Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 29th, 2010

Rob Dauster of Ballin Is A Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East conference.

A Look Back

The Big East had been questioned coming into the season.  I did it myself.  They didn’t have their usual firepower up top. Their preseason player of the year candidates — the Austin Freemans and Corey Fishers and Kris Josephs of the world — barely make a peep on NBA Draft boards. And the bottom of the league? Don’t get me started on the bottom of the league.

But is it possible that, while looking at the Big East’s faults, we happened to overlook just how deep the conference is?  Yes, apparently.  The early season tournaments aren’t just an entertaining way to kick off a normally bland start to the college basketball season. They also act as a gauge, a way to measure how each respective conference stacks up against one another.

And the Big East was, in a word, impressive, in the 2010 installment of the early season tournaments:

  • UConn beat Wichita State and upset Michigan State and Kentucky to win the Maui Invitational.
  • Syracuse beat Michigan and Georgia Tech to win the Legends Classic.
  • Notre Dame notched wins over Georgia, Cal, and Wisconsin to with the Old Spice Classic.
  • St. John’s beat Arizona State in the finals of the Great Alaska Shootout.
  • Pitt won the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic by beating Maryland and Texas in NYC.
  • Georgetown won the Charleston Classic with a win over NC State in the finals.
  • Villanova lost to Tennessee in the finals of the Preseason NIT.
  • West Virginia beat Vanderbilt in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off before losing to Minnesota in the finals.

By my count, that is six tournament titles and two second places finishes. Both of the second place finishes came via loss to a top 25 team. With the exception of Louisville, who didn’t play in one of these tournaments, each of the Big East’s top eight teams finished either first or second in their respective tournament. The ESPN/USA Today poll currently has five Big East teams in the top 25, and eight in the top 29. The AP poll looks even better, as those eight teams are all in the top 27, with Notre Dame also sneaking their way into the top 25.

The top of the Big East is a far cry from where it was in 2009, when they sent five teams to the Sweet 16, three to the Elite 8, two to the Final Four, and logged three of the four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament.  But with the depth of this conference — among the schools already listed, keep in mind Seton Hall is playing without Jeremy Hazell and with half of Herb Pope and Cincinnati just beat Dayton 68-34 — there is no reason we shouldn’t expect another season with eight or nine potential NCAA Tournament teams come March.

Player of the Week: Kemba Walker, UConn

It has to go to Walker, as much as I would like to pass the award elsewhere. Kemba absolutely took the college basketball world by storm out in Maui. Coming off of a 42-point performance against Vermont, the Huskies point guard put the team on his diminutive back and carried them to a Maui Invitational tournament title. He averaged 30.0 PPG, 4.0 APG, and 2.7 SPG during the event, leading his team to wins over then top ten teams Michigan State and Kentucky and into the top ten of both major polls.

Team of the Week: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

The Irish stormed through Disneyland, taking home the title in the Old Spice Classic held at Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex. Along the way, the Irish knocked off Georgia, Cal, and Wisconsin. There are a couple things that really impressed me about this team. For one, they are just as good defensively as they were last season. They held Wisconsin to 51 points two days after holding Cal to 44 points (and 5 in the first half!) The second thing that impressed me is the versatility they have in their lineup. The Irish can play big if they have too, using Tyrone Nash and/or Jack Cooley on the front line. But, as they did against Wisconsin, they can also go small, using essentially five perimeter players, with Carleton ScottScott Martin, and Tim Abromaitis on the front line. They also have a freshman point guard named Eric Atkins that proved his worth on this trip. He will allow Ben Hansbrough to play off the ball when need be. The third thing is their resiliency. The Irish were down 11 late in the second half to a good Wisconsin team before coming back and winning. Against Georgia, the Irish switched to a zone in the second half that helped then comeback from 12 down at the half.

Power Rankings: (last week’s ranking in parentheses)

1. Pitt 7-0 (1)
Last Week: 11/23 vs. Robert Morris 74-53, 11/27 vs. Penn 82-58
Next Week: 12/1 vs. Duquesne, 12/4 vs. Rider

Pitt looked like Pitt these two games. They smothered an overmatched opponent defensively, waiting for a big second half run to take control of the game. The Panthers are easily the best team in the Big East right now.

