Season in Review: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Posted by Will Tucker on May 2nd, 2013

The Fighting Irish had an auspicious start to a season that was expected to represent a major step forward for Mike Brey’s program. But a slow start and sputtering finish to conference play, coupled with frustrations experienced against the Big East’s top teams, prevented the Irish from matching last year’s top three finish. Despite fielding one of the league’s most talented starting fives, a lack of depth hampered the Irish late in the season and contributed to yet another early exit from the NCAA Tournament.

Preseason Expectations

We ranked Notre Dame third heading into 2012-13, as did the coaches at Big East media day. Mike Brey’s roster returned its top five scorers from 2011-12 and was loaded with talented upperclassmen, namely preseason all-Big East center Jack Cooley, versatile super-senior Scott Martin and the backcourt scoring tandem of juniors Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant.

Jack Cooley,Mike Brey

Mike Brey must adjust to a life without Cooley in 2013-14 (AP Photo/Joe Raymond)

The Good

The Irish raced out to a blistering start, winning 12 in a row for the first time since 2006-07. By early January, they’d blown out #8 Kentucky at home, edged #21 Cincinnati on the road, won their first two Big East games and earned a #16 Coaches Poll ranking alongside their 14-1 record. Cooley (13.1 PPG, 10.1 RPG) lived up to his first team all-Big East billing as he shot 58% from the field and led the Big East in literally every rebounding category. Deep reserve big men Tom Knight and Garrick Sherman filled the void left by Scott Martin’s absence, and keyed huge victories over the likes of Louisville, Marquette and Villanova. The highlight of the season was, unquestionably, enduring five overtimes against the eventual National Champions after Jerian Grant scored 12 points in the last 45 seconds of regulation. Brey’s program claimed its sixth NCAA Tournament bid in seven years, and has averaged almost 13 Big East wins in each of the last three regular seasons –– a figure surpassed only by Syracuse.

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Big East NCAA Tournament Capsules: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Posted by Will Tucker on March 22nd, 2013

Notre Dame built a Tournament resume by beating top-10 ranked UK and collecting conference wins over Louisville, Marquette, Pitt, Villanova and Cincinnati. In the Big East Tournament, Mike Brey’s team bested Rutgers and Marquette, and then hung with Louisville for 25 minutes before ultimately succumbing in the semifinals for the fourth consecutive year. Despite being ranked for much of the season, the Irish were handed a seven seed due to a weak nonconference schedule and 2-5 record against the RPI top 25.

Perimeter defense is top priority for Notre Dame (credit Frank Franklin III)

Perimeter defense is top priority for Notre Dame against Iowa State (credit Frank Franklin III)

Region: West
Seed: No. 7
Record: 25-9 (11-7 Big East)
Matchup: v. Iowa State in Dayton

Key Player: First Team All-Big East big man Jack Cooley has been an offensive juggernaut for the Irish all year, shooting 57% and posting the best offensive rebounding rate in the Big East for the second consecutive season. Cooley isn’t known as a versatile defender though, and the agile shooters in Iowa State’s frontcourt will force him to guard spots on the floor outside his comfort zone. If he can defend the perimeter without posing a defensive liability, Mike Brey’s team will be able to dictate the methodical pace they prefer against the high octane Cyclones.

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Bracket Prep: West Region Analysis

Posted by AMurawa on March 18th, 2013

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Throughout Monday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (9 AM), Midwest (11 AM), South (1 PM), West (3 PM). Here, Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) breaks down the West Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC West Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCwestregion).

You can also check out our RTC Podblast with Andrew breaking down the West Region, which will drop both on the site and on iTunes Tuesday.

West Region

Favorite: #2 Ohio State (26-7, 16-5 Big Ten). Not to take anything away from Gonzaga, a team and a program that should be very pleased with itself for the excellent season it has had, but the Buckeyes get the nod by an eyelash. While the Zags have been coasting through WCC play for the past couple months, Thad Matta’s club has dealt with the gauntlet of the Big Ten and emerged with an eight-game winning streak, boasting wins over teams like Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois and Michigan State (twice). Aaron Craft, a veteran guard with plenty of great basketball in his past, is probably playing the best ball of his distinguished career. And guys like LaQuinton Ross, Sam Thompson and Lenzelle Smith are tossing in just enough offense to aid big-time scorer Deshaun Thomas. Throw in the nation’s sixth-best team in defensive efficiency and let’s make the battle-tested Buckeyes a slight favorite to repeat as a Final Four team.

