Set Your Tivos: 02.07.09

Posted by nvr1983 on February 6th, 2009

Set Your Tivos
I’m not sure why everyone complains about February. Sure the NFL season is over, but at least we don’t need to hear about steroids, holdouts, and whether or not both feet were in bounds. There isn’t a blockbuster “Game of the Year” match-up today, but there are several solid games for the hoops aficionado. So just settle into your favorite spot on the couch and dig in. In the spirit of promoting healthy habits, we suggest that you try to have some vegetables today so use some ketchup on your food today.

#20 Syracuse at #16 Villanova at Noon on ESPN and ESPN360.com: The appetizer for a great day of basketball. This isn’t necessarily a must win for either team, but a win today would probably boost their NCAA seed by at least a spot on Selection Sunday. Both teams have virtually assured themselves a NCAA bid (particularly with Syracuse’s relatively easy remaining schedule in the Big East). One of the more interesting aspects of this game is that if the Orangemen lose, there is a decent chance that they will drop out of the top 25 leaving the Big East with only 5 teams in the top 25 after having as many as 9 teams earlier this season. Anyways, back to the game. Watch the match-up at point guard featuring Jonny Flynn against Scottie Reynolds. The winner of that match-up will likely win the game barring an explosion by either Eric Devendorf or Dante Cunningham.

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Credit: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Cincinnati at Georgetown at Noon on The Big East Network, ESPN Full Court, and ESPN360.com: Georgetown is killing me this year. I saw them play in Orlando against Tennessee in the Old Spice Classic. They lost that game, but it was pretty clear to me that day that they had the talent to make it to the Sweet 16 at the very least. I never imagined that they might be in a position at this point in the season that they might not make the NCAA tournament. To be fair, at that time I was also operating under the assumption that Tennessee was good. The Hoyas were able to break their 5-game losing streak against Rutgers and will need to beat the Bearcats if they want to get some momentum heading into their game against Syracuse at the Carrier Dome. If John Thompson III is able to figured out a way to keep Deonta Vaughn in check, the Hoyas should be able to ride Greg Monroe and DaJuan Summer to a victory.

Notre Dame at #12 UCLA at 1 PM on CBS: The Irish are desperate for a victory having lost 6 straight games. They will have to end their losing streak in one of the rare non-conference match-ups this month. Everybody knows Luke Harangody is going to get his (25.3 PPG and 13.2 RPG), but Notre Dame will need Kyle McAlarney to break out of his prolonged shooting slump and get a great game out of Tory Jackson, who will be matched up against the Bruins veteran PG, Darren Collison. Look for UCLA to pull away in the 2nd half behind Collison, Josh Shipp, and Jrue Holiday.

Miami (FL) at #3 Duke at 1:30 PM on Raycom, ESPN Full Court, and ESPN360.com: I’m fully expecting Duke to come back strong at home after the massacre at Littlejohn on Wednesday night, which is something that rtmsf actually predicted before the game (sort of), but nobody picked up on until after the game. (Ok, nobody has really picked up on it yet.) On the other hand, Miami was on the right side of the other blowout upset beating Wake Forest by 27. Look for Kyle Singler to rebound with a strong game after a weak “effort” against Clemson that was plagued by foul trouble. Coach K will likely use Gerald Henderson, the only Blue Devil who showed up against Clemson, on Jack McClinton in an attempt to slow down the mercurial Miami star. If Singler and Henderson can contain or at least equal Dwayne Collins and McClinton, respectively, the Blue Devils should return to their winning ways. Well at least until UNC invades Cameron on Wednesday night.

kyle-singler

#17 Texas at Nebraska at 2 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: Texas will be looking to rebound after back-to-back losses on the road. Today, they return to Austin to take on the Cornhuskers. Look for A.J. Abrams and Damion James to have big games as Rick Barnes‘s squad will definitely be motivated in this one after falling 3.5 back of conference leader Oklahoma. If Abrams and James have big games that should be enough to hold off Nebraska’s balanced attack.

Michigan at #1 UConn at 6 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: This is a game that the Huskies should be able to win fairly convincingly particularly with the game in Gampel Pavillion, but as this year has taught us never expect too much out of the #1 ranked team in the country. A Michigan win would obviously do wonders for their NCAA tournament chances, but it will tough particularly with John Beilein‘s recent changes in his rotations including bringing DeShawn Sims off the bench in their 71-51 win over Penn State in their last game. The new lineup, which is still led by Manny Harris, may provide some match-up problems for UConn and their big men. I expect UConn to pull this one especially with the recent play of Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrien, but Michigan could give them problems and Beilein certainly knows all about the Huskies dating back to his days as the coach at West Virginia.

Charleston at Davidson at 6 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: Most people will tune in just to watch Stephen Curry, but this could actually be a realtively close game (a rarity for the Wildcats in the weak Southern Conference). When these teams met earlier this season, the Wildcats escaped with a 4-point win on the road after Charleston had a chance to tie it with a 3 with less than 10 seconds remaining in the game. This is particularly meaningful as the Wildcats haven’t lost a Southern Conference game since January 20, 2007 (a 43-game winning streak). As an added bonus, you can see Bobby Cremins (former head coach of Georgia Tech) try to come up with a scheme to guard Curry. Cremins is one of the few coaches in the country who has had a player who was at Curry’s level or even above that as he coached Kenny Anderson (along with Dennis Scott and Brian Oliver aka “Lethal Weapon 3″) to the NCAA Final 4 in 1991.

www.zimbio.com
Credit: www.zimbio.com

Florida State at #10 Clemson at 7 PM on NESN and Fox Sports: I’m actually more interested in this game than the others for my own selfish reason since I’ll be doing another RTC Live when Clemson comes to Boston College on Tuesday night. It will be interesting to see if the Tigers have returned to Earth after their beatdown the hated Blue Devils just a few days ago. Oliver Purnell‘s squad had better be ready because the Seminoles are a fairly dangerous team (ask Roy Williams, who needed a Ty Lawson 3 at the buzzer to pull out a win against FSU). This is a classic letdown game so it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on it especially if Toney Douglas gets hot or if either Trevor Booker or K.C. Rivers isn’t on his game after the celebrations following the Duke win.

#19 Minnesota at Ohio State at 8 PM on The Big Ten Network: Minnesota will be licking its wounds after getting crushed by Michigan State at the Breslin Center earlier this week. Unfortunately for Tubby Smith, the Gophers have to head to Columbus to take on a Buckeye team that just knocked off Purdue. If Evan Turner is hot, the Buckeyes could make a move into the top 25 with a win here knocking the Gophers out in the process.

#23 Arizona State at Oregon State at 8:30 PM on Fox Sports: James Harden and the Sun Devils will be looking to complete the Oregon sweep against Craig Robinson‘s Beavers. [Ed. Note: Isn’t Robinson related to some famous guy? I thought I heard something about it on the news.] The Beavers, who were undefeated following Barack Obama‘s Inauguration, finally lost to Arizona ending Oregon State’s hopes of riding Obama-mania to an undefeated term. If the Sun Devils can contain Calvin Haynes, they should hand the Beavers a second consecutive defeat.

Do you pay your taxes?
No, Mr. President. I’m not Reggie Love.

#15 Memphis at #18 Gonzaga at 9 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: Spokane is the site of ESPN GameDay today and it features a match-up of two highly regarded programs that hit rough patches this season, but have rebounded well. Gonzaga appears to have used their victory over Tennessee in Knoxville as a catalyst for their resurgence (Patty Mills‘s injury didn’t hurt either). Memphis, on the other hand, appears to have found its rhythm again with John Calipari‘s decision to move freshman Tyreke Evans from shooting guard to point guard (the kid is lost when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands). Evans has responded with his best play of the season and the Tigers have not lost since the move. Interestingly, both teams dominance in their leagues means that this is a huge game for each in terms of NCAA seeding. A win today would probably be worth 2 seeds on Selection Sunday assuming both teams are able to run the table for the rest of the regular season. Despite the fact that both teams have pretty balanced scoring attacks (4 starters in double figures for each team), the key to this game will likely be the PG match-up of Evans versus Jeremy Pargo. If the more experienced Pargo can outplay Evans, the Bulldogs should be able to run away with this one. If he isn’t, we could be in for a hard-fought game.

