RTC Summer Updates: Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on July 11th, 2011

With the completion of the NBA Draft and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. Our Big East update comes from frequent RTC contributor Brian Otskey, co-author of Get to the Point.

Readers’ Take

Summer Storylines

  • Connecticut Revels In National Championship Glory: Connecticut’s storybook year continued on into the offseason as the Huskies were invited to the White House for an event with President Obama on May 16. The team presented the president with a #1 UConn jersey and posed for photographs after being lauded for their remarkable accomplishment. Connecticut made one of the most improbable runs ever en route to the third national championship in school history, all coming since 1999, going 23-0 outside of Big East regular season play. Nobody could have predicted the way last season unfolded and the NCAA Tournament as a whole was a microcosm of that. Connecticut’s national title made up for a lackluster performance by many of the record 11 Big East teams participating in the tournament. Only one other Big East team (Marquette) managed to make it to the second weekend’s Sweet 16. Life without Kemba Walker has begun in Storrs and while the Huskies will be among the 2011-12 Big East favorites, it’ll be very interesting to see who steps up and how the team performs without its warrior. Jeremy Lamb appears to be ready to take over but the way Shabazz Napier and Alex Oriakhi handle their larger roles will be the difference between a team contending for a Big East title and one that finishes fourth or fifth.

Kemba & Co. Celebrated in Style (H-C/B.Hansen)

  • The Ed Cooley Era Begins In Friartown: After Keno Davis stumbled to an 18-36 Big East record over three seasons in Providence, the Friars desperately needed someone to revive their moribund program. Providence has made only two NCAA Tournaments since its 1997 appearance and the last one was eight seasons ago in 2003-04. Enter Ed Cooley, a Providence-born 41-year-old with the fire in his belly needed to succeed in arguably the toughest job in the Big East Conference. Cooley will instill a system of discipline and fundamentals with a special attention to defense, three attributes of successful programs that were sorely lacking under Davis. Cooley’s Fairfield team ranked #22 in the nation in defensive efficiency last season and he improved the Stags’ record each and every year he was there. Providence, a small Catholic school with hardly any recruiting base along with limited facilities and resources, is an incredibly difficult job even before you have to go up against bigger schools like Syracuse, Louisville and Pittsburgh along with tradition-rich programs such as Georgetown, Villanova and Marquette. Cooley must spend his first season laying the foundation for longer term success. He won’t turn this program around overnight but more discipline on and off the court and hard work on the recruiting trail can turn Providence into a solid Big East competitor. We can’t think of many people better suited than Cooley to get the job done at Providence. While it will be a long and difficult process, brighter days are ahead for the Providence program with Ed Cooley at the helm.
  • Signs Of Life In The New York Area: New coach Steve Lavin and St. John’s brought the buzz back to the Big Apple last winter as the Red Storm earned its first NCAA bid in nine seasons. “Lavinwood” has moved east, but St. John’s now enters a year full of mixed feelings. Cautious optimism as well as uncertainty rules the day with nine new faces, part of the nation’s second-ranked recruiting class, making their way to Queens in 2011-12. Malik Stith is the only returnee of note after Dwayne Polee, II, decided to transfer closer to home at San Diego State. St. John’s may be the most unpredictable team in the Big East entering this season. The potential exists for a terrific year if Lavin can mold all this raw talent into a cohesive unit capable of playing with any team in the conference. However, issues with young players, commonly involving playing time and egos, are also very possible and it takes only one incident to destroy the locker room and wreck the season. The Johnnies have enough talent to make the NCAA Tournament again, but Lavin will have to totally adjust his approach to make that happen. With hardly any experience on the roster, he can’t simply roll the ball out and hope for the best. This season will be the biggest test of Lavin’s coaching career on the court, but he faced an even more difficult challenge last year, coaching the entire season with prostate cancer while keeping it a secret until this spring. Turning St. John’s around with that constantly in the back of his mind is an a commendable achievement and we obviously wish Coach Lavin the best of luck fighting this awful disease.
  • Across the Hudson River in New Jersey, Mike Rice and Rutgers appear to be building a program to be reckoned with down the road. The Scarlet Knights have been a dormant program for 20 years, never once enjoying a winning season in any of its 16 years as a Big East member. That may be about to change, although it appears unlikely that Rutgers will crack the .500 mark in league play this season. The fiery Rice reeled in a top 25 recruiting class and now must build on a season of close calls and what-ifs. Rutgers was competitive last year, but could only manage five Big East victories. It’ll take time for the new players to adjust to the collegiate level but bigger and better things should be expected from Rutgers in the years to come. Rutgers, a large state school, has the capability of becoming a pretty good program. All it needs is a commitment from the administration, facility upgrades and great recruiting. Rice is taking care of the latter, now it’s time for the Rutgers brass to provide him with the resources needed to build a top flight program. Rutgers needs major facility upgrades (a RAC renovation has been talked about for over a year), but fundraising has been a major problem. With New Jersey Governor Chris Christie trying to get the state’s financial house in order, there is going to be a lot of resistance to an ambitious project such as this one at the state’s flagship university.

