Is This an Older But Wiser St. John’s to Start Big East Play?

Posted by Joe Dzuback on December 31st, 2013

Is St. John’s 8-4 record at this point last season versus their current 9-3 a true measure of growth for the Red Storm? According to coach Steve Lavin, the answer is no. The take on the Johnnies going into this season was one of a talented, but undisciplined, roster. Perhaps one of the two or three best teams in the conference, a squad capable of beating anyone in the Big East, but first they had to stop beating themselves.

Steve Lavin and St. John's are gearing up for conference play. (AP)

Steve Lavin and St. John’s are gearing up for conference play. (AP)

Granted, last year’s team was young with just over half a season’s worth of experience (0.64 years), but chalking their 17-16 record up to youth misses more than half the story. Suspensions, the most damaging of which was D’Angelo Harrison’s six-game hiatus at the end of the season — during which the Red Storm compiled an 0-5 record to close out conference play and crush any chance of an NCAA bid — was not the only example of time missed due to discipline problems. Baylor transfer Jamal Branch, eligible at the end of the fall 2012 semester, served a one-game suspension in early March, just over two months after first donning a Red Storm uniform.

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Big East M5: 11.06.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on November 6th, 2013

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  1. Georgetown is projected to finish around the top of the Big East this season, even after losing its top player from 2012-13 in forward Otto Porter, drafted third overall by the Washington Wizards. Porter is the most recent in a long line of talented forwards who have been the key player in John Thompson’s Princeton offense, following stars like Jeff Green, Roy Hibbert and Greg Monroe. This year, it is unclear if Georgetown has that type of player at the forward spot. Greg Whittington, the most obvious candidate, tore his ACL over the summer. Nate Lubick will probably get playing time but lacks some of the raw talent and skills that the others have had. Transfer Josh Smith has all the talent a coach could want, but has major question marks after a less-than-stellar two years at UCLA. Instead, this year’s Hoyas may be more focused on guard play with Markel Starks and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, a departure from what we usually expect from Thompson’s best teams.
  2. St. John’s has announced that sophomores Felix Balamou and David Lipscomb will take redshirts this season. Balamou was a contributor last year, averaging two points in nine minutes of action per game,and appearing in all but five of the Red Storm’s contests. Lipscomb, a walk-on, appeared in seven games last season but has yet to score in college. The move should allow both guards to develop without burning a year of eligibility during a time when St. John’s already has a crowded backcourt. Players like D’Angelo Harrison, Phil Greene IV, Rysheed Jordan and Jamal Branch will probably see most of the meaningful minutes in this year’s backcourt, so this is a wise move for these two players’ futures.
  3. It’s hard if not virtually impossible to lose during Midnight Madness, but this year’s event has already proven problematic for Xavier. Guard Dee Davis suffered a concussion during the event and has sat out for more than a week of activities as a result; reports are now that he may not be available for the season opener against Gardner-Webb. Davis is second of all the returning Xavier players in both minutes and points per game, so the Musketeers probably want their guard back as soon as possible. Head coach Chris Mack is taking all necessary precautions: “Until he’s symptom-free we’ll do what’s wise for Dee, and that’s to sit him.”
  4. The injury bug has reared its ugly head in Providence as well. Friars’ guard Kris Dunn suffered a shoulder injury in an exhibition with Rhode Island College and may miss the season opener against Boston College. Dunn’s injury is especially worrisome because it is the same shoulder on which he had labrum surgery before last season, costing him the first nine games of 2012-13. Dunn’s perimeter mate Bryce Cotton is also entering the season hampered by a sore knee, but he is not expected to miss any time. The tandem should be one of the better backcourts in the Big East, and keeping them on the court is key if the Friars want to make a run at the NCAA Tournament this season.
  5. Josh Smith could be the player that swings this season in favor of Georgetown. The UCLA transfer has been with the program roughly a year, and it has allowed him time to grasp the role of playing power forward in John Thompson’s offense. One of the players who he is battling for playing time, Nate Lubick, doesn’t seem too thrilled with going up against the powerful Smith every day in practice: “Ugh. It’s miserable. He backs it down and dunks it on me every time. He’s good. It’s something that’s very hard for another team to prepare.” In Rob Dauster’s article on CollegeBasketballTalk, other teammates commended Smith’s underrated passing ability, which is key for big men in the Georgetown offense. If Smith’s ability in practice translates to the faster pace of real games and his conditioning continues to improve, Smith may be the missing piece for a talented Hoyas team looking to get over the NCAA Tournament hump.
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Big East Recruiting Superlatives