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Checking in on the… Big East

Posted by rtmsf on February 5th, 2009

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

Remember all that talk about the Big East getting nine, maybe ten, teams into the dance? It seems like a long time ago now, as it is a legitimate possibility the league only gets seven teams in. The three teams in danger of missing out are Georgetown, Notre Dame and Providence.

The Irish are in the worst position right now. They are currently sitting at 12-8 and 3-6 in the Big East, but they are just 2-7 against the RPI’s top 50. Their RPI is 77 and their SOS is 49, which aren’t great. But the Irish still play four teams in the RPI top 20, and three more in the top 70, which means the Irish have plenty of chances to up their RPI rating.

Providence could also be in trouble. Their RPI is 63 and their SOS is 42. Their record is a little better than the Irish (14-7, 6-3), but they have struggled against the best teams (1-5 vs. RPI top 50, but 3-2 against 51-100). They, too, will get plenty of chances to improve their resume as they have five more games against the top 20.

Georgetown looks to be the safest right now. They have an RPI of 20, have played the toughest schedule in the country (and second toughest in Big East play to West Virginia). They are just 3-5 against the RPI top 50, but they do own wins against Memphis and at UConn. All Georgetown needs to keep in mind is Arizona last year. The Wildcats finished 16-14, 8-10 in the Pac-10 (good for 7th), but got into the dance as a 10 seed based on their tough scheduling (#2 in SOS).

The bottom line is that it is tough to rule out anyone near the bubble in the Big East. With so many quality teams in the league, all it would take for a Cincinnati or a St. John’s is a great finish to the season, and a run to the quarters or the semis of the Big East Tourney.

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Set Your Tivos: 02.02.09

Posted by nvr1983 on February 2nd, 2009

Set Your TivosNow that the nation has been relieved of this football non-sense, we can move forward onto more important topics. . .like the latest game of the year in college basketball.

#1 UConn at #7 Louisville at 7 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: With Duke’s loss to Wake Forest last week, Jim Calhoun‘s Huskies have taken over the perilous #1 ranking. As a reward for this accomplishment, they have to travel down to Freedom Hall to face a squad that is likely the hottest team in the nation. The victor (particularly if UConn can pull off a road win) will likely emerge as the favorite to win the Big East regular title in what is shaping up to be a 4 team race (UConn, Pittsburgh, Marquette, and Louisville) entering February.

To pull off the win on the road Calhoun will need Hasheem Thabeet to play like he did on Saturday when he posted a triple-double (15 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 blocks) against a hot Providence team. Thabeet and Jeff Adrien will be the key inside if the Huskies are to contain Louisville’s trio of interior stars (Earl Clark, Samardo Samuels, and Terrence Williams). This is probably one of the best interior match-ups you will see all season unless Blake Griffin and Tyler Hansbrough meet up in the NCAA tournament.

While the battle on the inside will likely grab all the headlines, the play on the perimeter will likely determine the outcome of the game as getting consistent play from perimeter players is the key the title hopes of both teams this year. The Huskies have 4 perimeter players (Jerome Dyson, A.J. Price, Kemba Walker, and Craig Austrie) who can have a major impact on the game while the Cardinals are a little more limited on the outside with only 2 players who have emerged as threats from the perimeter (Edgar Sosa and Jerry Smith). Dyson will likely be matched up against Earl Clark, which might be the most interesting match-up on the court as Dyson try to take Clark outside while Clark will try to get Dyson in the post. If either guy gets in foul trouble, that could cause some major problems for their team.

On paper, UConn seems to have the advantage particularly on the perimeter, but the Cardinals have the home court and are probably the hottest team in the nation. It will be a close one and probably be decided in the last minute. I’m going with the homecourt and momeuntum and take Louisville here.

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Boom Goes the Dynamite: 01.24.09

Posted by nvr1983 on January 24th, 2009

dynamite1After my trip to Chapel Hill last weekend where rtmsf handled all of the duties for Boom Goes the Dynamite while I mingled with ESPN personalities and college basketball stars, I will be in charge of today’s edition while rtmsf does relationship stuff with his significant other. Pretty weak if you ask me. . .

11:00 AM: Although we are a men’s college basketball site, we feel that it’s appropriate to mention the passing of Kay Yow, the former NC State coach, to breast cancer (or more precisely complications related to breast cancer). We can’t really do justice to her impact on the women’s game so it’s probably better just to refer you to a chronology of her life.

11:10 AM: The Notre Dame GameDay crowd looks a lot larger than what I saw last weekend at UNC. I am not sure if it is just a bunch of camera tricks by the GameDay crew, but they definitely have more signs. It may be that UConn is much, much better than Miami was last week or that the UNC crowd may be a bit jaded, but the Chapel Hill crowd was not as into the GameDay experience as I expected them to be.

11:45 AM: Digger Phelps has been doing a good job of working the crowd, which he also did last week at Chapel Hill (even off camera), taking the homer pick of Luke Harangody as his choice of tough player after the other analysts picked Blake Griffin, Tyler Hansbrough, and Stephen Curry to boos. As expected the crowd went wild with Digger’s pick. A little later in the show, the crowd gave the stereotypical college crowd response to a Duke segment by chanting “overrated”. Not surprisingly, the analysts all defend Duke. Appropriately enough, Bobby Knight calls out the Notre Dame students by questioning their education. It looks like he is getting more comfortable with his role on ESPN.

11:50 AM: Another awful half-court shot. Where does ESPN find these guys? He deserved to be embarrassed like that on national TV for popping his collar. Someone should tell him that hasn’t been cool since. . .actually it has never been cool. Congrats on the airball.

Noon: Wow. All of the GameDay guys except Knight picked LSU to beat #13 Xavier. I guess it’s in Baton Rouge, but Xavier is definitely the better team. Least surprising pick of the day: Digger picks Notre Dame. Knight abstains from picking a team.

12:15 PM: Duke is off to a good start against Maryland after Jon Scheyer opens the game with two 3s. What’s going on with Brian Zoubek? He actually looks like a legitimate center today. I have seen him play several times this year and he certainly has improved from last year, but he has never played like this. If he can do this even for spurts this year, Duke might have a legitimate chance to win the title this year instead of their usual great regular season and flop in March.

12:20 PM: Villanova is tied at 10 with USF 6 minutes into the game. Dante Cunningham has 8 of Villanova’s 10 points. I don’t have much else to say about this game since I don’t have ESPN360 available since I am out of town. If anybody has this game on TV, let me know if anything interesting happens.

1:00 PM: Duke goes into halftime with a 25-point lead despite having one of the ugliest possessions I have ever seen to end the half. Do you remember when the Duke-Maryland games used to be the best games of the season? I still remember trying to figure out where I could go to watch the game on TV my freshman year of college. (My school didn’t believe in providing cable to dorm rooms.) Meanwhile in Tampa, Villanova is struggling against USF (tied at 32 at halftime).

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Set Your Tivos: 01.24.09 & 01.25.09

Posted by nvr1983 on January 23rd, 2009

Set Your Tivos

Check in with RTC on Saturday all day long as we piggyback the slowly burning wick of Boom Goes the Dynamite, your virtually live weekly journal of notes and observations about the day’s biggest games. 