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Conference Report Card: Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 19th, 2011

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor. We will be publishing a series of conference report cards over the next week for conferences that got multiple NCAA bids to recap the conference, grade the teams, and look at the future for the conference.

Conference Recap

  • College basketball has never witnessed a season like this year’s Big East. The conference destroyed its own record of eight NCAA bids by placing 11 clubs in the Big Dance this year and also claimed the national champion with Connecticut, which spent most of the season in the middle of the pack in the Big East. The Huskies also gave the conference its first title since the Huskies last did the trick in 2004. While there was not a truly great team in the Big East (including Connecticut), the league was better than any other from top to bottom. Of the five teams that failed to make the NCAA Tournament, only South Florida and DePaul were truly uncompetitive. Rutgers showed signs of improvement while Seton Hall managed to win seven league games and gave some good teams a major scare in the process. Even Providence, which finished 4-14, knocked off Louisville and Villanova in consecutive games back in January. Despite the lackluster NCAA showing by most Big East members, it says here the conference boasted the best player in the nation (sorry, Jimmer) and a deserving national champion. Additionally, ten Big East teams were ranked in the AP Top 25 at some point this season. Say what you want about its postseason performance (it’s certainly fair to bash the league in that regard), but this was by far the best conference in the nation this year.

Jim Calhoun (left) and Kemba Walker will be inextricably linked to UConn's memorable NCAA Tournament run. (Reuters/Lucy Nicholson)

Team-by-Team (teams are in order of finish, but grades are based on performance vs. expectations):

  1. Pittsburgh (28-6, 15-3): The regular season was terrific once again for Jamie Dixon and the Panthers but, as has become common over the years, they fell short of their goal–getting to the Final Four. Pittsburgh lost four of their final eight games after starting the season 24-2. A mid-season injury to Ashton Gibbs was thought to bring them down a peg, but Pitt responded with wins at West Virginia and Villanova without him to quiet any doubters. That turned out to be their peak. Dixon did not really test his team out of conference except for two games at Madison Square Garden against Maryland and Texas back in November as part of the 2K Sports Coaches vs. Cancer event and a “home” game (in Pittsburgh) against Tennessee, which they lost. Looking back, one theory could be that an average non-conference schedule did not adequately prepare this team for the NCAA Tournament which is all about match-ups and teams you haven’t seen before from other leagues. While Big East coaches love to use the strength of the league as a crutch when questioned about a lack of non-conference heft to their schedule, I think this is a theory that has to be taken into consideration. Big East play is obviously rough and tumble every night but that can actually be a detriment come tournament time when games are officiated tighter and you don’t have as much time to prepare for an opponent who you likely don’t know very well, if at all. Pitt will lose Gilbert Brown, Brad Wanamaker, and Gary McGhee to graduation while Gibbs tests the NBA waters. I expect Gibbs to come back to join a very good recruiting class led by five-star forward Khem Birch. Despite the loss of three senior leaders, look for Pitt to be in the thick of the Big East race yet again next season. Dixon has established a culture of winning and I have learned never to doubt him after witnessing the 2009-10 campaign, a season that certified Dixon as one of the best basketball minds in the country. While this year was a great success during the regular season, Pitt’s inability to get to the Sweet Sixteen and eventually the Final Four renders this year a disappointment. GRADE: B- Read the rest of this entry »
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Set Your Tivo: 12.15.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 15th, 2010