Posted by mlemaire on May 23rd, 2013

Sometimes it is OK to choose an arbitrary date in the college basketball recruiting process and take stock of things, using our Big East goggles of course. That said, this date really isn’t all that arbitrary. Most of the top basketball recruits in the Class of 2013 signed National Letters of Intent last week . Rather than break down and rank the Big East recruiting classes from top to bottom — which the guys at recruiting sites do much better than we would anyway — we figured to have some fun and bring you back to high school for some good old-fashioned superlatives. Again, we recognize the Big East is breaking up, but we are still looking back rather than forward.

He Didn't Have To Look Far, But Buzz Williams Reeled In Perhaps His Best Recruiting Class Ever (AP)

He Didn’t Have To Look Far, But Buzz Williams Reeled In Perhaps His Best Recruiting Class Ever (AP)

Most Likely To Earn Praise For His Recruiting Prowess: Buzz Williams, Marquette

In the always useless world of recruiting rankings, most experts have recruiting classes at Louisville and Syracuse ranked ahead of Marquette’s class, but that shouldn’t keep Williams from receiving the praise he is due. Williams hangs his hat on his program’s ability to develop talent, not in recruiting superstars, but this class could easily be his most ballyhooed yet. Of course it helps Williams look good when much of the talent is in the same city as the school, but he still had to beat out a number of high-major programs for those kids. Duane Wilson is a local point guard with size who may earn the first crack at replacing Junior Cadougan and fellow local product Deonte Burton is a physical and athletic wing who will rebound and defend. The third local product by way of junior college in Iowa is 6’8″ forward Jameel McKay who has everyone excited about his athleticism, rebounding, and motor. The real prize for the Golden Eagles is slashing guard JaJuan Johnson who Williams and his staff plucked out of Memphis’ backyard despite an offer from the Tigers. Everyone in the Southeast recruited the attacking guard who may be asked to step in immediately and replace some of Vander Blue’s now-missing production.

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Big East M5: 02.07.13 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on February 7th, 2013

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  1. Providence got 26 solid minutes from junior forward Lee Goldsborough and 25 points from Kadeem Batts as they pulled the probable upset of the week, beating Cincinnati 54-50 to wreck the Bearcats’ momentum. Goldsborough is seeing increased minutes because Sidiki Johnson left the team and the little-used junior made the most of them by making all three of his baskets, grabbing four offensive rebounds, coming through with a number of excellent defensive plays as well. We just talked yesterday about the importance of Cooley finding players who actually want to be at Providence and hearing Goldsborough describe the way he was feeling as “over the moon” it sounds like the Friars have at least a few players who believe in the program and want to help it succeed.
  2. From the opposite perspective, this was a bad loss for a Cincinnati team that seemed to be finding its footing in the conference. The Bearcats’ offense was stagnant and listless all evening and coach Mick Cronin ripped into his team a little bit calling the loss “ugly” while also accepting blame for not getting the team ready to play. The Bearcats would have loved to head into their three-game home stand with a lot of momentum, but instead they let a vastly undermanned and disorganized Providence team jump out to an early lead and hold onto it in the second half. The team’s over-reliance on Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright for its offense is troubling and could be an issue when they play better teams. But for now they just need to make sure they don’t let this bad loss snowball and turn into a losing a streak that could knock them out of the conference race.
  3. St. John’s held off a furious second half rally from Connecticut last night to secure a much-needed seventh conference win. With nothing to play for, the loss stings the Huskies less and the win helps the Johnnies remain in striking distance of the teams at the top of the conference. Moreover, the Red Storm did it all without their starting point guard, Jamal Branch, and responded well when they were punched in the mouth at the start of the second half proving that this season’s team may have what it takes to keep from folding and make the NCAA Tournament. Branch’s replacement, Marc-Antoine Bourgalt, may not have the same playmaking ability, but he did provide a surprising scoring bunch (11 points) and helped lead an all-around impressive defensive effort. Now the Johnnies will begin preparing for road games at Syracuse and Louisville this week with a little bit of a buffer in the standings.
  4. After watching studs Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom leave for the NBA, everyone seemed to think that Marquette had an excellent team, they just weren’t sure who would step out from the pack and become to the go-to-guy. As conference play has got under way, junior guard Vander Blue has assuaged some of these concerns nicely. He had just 13 points in last night’s blowout win over South Florida but he has been a driving force offensively for the Golden Eagles. The once highly-touted guard has taken a few years to blossom, but his steady offensive presence and ability to defend multiple positions is one of the main reasons the Golden Eagles are surprising folks and sit close to the top of the Big East standings. It is indeed rather uncanny the way Buzz Williams develops one of these elite players every year .
  5. The last game of the night featured Louisville overcoming yet another sluggish first half to cruise to a 20-point win over Rutgers. The Cardinals were lethargic in the first half and then, as they have seemingly done all year, they turned up the defensive intensity in the second half and quickly sank the Scarlet Knights’ potential upset bid. The Cardinals will be able to get away with this type of Jekyl and Hyde style of play against lesser teams like Rutgers, but that inconsistency is exactly the type of thing that could derail Louisville’s national title hopes. They showed in the second half that when they are focused, they are a runaway steamroller. But they aren’t always focused and running smoothly, so figuring out how to become more consistent should be top priority for Rick Pitino the rest of the way.
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Big East M5: 02.05.12 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on February 5th, 2013

