Set Your TiVo: 02.06.12

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 6th, 2012

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Connecticut can join a crowded bunch and move above .500 in the Big East with a win tonight while Louisville looks to continue its hot play of late. In the Big 12, Texas faces a pivotal game with regards to its NCAA chances. Rankings are subject to change with a new RTC Top 25 coming out today.

Connecticut @ Louisville – 7:00 PM EST on ESPN (****)

  • Louisville has won four straight games and five of its past six since getting destroyed at Providence on January 10. Rick Pitino’s team is playing much better offensively, scoring at least 73 points in three of the four wins during the current streak. Against Connecticut, Louisville’s guards must set the tone. While Louisville isn’t forcing turnovers at the clip usually seen from Pitino teams, the Cardinals can pressure the Huskies into turnovers. UConn has struggled all year with this and the Cards will have the home crowd to help them out by creating energy in the building. Offensively it’s going to be tough for Louisville to score. This is not a great jump shooting team and the Huskies have a terrific interior defense. Russ Smith and Kyle Kuric are going to have to hit jumpers in order for Louisville to win this game. It’ll also be interesting to see how freshman Chane Behanandoes against UConn’s impressive front line. Behanan had 23 points and 11 rebounds in Saturday’s win over Rutgers, making 11 of his 12 field goal attempts.

    UConn's Ryan Boatright Will Be A Key Player To Watch In Tonight's Contest

  • With Jim Calhoun out, George Blaney will coach the Huskies again. Blaney used a three-guard starting lineup in Saturday’s win over Seton Hall, a first for Connecticut this season. It worked well as Ryan Boatright sparked the Huskies to a blowout win. Boatright will be important again tonight. He’s the only guy on UConn’s roster that can score quickly in transition and provide an instant offensive spark. With Boatright and Shabazz Napier feeding Andre Drummond in the post, Connecticut has a lot of weapons to throw at Louisville’s rock solid defense. If Boatright can get into the lane and draw Gorgui Dieng away from Drummond without turning it over, the Huskies will find a lot of success. That’s easier said than done but a quick guard with a lot of hops like Boatright can do it and Drummond is certainly capable of finishing around the tin. Jeremy Lamb also has to make shots for the Huskies. Lamb is a good spot up shooter and a terrific slasher but he may encounter some problems with Dieng and Behanan in the paint. Lamb is UConn’s best three point threat and has to knock down some triples in order to take the pressure off of Boatright to make things happen. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 6th, 2012

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

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • Fab Melo Returns: After missing three games due to an academic issue, Fab Melo returned to the Syracuse lineup Saturday afternoon in New York. Melo scored a career-high 14 points in 21 minutes but, more importantly, changed the dynamic of Syracuse on both ends of the floor. Melo’s return adds some rebounding, opens up the middle for others to drive and score/dish and gives the Orange a defensive anchor in the middle of their zone. Melo doesn’t block every shot, but he alters a very high number. With the Brazilian big man roaming the paint, Syracuse is a legitimate national championship contender, something that was plainly evident on Saturday. Despite a backloaded schedule coming into view over the next few weeks, I’d be surprised if Syracuse loses another regular season game.
  • Pittsburgh Is Back: Oh Jamie Dixon, why did we doubt you? We should have known better. After starting the conference season 0-7, Pittsburgh has won four straight games and is actually in a position to make a run at the NCAA Tournament. The Panthers’ resurgence has been keyed by the return of Tray Woodall and better play defensively. Woodall scored a career-high 29 points against Villanova on Sunday and the Panthers held the Wildcats to 36% shooting. That’s the Pittsburgh defense we’ve grown accustomed to over the years and if it keeps up, Pittsburgh will go dancing. Pitt faces a crucial week. It must take at least one (preferably both) road game of the two at South Florida and Seton Hall between now and Sunday. If the Panthers can get both, they’ll be 6-7 with three of their final five games at home. I actually feel safe saying something that would have been considered outrageous just two weeks ago: I believe Pittsburgh will be in the NCAA Tournament.

