Night Line: Seton Hall Playing Well for the First Time in a Long Time

Posted by EJacoby on December 22nd, 2011

Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist and contributor. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s slate of games.

For the past five seasons, perhaps no Big East team has underachieved as much as Seton Hall. The Pirates haven’t given fans much to be excited about since their last NCAA Tournament appearance in 2006, despite having several talented players come through the program. The Hall haven’t won 20 games since 2003-04, and have been a mainstay in the NIT ever since. This year was expected to be much of the same, as Kevin Willard inherited the challenge of leading a team that lost its two leading scorers from last year’s 13-18 campaign. But after a strong road win over Dayton on Wednesday night, the 10-1 Pirates are on their way to a potentially NCAA Tournament-bound year, thanks to two veteran Big East leaders and an improving group of young players. After many disappointments, Seton Hall is finally overachieving and bringing some hope to its loyal fans.

Herb Pope Has Been a Dominant Force This Season for Seton Hall (AP/B. Kostroun)

These are certainly not your Pirates of old. Gone are last year’s leading scorers Jeff Robinson and Jeremy Hazell, and so is the sloppy offense that ran through the volume shooting guard. Last year, Seton Hall scored just 0.98 points per possession, ranking in the bottom 100 teams nationally. They really didn’t do anything well offensively, and the game plan often focused on getting Hazell going from the perimeter. The senior chucked nearly eight threes per game, and he never quite found his groove before suffering a season-ending injury. This year, the Pirates run a more balanced offense leading to 1.08 points per possession, an improvement to #65 in the country. They move the ball well and boast a 1.26 assist-to-turnover ratio that ranks in the top 30 nationally. Seton Hall is no longer running a one-man offensive show, and it’s producing much better results.

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RTC Summer Updates: Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on July 11th, 2011

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

Readers’ Take

Summer Storylines

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

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

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

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Conference Report Card: Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 19th, 2011

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

Conference Recap

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

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

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

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

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 25th, 2011

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

A Look Back

Generally, at this point in the season — late January — I have a pretty good feel for the college hoops landscape. This season? Bleh. It seems like every time I expect a team to begin their turnaround, they start to slump. Every time I expect a collapse, I get a winning streak.  The Big East is no exception. Louisville looked great last week, then lost to ProvidenceWest Virginia beat Purdue, then had two players get suspended. Notre Dame, who struggles on the road, went to Pitt and won on Big Monday.  Yeah. I got nothing.

Player of the Week: Ben Hansbrough, Notre Dame: You know you had a good week when you go for 28 points, six assists, and five boards against a team like Marquette and it’s not your best performance. Notre Dame paid a visit to the Petersen Events Center on Monday night and played their the ‘burn’ — as in burn the clock, and possibly your eyeballs — offense, slowing the game to a crawl. For the first 25 minutes, it was somewhat effective, but for the final 15 minutes of the game, Mike Brey did nothing but put the ball into Hansbrough’s hands. Seemingly every possession, the Irish ran him off of a high screen, and Hansbrough took advantage of the resulting mismatches, scoring 15 of his 19 points and handing out three of his seven assists over that stretch. The Irish would go on to beat Pitt 56-51 and pick up a huge road win, their first of the season.

Team of the Week: UConn Huskies - The Huskies won two big games this week, knocking off Villanova last Monday before upending Tennessee at home in the Vols’ first game with Bruce Pearl in two weeks. Kemba Walker has come back to earth in the past few weeks — which was expected — but it has been the emergence of UConn’s role players, most recently Jeremy Lamb, who have kept the Huskies notching wins. How crazy has this season been? No one had UConn in the NCAA Tournament in the preseason. Now? They are getting slotted into a No. 1 seed on a lot of bracket projections.

Power Rankings (overall and conference records, and last week’s ranking in parentheses)

1. Pittsburgh (19-2, 7-1) (1)

Last Week: 1/22 @ DePaul 80-50, 1/24 vs. Notre Dame 51-56

Next Week: 1/29 @ Rutgers

Despite what the box score might look like, Pitt was not terrible offensively in their 56-51 loss to Notre Dame. When there are only 48 possessions in the game, 51 points actually isn’t too bad. The issue is on the defensive end of the floor. The Panthers were absolutely shredded by Ben Hansbrough coming off of a high ball screen. Their help side defense was terrible, as were their defensive rotations, and it resulted in layups and wide opens threes. That said, Pitt was playing much better on the defensive end. Chalk this one up to a great performance by the Irish?

2. Connecticut (15-2, 4-2) (3)

Last Week: 1/17 vs. Villanova 61-59, 1/22 vs. Tennessee

Next Week: 1/25 @ Marquette, 1/29 vs. Louisville

See the above “Team of the Week” feature to see why UConn keeps winning despite the regression of Kemba Walker.

