Ten Tuesday Scribbles… (With a Wednesday Twist)

Posted by zhayes9 on February 3rd, 2010

RTC contributor and bracketologist Zach Hayes will deliver ten permeating thoughts every week as the season progresses.

This week’s Scribbles column will look ahead to a couple months down the road in Indianapolis, where 65 deserving teams will be whittled down to just four, and to that blissful Monday night in April when one lucky group will be dancing at mid-court to the tune of One Shining Moment. In my estimation, there are ten squads with a promising-to-slight chance of hoisting a 2010 National Champions banner during their home opener next season. I’m here to tell you those ten teams, why they have hopes of winning a national title, what’s holding them back, and the most realistic scenario as I see it come late March or beginning of April. These teams are ranked in reverse order from 10-1 with the #1 school holding the best cards in their deck.

10. Duke

Why they can win it all: Their floor leader and senior stalwart Jon Scheyer is the steadiest distributor in all of college basketball, evident from his incredibly stellar 3.28 A/T ratio and a 5.6 APG mark that ranks third in the ACC and 23d in the nation. Scheyer is also a deadly shooter coming off screens when he has time to square his body to the basket, nailing a career-high 39% from deep to go along with 44% from the floor overall. Duke is also a tremendous free-throw shooting team as a whole and Coach K has the ability to play a group of Scheyer-Kyle Singler-Nolan Smith-Mason Plumlee-Lance Thomas that doesn’t feature one player under 70% from the charity stripe. Duke also features a ton more size in the paint than during previous flameouts in the NCAA Tournament. When Singler plays small forward, Coach K can rotate Miles and Mason Plumlee, the glue guy Thomas, rebounding force Brian Zoubek and even Ryan Kelly at two positions with no player under 6’8. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more efficient backcourt in the nation than Scheyer and Smith. And it’s widely known that exceptional guard play is the ultimate key to winning in March.

What Makes Duke 2010 Different than Duke 2006-09?

Why they won’t win it all: Depth could certainly be an issue for the Blue Devils’ chances of raising their first banner since 2001. Andre Dawkins has fallen almost entirely out of the rotation and Coach K has started to limit Mason Plumlee’s minutes during important games. Also, Brian Zoubek’s tendency to immediately step into foul trouble limits his availability. It wouldn’t shock me to see Duke play Scheyer, Smith and Singler 40 minutes per game during their time in the NCAA Tournament. That could cause those key players, who rely primarily on their jump shot, to lose their legs and start throwing up bricks. Kyle Singler isn’t quite the superstar he was last season, either. Singler’s numbers are down across the board — scoring, rebounding, FG%, 3pt% — and he’s been dealing with a nagging wrist injury that may not improve in the weeks and months ahead. Duke also lacks the athleticism of teams like Kansas, Kentucky, Syracuse and Texas. They could struggle with quicker guards like John Wall and athletic rebounders of the Damion James mold.

Likely scenario: I see Duke reaching the Sweet 16 as a #2 seed where they fall to a more athletic, quick group of guards that can explode to the rim and draw fouls. Duke may have height, but most of that height just isn’t a threat offensively by any stretch of the imagination. Eventually getting into a jump shooting contest could be the Blue Devils’ downfall if two of Smith, Scheyer and Singler go cold.

9. West Virginia

Why they can win it all: Da’Sean Butler is one of the best players in the nation when the chips are on the table. If the Mountaineers need a big shot to keep their season alive, Butler will demand the basketball and more than likely deliver. He’s downed Marquette and Louisville on game-deciding jumpers and led the second half charge against Ohio State. West Virginia is also supremely athletic and Bob Huggins’ teams always crash the boards with a tremendous ferocity. No contender can match the height across the board that West Virginia touts other than Kentucky. Huggins has experimented with lineups in which all of his players are 6’6 or taller, including 6’9 Devin Ebanks acting as a point-forward and 6’7 Da’Sean Butler capable of posting up smaller two-guards. Sophomore Kevin Jones is an incredible talent and a rebounding machine (7.7 RPG) that hits 55% of his shots from the floor and 44% from deep. West Virginia has the luxury of any of their forwards being able to step out and drain a mid-range jumper, from Ebanks to Jones to Wellington Smith to John Flowers every once in a full moon.

