Big East Morning Five: 03.20.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on March 20th, 2012

  1. St. John’s freshman and reigning Big East Rookie of the Year Moe Harkless confirmed speculation and announced yesterday in a press conference held at Madison Square Garden that he will be leaving the Red Storm for the NBA. “It has been my lifelong dream to play in the NBA and I am excited to have that opportunity to make the jump,” said Harkless.  He also confirmed that he will hire an agent, which would prevent him from returning to school.  The 6’8” forward is currently projected as a mid-to-late first round pick.  Certainly his status can, and likely will, change as other early entrants make themselves eligible and overseas names emerge but should Harkless be selected in the first round he would be guaranteed an NBA contract.
  2. Moe Harkless’ declaration to turn pro made him the second Big East player to do so thus far, following Villanova’s Maalik Wayns who made his intentions known last week, but, unlike Harkless, he does not plan on retaining an agent. Players with early draft entry on their minds have until 11:59 pm ET on April 29 to decide and has come up with a watch list of those most likely to be considering the move.  While this appears to be a link to Kentucky’s roster, if you look close enough among those cited you will see Connecticut’s Andre Drummond and Jeremy Lamb as well. While Drummond could use a bit more seasoning and Lamb’s stock has perhaps dropped some, with Connecticut currently banned from next year’s NCAA Tournament due to Academic Performance Rating (APR) issues, it feels like a foregone conclusion that they will both opt for the NBA.  However, if NCAA Tournament eligibility is a deciding factor, Drummond and Lamb may hold off on a decision until the last minute given Connecticut has an appeal in progress on which a ruling could come during April. The other apparent no-brainer on the list when it comes to Big East players is Syracuse’s Fab Melo.  On the heels of the academic ineligibility ruling that has forced Melo to sit out this year’s NCAA Tournament, it has been widely speculated that his Syracuse days are over. Melo’s Syracuse teammate Dion Waiters is the only other Big East player on the watch list.
  3. And then there were three.  Nerlens Noel, the number one prospect in the class of 2012, has narrowed his college choices to Kentucky, Syracuse and Georgetown. North Carolina and Connecticut are the latest schools to be cut.  Noel was scheduled to visit Tar Heel country this week but has since canceled. As for Noel’s interactions with the three finalists, the shot-blocking center took an official visit to Georgetown last week, was scheduled to have an in-home visit with Kentucky yesterday, and another with Syracuse tomorrow. A decision could come shortly thereafter as Noel’s official reclassification to the class of 2012, which had been pending, is now complete.
  4. They say success breeds success. Well Cincinnati is sitting pretty in the Sweet Sixteen and just picked up a commitment yesterday from junior college star Titus Rubles.  Rubles, a slashing 6’8” forward from Blinn Community College in Texas, averaged 16.0 points and 10.0 rebounds for the Buccaneers. This commitment does not come as much of a surprise to those who either follow the Bearcats closely or know how to operate Twitter, as Rubles’ Twitter handle is a somewhat revealing “@bearcatbound.” Even with Rubles in the fold, Cincinnati remains in hot pursuit of center Chris Obekpa, arguably the most sought-after recruit among Big East schools as he is also garnering significant interest from Connecticut, DePaul, Providence, Seton Hall and St. John’s.
  5. Speaking of Cincinnati, the Bearcats have certainly come quite far from what appeared to be a season on the brink following an embarrassing November loss to Presbyterian and that ugly brawl-marred loss to Xavier which led to multiple suspension.  As we wrote at the start of the season, Cincinnati carried with it perhaps the highest increase in expectations among Big East squads as the Bearcats returned their top four scorers from a 26-9 team that made it to the third round of last year’s NCAA Tournament. Playing through the suspensions seemed to unlock some individual potential and lineup combinations that may have otherwise been left untapped as head coach Mick Cronin has rallied his troops to another 26 wins and at least a round further in the Big Dance than last year to this point.
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Big East Afternoon Five: First Weekend Recap Edition

Posted by mlemaire on March 19th, 2012

  1. The dust has settled from what was another wild opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament and four Big East teams have advanced to the Sweet Sixteen — Syracuse, Marquette, Louisville, and Cincinnati. Only the Big Ten has as many teams still dancing. But there will be plenty of chances to hear about the teams still playing this week, so let’s dedicate this roundup to news about the teams that are done.
  2. Let’s give North Carolina State some credit, because they are playing good basketball right now, but Georgetown should be the most disappointed of the eliminated Big East teams today. Hampered by Henry Sims‘ foul trouble and a rough shooting day from Jason Clark, the Hoyas were never able to get all the way back into the game and exited the tournament early for the third straight season. As The Washington Post points out, Georgetown can take solace in the fact that they easily outperformed everyone’s expectations in the regular season and put together an impressive season given their inexperience. But somehow, I don’t think Clark and Sims and John Thompson III are giving that much thought right now.
  3. Are the referees kidding us by calling a technical when Jawanza Poland hung on the rim for an extra beat after throwing down an alley-oop to give his team a five-point lead? He wasn’t taunting; he wasn’t yelling; he wasn’t even showing any emotion. He just took a little extra swing on the rim, and the referees got all indignant, called the technical, and swung the momentum back in Ohio’s favor. It wasn’t the decisive reason that the Bulls ended up losing, but it was an unnecessary call, especially in a hard-fought tournament game. Looking on the bright side of things, no one expected Stan Heath‘s club to be playing for a Sweet Sixteen berth when this season started. After the game Heath said his team will be a “hungry group” next season, and with a solid returning cast as well as a recruiting class ready to make an impact, the Bulls could change from perennial league laughingstock to perennial tournament contender in no time.
  4. Since we are still on this overachiever kick, now feels like the right time to ask if anyone expected Notre Dame to be dancing earlier this season when star forward Tim Abromaitis was lost for the season because of a torn ACL. Unfortunately, that probably doesn’t do much to dull the sting that the Fighting Irish must feel after letting a double-digit second half lead slip away in their loss to Xavier. They don’t get to cry about the correctly called lane violation because they let the Musketeers shoot 50% from the field and were never able to clamp down defensively and stop the run. The good news for Mike Brey and company is that they will be a much better and more experienced team next season, especially if Scott Martin is granted a sixth year of eligibility. This team, at times, was too inconsistent and streaky which was due partially to their youth. But this season will be an excellent learning experience for guards like Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant, so expect the Fighting Irish to be out for redemption next season.
  5. Connecticut barely made it onto anyone’s radar this March before they were summarily dispatched by Iowa State with ease. The defending national champions came out flat, like they have many other times this season, and the Cyclones took advantage and ran away with the win. While most Huskies’ fans will quickly forget about this season, there is still a lot to talk about for this program. UConn is facing a potential ban from next season’s NCAA Tournament because of previous players’ poor academic record; the possibility that their Hall of Fame coach will retire; and the possible defections of two of their best players in Jeremy Lamb and Andre Drummond. All of this drama will make for an interesting offseason in Storrs.
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SEC NCAA Tournament Primer: Thursday/Saturday Games