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  1. Last night’s game between Syracuse and Notre Dame featured two top-25 teams jostling for position in the conference standings, but it also was the first and maybe the only time the Grant brothers–Jerian and Jerami–will get to play against each other in college. This will be the only meeting between the two teams this season and with Syracuse set to leave for the ACC posthaste,  who knows when the next time these two teams will play unless they meet in the Big East Tournament. The brothers are apparently quite close and Jerami even credits his older brother with making sure he didn’t give up when he wasn’t getting playing time early in the season. Jerami and his Orange repaid the older brother by throttling his Fighting Irish. Jerian may have scored more (15 to 14) but Jerami added six rebounds and two assists as Syracuse cruised to a 63-47 win.
  2. Pittsburgh finally got itself a marquee win over the weekend against Syracuse and then avoided the obvious letdown by beating Seton Hall last night for its sixth win in seven games. The Panthers tried their best to let Seton Hall beat them, shooting a season-low 34 percent from the field, but Pirates’ star Fuquan Edwin got hurt in a one-point game and Pitt managed to pull away thanks to its depth and its defense. Seton Hall is headed for a finish near the bottom of the conference, but the win was still huge since the Panthers will play three ranked teams over the course of the next nine days.
  3. The end of the James Southerland saga is now in sight according to Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports who cited a source to say Southerland’s eligibility appeal will be held Friday. Counting the game last night against Notre Dame, Southerland has missed six games and the team has gone 4-2 in his absence but surely Syracuse fans are excited to get one of their most dynamic offensive players back on the floor. Grant and Trevor Cooney were able-bodied replacements but they lack the scoring punch and athleticism of Southerland. The appeal is being heard by the university and assuming it is granted, the Orange could have Southerland back in uniform as soon as Sunday’s game against St. John’s. But few people know the severity of Southerland’s academic transgressions and even fewer will know the nature of the appeal, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves quite yet.
  4. It has been a good past few weeks for Cincinnati and coach Mick Cronin. The Bearcats have won five of their last six and currently sit just a half-game behind Syracuse in the conference standings. They also recently secured one of the more high-profile recruits of the Cronin era when the Bearcats landed New Jersey native and five-star forward Jermaine Lawrence on Sunday. Lawrence is an athletic power forward with plenty of face-up skills and decent range. He will need to add some meat to his bones but he has the frame to add serious muscle and could make an immediate impact in terms of floor-spacing and natural ability. Perhaps more importantly is that it signifies that Cronin can recruit with the big boys and once he is able to do that with consistency, the Bearcats will be a perennial contender no matter what happens to the Big East.
  5. Steve Lavin has St. John‘s playing tough basketball, which is why freshman point guard Jamal Branch‘s knee injury and presumed sprained MCL is especially inopportune. Branch has been up and down since becoming eligible,  but recently he has been a spark plug for the Johnnies and the team is 5-1 since being inserted into the starting lineup. The Red Storm don’t really have a true backup for Branch and will likely use a combination of Marc Bourgalt and Phil Greene IV at the point in Branch’s absence. Hopefully Branch isn’t out long because while Lavin’s club doesn’t quite have the look of a tournament team, they are headed in that direction in a hurry.
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Tipping Off the Big East Countdown: #9 St. John’s