***** – 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 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

We told you last night’s games would be very interesting and boy were they ever. Louisville and Tennessee were upset victims at home but neither upset was shocking given the matchups we discussed in this space yesterday, plus both teams were due for a letdown. Tonight’s slate is not good at all so don’t expect much action this evening.  All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

Akron @ #19 Minnesota – 8:30 pm on Big Ten Network (*)

Akron was blasted by Temple in their last game and really struggles offensively. The Zips don’t stand much of a chance in this game so one strategy may be to live or die by the three as Minnesota’s opponents get a lot of points courtesy of the trifecta. However, Akron is not a good three point shooting team to begin with, #221 in the country, but taking a page out of Virginia’s playbook could make this game somewhat competitive, at least for a while. The Cavaliers bombed away from the arc in a stunning second half turnaround against the Golden Gophers en route to a surprising win at the Barn. Akron’s Brett McClanahan and Darryl Roberts are the biggest threats but McClanahan is just seven for his last 23 (30%) from deep. The senior Roberts shoots it well at 42% and also connects 92% of the time at the foul line. Minnesota will look to take advantage with their superior size and skill inside led by Trevor Mbakwe (14/10). Mbakwe is shooting 61% overall, scoring in double figures each game so far and is clearly the most athletic of the Minnesota big men. Akron opponents get 58% of their scoring from two point range so expect Tubby Smith to exploit this early and often to build up a lead. Minnesota also has an outside threat with Blake Hoffarber at 41% from three, now hot after a little slump to start the season. Akron is also a poor rebounding team with only one major contributor taller than 6’8, center Zeke Marshall. Even without point guard Al Nolen (probably won’t play), Minnesota is too deep and too talented for Akron to compete with. The Gophers should win this game easily.

Auburn @ South Florida– 9 pm on ESPNU (*)

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RTC Conference Primer: #2 – Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 5th, 2010

Rob Dauster of Ballin’ is a Habit is the Big East correspondent for Rush The Court.

Predicted Order of Finish

  • 1. Villanova (15-3)
  • T2. Pittsburgh (14-4)
  • T2. Syracuse (14-4)
  • 4. Georgetown (12-6)
  • T5. West Virginia (11-7)
  • T5. Marquette (11-7)
  • 7. Seton Hall (10-8)
  • T8. Notre Dame (9-9)
  • T8. St. John’s (9-9)
  • T10. Connecticut (8-10)
  • T10. Louisville (8-10)
  • T12. South Florida (7-11)
  • T12. Cincinnati (7-11)
  • T14. Providence (3-15)
  • T14. Rutgers (3-15)
  • T14. DePaul (3-15)

All-Conference Team (key stats from last season in parentheses)

  • G: Corey Fisher, Villanova (13.3 ppg, 3.9 apg, 2.8 rpg)
  • G: Kemba Walker, UConn (14.6 ppg, 5.1 apg, 4.3 rpg, 2.1 spg)
  • F: Austin Freeman, Georgetown (16.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 44.4% 3pt)
  • F: Kris Joseph, Syracuse (10.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.4 spg)
  • F: Kevin Jones, West Virginia (13.5 ppg, 7.2 rpg)

6th Man

Tim Abromaitis, Notre Dame (16.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 42.9% 3pt)

Impact Newcomers

  • Fab Melo, Syracuse: Melo should have an immediate impact as the starting center for the Orange. Regarded as one of, if not the, best center in the class, Melo has more polish offensively than most bigs do as freshman, but his size in the middle of the Syracuse 2-3 zone may be more important.
  • Vander Blue, Marquette: Blue should step in and start immediately for the Golden Eagles. He’s everything you imagine when you think of a Marquette wing player. He’s tough, athletic, and can slash to the basket. He’ll remind some of Jerel McNeal.
  • Nate Lubick, Georgetown: With the Hoyas losing Greg Monroe to the NBA, they will have a gaping hole in the middle. Lubick has the skill set to be the high post forward of the future for John Thompson III, and he could immediately slide into the starting lineup.