3. Villanova (17-3, 5-2) (4)

Last Week: 1/17 @ UConn 59-61, 1/22 @ Syracuse 83-72

Next Week: 1/26 @ Providence, 1/29 vs. Georgetown

When you split road games at UConn and Syracuse, you have to consider the week a win. It finally seems as if the Wildcats’ three backcourt stars are all clicking. Corey Fisher had 28 points against UConn; Maalik Wayns led the way against Syracuse, scoring 17 of his 21 points in the first half and finding (albeit briefly) his stroke from deep. Corey Stokes found his stroke as well after slumping for the past ten days or so. The most underrated aspect of this team, however, is Antonio Pena. He’s always been a tough defender and rebounder, but now he is knocking down jumpers as well.

4. Syracuse (18-2, 5-2) (2)

Last Week: 1/17 @ Pitt 66-74, 1/22 vs. Villanova 72-83

Next Week: 1/25 vs. Seton Hall, 1/29 @ Marquette

The Orange have now lost two games in a row after starting the season off with 18 straight wins, and both teams did it by slicing up the Syracuse zone. Well, Pitt sliced up their zone, Villanova simply bombed away from deep and hung on late. Should Orange fans be concerned? Not in the least. There is no shame in losing at Pitt without Kris Joseph (though Notre Dame may disagree) or at home to Villanova when their backcourt players get it going. Speaking of Joseph, he had 23 points against Villanova in his return from a concussion. Another item of note – Scoop Jardine is now 8-30 from the floor in his last three games.

5. Notre Dame (15-4, 6-3) (9)

Last Week: 1/19 vs. Cincinnati 66-58, 1/22 vs. Marquette 80-75, 1/24 vs. Notre Dame 56-51

Next Week: None

See above.

6. Louisville (15-4, 4-2) (5)

Last Week: 1/19 vs. St. John’s 88-63, 1/22 @ Providence 67-72

Next Week: 1/26 vs. West Virginia, 1/29 @ UConn

Just three days after smoking St. John’s and playing one of their most complete games of the season, the Cardinals went into Providence and lost to the fired up Friars. Marshon Brooks had 20 of his 27 points in the second half as Louisville ended up shooting just 4-23 from three. I’ve said it since day one with this team — they are going to win games they shouldn’t win and lose games they shouldn’t lose. Live by the three…

7. Marquette (13-7, 4-3) (7)

Last Week: 1/18 vs. DePaul , 1/22 @ Notre Dame 75-80

Next Week: 1/25 vs. UConn, 1/29 vs. Syracuse

Another game, another tough loss for the Golden Eagles. With the way this team has competed against some very tough competition, it is difficult to believe that they are not good enough to be in the NCAA Tournament. Now they just have to prove it. With home games against UConn and Syracuse on tap this week, now is as good of a time as any to start.

8. West Virginia (13-5, 4-2) (6)

Last Week: 1/19 vs. Marshall 71-75, 1/23 vs. South Florida 56-46

Next Week: 1/26 @ Louisville, 1/29 @ Cincinnati

Since I named West Virginia the team of the week when they knocked off Purdue, the ‘Eers have proceeded to lose to Marshall after being down by 24 points, have a player (Dan Jennings) get kicked off the team for leaving the bench during the South Florida game, and saw their leading scorer (Casey Mitchell) suspended indefinitely for the second time this year.

9. Georgetown (13-5, 3-4) (10)

Last Week: 1/18 @ Seton Hall 80-75

Next Week: 1/26 vs. St. John’s, 1/29 @ Villanova

The Hoyas picked up a nice little come-from-behind win against Seton Hall on the road. The bad news is that while Austin Freeman looks like he’s back in his groove shooting from three, the Hoyas still did not play all that well. Georgetown has a chance to avenge a loss to St. John’s on Wednesday at the Verizon Center before heading to Philly for a showdown with Villanova. Of note: Julian Vaughn was seen walking about campus in a boot this week, although reports are that it was precautionary.

10. Cincinnati (17-3, 4-3) (11)

Last Week: 1/19 @ Notre Dame 58-66, 1/22 @ St. John’s 53-51

Next Week: 1/26 vs. Rutgers, 1/29 1/29 vs. West Virginia

The Bearcats got a must-win game on the road against the Johnnies on Saturday thanks to a Yancy Gates three-point play with eight seconds left. If Cincy really wants a shot at making the dance, they are going to have to put themselves into good position heading into the end of February. Five of their last seven games come against ranked opponents with Marquette in that mix as well.

11. St. John’s (11-7, 4-4) (8)

Last Week: 1/19 @ Louisville 63-88, 1/22 vs. Cincinnati 51-53

Next Week: 1/26 @ Georgetown, 1/30 vs. Duke

Not only did St. John’s get embarrassed on the road by Louisville, they lost an important game at home to Cincinnati when they couldn’t hit their free throws late. With Georgetown and Duke coming up this week, the Johnnies seem to be running out of chances.