Aaron Craft and The Buckeyes Have Been Through The Big Ten Gauntlet, Making Them The Slight West Regional Favorite

Aaron Craft and The Buckeyes Have Been Through The Big Ten Gauntlet, Making Them The Slight West Regional Favorite

Should They Falter: #1 Gonzaga (31-2, 18-0 WCC). It would be easy to play the contrarian here and offer up plenty of backlash to the Bulldogs’ first-ever #1 seed and name New Mexico – a pretty darn good team in their own right – as the next best team in this region. But make no mistake, Gonzaga can ball. With Kelly Olynyk, a first-team All-American favorite, the Zags have the third-most efficient offense in the nation and Mark Few’s best offensive team in his time in Spokane. And while there are some concerns about the Zags’ ability to match up defensively with big and athletic guards, this is a team that is also Few’s most efficient defensive team ever – by far. While there are plenty of potential stumbling blocks (regardless of who they face in the Round of 32, that looks like a serious rumble, for instance), the Zags definitely have the ability to reach an Elite Eight. Or better. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big East M5: 03.15.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on March 15th, 2013

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  1. Louisville beat Villanova 74-55 in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals last night with an uncharacteristic offensive distribution, scoring almost as many threes (10) as two-point field goals (13). But the Cardinals continued to weather inconsistency on that end of the floor by featuring the most efficient defense in the country. Rick Pitino remarked after the game that the 58 deflections the Cardinals caused against the Wildcats were the most he’d ever recorded since he started tracking the statistic with his teams. Pitino’s team was rewarded with a surprise locker room cameo from college basketball scholar Bill Clinton, who has paid the Cardinals a couple visits in the past, as well.
  2. Russ Smith finished with 28 points and hit four of six attempts from beyond the arc last night, but admitted he was distracted and upset all day after learning of the death of his high school coach, Jack Curran. Curran, 82, was a legend in New York City high school basketball, who coached future NBA point guards Kenny Anderson and Kenny Smith during his 55-year tenure at Archbishop Molloy. Smith learned of his mentor’s death yesterday morning, when he performed his ritual visit of his alma mater while back in New York for a game, and said it was “hard to take it all in” on the spot. “He was everything to me, and to my mom, my family. He treated everyone with respect,” Smith continued; “Today was definitely Coach Curran day for me, and it will be the rest of my life.”
  3. Notre Dame will appear in its fourth consecutive Big East Tournament semifinals after defeating Marquette 73-65 last night. The Irish came out flat against the Golden Eagles but responded with resurgent play for the latter 30 minutes after Mike Brey asked his team in the huddle if they were scared. Jerian Grant and his teammates responded in a big way for the rest of the game, with Pat Connaughton hitting another six three-pointers to score a team-high 18 points. The comeback led Jack Cooley to make some bold postgame predictions: “I think we’re going to come out strong and handle [Louisville’s] pressure phenomenally. I think we can get to Saturday night and that would mean a lot for me.”
  4. Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins laments the demise of the Big East Tournament in a scathing essay on the misaligned priorities of college administrators. “This isn’t collegiate competition we’re watching any more,” Jenkins contends, “It’s thinly veiled money laundering, and it’s ruining the NCAA’s chief commodity, which is our affection.” She places blame on the university presidents, athletic directors and conference officials who she says have colluded to engineer more lucrative arrangements at the expense of the athlete and the fan. Jenkins recalls a press conference in which she posed a question to former Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese about the ethics of vastly uneven revenue among power conference schools, to which he responded, “This isn’t communism.” In the columnist’s words “you live by the sword, you die by the sword.”
  5. Georgetown showed off its composure and balance in a 62-43 quarterfinal win over Cincinnati that was at times much closer than the score would indicate. “For the most part, this group doesn’t get rattled,” said John Thompson III, whose team weathered a three-point shooting barrage from the Bearcats that eroded a 15-point lead into a deficit early in the second half. Markel Starks said after the win that his team takes pride in its defensive adjustments, and that players’ enthusiasm for shutting down their assignments is not a new phenomenon: “It’s no formula. Everyone’s talking about our defense now, but we’ve been playing defense all year.” They’ll face a rematch from last weekend with Syracuse in the semifinals today, and will probably be making plenty of adjustments on defense as they try to beat the Orange for the third time this year.
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Big East M5: 03.14.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on March 14th, 2013