Posted by EMoyer on March 15th, 2012

On Thursday, Kentucky and Vanderbilt open their NCAA Tournament runs facing Western Kentucky and Harvard, respectively. Here we preview the Thursday/Saturday possibilities for the Wildcats and Commodores.

SEC NCAA Tournament Thursday/Saturday Capsules

SOUTH Region 

  • #1 Kentucky: Championship Appearances: 53; Record 107-47; Best Finish: Champion – 1948, 1949, 1951, 1958, 1978, 1996, 1998; How Qualified: At-Large, SEC; Last Appearance: 2011 – L, National Semifinal
  • #16 Western Kentucky: Championship Appearances: 22; Record 19-22; Best Finish: Third Place – 1971; How Qualified: Automatic Bid, Sun Belt Conference; Last Appearance: 2009 – L, Second Round
  • #8 Iowa State: Championship Appearances: 14; Record 12-13; Best Finish: Final Four  – 1944; How Qualified: At Large, Big 12; Last Appearance: 2005 – L, Second Round
  • #9 Connecticut: Championship Appearances: 47; Record 35-43; Best Finish: Champion – 1999, 2004, 2011; How Qualified: At Large, Big East; Last Appearance: 2011 – Champion
All-Time Meetings
  • Kentucky vs Western Kentucky: Kentucky leads 3-2; Last Meeting: Nov. 15, 2001 (Western Kentucky 64, Kentucky 52)
  • Kentucky vs Iowa State: Kentucky leads 2-0; Last Meeting: Mar. 22, 1992 (Kentucky 106, Iowa State 98)
  • Kentucky vs Connecticut: Connecticut leads 3-1; Last Meeting: April 2, 2011 (Connecticut 56, Kentucky 55)
A Starting 5 of the Top Players Kentucky Could Face
  • Derrick Gordon, Western Kentucky, Fr., G: Gordon has amassed 400 points in his first year as a Hilltopper. Only two freshmen have scored more points in Western Kentucky history (Courtney Lee, 467;  Ralph Crosthwaite, 437). He is on pace to become the first Hilltopper freshman to pace the team in scoring and he will be the first in five years to lead in rebounding.
  • Chris Allen, Iowa State, Sr., G: Allen leads the team with 72 3-point field goals and he has played in the most NCAA Tournament games (14) in this year’s 68-team field. Allen played in two Final Fours for Michigan State (2009, 2010.
  • Jeremy Lamb, Connecticut, So., G: Lamb earned First-Team All-Big East honors and the NABC District I Player of the Year after leading the Huskies in scoring at 17.1 points per game.
  • Royce White, Iowa State, So., F: White is the only player in the nation to lead his team in scoring (13.1), rebounding (9.2), assists (5.1), steals (1.2) and blocks (0.9). He is on the verge of posting top-10 single seasons in assists and rebounds in Cyclone history. He is one of 12 players in the county to post a triple-double this season.
  • Andre Drummond, Connecticut, Fr., C: Drummond has tallied 10 double-doubles this season, a UConn freshman record under Coach Jim Calhoun. He won four Big East Rookie of the Week honors, and leads the team in rebounding (7.7) and blocks (2.7).
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Bracket Prep: South Region Analysis

Posted by KDoyle on March 12th, 2012

Throughout Monday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (9 AM), South (11 AM), Midwest (2 PM), West (4 PM). Here, Kevin Doyle breaks down the South Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC South Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCsouthregion).

You can also check out our RTC Podblast with Kevin breaking down the South Region here.

South Region

Favorite: #1 Kentucky (32-2, 16-0 SEC). Shouldn’t really need much of an explanation here. The most talented team in the nation — unquestionably — the Wildcats will be the odds-on favorite to not just emerge from the South Region, but also to cut down the nets in New Orleans. Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones spearhead a terrifyingly good starting five.

The Length And Athleticism Of Terrence Jones and Kentucky Are Just One Of Many Issues That Teams Face

Should They Falter: #2 Duke (27-6, 13-3 ACC). Austin Rivers does not play like a typical freshman and while Duke has its flaws on defense (perimeter defense, especially), the Blue Devils are more apt to make a run to the Final Four due to their balance on offense. Rivers and Seth Curry are prolific shooters/scorers in the backcourt, while the Plumlee brothers make for a formidable frontcourt. Much of Duke’s success hinges on junior Ryan Kelly’s health (sprained ankle). Kelly, while not a lockdown defender by any means, is 6’11″ and really helps in defending the three-point line for Duke. Even without a healthy Kelly, Duke still has an easier road to the Sweet Sixteen than other contenders in the South Region.