Jay Wright has Villanova in the driver’s seat, with Pittsburgh nipping at the Wildcats’ heels. (AP/Michael Perez)

What You Need To Know

As much as it pains me to say it, the Big East is going to be down this season, especially near the bottom of the league. The two best players in the conference are probably Austin Freeman and Corey Fisher, and while I don’t want to take anything away from those two — I love the way that both play — they are a long way from being lottery picks. Providence, Rutgers and DePaul are as bad as any three teams at the bottom of the power conferences, which is saying a lot considering what the cellar of the Pac-10 and SEC have to offer. Now think about this: If the Big East wants to get more than six teams into the Big Dance, the teams that will likely be fighting for the last couple of at-large bids this season are Seton Hall, St. John’s, Notre Dame and UConn. And that assumes that Marquette and West Virginia are dancing. Yuck.

Predicted Champion

Villanova (NCAA #2 Seed): I like Villanova a lot more than other people do. I think Corey Fisher has a chance to become a star this season as he steps out of the shadow of Scottie Reynolds. I think Maalik Wayns has a chance to come into his own as well. Corey Stokes and Dominic Cheek should provide some size, athleticism, and versatility on the perimeter, while Jayvaughn Pinkston and Isaiah Armwood provide the same along the front line. The trio of Antonio Pena, Mouphtaou Yarou and Maurice Sutton is one of the better front lines in the conference. More than anything, however, I think that Jay Wright has answered the biggest questions his team had last season. Without a doubt, Villanova will be better inside with Yarou healthy, Pinkston on the roster, and Armwood and Sutton a year stronger. They should also be better defensively without Reynolds and Fisher sharing the floor. This team has a great mixture of size, athleticism, youth, experience, and versatility. They remind me quite a bit of the Villanova team that made the 2009 Final Four.
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The RTC Big Four State Tournament: Quarterfinals

Posted by rtmsf on September 9th, 2010

We’re back with the next round of the RTC Big Four State Tournament.  As you likely recall, last week we broke down eight first round matchups between the top sixteen states containing at least four NCAA D1 programs, utilizing star players from each of those programs to come up with the bracket that appears below.  We didn’t always agree with the fan vote, picking a couple of true upsets (#9 Illinois over #8 Michigan, and #12 Virginia over #5 Ohio), and disagreeing with the fans on another (#6 Florida over #11 Kentucky).  Regardless, we endeavor to carry on.

We’ll break down the semifinals and finals next week.  Be sure to get your votes in on these matchups below.

Quarterfinal Matchups (1st Round fan vote pct. listed)

#1 Indiana (92%) vs. #9 Illinois (24%)

The plucky underdog Illinois meets another Midwestern foe after downing Michigan in the opening round. This time around, the challenge will be even stiffer — the top seeded and tournament favorite Hoosier State representatives. The primary reason for Illinois’ first round win was the perimeter trio of  Demetri McCamey, Michael Thompson and John Shurna. Different story against Indiana; the hard-nosed play of Shelvin Mack, the scoring ability of E’Twaun Moore,  the all-around game of Tim Abromaitis and even Robbie Hummel’s propensity to step out to the perimeter — his first half performance against Ohio State one that sticks out — provides the Hoosiers more than enough firepower out of their guards to counteract Illinois. Southern Illinois’ Carlton Fay attempting to guard potential first team All-America Hummel is also a key factor. Since it’s doubtful Fay can hang with the multifaceted Boilermaker, we suspect that the Purdue senior explodes for a big shooting night and a near triple-double. There’s simply way too much firepower with JaJuan Johnson coming off the bench in this one. Indiana cruises again.

RTC Choice: Indiana 83, Illinois 67.

#4 Texas (67%) vs. #12 Virginia (22%)

Virginia was the Cinderella story of the first round, continuing the ever-popular 5/12 upset trend and knocking off favored Ohio on the heels of their backcourt consisting of Malcolm Delaney and Kevin Anderson. Those two won’t have it as easy against the twosome that gives a whole new meaning to Don’t Mess with Texas. High-flying Randy Culpepper of UTEP could be one of the best non-BCS players in the land this season. He’ll team with Baylor’s LaceDarius Dunn and Texas’ Jordan Hamilton on the wing, meaning scoring can come often and in bunches for this Texas squad. There’s too much athleticism across the board for the Virginia frontline of Mike Scott, Jeff Allen and Justin Harper to contain. Look for Texas to pound the ball inside early to Perry Jones and Gary Johnson to utilize these extreme mismatches and lure the Virginia bigs into foul trouble. If this happens, let the dunkfest ensue. Culpepper and Dunn provide the scoring punch outside to complement the forwards, making this even more of a foregone conclusion, especially since Delaney can’t hang with the crafty Dunn defensively. Texas advances to the semifinals in relatively easy fashion.