12. Rutgers (12-7, 3-4) (13)

Last Week: 1/20 vs. South Florida 71-62, 1/22 @ Seton Hall 66-60

Next Week: 1/26 @ Cincinnati, 1/29 vs. Pitt

This group plays hard, they just don’t have the talent in the program to beat the big boys yet. That said, Mike Rice is doing a good job with this group. Don’t be surprised if he builds a tournament-worthy team in the next two to three years.

13. Providence (12-8, 1-6) (15)

Last Week: 1/22 vs. Louisville 72-67

Next Week: 1/26 vs. Villanova, 1/30 @ Seton Hall

The Friars picked up a nice win at Louisville. Its really a shame that no one gets to see Marshon Brooks play, because he’s the real deal.

14. Seton Hall (8-12, 2-6) (12)

Last Week: 1/18 vs. Georgetown 75-80, 1/22 vs. Rutgers 60-66

Next Week: 1/25 @ Syracuse, 1/30 vs. Providence

This season has been an absolute disaster. The Pirates lost two more tough ones this week. I really do feel for those guys. They have been through a lot, with Bobby Gonzalez’s firing, Robert Mitchell‘s arrest, Herb Pope‘s heart problems, and Jeremy Hazell‘s wrist injury and shooting.

15. South Florida (7-14, 1-7) (14)

Last Week: 1/20 Rutgers 62-71, 1/23 @ West Virginia 46-56

Next Week: 1/27 vs. DePaul

If you don’t have anything nice to say…

16. DePaul (6-13, 0-7) (16)

Last Week: 1/18 @ Marquette 64-94, 1/22 vs. Pitt 50-80

Next Week: 1/27 @ South Florida

Looks like we’re headed for a showdown on the 27th…

A Look Ahead

Louisville takes on UConn and Georgetown heads to Villanova on Saturday, both at noon, but beyond that, it’s a rare quiet week in the Big East in terms of marquee matchups.

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Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 18th, 2011

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

 

A Look Back

The Big East seems like it is beginning to break into three groups at the top. You have the contenders at the top in Pitt and Syracuse, then you have a second tier of Villanova and UConn.

Beyond that, you may as well start flipping a coin.

Right now, Louisville and West Virginia look to be the best of the rest. This comes a week after Notre Dame and Georgetown looked like they were the best of the rest. Marquette is good enough to beat anyone in the league, but they haven’t been closing games. Cincinnati is still a bit of an unknown, as they have lost to Syracuse and Villanova on the road, but have taken care of everyone else they have played in conference play. St. John’s is another enigma, as seen by a 20-point loss and a 20-point win versus Notre Dame in the span of a week.

The craziest part? Every single one of those 11 teams I just mentioned has a real shot of earning an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. There is no way that happens — there is too much parity in the league and these teams are going to be beating up on each other for another month and a half — but depending on how the rest of conference play turns out, I can realistically see nine teams earning themselves a bid.

That is, of course, assuming teams like Georgetown and Notre Dame figure out how to turn their season around and Cincinnati and St. John’s turn out to be for real. If those teams end up being the worst case scenario, I can also see a situation arising where only six or seven teams earn a bid.

The only thing I am sure of?

This league is going to be a fun one to follow for the next two months.

Player of the WeekPreston Knowles, Louisville: Rick Pitino has said it time and again — this Cardinals team doesn’t have a star. They don’t have a go to player. And as easy as that is to believe, Knowles is certainly close to becoming ‘the man’ for this team. In three games since we last did a Big East check-in, Knowles averaged 17.7 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 3.3 APG, and 2.3 SPG, all while hitting 11 of 24 from three. Knowles’ best statistical performance came in Louisville’s loss at Villanova on Wednesday, but he was the catalyst for their impressive comeback against Marquette. He scored 15 points in the second half, including four threes and two assists in the final 5:45 as Louisville overcame an 18-point deficit to win. He had the game winning assist with four seconds left, finding Kyle Kuric for a layup. Knowles’ transformation from a defensive specialist to an offensive star has been an impressive one to watch.

Team of the WeekWest Virginia: All of a sudden, the Mountaineers look like a team capable of making a run at the top four in the league. Kevin Jones had a slow start to the season, but he’s come on strong of late, averaging 17.0 points and 10.0 rebounds per game — with 18 offensive boards — in the last three games. John Flowers is one of the best glue guys and arguably the best defender in the league. Casey Mitchell is always a threat to go for 25 points. If defenses key on him, Truck BryantDenis Kilicli, and Joe Mazzulla all have shown the ability to be double figure scorers. They have role players, they can defend, and when they are hustling and playing the blue collar game that Bobby Huggins loves, this team is dangerous. Ask Georgetown and Purdue, as both took a loss to WVU this week.

