Checking in on the… Big East

Posted by rtmsf on February 25th, 2009

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

Until Tuesday night, it was a relatively uneventful week in the Big East. The teams that should have won got the Ws, while the teams that were supposed to lose generally lost. That is, until Providence knocked off Pitt in front of packed house at the Dunk (for the record, Friar fans had one of the best ‘rushings of the court‘ that I have seen in a long time – they absolutely swallowed up the three Friar players in the center of the court).

Back to the point, not only were there not many upsets during the week, their weren’t that many outstanding performances. Weyinmi Efejuku of  Providence had 31 in a loss to Notre Dame. Ryan Ayers scored 28 in that same game, but earlier in the week struggled as the Irish lost to West Virginia. Luke Harangody had 26 and 13 in the Irish loss, but was non-existent until the final few minutes (when the game was decided) against Providence. DeJuan Blair’s 20 and 18 against DePaul (which should technically make the performance not count … it’s DePaul) is overshadowed by his 17 and 8 (and 5 turnovers and 5 fouls) in the loss to Providence.

You get the point.

Why should I be pointing that out to you? What is the significance of it? Is it just so I don’t look like a fool making my Player and Team of the Week picks?

Not exactly. It should show you that no team or player in the Big East (save for Providence, the damn Friars ruined my whole column) is stepping up to make a run at the NCAAs. As of this moment, the league should expect seven teams. After this win, Providence may be the eighth.

But Cincinnati, Notre Dame, and Georgetown all still had a realistic chance to get in by winning. Cincy’s loss to Louisville gives them a two game losing streak. A win at South Florida is not going to be enough for the Hoyas, who have now lost 9 of 11. Even Providence had lost two straight before the upset of Pitt.

Notre Dame is the only team that looks to have a little bit of life left in them. They have now won three of four, including wins over Louisville and Providence, with the loss coming at West Virginia. If the Irish can keep up their winning ways, there is a good chance the Big East could actually end up with nine tourney teams.

For the record, I’m sick of everyone talking about the Big East as the toughest conference in the country.

It isn’t.

Let it go.

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Set Your Tivos: 02.02.09

Posted by nvr1983 on February 2nd, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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Set Your Tivos: 01.17.09

Posted by nvr1983 on January 16th, 2009

Set Your Tivos

Game of the Day #1

#12 Georgetown at #2 Duke on CBS at 1:30 PM

John Thompson III might want to think about asking the AD at Georgetown for a new schedule maker. I can understand wanting to get your team ready for the tournament, but this is ridiculous. Coming off a brutal start to their Big East schedule (Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Notre Dame, and Syracuse), the Hoyas get a respite by heading out of conference with a leisurely trip to Cameron Indoor Stadium where the Blue Devils have a 67-game home non-conference winning streak. Normally a trip to Cameron would be a major focus of any team’s season, but with the Hoyas’ recent schedule it will be interesting to see if they have anything left in the tank.

This has the potential to be an entertaining game with great matchups all over the floor. The most interesting matchup will be Greg Monroe against Kyle Singler. While Monroe has more potential and will be a higher NBA Draft pick, Singler is quite talented too and plays at a high level more consistently. I’m not sure how Duke will open up because I don’t think Brian Zoubek has a chance against Monroe, but with Monroe’s tendency to coast it might not be such a big issue for stretches of the game. The matchup will be made more interesting by the fact that Duke was the front-runner for Monroe (the #1 high school recruit at times last year) for most of the recruiting season before committing to Georgetown. If Monroe had joined Singler in the middle, Coach K could have had a legitimate title contender.

If Coach K decides to put Zoubek on Monroe, Singler will end up playing against DaJuan Summers who has really stepped up his game this year (15.1 PPG on 53.8% FG and 44.4% 3FG). Either way, it should be an interesting match-up on the inside. Singler probably has the most complete game of any of the 4 bigs in the starting lineup, but Zoubek is still the weakest link of the Duke starting lineup despite his tremendous improvement since he has been at Duke.  Singler’s ability to shoot from outside brings up another intriguing aspect of this game about whether Monroe can come out and defend Singler if necessary. The Hoyas might be best served to put Summers on Singler to keep Monroe out of foul trouble because they will need Monroe to play 30+ minutes if they hope to pull off the upset in Cameron. In the end, it might be the battle on the inside and who controls the boards that will determine outcome of the game despite the talented guards on both sides.