RTC Choice: Texas 78, Virginia 65.

#2 North Carolina (89%) vs. #7 Washington (58%)

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RTC Live: Big East 2d Round – Georgetown vs. South Florida

Posted by rtmsf on March 10th, 2010

Welcome back to RTC’s tireless coverage of the 2010 Big East Tournament. Our first game today is the rematch between South Florida and Georgetown. The Bulls went into the Verizon Center back in February and notched one of their marquee wins by knocking off the Hoyas. Dominique Jones went for 29 points in that one, including 22 in the second half as the Bulls overcame a double-digit deficit. USF will likely need another performance like that from Jones as Georgetown is back to full strength with Austin Freeman back in the lineup.  Georgetown, when healthy, is one of the best teams in the Big East. But the problem for the Hoyas has been consistency. they have some great wins this year — Duke and Villanova immediately come to mind — but losses like the one they suffered against Rutgers leaves one scratching their head. There are two keys to this game. First of all, Georgetown is going to need to slow down South Florida in the paint. Between Jarrid Famous, Toarlyn Fitzpatrick, and Gus Gilchrist, USF has a big, strong front line. They dominated the paint against DePaul in their opener, getting 50 of their 58 points inside. but the problem with that is that only two points came outside the paint. You can survive without hitting a jumper against DePaul. You can’t against Georgetown.

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Big East Tourney Daily Diary: 1st Round

Posted by rtmsf on March 10th, 2010

Rob Dauster of Ballin is a Habit is spending the week as the RTC correspondent at the Big East Tournament.  In addition to live-blogging select games throughout the tournament, he will post a nightly diary with his thoughts on each day’s action.  Here is his submission on the First Round games.

South Florida 58, DePaul 49

  • South Florida looked really good in the first half. In the second half, a scrappy DePaul team started hitting some shots and made it somewhat exciting. But in the first half, USF looked absolutely dominant. They got just about whatever they wanted offensively, they hit the offensive glass, they scored in transition, and they held DePaul to merely 15 points.
  • Jarrid Famous could be a very good player one day. Great frame, good size and athleticism, but he needs a post game. I like his aggressiveness as well; he had seven offensive rebounds.
  • In one of the stranger stats I’ve ever seen, South Florida scored 58 points. 50 of them came in the paint, and six at the foul line, meaning that the Bulls got just one basket outside of the paint.
  • The most entertaining part of this game was actually the battle of the bands in an empty gym before tipoff. In my opinion, USF clinched it with a stirring rendition of “You Can Call Me Al”.

St. John’s 73, UConn 51 (RTC Live)

  • Where to start about the Huskies?  They turned it over 20 times; they went 6-18 from the foul line; they clearly had no interest in playing this game; Jerome Dyson packed it in three games ago, as he finished with four points and nine turnovers this afternoon. All around, it was ugly.
  • St. John’s is going to be a good team next year given they learn how to hold onto a lead. They will have ten seniors on their team, and the only rotation player they are losing is Anthony Mason, Jr. I’ve already got them slotted as my sleeper pick. They have size, they have athleticism, they have a stud in DJ Kennedy, and they have a couple experienced PGs.
  • Will UConn accept an NIT bid? Did Jim Calhoun just coach his last game in Storrs? Is Kemba Walker going pro? All questions you should keep in mind over the next month.  Another thing to think about with the Huskies – they have not won a Big East Tournament game since the 2005 first round against Georgetown. Jerome Dyson is 0-4 in the Big East Tournamen and 0-1 in the NCAA Tournament. The only year he was on the team and the Huskies had any postseason success was last year’s Final Four run, while he was injured.