Power Rankings (overall and conference records, and last week’s ranking in parentheses)

1. Pittsburgh (18-1, 6-0) (2)

Last Week: 1/8 vs. Marquette 89-81, 1/12 @ Georgetown 72-57, 1/15 vs. Seton Hall 74-53, 1/17 vs. Syracuse 74-66

Next Week: 1/22 @ DePaul, 1/24 vs. Notre Dame

Efficiency is the name of the game for this Pitt team offensively. They may be the best team in the country when it comes to executing offensively. They always seem to get the shot that they want, whether it is a post touch for Gary McGhee or a three for Ashton Gibbs coming off of a screen. If they miss, 45.6% of the time they get the offensive rebound. They also don’t turn the ball over in the half court, meaning that they maximize their possessions offensively as well as anyone. They’ve been knocked on the defensive end of the floor, but the last three games have looked much better. If there is an Achilles heel, it is that they struggle against pressure. Providence nearly beat them by forcing turnovers with a press while Syracuse and Georgetown got the Panthers to turn the ball over late using a press.

2. Syracuse (18-1, 5-1) (1)

Last Week: 1/8 @ Seton Hall 61-56, 1/12 @ St. John’s 76-59, 1/15 vs. Cincinnati 67-52, 1/17 @ Pitt 66-74

Next Week: 1/22 vs. Villanova

The Orange suffered their first loss of the season Monday night, but take it with a grain of salt. The loss came at Pitt when the Orange were missing Kris Joseph, and they were nearly able to overcome a 19-0 start by the Panthers. The Orange look like the best team in the conference on the defensive end of the floor, and the numbers back it up. The question all season long has been on the offensive end, but with Joseph’s recent scoring surge and the emergence of James Southerland as a spot-up shooter at the three/four spot, that may be less of an issue. The Orange aren’t getting a lot of pub right now, but this team is for real.

3. Connecticut (15-2, 4-2) (6)

Last Week: 1/8 @ Texas 82-81 OT, 1/11 vs. Rutgers 67-53, 1/15 @ DePaul 82-62, 1/17 vs. Villanova 61-59

Next Week: 1/22 vs. Tennessee

All of a sudden, UConn has a supporting cast. Alex Oriakhi has been fantastic the past four games, averaging 13.3 points and 12.5 rebounds per game while showing off some nice post moves. Jeremy Lamb has been playing very well on both ends of the floor. Shabazz Napier and Roscoe Smith both have shown the ability to be second and third scoring options this season. Kemba Walker‘s efficiency numbers have been dropping as defenses focus on him, but his teammates have shown an increasing confidence to take and make big shots when they are left open. As UConn continues to improve defensively — forcing turnovers and clearing the defensive glass — they are only going to get better as a team.

4. Villanova (16-2, 4-1) (3)

Last Week: 1/9 vs. Cincinnati 72-61, 1/12 vs. Louisville 88-74, 1/15 vs. Maryland 74-66, 1/17 @ UConn 59-61

Next Week: 1/22 @ Syracuse

Villanova’s first loss in conference play came on a Kemba Walker buzzer beater in Gampel without Dominic Cheek. It also came on a night when Corey Fisher looked like Mr. 105 while the rest of his teammates struggled to get anything going offensively. I like what his team can do defensively, but I still have concerns on the offensive end of the floor. Maalik Wayns is talented, but he is inconsistent and needs to learn how to run a team and not just be a dribbler. Fisher has been up and down, although he looked terrific against UConn. The key may be Mouphtaou Yarou. If he can get better scoring on the block, the emergence of Antonio Pena‘s jump shot will give him a lot of opportunities down low with space.

5. Louisville (14-3, 3-1) (7)

Last Week: 1/9 @ South Florida 86-77, 1/12 @ Villanova 74-88, 1/15 vs. Marquette 71-70

Next Week: 1/19 vs. St. John’s, 1/22 @ Providence

See the “Player of the Week” feature above to see why Rick Pitino has Preston Knowles and the Cardinals rolling.

6. West Virginia (12-4, 3-2) (11)

Last Week: 1/8 @ Georgetown 65-59, 1/13 vs. Providence 93-63, 1/16 vs. Purdue 68-64

Next Week: 1/19 vs. Marshall, 1/23 vs. South Florida

See the “Team of the Week” feature above for my thoughts on the Mountaineers.

7. Marquette (12-6, 3-2) (10)

Last Week: 1/8 @ Pitt 81-89, 1/10 vs. Notre Dame 79-57, 1/15 @ Louisville 70-71

Next Week: 1/18 vs. DePaul, 1/22 @ Notre Dame

Marquette still hasn’t been able to figure out how to win the close games this season. The talent is clearly there — it wasn’t a fluke that they were up by 18 in Louisville – but the ability to finish games isn’t quite there yet. The perfect example — Marquette was up 70-69 against Louisville with less than 30 seconds left when they broke the Cardinals’ press. Instead of pulling the ball out, Dwight Buycks attacked Terrence Jennings and had his shot blocked. At the other end, the Golden Eagles lost track of Kyle Kuric on a dribble handoff, and it resulted in a wide open layup for the win.

