Big East Morning Five: 03.01.12 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on March 1st, 2012

  1. Hey JaQuon Parker, where did that come from? The junior has scored more than 20 points just once this season, and then all of a sudden, he caught fire last night against No. 8 Marquette and dropped a career-high 28 points on the Golden Eagles with ease. Basically, Cincinnati came to play on Senior Night, and Marquette lost yet another game on the road. The Bearcats repeatedly blew by their defenders for layups and also knew they needed to keep Marquette from scoring fast break points in cruising to the 72-61 win. The win probably takes Cincinnati — who has now won six of their last eight — off the bubble and puts them squarely in the field of 68. For Marquette, they played with fire too many times and they finally couldn’t make another second half comeback.
  2. It is also probably time to stop doubting whether Stan Heath has a legitimately good team this season. It is true that most of their conference success has been against the bottom half of the conference, but after going into Louisville and leaving with a gutsy 58-51 win, it will be very hard to keep the Bulls out of the NCAA Tournament. Even Cardinals freshman Chane Behanan admitted it, South Florida needed the win more than Louisville, and “they came out hungrier.” The Cardinals didn’t play their best game, but Heath’s club is an underrated defensive club and they deserve most of the credit for holding Louisville to just 34% shooting from the field. At this point, the Big East Tournament is completely wide open, and the Bulls are coming in playing really well (winners of five of their last six) and they could surprise some people with a run.
  3. Checking in with the best team in the conference, here is a look at the evolution of the aptly described “most polarizing Syracuse player in the last decade,” Scoop Jardine. The Orange senior point guard has become a much better player over his career, and is enjoying a solid final season as he chases a National Championship. Jardine has drawn plenty of ire from ‘Cuse fans for his penchant for turnovers and questionable shot selection at times. But he has settled into the role of distributor on this year’s team and has become a leader for one of the country’s most talented rosters. He has become very efficient, especially in a slightly diminished role, and despite the team’s depth, the Orange would definitely not be the same team without him.
  4. In news that is maybe only interesting to a former Beltway local like me, legendary former Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson signed off of his radio show for the last time yesterday afternoon. It started as an assignment to talk about the 1999 NCAA Tournament and spawned into one of the most interesting radio shows in the area, lasting 13 years. From a personal standpoint, I used to listen to him all the time. He spoke in the smoothest baritone and he was often refreshingly blunt in his criticism, unafraid to speak his mind. In Washington, D.C., Thompson is a larger than life figure and city lifer. I doubt he will step away from the media entirely, but it sure is bittersweet to hear that the 70-year-old wants to spend more time with his family. He will be missed.
  5. There is no such thing as too much piling on Connecticut, so I will use the final item today to talk about the fact that many pundits still have the Huskies in the Field of 68 with the regular season nearly over. Jerry Palm points out that the team’s nine losses in its last 12 games is erroneous, because Selection Committee look at a team’s overall body of work rather than late season trends. So fine, let’s look at their overall body of work. I am well aware of where all of the analysts rank UConn, and I respect folks like Palm, Lunardi, and KenPom so I don’t question the math. But the Huskies haven’t beaten a single team in the RPI Top 25 and their best wins (over Florida State and maybe Harvard) came quite early in the season. They might be in for now but they can’t be far from the wrong side of the bubble. Let’s just say that they should probably beat Pittsburgh at home on Saturday.
Share this story

ATB: Northwestern’s Hard Knock Life, Bubble Bumps At USF & CSU, and Early Conference Tourney Action…

Posted by rtmsf on March 1st, 2012

Tonight’s Lede. From this point forward until Selection Sunday, it’s busy season. Between all the conference tournaments and the wrangling of the power conference teams trying to peacock their way onto the right side of the bubble, there are no more quiet nights around the world of college basketball. And why should there be — after all, it’s March. Several teams across the landscape tonight helped their cases in this, the last week of the regular season, but it was one hard-luck squad that caught our eye as the most compelling storyline for what they were (once again) unable to do — win a ‘necessary’ game. Let’s jump in…

Your Watercooler Moment. Northwestern’s Tortured Souls.

