Big East Morning Five: 01.03.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on January 3rd, 2012

  1. Cincinnati had an encouraging week, earning victories over Oklahoma and on the road at Pittsburgh. One of the key elements of the Bearcats’ success has been sophomore sharpshooter Sean Kilpatrick, who was recognized for his efforts as the Big East Player of the Week. Kilpatrick averaged 18 points and eight rebounds on the week. To the surprise of no one Rutgers’ Eli Carter is the Big East Rookie of the Week. Carter made big shot after big shot en route to a career-high 31 points in the Scarlet Knights’ upset victory over then #10 Florida. He followed that performance up with 23 points and five steals in a two point loss at South Florida. Big East Honor Roll recipients for this week are: West Virginia’s Darryl “Truck” Bryant who netted a career-high 34 points in a win over Villanova. The 34 points ties Bryant with Providence’s Bryce Cotton for the single game scoring high among Big East players; Notre Dame sophomore guard Alex Dragicevich who scored a game-high 22 points in the Irish’s upset victory over Pittsburgh; St. John’s freshman Moe Harkless was trumped by Carter for Rookie of the Week honors, but he made a case, dropping 32 points on Providence to go with 13 rebounds in his first Big East game. The 32 points represented a record for Big East debuts; Connecticut’s Jeremy Lamb continues to lead the Huskies in scoring after averaging 19 points per game in his team’s two wins; Syracuse’s Fab Melo capped of a break out week with a spot on the Honor Roll. The sophomore big man set a school record with 10 blocks in a win over Seton Hall. Melo nearly turned his block party into a triple-double in that game, adding 12 points (career-high) and seven rebounds.
  2. Big East play started this past week which meant some inevitable poll shifting given increase in overall competition. Syracuse (15-0) however showed no signs of relinquishing its hold on the top spot as they rolled to wins over Seton Hall and DePaul. Louisville (12-2) lost both of its highly anticipated match-ups with #9 Georgetown and #2 Kentucky and slipped seven spots to #11 as a result.  After the win over Louisville, Georgetown (12-1) firmed up its top ten status when the Hoyas grinded out a victory over Providence on Saturday.  Marquette (12-2) fell six spots to #20 after they were handled by Vanderbilt. Connecticut (12-1) has won seven in a row and was rewarded with a #8 ranking, up one from last week.  The Huskies have an interesting week coming up as they hit the road to take on Seton Hall tonight and Rutgers on Saturday. Pittsburgh (11-4), losers of three straight dropped out of the polls after being ranked #22 last week.  The Panthers were not completely shut out of the voting however, receiving eight votes. Cincinnati (11-3), one of the contributors to Pittsburgh’s slide, is riding a six-game winning streak of its own and fittingly received six votes while Seton Hall (12-2) grabbed two.
  3. Following their loss to Cincinnati on Sunday, Pittsburgh fell to 0-2 in Big East play for the first time since the 1999-2000 season. They are permanently without their starting center, Khem Birch, who is transferring. They have lost three in a row. Panic time? While things appear to be a bit chaotic for the Panthers at the moment, getting point guard Travon Woodall back healthy would go a long way toward getting the Panthers back on track. Woodall has missed seven of the last eight games while trying to recover from a torn abdominal muscle and strained groin. His only action came in the form of 18 ineffective minutes against Notre Dame (0 points on 0-5 shooting, 0 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 turnovers). Woodall was off to a great start prior to the injury, averaging 14.1 points and, most importantly, 8.3 assists per game.  His absence has meant more responsibility for freshman John Johnson, who showed well in the Cincinnati loss with five assists but was tagged with a key offensive foul in clutch time. Perhaps more telling is the play of preseason Big East Player of the Year Ashton Gibbs. Gibbs has been forced to play the point which has taken away from his productivity, particularly in the shooting department. With all credit and thanks to pittblather.com for these stats: Before Woodall’s injury Gibbs was hitting 42.9% of his three-pointers. The rest of the team was even better at an incredible 48.8%. Since Woodall’s injury Gibbs is down to 28.3% and his teammates have plummeted to 24.4%.
  4. Pittsburgh transfer Khem Birch will start 2012 by racking up some frequent flyer miles. Birch will embark upon a week full of visits in his quest to find a new basketball home. According to multiple reports, he will be on Florida’s campus today followed by a trip to New Mexico State tomorrow and UNLV on Friday. New Mexico State’s inclusion on this list may surprise some but perhaps it should not. One big reason for Birch’s consideration of the Aggies is his 7’4” friend, Sim Bhullar. Bhullar is a fellow Canadian who was headed to Xavier before decommitting due academic reasons. He subsequently enrolled at New Mexico State and plans to play next season. Further the Aggies have five Canadians on their current squad. ESPN’s Dave Telep reported Birch also plans to visit Gonzaga and Oregon State. Washington and Xavier have also been reported as having interest. Because Birch will have to sit out two semesters upon transfer, it is likely he will decide in the next two weeks so he can enroll for the spring semester and start the clock ticking.
  5. Not that they needed it, but Seton Hall may have an extra bit of motivation heading into their home match-up with #8 Connecticut, courtesy of UConn freshman Andre Drummond. When Drummond was asked about Seton Hall senior center Herb Pope he said, “I don’t even know who [Pope] is. I’m not trying to be disrespectful. They said the name to me in practice and I was like `Wait, who’s Herb Pope?'” In Drummond’s defense, he is a freshman and this is his first time facing the Pope and the Pirates. However, while Seton Hall may not have the exposure or pedigree of Connecticut, Pope certainly requires no introduction. He is a Big East Player of the Year candidate. Pope is averaging 18.6 points and 10.9 rebounds per game and is the Big East’s active career double-double leader with 27. Further, on the day before a game one would think Drummond would have been exposed to enough scouting and game prep to know the name of the person he would be matched up against. It will be an interesting introduction tonight at the Prudential Center.
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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 Connecticut-Seton 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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Voices of the Big East: Volume IV