8. St. John’s (11-5, 4-2) (9)

Last Week: 1/8 @ Notre Dame 61-76, 1/12 vs. Syracuse 59-76, 1/16 vs. Notre Dame 72-54

Next Week: 1/19 @ Louisville, 1/22 vs. Cincinnati

I still can’t figure this team out. I thought I had them pegged — a fraud — after they were blown out by both Syracuse and Notre Dame, but then the Johnnies went and beat the Irish by 18 in a rematch on Sunday. They can defend, they are physical, and they have a couple of players that are dangerous when they get it going, but I’m not completely sold yet. Win at Louisville on Wednesday, and we’ll talk.

9. Notre Dame (14-4, 3-3) (4)

Last Week: 1/8 vs. St. John’s 76-61, 1/10 @ Marquette 57-79, 1/16 @ St. John’s 54-72

Next Week: 1/19 vs. Cincinnati, 1/22 vs. Marquette

There are two different Notre Dame teams — the one that plays at home and the one that plays on the road. The Irish have four losses on the season — by 14 at Kentucky, by 12 at Syracuse, by 22 at Marquette, and by 18 at St. John’s. I love the roster makeup of this group. The mental makeup is a different story.

10. Georgetown (13-5, 2-4) (5)

Last Week: 1/8 vs. West Virginia 59-65, 1/12 vs. Pitt 57-72, 1/15 @ Rutgers 74-65

Next Week: 1/18 @ Seton Hall

I’ve written off the Hoyas … for now. I’ve seen this happen too many times. It feels like a rerun of the 2009 campaign, when Georgetown jumped all the way to eighth in the country after a win at UConn to kick off Big East play before collapsing and getting bounced in the first round of the NIT. They are a small team up front and they aren’t a great defensive team, but they haven’t been good enough on the offensive end to make up for it.

11. Cincinnati (16-2, 3-2) (8)

Last Week: 1/9 @ Villanova 61-72, 1/12 vs. South Florida 74-66, 1/15 @ Syracuse 52-67

Next Week: 1/19 @ Notre Dame, 1/22 @ St. John’s

My opinion of the Bearcats hasn’t changed. I like the pieces they have, but I am not sure if they are good enough to make the tournament. Yancy Gates is inconsistent and their perimeter has had a tough time against good teams. They have two winnable road games against fellow tourney contenders this week. Win one and make a statement.

12. Seton Hall (8-10, 2-4) (13)

Last Week: 1/8 vs. Syracuse 56-61, 1/12 @ DePaul 78-67, 1/15 @ Pitt 53-74

Next Week: 1/18 vs. Georgetown, 1/22 vs. Rutgers

The best story of the week belonged to Jeremy Hazell, who made a return from a broken wrist that required surgery and a gunshot wound to score 23 points against DePaul. I’m hoping that he can be the spark that the Pirates need to salvage their season.

13. Rutgers (10-7, 1-4) (14)

Last Week: 1/8 vs. Providence 85-72, 1/11 @ UConn 53-67, 1/15 vs. Georgetown 65-74

Next Week: 1/20 vs. South Florida, 1/22 @ Seton Hall

This group plays hard, they just don’t have the talent in the program to beat the big boys yet.

14. South Florida (7-12, 1-5) (16)

Last Week: 1/9 vs. Louisville 77-86, 1/12 @ Cincinnati 66-74, 1/16 vs. Providence 79-72

Next Week: 1/20 Rutgers, 1/23 @ West Virginia

15. Providence (11-8, 0-6) (12)

Last Week: 1/8 @ Rutgers 72-85, 1/13 @ West Virginia 63-93, 1/16 @ South Florida 72-79

Next Week: 1/22 vs. Louisville

16. DePaul (6-11, 0-5) (15)

Last Week: 1/12 vs. Seton Hall 67-78, 1/15 vs. UConn 62-82

Next Week: 1/18 @ Marquette, 1/22 vs. Pitt

I’d say there is a 25% chance that none of these three teams gets a win against any of the top 13 teams in the Big East. Who else is happy that TCU is joining the mix in 2012?

A Look Ahead

The big day for the Big East this week looks to be Wednesday, when St. John’s and Cincinnati get their cracks at Louisville and Notre Dame, respectively, on the road. Both teams need a win. Not just for their resume, but to make a statement. The way to earn respect in this league is by winning on the road against good teams. On Saturday, make sure you’re up early as Syracuse and Villanova tip at noon.

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The Week That Was: Jan. 11-Jan. 17

Posted by jstevrtc on January 18th, 2011

David Ely is an RTC Contributor

Only three undefeated teams are left in the nation after Duke and Syracuse suffered their first losses of the season within the past week. Who will be the next team to go down? Ohio State travels to Illinois on Saturday and Kansas hosts Texas. TWTW wouldn’t be shocked if San Diego State is the only unbeaten team remaining in this space next week.