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  1. C.L. Brown at the Courier-Journal (KY) took a tour of Russ Smith Sr.’s barbershop in Harlem, and the short video is worth a watch. The elder Smith, known simply as “Big Russ,” has appointed his shop from wall to wall with memorabilia, photos and mementos spanning the Louisville junior’s career. He tells Brown that his favorite souvenir is a framed photograph of him with his son following Louisville’s Big East 2012 championship –– in his own high school playing days, Big Russ says, his teams always lost before they could reach a Madison Square Garden tournament. The father’s pride in that particular accomplishment; the way it resonated with a personal and cultural icon of his own youth, is a somber reminder of what made the Big East Tournament such a special institution.
  2. Speculation that Jamie Dixon is USC’s top choice to replace Kevin O’Neill ramped up on Tuesday when The Big Lead reported that Pittsburgh resident and Dixon acquaintance Jed Hughes is the consultant taking point at USC’s search firm. It seems like the kind of attenuated connection that has spawned many a premature proclamation of “done deal” during coaching searches (has Dixon bought a house in LA yet?), but it’s certainly plausible. Dixon is a California native, a Ben Howland protégé, and probably anxious that Pitt’s move to the ACC could jeopardize the recruiting pipelines Dixon has built in Big East country. As Cardiac Hill points out, the coach’s vague statement after the USC job opened up “generally amounts to a ‘no comment.’”
  3. Notre Dame outlasted a persistent challenge from Rutgers in last night’s Big East Tournament nightcap, carried by Pat Connaughton’s 21 points and six three-pointers. This ran counter to Notre Dame’s game plan, which Brian Hamilton points out had emphasized getting Jerian Grant, Eric Atkins and Jack Cooley going. But the 39 combined points from Connaughton and former reserve Tom Knight were all separated the Irish from a second-round loss, as Grant and Cooley went 4-of-16 from the field. With their first game jitters behind them and some reassurance that they can win without prolific scoring from their stars, Notre Dame can bring some newfound confidence to its third-round game with Marquette tomorrow night, as they strive to avenge an early March loss in Milwaukee.
  4. Seniors James Southerland and Brandon Triche found their offense yesterday, and lifted Syracuse in explosive spurts over Seton Hall, 75-63, to advance to face No. 4 seed Pittsburgh in today’s BET semifinals. After shooting 15-of-52 over his last five games, Triche scored 17 on an efficient 6-of-9 field goal attempts against the Pirates, while Southerland led the way with 20 points and six threes. Sophomore Michael Carter-Williams didn’t turn the ball over once and tied a Big East Tournament record with 14 assists. This comes just days after Boeheim said his seniors would have to play better if they had any chance at becoming a good NCAA Tournament team.
  5. USF blog Voodoo Five described the Bulls’ overtime loss to Seton Hall in the first round as “a horrid, unwatchable mess that would be hard to distinguish from the dozens of other horrid, unwatchable messes USF basketball presented us for most of the last eight seasons. Except that this time they wore Mello Yello uniforms.” Ouch. Yes, Tuesday night’s loss concluded a season of thorough regression. More importantly, the author questioned whether USF basketball has made any appreciable advances in their time in the Big East, or if the culture of the Big East had any positive impact on the neglected Tampa basketball program. It has struggled to capture the interest of its community even after last year’s Cinderella season and a beautiful Sun Dome renovation, which begs the question: “When are [students and locals] ever going to buy in again? When they’re playing Tulane and East Carolina and Memphis and Houston all over again?” It’s a bleak prospect right now.
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Three Thoughts as Notre Dame Dominated Cincinnati