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on December 31st, 2011

Voices of the Big East is an ongoing feature intended to capture the essence of the conference through the words of those involved and those impacted. This will come in the form of quotes, tweets, videos and anything else we feel like sticking in here. It’s perfect for you multitasking short attention-spanners. If you find something you think is a candidate for this feature send it to us and we might even give you credit!

Happy New Year!

The voices of Rush the Court would like to wish you a happy and safe New Year.  Thank you for reading.  We hope you have enjoyed what you have seen so far.  Of course there is one ball drop we will always be watching. 

We Will Forego the Crystal for This

Khem-ical Reaction

Khem Birch left Pittsburgh two weeks ago after one semester at the school.  This his has led to a variety of commentary, including from himself.

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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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Big East Morning Five: 12.29.11 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on December 29th, 2011

  1. As discussed here yesterday, Rick Pitino made headlines when he stated he would not continue coaching once his contract expires after the 2016-17 season.  We linked to the ESPN story in that post and have done so again here because it is important to highlight Pitino’s quote.  He said, “My contract’s going to run out in 2017. I’m not coaching anymore after that.”  Yes, we have to break out the Lee Corso voice here…”NOT SO FAST MY FRIEND!”  Just a day later on ESPN’s air during Louisville’s game against Georgetown, announcers John Sciambi and Dick Vitale discussed the matter, saying they spoke to Pitino about it prior to the game.  According to Sciambi, Pitino said his comments were “misconstrued,” and that they were a “tongue-in-cheek type of thing.”  Further Sciambi said Pitino indicated he “never alluded to retirement” and “in no way was he implying that we was going to stop coaching.”  OK then.  While his backtracking is not a surprise, his explanation is a bit of a head scratcher.  Either Pitino was misquoted by just about every news outlet in the world the other day, or he as a great future in politics whenever he does decide to hang up the whistle.
  2. In a continued homage to Lee Corso, when # 4 Louisville dropped its first game of the season, a 71-68 home loss to #12 Georgetown, Cardinals’ freshman Chane Behanan was rendered incorrect.  Behanan predicted an undefeated Louisville season a week-and-a-half ago following an eight-point victory over Memphis.  Behanan said at the time, “We’re the number one team in the country in my eyes. We’re going undefeated. Point blank, period.”   Clearly no one, including us, took Behanan’s comments all that seriously, nor was anyone holding him to his bravado.  He must have been somewhat convincing though.  Two people actually bought in and gave Louisville first place votes in this week’s Associated Press Poll.  In a related story, RTC’s crack team of investigators is reviewing Behanan’s family tree for college basketball writers.  However what Behanan, his teammates, and the Louisville faithful may have been guilty of last night is complacence. Louisville has a huge game coming up on New Year’s Eve at #3 Kentucky, and dare we say they may have looked past Georgetown a bit?  There was even a comment during the ESPN broadcast that the KFC Yum! Center seemed somewhat low key. Whether Louisville let down their guard a bit or not, take nothing away from the Hoyas (12-1).  They are rolling.  Since their four-point loss to #17 Kansas on November 21, Georgetown has won nine in a row including three over teams that were ranked at the time.
  3. While West Virginia won its game on the court last night (83-69 over Villanova) they lost a decision in the court on Tuesday.  Providence (RI) County Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein said “NOT SO FAST MY FRIEND” to the university’s desire to have decisions regarding the timing of their official defection to the Big 12 rendered outside of Rhode Island.  ” (Hey, it may be lame, but it’s a theme.  At least I did not emerge and put on one of those old colonial judge wigs. See… you chuckled just then.) Rhode Island is the location of Big East headquarters, and a darn fine state in its own right. The court also denied West Virginia’s request that a suit filed against them by the Big East be rejected.  Big East bylaws stipulate that any school electing to leave the conference must wait 27 months before it can formally do so.  West Virginia filed suit against the conference challenging the rule, as it wants to enter the Big 12 in time for the 2012 football season.  The Big East then quickly filed the aforementioned countersuit saying that West Virginia’s suit is baseless and they must abide by the rules they previously agreed to.