Posted by Dan Lyons on October 26th, 2012

Few programs in the country went through the adversity that St. John’s found itself facing last season.  Head coach Steve Lavin underwent surgery to treat prostate cancer in October of last year, and he was only able to coach four games in early November before deciding to sit out for the rest of the season. Multiple key players left during the season for various reasons, and at times the Red Storm were only able to play with a six-man rotation of scholarship players. This year should prove to be a challenge for the Johnnies, especially after the departure of Moe Harkless following last season, but they return a solid nucleus and add a number of talented freshmen who look to continue the restoration project that is Steven Lavin’s St. John’s basketball program.

2011-12 Record: 13-19, 6-12

2011-12 Postseason: None

Steve Lavin returns to the St. John’s bench in 2012-13. Can he bring back the success of the 2010-11 campaign?

Schedule

St. John’s non-conference schedule is fairly light. The Storm open with Detroit and the ever-dangerous Ray McCallum at Carnesecca Arena before heading to Charleston, South Carolina, for the DirecTV Charleston Classic. In the opening round of the tournament the Storm take on host College of Charleston before facing either Auburn or Murray State. The field also features Big 12 power Baylor, Boston College, Colorado, and Dayton. St. John’s will also host South Carolina in Queens in the Big East/SEC Challenge.  St. John’s plays one non-conference game in Madison Square Garden, against Fordham, and will play one game in Brooklyn’s new Barclays Center against St. Francis. In the Big East, the team opens at Villanova on January 2, and has home-and-homes with Rutgers, Georgetown, Notre Dame, and DePaul.

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Big East Summer Capsules: St. John’s Red Storm

Posted by mlemaire on July 25th, 2012

While most relish the onset of Summer, college basketball junkies do not. Most of the news surrounding the sport is recruiting rumors and commitments or injuries and transfer news. In order to help keep folks up-to-date on what their teams are doing during the summer, we put together these summer capsules for each team in the conference. Next up is St. John’s.

1. It’s probably time to fill out the coaching staff.

Former assistant and interim coach Mike Dunlap took the head gig with the Charlotte Bobcats and he left a giant hole on Coach Steve Lavin’s staff that still hasn’t been filled. Dunlap was considered an excellent tactician with a knack for developing young players and rumors are that the Red Storm will hire De La Salle (CA) High School coach Frank Allocco to fill the same role. Allocco has known Lavin since the latter’s days at UCLA and he has New Jersey roots, so the move makes a lot of sense for a number of reasons, but Lavin has said he won’t make a final decision until August. The Red Storm have dealt with plenty of upheaval in the last two years, so an absent assistant coach won’t faze them, but Lavin would be wise to get the deal done as soon as he feels comfortable so that whomever he hires can start recruiting and coaching.

2.  Looking good Steve! Feeling good team!

Steve Lavin Is Feeling Better And Ready To Lead St. John’s Again

If you don’t get the reference, go rent Trading Places and thank me later. Lavin went through prostate cancer surgery last season and despite his attempts to return to the bench, fatigue and treatment got the best of him so that he spent most of the season away from the sidelines. Now Lavin is healthy, tearing up the recruiting trail like only he can, and preparing to patrol the sideline for a St. John’s team that should engender a lot of optimism from their fan base thanks to the amount of returning talent on the roster. Now the question becomes exactly how healthy is Lavin? He already proved that he can overcome the nagging questions about his health on the recruiting trail, but if the questions come back he may not be able to overcome the uncertainty again. More importantly, he needs to be on the sideline. The players on his team committed to the program in large part because of Lavin and his personality; one can assume they would like to play for the coach who recruited them.