Northwestern Can Never Seem To Catch A Break (Chicago Tribune/N. DiNuzzo)

There are tortured souls, and there are fans of teams that reside on the north side of Chicago. The Cubs are perhaps American sports’ longest running laugh-a-thon, but for Northwestern basketball fans, they’ve simply never even reached the status of relevance. At least the Cubs actually won the World Series in 1907 and 1908 and have made the MLB playoffs as recently as four years ago. The Wildcats? Oh-fer. In 73 years of NCAA Tournaments, Northwestern has never received an invitation to college basketball’s marquee event. Under Bill Carmody, they’ve been close — a seventh-place Big Ten finish in 2009, an eighth place finish in 2010 — but there always seemed to be a couple late season heart-breakers that sealed the Wildcats’ fate. This year has been particularly brutal, especially in winnable home games. A one-point loss to Illinois; a two-point defeat to Purdue; an overtime L to Michigan… and then tonight’s game against Ohio State. After a late 8-0 run punctuated by an Alex Marcotullio three-pointer tied the game at 73-all with 7.7 seconds left, Northwestern could taste the capstone victory it needed to finally solidify its spot on the sweet side of the bubble. Instead, OSU’s Aaron Craft immediately drove the ball upcourt to find his All-America big man, Jared Sullinger (22/18), on the right side of the lane for a relatively easy turn and punch off glass to give the Buckeyes a two-point lead. John Shurna’s half-court shot to win fell short, and Northwestern fans once again walked out of the arena with disappointment written on their faces. Of course, the season isn’t over yet, and the Wildcats will play at Iowa on Saturday to try to get to 8-10 in the Big Ten race, and there’s still the Big Ten Tournament next week. Still, beating a top 10 team like the Buckeyes would have really helped their resume, and if Carmody’s team is once again left to the NIT again on Selection Sunday, they’ll look back at this game as yet another golden opportunity missed. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

Tonight’s Quick Hits

Share this story

Cincinnati Can Make Serious Postseason Noise… If They Qualify

Posted by EJacoby on February 10th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a correspondent and regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. He filed this report after Cincinnati’s win over St. John’s on Wednesday. 

While it may not have even been the fourth or fifth biggest game across the country on Wednesday evening, Cincinnati taking on St. John’s in Madison Square Garden was a massive matchup for the road team. The Bearcats had lost three of four games, including two straight on the road, and needed this win away from home. That wasn’t a problem as Mick Cronin’s team shellacked the Red Storm for a 76-54 victory and made it look easy. Cincinnati played 12 players in the game, 11 of whom scored, and played incredibly crisp basketball on both ends of the floor. Three different guards scored in double figures alongside leading scorer Yancy Gates, and the team used a stifling 2-3 zone defense that caused problems all night for St. John’s. You would have never known that the Bearcats were a bubble team, a label that they look to shed in the coming weeks.

Mick Cronin's Bearcats Could Make Some Noise if they Make the NCAA Tournament (AP Photo/J. Fuqua)

In the process of the 22-point victory, Cincinnati looked like a Top 25 team, one that could pose some serious matchup problems for opponents in the postseason. Gates scored 14 points with nine rebounds in just 21 minutes, going 6-8 from the field and playing strong interior defense in the zone. He was joined by starters Sean Kilpatrick, Cashmere Wright, and Dion Dixon in double figures, as the guards found easy baskets by way of strong possessions against the St. John’s zone. Wright, Dixon, and Gates are upperclassmen who have been through the fire for this team and it shows. Kilpatrick is the sophomore but just happens to one of the more talented scorers in the Big East (15.4 PPG). A deep bench joins these leaders to combine for a great formula of talent, experience, and depth – and it was all on display on Wednesday.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Set Your TiVo: 01.20 – 01.22

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 21st, 2012

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

Cincinnati and Vanderbilt will look to keep rolling but a Big 12 clash highlights Saturday’s slate.

#5 Missouri @ #3 Baylor – 2:00 PM EST Saturday on ESPN (*****)