  4. Fab Melo’s development and credibility took a nice leap forward last night as he notched his first career double-double, hitting career-highs in scoring with 12 points and blocks with 10 in a 75-49 rout of Seton Hall.  The 10 blocks also set a Syracuse record and he missed a triple-double by just three rebounds.  As noted here yesterday, a key indicator in the maturation of Melo would be his performance against the type of frontcourt competition the Big East brings night in and night out.  So far, so good.  Seton Hall came into the game at 11-1 with some nice wins over the likes of Virginia Commonwealth, St. Joseph’s, Auburn and Dayton.  Check.  Seton Hall has Herb Pope who is a beast and came into the game averaging 20.3 points and 11.3 rebounds per contest.  Pope finished last night’s game with four points, nine rebounds and six turnovers.  Check.  It has been well documented that Melo came into this season in much better shape, which is helping him to stay on the floor and concentrate on basketball over fitness.  With the fitness hurdle cleared, his confidence is growing which can only help.  “I wasn’t surprised,” Melo said after the game “I’ve put a lot of work in. I’m still working hard to get better and I’m sure you’ll see better things from me. You’re going to be more surprised.”
  5. When the schedule came out, Rutgers fans certainly had today’s date circled on their calendars as the Scarlet Knights will be hosting #10 Florida tonight.  While it is always great to welcome one of the country’s top programs into your arena for a non-conference game, the cherry on top in this one is the return of Mike Rosario. Rosario starred at Rutgers for two years, scoring over 1,000 points in a Scarlet Knight uniform before transferring to Florida.  He is a hometown kid who played for legendary coach Bob Hurley, Sr., at Jersey City’s equally legendary St. Anthony’s High School.  Despite Rosario’s individual success at Rutgers, as a fine Star-Ledger/NJ.com piece by Brendan Prunty points out, he did not see a near-term opportunity to win in Piscataway.  That, coupled with the departure of Fred Hill, the head coach who recruited him, prompted Rosario to explore his options and ultimately head south to Gainesville.  Rosario (9.4 PPG, 2.3 RPG this season) has missed the Gators’ last two games with a nagging back injury and his status for tonight’s game is questionable, but he says he is ‘100 percent right now’ and will play in the game.
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The Transfer Effect: What the Statistics Say about Missouri and Iowa State’s Recruiting Methods

Posted by dnspewak on December 27th, 2011

No matter how established the program, every college basketball coach eventually takes a chance on a transfer. Jim Boeheim, for example, plucked Wesley Johnson from Iowa State and turned him into the Big East Player of the Year in 2009-10. Tom Izzo and Mike Krzyzewski’s current rosters both include transfers with Brandon Wood (Valparaiso) and Seth Curry (Liberty), and in 1979, a former Indiana Hoosier named Larry Bird nearly won a title with Indiana State just a few years after quitting basketball (and Bob Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers) altogether.

Hoiberg and Haith Are Recruiting Transfers Heavily to Their Programs

Normally, coaches take one or two transfers at a time to fill immediate holes, but that’s not everybody’s philosophy. Meet Missouri’s Frank Haith and Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg, a pair of coaches who have abandoned traditional recruiting methods at their new schools in favor of Division I transfers. Haith, hired in April to replace Mike Anderson, is using three open scholarships in 2011-12 on players who will not appear in a single basketball game this season by signing Keion Bell (Pepperdine), Earnest Ross (Auburn) and Jabari Brown (Oregon). Hoiberg, on the other hand, has four transfers on his roster in his second year with the Cyclones: Chris Allen (Michigan State), Chris Babb (Penn State), Royce White (Minnesota), and Anthony Booker (Southern Illinois). The two coaches have energized their fan bases by signing big names from major schools, but Haith and Hoiberg’s recruiting tactics cannot be accurately judged at this point. Iowa State’s Fab Four will begin Big 12 play next month, and Missouri’s three transfers will not all be eligible until December 2012.