Grossly Overseeded: #11 Colorado (23-11, 11-7 Pac-12). Clearly, the committee thought higher of the Pac-12 than many others did. First, there was much debate whether this power six conference — far from “powerful” this season — would even receive an at-large bid, but they did in California. Secondly, Colorado was not on anybody’s radar prior to the Pac-12 Tournament as it stood at 19-11 with seven losses in conference play. Yet, winning the conference tournament propelled Colorado to a very respectable seed at #11. Many prognosticators had the Buffaloes at a #13 seed going into Selection Sunday.

Grossly Underseeded: #14 South Dakota State (27-7, 15-3 Summit). It is too big of a stretch to say that South Dakota State is “grossly” underseeded, but I do believe they were worthy of a #13 seed. When comparing the Jackrabbits to the #13 seed in this region, their resume is every bit as good, if not better, than New Mexico State: SDSU has a better overall record, higher RPI, more wins against the Top 100 RPI, and a more challenging non-conference schedule. Not to mention South Dakota State’s thrashing of Washington 92-73, even though the Huskies are not a Tournament team, is very impressive.

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Four Thoughts: Connecticut vs. West Virginia Edition

Posted by mlemaire on March 7th, 2012

Game recaps are boring. If you want to read them, search your local newspaper or the Associated Press. With the Big East Tournament upon us, we figured we would try to offer four thoughts about several of the key games throughout the week.

1. In a season marked by inconsistency, the good Shabazz Napier showed up for UConn down the stretch.

Shabazz Napier Stepped Up When His Team Needed Him Most

With the Huskies trailing West Virginia 55-48 with just under seven minutes left to play, Napier took matters into his own hands and pretty much ensured that his team would be dancing later this month. The streaky sophomore had a hand in all but two of the team’s final 15 points, scoring nine points in a row at one point to go with three assists and two steals as the Huskies fought back to send the game into overtime. If you want to nitpick, his three-pointer at the end of regulation was a questionable decision and he did foul out rather quickly in overtime. But his final line (26 points, six assists, four rebounds, three steals, and three blocks) showed just how large of an impact he made in every facet of the game. Jeremy Lamb carried the team offensively in the first half while Napier struggled to find his groove, but when they needed him the most, Napier put the team on his back and carried them into the quarterfinals.

2. If this was the last game of Kevin Jones’ college career, his teammates owe him a fruit basket.

While Napier used the final seven minutes of the game to show off his wide array of skills, West Virginia used the final seven minutes of the game to basically forget that they had the conference’s best player on their team. Jones’ last points of the game came on two free throws with a little more than six minutes to play. From that point on, including the overtime period, Jones attempted just three field goals — including zero in the last six minutes of regulation — and missed all of them.  For the first 30 minutes of this game, Jones showed off why he probably should have been the conference’s player of the year. He abused whomever the Huskies put on him, scored at will, and despite his disappearing act, finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds. It is an absolute shame that his teammates didn’t make more of a concerted effort to get him the ball down the stretch and if the Mountaineers end up on the outside of the bubble looking in, it will have been a disappointing end to an incredible season and career.

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ATB: Big East Tourney Begins and Four More Teams Punch NCAA Tickets…

Posted by rtmsf on March 7th, 2012

[Ed. note: Technical difficulties last night led to late publication of this post. For that, we apologize.]

Last Night’s Lede. For some in the Northeast, the Big East Tournament is the most spectacular event in the college basketball season. The classic six overtime Connecticut-Syracuse game from the 2009 tourney was replayed last night on ESPNU and brought us all on a trip down (recent) memory lane to one of the best games of the past decade. The conference’s powerhouses will hopefully bring us some more classic moments in Madison Square Garden this week, though Tuesday night’s first round didn’t include a single close game. Elsewhere, three more NCAA Tournament bids were earned in small conference tournaments, and the Ivy League’s champion was also determined a bit earlier than expected. Let’s get into the rundown of another fun Championship Week night…

Your Watercooler Moment.  South Dakota State Finally Dances.

SDSU Celebrates Its First Ever Trip to the Dance (Summit League)

It was a shocker when top-seeded Oral Roberts fell in the semifinals of the Summit League Tournament last night to Western Illinois, and last night’s heavily favored Jackrabbits nearly suffered the same fate. WIU led for much of the night on Tuesday and had a chance to win this game in regulation but could not convert. The Leathernecks (great team name, by the way) had another chance to tie or win it in overtime down by two but again fell short, giving South Dakota State its first ever Summit League championship and NCAA Tournament berth. The Jackrabbits have a mid-major star in Nate Wolters, who averages 21.5 points, 6.1 assists, and 5.1 rebounds per game, and will look to lead SDSU to an upset victory in next week’s Big Dance. South Dakota State has a fine RPI of #55 and could actually end up as a #14 or even #13 seed, giving it a realistic chance to bust open a bracket with an upset or two. Wolters scored just 14 points on 5-22 shooting in Tuesday’s low-scoring, 52-50 affair, but the guard is capable of going for 30 in any game.

Last night’s Quick Hits…

  • Western Kentucky the Most Unlikely Bid Winner Thus Far. In early January, Western Kentucky was a 5-14 team that had just fired its head coach after one of the strangest finishes you’ll ever see to a game, in which WKU’s opponent used six players on the final possession to win the game. Interim coach/permanent coach Ray Harper is now two months later leading the Hilltoppers to the NCAA Tournament after their 74-70 win over North Texas on Tuesday night. This Sun Belt champion was the #7-seed in the tournament and will enter the NCAA’s as the sixth team in the past decade to have a record below .500, at 15-18. This resilient Western Kentucky team has gone through a wild ride and now will surely be playing early next week as part of the tournament’s ‘First Four’ games, looking to advance to take on a #1 seed. Read the rest of this entry »
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Four Thoughts: Connecticut v. DePaul Edition

Posted by mlemaire on March 6th, 2012

Game recaps are boring. If you want to read them, search your local newspaper or the Associated Press. With the Big East Tournament upon us, we figured we would try to offer four thoughts about every game that is played… emphasis on “try.” 