Posted by WCarey on February 24th, 2013

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Sunday afternoon’s game between Cincinnati and Notre Dame. You can follow him at @walkerRcarey

Entering Sunday’s game, both Cincinnati and Notre Dame had a lot to play for in-terms of the Big East standings. The Bearcats sat at an even 7-7 in league play, but that record was a bit misleading as all but one of those conference losses was by single digits. Mick Cronin’s squad had been limited offensively since senior point guard Cashmere Wright suffered a knee injury last month and has yet to fully recover. The Irish came into the game following a win at Pittsburgh in what was one of the more peculiar games of the season. After falling behind 19-3 while shooting just 1-of-19 from the field, Notre Dame recovered to notch an important 51-42 road victory to bring its conference record to 9-5. Following the win over the Panthers, the Irish were beneficiaries of five very important off days as the team had just finished a stretch where it had played three games and six overtime periods in just nine days. Notre Dame looked like a rested team Sunday when the Irish were able to thoroughly stymie the Cincinnati offense en route to a 62-41 victory. The following are three thoughts from Sunday afternoon’s action:

  1. Cincinnati Is Not Playing Good Basketball Right Now. The Bearcats entered Sunday’s game as losers of four of their last five and that losing trend continued in embarrassing fashion against the Irish. On Sunday, the Bearcats were pretty much dominated from the opening tip and struggled to get anything going offensively as they managed to score just 41 points (only 15 in the first half) and shoot just 31.5% from the field. A lot of the Bearcats’ offensive issues can be traced to the health of Cashmere Wright, who is still struggling with a knee issue. In 23 minutes Sunday, Wright was held scoreless and only attempted two shots. Another area that give Cincinnati trouble Sunday was rebounding. The Bearcats were out-rebounded 43-27 and that advantage undoubtedly aided the Irish in transition. With five losses in six games, Cincinnati is looking further away from being a lock for an NCAA Tournament bid. If the Bearcats do not improve offensively and on the rebounding glass, they could be a team that is mentioned frequently in the bubble discussion.
  2. Notre Dame’s Defense and Rebounding Have Been Excellent Over The Past Two Games. The Irish held Pittsburgh to just 42 points on 34.8% shooting in Monday’s victory. Mike Brey’s squad also out-rebounded the Panthers by a 36-22 margin. After giving up 78 points to DePaul and 71 points to Providence in the two games prior, it was reasonable to see Monday’s performance as a bit of a fluke. The Irish were out to prove Sunday that Monday’s performance was not a stroke of luck and they succeeded by playing suffocating defense and crashing the glass with great vigor all afternoon. The 41 points scored by Cincinnati on Sunday were the fewest Notre Dame has ever given up in a Big East game. With two strong defensive and rebounding efforts under their belts, the Irish should start to be viewed as one of the premier defensive teams in the conference. Read the rest of this entry »
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Reviewing a Magical Saturday Night at Notre Dame

Posted by WCarey on February 11th, 2013

Walker Carey is an RTC correspondent. He was situated courtside for Saturday night’s five-overtime classic between Louisville and Notre Dame. You can follow him at @walkerRcarey.

Notre Dame 104, Louisville 101, in five overtimes. The events of Saturday night and early Sunday morning at the Purcell Pavilion on the campus of Notre Dame will not soon be forgotten — in fact, Notre Dame’s win over 11th-ranked Louisville in five overtimes will likely have a permanent place in Irish lore. The arena was electric all night as the Irish student section, known as the Leprechaun Legion, arrived early and brought noise and energy to the equation from before the game all the way up to when it rushed the court following the final buzzer of the fifth overtime. Even when it looked like all was lost for the Irish near the end of the second half, the building was still buzzing. For a university that has quite the reputation as a “football school,” Notre Dame showed it was plenty capable of providing an outstanding atmosphere for a major college basketball game.