Ebanks is the X-factor for West Virginia

Why they won’t win it all: Let’s face it: Bob Huggins doesn’t have exactly the best track record when it comes to NCAA Tournament success. Huggins hasn’t reached the Elite 8 since 1995-96 with Cincinnati and only one Sweet 16 in the last ten years. In 2000 and 2002, his Bearcats lost just four games all season and yet didn’t reach the second weekend of March both times. Most also question whether the Mountaineers can hit outside shots on a consistent basis. They’ve struggled mightily in the first half of Big East games and can’t afford to fall behind against elite competition in March like they did against Dayton last season. Point guard play is a prudent question for West Virginia, as well. Joe Mazzulla is a quality perimeter defender and a capable distributor, but he’ll never be the offensive threat he was two seasons ago due to that shoulder injury. Darryl Bryant can certainly catch a hot streak shooting-wise, but in all honestly he’s more suited as an undersized two-guard. Bryant is averaging just 3.6 APG in 25+ MPG of action.

Likely scenario: I’m still fairly high on this team. I love Butler at the end of games and Ebanks can do anything for Huggins — from score to rebound to run the point — and Kevin Jones is one of the most underappreciated players in the Big East. In the end, I see a clankfest from outside ultimately costing West Virginia their season. And for all their rebounding history, the Mountaineers are in the mid-60s in the nation. The Elite Eight seems like a proper place for their season to conclude.

8. Texas

Why they can win it all: No team boasts better perimeter defenders than Texas. Anyone that watched Dogus Balbay completely shut down James Anderson in the second half Monday night knows he’s the best perimeter defender in the nation, even stronger than Purdue’s Chris Kramer. Avery Bradley came in with the reputation as an elite defender and he’s certainly lived up to that billing. Even J’Covan Brown off the bench is a capable defensive player and Justin Mason is a plus defender. When Dexter Pittman stays out of foul trouble, Texas boasts a legitimate shot-blocking presence that can negate quick guards on the rare occasion they slip past Balbay or Bradley. Texas is also the deepest team in the nation and Rick Barnes has the capability of playing 10 or 11 men on any night if he feels the need. The preserved minutes could pay dividends in the form of fresh players come March. Damion James should also be on a mission come March as a senior. He’s never reached a Final Four during his Longhorns career and came back for a fourth year in Austin to accomplish that very feat.

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Boom Goes the Dynamite: 01.30.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on January 29th, 2010

Welcome back, everyone!  Boom Goes the Dynamite returns for the fourth weekend of the year with a blockbuster Saturday of games that are so good that we’re getting them up today as a reminder to join us tomorrow afternoon.  With noon-to-night coverage and the fact that most of the country is completely frozen over again, we expect that you’ll be right there with us on the couch, eating a bunch of bad food and breaking down zone offenses.  We hope to see you then!

Here are the games we plan on keeping an eye on…

12 PM: La Salle at #15 Temple on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com
12 PM: Marquette at #19 Connecticut on Big East Network HD and ESPN Full Court
12 PM: Louisville at #9 West Virginia on ESPN and ESPN360.com
1 PM: #7 Duke at #11 Georgetown on CBS – RTC Live
2 PM: #4 Syracuse at DePaul on Big East Network and ESPN Full Court
2 PM: Indiana at Illinois on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com
3 PM: FSU at Boston College on Raycom and ESPN Full Court
3 PM: #25 Northern Iowa at Missouri State
4 PM: Baylor at #6 Texas on Big 12 Network and ESPN Full Court
4 PM: #23 Vanderbilt at #1 Kentucky on ESPN and ESPN360.com A
4 PM: Arkansas at #20 Mississippi on SEC Network and ESPN Full Court
6 PM: Notre Dame at Rutgers on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com
6 PM: New Mexico at TCU on CBS College Sports
7 PM: #2 Kansas at #13 Kansas State on ESPN and ESPN360.com
7 PM: Georgia at South Carolina on Fox Sports (regional) and ESPN Full Court
7 PM: Northwestern at #5 Michigan State on Big Ten Network
8 PM: Providence at Cincinnati on ESPN U
9 PM: Utah at #10 BYU on Mountain Network
9:30 PM: #8 Gonzaga at San Francisco on Fox Sports (regional)- RTC Live

We will be dividing the day into three shifts with nvr1983 starting things off then rtmsf will handle the afternoon games before John Stevens takes you into the night with late night coverage of all the day’s big games.

10:50 AM: Apparently ESPN forgot to pay the electricity bill as the lights just went out on Jason Williams. (As a college basketball fan, I refuse to call him Jay. Jason Williams was a great player. Jay Williams crashed his motorcycle.)