Instead of speculating as to whether the two teams will suffer from dreaded chemistry problems with so many transfers, why not crunch the numbers to see if The Transfer Effect really exists? Although finding aggregate data for Division I transfers is virtually impossible, recent anecdotal evidence shows that the recruiting strategy is an enormous risk for both coaches. Seven teams from both the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons welcomed three or more transfers to their programs at the same time, and only two teams (San Diego State and UNLV) finished above .500 in league play. Seton Hall, the only power conference team in the group, missed the NCAA Tournament.

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Night Line: Seton Hall Playing Well for the First Time in a Long Time

Posted by EJacoby on December 22nd, 2011

Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist and contributor. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s slate of games.

For the past five seasons, perhaps no Big East team has underachieved as much as Seton Hall. The Pirates haven’t given fans much to be excited about since their last NCAA Tournament appearance in 2006, despite having several talented players come through the program. The Hall haven’t won 20 games since 2003-04, and have been a mainstay in the NIT ever since. This year was expected to be much of the same, as Kevin Willard inherited the challenge of leading a team that lost its two leading scorers from last year’s 13-18 campaign. But after a strong road win over Dayton on Wednesday night, the 10-1 Pirates are on their way to a potentially NCAA Tournament-bound year, thanks to two veteran Big East leaders and an improving group of young players. After many disappointments, Seton Hall is finally overachieving and bringing some hope to its loyal fans.

Herb Pope Has Been a Dominant Force This Season for Seton Hall (AP/B. Kostroun)

These are certainly not your Pirates of old. Gone are last year’s leading scorers Jeff Robinson and Jeremy Hazell, and so is the sloppy offense that ran through the volume shooting guard. Last year, Seton Hall scored just 0.98 points per possession, ranking in the bottom 100 teams nationally. They really didn’t do anything well offensively, and the game plan often focused on getting Hazell going from the perimeter. The senior chucked nearly eight threes per game, and he never quite found his groove before suffering a season-ending injury. This year, the Pirates run a more balanced offense leading to 1.08 points per possession, an improvement to #65 in the country. They move the ball well and boast a 1.26 assist-to-turnover ratio that ranks in the top 30 nationally. Seton Hall is no longer running a one-man offensive show, and it’s producing much better results.

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Set Your TiVo: 12.21.11

Posted by EJacoby on December 21st, 2011

Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist and contributor. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

After several consecutive slow weeknights, Wednesday night offers some very good games. All eyes should be tuned in, especially, to the ESPN2 early game.

Texas at #4 North Carolina – 7:00 PM EST on ESPN2 (****)

UNC Will Attack Texas With Their Forwards, Tonite on ESPN2 (Getty Images/P. Williams)

  • Since their collapse against NC State on November 21, Texas has won seven straight games by double digits, including some nice wins over Temple and at UCLA. Their talented guard combo of J’Covan Brown and Myck Kabongo is starting to click, with Brown’s numbers up to 19.3 points and 4.3 assists per game and Kabongo at 10.8 points and 6.0 assists per contest. Four of the Longhorns’ five leading scorers are freshmen, including Kabongo and exciting reserve guard Sheldon McClennan. The Longhorns are ranked seventh nationally with 1.18 points per possession and eighth in overall offensive efficiency (117.5). For Texas to hang in this game, they’ll need their young guards to keep scoring at a high rate, and hope to contain UNC’s massive frontcourt from dominating the offensive boards.
  • North Carolina has a massive size, experience, home court, and overall talent advantage in this game, which is why they’re 10-point favorites. Look for the Tar Heels to feature Tyler Zeller and John Henson inside to feast on Texas’s smaller front line. The bigs should be able to control this game on the boards, where UNC ranks 16th nationally in offensive rebounds per game, and number one overall on the defensive glass. Even if Texas’s guards can score effectively, Carolina can counter with its wing scorers of Harrison Barnes, Dexter Strickland, and Reggie Bullock, lead by the nation’s top assist man in Kendall Marshall (10.2 APG).
  • Texas has won four straight games against Carolina since 1995. The Longhorns are playing well and will certainly be ready for this game. But it’s hard to envision UNC losing this one at home given their huge advantage in the paint and with just as many talented guards. Expect a super exciting, high scoring affair between two of the top programs in the country, with Roy Williams’ team coming out on top.