While the atmosphere itself was incredible, the way the Irish topped the Cardinals was perhaps more unbelievable. Notre Dame senior forward Jack Cooley, arguably the team’s most productive player, fouled out with 6:54 to play in regulation, thus leaving the Irish with a gaping hole in the interior. Moreover, Louisville led by eight points, 56-48, with just 51 seconds to play. That was when the madness began. Notre Dame junior guard Jerian Grant, who had not made a shot from the field all evening, converted on three consecutive three-pointers and then followed that up by tying the game with an old-fashioned three-point play. When Grant’s free throw made its way through the nylon with 16 seconds on the clock, the game was tied at 60 and the Irish had erased what appeared to be an insurmountable deficit in just 35 seconds.

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Set Your DVR: Weekend Edition

Posted by bmulvihill on February 8th, 2013

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Brendon Mulvihill is an RTC contributor. You can find him @TheMulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Bubble watching has officially begun, which means March is just around the corner. With less than a month to go in the season, everything is still up for grabs in what has been a truly unpredictable season in college hoops. The Big Ten and Big East lead a solid slate of games this weekend. With epic snow hitting the east coast, it looks like most people will have to sit at home and watch hoops. Sounds great to most of us, I’d assume. Let’s get to the breakdowns!

#1 Michigan at Wisconsin – 12:00 PM EST, Saturday on ESPN (****)

Tim Hardaway Jr has had significant ups and downs so far this year.

Can Tim Hardaway Jr. continue his hot shooting from the outside against a strong Wisconsin defense?

  • On a per possession basis, we will see the best offense (Michigan) in the Big Ten versus the best defense (Wisconsin) in the Big Ten in this game. Michigan’s poor two-point shooting against Ohio State was very out of character for John Beilein’s squad. Fortunately for the Wolverines, their three-point shooting was able to carry them to a victory. Michigan went 14-24 from deep against the Buckeyes. Don’t expect Michigan to have the same success from outside against Wisconsin, as the Badgers have the best three-point defense in the conference. Watch to see if UM can bounce back inside the arc. When Michigan’s Mitch McGary is in the game, the match-up between him and Jared Berggren should be fun to watch on the inside and a key factor in the outcome. McGary is coming into his own and will be needed down low for second chance points. Expect this game to be a slow, mistake free contest. Execution of the half-court offense will be critical for both sides. The Wolverines definitely have the advantage there. Wisconsin needs to force Michigan to make tough shots. If Michigan is able to get open looks in the half-court, it will be along afternoon for the Badgers.

#2 Kansas at Oklahoma – 4:00 PM EST, Saturday on ESPN (***)

  • Just when it looked like Kansas was going to run away and hide with the Big 12 title, Jayhawk Nation got shell shocked with two consecutive losses. Not only did they lose twice, but they lost at home and then against TCU, the only team in the conference without a win. Many are calling the TCU loss the worst in Kansas history. While that may be an overstatement, Bill Self certainly has to be concerned with his team’s effort as of late. The two losses are character tests for the Jayhawks, which is what makes this road game against Oklahoma so important. It’s not all roses for Lon Kruger and the Sooners, however. They are in the midst of their own two-game slide. Oklahoma has been up and down this season and could use a big win at home to boost their tourney chances. KU has been shooting awful in the past two games, particularly from three. They are 11-46 from downtown in that stretch. Look to see if the Jayhawks try to get in the lane more often with their big guards. Given Oklahoma’s mediocrity on offense and defense, this looks like it could be a bounce back game for KU. But given what we’ve seen so far in college hoops, nothing is for sure. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East M5: 02.05.12 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on February 5th, 2013