This Clash Between Big 12 Powers Offers a Contrast in Strengths

  • This game could really come down to which team imposes its will. For Missouri, it would love nothing more than to speed the game up, force turnovers and not let Baylor get set in its half court defense. Missouri’s strength is its guard play. Frank Haith employs a four-guard lineup and it has worked wonders this season. The Tigers have shot the ball very well this season and that’s going to have to continue on the road in Waco. Missouri has struggled against teams with bigger front lines so its guards must shoot well if penetration is cut off and Ricardo Ratliffe is limited inside by Baylor’s trees. Kim English, Michael Dixon and Marcus Denmon can flat out shoot the basketball and Haith will need all three contributing in order to beat Baylor. It will be a bonus if Ratliffe can get anything going inside but Mizzou’s guards must continue to make shots in a tough environment.
  • Baylor is the stronger team inside and Scott Drew knows it. Getting Perry Jones III to assert himself in the paint along with Quincy Acy could be the key for the Bears in this game. Baylor will have the home crowd and energy behind itself and capitalizing on that is going to be very important against a team that loves to speed you up and force turnovers. In order for Jones and Acy to get the ball, Baylor’s guard play must be up to the task. Missouri will pressure Pierre Jackson and A.J. Walton all game because the Tigers need to run up the turnovers and transition points in order to offset what should be a significant Baylor edge on the glass. If Baylor can slow the game down a bit, limit turnovers and get the ball inside, it should be on its way to a win. If Jones III and Acy are hot in the paint, that will open up Brady Heslip and Jackson from deep. Jackson does so much for this team with penetration, passing and shooting ability but Heslip is great spotting up or coming off a screen. Baylor has multiple weapons of varying height, something Missouri may have a very hard time dealing with.
  • As we said, Missouri must speed the game up and create turnovers against the turnover-prone Bears. Ratliffe is a very good post player but we’re not sure if he’s going to be able to score consistently as the only Mizzou big man against Baylor’s immense height in the paint. If Missouri can’t get anything inside it must knock down deep shots and get to the free throw line. The Tigers shoot 77.6% from the charity stripe and that could end up being their most efficient way of scoring against Baylor aside from the three ball. Baylor didn’t defend well against Kansas but Missouri was exposed in a tough environment at Kansas State. If Baylor is physical and sticks to the game plan of good half court offense, the Bears should win. Missouri should play better in its second time on the road against a very good team but you have to favor Baylor at home given the size mismatch.

Cincinnati @ West Virginia – 3:00 PM EST Saturday on ESPNU (****)

Share this story

Night Line: Cincinnati’s Talent and Toughness Has the Bearcats Rising to Success

Posted by EJacoby on January 19th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC contributor and correspondent. 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.

After No. 1-ranked and unbeaten Syracuse, it’s still unclear exactly who the second best team in the Big East Conference is. But after Cincinnati defeated No. 12 Connecticut on the road on Wednesday night in impressive fashion, we might have an answer to that question. With their 10th victory in 11 games, the Bearcats have improved to 5-1 in the Big East with three road wins, including two over top competition in UConn and Georgetown. This team has already gone through enough adversity for an entire season and is now starting to peak after all of it. Cincinnati is identified first for its ugly brawl with Xavier on December 10, but with the way this team is now playing, it might soon be recognized instead as an excellent basketball team.

Sean Kilpatrick & Yancy Gates are Finally Smiling for Streaking Cincinnati (AP Photo)

Cincinnati has been a fairly mediocre team during the Mick Cronin era. They hadn’t finished above 10th place in the Big East standings until last season’s sixth place finish, and they have won 20 games just once in the past six years. Despite rumors of their coach being on the hot seat, the program has had faith in Cronin and his hard work in recruiting and teaching is finally paying off with these talented Bearcats. Then came the fight with Xavier last month, which threatened to ruin this team’s chances yet again. Instead, the lessons learned from that day seem to have awakened this team. While nobody in the program would wish for that nasty fight to be a catalyst for success, the fact is that the Bearcats are playing at a more functional, higher level right now than they have in years. Having star caliber players in Sean Kilpatrick and Yancy Gates doesn’t hurt, but when you consider how good this team is right now after everything it’s gone through, it’s safe to say Cincinnati is one of the most intriguing teams in the country.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Set Your TiVo: 01.09.12

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 9th, 2012

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

While Monday night isn’t an “official” ESPN Big Monday, we might as well call it that. Sean McDonough, Bill Raftery and Jay Bilas will be on the call in Hartford as the Big East takes center stage this evening.

West Virginia at #14 Connecticut – 7:00 PM EST on ESPN2 (****)

  • It was a rough last week for Connecticut as the Huskies fell twice in the state of New Jersey, first at Seton Hall and then at Rutgers on Saturday. Returning to the XL Center in Hartford should give the team some confidence. Turnovers have been the big problem for UConn of late, especially on the most recent road trip. The Huskies committed 33 turnovers in their last two games with eight of those by Andre Drummond in the low post. The Connecticut offense can run smoothly with players like Drummond, Jeremy Lamb, Shabazz Napier, and Ryan Boatright, but the Huskies must limit turnovers against a West Virginia defense that can be taken advantage of in the paint. Jim Calhoun’s team usually plays well when it makes threes but tonight the focus should be inside. West Virginia allows opponents to shoot 48.3% inside the arc and you would think this is the perfect game to get Alex Oriakhiback on track. Using Boatright’s quickness, Napier’s passing ability, and Lamb’s versatility, the Huskies should be able to penetrate the West Virginia defense. Turnovers, of course, would limit that success. 