11:00 AM: Dear College Students of America, This is how you show up for a College GameDay. I don’t want to call anybody out, but the Kansas State fans are crushing what I saw when I went to GameDay at UNC last year. To be fair, a game against in-state rival Kansas is much, much more important than a disappointing Miami team. This seems more like a College Football GameDay and that’s what we need for the basketball version too. Right now the pressure is on Illinois, Kentucky, Washington, Syracuse, and Duke to match this atmosphere when GameDay comes to town later this year.

11:10 AM: Does anybody have a link to where we can buy one of those Frank Martin t-shirts?

11:15 AM: According to the Kansas State website, the previous record for College Basketball GameDay attendance was 6,700 at Clemson last year before they played Duke. I haven’t heard an official number for today. Bramlage Coliseum holds 12,528 and I would think they are well over half full.

11:20 AM: Is Coach K advocating for abolishing the requirement for players to spend one year in college or wanting them to stay in school for more than one semester, which is all they really have to do to be eligible to play in their freshman year? It sounds more like the former. Jay Bilas is right that this issue is more a NBA/business issue.

11:22 AM: If you’re wondering who Hubert Davis and Digger Phelps are going to pick to win the Kansas-Kansas State game, their clothes might be a pretty good clue. Hubert is wearing a purple shirt and a purple tie. Digger is wearing a purple shirt and a purple tie and he he has a purple highlighter. . .

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Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by rtmsf on January 6th, 2010

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

It has been a long time since there was a good college basketball team in the NYC metro area.  Unless you consider Storrs, CT, in the NYC metro area.

This season was supposed to be different. Seton Hall had added transfers Herb Pope, Jamel Jackson, Jeff Robinson, and Keon Lawrence to a solid core. St. John’s was bringing everyone back, including one of the most underrated players in the league in DJ Kennedy. Rutgers lost Corey Chandler, but with Mike Rosario returning alongside Gregory Echinique and Hamady Ndiaye, the Scarlet Knights were expected to be much more competitive in the league.

The non-conference season seemed promising. They combined to go 28-7 before the Big East season, which included wins over Temple, Siena, and Cornell, three teams that could very well be playing in the Tournament.  Hell, it seemed like both the Pirates and the Johnnies had a good shot at making a run to the Dance.

But a week into league play, these teams have yet to win a game, going 0-5. What’s worse is that four of those five losses have come at home.  So what happened?

For starters, injuries have played a big role. St. John’s is just getting Justin Burrell back after a sprained ankle held him out for a couple weeks, and still hasn’t had Anthony Mason, Jr., who is battling hamstring problems. Rutgers lost Gregory Echinique for the season to an eye injury. And if you look closer, four of those five losses came against teams that look destined to be dancing. In each of those four games, the loser wasn’t blown out as much as outlasted.

But the bigger issue may a bit more subtle. You see, winning is a skill; a learned trait. It takes experience, it takes leadership, and it takes smarts. It’s the ability to understand time and score, knowing when to step on the gas and when to rein it in offensively and run some clock. Its knowing what is a good shot, and the ability to run your offensive sets and get those good shots.

After watching any (or all) of these games, do you believe that Seton Hall, St. John’s, or Rutgers knows how to win a close game?

I don’t.  Can the same be said for Marquette?

The Golden Eagles were written off by a lot of people before the season started, but after an impressive showing at the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, it seemed like Buzz Williams’ team might be better than some of us thought.  But Marquette has had just as much trouble in close games. They are currently sitting at 9-5 on the season, losing those five games by a combined 17 points, three of which came on the final possession.  Two of those losses came in Marquette’s first two Big East games, as Da’Sean Butler and Scottie Reynolds both hit game-winners in the final seconds.

What does this all mean?

Well, what we know for sure is that Marquette is much better than expected, Seton Hall has a ton of talent, and that St. John’s is good (they beat Temple in Philly, and regardless of what Kansas did on Saturday, beating this Temple team in Philly is impressive) and will only get better when Mason returns.

Maybe this says more about the Big East conference as a whole than anything about a specific team.  Maybe this proves what we expected – that the Big East is incredibly balanced this season.  Maybe this shows us that the difference between finishing 12-6 and 6-12 in the league, the difference between making the Tournament and heading to the NIT, isn’t a matter of talent. Its a matter of leadership, of experience, of smarts.

Maybe the difference is simply having guys that know how to win these close games.