Jim Calhoun Is Back On The Bench And He Has The Huskies Playing Well.

  1. Connecticut took care of business. Beating DePaul isn’t going to help the Huskies’ tournament chances very much, but losing to the Blue Demons would have almost certainly been a catastrophe. Luckily, the team — and especially Jeremy Lamb — came out firing on all cylinders, built a 13-point lead at halftime, and coasted to victory from there. Lamb was superb in the first half and finished the game with 25 points and four assists, and the offense that was non-existent in the last few weeks returned as the Huskies shot 46. 3% from the field. The victory sets up what many are calling a de facto play-in game with West Virginia tomorrow at noon.
  2. The return of Jim Calhoun has energized a team in need of a pick-me-up. With Calhoun back on the bench for the first time since his spinal surgery, UConn handled Pittsburgh in its regular season finale on Saturday. After the game, freshman point guard Ryan Boatright told reporters, “It was just a whole `nother vibe with him back on the sidelines.” Well it looked that way again this afternoon. Neither the Panthers nor the Blue Demons have been particularly competitive this season, but Calhoun’s brave comeback, his perseverance, and his leadership is exactly what the doctor ordered for a team that looked timid and uninspired as the season came to a close. They were efficient on offense and held DePaul to just 27.4% from the field. I am not ready to starting drawing comparisons to the run the Huskies made through the Big East Tournament last year because this team is still one week removed from losing to Providence, but they are definitely not the same team they were last week, and Calhoun is a major reason why. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East Wrap-Up And Postseason Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 6th, 2012

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

Conference Tournament Preview

  • Can Anyone Beat Syracuse? – Yes, but only a handful of teams are capable. Notre Dame has proven they can do it and I feel Marquette has a solid chance. Georgetown took the Orange to overtime by slowing the pace and exposing Syracuse’s rebounding issues. In my opinion, those are the only three teams who can knock off the Orange. Given the Madison Square Garden crowd is going to be highly in favor of Syracuse, this is a tall order for any team to pull off.
  • Bubble Teams With Work To Do – South Florida, Seton Hall, Connecticut and West Virginia, the pressure is officially on. I think USF and SH have the most work to do. The Bulls and Pirates won’t feel safe unless they win two games at the Garden and even that may not be enough depending what happens in other conference tournaments. Seton Hall absolutely has to beat Providence and Louisville back to back and then put up a solid showing against Marquette in a quarterfinal game. South Florida has a bye but must knock off Rutgers/Villanova before beating Notre Dame the next night. Connecticut has plenty of top 50 wins and strong computer numbers so I feel they’re safe provided they get by DePaul on Tuesday. As for West Virginia, the win at South Florida on Saturday was critical. The Mountaineers earned a first-round bye and will likely play Connecticut at noon on Wednesday. I think WVU is going to be in regardless, but beating the Huskies should lock up a bid for sure.
  • Is There A Sleeper Team? – I doubt it, but South Florida, Connecticut and even St. John’s would be my candidates. The Bulls can win an ugly game against Notre Dame in the quarterfinals, but UConn may actually have the best draw. The Huskies open up with DePaul, coincidentally the same exact matchup as last season. They’ll face a West Virginia team they’ve beat already in the second round. Should they advance to the quarters, Connecticut will go up against Syracuse. The Huskies have played fairly well against the Orange twice this season and would have a reasonable chance to pull the upset. St. John’s is a team that’s playing better basketball and drew a favorable bracket. It wouldn’t shock me if St. John’s lost its opening round game but, playing on its home floor, the Johnnies could surprise.

Regular Season Recap

You could say this was easily a down year in the Big East, but the conference does have ten teams in contention for the NCAA Tournament as the season winds down, only one fewer than last season. However, the league is clearly not as strong from top to bottom. Syracuse was dominant, but no team came close to challenging the Orange for conference supremacy all year. The Orange were projected to win the league in my preseason conference primer, but it was my second and third place teams who completely flopped. Pittsburgh and Connecticut had highly disappointing seasons, even though the Huskies are still in the NCAA picture. The Panthers finished 16-15 (5-13), good enough for 13th place. Jamie Dixon’s squad was hurt by injuries and a notable defection, but on the court, this team did not defend at a high level. Pitt finished the regular season ranked 161st nationally in defensive efficiency, a far cry from their average of #27 over Dixon’s previous eight seasons on the sidelines at the Petersen Events Center. Ashton Gibbs had a disappointing senior season and the team was never able to put it together at any point.

As for the teams that surprised, you can start with South Florida. The Bulls were nothing more than an afterthought as late as January, but a commitment to defense and the play of freshman point guard Anthony Collins has vaulted the Bulls to the brink of their first NCAA Tournament bid since 1992. Although USF has just one top 50 win, this season has been a rousing success for the men from Tampa, who played all of their home games away from the Sun Dome due to renovations. Stan Heath may have saved his job in the process.

Marquette, Notre Dame and Georgetown were also surprises. Those teams were projected to finish sixth, ninth and tenth, respectively, in our conference preview. Marquette looks like a threat to go very deep in the NCAA Tournament while Notre Dame’s style of play and Georgetown’s defense will keep them in pretty much any game they play. The Golden Eagles have two of the best player in the conference and an unquenchable will to win.

As for the teams that projected out according to form, Cincinnati went 12-6 in the league as predicted, Rutgers went 6-12 and Providence went 3-15. In addition to those three, West Virginia, Seton Hall, St. John’s and DePaul finished about where they were expected to. The Mountaineers and Pirates have a chance for the NCAA’s while St. John’s showed some late-season progress and could be a tough out on their home court at Madison Square Garden this week. Louisville finished 22-9 (10-8), three games worse than where I had projected it. The Cardinals started the year hot, but went just 10-9 after sprinting out to a 12-0 record through December 23.