Fab Melo's Importance To The Orange Was On Full Display Last Week

  • Order Being Restored: Pittsburgh has won four straight. Seton Hall has lost six straight. South Florida lost by 30 at Georgetown on Saturday. Louisville has turned it around. All of that tells you something, doesn’t it? The Big East is shuffling back into place as we head into the home stretch of the season. While the Pirates and Bulls were nice early-season surprises and feel-good stories, reality has set in. Seton Hall was ranked in the top 25 as recently as January 9, but hasn’t won a game since a victory over DePaul the following day. The Pirates are anemic offensively and can hardly shoot 30% against any opponent. I wrote a piece last week about what has gone wrong at the Hall, but it shows no signs of stopping this tailspin anytime soon. South Florida remains at 6-4, but four of its final seven games are on the road as the schedule stiffens. The Bulls will play Pittsburgh twice, Syracuse, Cincinnati, Louisville and West Virginia down the stretch. Expect their 6-4 record to turn into something like 8-10 rather quickly. Even if that happens, it has still been a successful season for Stan Heath and his team. Nobody expected them to win even six or seven league games.

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (23-1, 10-1) – What a difference one player makes. Syracuse played only once last week, but Fab Melo’s return sparked the Orange to dunk-filled 95-70 win over hapless St. John’s at Madison Square Garden. The win, Jim Boeheim’s 879th, pulled him into a tie with legendary North Carolina coach Dean Smith for third place on the all-time wins list. Boeheim has this team humming right along and it shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. Syracuse scored 53 bench points against the Red Storm, once again showing off its incredible depth and talent. Michael Carter-Williams electrified the Garden crowd with this dunk while C.J. Fair, Dion Waiters and Kris Joseph also played very well for the Orange. Syracuse shot 56% for the game. The schedule gets tougher in February but Syracuse should be favored in every game from here on out. This week: 2/8 vs. #15 Georgetown, 2/11 vs. Connecticut. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

Jim Calhoun Takes Indefinite Leave of Absence, Leadership Void Grows

Posted by mlemaire on February 3rd, 2012

Today, the University of Connecticut announced that coach Jim Calhoun will take an indefinite leave of absence to deal with his spinal stenosis, a lower back condition that he has been suffering from for months and has hampered his general movement. There is no doubt that spinal stenosis is a painful condition and Calhoun’s primary concern should be nursing himself back to good health, but the announcement could not come at a worse time for the Huskies, who are free-falling through the Big East standings and look uninspired and listless on the court.

With Jim Calhoun on Indefinite Medical Leave, It's Up To His Team To Save The Season.

Just two days ago, UConn put on one of the worst offensive performances in a long time in a disappointing loss to Georgetown, and after the game, some commentators blamed the Huskies’ struggles on a glaring lack of leadership and effort. Now the onus will be on the players to fill that leadership void because with all due respect to interim head coach George Blaney, he is not Calhoun.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Four Thoughts on Georgetown vs. Connecticut

Posted by IRenko on February 2nd, 2012

I. Renko is a DC-based correspondent for Rush the Court.  You can follow him on twitter @IRenkoHoops.

The headline numbers from Georgetown’s win over Connecticut last night are the Huskies’ paltry 44 points on horrendous 27.6% field goal shooting.  It was the third-lowest point total in team history.  RTC was there live in the District, and here are four things we saw as the keys to Georgetown’s humbling of the Huskies.

It Was a Rough Night for Jim Calhoun and the Huskies (Damien Strohmeyer/SI)

  1. (Lack of) Veteran Leadership – UConn had three players on the floor last night who played more than 25 minutes in the NCAA Championship game last year:  Jeremy Lamb, Shabazz Napier, and Alex Oriakhi.  They were a combined 4-28 from the field, including 2-13 from three-point range.  I guess Oriakhi’s defense is that he only played seven minutes as part of his ongoing disappearing act — though that was more than enough time for him to rack up two fouls and three turnovers to go with his single rebound.  But Lamb and Napier, who lead the team in scoring, were out of sync all night.  While Lamb didn’t stop shooting, he couldn’t stop missing either.  Contested or open, it didn’t seem to make much of a difference on a miserable night for the sophomore guard.  By contrast, Georgetown’s big three — seniors Jason Clark, Henry Sims and junior Hollis Thompson — combined for 42 points on 16-34 shooting.  After the game, Jim Calhoun dismissed, in characteristically colorful fashion, the fact that his team is the sixth youngest in America:  “I have no idea what that means.  It means sh*t in plain English.”  And indeed, it probably shouldn’t mean much to a team that that returns four starters from a championship squad.  Sure, Andre Drummond stepped up for UConn with 18 points on 9-12 shooting, but you can’t rely on freshmen to lead the way on the road in the Big East. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