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Boom Goes The Dynamite: 01.28.10 Edition

Posted by jstevrtc on January 28th, 2010

Did you think we’d forgotten?  Oh, no, my friends.  This is the biggest weeknight of hoops this week, so here we are again with another mid-week edition of BGTD.  Last night brought us a LOT of upsets, and we’re sure some more are in store this evening.  We’ll start off by filling our screens with the likes of St. John’s vs Pittsburgh, and of course that huge Big Ten matchup in Wisconsin vs Purdue.  and there’s a darn good chance we’ll be enjoying a little Wake Forest vs Georgia Tech to begin, as well.  Let’s hear what you’re watching, or what you’re thinking in general in the comments section.  We know that refresh-button finger is nice and warmed up, so let’s get this thing going.  See you in a few minutes…

7:02 PM ET: Evening everyone…JStev with you for the first part of this, then I’ll hand it off to rtmsf in a bit.  But who cares about that right now…the guys on ESPN say that Jajuan Johnson showed up late and won’t start tonight.  We all know he’ll be in after a couple of minutes, so I doubt this deserves the emphasis they’re putting on it early.  God, look at this…there is NO team whose players move without the ball like Wisconsin.  Purdue’s defense is exemplary over the first couple of possessions, but no way they can sustain it for the whole game, or even the whole half.  Nobody ever does.

7:12: At the first TVTO at Purdue we can say that we’ve already seen a couple of perfect Wisconsin possessions, despite the tough Purdue defense, especially that three at the last moment before the shot clock expired by Jarred Berggren.  Early checks elsewhere:  Pitt/SJU tied at seven, Wake up 13-7 early, and we even have Seton Hall vs South Florida (SHU up by a few very early).  Lots of good stuff tonight.

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Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by rtmsf on January 6th, 2010

Rob Dauster of Ballin is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference.

It has been a long time since there was a good college basketball team in the NYC metro area.  Unless you consider Storrs, CT, in the NYC metro area.

This season was supposed to be different. Seton Hall had added transfers Herb Pope, Jamel Jackson, Jeff Robinson, and Keon Lawrence to a solid core. St. John’s was bringing everyone back, including one of the most underrated players in the league in DJ Kennedy. Rutgers lost Corey Chandler, but with Mike Rosario returning alongside Gregory Echinique and Hamady Ndiaye, the Scarlet Knights were expected to be much more competitive in the league.

The non-conference season seemed promising. They combined to go 28-7 before the Big East season, which included wins over Temple, Siena, and Cornell, three teams that could very well be playing in the Tournament.  Hell, it seemed like both the Pirates and the Johnnies had a good shot at making a run to the Dance.

But a week into league play, these teams have yet to win a game, going 0-5. What’s worse is that four of those five losses have come at home.  So what happened?

For starters, injuries have played a big role. St. John’s is just getting Justin Burrell back after a sprained ankle held him out for a couple weeks, and still hasn’t had Anthony Mason, Jr., who is battling hamstring problems. Rutgers lost Gregory Echinique for the season to an eye injury. And if you look closer, four of those five losses came against teams that look destined to be dancing. In each of those four games, the loser wasn’t blown out as much as outlasted.

But the bigger issue may a bit more subtle. You see, winning is a skill; a learned trait. It takes experience, it takes leadership, and it takes smarts. It’s the ability to understand time and score, knowing when to step on the gas and when to rein it in offensively and run some clock. Its knowing what is a good shot, and the ability to run your offensive sets and get those good shots.

After watching any (or all) of these games, do you believe that Seton Hall, St. John’s, or Rutgers knows how to win a close game?

I don’t.  Can the same be said for Marquette?

The Golden Eagles were written off by a lot of people before the season started, but after an impressive showing at the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, it seemed like Buzz Williams’ team might be better than some of us thought.  But Marquette has had just as much trouble in close games. They are currently sitting at 9-5 on the season, losing those five games by a combined 17 points, three of which came on the final possession.  Two of those losses came in Marquette’s first two Big East games, as Da’Sean Butler and Scottie Reynolds both hit game-winners in the final seconds.

What does this all mean?

Well, what we know for sure is that Marquette is much better than expected, Seton Hall has a ton of talent, and that St. John’s is good (they beat Temple in Philly, and regardless of what Kansas did on Saturday, beating this Temple team in Philly is impressive) and will only get better when Mason returns.

Maybe this says more about the Big East conference as a whole than anything about a specific team.  Maybe this proves what we expected – that the Big East is incredibly balanced this season.  Maybe this shows us that the difference between finishing 12-6 and 6-12 in the league, the difference between making the Tournament and heading to the NIT, isn’t a matter of talent. Its a matter of leadership, of experience, of smarts.