What We Learned

Kemba Walker Is The Governor: He Always Saves You At the Last Moment (J. Woike/Hartford Courant)

When ESPN uses its full arsenal, it can put on a great day of college basketball. Monday (in honor of MLK Day) ESPN had a 24 Hours of Hoops Lite. They gave us four great games, three of which pitted two teams in the top 25 against each other, while the other featured a nice matchup in Kansas-Baylor.

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Set Your Tivo: 01.18.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 18th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

A few teams face key road tests tonight, one night after the home squads went 3-1 in the season debut of ESPN’s Big Monday. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#19 Michigan State @ #18 Illinois – 7 pm on ESPN (****)

A Top 50 Rebounder, Green Has Been Solid Of Late For MSU (Excepting That 2-10 Against Penn State)

The Spartans needed overtime to dispatch their last two opponents at home, Wisconsin and Northwestern. Michigan State is doing just enough to get by as Korie Lucious and Durrell Summers have struggled lately. Lucious went 0-8 from the floor against Northwestern while Summers has scored just seven points in the last two games. For MSU to have any sustained success going forward, Tom Izzo must get these two players going somehow. Luckily for them, Draymond Green has stepped up, averaging 21/8.5 over the last two games.

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BGTD: Evening Game Analysis

Posted by nvr1983 on January 15th, 2011

  • Our Game Ball Goes To. . .The obvious choice here is Jeremy Hazell. Many out there may have qualms with his style of play, but I don’t think there wasn’t anybody out there who wasn’t happy to see the Seton Hall star return to the court less than a month after being shot multiple times on Christmas. After the shooting there was quite a bit of talk that Hazell might miss the rest of the season and, all things considered, it would have been far from the worst potential outcome stemming from such a horrendous action, but we are glad to see him back on the court.
  • These Panthers Still Play Pitt Basketball. A lot of people have been talking recently about how this Pittsburgh team is different from ones in the past in the sense that they aren’t as defensive-oriented and have become much more offensively gifted, but that doesn’t mean they don’t know how to attack the glass, as Seton Hall can tell you after the Panthers out-rebounded the Pirates by a margin of 45-26. To be honest it would have been even uglier if not for a solid effort out of Herb Pope who had 10 rebounds and six blocks for the Pirates in a losing cause.
  • Freshmen Save The Day In Columbus. The Buckeyes barely survived today against Penn State, but should be the #1 team in the country on Monday thanks to outstanding efforts from a pair of freshmen — Jared Sullinger and Aaron Craft – who came up big for Thad Matta. Sullinger was his usual brilliant self and, although he didn’t put up huge numbers, he was remarkably efficient, contributing 19 points (on 6-9 FG and 7-9 FT), six rebounds, and five assists with only one turnover. The real story was Craft who was huge on both ends of the court for the Buckeyes as he scored 19 points and also played a key role in stymieing Talor Battle who had a horrendous game shooting 5-17 from the field including 1-10 from beyond the arc. If Battle even plays a mediocre game, the Nittany Lions leave Columbus with a victory.
  • San Diego State’s Unknown Star. Most college basketball fans are aware of Kawhi Leonard and Malcolm Thomas, but they may not be as familiar with D.J. Gay who had a career-high 30 points thanks to some ridiculous 3-point shooting. After the game, Steve Fisher stated that Gay was not only the team’s most important player (an idea we could buy if he was referring to their need to have a reliable third scorer), but was also getting close to being the team’s best player (an idea we would never buy). Still, we think this game was notable for Gay’s emergence as a potential scoring threat. New Mexico got great efforts at home out of Drew Gordon and Dairese Gary, but the presence of a third scoring option would be huge for the Aztecs as the season progresses even if we can’t expect 30 out of Gay that often.
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ATB: Duke Gets ‘Noled Again

Posted by rtmsf on January 13th, 2011

The Lede.  It was billed as a blockbuster night of college hoops, and as happens more often than not in this sport, there was no letdown.  It culminated in this great photo snapped immediately after the game’s finish… is there any better view on a cold January night?

Completely Justified and Encouraged RTC at FSU Tonight

Your Watercooler MomentThe Nation’s #1 Team Goes Down.  Not only was it the consensus #1 team… not only was it one of the few remaining unbeaten teams… not only was it DUKE… but the Blue Devils lost to a team in Florida State that had recently gotten thumped by Auburn, quite possibly the nation’s worst power conference team (apologies to Wake Forest and DePaul).  Set your transitive property flowcharts to ridiculous mode.  Video of the final few seconds of the game and the RTC afterward is below (fantastic coverage of the court, FSU fans — quick and complete!), but for a more detailed analysis of tonight’s upset victory, click over to our post that went up a little while after the game.