Big East Morning Five: 02.02.12 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on February 2nd, 2012

  1. Some will disagree, but count me among those who think college basketball needs to start using a 24-second shot clock. Coaches have started to milk the clock so well that scoring is way down and the basketball is less interesting. The biggest perpetrator of this in the Big East is Notre Dame’s Mike Brey and his “burn” offense. Give Brey credit for utilizing a style better-suited for his undermanned team, but the “burn” offense is about as interesting to watch as silent movies. The players in college are good enough to find a good shot in 24 seconds and some of them will need to learn it for the next level, so let’s just all agree to make the change and improve the quality of the game.
  2. Sometimes when you fall behind in school, you just have to buckle down and catch up. Just ask Syracuse center Fab Melo who apparently got his academics in order and will play Saturday when the Orange face St. John’s. Syracuse might not need Melo against the struggling Johnnies, but they will enjoy having him back in the middle of their defense for the rest of the season. He is one of the country’s best shot blockers and is an important defender and rebounder for a team with legitimate national title hopes.
  3. Most expected multi-talented Marquette point guard Vander Blue to pass Junior Cadougan on the depth chart this season and take the reins of the offense, but he has taken some time to get going. Now he says he has “found a groove,” though, which is good news for the Golden Eagles. Blue went for 16 points and eight rebounds in the team’s win over Seton Hall, and he has begun to assert himself on both ends of the floor. With all due respect to Cadougan, Blue is more talented and more athletic and he is the team’s answer at point guard as long as he stays in his groove.
  4. It’s time to sound the alarm in Storrs, Connecticut, if the bells aren’t already ringing. Give Georgetown’s defense some credit, but Connecticut shot 30% from the field for the game and went just 2-20 from downtown. Star guard Jeremy Lamb was the main culprit, taking 18 shots and making just four, including a 2-11 performance from behind the arc. Center Alex Oriakhi probably hit rock bottom last night and played just seven minutes without scoring a point and point guard Shabazz Napier committed his all-too-common ritual sacrifice of the act of shooting, going 0-9 for the game. Let’s be blunt, the Huskies are not an NCAA Tournament team right now, and they might not have enough juice to turn things around in time to get there.
  5. Hey Truck Bryant and Deniz Kilici! Are you guys listening? Yes, we know Kevin Jones is really, really good at this game called basketball, but even he can’t win games by himself. The senior forward is in the midst of an historic season and could be the first since Troy Murphy to lead the conference in both scoring and rebounding, but his team has been inconsistent. Naturally, his coach “feels bad” for him and agrees that the rest of his team needs to get it together. The good news for the rest of the team is that they have Jones on their team, so they only need to improve moderately and then let their big man handle the rest.
Share this story

Set Your TiVo: 02.01.12

Posted by EJacoby on February 1st, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC correspondent and regular contributor. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Two previously Top 10 teams (UConn and Indiana) are in major slides right now and have a chance to regain confidence with road wins tonight, though both are in very difficult spots. Also, perhaps the biggest game of the C-USA season takes place this evening. Here’s what to look for:

#22 Indiana at #20 Michigan – 6:30 PM ET on Big Ten Network (****)

Can Indiana Stop Trey Burke's Dribble Drive Tonight? (AP Photo)