Villanova was another team that disappointed. The Wildcats weren’t expected to be great, but many thought they could find their way to the NCAA Tournament. Instead, Villanova struggled all year as players who were expected to improve did not before injuries took a huge toll on the Wildcats late in the season. Villanova’s future is relatively bright, but this was definitely a lost season on the Main Line. VU’s streak of seven consecutive NCAA appearances will come to an end unless there is some divine intervention in the form of five wins in five days in New York.

Jim Boeheim And The Orange Have Locked Up A One-Seed, But Will Reports Of Unpunished Failed Drug Tests Knock Them Off Their Path? (Mark Konezny/US Presswire)

Coach of the Year

Jim Boeheim, Syracuse – This was a really tough choice. Do you go with the coach of the best team by far or pick someone like Stan Heath or Mike Brey who led teams projected in the bottom half to finishes closer to the top of the league? Guys like Buzz Williams and John Thompson III also deserve consideration. In the end I chose Boeheim because this year’s Syracuse team was historic. Sure, I picked them to win the league from the start, but in no way did I think this team would go 30-1 (17-1). The Orange are the first team in Big East history to get through the entire regular season with only a single loss. Boeheim has assembled a rotation that can go ten deep and kept the team focused through some off-court distractions. He’s a Hall of Famer for a reason and was the best coach in the league this season.

Player of the Year

Jae Crowder, Marquette – This may be a controversial choice to some, but here’s why I picked Crowder over Kevin Jones. Yes, Jones had better statistics throughout the year, but Crowder has out-played Jones over the last month and plays for a team considerably better than West Virginia. Plus, what fun would it be if we just looked at the statistics and ignored intangibles? Crowder averaged 24.7 points and 9.2 rebounds per game over his last six and won the head-to-head matchup with Jones in convincing fashion on February 24. Crowder put up very similar numbers using 21.9% of his team’s possessions compared to 23.3% for Jones. Not a huge difference, but I feel it matters when one team is 25-6 (14-4) while the other is 19-12 (9-9) and has lost seven of its last 11 games heading into the postseason. Crowder, along with Darius Johnson-Odom, has put Marquette on his back and carried it to heights not seen since Dwayne Wade played at the Bradley Center. He’s played his best ball at the right time while Jones has not led his team in nearly the same manner down the stretch. Crowder is also a better defender (2.4 steals per game) and a more efficient shooter from inside as well as the perimeter. I felt that also helped to push him over the top. I don’t have a problem with either player winning the award, but I usually go for the player on the better team when it’s a close call like this is.

All-Conference First Team

  • Jae Crowder, Marquette (17.6 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 2.4 SPG, 51.2% FG) – Crowder was the do-it-all player for the Golden Eagles, leading them to their best regular season record since a 23-4 mark in 2002-03.
  • Kevin Jones, West Virginia (20.0 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 51.5% FG) – Without Jones, the Mountaineers would be in the bottom third of the league. The senior had the best season of his career, leading the conference in scoring and rebounding pretty much from start to finish.
  • Darius Johnson-Odom, Marquette (18.3 PPG, 40.1% 3FG) – Crowder and DJO form perhaps the most potent one-two punch in college basketball on a team that could be a Final Four sleeper.
  • Kris Joseph, Syracuse (14.1 PPG, 5.0 RPG) – The amazing thing about Syracuse is not one player on a 30-1 (17-1) team is in the top 18 in scoring. Joseph ranks 19th, but came up big when it mattered most, averaging 17 points for the Orange in their six games decided by five points or less.
  • Jeremy Lamb, Connecticut (17.6 PPG, 47.5% FG, 82.6% FT) – Connecticut underachieved, but the best returning player from last year’s national championship squad posted double figures in all but three games for a team that struggled to find its way on the offensive end. A career-high 32 points in a late season win at Villanova just might have saved his team’s season (at least for now).

A Late-Season Push Propelled Jae Crowder Past Kevin Jones For Player Of The Year Honors.

All-Conference Second Team

  • Vincent Council, Providence (16.2 PPG, 7.5 APG) – A lot of people may not know about Council, but that’s about to change next season when Providence welcomes in more talent to be on the receiving end of passes from the best assist man in the Big East.
  • Scoop Jardine, Syracuse (8.6 PPG, 4.9 APG, 47.7% FG) – The statistics aren’t eye-popping,  but Jardine was the point guard for a team that lost once in 31 games. He took much better care of the basketball this season and improved his shooting efficiency despite a drop in scoring from last year. On a team with ten legitimate players, he doesn’t need to score in double figures.
  • Jordan Theodore, Seton Hall (16.0 PPG, 6.7 APG, 1.9 SPG) – Not surprisingly, Seton Hall’s season went as Theodore’s did. When he was on, he looked like the best point guard in the conference (29 points, 5 assists against Georgetown). When he wasn’t (10 points, 5 turnovers against DePaul), Seton Hall looked awful. Despite the inconsistency from the senior, Theodore deserves the bulk of the credit for getting the Pirates in the NCAA Tournament conversation.
  • Jason Clark, Georgetown (14.3 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 47.8% FG) – Underappreciated for four seasons in Washington, Clark led his team in scoring and vaulted the Hoyas well into the top 25 after they were projected to be a bubble team in the preseason. Clark was a model of consistency and a great glue guy on a strong defensive team.
  • Jack Cooley, Notre Dame (12.5 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 62.1% FG) – Cooley came out of nowhere to become the anchor in the paint for a Notre Dame team that took the conference by storm. He recorded a double-double in six of his last eight games and would be my pick for most-improved player.