Tonight’s Quick Hits

  • The Other Unbeatens.  Ohio State, Kansas, Syracuse and San Diego State were all in action tonight, and all of them pulled through to keep their streaks alive.  All except for Syracuse were challenged tonight, which once again shows why we’ll be lucky to get to February with a single team still standing with an unblemished record.  We plan on doing an analysis later this week to dissect that very thing, so stay tuned for that.    
  • Jeremy Hazell’s Return.  What can you say about this kid?  He wasn’t expected to be ready for another week or two, but tonight in his first game back after breaking his wrist AND getting shot in a robbery on Christmas night, he went for 23/2 on 10-17 shooting coming off the bench.  His arrival back in the rotation can’t come at a better time for the Hall, as the Pirates have already lost three games and really need to stay in the lower mid-pack to make a run at the postseason again.
  • Clemson Pitches a Perfect Game.  Well, nearly.  This won’t sound that great until you think about it , but tonight Clemson missed only sixteen shots for its entire game against Georgia Tech, including FG and FT attempts.  The Tigers went 27-39 from the field (69%), including a scorching 11-14 from three (79%) and 22-26 from the line (85%).  The Tigers’ effective FG% of 83.3% tonight ties Virginia (vs. Howard) for the best performance of the entire season in over 5,400 games played this year.  Brad Brownell is doing a great job with this team in his first year.

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The Week That Was: December 18-27

Posted by rtmsf on December 28th, 2010

David Ely is an RTC Contributor

It’s that time of year again: Conference season. UConn and Pittsburgh opened up the Big East slate Monday night with the first of what will be many highly-anticipated conference matchups over the next couple of months. It won’t be much longer until we get Pitt-Georgetown, Duke-Maryland, Washington-Washington State, Ohio State-Purdue and plenty over other mouth-watering games. It’s definitely a more appealing prospect than watching Kentucky pummel Winthrop or Texas beat down North Florida.

What We Learned

Taylor & Pitt Easily Ripped UConn

  • It might have been wise for Jim Calhoun to schedule some true road games for his young UConn squad before its Big East opener at Pittsburgh. The Huskies certainly played as though they weren’t prepared for what was waiting for them in the amped up Peterson Events Center. But honestly, there was little reason to think that this game was going to be anything other than a wakeup call for UConn. The Huskies boast seven freshmen, and only three players in its rotation that had ever played at that venue. No surprises here that the Panthers jumped out to an early double-digit lead and cruised to a 78-63 win. At least the Huskies can take solace in the fact that they don’t have to face Pittsburgh again until possibly the Big East Tournament. The Panthers’ length along the perimeter makes them a tough matchup for Kemba Walker, who needed 27 shots and 11 free throws to score 31 points against the likes of Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker.
  • After a less-than-stellar start to its season, in which Butler got smoked by Louisville and lost in overtime to Evansville en route to a 4-4 record through its first eight games, it now looks like Brad Stevens’ squad has righted the ship. The Bulldogs have won five in a row and just beat Washington State on Christmas Day to win the Diamond Head Classic. Key to the Bulldogs recent surge has been their improved play on the defensive end. Butler has not allowed more than 68 points since Mississippi Valley St. put up 71 on Dec. 11, and in their last four wins, the Bulldogs have allowed their opponents to shoot the following percentages: Stanford, 31.4%; Utah, 39.6%; Florida State, 38%; and Washington State, 40.7%. The Bulldogs’ defensive numbers still aren’t great, they rank 48th in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings and they’re #272 in turnover %, but they’re on their way back to being a squad that can win games on the defensive end. As the schedule shifts to Horizon League play, the Bulldogs again are a safe bet to claim another conference championship.
  • When we last checked in with Tennessee, the Vols just had erased most of the momentum gained from a win over Pittsburgh with a home loss to Oakland (nothing to be embarrassed about, but not what we like to see from one of our top-10 teams). As it turns out, that loss to the Golden Grizzlies was a harbinger for what turned out to be a very unhappy holiday season for Bruce Pearl. The Vols lost their next two games, both to unranked opponents. Tennessee lost 49-48 to a Charlotte squad without leading scored Shamari Spears, who was kicked off the team a few days earlier. Then the Vols lost again by one point, this time to USC. To make matters worse, their win to halt the three-game skid did little to make people believe the Vols aren’t in the middle of a tailspin. Tennessee blew a 13-point lead to Belmont and needed a layup from Scotty Hopson with 5.7 left to escape with a 66-65 win. Despite his last-second bucket, Hopson’s recent play has been a major reason for the Vols’ struggles. Hopson scored a combined 28 points his losses to Oakland, Charlotte and USC on 8-31 shooting. He rebounded to score 19 points against Belmont, but he’s still suffering from a shooting slump. Hopson is 2-14 from three in his last four games.
  • TWTW isn’t a huge fan of making sweeping proclamations before conference play begins, nor do we like to divulge its national championship favorite until the most opportune moment. (Personally, TWTW prefers to wait until about 10 seconds left in the title game to announce who we think will win it all). But if TWTW was forced to name a team it would be Ohio State. UConn, Duke, Syracuse and Kansas are all fine choices, but there’s something about the Buckeyes that separates them from the pack. Everything starts with Jared Sullinger, who is first on the team in points (17.5) and rebounds (10.1) and is the clubhouse leader for national freshman of the year. Sullinger has owned the paint from Day 1 and has shown a knack for dominating games like few other big men this year (see his 40/13 against IUPUI and his 30/19 against South Carolina). What’s remarkable about Sullinger, though, has been his ability to avoid foul trouble. Sullinger hasn’t fouled out of one game this season and only has one game (his first) in which he had four infractions. But OSU isn’t just limited to Sullinger. The Buckeyes boast five players who average at least 10 points a game. They can beat you just as easily outside as they can inside with shooters like David Lighty and Jon Diebler, who shoot 45.5% and 47.4% from three, respectively. And freshman Deshaun Thomas is the kind of athletic wing that can score in bunches off the bench. Could Ohio State be better without Evan Turner? TWTW thinks so.
  • People wondered how Kansas would be able to integrate freshman phenom Josh Selby into its rotation once he returned from his NCAA-imposed nine-game suspension, the question being whether Selby’s presence would disrupt the Jayhawks’ chemistry from their 9-0 start. After two games, two wins and two electric performances by Selby, it’s obvious there was never a need to worry whether his addition would be anything but welcome. In his debut against USC, Selby scored 21 points and drilled a go-ahead three with 26 seconds ago to lead the Jayhawks to 70-68 win. There was no need for any late heroics in his second game, but Selby still made his presence felt, to the tune of 18 points and a 3-4 shooting night from beyond the arc. Selby’s already established himself as one of Kansas’ go-to scorers, and the fact that Bill Self had Selby not only on the court in the waning seconds against USC but shows how important Selby will be to any title run for KU.