Seton Hall at Dayton – 7:00 PM EST, no TV (***)

  • This is a huge road test for 9-1 Seton Hall, whose only loss came in the finals of the Charleston Classic against Northwestern. Senior Herb Pope has been an absolute stud all year and he leads the Big East in scoring (22.1 PPG) AND rebounding (11.9 RPG). His fellow senior leader, point guard Jordan Theodore, leads the conference in assists with 7.1 per game. Sophomore guard Fuquan Edwin leads the Big East in steals per game with 3.4 per contest. He and Theodore each average about 14 points per game, as well. This dangerous trio will look to lead coach Kevin Willard’s team to a big road win and legitimize their strong start to the season.
  • Dayton is a talented but very inconsistent team. They have strong wins over Alabama, Wake Forest, and Minnesota on their resume, but they also have a shocking home loss to Buffalo by 29 (!) points. They lost road games to Miami (Ohio) and Murray State, as well. First year coach Archie Miller’s team has five players that average nine or more points per game, lead by junior lead guard Kevin Dillard. A transfer from Southern Illinois, Dillard leads the team in scoring (11.9 PPG), assists (5.1 APG), and steals (2.3 SPG).
  • This game is not televised nationally or on ESPN3.com, but be sure to follow along, or even watch if it’s being shown locally. Dayton is a four-point home favorite in this one, but this is anyone’s game. The Flyers have several big home wins and another awful home loss. Seton Hall will look to control the game with the dominant Pope inside, who will be a load to handle for Dayton’s short interior players. I’d take Seton Hall and their experienced leaders to come out with the road win, but this one could go either way.

Middle Tennessee State at Mississippi – 9:00 PM EST on ESPN3.com (***)

  • Middle Tennessee is coming off a big home win over Belmont to push its record to 10-2. They are the class of the Sun Belt Conference, and are only two-point underdogs in this game. When you factor in the three-point cushion given to home teams in Vegas lines, that means MTSU is considered the slightly better team. This is a fair assessment, as the Raiders have an impressive trio of upperclassmen in guard Marcos Knight and forwards LaRon Dendy and J.T. Sulton who all average at least 12 points and 6 rebounds per game. These three all shoot at least 53.6% from the field, as well, which powers the nation’s best field goal shooting team (53.2% as a team for the year).
  • Ole Miss also comes into this game with just two losses, the most recent of which came on Saturday at a pretty good Southern Miss team. Ole Miss features five players that average nine points or more, lead by junior Murphy Holloway’s 10.3 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. Not included in their five leading scorers is new addition Jelan Kendrick, who is now eligible for Mississippi after transferring from Memphis when he was kicked off the team at the beginning of this year. Kendrick is a very talented freshman who could start to make his mark tonight. Andy Kennedy’s team will have the athleticism advantage in this game, such as their 6.2 blocks per game which ranks 13th in the country.
  • This game might be the best of the 9:00PM EST slate, so be sure to have ESPN3 ready on your computer even if you’re tuned in to the television for another game. We expect Ole Miss to take care of business at home, but MTSU will offer a great challenge and could come out with another impressive victory.

Oklahoma State at Alabama – 9:00 PM EST on ESPN2 (***)

  • Oklahoma State comes into this game at 6-4 having lost two straight games. The Cowboys have a collection of talented players but have not found the best way to utilize their pieces; nine different players have been in the starting lineup in the first 10 games. LeBryan Nash, the McDonald’s All-American freshman, is starting to play better of late, seeing his minutes increase in the past three games. He’s now up to 12.7 points and 5.2 rebounds per game for the season. Markel Brown is a talented sophomore guard (9.7 PPG) and Cezar Guerrero is a freshman with a quick trigger that can fill it up in a hurry (7.7 PPG), though takes plenty of questionable shots per game. Upperclassmen Jean-Paul Olekemi (9.7 PPG) and, especially, Keiton Page (12.7 PPG) are the leaders of the team that will look to ignite the upset in this one.
  • Alabama was ranked in the top 15 to begin this month, but the Crimson Tide have suffered three disappointing losses in the past three weeks, albeit to some good teams. Anthony Grant’s team lost at home to Georgetown on a game-winning three from the Hoyas, and they followed that one with two road losses to Dayton and Kansas State. Bama has had trouble scoring in those games. They aren’t a very effective offensive team, with a 104.8 efficiency that ranks 120th nationally. The Tide get it done on the defensive end where they allow an eFG% of 40.6 that is seventh best in the country. Jamychal Green, Tony Mitchell, and Trevor Releford are big time athletes who all average double figure scoring and can lock down defensively.
  • This game is technically not a home game for Alabama, since it is being played in Birmingham as part of the 2011 Legacy Credit Union Holiday Classic. But for all intents and purposes, consider the Crimson Tide the home team as they will draw the much larger crowd in their home state. Bama has fallen victim to a few upsets this season, as they were the favored team in all three of their losses. But don’t expect a repeat in this one, as Oklahoma State is still a work in progress and the solid defense of Alabama should lead them to a victory.