The backcourts also provide some interesting match-ups: Nolan Smith vs. Chris Wright, Jon Scheyer vs. Jessie Sapp, and Gerald Henderson vs. Austin Freeman. All of these are intriguing match-ups with solid players who are capable of taking over a game at any time. Keep an eye on Henderson in this one since he’s the one world-class athlete on the Duke team and he has stepped it up recently including taking over the 2nd half of the game against FSU last Saturday.

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Checking in on the… Big East

Posted by rtmsf on December 25th, 2008

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

With conference play starting next week, four teams have emerged as the favorites to win the league – UConn, Georgetown, Pitt and Syracuse. After that, it is a mess of talented but enigmatic teams. Notre Dame, Marquette, West Virginia, Louisville and Villanova have all shown flashes of dominance, but have also had their flaws exposed on national TV.  By far the biggest disappointment has been Louisville. The Cardinals were a top 5 preseason team on pretty much everyone’s list, but unless Santa leaves a jumpshot under the tree for their each of the perimeter players, it could be a long year for the ‘Ville.

I’m at a cross roads right now. Is the Big East really not as good as they were made out to be, or were expectations for this conference so high that they could not have possibly lived up to them?  Clearly, Louisville is not who anyone expected them to be. Notre Dame has struggled, but they are still a top 15 team. Marquette, Villanova, and West Virginia were all borderline top 25 teams in the preseason, and not much has changed six weeks into the season.  I guess what I’m saying is that while the conference has hit a few bumps in the road, it is still as good as any conference I can remember. One thing is for sure – any Big East team that reaches the dance is going to be battle-tested.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: AJ Price, UConn

AJ Price was the reason that UConn rose from a middle of the pack Big East team to a conference title contender and a top 15 team last season. But coming off of off-season ACL surgery, Price has not been himself. Going into the Gonzaga game, he had no confidence in the strength of his knee, which is why he was not penetrating like he did last year. He was playing so poorly that Jim Calhoun was actually considering benching him (the same guy that was a top 5 point guard in the country in the last three months of the ’07-’08 season) for freshman Kemba Walker. Against Gonzaga, he returned to the Price of old. He finished with 24 points and 10 assists, getting to the line eight times (three less than he had the rest of the season combined) and hitting big shot after big shot. He hit six threes, including four in the last 11 minutes of the game. UConn’s biggest knock is their lack of perimeter shooting, which combined with their quick guards and finishers inside means that a lot of teams are going to go zone against the Huskies. Having an AJ Price that can penetrate and create against a zone makes them a much more balanced team.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Syracuse

The Orange proved a lot to me with their win over Memphis on Saturday. I’ve been up and down on the ‘Cuse team this season, mainly because of their inability to start a game strong. It happened again versus Memphis, as Syracuse found themselves down 19-9 early on before coming back to win. What was most impressive about the come back is how they did it. Eric Devendorf missed the game (but had his season long suspension reduced, maybe to as short as two games) which meant that Jonny Flynn was their only ball handler against a tough Memphis defense. Flynn, despite finishing with 24 and 6 dimes, had an up and down game where he took some ill-advised shots and made some bad passes. Neither Arinze Onuaku or Andy Rautins played all that well. Kristoff Ongenaet played just a few seconds in the first half after being benched for Rick Jackson. Outside of Jackson, no one (except maybe Paul Harris) played their best game. And Syracuse still beat a pretty good Memphis team. One more note, if Rick Jackson can emerge as another scoring threat in the post, it makes Syracuse so much tougher. Onuaku is one of the best big men in the Big East, but he has a tendency to fade during games. It almost seems as if he is pouting because of a lack of touches on the inside. Jackson has averaged 12.7 ppg and 7 rpg in the last three.

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2008-09 Conference Primers: #1 – Big East

Posted by rtmsf on November 10th, 2008

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

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

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

big-east-logo

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

So without further ado, here is your conference breakdown:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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