Saturday
Game of the Day
#3 UConn at #19 Notre Dame at 7 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: The Irish will be looking to bounce back from consecutive road losses (at Louisville and at Syracuse), but that will be a tall task (insert Hasheem Thabeet joke here) against UConn–a team that many consider the best in the Big East (not just based on ranking). Reigning Big East POY Luke Harangody will have his hands full on the inside battling Thabeet and Jeff Adrien. The match-up on the outside should be even more interesting with the Irish backcourt of Kyle McAlarney, Tory Jackson, and Ryan Ayers battling A.J. Price, Jerome Dyson, and Kemba Walker. I’m not sure if the Irish have anybody to contend with slashing ability of UConn, but the key to this game will likely be the production of Price and Walker.

Although UConn is clearly the superior team in this match-up, they will have a tough time in South Bend as the Fighting Irish come into the game with a NCAA-best 44-game home winning streak. Mike Brey desperately needs this game if he wants to establish his team in the upper half of the league. A win for UConn would solidify their place as the Big East favorites and build on their already strong resume. It will be a hard-fought game, but I think in the end Jim Calhoun‘s squad will end the streak tonight.

Others to Watch
#11 UCLA at Washington at 4 PM on FSN: After a slow start (2-3), the Huskies have rallied to win 11 of their last 12 with their only loss coming by 3 points in OT to Cal. I’m not sure what clicked up there in Seattle, but now they are looking like a Pac-10 contender. If they want to challenge for the league title, they will have to knock off UCLA, the current kings of the Pac-10. I’m sure that Ben Howland has been all over his Bruins for their awful execution down the stretch last Saturday in their loss at home to Arizona State. It does not look like the Bruins have fully recovered from that meltdown as they nearly lost in Pullman to Washington State Thursday night and only survived thanks to a career-high 20 points from Nikola Dragovic. UCLA will need more consistent play from its perimeter players (Darren Collison, Josh Shipp, and Jrue Holldiay) or hope they find an inside game if they want to make yet another Final 4 appearance. For those of you who haven’t been following the Huskies, keep an eye on their diminutive freshman point guard Isaiah Thomas (15.8 PPG and 3.2 APG). It looks like is a future star in the Pac-10. Let’s hope that he isn’t charge of personnel moves/recruiting.

#23 Baylor at #5 Oklahoma at 4 PM on ESPNU: This is a match-up of two of the top 3 teams in the Big 12 (at least according to the polls). The Bears rely on a balanced attack with 5 players averaging double figures led by Curtis Jerrells, who averages 17.1 PPG. Scott Drew will need all 5 guys to hit their averages and hope for a little luck to steal one in Norman as Oklahoma is the clear favorite in the league. They are led by national POY candidate Blake Griffin who comes in averaging a ridiculous 22.3 PPG and 13.6 RPG. If he can get consistent support from Willie Warren and Tony Crocker this Sooner team could make deep run in March because I don’t think anybody in the country can guard Griffin.

Keep an eye on
Maryland at #2 Duke at Noon on ESPN and ESPN360.com: Even though this has traditionally been a heated rivalry I normally would not keep this game here except for the fact that if Duke wins they will be your new #1 team in the country. If they do get to #1, John Stevens is pretty sure that you will hear about it.

UW-Milwaukee at #17 Butler at Noon on Time Warner Sports 32, ESPN Full Court, and ESPN360.com: Butler is clearly the class of the Horizon League, but UW-Milwaukee may be the second best team in the conference so if anybody is going to knock Butler off in their conference tournament and create total chaos on Selection Sunday it may well be the Panthers.

#24 Memphis at Tennessee at 3:30 PM on CBS: It’s amazing that this match-up, which featured two powerhouses last year, has been reduced to this level. Memphis has the excuse of losing Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts. The Vols certainly lost some key players, but after coming into the season ranked in the top 10, this has to be a very disappointing start for Bruce Pearl. This would be a good way to start to resurrect the Vols’ season.

Wisconsin at #24 Illinois at 4 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: Bruce Weber will be looking for his Fighting Illini to continue their impressive start against a Badger team that is coming off 3 straight losses with the last 2 coming in OT.

#13 Xavier at LSU at 8 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: Normally I would hype this game as a mid-major team trying to steal one against the mighty BCS, but I can’t really do that this year with Butler ranked 13th and the SEC’s conspicuous absence from the polls (Florida is ranked in one, but will be gone with that awful loss to South Carolina). Ignoring that, this would be a great win for Xavier to add to their already strong resume for Selection Sunday, but they shouldn’t be overconfident heading into Baton Rouge as the Tigers having been playing well this season and are undefeated at home. [Yes. I realize I just warned Xavier not to be overconfident heading into a road game against a SEC team.]

Sunday
Game of the Day
#12 Louisville at #8 Syracuse at Noon on Big East Network, ESPN Full Court, and ESPN360.com: Finally we have a great game on Sunday. After several weekends with loaded Saturdays followed by a set of duds on Sunday, we get the hottest team in the Big East (Louisville) traveling to play at the team with the most to prove (Syracuse). We at RTC had been critical of Rick Pitino‘s Cardinals when they started slowly but they seem to have turned it around although it seems like the nation did not seem to take notice until they knocked off then #1 Pittsburgh. On the other sideline, Jim Boeheim‘s squad will be looking to bounce back from a difficult stretch where they lost games on the road to Georgetown and Pittsburgh with a win at home against Notre Dame sandwiched between those losses.

This game will likely come down to which team’s strength wins out. Syracuse has the edge on the outisde with Jonny Flynn, Eric Devendorf, and Andy Rautins having the upper hand in their match-up Earl Clark and Edgar Sosa. Louisville will have the edge on the inside with Samardo Samuels and Terrence Williams going against Arinze Onuaku and Paul Harris. I think these two teams are pretty evenly matched with Syracuse’s advantages being perimeter play and home court while Louisville’s advantages being inside play and momentum. I’ll go with the easy 2s and momentum and take Louisville to continue their current hot streak.

Others to Watch
#7 Michigan State at Ohio State at 3:45 PM on CBS: OSU had been playing better before its trip to Illinois the other night.  Still, West Virginia is the only team to get them on their home court this season, so Michigan St. had best bring a better game than it brought Wed. night against Northwestern, or they’ll be staring at 2 Ls this week.

#4 Pittsburgh at West Virginia at 4 PM on Big East Network, ESPN Full Court, and ESPN360.com: This game suddenly became even more interesting considering how dominant the Mountaineers looked tonight in DC against Georgetown.  Pitt recovered nicely with a home win against Syracuse, and they match up very well with the undersized WVU team, but so did Georgetown.  One thing you can be sure about in this one – most players will leave this one black and blue.

Virginia Tech at Miami at 5:30 PM on FSN: Anyone want to lay odds on which Virginia Tech team shows up coming off their victory over #1 Wake Forest on Wednesday?  Will it be the Hokie team that lost to Seton Hall and Georgia, or the one who led Wake from start to finish?  We’re betting it’s the SH/Georgia version.

Georgia Tech at #9 Clemson at 7:45 PM on FSN: This is a really weak set of FSN games this weekend (frankly the entire weekend is disappointing).  Still, if you’ve got nothing else going on, you can spend a couple of hours watching Paul Hewitt try to save his job and Oliver Purnell try to convince you that the Tigers are legit.

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Set Your Tivos: 01.20.09-01.22.09

Posted by nvr1983 on January 20th, 2009

Set Your TivosIn light of the weak set of games this week, we’re bringing you a midweek (Tuesday-Thursday) Set Your Tivos before the weekend edition (Friday night’s games are awful so go out and do something that night).

Tuesday (01.20.09)
- Ohio State at #24 Illinois, 7 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: Illinois has been one of the most surprising teams in the first half of the college basketball season. Bruce Weber‘s team came into the season without a single vote in either major poll and now they sit in the top 25. Although they are only 3-2 in the Big Ten this year, the Fighting Illini have shown everyone that they will contend for the conference title this year with their performance in the early season. All three of their losses this year have been against respectable competition: Clemson (by 2 points), at Michigan (avenged last week), and at Michigan State (by 6). On the other hand, Ohio State has been disappointing since the loss of David Lighty and has went 6-3 since his injury after starting 7-0 including a win over Notre Dame.