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 201
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

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Big East Morning Five: 12.20.11 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on December 20th, 2011

  1. It’s Big East weekly honors time and Louisville sophomore guard Russ Smith checks in as your Player of the Week.   This represents Smith’s first career Player of the Week honor as he made the most of his third career start with career highs in points (24) and steals (7) in Louisville’s 95-87 win over Memphis.  The seven thefts by Smith tied him for third all-time in Louisville history for steals in a game. Connecticut center Andre Drummond wrestled Rookie of the Week honors back from Providence’s LaDontae Henton with a career high 24 points in a win over Holy Cross to go along with eight rebounds and five blocks.  This is Drummond’s second Rookie of the Week honor of the year.    As for the Honor Roll, guess who’s back, back again? Pope is back, back again.  Seton Hall big man Herb Pope continued his weekly award streak as he overwhelmed Mercer with 24 points and 17 boards in an overtime win for the Pirates; Cincinnati junior guard Cashmere Wright (18.5 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 7.0 APG), who stepped up for a short-handed Bearcat squad to lead them to two wins on the week; Marquette freshman guard Todd Mayo picked up his first career weekly honor and is first career start this past week, netting a career-high 22 points in a win over Northern Colorado; Syracuse sophomore guard Dion Waiters who also hit for 22 points in his team’s 88-72 victory over NC State; and West Virginia senior forward Kevin Jones, who shot 11 for 16 from the floor on his way to,  you guessed it, 22 points in the Mountaineers’ 84-64 rout of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
  2. There was not a lot of movement in the polls amongst Big East teams this week, but that is more attributable to the fact that it gets crowded at the top than anything else. The conference now boasts four top ten teams as Marquette (10-1) grabbed the #10 spot, joining Syracuse (11-0) who maintained its perch atop the rankings, Louisville (10-0) who held steady at #4 and Connecticut (9-1) as the Huskies climbed a notch to #8.  Pittsburgh (10-1) and Georgetown (9-1) also held their spots at #15 and #16, respectively.  We are starting to see a clear separation in the league with six teams in the top 16 and no other squad garnering so much as a vote in the Associated Press poll, although Seton Hall (9-1) did scratch out one tally in the ESPN/USA Today rankings.
  3. Former Connecticut star Kemba Walker claimed the Bob Cousy Collegiate Point Guard of the Year Award last year among the many honors and accolades he received for his exploits in the Huskies’ National Championship run.  This year’s nominees for the Cousy Award were revealed yesterday by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and, to the surprise of no one, the Big East was well represented.  Was it represented well enough though? Conference nominees include Connecticut sophomore Shabazz Napier, Louisville junior Peyton Siva, Pittsburgh senior Ashton Gibbs, Villanova junior Maalik Wayans and a pair from Syracuse in senior Scoop Jardine and junior Brandon Triche.  Let the debate begin as notable omissions include Providence junior Vincent Council and Seton Hall senior Jordan Theodore.
  4. Marquette is still not certain if injured first string center Chris Otule will be back this season but Buzz Williams and company have been encouraged by the play of replacement starter Davante Gardner. With the #10 Golden Eagles soaring, Gardner is keeping his role in perspective, and the team’s goals in mind saying, “I’ve got to come through now since Chris might be out for the season.  When he got hurt, I got down a little bit, but I knew I had to start picking it up and do more for the team.” Gardner, a 6’8” sophomore, tipped the scales last season at 300-plus pounds en route to averages of 4.6 points and 2.2 rebounds in just nine minutes per game.  Following his freshman campaign, Gardner worked hard with strength and conditioning coach Todd Smith and dropped an estimated 10-15 pounds while shedding about half of his body fat.  While he still needs work on the defensive end, Gardner has put up solid offensive numbers in Otule’s absence over Marquette’s last two games, averaging 14 points and six rebounds while shooting 60% from the floor and 91% from the foul line.
  5. Kids say the darndest things.  And that is what Louisville’s youngster, freshman forward Chane Behanan, did after his team’s 95-87 victory over Memphis on Saturday when he declared, “we’re the number one team in the country in my eyes. We’re going undefeated. Point blank, period.”  You can bet Behanan will have a media relations course on his schedule next semester after that one.  While this will probably not amount to much in the grand scheme of things, it would have still been better left unsaid as it really can do nothing but hurt the team’s cause.  The Cardinals had themselves in an advantageous position psychologically as many have questioned their lofty ranking while they continued to win and rise in the polls. The no respect card plays well, and Behanan now has the Cardinals drawing into a new deck.
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Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 19th, 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