2. UConn 5-0 (9)
Last Week: 11/22 vs. Wichita State 83-79, 11/23 vs. Michigan State 70-67, 11/24 vs. Kentucky 84-67
Next Week: 11/30 vs. New Hampshire, 12/3 vs. UMBC

The only thing I want to elaborate on from above is that the Huskies role players have been pretty impressive. Shabazz Napier is a playmaking point guard that is a tough defender. Roscoe Smith and Jeremy Lamb are both impressive athletes with enough skills to be capable thus far. And Niels Giffey is the kind of all-around talent — defends, shoots the three, handles the ball — that UConn has been missing the last few seasons. The question is whether it lasts.

3. Villanova 5-1 (2)
Last Week: 11/24 vs. UCLA 82-70, 11/26 vs. Tennessee 68-78
Next Week: 12/4 vs. St. Joe’s

Villanova is desperately in need of a leader. Against Tennessee, the Wildcats just simply could not get into any kind of a rhythm offensively with their three back court stars struggling. Corey Stokes and Maalik Wayns combined for 6-20 shooting from the field and six turnovers. And Corey Fisher? He finished the game 1-10 from the floor with five turnovers and just three points. Worst still, he didn’t seem like he wanted any part of the ball down the stretch. That’s not a good sign for the kid that was supposed to fill Scottie Reynolds shoes.

4. Georgetown 6-0 (3)
Last Week: 11/27 vs. UNC-Asheville 87-72
Next Week: 11/30 vs. Missouri in Kansas City, 12/4 vs. Utah State

Last week, we talked about how the Hoyas’ big men were playing better than expected. Well, this week, we should now talk about how the back court may actually be outperforming expectations. Austin Freeman, Chris Wright, and Jason Clark are averaging a combined 47.2 PPG and 11.1 APG. Wright and Clark are both shooting over 45% from three. Freeman? He’s hitting an obscene 57.6% of his triples.

5. Syracuse 6-0 (4)
Last Week: 11/26 vs. Michigan 53-50, 11/27 vs. Georgia Tech 80-76
Next Week: 11/30 vs. Cornell, 12/4 vs. NC State

The most important part of two more unimpressive wins for the Orange was that Kris Joseph finally looked like the player many of us thought he was going to be all season long. Joseph had 22 of the Orange’s 53 points in the win over Michigan, then Joseph scored 16 of his 19 points in the second half — after fighting foul trouble in the first half — in the title game against Georgia Tech.

6. West Virginia 4-1 (5)
Last Week: 11/27 vs. VMI 82-66
Next Week: 12/1 vs. American, 12/4 @ Miami

The Mountaineers played just one game since their impressive second place finish in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. In an 82-66 win over VMI. Casey Mitchell, once again, was the star, hitting for 25 points in the win. Kevin Jones hasn’t quite developed like many expected, but perhaps the bigger issue is that Truck Bryant was held out of the VMI game for “disciplinary reasons.”

7. Notre Dame 7-0 (8)
Last Week: 11/25 vs. Georgia 89-83 2OT, 11/26 vs. Cal 57-44, 11/28 vs. Wisconsin 58-51
Next Week: 11/30 vs. Indiana State

See above – Team of the Week

8. Louisville 4-0 (7)
Last Week: 11/27 vs. Marshall 80-66
Next Week: 12/1 vs. FIU, 12/4 vs. South Alabama

There’s not much more to say about Louisville than we already have said. They are 4-0 and have five guys averaging between 11.0 PPG and 12.0 PPG. Most surprising? Walk-on point guard Elisha Justice, averaging 7.0 PPG and 2.0 APG.

9. Marquette 5-2 (6)
Last Week: 11/22 vs. Duke 77-82, 11/23 vs. Gonzaga 63-66, 11/27 vs. Milwaukee 75-72
Next Week: 12/4 vs. Longwood

I’ve been high on Marquette all season long. They create quite a few matchup problems when they put their best lineup on the floor. But how impressive they were in a loss to Duke was erased in a close win over Milwaukee and a loss to Gonzaga. Marquette is always going to play close games, but until they start winning more impressively, the Golden Eagles have to slide.

10. St. John’s 4-1 (11)
Last Week: 11/25 vs. Ball State 88-83 OT, 11/26 vs. Drake 82-39, 11/28 vs. Arizona State 67-58
Next Week: 12/1 vs. Wagner

St. John’s looked like the St. John’s we expected this season. Playing four time zones to the west, the Johnnies rolled through the Great Alaska Shootout, capping their tournament victory with a come-from-behind win over Arizona State. St. John’s did it in the second half with a great press and on the back of 17.7 PPG from Justin Brownlee.