    Will This Be The Game That Alex Oriakhi Reasserts Himself?

  • Aside from a loss at Seton Hall on December 30, West Virginia has been rolling. The Mountaineers beat Georgetown on Saturday and a win tonight would vault them into position for a run at the second spot in the Big East. The Mountaineers are also struggling with turnover issues as Bob Huggins has freshmen playing key roles. West Virginia plays so much better when it makes shots, but not necessarily from the outside. West Virginia’s biggest strength is Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant doing the bulk of the scoring with others chipping in from time to time. Jones had 22 and 16 against Georgetown while Bryant is averaging 27 PPG over his last two outings since a 3-16 shooting performance in the Seton Hall game. Not coincidentally, West Virginia won both teams with relative ease. West Virginia has to get Jones many touches but he’ll be facing his toughest test to date. Connecticut’s interior defense is solid as always, ranked #3 (37.6% against). If West Virginia can’t score inside, it won’t win this game. The Mountaineers have done a tremendous job getting to the foul line in Big East play but UConn historically doesn’t foul a lot with Calhoun at the helm. His big men are adept at blocking shots without breaking the plane of verticality and fouling. However, the Huskies have put opponents on the stripe at a higher than average clip in conference play.
  • This game will be a war with two physical and talented teams going at it. You would expect nothing less in a Huggins-Calhoun match-up. Both teams will crash the offensive boards with incredible energy and whoever wins that battle may end up taking the game. West Virginia has better numbers when it comes to defensive rebounding but the Huskies have a great knack for getting second chance opportunities. Should this game come down to the wire, Connecticut has the advantage being at home with better free throw shooters (though not by much). Staying on that theme, look for Napier to try to get to the line often. When he does, Connecticut usually has success. When he doesn’t, it’s tougher for UConn to score in the half court. Based on the recent trends and statistics, some people may think West Virginia has the edge here. That wouldn’t be surprising but we’ll go with the home team in a close one.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Cincinnati Bearcats: With Suspensions Over, It’s Time to Think Bigger…

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on January 3rd, 2012

Cincinnati used its suspension-laden post-Xavier brawl schedule to find itself, and rekindled some of the high hopes they and their fans enjoyed entering the season.  The Bearcats went 6-0 while waiting for Yancy Gates, Cheikh Mbodj and Octavius Ellis to return from their suspensions.  And now that their penalties have come to an end and the returns are slated to occur Wednesday when Cincinnati hosts Notre Dame, some are now wondering if it is a good thing, given their recent short-handed success.  Of course the most notable and polarizing returnee is the senior center, Gates.  On the cusp of his return, the talk centered around what role he should serve given his team’s small-ball success without him.

Size Matters in the Big East

Guard play has been the reason for the six-game surge, but it had also been a primary issue accounting for Cincinnati’s pre-suspension struggles. Players like Cashmere Wright and Sean Kilpatrick had trailed expectations in the early going but have certainly stepped up their games when needed. Three-pointers were elusive before the streak (34.1% on 126 attempts in the team’s first eight games), but have been launched at a much more frequent and accurate clip during it (42.1% on 173 attempts in the last six games). That said, everyone knows that if you live by the three, you can easily die by the three.  Gates’ low-post presence will help keep opposing defenses honest and should assist Cincinnati in avoiding long droughts as long as he stays close to the basket and takes high-percentage shots.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 3rd, 2012