Honorable Mention

  • Dion Waiters, Syracuse (11.9 PPG, 1.9 SPG, 47.1% FG) – Perhaps the best sixth man in the nation, Waiters sees starter’s minutes on one of the elite teams in the nation. A spark on both ends of the floor with his dynamic transition game, Waiters’ improvement is a big factor in Syracuse’s success.
  • Henry Sims, Georgetown (11.1 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 3.4 APG, 1.4 BPG) – It’s not often you see a 6’10” player lead his team in assists, but that’s exactly what Sims did (and by a wide margin). A candidate for most improved player, Sims was a major reason why Georgetown exceeded preseason expectations.
  • Cleveland Melvin, DePaul (17.4 PPG, 7.3 RPG) – Melvin has been a solid player for two years now. It’s too bad he plays on a bad team.
  • Herb Pope, Seton Hall (15.3 PPG, 10.3 RPG) – A very early frontrunner for conference POY honors, Pope’s production really tailed off in conference play.  Still, his presence in the middle and strong rebounding is vital to the Hall’s success.
  • Maalik Wayns, Villanova (17.5 PPG, 4.6 APG, 89.3% FT) – Wayns will never be confused with efficiency, but he’s a guard who can create contact and get to the line with the best of them. One of the better free throw shooters in the nation knows how to play to his strengths.

All-Freshmen Team

  • Moe Harkless, St. John’s (15.0 PPG, 8.6 RPG) – Harkless put up some dominant numbers right away because he was able to see plenty of minutes on a thin team, but he’s a terrific piece to build around as the Johnnies move forward. A special talent.
  • Anthony Collins, South Florida (8.0 PPG, 5.3 APG, 49.3% FG) – Almost singlehandedly, Collins has willed the Bulls to the brink of the NCAA Tournament. After missing five games with an injury, Collins took over the point guard duties and led South Florida to a 12-6 conference record.
  • LaDontae Henton, Providence (14.3 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 40.2% 3FG) – Henton was a surprise on a Friars team that remained competitive despite a poor record. Henton was thrown into the fire right away, playing 37.1 minutes per game on a very thin team. He responded well and didn’t hit a wall late in the season as most freshmen do.
  • D’Angelo Harrison, St. John’s (17.0 PPG) – Harkless’ sidekick actually led St. John’s in scoring and played his best basketball in February.
  • Otto Porter, Georgetown (9.0 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 51.0% FG) – A player with a great motor who has a ton of upside, Porter has a high basketball IQ and the toughness needed to excel in Georgetown’s system. He’s as good of a rebounder as I’ve seen for a freshman.

Defensive Player of the Year

Fab Melo, Syracuse (3.1 BPG) – Melo led the conference by a wide margin in blocks in conference games (3.73), but finished behind Louisville’s Gorgui Dieng in the block totals for all games. Melo’s presence anchoring Syracuse’s zone changed so many shots and made it easier for Syracuse to defend opponents on the perimeter. When he didn’t play against Notre Dame, the Irish went wild from deep because the Orange didn’t have their big man on the back line to defend drives. A case can be made for Dieng, but Melo was a dominant force defensively for the nation’s #2 team.

Game of the Year

January 21 – Notre Dame 67, Syracuse 58: There is no clear-cut winner for this award, but I’m going to go with Syracuse’s only loss of the season. Notre Dame handed the Orange, playing without Fab Melo, their first and only loss of the season. The Fighting Irish shot 50% for the game and won by a score of 67-58, Notre Dame’s first win against a top-ranked opponent in 25 years. However, it was ND’s eighth win all time against a #1 team and seventh in South Bend. It was a magical night for the Irish and the first win in what would become a nine-game winning streak, a decisive run that pushed Notre Dame solidly into the NCAA Tournament field.

Other nominees: Marquette 61, West Virginia 60 (February 24). Syracuse 64, Georgetown 61 (OT, February 8). Notre Dame 67, Louisville 65 (2OT, January 7). Georgetown 73, Marquette 70 (January 4).

An Outstanding Point Guard In Anthony Collins Has USF In The Running For A Tournament Bid.