  • The Hoosiers have lost four of six games and are rapidly descending in the rankings. However, they are coming off a 103-point scoring performance in a win over Iowa and they hung tough at Wisconsin in their previous game before coming up short. If Tom Crean’s team is really turning the corner in the Big Ten, then they need to prove it tonight with nothing other than a victory. Cody Zeller has been outstanding in conference play and will be the go-to man tonight against a suspect Wolverines interior defense that allowed the freshman to go 8-10 with 18 points in their first meeting, a slim Indiana win at home. IU has been efficient offensively lately without being overly reliant on the three-point shot, which is a good formula on the road. But their chances at winning tonight really boil down to  their ability to stop Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr.’s penetration, as both players have the ability to carve up soft defenses. Indiana has an insanely high 110.4 defensive efficiency in conference, which will not cut it tonight. An improved defensive effort, however, will give them a great chance to win.
  • The Wolverines have held serve at home this season at 12-0 and will look to feed off the Ann Arbor crowd. As discussed above, this game is all about Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr. for Michigan. The two guards are the only players in double-figure scoring (14.1 PPG and 15.2 PPG, respectively) and should have plenty of opportunities to penetrate a weak Indiana half-court defense. If they are making plays and setting up Zack Novak, Stu Douglass, and Evan Smotrycz for open threes, UM is right where they want to be. Michigan has played much better defense at home this season and should not allow Indiana to shoot the lights out like they have been able to in some games.
  • It’s probably getting repetitive, but this game completely comes down to Indiana’s defensive intensity in the half-court. Michigan has the advantage at home and is a four-point favorite, but this would be no upset if Indiana won. If early in the game you see Burke bouncing the ball for 20 seconds during possessions and struggling to get into the paint, you’ll know IU is doing a good job on the perimeter. Prediction: Michigan comes through with a slim victory.

Connecticut at #15 Georgetown – 7:00 PM ET on ESPN2 (****)

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

The Doctor Is In The House: Connecticut Edition

Posted by mlemaire on January 31st, 2012

Over the next few weeks we will be diagnosing some of the weaknesses and reasons behind the struggles of some Big East teams. Next up is Connecticut, losers of their last three games and five of their last seven.

When you lose someone as important to your offense and departed star Kemba Walker was to UConn’s offense, there will undoubtedly be some growing pains. But most people thought that the remaining talent on Jim Calhoun’s roster was enough to make them a viable if unlikely contender to repeat as National Champions. But now, on the heels of three straight close losses to supposedly inferior teams, some are beginning to wonder if the young Huskies have enough left in the tank to make the NCAA Tournament at all.

1. The team’s commitment to defense seems to have disappeared.

Since 2003, the Huskies have been a consistent presence among the nation’s leaders in defensive efficiency, having never ranked below #41 overall. This season they currently are ranked #80 in the country in defensive efficiency, despite having not one but two premier shot-blockers and endless amounts of length and athleticism on the wings. The team is second in the conference in field-goal percentage but dead last in the conference in three-point field goal percentage which would seem to mean that the onus is on the Huskies’ perimeter defenders to take away their opponents’ open looks. But a renewed commitment to defense will have to be a team effort. Even if Alex Oriakhi can’t get back to blocking shots at the same rate he did in the past two seasons, the Huskies will still block plenty of shots, so forcing turnovers and closing out on shooters should be two things Calhoun harps on in practice.

Traditionally Excellent, UConn's Defense Hasn't Been Up To Speed This Season.

2. There has not been any consistent offensive post play.

When the highly touted Andre Drummond reclassified and joined UConn in time for the start of this season, pundits and fans alike began salivating over the prospect of having Drummond and Oriakhi playing alongside each other in the middle of UConn’s defense. Not only would they be a two-man block party defensively, but their simultaneous presence would make it difficult for opposing defenses to double-team either of them. Unfortunately, none of that has happened. Drummond is a difference-maker defensively and he has shown flashes offensively, but he remains inconsistent and sometimes timid.

Oriakhi probably deserves his own number in this column as this season has been nothing short of an unmitigated disaster for the junior captain. He was supposed to assume a larger role offensively and blossom into one of the conference’s best big men. Instead he has seen his minutes drop and as a result he is averaging a paltry 6.5 points and 4.9 rebounds per game and has posted just one double-double all season. According to KenPom, the Huskies are the eighth-tallest team in the country, so there should be no reason why they are being outrebounded by Notre Dame‘s undersized bunch.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Checking In On… The Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 30th, 2012