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Big East Morning Five: 01.27.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on January 27th, 2012

  1. Many dishonorable things happen on the recruiting trail. Much like in politics, coaches sell the positives of their programs as much as they attempt to create negativity around that of their competitors. There are few bullets left unfired, and it can get personal. Therefore it comes as little surprise that St. John’s head coach Steve Lavin’s continued recovery from prostate cancer is being used against him. Lavin’s Red Storm team has been short-handed this season both on the court and on the sideline. They employ just seven scholarship players and Lavin has not been able to coach the team during games since early in the season due to the physical demands involved. To Lavin’s credit, he has met the challenge with honesty and positivity. The approach recently paid dividends as Lavin landed Jamal Branch, a transfer from Texas A&M. Lavin spoke about the process that brought Branch to Jamaica, New York: “Naturally in recruiting he’s going to hear from all the other schools, speculation, innuendo and rumors, so my inclination is to take that head on and just lay it out. We were able to convince Jamal that this was a great situation in spite of the fact that I’m currently recuperating from prostate cancer.”
  2. Since Louisville was dismantled by Providence two weeks ago to cap off a stretch where the Cardinals lost four of five games, the Cardinals have won three four to stabilize its season. The turn-around can be attributed in part to some soul searching that started with a team meeting after the Providence game. In a delayed celebration of Festivus, grievances were aired and it appears the open communication, along with some much needed practice time, have relieved some stress. Head coach Rick Pitino has been vocal about the team’s need for practice, while others criticized the alleged over-intensity of Pitino’s training sessions. Despite unconfirmed fake rumors, started by unknown people who may or may not be writing this Morning Five right now, that Rick Pitino has been seen working out material at the Comedy Caravan, Pitino has never been confused with Shecky Green. Yet, there are reports of laughter coming out of Louisville practices. And now Pitino finds himself cracking a smile as the newly found levity around Louisville has translated from practice floor to the main stage.
  3. Syracuse and basketball coach Jim Boeheim are looking to get out of the city. However New York apartment hunters will be disappointed to learn that this is just a bit of legal maneuvering. Syracuse and Boeheim are being sued for defamation by two of former Syracuse assistant coach Bernie Fine’s accusers. Fine has been accused of alleged sexual misconduct with minors but has not been charged. However when the allegations surfaced Boeheim made comments in defense of Fine that referenced the accusers may perhaps be lying and looking for personal gain. The suit was brought in New York City and lawyers for the defense have filed a motion to have the case moved to Onondaga County given that is where those involved reside. The accusers counter argument is to have the case in Onondaga County would not be fair due to Syracuse and Boeheim’s high profile in that area.
  4. You know how in professional sports when an owner comes out and gives his or her coach or general manager a vote of confidence it usually means said coach or general manager better dust of the old resume?  Well, the Big 12 expansion committee met on Wednesday and yesterday the conference’s associate commissioner for communications, Bob Burda said of the proceedings, “There is nothing imminent with regard to expansion.” So, taking Burda at his word, Louisville and Brigham Young University are apparently on, or back on, the Big 12’s wish list as the league ponders a 12-team membership. This is fresh off locking up current Big East participant West Virginia. Regardless of further expansion, the Big 12 remains in near-term flux as West Virginia’s departure date from the Big East is being litigated as the school is challenging the 27-month exit clause they had previously agreed to in the Big East bylaws.
  5. Brooklyn’s James Buchanan High School turned out no notable basketball products, despite some promising moments from Freddie ‘Boom Boom’ Washington. However, this is not an item about letters of intent. For this is an item about letters from Epstein’s mother. Those letters allowed Robert Hegyes (a.k.a “Juan Epstein”) to avoid many a detention session, or other such disciplinary action at the hands of Mr. Kotter. Of course Epstein’s mother and her famed pen were no match for mortality as the “Welcome Back Kotter” star, and Sweathog point guard, died of a heart attack yesterday at the age of 60.