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (30-1, 17-1) – The Orange are playing with house money in New York as they are a lock for a #1 seed in next week’s NCAA Tournament. Syracuse has a tough draw with West Virginia or UConn waiting in the quarters before going up against possibly Cincinnati or Georgetown in the semifinals on Friday night. The only question could be if the Orange play the Big East Tournament on cruise control, knowing their NCAA situation is secure.
  2. Marquette (25-6, 14-4) – Marquette is playing the best basketball of any team outside of central New York. The Golden Eagles won 13 of their last 15 games and can absolutely win this tournament. A BET win could give Buzz Williams’ team a #2 seed in the big dance.
  3. Georgetown (22-7, 12-6) – This team has been solid all year, but its normally stout defense was exposed in late season losses to Seton Hall and Marquette. The Hoyas gave Syracuse all it could handle on February 8 at the Carrier Dome and another meeting at MSG isn’t out of the question. Georgetown will get a nice seed in the NCAA Tournament, but the Hoyas have to bring it defensively in order to avoid another early exit.
  4. Cincinnati (22-9, 12-6) – Despite a horrid non-conference schedule, the Bearcats have plenty of top 50 wins on their resume. I believe this team should be and will be in the NCAA Tournament no matter what happens in New York. Still, beating Georgetown/St. John’s/Pitt in the quarterfinals wouldn’t hurt. Cincinnati won five of its last six games, making a strong case to the NCAA Committee in the process.
  5. Notre Dame (21-10, 13-5) – The Irish lost two of their last three games, but it was a remarkable season for Mike Brey’s squad. Considered to be done after losing Tim Abromaitis, Notre Dame re-invented itself and locked up a tournament bid with a one month long nine-game winning streak. The Fighting Irish are a threat in the bottom part of this week’s bracket.
  6. South Florida (19-12, 12-6) – It was encouraging to see the Bulls go into Louisville and win the game they had to have. It was a wildly successful season for USF. The team completely changed its trajectory when Anthony Collins returned from injury and played at an extremely high level. The Bulls have plenty of work to do this week but pass the eye test to some. It seems crazy, but USF won 12 Big East games and has just one RPI top 50 win. That says a lot about the strength of this year’s Big East.
  7. Louisville (22-9, 10-8) – A few weeks ago, most folks were praising Louisville for getting back on track. Since February 13, it has been a different story. The Cardinals have lost four of their last six games heading into the conference tournamen,t but will still be headed to the NCAA Tournament next week. Louisville’s two wins during this stretch? Overtime at DePaul and a home squeaker over a bad Pitt team. Barring a huge effort to refocus this week, Louisville is ripe for the picking by Seton Hall or Providence in its second round game.
  8. West Virginia (19-12, 9-9) – It wasn’t pretty, but the Mountaineers took care of business at South Florida to get back to .500 in the league. West Virginia is right about where most had them at the beginning of the season despite losing seven of 11 games down the stretch. Kevin Jones had an outstanding year and this team remains a threat in New York and in the NCAA Tournament, assuming it gets there. WVU could win a game or two in the big dance.
  9. Connecticut (18-12, 8-10) – It was a rough year for the Huskies, but they have a chance to start over and turn it around this week at MSG. Connecticut will start exactly where it started a year ago when it beat DePaul, the first of 11 straight victories en route to a national championship. This team won’t do that again, but I could realistically see it winning two or three games this week. I believe the Huskies should be in the NCAA Tournament, but a loss to DePaul would significantly complicate matters.
  10. Seton Hall (19-11, 8-10) – When you have a chance to get to your first NCAA Tournament in six years, it’s not good to shoot yourself in the foot. That’s exactly what Seton Hall did with consecutive late season losses to Rutgers and DePaul. The Pirates were blown out of Chicago in absolutely embarrassing fashion and now probably have to win at least two games to keep their NCAA chances alive. The Hall has quality wins over Georgetown, Connecticut, West Virginia and VCU as well as victories over bubble squads Dayton and St. Joe’s, but those two bad losses will sting. You can put the Pirates to bed if they lose to Providence on Tuesday night, a game that won’t be easy for Seton Hall.
  11. Rutgers (14-17, 6-12) – You can’t win big in the Big East with young players and that’s the issue Rutgers faced this year. Mike Rice is building the program in solid fashion, but Rutgers still has a ways to go. Next year could be the year Rutgers starts to turn the corner and gets into contention for some kind of postseason bid. The Scarlet Knights won’t be an easy out at MSG.
  12. St. John’s (13-18, 6-12) – Mike Dunlap did an admirable job filling in for Steve Lavin this season as the Red Storm saw player defections and persevered with one of the thinnest and youngest rosters you will ever see. St. John’s was competitive and seemed to play better basketball as the season progressed. The Johnnies won three straight games late in the season but enter this week’s tournament on a two game losing streak. Still, I wouldn’t want to play SJU at the Garden.
  13. Pittsburgh (16-15, 5-13) – The departure of Khem Birch and injury to Tray Woodall derailed any hope this team had of turning the season around after early losses to Long Beach State and Wagner. The Panthers floundered in conference play, losing their first seven games. Pitt provided us with some hope when it won four straight from January 25 to February 5 but then proceeded to lose six of its final seven after that. With West Virginia going to the Big 12 next season, will Pittsburgh and Syracuse try to follow suit and settle with the Big East to get out earlier than expected?
  14. Villanova (12-18, 5-13) – What a miserable season for Jay Wright. The Wildcats have been to seven consecutive NCAA Tournaments, but didn’t come close to extending that streak this year. Villanova stumbled right out of the gate, losing four games before mid-December. The future is brighter with everyone coming back next year, but Wright has a lot of work to do in order to get this team on the same page over the summer.
  15. Providence (15-16, 4-14) – Despite losing 14 conference games, the Friars were competitive. Ed Cooley is going to get it going rather quickly in Friartown, especially with a ballyhooed recruiting class coming in next season. LaDontae Henton surprised many observers as a freshman and should be a big piece going forward along with superb point guard Vincent Council, who will lead the team as a senior in 2012-13.
  16. DePaul (12-18, 3-15) – The Blue Demons won only three times in league play but saved their best for last, blowing out Seton Hall this past Saturday in Chicago. Oliver Purnell has clearly established his style of play, now it’s up to him to get better players in the mix. Cleveland Melvin is underappreciated because he plays on this team, but he’s a nice piece to build around. You have to believe Purnell will eventually get DePaul back to respectability, but the process will be a long one.
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RTC’s 2012 Big East Tournament Preview

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on March 6th, 2012

The 2012 Big East Championship is upon us.  Whether you have followed the conference closely all season or are just getting to the party, here is your guide.


Syracuse.  It does not take an expert to figure this one out, so you are in the right place.  The Orange are the clear-cut class of the Big East this season. With their depth and talent, along with the double-bye, this is Syracuse’s tournament to lose.

Dark Horse: 

Let’s go way out on a limb here and say South Florida could pull this one off.  The Bulls give everyone fits with their defensive, plodding style, which by default keeps most of their games close and gives them a chance.  South Florida has a first round bye so it does not have to navigate a five-game run.  Further, they are on the opposite side of the bracket from Syracuse so would not run into the Orange, whom they played close at the Carrier Dome on February 22, until the tournament final.

Heath's Bulls Have Defied Expectations All Season. Why Stop Now?