Illinois’s strength this year has been their balanced scoring attack with 4 players averaging between 11.3 and 11.8 PPG. They are led by Dmeteri McCamey (11.8 PPG and 4.9 APG) at the point and Mike Davis (11.3 PPG and 7.3 RPG) on the inside. They are a potential Sweet 16 team if Kentucky transfer Alex Legion can become more consistent and play like he did against Michigan State (15 points on 6/13 FG).

The key to this game will be Weber’s ability to limit Evan Turner, who is averaging 15.9 PPG and 7.0 RPG this season. While Thad Matta has two other players (Jon Diebler and William Buford) who average double figures along with the highly touted B.J. Mullens, Turner is the most consistent scorer that Matta has. If Weber can get Davis to slow down Turner, Illinois should be able to pull this one out.

Wednesday (01.21.09)
- #21 Villanova at #3 UConn, 7 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: Yet another ridiculous Big East battle. Even though I am fairly certain that UConn and Pittsburgh are the best teams in the conference (unless Louisville keeps playing at this level), I have a feeling that the regular season title will be determined by which team wins its other conference games. Quite frankly (sorry Stephen A.), Villanova shouldn’t beat UConn in Storrs if the Huskies play up to their potential.

Calhoun’s talented, but enigmatic backcourt of A.J. Price, Jerome Dyson, and Kemba Walker will have to contend with Scottie Reynolds, Corey Fisher, and Corey Stokes. The match-up is pretty close, but I’d give the edge to the Huskies here unless Reynolds goes off. On the inside, the Huskies also have the advantage, but will need to contain Dante Cunningham, who comes in averaging 17.4 PPG and 7.4 RPG. If they can prevent him from having a monster game, UConn will have a decided edge on the inside. One of Jim Calhoun‘s on-going challenges will be getting Stanley Robinson to play consistently after his unusual sabatical. If Calhoun can get consistent play out of Robinson to go along with the surprisingly consistent Hasheem Thabeet (except for the Gonzaga game) and the explosive slasher Jeff Adrien, he might just find himself in Detroit in April.

- #9 Clemson at #6 UNC, 9 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: Will Clemson ever win a game at Chapel Hill? The Tigers’ losing streak in Chapel Hill currently stands at a NCAA record 53 games dating back to their first visit there on January 15, 1926. After Saturday’s loss to current #1 Wake Forest, Clemson will be looking to rebound and avoid their annual ACC slide. Unfortunately for Clemson, UNC is probably stronger than them at every position and has the previously mentioned home court edge.

Oliver Purnell will also need solid play out of his 9-deep rotation (all averaging over 13.2 MPG), which is led by Trevor Booker and K.C. Rivers. Booker will likely be matched up against reigning POY Tyler Hansbrough. It will be a tough match-up for Booker and even matching Hansbrough will likely mean a 54th consecutive loss for Tigers at Chapel Hill. Clemson’s best hope is to use their depth and pressure defense to rattle Ty Lawson, who has been playing well this year except for the Tar Heels two losses (9 assists and 8 TOs in those games).

Roy Williams will need to focus on keeping his stars out of foul trouble because the Tigers are one of the few teams in the country that can match UNC’s depth although not necessarily with the same quality that the Tar Heels have. Even though this is a conference match-up against a top 10 team UNC should be able to handle the Tigers relatively easily particularly if Wayne Ellington continues his hot shooting from the 2nd half of the Miami game.

Thursday (01.22.09)
- West Virginia at No. 14 Georgetown, 7 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: After losing consecutive games to UConn and Marquette, the Mountaineers feasted on a break in their schedule with back-to-back wins over Marshall and USF. Unfortunately for Bob Huggins, if West Virginia wants to make the NCAA tournament they will have to start stealing a few wins against the upper tier teams in the conference. On the other sideline, John Thompson III will need to focus on his team’s energy level after a hard-fought win against Syracuse and a tough loss at Duke on Saturday.

This game will likely come down to whether Huggins can find somebody inside to battle Greg Monroe and DaJuan Summers. The Mountaineers match-up well on the outside with Alex Ruoff and Darryl Bryant going up against Austin Freeman and Chris Wright, but Da’Sean Butler will have his hands full against Monroe and Summers assuming Monroe can stay out of foul trouble and the “fans behind the bench” keep quiet. I expect the Hoyas to pull away in this one midway through the second half after struggling to find their focus in the first half.

- #18 Purdue at #20 Minnesota, 7 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: This one looks like it will be a battle of teams fighting for a #2 seed in the Big Ten tournament (the Spartans look like a strong #1 in the conference). The Boilermakers have rebounded well from an 0-2 start in the Big Ten and have won 3 straight. Matt Painter‘s club relies on its own Big Three (sorry Boston fans) of E’Twaun Moore, Robbie Hummel, and JaJuan Johnson. If Hummel is back to 100%, they are one of the better trios in the Big Ten. Purdue’s problem is the big drop-off after that as their 4th leading scorer averages 8.0 PPG (respectable) on 34.1% FG (not so respectable).

Tubby Smith will be looking for his club to bounce back after a bad loss at Northwestern on Sunday. Lawrence Westbrook is the unquestioned star of this team, but we’re more curious about Ralph Sampson III (yes, that’s his son). I’m expecting this one to be a hard-fought game, but I think Purdue will be able to pull this one out against the Gophers, who I believe may be getting too much credit by the media for their win against the suddenly resurgent Louisville Cardinals earlier in the year.

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Checking in on the… Big East

Posted by rtmsf on January 7th, 2009

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

We are just a week into Big East play, and it is already obvious how much fun this conference is going to be. UConn was supposed to be the best team in the country outside of UNC, but the Huskies lost their Big East opener to Georgetown. At home. And loss isn’t quite the right word. Embarrassed is better. Once everyone was firmly entrenched on the Hoyas jock, they went out and lost back-to-back games to Pitt and Notre Dame. Pitt is the new #1 team in the country, but the Irish were coming off a loss to … St. John’s?

No one is going to make it through this league unscathed. I’d be surprised if anyone finished the season with less than five Ls in league play. If you are one of the nine ranked teams (yes, nine Big East teams are currently ranked), then there are three things you will need to do if your plan on reaching the NCAA tourney:

1) Win your home games. With so many quality teams in the league, defending your home court will guarantee you at least a .500 record in the league. Regardless of your opponent, the top nine teams will almost universally be the favorite when playing at home which leads me to my second point.

2) Beat the teams you are supposed to beat. The top nine (and maybe ten if you include Cincy) are going to beat up on each other all season. I doubt the committee is going to want more than a quarter (8 of 31) of the at-large bids to go to one conference. So if all nine (or ten) want in, they need to take care of business against the South Floridas and DePauls and Rutgers.

3) Pray! Like I said, I doubt that the NCAA wants to have one conference send so many teams to the tourney. If nine Big East teams are going to make it, they will need to catch some breaks during the season. The top four in the ACC need to run through the league (UNC didn’t help on Sunday losing to BC – did anyone else notice that win sent BC from unranked to #17?). The top three in the Big XII need to roll. Likewise for the Pac Ten, Big Ten, and SEC (well, only Tennessee in the SEC). Teams like Davidson, Gonzaga/St. Mary’s, Butler, Xavier, and Memphis need to win their conference tournaments. Essentially, they need to hope that there are as few teams on the bubble as possible.

When it comes down to it, every Big East team is going to have an opportunity to knock off numerous top ten and top twenty teams during the conference play. If any of them finish league play below .500 and without a marquee win in conference, then frankly, they probably are not good enough to deserve a bid.

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Checking in on the… Big East

Posted by rtmsf on December 31st, 2008

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

Big East play has officially begun! For each and every team in this conference, you can essentially throw out their non-conference games because they are guaranteed at least seven games against top 25 teams (or eight, can someone please explain to me how West Virginia is not one of the top 25 teams in the country?). Get hot at the right time, reel off five or six straight wins during the right part of your schedule, and you can thrust yourself directly onto the bubble.