(There is no such thing as James Buchanan High School in Brooklyn, but you know that already.)

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Big East Morning Five: 01.18.12 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on January 18th, 2012

  1.  Not even a week after former St. John‘s point guard Nurideen Lindsey announced he would transfer to Arkansas, the Johnnies received a point guard transfer of their own in former Texas A&M freshman Jamal Branch. Branch will have three and a half seasons of eligibility left and is a good addition for Steve Lavin. Lindsey’s departure left a void at point guard and Branch, who averaged 4.2 points and 2.5 assists per game in his short stint as an Aggie, will fill that void, even if it takes a little bit of time.
  2. There is very little doubt that Connecticut is going to miss mercurial freshman Ryan Boatright while he sits out because of his second suspension of the year. But as this article points out, his absence represents an excellent opportunity for Roscoe Smith or DeAndre Daniels. The added size in the lineup will help with rebounding and defensive purposes, but either Smith or Daniels will need to become at least a passable offensive threat or else opponents will continue to harass Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier.
  3. Brendan Prunty of the Newark Star-Ledger had an excellent article on Seton Hall point guard Jordan Theodore and how he is within reach of the school’s single season assist record. It also tells the tale of the current record-holder Golden Sunkett, whose awesome name I have admittedly never heard before. The story isn’t just straight news and that’s what makes it great; it is definitely worth a read.
  4. I wonder how many people thought the Khem Birch leaving Pittsburgh story was all the way done. Those people were proved wrong the other night when Birch sounded off to a radio station about his former teammates and coach Jamie Dixon. Birch says a lot and only those close to the team know whether any of it has some validity, but I doubt we will ever find out the answer. Ashton Gibbs gave the remarks an obligatory dismissal and I feel like I must say, Birch’s remarks about not being embraced seem rather arrogant.
  5. In honor of Syracuse’s record-setting 19-0 start, here is a column about Jim Boeheim, Adolph Rupp, and the former’s career that eventually surpassed the latter’s. We give credit where credit is due, and Boeheim has dealt with immense adversity this season and his team has remained focused and perfect. That is some darn good coaching.
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St. John’s Freshmen Making the Most of a Rebuilding Season

Posted by EJacoby on January 17th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC contributor and correspondent. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. He filed this report after Georgetown’s win over St. John’s on Sunday.

As a basketball program, St. John’s and its fans have not had a whole lot to smile about this season. Sunday afternoon was no exception, when Georgetown came into Madison Square Garden and handed the Red Storm their fourth loss in five games with a 69-49 victory. But despite the result, freshman forward Maurice Harkless dazzled a packed crowd with 21 points and 10 rebounds in a comeback effort when his team was down, in the process showing why there’s so much promise for the rebuilding Red Storm. Between Harkless and fellow freshman star D’Angelo Harrison, St. John’s has the necessary pieces to turn a losing, learning season into future success.

Times are rough for St. John's, but Harrison and Harkless (above) have what it takes to turn around the program (AP Photo)

St. John’s’ season record reflects all of the turmoil within the program. After Sunday’s loss, the Red Storm dropped to 8-9 overall and 2-4 in Big East play. But there’s much more than just a silver lining to this dark cloud of a season. Five of the Red Storm’s six leading scorers are freshmen, which includes guards Sir’Dominic Pointer and Phil Greene in addition to the versatile trio of Harkless, Harrison, and Amir Garrett. By nearly all metrics, Harkless is the best freshman in the Big East and might be one of the most talented players in the whole conference. His totals against Georgetown upped his season averages to 15.8 PPG, 8.4 RPG, and 1.8 BPG, all team highs. He’s top five in the conference in the latter two statistics and possesses the dynamic offensive game of a future NBA small forward. Harrison has been nearly as productive, averaging 15 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.9 APG, and 1.6 SPG, and he’s had the ball in his hands most often this season when St. John’s needs a big play or shot to be made. Pointer has the look of a potential ‘glue guy,’ and he already contributes across the board on a nightly basis with about seven points, five boards, and over a block and steal per game.