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  1. Last night’s game between Syracuse and Notre Dame featured two top-25 teams jostling for position in the conference standings, but it also was the first and maybe the only time the Grant brothers–Jerian and Jerami–will get to play against each other in college. This will be the only meeting between the two teams this season and with Syracuse set to leave for the ACC posthaste,  who knows when the next time these two teams will play unless they meet in the Big East Tournament. The brothers are apparently quite close and Jerami even credits his older brother with making sure he didn’t give up when he wasn’t getting playing time early in the season. Jerami and his Orange repaid the older brother by throttling his Fighting Irish. Jerian may have scored more (15 to 14) but Jerami added six rebounds and two assists as Syracuse cruised to a 63-47 win.
  2. Pittsburgh finally got itself a marquee win over the weekend against Syracuse and then avoided the obvious letdown by beating Seton Hall last night for its sixth win in seven games. The Panthers tried their best to let Seton Hall beat them, shooting a season-low 34 percent from the field, but Pirates’ star Fuquan Edwin got hurt in a one-point game and Pitt managed to pull away thanks to its depth and its defense. Seton Hall is headed for a finish near the bottom of the conference, but the win was still huge since the Panthers will play three ranked teams over the course of the next nine days.
  3. The end of the James Southerland saga is now in sight according to Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports who cited a source to say Southerland’s eligibility appeal will be held Friday. Counting the game last night against Notre Dame, Southerland has missed six games and the team has gone 4-2 in his absence but surely Syracuse fans are excited to get one of their most dynamic offensive players back on the floor. Grant and Trevor Cooney were able-bodied replacements but they lack the scoring punch and athleticism of Southerland. The appeal is being heard by the university and assuming it is granted, the Orange could have Southerland back in uniform as soon as Sunday’s game against St. John’s. But few people know the severity of Southerland’s academic transgressions and even fewer will know the nature of the appeal, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves quite yet.
  4. It has been a good past few weeks for Cincinnati and coach Mick Cronin. The Bearcats have won five of their last six and currently sit just a half-game behind Syracuse in the conference standings. They also recently secured one of the more high-profile recruits of the Cronin era when the Bearcats landed New Jersey native and five-star forward Jermaine Lawrence on Sunday. Lawrence is an athletic power forward with plenty of face-up skills and decent range. He will need to add some meat to his bones but he has the frame to add serious muscle and could make an immediate impact in terms of floor-spacing and natural ability. Perhaps more importantly is that it signifies that Cronin can recruit with the big boys and once he is able to do that with consistency, the Bearcats will be a perennial contender no matter what happens to the Big East.
  5. Steve Lavin has St. John‘s playing tough basketball, which is why freshman point guard Jamal Branch‘s knee injury and presumed sprained MCL is especially inopportune. Branch has been up and down since becoming eligible,  but recently he has been a spark plug for the Johnnies and the team is 5-1 since being inserted into the starting lineup. The Red Storm don’t really have a true backup for Branch and will likely use a combination of Marc Bourgalt and Phil Greene IV at the point in Branch’s absence. Hopefully Branch isn’t out long because while Lavin’s club doesn’t quite have the look of a tournament team, they are headed in that direction in a hurry.
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Big East M5: 01.10.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on January 10th, 2013