Granted, that is MUCH more easily said than done. As you will see, every team in this conference has a run where they will play four or five top 25 teams in the span of two weeks. Because it was a slow week (thanks Santa, but you did get me Fifa ’09 so you’re not all bad) and more than a few teams didn’t play, I am going to be giving you what I like to call “Running the Gauntlet” (patent pending), which is the string of three or four or five (or sometimes even nine) games which you will only see in happening in the Big East.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Darryl “Truck” Bryant, West Virginia

Statistically speaking, Truck had far from the best week in the conference, even on his own team. In the Mountaineers’ only game (a blowout of Ohio State) Truck finished with 11 points and 2 dimes. But it is more than his performance, it is the importance of his play to this West Virginia team. It looks like there is a real possibility that Joe Mazzulla will be out for the season, meaning that Truck is basically the only PG Bob Huggins has on his roster right now. West Virginia does not need Truck to carry this team. In fact, they are probably better when he is blending in more than standing out, so to speak. What they need from him is tough defense, ball control, and the ability to make a big shot or big play when WVU needs it. He did that perfectly against Ohio State. The Mountaineers did not play all that well against the Buckeyes, but in the second half when they were pulling away, Truck was in the middle of everything. He had a couple tough finishes on drives to the basket, he scored a few times on a fast break, and on a team that struggles to move the ball at times, he orchestrated a beautifully run offense (especially in the second half) against a pretty good OSU zone. You want a good comparison for this kid? Think Levance Fields as a freshman.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Georgetown

The Hoyas played just one game this week. It just so happened that game was a win over UConn, the #2 team in the country. The Hoyas thoroughly dominated the Huskies throughout. If there was a word that defined the Hoyas performance, it was execution. JT3 had the perfect game plan against UConn. His Hoyas controlled the pace of the game by running through their offensive sets, then exploiting any UConn break down defensively. And when they attacked, they scored just about every time, especially down the stretch. UConn just couldn’t get any stops. If it wasn’t a back door cut, it was an open jump shot or a drive to the rim, which resulted in either a lay-up or a trip to the foul line (the Hoyas hit their last 18 free throws in the second half). Last week I told you I was finally coming to terms with the fact that Greg Monroe was not going to be a star just yet. Well, against UConn, Monroe proved why he had so much hype coming out of high school. He knocked down two threes, but was able to put the ball on the floor and go by Hasheem Thabeet when the big fella came out to guard him. He made three gorgeous back door passes, two of which came off the dribble. He blocked shots, and even ripped AJ Price at half court, which led to an and-1 lay-up. The most impressive part about Monroe right now is that he does all of this within the Georgetown system. The Hoyas still have some depth problems (the only starter that didn’t play 35 minutes against the Huskies was Monroe, and he was in foul trouble during the second half), but if guys like Jason Clark, Omar Wattad (side note: I think the best sign I have seen this year came at the Georgetown-Memphis game when some fan held up “Let’s Get Wattaded”), Julian Vaughn, and Henry Sims can provide anywhere between 8-15 minutes a game each, the Hoyas should be ok because of the pace they play at.

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Set Your Tivos: Super Saturday Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on December 20th, 2008

Super Saturday is a term usually reserved for the final Saturday of the US Open where the two men’s semifinals and the women’s final are played, but this Saturday of college basketball trumps any day at Flushing Meadows (unless we could somehow get a Kournikova-Ivanovic final). Normally I would cover all the interesting games on the docket, but today is so good that I’m only going to cover the ones featuring ranked teams matched up against each other.

No naps this Saturday afternoon

No naps this Saturday afternoon

The Undercard: On any other Saturday, these games would be the headliners, but today they are merely an appetizer to get you ready for the even bigger match-ups to follow.
#22 Michigan State at #5 Texas at 2 PM on CBS: Tom Izzo’s Spartans come into Saturday badly in need of a victory against a quality foe. Although Michigan State comes in with a respectable record of 7-2, they have been underwhelming and certainly nowhere near the level they were predicted to be coming into the season (AP #5 back on November 24th). On the other side, the Longhorns have been surprisingly strong with their only loss coming against Notre Dame (81-80) in what was the best game of the Maui Invitational. Texas has responded well to the setback with wins over 2 ranked teams in December (UCLA and Villanova). The last time Michigan State played a team of this caliber was in their much-anticipated match-up against UNC (clearly Texas isn’t quite at that level), they were blown off the court in a virtual home game. Tom Izzo will need a big game from Raymar Morgan and hope that his defense can contain A.J. Abrams and Damion James if he hopes to steal one in Austin.

- #20 Davidson vs. #18 Purdue at 4 PM on CBS: Both teams are all but assured of NCAA tournament bids. However, neither team has a signature win yet. Davidson certainly has the marquee value with national POY contender Stephen Curry, but they lost their only game against a ranked team (82-78 at #14 Oklahoma on November 18th). While the Wildcats can hardly be faulted for losing a road game against Blake Griffin and the Sooners, it still leaves them without a win they would need to merit a potential 5 seed or better. If they are unable to win today in Indianapolis, their only other chance to beat a top 25 team will be on January 7th against Duke at Cameron (ESPN might be hyping that game a little bit in the time leading up to the BCS title game). The Boilermakers are in a similar situation albeit without a star anywhere close to the level of Curry. The Boilermakers lost their only games against ranked teams back-to-back (87-82 in OT against Oklahoma on November 28th and 76-60 at home against Duke on December 2nd) and after tomorrow they don’t have a game against a currently ranked team until February 3rd against Ohio State. This game will likely come down to how well the Boilermakers can contain Curry (31.9 PPG and 6.8 APG) and limit his sidekick on the inside Andrew Lovedale (13.9 PPG and 10.7 RPG). The Boilermakers will counter with a much more balanced attack (4 players averaging between 9.9 and 15.6 PPG).

National POY?

National POY?

- #11 Syracuse at #21 Memphis at 6 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: The Orangemen (other than Jim Boeheim) responded well to their crushing loss at the buzzer on Monday night. However, they will be without Eric Devendorf for at least 2 games so Jonny Flynn will have to hope that Paul Harris and/or Arinze Onuaku can pick up the slack as John Calipari will almost certainly be focusing on Flynn on the perimeter. The Tigers could use a quality win here as they have lose both of the games they have played against quality opponents (Xavier and Georgetown). Tyreke Evans and Shawn Taggert will need to play well, but this is a game that the Tigers should win.

The Title Bouts: These games are as good as you will find any time this season (in-conference or out-of-conference) until we get to March.
#7 Xavier vs. #6 Duke at 2 PM on CBS: Although this game is a “neutral” site game and quite far away from North Carolina, East Rutherford, New Jersey has become a de facto home for Coach K and the Blue Devils over the past 20 years. Despite that edge, I don’t think Coach K will be starting his bench (including everybody’s favorite whipping boy Greg Paulus) like he did in the Blue Devils last game against UNC-Asheville. Sean Miller didn’t have quite the same luxury in Xavier’s last game as they had to fight hard to beat crosstown rival Cincinnati 76-66 a week ago. Both teams rely on a balanced scoring attack, but the outcome of the game will likely be decided by Duke’s ability to hit the 3. The Blue Devils don’t shoot a particularly high percentage from 3 (32% for the season), but they are such high-volume shooters (20.6 attempts per game compared to 15.3 attempts per game for the Musketeers) that it becomes a major factor in all of their games. Their only loss this year was their rematch against Michigan in Ann Arbor where they opened the game hitting 3 of their first 27 attempts for 3 point range before hitting 4 in a row late to close the gap. The key match-up in this game should be Kyle Singler versus Derrick Brown, which should be interesting to watch if Singler tries to pull Brown away from the basket with his outside shooting. This should be a close game, but look for Duke to win this one as they have had a tendency to pull out big games before conference play starts.