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Big East Morning Five: 01.10.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on January 10th, 2012

  1. Pittsburgh transfer Khem Birch told Alex Kline of TheRecruitScoop.com he will transfer to UNLV.  Birch visited UNLV, Florida and New Mexico State last week before making his choice. “I really like UNLV,“ he told Kline. “It was a very tough decision but UNLV is a good fit for me because of the coaches, players and facilities… I can develop under a great, young coach in Dave Rice.  He and the entire staff made me feel very comfortable in Las Vegas.”  As a transfer, Birch will have to sit out two semesters.  The timing of the decision was critical as he will be able to enroll in school for the spring semester with the intent of becoming eligible in January 2013.  UNLV has two remaining scholarships that could be used to build upon what is already a monster class of newcomers: DaQuan Cook, Katin Reinhardt, Demetris Morant as well as Bryce Jones, who is a transfer from the Southern California, are all headed to Vegas next year.   The buzz surrounding the two open spots involves three more heavyweights in forwards Anthony Bennett (ranked seventh in the class of 2012 by both Rivals.com and ESPN.com), Shabazz Muhammad (the consensus number one rated class of 2012 recruit) and St. John’s decommit Norvel Pelle.
  2. St John’s was involved in the other piece of transfer news yesterday.  Fortunately, this time they found out they were getting one rather than losing one.  Guard Jamal Branch, who left Texas A&M after one semester there, announced he will be suiting up for the Red Storm once he sits out a year under NCAA transfer rules.   Arizona, Marquette and Maryland were also reportedly in the mix.  Branch, a top 100 recruit coming out of Grace Prep in Arlington, Texas, was playing significant minutes (18.6 MPG) for the Aggies as the backup point guard, averaging 4.2 points and 2.5 assists per game.  He cited his relationship with current St. John’s guard D’Angelo Harrison as contributing to his decision. “The players there are pretty cool and with me knowing D’Angelo helped me make my decision,” Branch said. “That’s like my little brother and we always wanted to play with each other. Me and him click well and are looking forward to doing big things here at St. John’s.”
  3. It will be a banner evening in Providence tonight when Rick Pitino and his Louisville club come to town to take on the Friars.  This year marks the 25th anniversary of Providence’s Final Four run under Pitino and the milestone will be celebrated during a halftime ceremony.  With a band of pressing, three-point shooting unknowns such as current Florida head coach Billy Donovan, Delray Brooks and Ernie “Pop” Lewis, the 1986-87 Friars captivated a region and vaulted Pitino to coaching stardom.  “I have always coached every time out, no matter how much time is left in the game, feeling we could come back, no matter what the level was, or the score was, all because of that Providence College basketball team. Because they set the standard, not only for comebacks, but they set the standard for just making me believe that anything is possible,” Pitino said.  The Friars defeated Georgetown, ironically in Louisville, in the regional final before bowing to another Big East foe, Syracuse, in the national semifinals.  Current Providence head coach Ed Cooley will personally enjoy the moment as well.  A Rhode Islander who group up a fan of the Friars, Cooley was star player at Rhode Island’s Central High School at the time. A number of team members are expected to be in attendance, including Brooks and Lewis.
  4. The Big East’s weekly superlatives have been dished out and West Virginia’s Darryl “Truck” Bryant scooped up his second Player of the Week honor.  Bryant averaged 27 points per game in Mountaineer wins over Rutgers and Georgetown.  Rookie of the Week went to St. John’s guard D’Angelo Harrison who averaged 21 points and 7.5 rebounds in two games, highlighted by an 18-point, seven-rebound effort in an upset road win over Cincinnati.  Big East Honor Roll recipients this week were: DePaul guard Brandon Young, who averaged 24 points per game including 26 in a win over Pittsburgh; Notre Dame forward Jack Cooley who is starting to become a regular around here;  Rutgers guard Eli Carter, who followed up his Rookie of the Week honor with more strong play; Seton Hall guard Jordan Theodore, who averaged a double-double for the week (16.5 PPG, 10.0 APG) and Syracuse guard Brandon Triche who filled up the stat sheet (16.0 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 3.5 APG) to help keep the Orange unbeaten.
  5. Say what you want about the overall quality of the Big East this year as compared to recent seasons but one thing is for sure, nobody can ever rest on their laurels, lest they find themselves on the short end of an upset loss.  It was another turbulent week in the conference as evidenced by the latest Top 25 poll.  The only constant of course has been Syracuse (17-0), who was pushed at times on the road by Providence and back home against Marquette, but held firm to their undefeated record and #1 ranking.  The Orange have really separated from the back as they now represent the Big East’s only resident of the Top 10.  Connecticut (12-3), behind losses to Seton Hall and Rutgers, plummeted nine spots to #17.  Georgetown (13-2) lost at West Virginia and slipped two notches to #11 as a result.  Louisville’s (13-3) double overtime loss to Notre Dame cost them three spots as the Cardinals slid to #14.  Marquette (12-4) took two losses last week, and therefore did not hold their ranking, falling five spots to #25.  OK, enough of talking about teams that are struggling.  How ‘bout those Pirates!  Yes, Seton Hall (14-2) coming of a 2-0 week that featured wins over then #8 Connecticut and on the road against Providence, broke in at #24 and is ranked for the first time since 2001.
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Morning Five: 01.10.11 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 10th, 2012