11. Cincinnati 5-0 (12)
Last Week: 11/24 vs. Savannah State 54-41, 11/27 vs. Dayton 68-34
Next Week: 12/1 vs. Wright State 12/4 @ Toledo

Cincinnati was flying far off of my radar, even with Sean Kilpatrick doing his best Lance Stephenson impression. But what the Bearcats did to Dayton? That just wasn’t right. The final doesn’t do that beatdown justice. The score at one point in the second half was 56-19.

12. Seton Hall 2-3 (10)
Last Week: 11/22 vs. Clemson 58-64 OT
Next Week: 11/29 vs. St. Peter’s

There’s not much to say about Seton Hall since last week. They still are operating without Jeremy Hazell, and Herb Pope still isn’t back into shape. The Pirates will be good, but we may have to wait until the Big East season to see it.

13. South Florida 4-3 (12)
Last Week: 11/23 vs. Liberty 60-43, 11/26 vs. BYU 75-77 2OT, 11/27 vs. Texas Tech 64-61
Next Week: 12/1 vs. VCU, 12/4 @ Florida Atlantic

The Bulls looked impressive when they took a very good BYU team to double overtime. The next night, they proceeded to beat Texas Tech, and while the Red Raiders may not be a tournament team, its still a nice win for USF. Jawanza Poland and Ron Anderson look like they may end up being pretty good players one day.

14. Providence 5-1 (14)
Last Week: 11/23 vs. La Salle 73-84, 11/24 vs. Wyoming 84-77
Next Week: 11/29 vs. Central Connecticut, 12/1 vs. Northeastern, 12/4 vs. Rhode Island

The Friars are 5-1, but they haven’t beaten anyone of substance. The only borderline team they have played was La Salle, who they lost to by 11 points.

15. Rutgers 3-2 (15)
Last Week: 11/23 vs. Norfolk State 83-57, 11/26 vs. St. Joe’s 70-76
Next Week: 12/1 vs. NJIT

It looked like the Scarlet Knights had bounced back from an opening night loss to Princeton. That is until they lost to A-10 cellar dweller St. Joseph’s.

16. DePaul 1-4 (16)
Last Week: 11/25 vs. Oklahoma State 56-60, 11/26 vs. Cal St. Northridge 66-88, 11/28 vs. Stanford 74-81 OT
Next Week: 12/2 vs. Northern Illinois

The good news is that DePaul looked competitive in their losses to Stanford and Oklahoma State. The bad news? Stanford and Oklahoma State are going to be spending a lot of time at the bottom of their respective conferences. The worse news? DePaul lost by 22 to Cal St. Northridge.

A Look Ahead

  • …way ahead. In 2012-13, TCU will jump ship to the Big East, as was reported Monday afternoon. With the conference growing to 17 teams in basketball (assuming no defections in the meantime), let the scheduling and logistical nightmares commence, not to mention nightmares on the basketball court – the Horned Frogs haven’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 1987.
  • Things cool down for the most part, now that the early season tournaments have wrapped up. The biggest highlights on the schedule for this week are a semi-road game for Georgetown, who faces Missouri in Kansas City, a visit to Syracuse from NC State, and another ACC-Big East date, as Miami hosts West Virginia. To dig a little deeper, VCU, whose performances against Tennessee and UCLA  turned a few heads in New York City, will make a trip to South Florida Wednesday.
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Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 23rd, 2010


Rob Dauster of Ballin’ Is A Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East conference.

[ed note: this post was written before Tuesday’s games]

A Look Back

  • Seton Hall loses Hazell: The Pirates suffered a serious setback in their bid make the NCAA Tournament when leading scorer Jeremy Hazell broke his wrist in the Paradise Jam opening round against Alabama. Without Hazell, the Pirates lost back-to-back games, unable to break the 60-point barrier.
  • Jayvaughn Pinkston suspended: The Villanova freshman had an altercation at a party on November 6 which resulted in another student ending up in the hospital. Pinkston has been suspended from the team, and his return date is unknown.
  • Player of the Week: Kemba Walker, UConn: He scored 42 points against Vermont, which was enough to earn him consideration alongside West Virginia’s Casey Mitchell, who finally decided to show up to college basketball with a 31-point performance against Vanderbilt followed up by a 27-point performance in a loss to Minnesota. But after Walker’s second half performance against Wichita State, when he went for 29 second half points in a comeback win, there was no way he could be left out.