- #2 UConn vs. #7 Gonzaga at 4 PM on CBS: This game could have very easily been a 2-4 match-up if Gonzaga hadn’t slipped up last week against Arizona in Tucson. One of the interesting subplots, which I’m sure that CBS will cover repeatedly, is that it was match-up that introduced the nation to Gonzaga basketball less than 10 years ago and propelled UConn to its first Final 4 trip. While I remember the game for its significance for Gonzaga’s program, I had completely forgotten that it gave UConn its first Final 4 trip ever (won the title that year in a nail-bitter over Trajan Langdon’s Blue Devils). This Gonzaga team is significantly different than the one you might see on ESPN Classic. They are no longer just the team that relies on exceptional skill and execution. Now they have the athletes to compete with anybody in the nation. However, UConn has been playing better than anyone in the nation not wearing baby blue so Gonzaga will have its hands full trying to keep up with the Huskies, who have a balanced scoring attack led by Jerome Dyson, Hasheem Thabeet, and Jeff Adrien. Dyson leads the Huskies in scoring at 15.4 PPG and provides Jim Calhoun with a versatile one-on-one scorer. Thabeet, his counterpart on the inside, has finally started to show some of the promise that has had NBA scouts salivating over him in the past as he has started to score on a consistent basis to compliment his always strong defensive presence. The one area that the Huskies need to improve upon if they want to compete for the national title (read: challenge UNC) is for A.J. Price to step up as an elite college PG. His 35% FG and 36% FT isn’t going to cut it in March and may even be a liability in Big East play, which may be more competitive than the NCAA tournament itself on a nightly basis. The Bulldogs have also been playing exceptionally well this year with the exception of their loss last week to Arizona last week. They also come in with a balanced attack, but they are led by PG Jeremy Pargo whose scoring is slightly down (12.1 PPG to 8.9 PPG) from the past 2 season as he has focused more on running the team (3.4 assist:turnover ratio compared to 1.8 last year). To beat the Huskies, Mark Few will need everybody–Pargo, Austin Daye, Josh Heytvelt, and Matt Bouldin–to be near the top of their games. In the end, the Huskies depth and superior interior defense will probably be too much for Gonzaga to overcome.

Tyler who?

Tyler who?

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Checking in on the… Big East

Posted by rtmsf on December 10th, 2008

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

The Big East lost three of their four marquee games this week as Notre Dame lost to Ohio State and West Virginia and Villanova were swept in the Jimmy V Classic (Marquette did pick up a win at home against Wisconsin). Even teams like UConn (four point win over Buffalo) and Syracuse (came back from down 16 against Cornell) barely avoided being upset. Right now, the only team that is playing well and has played well through out the season is Pitt.

If the first quarter of the season taught us anything, it isn’t that the Big East is weaker than expected as much as the rest of the country is not as far behind as it seemed. Look at those three losses listed above. Notre Dame, a team that is not quite as good as they were expected to be, lost to a better-than-expected Ohio State team in Luke Harangody’s first game back from pneumonia (yea, he had 25 and 16, but you have to factor in the adjustment other players – i.e. Kyle McAlarney, who was 3-11 for 6 points – have to make when he comes back). West Virginia, playing without Joe Mazzulla and Alex Ruoff, lost to Davidson. Villanova lost to a very good Texas team.

While the teams may be a little different than expected, the numbers still break down basically the same way. Four teams look like Final Four contenders, three teams are all but locks to make the tourney, and another four have put themselves in excellent position to earn an at-large bid.

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ATB: All Ends to Friday

Posted by rtmsf on November 22nd, 2008

afterbuzzer1

Game of the Day. Xavier 63, Virginia Tech 62 (OT).  This ending was almost as ridiculous as the Brandon Roy nonsense from a couple of weeks ago.  After it appeared the Va Tech had won the game on a layup by Jeff Allen with under three seconds remaining, Xavier threw it up ahead to Dante Jackson, who at that point was 0-8 with 2 pts in the game.  So of course he throws in a bank shot from 50 feet to win (see below).  This was easily the best game-winner of the young season, and will probably be in the running for best of the season this year.  XU’s Derrick Brown led the Musketeers with 16/6, but Va Tech may not have been in that position if their star had shown up on the offensive end – AJ Vassallo had a mere 4 pts on 2-13 (0-6 3FG) shooting, 15 pts below his average.  At least he stepped it up otherwise, though, with 10 rebs and 8 assts.

CvC.

  • Duke 71, Michigan 56. Hey, Duke won another tournament title at Madison Square Garden!  Never seen that before!  Coach K is only 94-10 in November at Duke, so if you didn’t see this one coming, then you haven’t watched college basketball in the last three decades.  It got us wondering, how many of these tourneys has Coach K won over the years?  Surpisingly, he’s only won three of the five PNITs that he’s been in (1985, 2000, 2008) – sure feels like more. The Blue Devils relied on a balanced attack–both in terms of depth and playing both halfs (looking at you Henderson and Singler)–to vault themselves into a #1 seed in everyone’s Week 3 NCAA tournament mock bracket. On the other side, John Beilein and the Wolverine faithful should leave New York City happy though as their win over #4 (not for long) UCLA has served noticed that the Wolverines should be significantly better than last season’s 10-22 record. Perhaps the biggest thing last night’s win over UCLA may have done is make more recruits think about heading up to Ann Arbor so one day Beilein can start more Manny Harrises (game-high 25 points) and less. . .well everybody else on his team. We may find out just how far along these Wolverines have come on December 6th when they get a rematch against Duke in Ann Arbor.
  • UCLA 77, S. Illinois 60. UCLA improved its east coast record to 2-3 under Howland by pulling away from SIU in the last quarter of this game today. The Bruins relied on a 20-2 second half run to win this game. This trip to MSG should be a useful motivation tool for Ben Howland to motivate his team, which is made up of hyped freshmen and remnants of a team that has made 3 straight Final 4s. The Bruins relied on their veteran leaders (Alfred Aboya, Josh Shipp, and Darren Collison) to win the game as that trio combined for 49 of the Bruins’ 77 points. If Howland is going to make a 4th consecutive trip to the Final 4, his freshmen will have to grow up fast.

More Paradise Jammation.

  • Miami (FL) 70, Southern Miss 60. Honestly, I’m more interested in what Larry Eustachy was doing between games in the Virgin Islands than this game. However, I suspect that most of you are here for some keen insight into the game. Cliffs Notes summary: Lance Hurdle led the Canes to a victory despite an off night from Jack McClinton. I wouldn’t read too much into this game as a top 25 team should win games against teams like Southern Miss fairly easily, but it is still November so I’ll give The U the benefit of the doubt tonight, but they will have to step it up when they face the winner of. . .
  • UConn 89, Lasalle 81. Speaking of teams that didn’t quite play up to expectations, #2 UConn struggled to put away LaSalle, a middle-of-the-pack Atlantic 10 team. Jim Calhoun got big games out of Kemba Walker and Jeff Adrien to avoid the huge upset against the Explorers (seriously, what kind of nickname is that?) who shot 50% from the field. However, the biggest story of the night (other than Psycho T returning) was the return of A.J. Price, who was solid if not spectacular in his return. In a related story, Price maybe getting a Facebook invite from Cameron Newton that is assuming, um, Newton can find a computer to log onto the site.
  • USC 73, UT-Chattanooga 46. It’s the return of Taj Gibson who was AWOL for much of last season (I’m not sure who to name that type of performance after–Taj Gibson or Steve Slaton? We’re a college basketball site, so I’ll go with “pulling a Taj Gibson”.) Gibson paced the Trojans with 17 points and 15 rebounds. For the adolescent girl demographic, the big news of the night was that Lil Romeo took his first college shot. . .and missed.
  • San Diego, 73, Valparaiso 66. The Toreros were led by center Gyno Pomare’s 17 points and 12 rebounds. The Toreros, who knocked off UConn in the first round of the NCAA tournament last year as a #13 seed face the winner of. . .
  • Wisconsin 60, Iona 58 (OT). The 25th-ranked Badgers snuck by the Gaels behind 21 points from Trevon Hughes. Somehow, the Badgers won despite going 15 of 48 (31.2%) from the field. So basically, it was a typical Bo Ryan win. I can’t wait to put my Big 10 TV channel to use this year.