  1. After thinking it over on Sunday night Khem Birch announced that he would be transferring to UNLV. Birch chose UNLV over Florida and New Mexico State, his two other reported finalists. In the end, it appears that Birch saw what Mike Moser, one of several transfers on the UNLV roster, was doing in UNLV’s system and felt that he could play a similar role for the Rebels. Birch will join an interesting roster next year that will feature three other transfers and a solid incoming class with one more scholarship spot available. Of course, many Rebels fan will view this decision through the prism of how it will affect their recruitment of Shabazz Muhammad, the #1 overall recruit in this year’s senior class. According to Muhammad’s father, Birch’s announcement “only strengthens UNLV in the eyes of Shabazz.”
  2. While Birch knows that he will be playing college basketball in a year, the future is not so bright for UAB student Todd O’Brien as his appeal for a graduate student transfer exemption was denied by the NCAA. O’Brien’s saga, which technically began last summer, rose to national prominence last month when he wrote a column for Sports Illustrated calling out Saint Joseph’s and Phil Martelli for not granting him a waiver and not providing him with a reason for their denial. As we noted last week, Saint Joseph’s has tried to hide behind the veil of  student privacy although reports last week indicate that the school would not divulge its reason(s) even if O’Brien waived that right. Now it appears with little non-legal (the real legal system not the NCAA version), O’Brien appears willing to call Saint Joseph’s bluff and we will see how the school and Martelli respond.
  3. Over the past few years, Todd Bozeman has become known as the one coach who had managed to overcome the  now infamous show-cause penalty to become a success Division I basketball head coach. Unfortunately, Bozeman’s path to redemption took a detour over the weekend as Bozeman was involved in an altercation of some sort with senior guard Larry Bastfield. There are conflicting reports on what actually happened–Bozeman says it was “accidental contact” while others say it was a deliberate punch–but for the time being Morgan State has decided to suspend Bozeman indefinitely while they conduct an investigation. From the reports we have read the evidence does not appear to be clear cut especially since both Bozeman and Bastfield now claim that the incident was overblown, but for someone with Bozeman’s history this is the last thing he needs to have around him.
  4. It did not generate nearly the same level of buzz that Birch’s announcement did, but St. John’s picked up a commitment from transfer Jamal Branch, who left Texas A&M after just 11 games this season. Branch, who was a consensus top 100 recruit last season, will be a welcome addition to a Red Storm team that lost much of its heralded freshman class to a variety of eligibility issues and are still waiting on several members of next season’s incoming freshman class to finalize their decisions.
  5. In this week’s Hoops Thoughts column Seth Davis explores the downtrend in fouls called and scoring with some analysis from John Adams, the NCAA’s supervisor of officials. Adams provides some interesting insight and clarifies a few common misconceptions that some fans have about new or controversial rules. Seth also offers a variety of random thoughts on different teams and even touches on his belief that coaches should wear more casual/comfortable clothing on the sideline citing St. John’s big win over then #1 Duke last January when its coaches wore sneakers and open collars, which they also did when they when they lost at home in November to Northeastern by 14.
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