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  1. Road teams won in each of the four Big East games last night, although Seton Hall and Providence gave ranked Louisville and Syracuse competitive tests, respectively. Elsewhere, Rutgers won a 58-56 nailbiter over St. John’s in Madison Square Garden. Suddenly, the Scarlet Knights –– whom we picked dead last in the league this year –– have won seven of eight games, are 2-1 in the Big East, and have added an elusive road win to a resume that already includes a victory over a ranked Pittsburgh squad. The back-to-back conference wins might not mean much in the long run, but for a program that’s often struggled to string together any momentum, it’s a big cause for celebration.
  2. The smoke has cleared from Georgetown’s worst home loss since the Nixon administration, and Rob Dauster at College Basketball Talk says the Hoyas’ offensive frustrations are seeping into their defensive effort. As if it wasn’t obvious, this team isn’t equipped to score a bunch of points: “Georgetown does not have the talent to get baskets outside of their system. Factor in that they don’t have the ideal personnel for their system, and this is the result.” But if the Hoyas let their shooting struggles sap their defensive intensity, this won’t be the last blowout they suffer in the Big East. Given the athleticism and lanky dimensions of their starting five, Dauster suggests Georgetown needs to be producing more opportunistic points off of turnovers and steals.
  3. Pete Thamel reported that representatives from the Catholic Seven and FOX met yesterday to discuss a possible television contract. Previous estimates projected a deal that could net each school $3 million annually, substantially more than the Big East was likely to fetch in its media rights negotiations. Interestingly, Thamel’s report mentions that FOX hopes to make the league’s basketball product the centerpiece of its next sports network, which it hopes to roll out this fall. If the Catholic Seven agrees in principle to a deal with the network, you can bet that their new TV partners will do everything in its power to get those schools out of the Big East before the 2013-14 season. Postscript: Weeks ago, I argued the reconstituted Big East (or, Zombie Big East as it shall henceforth be christened) should add VCU before the Catholic Seven offered. Looks like enthusiasm for the Rams within the C7 is indeed picking up steam, cultural differences notwithstanding. Oh well.
  4. Bearcats Blog broke down 10 plays Notre Dame ran against Cincinnati on Monday and sought some answers in their snapshots. What stuck out? Bad defensive rotations, missed assignments, and post-switch mismatches that Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant exploited with ease. It’s as much a tribute to Notre Dame’s flawless offensive execution as it is an indictment of Bearcats’ mistakes. But it’s a very interesting read, and you can bet Mick Cronin’s team is being shown tape of many of these plays this week.
  5. Speaking of that efficient Notre Dame offense, the Irish have three ball-handlers with assist-to-turnover ratios above 2.0, which is an impressive testament to the “culture of passing” Mike Brey has cultivated with this team. Eric Atkins (109 assists, 28 turnovers; 3.9 ratio), Pat Connaughton (42 A, 11 TO; 3.8) and Jerian Grant (79 A, 35 TO; 2.3) form a triumvirate of absurdly well-measured passers. Brey intimated to Chicago Tribune reporter Brian Hamilton that keeping his rotation small allows his players to play looser: “There is great trust, because it’s not like there are 10 guys playing. Guys know they’re going to be out there, they’re more comfortable to (share the ball) because know they’ll be out there a while.”
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Big East M5: 01.04.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on January 4th, 2013

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  1. Following Providence’s loss to Louisville this week, Ed Cooley called the Cards the best team in the country. While it’s not rare for a coach to stump for one of his conference-mates in a discussion like this, Cooley may very well be right. Louisville has tremendous depth, a legitimate All-America candidate in Russ Smith, and their only loss was to current #1 Duke by five points without defensive enforcer Gorgui Dieng in the lineup. Cooley went on to praise Louisville’s style of play, and probably thanked a higher power that he wouldn’t need to play them annually in a few years time.
  2. Increased off-the-ball movement has led to more scoring opportunities for Notre Dame, and the Irish offense seems to be rolling as Big East play opens. In Tom Noie’s piece, Jerian Grant discusses how the offense switched from an emphasis on ball screens to one on cuts and constant motion, leading to more scoring opportunities for the Irish — who are averaging just under 80 points per game since the last week in November. Mike Brey has also allowed his star guards to open things up a bit more this season, according to Eric Atkins: “Coach has given Jerian and I the green light to get it and go and really push it whenever we see fit. That’s helped us get out in transition.  All that combined has really gotten the points up higher than we normally have had.”
  3. Credit Shabazz Napier for taking a strong leadership role in what was destined to be a tough year for the UConn program. He has taken over as the Huskies’ leading scorer, as expected, but he is doing so with increased efficiency as well. Last season, Napier scored 1.17 points per shot, but this year he’s at a vastly improved 1.46 points per shot.  He’s also attacking the boards with a team-leading 4.2 rebounds per game and 23 rebounds in his last three contests. Napier may not be able to make a Kemba Walker-type run in the NCAA tournament as a junior, but he has done his best Walker impression as a do-it-all star for UConn so far this year.
  4. The great Jim Boeheim legacy debate continues to rage on, and yesterday the Los Angeles Times’ Diane Pucin had a little round table discussion with Shannon Ryan of the Chicago Tribune and Dom Amore of the Hartford Courant about whether Boeheim is the second best coach in NCAA history. Pucin is the person most open to the notion that Boeheim ranks up there with Coach K, Bob Knight, and John Wooden, while the other two writers have more reservations about ranking him that high do to his sole national championship. Amore probably sums the whole exercise best to close the piece: “Boeheim should be respected and admired as one of the greatest coaches, a significant figure in the history of his sport. No. 2? Top 10? … Top 10 sounds about right, but ranking him is as complicated as it is unnecessary.”
  5. With the loss of Yancy Gates after last season, Cincinnati had a pretty sizable hole to fill down low, but they are getting some decent production from junior David Nyarsuk. Nyarsuk, a native of the Republic of South Sudan who spent his first collegiate year at NAIA Mountain State University, has come on a bit of late, and is now averaging 4.6 points and 3.7 rebounds in just under 15 minutes per game. Nyarsuk may not be in line for any all-conference honors, but if he can continue to learn the game and increase his effectiveness, he will play an important role for the Bearcats this year. He is Cincinnati’s tallest player at 7’1″, and is really the team’s only other option at center besides 6’10” Chiekh Mbodj.
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Big East M5: End of the World (And I Feel Fine) Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on December 21st, 2012