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

Ed. Note – This post was written prior to Tuesday’s action, and was mistakenly removed briefly Tuesday night/Wednesday morning.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • Rick Pitino’s Interesting Announcement: I was one of the folks who questioned why Rick Pitino would announce he plans to retire five years from now when his contract with the University of Louisville runs out. You would figure this will hurt recruiting, but Pitino seemed relieved and at peace with his decision. Of course, many things can change over a five-year time frame, but I’ll take Pitino at his word. As ESPN.com’s Andy Katz writes, he will leave quite the influential mark on the college game once he exits the stage.
  • Conference Play Begins: At long last, Big East play is finally here. 13 conference games were played this past week and some storylines are already beginning to emerge. Pittsburgh is 0-2 for the first time under Jamie Dixon while Villanova is also 0-2 for the first time since the 2006-07 season. Syracuse has continued to steamroll through its schedule and is among the select few teams capable of winning a national championship. Slowly but surely, Connecticut seems to be finding its identity. Once the Huskies establish a leader on the floor, they may begin to take off. Georgetown and Seton Hall have surprised the conference this season, filling the void vacated by the Panthers and Wildcats in the top half of the league. While the conference is down a bit, this is sure to be another terrific Big East basketball season. Enjoy the ride over the next two months.

Is Fab Melo College Basketball's Most Improved Player? (Dennis Nett/Syracuse Post-Standard)

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (15-0, 2-0): Simply put, this team is rolling. Syracuse blasted its two opponents this past week, obliterating Seton Hall by 26 points and winning by 19 at DePaul. Most impressive was the game against the Pirates, one in which Fab Melo recorded 12 points, seven boards, and a school record 10 blocked shots as Syracuse avenged last season’s home loss to Seton Hall. Even more amazing is that Syracuse won by 26 without Kris Joseph scoring a single point. How’s that for depth? The Orange forced 23 Pirate turnovers and held them to 31.7% shooting, including an 0-11 FG line for Fuquan Edwin. Against DePaul, Syracuse held Brandon Young to 0-8 shooting. That’s 0-19 FG against Syracuse for two guys averaging a combined 31 points. Syracuse still needs to improve its rebounding (Seton Hall was +2 on the glass) but this team is scary good and some are saying it hasn’t even reached its full potential yet. This week: 1/4 @ Providence, 1/7 vs. #13 Marquette.
  2. Connecticut (12-1, 2-0): The Huskies struggled for most of the game at South Florida, but managed to pull away late behind Jeremy Lamb’s 23 points on 8-11 FG. In the St. John’s game, the Huskies shot a scorching 60.4% and assisted on 21 of their 29 made field goals. Andre Drummond helped out in a big way, going for 16/11. Connecticut won both games without Jim Calhoun but the final one without their headman will be the toughest. UConn visits Seton Hall on Tuesday and won’t have their energetic coach to fire them up against a much stronger opponent than either USF or St. John’s. On the road and without its coach, Connecticut is somewhat vulnerable. This team lacks a true leader like Kemba Walker, but it slowly moving up the Big East power rankings. This week: 1/3 @ Seton Hall, 1/7 @ Rutgers. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

A Shootout To Remember

Posted by jstevrtc on December 14th, 2009

This fall I’ve had the pleasure to travel around a little and attend several college basketball games as a media member, but as I walked by the loading docks and into the back of the Cintas Center on Sunday night, I felt it as soon as I got inside.  I’ve attended Xavier basketball games on a media credential in the past, but this time, the buzz, the sounds, the aura…

This was different.

I had expected a different experience, because this was my first Crosstown Shootout.  But this was beyond expectation.  I made a quick detour through the media room and, without being asked, one of the very helpful Xavier Sports Info workers showed me to my seat.  I was positioned just around the corner from the Cincinnati bench, a short bounce pass away from UC head coach Mick Cronin, himself.  If you’re familiar with the Cintas Center setup, you’ve probably already realized — I was right in front of the Xavier student section. 

Total.  Freaking.  Mayhem.

Now, that period-after-every-word emphasis thing you see above is an overused tool by everyone ranging from amateur tweeters (myself included) to professional sportswriters (myself not included), and it’s losing a little luster.  I use it here because…well, if I had to use it once in my life to get a point across, this is when I would choose to use it.  As I said, I’ve been to a number of games in this part of the country this season.  The only way I can think to describe this particular student section on this night is…”beautifully ridiculous.”  I turned around, saw their painted faces and myriad noise-producing implements, heard the unbelievable roar that flowed from them, and I honestly thought I’d see Mel Gibson as William Wallace riding around in front of them on a horse.  They were both exhilarating and horrifying.  And I mean that in the best way possible.  I didn’t grow up in Cincinnati, I didn’t go to either one of these schools, and I brought no allegiance with me for either program to this game.  I was there as an observer.  But they numbered in the hundreds and sounded like thousands.  They were already putting in a legendary performance — and the game hadn’t even tipped off.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story