Most Interesting Storyline:

The problem with this one is it could be very short-lived, but there will be plenty of talk about Connecticut repeating its improbable run of a year ago.  As was the case last season, the Huskies are the #9 seed and will meet DePaul in Tuesday’s noon affair thanks to a tiebreaker scenario that put Connecticut ahead of Seton Hall when Rutgers defeated St. John’s on Saturday night.  That is where the similarities end.  This season’s Huskies simply are not as good as last year’s version. Last year Connecticut was ranked (#21) coming into the tournament and finished .500 in what was arguably the strongest Big East ever.  Further, Connecticut currently does not have a go-to leader to fill Kemba Walker’s monster role during last year’s run.  Those who are asking will want to know if Jeremy Lamb can become that guy as he is certainly talented enough to be a difference-maker.  Head coach Jim Calhoun‘s health will be a major subplot in it all as well.  Will his back problem allow him to coach the team each day should they earn a couple of wins, and will his presence represent a rallying point for the team as it appeared to in the Huskies’ win over Pittsburgh on Saturday?  Prediction… if the Huskies get by West Virginia in the second round, their tournament ends on Thursday when they fall to Syracuse.

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Big East Morning Five: 02.28.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on February 28th, 2012

  1. It appears that Nerlens Noel, the #1 recruit in the class of 2012, has cut his list of finalists from seven to five, resulting in two Big East schools left wanting. Noel was interviewed as part of a WCVB 5 Boston segment on him and his Tilton School teammates. In the interview Noel stated he has “narrowed it down” to Kentucky, Syracuse, Florida, Georgetown, and North Carolina. Omitted from Noel’s original list of seven were Connecticut and Providence.  Noel made similar news recently in a radio interview when he seemingly cut his list only to quickly clarify via Twitter that his list had not changed. Fans of Connecticut and Providence will hold out hope of an inadvertent omission once again, but all had been quiet in the Noel camp as of late Monday evening. In a related story, Jim Calhoun and Ed Cooley have retained Ryan Braun’s lawyers because they believe the WCVB 5 news feed was tampered with in post-production.
  2. Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun underwent successful back surgery yesterday according to a statement issued by the school. Calhoun has been away from coaching since February 3 due to a painful condition called spinal stenosis. As part of the two-hour procedure conducted at New York’s Beth Israel Medical Center, doctors removed a “large extruded disk fragment” which was believed to be contributing heavily to Calhoun’s discomfort. Recovery time is not expected to be extensive and Calhoun could be back on the sideline for Connecticut’s regular season finale against Pittsburgh on March 3. George Blaney will continue to coach the team until Calhoun returns. The Huskies play a road contest versus Providence tonight.
  3. For the first time this season the Big East has a back-to-back Player of the Week as Marquette’s Jae Crowder has once again claimed the crown. Crowder, who may be the front runner for Big East Player of the Year, did it all for the Golden Eagles as usual in a 2-0 week posting averages of 26.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.0 steals and, 2.5 blocks per game. St. John’s had an impressive two-win week, including an upset of then red hot Notre Dame. Much of the Red Storm’s success had to do with the Big East Rookie of the Week, Moe Harkless. Harkless played every minute in both games and nearly averaged a double-double at 18.0 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. Last week’s Rookie of the Week, Anthony Collins begins this week’s Big East Honor Roll.  Collins made two huge free throws to give the Bulls an important win over Cincinnati, and averaged 13.0 points and 7.5 assists in a 1-1 week.  Other Honor Roll recipients were: Providence’s LaDontae Henton who put up a career-high 29 points against DePaul, with the most important two coming with 1.7 seconds left in the game to give the Friars the 73-71 win. Henton also had 15 rebounds; Connecticut’s Jeremy Lamb who also notched a career-high with 32 points in a win over Villanova and averaged 25.5 points and 6.0 rebounds in a 1-1 week; Syracuse’s Kris Joseph kept the Orange rolling, averaging 16.5 points and 9.5 rebounds in victories over South Florida and Connecticut; Seton Hall’s Jordan Theodore had a, guess what…career-high 29 points in the Pirates’ upset of Georgetown and averaged 23.0 points and 7.0 assists on the week.
  4. It’s late February which means you can either toil over who your favorite baseball team’s left-handed setup man will be or you can check out the college basketball rankings as you gear up for conference and NCAA tournament play. We actually love baseball here at RTC Big East so why not make it this week’s corny poll theme? Syracuse (29-1, 16-1) is the Big East’s version of a five-tool player and remains in the two-hole after holding off Connecticut on Saturday.  We don’t know if it was chicken and beer in the club house or not but Marquette (24-5, 13-3) weathered in-game suspensions to three key players and pulled out a road win at West Virginia as Buzz Williams and his Golden Eagles waltzed ahead two spots to #8. Georgetown (22-6, 12-5) does it the old fashioned way with pitching and defense but their setback against Seton Hall knocked the Hoyas down two notches to #11. Louisville and their Tony LaRussa-like tactician, Rick Pitino could not pull the right strings in a tough environment at Cincinnati and as a result of their loss to the Bearcats, Louisville also slipped two spots to #19.  Notre Dame (20-10, 12-5) has that ‘Moneyball’ look about them and the Irish held serve to remain at #20 this week despite a setback to St. John’s, which has now turned into a two-game losing streak on the heels of the Irish’s Monday night loss to Georgetown.
  5. The potential loss of Nerlens Noel notwithstanding, Providence head coach Ed Cooley has made plenty of noise on the recruiting trail in his brief time at Providence. While incoming players have made all the headlines, Cooley’s first recruiting coup may have been the luring of Andre LaFleur away from conference rival Connecticut to join his staff as associate head coach. When Connecticut visits Providence tonight it will be a reunion of sorts as it marks the first time the two teams meet since LaFleur’s departure. There has been speculation since LaFleur, who was an assistant coach at Connecticut, came to Providence around his reasons for leaving. One prevailing theory is the rising star that is Kevin Ollie provided more writing on the wall than LaFleur could stomach leading to somewhat of a mutual departure. Many believe Ollie is being groomed as Calhoun’s heir apparent. LaFleur dispelled that idea yesterday in an interview with the New Haven Register, saying he felt the increased responsibilities associated with the move to Providence would best help him build toward his goal of being a head coach.
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