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

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • A Bad Saturday for Big East Referees:  It started in Philadelphia in the noon game between Villanova and Marquette. The referees made themselves the story of that game, calling three technical fouls and 45 total foul in a 40-minute game. That game lasted well over two hours as the officials used their whistles to take all the rhythm out of what was a very good game. James Breeding doesn’t have the best reputation across the conference for the quality of his calls, but apparently he has a short fuse as well. Breeding called all three techs and embarrassed himself on national television in the process. I realize the Big East and NCAA want better sportsmanship, but nothing Jay Wright, Buzz Williams, or Maalik Wayns did warranted a technical foul. It’s never good when officials make themselves the story of the game, but that’s exactly what James Breeding did. The bad officiating continued in the Syracuse-West Virginia game as the crew of Karl Hess, Gene Steratore and, Brian O’Connell blew a goaltending call that was obvious to the 28,740 Syracuse fans in attendance at the Carrier Dome, the ESPNU commentators, and anyone who was watching the game. While the proper call would have only resulted in a tie game and actually given Syracuse a chance to win it in regulation, it denied West Virginia a chance to force overtime. Too often, we see officials swallow their whistles in the final minute to “not affect the outcome of the game.” Once again, a crew of officials decided to do just that and that decision negatively affected the outcome. While there’s no guarantee West Virginia would have won if the game went to the extra session, the Mountaineers were denied that chance by incompetent officiating. My beef is as follows:  I’m all for player safety, but this season it has been ridiculous how many times officials have gone to the television monitor to review elbows that may or may not have been thrown during the course of a game. If they can review every elbow that was ever thrown (not needed in my opinion) as well as end-of-half scoring plays, why can’t they review a call like that? Nobody likes slow games, but the officials should be permitted to review every call they aren’t 100% sure about. All in all, Saturday was a disgrace to the officiating profession.
  • Mike Brey, Coach of the Year?: At this point, it would be hard to argue against him. The Notre Dame head coach led his team to two road wins at Seton Hall and Connecticut last week, holding the home teams to a combined 90 points. Brey’s team executed the burn offense to perfection, protected the basketball and got timely rebounds. Notre Dame, considered an afterthought after Tim Abromaitis went down with a season-ending ACL tear, is now in the thick of the NCAA Tournament conversation. Brey seems to get the most out of his teams when expectations are low, and that reputation is holding true as we head into the crucial month of February. The Irish still have work to do in order to overcome a lackluster non-conference performance but Brey has his team well on its way towards a top half conference finish.
  • Pittsburgh Wins a Pair: After starting league play 0-7, Pittsburgh has won two straight. With Tray Woodall healthy and back in the lineup, the Panthers are a team nobody wants to face down the stretch. Jamie Dixon’s NCAA dreams are almost surely extinguished, but the Panthers have an opportunity to finish the season strong and end with a respectable record. Pittsburgh’s offensive efficiency improved in a big way with Woodall’s return, but its defense was outstanding in Saturday’s win over Georgetown. The Panthers posted an 86.5 defensive efficiency rating, by far their best against a quality opponent. Their season-best was 81.0 against St. Francis (PA) on December 20, their last win before beating Providence last week. With a softer schedule in February, Pittsburgh has the potential to make some noise over the season’s final nine games.

Dante Taylor And The Panthers Are Still A Proud Bunch. (Matt Freed/Post-Gazette)

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (22-1, 9-1) – After suffering its first defeat at Notre Dame, the Orange responded well in a win at Cincinnati two days later. Kris Joseph led the victors with 17 points on eight of 11 shooting. Still without Fab Melo, the Orange big men did an admirable job in his place. Rakeem Christmas had nine rebounds as Syracuse survived an early onslaught of Bearcat three-pointers. Syracuse then beat West Virginia on Saturday in a closer-than-expected game as the Mountaineers were able to score against the zone, mostly because of rebounding. Syracuse was out-rebounded 36-20, but committed only six turnovers as it survived the blown goaltending call in the final seconds. Brandon Triche had 18 points in the win. Rebounding has been a concern all season, but it’s obvious that Syracuse is not nearly as dominant with Melo out of the lineup. Free throw shooting came and went (33% at Cincinnati, 76.5% against West Virginia) but mental toughness is one of its biggest strengths. As we head into the teeth of the season, Syracuse is more prepared to absorb and respond to every team’s best shot. This week: 2/4 @ St. John’s.
  2. Marquette (18-4, 7-2) – I’m not overly impressed every time I watch this team, but it makes the winning plays when needed most. The Golden Eagles won a pair of games last week to push their winning streak to six games. Darius Johnson-Odom, Jae Crowder, and Davante Gardner combined for 47 points in a home win over South Florida on Tuesday, equaling the total points scored by the Bulls. Marquette ventured to Villanova on Saturday and was involved in one of the more bizarre games I have seen all season across college basketball. The game lasted two and a half hours and didn’t even go to overtime. 45 fouls (three technical) were called and 57 free throws were attempted in a game that wasn’t the finest moment for the officiating crew of James Breeding, Tim Clougherty, and Pat Driscoll. Breeding in particular had a short fuse, whistling Buzz Williams for a technical when the coach simply slipped and fell down. Memo to Breeding: Get over yourself, he wasn’t showing you up. Johnson-Odom had 26 points, Crowder added 20 points and 11 boards for Marquette and Jamil Wilson added 12 points off the bench. Marquette rallied from an 18-point deficit and forced 20 Villanova turnovers to key the comeback. This is a good basketball team, but one that has a ceiling. I’m not sure the Golden Eagles have the scoring depth to make a big run in March. This week: 1/31 vs. Seton Hall, 2/4 @ Notre Dame. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