Other Games of Mild Interest.

  • Utah 83, Ole Miss 72. The SEC is now 21-7 with losses to Mercer (x2), VMI, Utah, Illinois, Loyola (IL), and UNC. Other than UNC, not exactly murderer’s row there.
  • Syracuse 86, Oakland 66. Jonny Flynn brought 18/4 off the bench to assist four others in double figures, but most importantly, SU held Oakland’s Johnathan Jones to 7-23 shooting and only 16 pts.
  • Pitt 86, Akron 67. I’ll just leave you with this quote from Akron coach Keith Dambrot about Sam Young:
  • Sam Young physically reminds me of LeBron. Obviously, he’s not as good a player as LeBron, but he’s got that quick-twitch strength and ability to put the ball down. He’s a tough matchup.

    I will be waiting to see Young try LeBron’s patented bullrush to/through the basket this year.

  • Davidson 97, Winthrop 70. Stephen Curry with a ho-hum 30 points and 13 assists. The bigger news for Bob McKillop is the 20 and 15 from Andrew Lovedale. If the Wildcats can get a legitimate inside game going this year, they could be an extremely tough out in March with Curry bombing away from outside.
  • Memphis 84, Seton Hall 70. Not much to say here. Memphis took an early lead and never looked back. One interesting stat: 30/46 or 65.2%. I’ll let you guess what that represents. (Hint: Don’t ask John Calipari about it.)
  • Maryland 89, Vermont 74 (OT). That’s not a typo. The Terrapins outscored the Catamounts 17-2 in the 5-minute OT period. I think even Gary Williams will have to be happy with how his team finished the game. He may be a little pissed off about the other 40 minutes though. . .
  • Tennessee 76, MTSU 66. A thoroughly unimpressive win for the Volunteers. Do top 25 teams really struggle to put away Middle Tennessee State?
  • Notre Dame 65, LMU 54. Luke Harangody with a beastly 27 and 17. Hasheem Thabeet is still not impressed. . .

On Tap Saturday (all games EST):

  • Delaware State at Kentucky – Noon
  • Drexel at #22 Georgetown – 1 PM
  • Gardner-Webb at #12 Oklahoma -2 PM
  • Indiana (PA) at #6 Pittsburgh – 4 PM
  • Morehead State at #3 Louisville – 5:30 PM
  • Wisconsin-Milwaukee at #15 Marquette – 8:30 PM
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2008-09 Conference Primers: #1 – Big East

Posted by rtmsf on November 10th, 2008

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

Predicted Order of Finish (from the coach’s pre-season poll, released at Big East media day):

  1. Connecticut (9)
  2. Louisville (3)
  3. Pitt (3)
  4. Notre Dame (1)
  5. Villanova
  6. Marquette
  7. Georgetown
  8. Syracuse
  9. West Virginia
  10. Providence
  11. Cincinnati
  12. Rutgers
  13. Seton Hall
  14. St john’s
  15. DePaul
  16. South Florida

big-east-logo

WYN2K. You hear that? You know what that is? That’s the sound of RTC stealing my thunder.  I’m not much of a statistician myself, but just by looking at that pre-season poll I can tell you this – the Big East is loaded.  If you live outside of Big East country, then you are probably sick of hearing about how good the conference is, year in and year out. But facts are facts. Four teams are legitimate Final Four threats. Another six teams are, depending on who you ask, expected to be a part of the 65 team field. Three more teams have an outside shot at punching a ticket to the dance if they can catch a few breaks (transfers getting cleared, freshman getting eligible, etc.).  So in this day and age of college basketball, where “early entry,” “parity,” and “mid-major” have become household terms, how did one conference manage to stockpile so many good teams? Well, as you can see, the Big East is HUGE. There are sixteen teams spanning from Rhode Island to Wisconsin to Florida and everywhere in between. When you have that many teams in one conference, there are bound to be years where there are a lot of good teams, especially when so many of the schools have a rich basketball tradition.  This just happens to be one of those years where the Big East got lucky. Last season, 32 players were named to an All-Big East team (1st, 2nd, honorable mention, all-rookie), and only two of those players (WVU’s Joe Alexander and Syracuse’s Donte Greene) declared for the draft with eligibility remaining. Would Pittsburgh be as good as expected if Sam Young left? What about UConn without Hasheem Thabeet? Those two, and a number of other players, probably would be on NBA rosters right now if they left, but for whatever reason (a loaded draft class last year, smarts enough to know they weren’t ready, boosters offered them more than what they would get paid on a rookie’s salary) they decided to head back to campus.

So without further ado, here is your conference breakdown:

Cellar Dwellars.  DePaul, St. John’s, South Florida, Rutgers

  • There are some talented players on these teams. Sophomore Dar Tucker of DePaul is a poster waiting to happen. South Florida’s Dominique Jones scored 17.1 ppg as a freshman. St. John’s has senior Anthony Mason Jr. and sophomore Justin Burrell to carry the load. But with the depth of the Big East this year combined with the loss of some talented seniors, none of these three teams really look like they have a shot at doing much. Rutgers might have the best shot of the group to make some noise, as Fred Hill has landed back-to-back talented freshman classes. Don’t be surprised if you hear the names Gregory Echenique and Mike Rosario (RU’s first Mickey D’s all-american) quite often during the season.

We Should Have Bribed The NCAA.  Cincinnati (NIT), Seton Hall (NIT)

  • Both the Pirates and the Bearcats are awaiting the NCAA’s word on whether or not they will have some key players in their rotation. After struggling with the remnants of the Cincy program in the wake of Bob Huggins, Mick Cronin finally has the program heading in the right direction. He brings back Deonta Vaughn, who is one of the most explosive scorers in the country, and gets former Texas forward Mike Williams back from an Achilles injury. Adding two talented freshman in Yancy Gates and Cashmere Wright only helped matters. But Wright tore up his knee in the first week of practice, meaning that Vaughn is, once again, their only real backcourt threat and that they must rely heavily on their front line, which could be bolstered by the addition of 7’2” center John Riek. The Sudanese refugee, who was considered one of the best prospects in the country two years ago but has battled knee problems, is dealing with eligibility issues but could be in uniform by December. 
  • Seton Hall’s situation is a little different. The Pirates lose leading scorer Brian Laing (18.6 ppg) but return a solid nucleus of Eugene Harvey, Jeremy Hazell and John Garcia. Bobby Gonzalez had also hoped to add transfers Herb Pope (New Mexico St.) and Keon Lawrence (Missouri) without having to wait the mandatory one year for a transfer by having each kid apply for the NCAA’s hardship waiver. Pope’s been denied, Lawrence’s application will wait until after the first semester, and freshman Melvyn Oliver is still waiting to be cleared academically, meaning the Pirates currently have only eight scholarship players.