Maybe the difference is simply having guys that know how to win these close games.

Other Notes

  • Of the 16 teams in this conference, there are only three that I am ready to write off: Providence, Rutgers and DePaul. One team that you may notice missing from that list is South Florida. Yes, the Bulls have started Big East play 0-2. No, the Bulls don’t have many impressive wins this season (their best are UVa and San Diego). But keep in mind that Stan Heath’s club is currently missing two of their best players – Gus Gilchrist, their leading scorer who has missed the last six games and will be out for about another month with a severely sprained ankle, and Anthony Crater, an Ohio State transfer that was suspended after he became eligible in mid-December. The Bulls are not a deep team – without Crater and Gilchrist they basically go five deep – but a seven man rotation headlined by Crater, Gilchrist, Jarrid Famous and Dominique Jones, one of the best kept secrets in the country, the Bulls will make a lot of believers.
  • UConn might be the best team in the conference in transition. Kemba Walker can lead the break as well as anyone, Stanley Robinson may be the best in the country at finishing above the rim, and Jerome Dyson attacks the rim like a running back hitting the hole on third and short. That said, where UConn will struggle is in the halfcourt until Walker learns how to run a team and an offense. Far too often, the Huskies pass the ball around the perimeter for 30 seconds, ending a possession with a headlong drive at the rim. UConn had the same problem last season, but AJ Price was excellent at taking the ball with 10 seconds on the shot clock, beating his defender, and either finding a big man at the rim or setting up an iso on the wing. Walker can’t do that. He also hasn’t developed Price’s best shot – the 10 foot pull-up. Walker isn’t going to be finishing at the rim against a set defense in this league, but he is quick enough to get into the paint any time he wants. Until Walker becomes the on-court leader that Price was, the Huskies will continue to struggle.
  • Another UConn note: has Gavin Edwards been the most surprising player in the conference this year? Probably not, but there are few that have impressed more people than Edwards. He is the Huskies’ only real threat to score in the post on anything other than a catch-and-dunk, he rebounds the ball well, he plays smart defense, and he doesn’t make mistakes. Hell, he has played well enough to garner attention from the NBA. I guarantee not one person thought this kid had a shot at the league after his first two seasons.
  • West Virginia’s point guard issues were exposed by Pitt. They couldn’t run any offense in the second half, committed far too many live-ball turnovers, and as a result dug themselves into a big hole as Purdue got layup after layup. But we knew that was going to happen as the Mountaineers dealt with injuries to Truck Bryant and Joe Mazzulla. The bigger concern may have been on the glass. Granted, there are few teams in the country as adept at boxing out as the Boilermakers, but WVU still managed just seven offensive rebounds. With how much this team struggles in the halfcourt offensively, they aren’t going to win many games without easy second-chance points.
  • We’ll talk about Pitt in a bit, but if you’re a Cuse fan, don’t read all that much into the loss to Pitt. I guarantee that Jim Boeheim will put a stop to that lackadaisical defense very quickly, and there won’t be too many games where the Orange goes 1-13 from deep while their opponents shoot 10-24.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Ashton Gibbs, Pitt.  Pitt thrust themselves back into the Big East conversation with wins over Syracuse and Cincinnati this week. (Oh, and should I mention they were both on the road? Well, they were.) And Gibbs was the biggest reason why, averaging 21.5 ppg. He wasn’t just scoring points either, he was scoring important points. Against the Orange, he knocked down a number of big threes in the second half as the oft-scoring-deficient Panthers posted 53 points to overtake the Cuse. In the Cincy game, Gibbs hit the important free throws down the stretch as the Bearcats were trying to mount a comeback. With Jermaine Dixon and Gilbert Brown back for the Panthers, this team has a number of weapons on the perimeter and is playing as well as any Jamie Dixon-coached team has. But it is Gibbs’ leadership and scoring ability that is going to determine how far this team goes. When he’s efficient, they are good. When he isn’t, just go back and rewatch the Indiana loss to see what happens.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Pittsburgh Panthers.  I don’t like doing this. I don’t like giving the POTW and the TOTW awards to the same program. But who else deserves this? Georgetown went 2-0 this week, but beating St. John’s at home and DePaul shouldn’t get you a TOTW. Villanova won at Marquette, but is that anywhere near as impressive as Pitt winning at Syracuse and Cincinnati? West Virginia and Louisville both lost marquee non-conference games. Everyone else had a loss during the week. Marquette was two good defensive possessions away from being 2-0 with wins over two of the Big East favorites, but as it stands they went 0-2 on the week.  Which leaves us with Pitt. In the paragraph above, you already learned about Pitt’s two impressive road wins. Perhaps the key for the Panthers this week was their two mid-season additions. Jermaine Dixon scored 21 big points against Syracuse, while Gilbert Brown had 13 of his 17 points in the second half to hep the Panthers pull away from Cincy. What this means is that Pitt now has four or five legitimate scoring threats on their perimeter. While neither Dante Taylor, Nasir Robinson or Gary McGhee will be confused with an offensive force in the paint, the three provide toughness, defense, and the ability to finish at the rim. All of a sudden, the Panthers have enough offensive firepower to allow them win games with their defense. Is this just a flash in the pan, or is Pitt for real? I’m leaning towards the latter after this week.