Set Your TiVo: 01.27 – 01.29

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 27th, 2012

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

There aren’t too many big time matchups on the schedule this weekend but it’s still a decent slate of games to keep you occupied.

Mississippi State @ #12 Florida – 1:30 PM EST Saturday on ESPN FullCourt/ESPN3.com  (***)

Florida May Struggle to Contain the Mississippi State Big Men

  • It has gone largely unnoticed but Florida has won six of its past seven games since losing at Rutgers in December. The Gators bring the top-rated offensive efficiency to the table and are a threat to win any game they play because of it. However, Billy Donovan’s team is thin up front and lacks the lockdown defense elite teams exhibit. Against Mississippi State, Florida could very have major problems dealing with the Bulldogs’ front line. Patric Young attempted double figure shots for only the fifth time this season against Mississippi on Thursday. Without a go-to guy in the post, Florida’s offense revolves around Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton with Brad Beal and forward Erik Murphy, a pick-and-pop specialist. Florida will attempt plenty of threes, connecting 40.7% of the time. Scoring from outside shouldn’t be a major problem against Mississippi State but stopping the Bulldogs inside will be.
  • Rick Stansbury has a huge advantage in this game with Arnett Moultrie and Renardo Sidney in his frontcourt. Florida can’t match those two players and the Bulldogs should be pounding the ball inside all day long on Saturday. However, Dee Bost has to be able to create and get into the lane in order to get Moultrie and Sidney going early and often. If Bost isn’t able to penetrate Florida’s defense, the Gators can pack it in and dare Mississippi State to beat them from the outside. Of more concern to Stansbury has to be his defense. In SEC play, the Bulldogs are allowing opponents to shoot 43.4% from beyond the three point arc. If Florida shoots anywhere near that percentage, it’s likely going to be a long afternoon at the O-Dome for the visitors from Starkville.
  • In order to steal an important road win, the Bulldogs have to rebound and score in the paint as well as in transition off long rebounds since neither team turns the ball over much. Fast break points will be at a premium in this game but whichever team wins that category will have an advantage. However, the most important part of Mississippi State’s game plan has to be defending the three point line. If the Bulldogs can’t, they won’t win in Gainesville. Even with all that said, this is a game Mississippi State can win with a strong effort. Florida needed a second half rally to defeat Ole Miss in its last game and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Mississippi State could spring the upset.
Share this story

Kentucky’s Youth and Inexperience: Does It Matter?

Posted by KDoyle on January 25th, 2012

Kevin Doyle is an RTC correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @KLDoyle11. He filed this report from the Kentucky-Georgia game in Athens Tuesday night.

Shortly after the Top 25 poll was released for the week of January 23, Kentucky head coach John Calipari was no doubt a bit uneasy seeing his Wildcats perched atop of the rankings. In Kentucky’s first stint as the #1-ranked team in America back in December, they fell to an upstart Indiana team in what has been, without question, the game of the season to date. The Wildcats led in the final minute, but two late missed free throws allowed the Hoosiers to have one final shot to win it and the rest, as they say, is history. Fast forward a month and a half and 11 games — all UK victories, by the way — and Kentucky found themselves in a similar position. In an article released by The Louisville Courier-Journal recently, Calipari explains how experiencing adversity and knowing what it feels like to lose again may not be the worst thing in the world:

I did tell them the way this is going, we probably need a loss so that we’ll come together and say, ‘We’re not losing like this.’ In other words, getting manhandled. We’re getting manhandled and winning close games, so they think it’s OK. So my thing is, let’s take it on the chin. Now whatcha gonna do? You going to say it’s OK? I don’t think they’re going to say it’s OK.