Pretenders or Contenders?  Providence (NIT), West Virginia (NCAA #7)

  • I know what you’re thinking. Providence? Really, Rob? They haven’t been good since the days of Ryan Gomes and Donnie MacGrath (and even then, good might have been pushing it). But the Friars have the horses to sneak up on some people this year. They were as balanced as any team in the Big East last year, with six guys (five returners) that averaged at least 8.7 ppg.  PG Sharaud Curry, arguably their best player, is back from a stress fracture in his foot and they have added Keno Davis, last year’s national COY at Drake, as the head coach. Davis should have some success in his first year with the Friars if they follow the same spread floor style that was so successful at Drake. One key reason for that is big man Geoff McDermott, who is adept at playing on the perimeter and is a stat stuffer (10 ppg, 8 rpg, 5 apg, 1 spg, and 1.5 bpg). Remember, this Providence team, who battled the injury bug all year, swept UConn and beat Temple and Arkansas last seaso. The talent’s there, but consistency and healthy players will be the key to their season.
  • The Mountaineers are a different story. They really came on towards the end of the season, thanks in (very) large part to the emergence of Joe Alexander, who was probably the best player in the conference (maybe the country) for the last month-plus of the season and is now a forward with the Bucks. Left are a bunch of very good role players that fit into Huggy Bear’s system and play hard. Guys like Joe Mazzula, Alex Ruoff and Da’Sean Butler. There are two major questions for the Mountaineers – who is going to play in the post and who is going to fill to void of “go-to guy” with Alexander gone. Freshman Devin Ebanks may be able to fill Alexander’s shoes with time, but the rest of the Mountaineers front line will be small (especially for the Big East) and inexperienced.

Worst of the Rest.  Syracuse (NCAA #7), Georgetown (NCAA #7), Marquette (NCAA #6), Villanova (NCAA #5)

  • I’ll be completely honest with you. I’m a UConn fan. I hate Syracuse. Despise them. I even hate the color orange. I didn’t even rank them in my top 25. Call it being biased, call it homerism, call it what you like. But I’ve had an epiphany – this team is really talented. Jonny Flynn is one of the best point guards in the country. Eric Devendorf is a very talented combo guard. Andy Rautins can flat out stroke the three. Paul Harris is a linebacker playing basketball. Arinze Onuake is a beast on the block. And this year, they actually have a deep bench filled with role players and hustle guys. They’re not quite in the top four, but Boeheim has himself his most talented team since Melo.
  • Georgetown lost a lot of very important players to graduation (Roy Hibbert, Jonathan Wallace, Patrick Ewing Jr) and transfers (Jeremiah Rivers, Vernon Macklin). They are left with just four guys who were in their rotation last year – guards Chris Wright, Jessie Sapp, Austin Freeman and forward DaJuan Summers. They do add a great recruiting class, headlined by big men Greg Monroe and Henry Sims, but it will still be somewhat of a rebuilding year for the Hoyas. Part of the reason is that John Thompson III may have to change up his style of play from the Princeton Offense. Hibbert, Wallace, and Ewing were perfectly suited to a slowed down game, where as Sapp and Wright are quick guards that can make plays in the open floor.
  • Marquette has a new coach, but they will be the same team. By now, you must know about their three great guards – Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews – who, when combined with Maurice Acker and David Cubillan, make up one of the deepest, most explosive backcourts in the country. But, much like Villanova and West Virginia, Marquette needs someone to step up inside. It’s great when you have a bunch of guards that can score and make plays, but will Dominic James 40” vert help him against the likes of Luke Harangody or DeJuan Blair? Dwight Burke is going to have to make some big strides as a senior, or else the Golden Eagles will have to rely on a freshman and two JuCo transfers inside.
  • Remember that Villanova team from a few years back? The one with Kyle Lowry, Randy Foye, Allan Ray and Mike Nardi? Well this ‘Nova team is going to be similar to that squad. Led by scoring machine Scottie Reynolds, ‘Nova has one of the best backcourts in the conference. But the key to their success this year will be the front court. Dante Cunningham, an athletic, 6’9 PF, has proven himself as a capable frontcourt player in the Big East, but the rest of the Wildcats frontline will need to step up if Jay Wright’s club wants to crack the top four.

Crème de la Crème.  Notre Dame (NCAA #5), Pittsburgh (NCAA #3), Louisville (NCAA #2), UConn (NCAA #1)

  • Notre Dame returns basically the entire team that finished tied for second in the Big East, including reigning Big East player of the year Luke Harangody. While I can’t help but comment on his resemblance to a pot-bellied pig, you can’t argue with his production last year (23 ppg and 11 rpg in conference). While he is built like one of Charlie Weis’ lineman, he is actually incredibly nimble and has great feet and balance, which is one of the reasons he is able to scorer against bigger, more athletic defenders. Surrounding him will be shooters Ryan Ayers and Kyle McAlarney (who was a 1st team all-conference performer), as well as Tory Jackson, who is one of the more underrated PGs in the league. Notre Dame is going to be a fun team to watch if you like games with a lot of scoring and a lot of threes.
  • Pitt is going to be a typical Pitt team, with a lot of big, strong, tough kids that are going to play rugged, in your face defense. Sam Young, who developed a deadly jumper out to around the three point line, and DeJuan Blair, a 6’7 270-lb mammoth inside, provide one of the toughest frontcourts to match up with in the country. The biggest questions for Pitt surround their backcourt. When will Levance Fields return from foot surgery, and will he be healthy? Can anyone on this team replace the three point shooting of Ronald Ramon and Keith Benjamin?
  • Louisville, along with Pitt, is probably going to be the toughest defensive team in the conference. It starts with their backcourt, where they have five guys (Edgar Sosa, Andre McGee, Jerry Smith, Preston Knowles, Reginald Delk) that will really get after you on the perimeter. Earl Clark and Terrence Williams (who is coming off a torn meniscus and should be out another month or so) are both athletic, versatile players. T-Wills is more of a perimeter player and is the Cardinals best creator offensively, averaging more than 4.5 apg last year. Clark is more of a combo forward that will get his points off of fast breaks and cutting to the basket. Louisville loses their entire front line from last year, but they bring in a solid recruiting class, the star of which is Samardo Samuels, probably the best post recruit in America this year.
  • Last, but certainly not least, is UConn. The Huskies probably won’t be at full strength until December, as AJ Price is coming off of a torn ACL and freshman Ater Majok and junior Stanley Robinson (who was last seen on a poster) are both going to be made eligible (hopefully) after the first semester ends. Regardless, UConn is loaded with talent. 7’3” junior and shot blocking machine Hasheem Thabeet returns, as does Jeff Adrien, the Huskies leading scorer and rebounder. Price will be joined in the backcourt by talented but troubled junior Jerome Dyson and Mickey D’s all-american Kemba Walker. UConn’s biggest question mark right now – can they win a big game? They were 8-8 on the road or on a neutral court last year, and are 0-3 in the Big East and NCAA tournaments the last two years.

RPI Boosters.  The Big East RPI is going to be high enough, but here are some of the must-see non-conference match-ups (ignoring the possible match-ups in pre-season tournaments):

  • Wisconsin @ Marquette  (12.06.08)
  • Villanova vs. Texas and Davidson vs. West Virginia in NYC at Jimmy V  (12.09.08)
  • Cincinnati vs. Xavier  (12.13.08)
  • Memphis @ Georgetown  (12.13.08)
  • Marquette @ Tennessee  (12.16.08)
  • Gonzaga vs. UConn in Seattle  (12.20.08)
  • Syracuse @ Memphis  (12.20.08)
  • Kentucky @ Louisville  (01.04.09)
  • Georgetown @ Duke  (01.17.09)
  • Notre Dame @ UCLA  (02.07.09)

65 Team Era.  The Big East earned its chops as a basketball conference in the 80s, and that tradition persists to this very day despite the expansion of the league to it’s current sixteen-team iteration.  Last year the league earned eight bids to the NCAAs, and it’s difficult to envision a future scenario where the conference would ever get less than six bids again.  This obviously will skew their future numbers on a whole scale, but their stats to date are nothing to sneeze at (206-126, .620, 11 F4s, 4 titles).  With the power at the top of this year’s league, we could potentially see another 1985 F4 on the horizon (3/4 of the F4 were Big East teams – Villanova, Georgetown, St. John’s). 

Final Thought.  The Big East is wide open this year. Every night is going to be a dog fight. One thing you can be sure of, however, is that any team from this league that makes it to the postseason is going to be battle-tested.

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