1. Syracuse: 13-1, 1-1

Last Week: 1/2 vs. Pitt 72-82

This Week: 1/6 vs. Memphis, 1/10 vs. South Florida

2. Villanova: 12-1, 1-0

Last Week: 1/2 @ Marquette 74-72

This Week: 1/6 vs. DePaul, 1/9 vs. Marquette

3. West Virginia: 11-1, 2-0

Last Week: 1/1 @ Purdue 62-77

This Week: 1/6 vs. Rutgers, 1/9 @ Notre Dame

4. Pitt: 13-2, 3-0

Last Week: 1/2 @ Syracuse 82-72, 1/4 @ Cincinnati 74-71

This Week: N/A

5. Georgetown: 11-1, 2-0

Last Week: 12/31 vs. St. John’s 66-59, 1/3 @ DePaul 67-50

This Week: 1/6 @ Marquette, 1/9 vs. UConn

6. UConn: 10-3, 1-1

Last Week: 12/30 @ Cinci 69-71, 1/2 vs. Notre Dame 82-70

This Week: 1/6 vs. Seton Hall, 1/9 @ Georgetown

7. Cincinnati: 10-4, 2-1

Last Week: 12/30 vs. UConn 71-69, 1/2 @ Rutgers 65-58, 1/4 vs. Pitt 71-74

This Week: 1/6 vs. Cal St. Bakersfield, 1/9 @ Seton Hall

8. Louisville: 10-4, 0-1

Last Week: 12/30 vs. South Florida 73-52, 1/2 @ Kentucky 62-71

This Week: 1/6 @ Providence, 1.9 vs. St. John’s

9. Marquette: 9-5, 0-2

Last Week: 1/2 vs. Villanova 72-74

This Week: 1/6 vs. Georgetown, 1/9 @ Villanova

10. Notre Dame: 13-3, 2-1

Last Week: 12/30 vs. Providence 93-78, 1/2 @ UConn 70-82, 1/5 vs. South Florida 74-73

This Week: 1/9 vs. West Virginia

11. South Florida: 10-4, 0-2

Last Week: 12/30 @ Louisville 52-73, 1/5 vs. Notre Dame 73-74

This Week: 1/10 @ Syracuse

12. St. John’s: 10-4, 0-2

Last Week: 12/31 @ Georgetown 59-66, 1/3 vs. Providence 74-59

This Week: 1/9 @ Louisville

13. Seton Hall: 9-4, 0-2

Last Week: 1/2 vs. Virginia Tech 94-103 OT

This Week: 1/6 @ UConn, 1/9 vs. Cincinnati

14. Providence: 9-5, 1-1

Last Week: 12/30 @ Notre Dame 78-93, 1/2 @ St. John’s 74-59

This Week: 1/6 vs. Louisville, 1/9 vs. Rutgers

15. Rutgers: 9-4, 0-1

Last Week: 1/2 vs. Cincinnati 58-65

This Week: 1/6 @ West Virginia, 1/9 @ Providence

16. DePaul: 7-7, 0-2

Last Week: 1/3 vs. Georgetown 50-67

This Week: 1/6 @ Villanova

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