Power Rankings

1. Pitt (5-0)

Next Week: 11/23 vs. Robert Morris, 11/27 vs. Penn

The Panthers have officially become the hands down favorite to win the Big East, and one of a handful of teams that have proven themselves worthy for talk of having Final Four potential. The thing about Pitt this season is that they are incredibly balanced and legitimately go 11 deep. Everyone knows about Ashton Gibbs, and he proved that he is still their star by scoring 19 of his 24 points in the second half of the Panthers win in the title game of the Coaches vs. Cancer tournament on Friday. But then there is Brad Wanamaker, the heady senior off-guard that has become Pitt’s best playmaker and a second scoring threat. Pitt’s front line goes five deep and are good enough that redshirt freshman Talib Zanna, the kid that outplayed Maryland’s Jordan Williams in the CvC opener, comes off the bench. With guys like Lamar Patterson and Gilbert Brown providing athleticism and versatility on the wing, there really isn’t much that this Pitt team cannot do.

2. Villanova (4-0)

Next Week: Preseason NIT 11/24 and 11/26

Villanova has yet to really be tested this season. Boston U. and Bucknell both gave the Wildcats a fight, but those are two tough low-major teams. Personnel-wise, there really hasn’t been many surprises for Villanova, either. Corey Fisher hasn’t quite found his stroke, but he’s still playing great. Maalik Wayns has become a terrific point guard in his sophomore season, but we expected that. Their big guys aren’t playing quite as well as I expected, but I might have expected too much out of them. We’ll get a better feel for Nova after they play UCLA and either Tennessee or VCU in the Preseason NIT.

3. Georgetown (5-0)

Next week: 11/27 vs. UNC-Asheville

The Hoyas have been impressive here early in the season. Their win over Old Dominion in Charleston is one of the better wins in the conference, and while the field of the Charleston Classic was overly tough, the Hoyas rolled through the tournament barely breaking a sweat. The back court, as expected, has been very good, but the talking point for this Hoyas team needs to be the front court. Many a writer said that the front court would be Georgetown’s Achilles heel, but they have looked pretty good here early in the season. Julian Vaughn is rebounding the ball and blocking shots, Henry Sims had a terrific nine-rebound, five-assist performance against NC State, Hollis Thompson is playing bigger than his size, and Jerrelle Benimon has been very active.

4. Syracuse (4-0)

Next Week: Legends Classic 11/26 and 11/27

The Orange are 4-0, yes, but it’s not been an impressive 4-0. In four games, the Orange have probably played a grand total of 40 minutes of impressive basketball — the second half of their wins against Northern Iowa and Canisius. Their latest effort? A 63-60 win over a William & Mary squad that lost to Virginia by 24. The Orange had to come back from four down with three minutes to go. Maybe Jim Boeheim was right when he called this his most overrated team at Syracuse. They remind me a bit of the 2007-2008 team. Those Orange added freshmen Donte Greene and Jonny Flynn to the likes of Andy Rautins, Paul Harris, and Eric Devendorf, and while they were a preseason top 25 team, early struggles continued and the Orange eventually were headed to the NIT. With this club, the issue seems to be that no one wants to be the star. Kris Joseph was expected to be the guy, but he’s been up and down through four games. Scoop Jardine is talented, but not talented enough to be taking 17 or 18 shots a night on a consistent basis. Freshmen Fab Melo and Dion Waiters haven’t quite become the players they were expected to be, either. There aren’t many shooters on the roster, and as a result, the Syracuse offense has looked stagnant and out of sync early in the season. These are solvable problems, but do the Orange have the pieces to solve them?

5. West Virginia: (3-1)

Next Week: 11/27 vs. VMI

The Mountaineers had a disappointing loss to an underrated Minnesota team in the finals in Puerto Rico, which capped off a pretty impressive start to the season. Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant have both gotten off to slow starts, but that fact has been mitigated by the emergence of Casey Mitchell. Mitchell went for 31 points and 27 points in the last two games in Puerto Rico and has become the perimeter scorer that WVU has been sorely missing.

6. Marquette: (4-1)

Next Week: 11/23 vs. Gonzaga (in Kansas City), 11/27 vs. UW Milwaukee

I feel like I am the only person that has been talking about this Marquette team from the beginning of the season. They have a very good backcourt with Junior CadouganDwight BuycksDarius Johnson-Odom, and Vander BlueJimmy Butler, who might be the most underrated player in the Big East, and Jae Crowder are going to cause matchup problems every night. And they have a couple of capable big men to run out there. Don’t want to listen to me? The Golden Eagles gave Duke all they could handle Monday night. This is a tough, scrappy team that is going to play hard for 40 minutes and will be in every game they play this season.