  • Khem Birch Leaves Pittsburgh: In what was certainly a surprising development, Pittsburgh announced that highly-touted freshman Khem Birch would be leaving the program for personal reasons. No future destination for Birch was announced. The 6’9” freshman averaged 4.4 PPG and 5.0 RPG in 15 minutes per game for Jamie Dixon, including a season-high 15 points at Pennsylvania on November 25. Birch, a Canadian, was a five-star prospect out of Notre Dame Prep. Birch’s departure will be felt by a Panthers team still trying to find its identity. Pittsburgh remains a very deep team but has to get its defense in order to be able to win consistently once conference play begins.

Khem Birch Left Pittsburgh, Which Shocked No One Familiar With The Commitment Issues Of Well-Traveled Young Phenoms

  • Cincinnati Responds In Impressive Fashion: After losing a bunch of guys to suspensions (including Yancy Gates) stemming from the brawl with Xavier, Cincinnati somehow put together its two best offensive performances of the season. The Bearcats scored 78 in a win at Wright State before throttling Radford with 101 points on Saturday. Maybe the suspensions were just what Mick Cronin needed to get his team focused. While the competition wasn’t great, Cincinnati all of a sudden looks like an improving team after this week.

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (11-0) — The Orange passed their first road test of the season, winning comfortably at NC State on Saturday. Dion Waiters led the way off the bench yet again with 22 points on 9-14 shooting while Kris Joseph added 21. Now that Syracuse has gotten by NC State without any trouble, the Orange could hold onto the top spot in the national rankings for quite some time. Jim Boeheim has some tricky games coming up against upstart Seton Hall, conference title contender Marquette and still-dangerous Villanova, but those are three games Syracuse should not lose. One area for the Orange to focus on in practice this week is defense. NC State shot 57.7% from the floor on Saturday. This week: 12/20 vs. Bucknell, 12/22 vs. Tulane.  Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East Morning Five: 12.15.11 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on December 15th, 2011