In last night’s contest at Stegeman Coliseum before a sold-out crowd of Georgia fans (although Big Blue Nation certainly made their presence felt), Kentucky was the team that did, as Calipari would call it, “the manhandling.” It was not the most aesthetically pleasing basketball game to watch as the teams combined for a mere 101 points, but Kentucky powered their way to a comfortable 13-point victory, 57-44. Georgia hung around for much of the first half, but after the under-four media timeout Kentucky exerted their will and coasted. The Bulldogs never got within single digits in the second half.

The Unibrow Is a Dominant Defender Only Scratching the Surface of His Ability

Looking back at Cal’s remarks, it is easy to side with him and say that a tough loss may be good for team morale as it would ostensibly rally the squad together and force them to refocus. He can say that the target is even bigger on their backs now since they are riding a 12-game winning streak, undefeated in the SEC, one of only three 20+ game winners, and the #1 team in the country. But, let’s be honest, they are the University of Kentucky — Big Blue Nation — the target is always on their back and every time they step on the floor the spotlight is squarely on Cal & Co. Would a loss change Kentucky’s mindset as to how they approach a future game?

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 23rd, 2012

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

Reader’s Take

The Week That Was
  • Number One Goes Down:  For the seventh time, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish took down a top-ranked team in the Joyce Center, knocking off Syracuse 67-58. Despite all of that prior success, the Irish hadn’t beaten a #1 team at home in 25 years. That didn’t matter on Saturday night. Taking advantage of Fab Melo’s absence, Notre Dame slowed the pace and worked the ball inside, scoring in the paint or kicking it out to an open shooter on the wing. Notre Dame shot 50% for the game and limited the Orange to 34%. Using a +13 edge on the glass, Notre Dame was able to control the tempo and prevent Syracuse from getting out in transition where it is so lethal. I have to say I was surprised. Looking at Syracuse’s schedule last week, I thought the Orange could run the table. They had played better than any team in the nation on a consistent basis but drove into a buzzsaw on Saturday. Even if Melo had played, I’m not sure it would have made a major difference.
  • South Florida On A Roll: It seems as if nobody has noticed, but South Florida is 5-2 in the Big East after a 2-0 week with wins over St. John’s and DePaul. USF has won on the road at improving Villanova and also took down Seton Hall at home when the Pirates were ranked. The Bulls also beat Rutgers, one game after the Scarlet Knights beat Florida. How has USF done it? Jawanza Poland has played very well since returning from a back injury and Stan Heath is getting timely contributions from guys like Victor Rudd and Ron Anderson Jr. However, the two main reasons for USF’s success are point guard play and defense. Freshman Anthony Collins has been fantastic at the point, averaging 5.3 APG in Big East play to go with a #28 national ranking in assist rate. Although he’s turning the ball over a bit too much, Collins has given the Bulls a huge boost at the most important position in college basketball after years of bad guard play in Tampa. On the defensive end, South Florida’s opponents average only 57.6 PPG, tops in the Big East. With a combination of defense, good rebounding and timely scoring, USF is starting to make some noise in the crowded middle of the Big East.

Pat Connaughton Celebrated With Fans After The Irish Stung The Top-Ranked Orange. (Matt Cashore/U.S. Presswire)

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (20-1, 7-1) – The Orange remain the best team by far in the Big East and I still think they are the best team in the nation even after losing at Notre Dame. Nothing went right for the Orange against the Fighting Irish. The Orange were out-shot 50% to 34%, out-rebounded by 13, and couldn’t string stops together when they were trying to get back in the game.  Should we have seen this coming? The cracks in the foundation appeared in a closer-than-expected win over Pittsburgh last Monday. The Panthers probed the Syracuse zone fairly well, getting to the free throw line area and making good interior passes. Fab Melo had 10 points, 10 rebounds, and six blocks in that game, but didn’t play in South Bend due to a mysterious academic issue. Pitt out-rebounded Syracuse 38-24, meaning the Orange were minus-27 on the glass for the week. Syracuse ranks #320 in defensive rebounding percentage, an issue that needs to be addressed immediately by Jim Boeheim, with or without Melo. Syracuse is struggling from three point land as well, tenth in three-point percentage in Big East games (31.9%). Scoop Jardine had 12 points and ten assists against the Panthers, but didn’t make a field goal (0-5) against Notre Dame. A tougher than expected week is ahead. Could the Orange lose again after winning 20 games in a row? This week: 1/23 @ Cincinnati, 1/28 vs. West Virginia. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