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  1. The system that Buzz Williams has put into place at Marquette has generally done a good job of preventing major letdowns after the Golden Eagles lose significant contributors. However, this year’s Marquette squad has struggled at times, especially during Wednesday’s loss to Wisconsin-Green Bay. What looked to be a solid core that includes Vander Blue, Junior Cadougan, Davante Gardner, Jamil Wilson, and Chris Otule has really struggled to score this year, with only Blue and Gardner averaging double figures in points at just over 12 per game each. The Eagles are 162nd in the country in scoring this season, at 68.6 points per game
  2. Many coaches contend that some of the best games for a developing team are the ones that count in the win column but feel like losses. Jim Boeheim’s 900th career victory sure felt like a loss in many ways, and he will find plenty of teachable moments in Syracuse‘s near-collapse against Detroit. This was the first game all year where the Orange really had their backs against the wall, and that situation provides good feedback to Boeheim and his coaching staff. “These are things that usually you don’t learn from games that you win, but usually players almost need to lose a game to really think about things such as ‘this is what we have to do’ and I think this game feels more like a loss. It’s good to get one that feels like it but isn’t and I think we’ll be able to look at some plays.”
  3. The Kevin Ollie situation seems to be wearing on UConn, as evidenced by comments made by Shabazz Napier following a Thursday practice: “Warde (Manuel), our AD, we all know what he’s doing… After (beating) Michigan State, I felt like he was going to get this job, but sometimes it doesn’t seem that way. I’ve kind of come to terms that, no matter what we do, it’s not going to be in our hands. We can win as many games as we want, I still don’t believe it’s going to be in our hands where he’s going to give him a job.” With no postseason prospects to look forward to, the chance to win long-term job security for Ollie is one of the tangible things that the Huskies have to play for this year; but if new athletic director Manuel is really that difficult to win over, it will be interesting to see how the team reacts.
  4. One of the major categories that hurt USF early on this year was their mediocre efforts on the glass. Enter: Victor Rudd. After seeing the Bulls get dominated in the rebounding department through the first few games of the year, Rudd took it upon himself to excel in this area and he is now averaging 8.2 boards per game, good for third in the Big East. Rudd’s rebounding prowess, coupled with improved play from Toarlyn Fitzpatrick and Anthony Collins, has helped the Bulls recover from a slow start. USF has won four of its last five games, with the only loss coming to a ranked Oklahoma State squad.
  5. According to Blue and Gold Illustrated‘s Wes Morgan, Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant has a bruised back and may miss the Irish’s game against Niagara tonight. After scoring 14 points the last time out, Grant left Notre Dame’s game against Kennesaw State after a collision with an Owls player. Grant, who is second on the Irish in scoring this year, would be a big loss if he misses extended time, but Mike Brey’s squad should not have any issue with a 5-6 Niagara squad tonight with or without him in the lineup.
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