Media Blackout

The three pieces of news to know if you’ve been living in complete isolation all week.

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Morning Five: 12.28.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on December 28th, 2010

  1. The NY Daily News published an exclusive interview with Seton Hall star Jeremy Hazell, who, as you all have heard by now, was shot by a robber on Christmas night near his home in Harlem.  He describes in detail how the robbers approached him and how he pushed one and ran for his life before feeling the piercing bullet enter his side below his armpit and how he waved down a passing FDNY ambulance to get timely treatment from the paramedics.  Talk about the Christmas spirit!  This is a frightening story and we wish Hazell nothing but the best on his recovery, and if that means he doesn’t play again this season, we don’t think anyone would blame him.
  2. Marquette freshman guard Reggie Smith is transferring away from Buzz Williams’ program in a bit of a surprising twist, as the young player had started in five of MU’s games this season yet was apparently chafed at a perceived lack of playing time.  He was averaging 1.4 points in just under ten minutes per game, but clearly neither he (nor his stepfather) thought that was enough a mere six weeks into his playing career.  This is also the second year in a row that Marquette has lost a freshman at the semester break — last season Jeronne Maymon transferred to Tennesssee in December.
  3. Speaking of midseason transfers, BIAH has a pretty good rundown of who those key players are and how they’re doing thus far since becoming eligible.  The winners so far: Kansas’ Josh Selby, USC’s Jio Fontan and Creighton’s Gregory Echinique.
  4. Jeff Goodman does us the service of breaking down the six power conferences heading into the new year.  There’s an awful lot to like and agree with here, but for the sake of contrarianism, we’d probably have gone with Georgetown in the Big East at this point.  RTC is majorly crushing on the Hoyas.
  5. Last night’s big Connecticut-Pittsburgh game turned out to be a dud for the most part with the Panthers handling the Huskies (while we’re at it, check out how Pitt’s Ashton Gibbs gets open off of screens), but this little jewel of a memory passed along from the UConn Hoops Blog reminded us when and how the rivalry began between these two basketball powerhouses.  Khalid El-Amin’s mastery (and bombast) was the difference way back in 1998, so c’mon readers, let’s help them out by locating the specific photo of KEA they’re requesting.
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Seton Hall’s Jeremy Hazell Shot But Alive And At Home

Posted by jstevrtc on December 26th, 2010

We first saw the news on Twitter via Adam Zagoria and then saw this report from the New Jersey Star-Ledger’s Brendan Prunty that Seton Hall senior guard Jeremy Hazell was shot four times under the right arm last night. He was in Harlem, his hometown, and suffered only “flesh wounds” per the Star-Ledger account.

Through what must be some kind of miracle, despite taking four slugs, Hazell was treated at a local hospital, released, and is at home resting. There has as of yet been no official statement from the school regarding this incident.

Sounds Like Hazell Is Yet Another Pirate Who's Lucky To Be Alive

Hazell has been sidelined by a broken left wrist he sustained in a mid-November win against Alabama. He led Seton Hall in scoring each of the last two seasons and was again this year before the injury. A report from Mr. Zagoria’s site states that it had not yet been decided if Hazell planned to redshirt this season because of the wrist injury and come back next season, or if he was on course to play again this year, or if he had indeed played his last game at Seton Hall.

Seton Hall lost to Richmond earlier today, 61-69.

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