Big East Afternoon Five: 01.23.12 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on January 23rd, 2012

  1. You will have to excuse the late posting as I attended the NFC Championship game last night in San Francisco and completely shirked my Morning Five duties, so instead, you folks get an afternoon five. It’s hardly news at this point but No. 1 Syracuse suffered its first loss of the season at the hands of Notre Dame on Saturday. The Orange shot the ball terribly (18-53 for the game) and the Fighting Irish couldn’t miss, especially from behind the arc, but it certainly didn’t help that ‘Cuse center Fab Melo didn’t play in the game due to an academic suspension. ESPN‘s Andy Katz reported that the school hopes to get Melo back in time for next Saturday’s game against West Virginia, which means Syracuse fans shouldn’t be unduly worried. But Jim Boeheim’s squad does play a very good Cincinnati team tonight on the road, and they will need to rebound aggressively to make up for their center’s absence.
  2. After beating Cincinnati in overtime on Saturday, we figured it was time to give Bob Huggins and his West Virginia Mountaineers they credit they deserve, and the Charleston Daily Mail agreed. The Mountaineers were considered a tournament team before the season started, but now they are just a game behind Syracuse in the loss column and angling for a top-four seed in the NCAA Tournament. The team is led by runaway favorite for Big East Player of the Year, Kevin Jones, and volume-scoring point guard Truck Bryant, but they are also getting contributions from freshmen guards Jabarie Hinds and Gary Browne as well. Last week, we argued that it was still early to call the Bearcats the conference’s second-best team; well, it’s still too early to consider the Mountaineers the conference’s second-best team, but they have inserted themselves in the discussion.
  3. Tennessee is an improving team, especially now that they added stud freshman Jarnell Stokes in the middle of the season, but losing to the Volunteers on Saturday was a bad loss for Connecticut and their hopes for a top seed come tournament time. It is never a good thing when two players (Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier) take 35 shots and its even worse when they combine to make just 14 of those shots. Andre Drummond looked like he had turned a corner last week, but Saturday was his second-straight subpar performance and Stokes thoroughly outplayed him on both ends of the floor. Perhaps the most distressing aspect of the loss was that Niels Giffey and Roscoe Smith, two of the players supposed to replace suspended freshman Ryan Boatright‘s offensive production, were basically non-factors. The Huskies desperately need one of those two guys to get going if they are going to get back to their winning ways.
  4. Not too many people expected Louisville‘s Kyle Kuric or Pittsburgh‘s Tray Woodall to suit up when the two teams met on Saturday, but both did, to drastically different results. Kuric buried five three-pointers and finished with 21 points in 33 minutes, while Woodall went 0-5 from the field and had more turnovers (three) than assists (two) in 21 minutes as the Panthers lost and fell to a shocking 0-7 in the conference. Obviously it is good news for both teams that either player even made it onto the court, but it seems clear that Woodall is still a ways off from being 100% and he is arguably more important to Pittsburgh than Kuric is to Louisville. The Cardinals still have enough athletes to fill the scoring void of Kuric, at least in part. But the Panthers need Woodall’s playmaking ability to help the offense and also allow Ashton Gibbs to return to the wing, where he is more effective and more comfortable. It will be interesting to see if Pitt coach Jamie Dixon tries to rush Woodall back in the midst of what is looking like a lost season at this point.
  5. The last of the five is reserved for observations about someone we have already mentioned — UConn freshman Andre Drummond. Physically and athletically, Drummond is a stud. There might not be another player in the country that has his combination of size, strength, athleticism, skill, and speed. You just wouldn’t know it from watching him play recently. Saturday against Tennessee, Drummond managed just six points on eight shots in 31 minutes. And the game before, a loss to Cincy, Drummond had just four points and six rebounds on nine shots. The linked observations make a good point, it is no longer a question of talent, it is a question of desire and consistency. Drummond should not be criticized for his mild-mannered attitude off the court, it is what makes him one of the more refreshing and likable stars in college basketball. But he needs to start being more assertive on the court, and once he does, the rest of the country better look out.
Share this story