7. Louisville (3-0)

Next week: 11/27 vs. Marshall

After the top six in the Big East, there is a noticeable drop off. While I am not completely sold on the Cardinals yet, it would be unfair not to rank them atop this second group. They smacked Butler at home and their roster makeup — deep, athletic, long, and a lot of perimeter shooters — perfectly suits the style Rick Pitino wants to play. Is it ironic that they rarely have the ball in their hands for more than 15 seconds? 

8. Notre Dame (4-0)

Next week: Old Spice Classic 11/25-11/28

We may not get a real gauge on the Irish until their December 8 date with Kentucky, so until then we have to base the Irish on what we have seen. That’s a team that is 4-0 without having two of their best scorers — Tim Abromaitis and Scott Martin — playing well yet. Ben Hansbrough has been terrific, and freshman point guard Eric Atkins will be very good with time.

9. Connecticut: (3-0)

Next week: 11/23 vs. Michigan State in Maui

Kemba Walker has looked like an All-American. Remember when everyone thought he would be one and done? Alex Oriakhi is averaging a double-double while serving as the Huskies’ token block machine (11.3 PPG, 10.7 RPG to go with 2.7 BPG). They have some light weaponry after Walker and Oriakhi, but let’s withhold further judgment until after they square off against #2 Michigan State in Maui.

10. Seton Hall: (2-3)

Next week: 11/29 vs. St. Peter’s

The Hall will be higher than this before the season ends. They are a much different team defensively this season. But with Jeremy Hazell out with a broken wrist and Herb Pope far from game shape, the offense just isn’t up to snuff.

11. St. John’s: (1-1)

Next Week: Nov. 25 vs. Ball State

I’m still expecting good things out of the Johnnies this season, but after seeing St. Mary’s lock them up defensively, I am beginning to have some doubts creeping in. If Steve Lavin can make half as much noise on the court as he has on the recruiting trail, the Red Storm will be on their way up.

12. Cincinnati: (3-0)

Next week: 11/24 vs. Savannah State, 11/27 vs. Dayton

The wins haven’t been that impressive. Freshman Sean Kilpatrick has been. With Deonta Vaughn and Lance Stepenson out of the fold, the Bearcats look as vanilla as it gets, with a non-con schedule to match.

13. South Florida: (2-2)

Next week: 11/23 vs. Liberty, 11/26 vs. BYU

Jawanza Poland will be one of the most entertaining players in the Big East to watch, while Gus Gilchrist is among the most quietly consistent bigs in the conference. They’ll miss Dom Jones, but help is on the way for next season in the 7’2, 285-pound person of high school senior Jordan Omogbehin

14. Providence: (4-0)

Next Week: 11/23 vs. La Salle

The Friars don’t really have any impressive wins. 4-0 is 4-0, however, and guys like Marshon Brooks, Vincent Council and Bilal Dixon have played well. I’ll be keeping an eye on the Friars; We’ll see how Keno Davis tweaks his offense throughout the year.

15. Rutgers: (2-1)

Next Week: 11/23 vs. Norfolk State, 11/26 vs. St. Joe’s

The loss to Princeton was a blemish, but beating Fairfield and Miami are both pretty decent wins for Mike Rice. Like St. John’s, Rutgers is having a lot of success in living rooms, but until those players arrive, they can only work with what they have, which isn’t much.

16. DePaul: (1-1)

Next Week: 76 Classic 11/25-11/28

DePaul put up 114 points on Chicago State and then lost to Western Carolina, which exemplifies their search to find an identity. Oklahoma State in the 76 Classic and either Virginia Tech or Cal State Northridge await the Blue Demons.
A Look Ahead

Preseason Tournaments: All the good stuff will be happening in the preseason tournaments.

  • Notre Dame is playing in the Old Spice Classic, where they face Georgia in the opening round.
  • Villanova gets UCLA in the Preseason NIT semifinals.
  • Syracuse faces Michigan in the Legends Classic opener.
  • DePaul will be playing in the 76 Classic Thanksgiving Day, opening up with Oklahoma State and either Virginia Tech or Cal State Northridge on Friday.
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