  1. A short-handed Cincinnati took to the floor last night for the first time since Saturday’s brawl-marred contest against rival Xavier. Despite being without Yancy Gates, Cheikh Mbodj, Octavius Ellis, and Ge’Lawn Guyn, the Bearcats (6-3) had no trouble dispensing of Wright State (4-7) on the road 78-58. In another bit of good news, Cincinnati learned prior to the game that no legal action would be taken in response to the brawl and ESPN’s Andy Katz caught up with Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin to get a follow-up assessment. Cronin mentioned in the player apology press conference on Monday that those suspended would have to earn their way back into the line-up once their stated penalties were completed. Cronin elaborated that there are specific steps that need to be completed before getting back on the floor. In addition to the initial apology, the players will have to complete community service followed by another apology. All four players also took part in an anger management session on Wednesday.
  2. Mike Waters of The Post-Standard had a good piece on the resurgence of sophomore Syracuse center Fab Melo.  Melo came to upstate New York with expectations bigger than even his seven-foot frame could live up to and he summarily disappointed, averaging just 2.3 points and 1.9 rebounds per game last season. While those numbers were clearly not good, it was the 9.9 minutes per game that stood out the most. Talent was not the issue for Melo, it was fitness. He lost 30 pounds in the offseason and it, along with more realistic expectations perhaps, has made all the difference. “He wasn’t able to run up and down the court last year,” coach Jim Boeheim said, “so it was hard to keep him out there.” Now that Melo is not fighting fatigue from the start of the game he can focus on the job at hand. While his numbers this season are not glitzy (6.7 PPG 5.1 RPG 2.6 BPG), he is shooting 51.8% from the floor and his minutes are up to 22.3 per game for the ultra-deep Orange. More importantly a more active Melo is an ideal basket protector in the back of that famed Syracuse zone. He has more blocks in ten games this season (26) than he had all last year (25). “Now I’m not afraid to make mistakes anymore” said Melo. “I just go there and I play basketball. Last year, I was afraid to make mistakes. I went on the court with my mind blocked. I couldn’t do anything.” Weight down. Confidence up. A disheartening combination for Syracuse opponents.
  3. Speaking of Syracuse, hopes are high for the #1 Orange causing some, namely Carmelo Anthony, to speak about just how far this team can go. Of course, Anthony knows a thing or two about this subject, taking the Orange to a national championship in 2003, defeating Kansas 81-78 in the final, in his one-and-done freshman year at Syracuse.  (The other?) Melo told Adam Zagoria of ZagsBlog.com he thinks the sky is the limit, “I think they can win it all,” Anthony said. “I’m biased, you might not agree with that. They have the talent, they have the team.”  Well, he is biased, and he should be. It’s his school and the Orange have national tile potential. Zagoria noted that Anthony texted Syracuse guard Scoop Jardine when he heard the news about the Orange’s #1 ranking this week.  Talk about a little ego stroke! Anthony also noted that it did not seem the team was distracted by the Bernie Fine scandal, which may be its toughest opponent to date despite playing teams like Stanford and Florida.
  4. Another great comeback story this year is that of Seton Hall forward Herb Pope. Just for Pope to be back healthy and at full strength after suffering a potentially life-threatening heart ailment two off-seasons ago would have been a story, add in what Pope has accomplished so far and the big guy flat out commands attention. As SI.com’s Luke Winn noted, the health issues not only impacted Pope physically, but took their toll mentally leading him to take part in therapy. It has clearly been a long hard road back, but back Pope is, and back big time.  He leads the Big East in scoring at 21.8 points per game to go with 11.3 rebounds and has been a fixture on the weekly Big East awards so far this year. Pope has been recognized in each of the four weeks of honors so far this year, taking home Player of the Week honors once and receiving Honor Roll accolades the other three. Pope has inserted himself on the short list of bona fide Big East Player of the Year candidates and most importantly has led the Pirates to an 8-1 start. Next up for Pope and the Hall is a home date with Mercer on Sunday.
  5. In its quest to add Navy as a football only member, The Big East received a vote of confidence from Navy’s Athletic Director Chet Gladchuk on Wednesday when he remarked, “Everyone in Navy’s chain of command is comfortable [with the Big East] and the direction it’s going”. When the move occurs appears to be more a matter of logistics than anything else. Of course, television contracts stand at the forefront. Navy has various agreements that run through the 2018 season and is working with the Big East to sort through it all. This does not mean Navy will need to wait until 2019 to move. It is likely more a function of Navy being able to honor the agreements, while being able to incorporate a Big East schedule. There was initial speculation that Navy and Air Force would make themselves a package deal to the Big East provided they felt there was overall conference stability. Air Force subsequently recommitted to the Mountain West, but Gladchuk indicated that has no bearing on Navy’s future plans and that he felt stability has been restored with the recent additions of Boise State, Houston, Central Florida, Southern Methodist and San Diego State.
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Big East Checkpoint: Buy, Sell, Hold

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on December 14th, 2011

Midway through December and it has already been an eventful college basketball season.  Teams have logged a fair sampling of games as they head into final exams and finish up the non-conference portion of their schedules, so we thought it would be a good time to assess the state of the Big East by comparing each team to… itself.  Below is the Preseason Big East Coaches’ Poll by projected order of finish.  We are going a little Jim Cramer on you (BooYah Skee-Daddy!), placing a Buy, Sell or Hold rating based on the team’s play to date versus preseason expectations.

1 (tie). Connecticut (8-1): I am no stock market expert but when I see a team as loaded as UConn sitting at No. 9 in the most recent poll, buying stock in the Huskies is a no-brainer. Jim Calhoun has feuded with center Alex Oriakhi and questioned his team’s drive early in the season, but this team is too deep and too talented to be ranked that low in national polls. And when you consider how much freshmen Ryan Boatright and Andre Drummond will improve over the next few months, I am already starting to look for a new luxury sedan to buy with the money from my winning. Rating: BUY

Boatright Has Given the Huskies a Lift (John Wolke, Hartford Courant)

1 (tie). Syracuse (10-0): There is no way we can buy right now and that is good news for Syracuse fans, because the ‘Cuse is on top and can rise no higher at the moment. If this were a quick trade we’d sell and look to buy back after their first loss because it is hard to envision the #1 ranked team in the country staying there all year, but we are in this for the long haul and so are the Orange. Rating: HOLD

3. Louisville (9-0): It’s impossible not to be impressed with the job Rick Pitino has done at Louisville this season given the team’s rash of injuries and lack of top-flight scorers, but I am still selling the Cardinals. For starters, their early season schedule has been very soft and their only difficult opponent was Vanderbilt, whom they needed overtime to outlast. There is no doubt that their defense and depth makes them a top-10 team, but it’s hard to put them ahead of teams like UConn and North Carolina because  they just don’t have the scoring punch or the go-to player in crunch-time.  If you are determined to hold Louisville stock, you probably won’t lose much, but now is the time to sell high. Rating: SELL

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