two days ago, UConn put on one of the worst offensive performances in a long time in a disappointing loss to Georgetown, and after the game, some commentators blamed the Huskies’ struggles on a glaring lack of leadership and effort. Now the onus will be on the players to fill that leadership void because with all due respect to interim head coach George Blaney, he is not Calhoun.

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Morning Five: 01.03.12 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 3rd, 2012

  1. Khem Birch has started to set up visits before deciding on where he will transfer to after his departure from Pittsburgh. The McDonald’s All-American will visit Florida today, New Mexico State tomorrow, and UNLV on Friday. Adding a big man of Birch’s abilities would obviously be a big deal, but typically players who transfer in a way that Birch did transfer down from a program of a higher caliber. In Birch’s case it appears like that will end being the case unless he ends up at Florida who may be so desperate for a big man to pair with Patric Young that they are willing to take on Birch so they are not quite as guard-heavy.
  2. We have heard of teams forfeiting parts of their season due to a variety of circumstances, but few have done so in as spectacular a fashion as Southeastern Community College men’s basketball team. Late last week the school announced that it was forfeiting the last 12 games this season after 10 players were dismissed from the team for violating school and/or athletic department rules and another two players were ruled academically ineligible. That left the school with just two members of its original 14-member team eligible to play. Consequently, the team, which was 13-3, will forfeit their remaining games. Meanwhile, the affiliated athletic conference is still trying to figure out how to deal with the school’s decision and its impact on the other teams in the conference.
  3. We didn’t think that there would be much of a storyline going into tonight’s ConnecticutSeton Hall game other than George Blaney coaching in the last game of Jim Calhoun‘s three-game Big East suspension. Then the Huskies met with the media after their Monday morning practice and Andre Drummond revealed that he didn’t know who Herb Pope was before that practice. While this didn’t make a lot of waves in the mainstream media you can be sure that Pope was made aware of Drummond’s comment. While Blaney and the rest of the Connecticut coaching staff is very familiar with Pope’s work (18.6 points and 10.9 rebounds per game), the Pirates will probably be  using this as motivation. For his part, Drummond replied on Twitter stating that he meant no disrespect, but he had never watched Seton Hall play before.
  4. Ken Pomeroy followed up on Matt Norlander’s piece from last week discussing the decrease in scoring this season. Pomeroy goes a little deeper into the numbers breaking it down into offensive efficiency, pace, and effective field goal percentage while also offering up three potential solutions. All of Pomeroy’s suggestions seem reasonable and are not really radical departures that most college basketball fans would object to although we can see some people having a hard time getting used to an Olympic-style trapezoid lane. If you are looking for more detail on Pomeroy’s work on the subject of Division I scoring we encourage you to take  a look through some of the older articles he links to in yesterday’s piece.
  5. With the New Year upon us many people are taking a look at their portfolios and deciding whether or not they should reallocate their assets into different investments. For those of you with college basketball portfolios (both literally and figuratively) Seth Davis is here with some investment advice in his annual stock report. While Seth is no Jim Simons, we tend to agree with most of his buy/hold/sell ratings although we are a bit confused by his decision to “Buy” the top three teams in his rankings. If you have been slacking a little bit on your college basketball viewing this season and are trying to get back into it after being devoted to college football, you could a lot worse than reading Seth’s report.
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Big East Morning Five: 12.28.11 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on December 28th, 2011

  1. Most probably expected a routine and mundane news conference from Louisville coach Rick Pitino before Wednesday’s showdown with #12 Georgetown. Instead, Pitino gave reporters perhaps the biggest news story of Louisville’s season to date when he announced that he wouldn’t coach anymore once his contract runs out after the 2016-2017 season. For now, the statement is just that — a statement — and Pitino will have plenty of time to reconsider if he so chooses, but one has to wonder why Pitino decided to break that news now with his team undefeated and conference play set to begin. No one will blame him if he decides to retire, after all, he will be in his mid-60’s with very little left to prove as a coach, but this will have a negative recruiting impact if Louisville doesn’t have a succession plan in place or Pitino doesn’t change his mind. I doubt it will become a distraction in the near future, but keep an eye on this story because it will be a big deal as his contract nears its end.
  2. Connecticut begins conference play tomorrow as well when they square off with cellar-dwelling South Florida. The difference is that while the Cardinals won’t have Pitino on the bench in six seasons, the Huskies won’t have coach Jim Calhoun on the bench tomorrow — albeit only for a short period of time. Assistant coach George Blaney will take over Wednesday as Calhoun begins his three-game suspension for his role in the school’s violations during its recruitment of Nate Miles. Blaney is no stranger to replacing Calhoun for short stints and is 7-8 in his career as acting head coach of the Huskies, but it will be up to the players and how well they listen to the assistants to determine how much influence Blaney has. The good news is that, in addition to the Bulls, UConn starts conference play with Seton Hall and St. John’s, so its not as if the Huskies will play a challenging schedule without their head coach, but it will be interesting to watch nonetheless.
  3. One of our favorite sources for Syracuse information, The Juice, came up with five questions facing the Orange as they prepare to enter conference play and I would like to focus on one of them in particular. The first question is about the team’s center play and whether or not hyped sophomore Fab Melo can continue to show improvement against tougher competition. It’s a question worth asking given Melo’s marked improvements against inferior opponents, but I think the answer is a pretty simple yes. Frankly, Syracuse doesn’t need much out of Melo. They just need good interior defense and rebounding. If Melo can continue to protect the rim, rebound the basketball, and chip in when needed offensively, Syracuse is in great shape for a deep NCAA Tournament run.
  4. The story is somewhat old, but combining a hometown hero storyline with a walk-on underdog storyline is good enough to make the Morning Five no matter how late we catch it. West Virginia freshman walk-on Paul Williamson is getting some serious playing time on a very competitive Mountaineers’ team. Fans probably shouldn’t expect Williamson to become a regular contributor, but his shooting ability and poise allow Bob Huggins to play him until he can no longer hide the freshman’s defensive deficiencies. Will this be a story to watch all season long? Probably not because Williamson isn’t likely to get a lot of playing time in crucial moments, but for a local freshman on a team with NCAA Tournament aspirations to be getting meaningful playing time at this point in the season is a feel-good story for anyone who loves college basketball.
  5. Yahoo! released its Top Five college basketball stories from 2011 and I agree with all them, but don’t agree with the placement. I understand why the author picked Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski becoming the winningest coach in Division I basketball as the top story, but with all due respect, there is simply no way a coach winning a lot of games is a bigger story than what has transpired at Syracuse since the start of the season. Coach K’s record is a nice story and a good pick for the top story if we are looking for a feel-good ending to a trying year, but the Bernie Fine saga dwarfs the record in terms of newsworthiness and importance on a larger scale. I am as sick of the Fine scandal as much as the next man, but his alleged abuse and that of former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky are the most important stories in college sports period. They just have too many ramifications for it not to be at the top.
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