Other Notes

  • Of the 16 teams in this conference, there are only three that I am ready to write off: Providence, Rutgers and DePaul. One team that you may notice missing from that list is South Florida. Yes, the Bulls have started Big East play 0-2. No, the Bulls don’t have many impressive wins this season (their best are UVa and San Diego). But keep in mind that Stan Heath’s club is currently missing two of their best players – Gus Gilchrist, their leading scorer who has missed the last six games and will be out for about another month with a severely sprained ankle, and Anthony Crater, an Ohio State transfer that was suspended after he became eligible in mid-December. The Bulls are not a deep team – without Crater and Gilchrist they basically go five deep – but a seven man rotation headlined by Crater, Gilchrist, Jarrid Famous and Dominique Jones, one of the best kept secrets in the country, the Bulls will make a lot of believers.
  • UConn might be the best team in the conference in transition. Kemba Walker can lead the break as well as anyone, Stanley Robinson may be the best in the country at finishing above the rim, and Jerome Dyson attacks the rim like a running back hitting the hole on third and short. That said, where UConn will struggle is in the halfcourt until Walker learns how to run a team and an offense. Far too often, the Huskies pass the ball around the perimeter for 30 seconds, ending a possession with a headlong drive at the rim. UConn had the same problem last season, but AJ Price was excellent at taking the ball with 10 seconds on the shot clock, beating his defender, and either finding a big man at the rim or setting up an iso on the wing. Walker can’t do that. He also hasn’t developed Price’s best shot – the 10 foot pull-up. Walker isn’t going to be finishing at the rim against a set defense in this league, but he is quick enough to get into the paint any time he wants. Until Walker becomes the on-court leader that Price was, the Huskies will continue to struggle.
  • Another UConn note: has Gavin Edwards been the most surprising player in the conference this year? Probably not, but there are few that have impressed more people than Edwards. He is the Huskies’ only real threat to score in the post on anything other than a catch-and-dunk, he rebounds the ball well, he plays smart defense, and he doesn’t make mistakes. Hell, he has played well enough to garner attention from the NBA. I guarantee not one person thought this kid had a shot at the league after his first two seasons.
  • West Virginia’s point guard issues were exposed by Pitt. They couldn’t run any offense in the second half, committed far too many live-ball turnovers, and as a result dug themselves into a big hole as Purdue got layup after layup. But we knew that was going to happen as the Mountaineers dealt with injuries to Truck Bryant and Joe Mazzulla. The bigger concern may have been on the glass. Granted, there are few teams in the country as adept at boxing out as the Boilermakers, but WVU still managed just seven offensive rebounds. With how much this team struggles in the halfcourt offensively, they aren’t going to win many games without easy second-chance points.
  • We’ll talk about Pitt in a bit, but if you’re a Cuse fan, don’t read all that much into the loss to Pitt. I guarantee that Jim Boeheim will put a stop to that lackadaisical defense very quickly, and there won’t be too many games where the Orange goes 1-13 from deep while their opponents shoot 10-24.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Ashton Gibbs, Pitt.  Pitt thrust themselves back into the Big East conversation with wins over Syracuse and Cincinnati this week. (Oh, and should I mention they were both on the road? Well, they were.) And Gibbs was the biggest reason why, averaging 21.5 ppg. He wasn’t just scoring points either, he was scoring important points. Against the Orange, he knocked down a number of big threes in the second half as the oft-scoring-deficient Panthers posted 53 points to overtake the Cuse. In the Cincy game, Gibbs hit the important free throws down the stretch as the Bearcats were trying to mount a comeback. With Jermaine Dixon and Gilbert Brown back for the Panthers, this team has a number of weapons on the perimeter and is playing as well as any Jamie Dixon-coached team has. But it is Gibbs’ leadership and scoring ability that is going to determine how far this team goes. When he’s efficient, they are good. When he isn’t, just go back and rewatch the Indiana loss to see what happens.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Pittsburgh Panthers.  I don’t like doing this. I don’t like giving the POTW and the TOTW awards to the same program. But who else deserves this? Georgetown went 2-0 this week, but beating St. John’s at home and DePaul shouldn’t get you a TOTW. Villanova won at Marquette, but is that anywhere near as impressive as Pitt winning at Syracuse and Cincinnati? West Virginia and Louisville both lost marquee non-conference games. Everyone else had a loss during the week. Marquette was two good defensive possessions away from being 2-0 with wins over two of the Big East favorites, but as it stands they went 0-2 on the week.  Which leaves us with Pitt. In the paragraph above, you already learned about Pitt’s two impressive road wins. Perhaps the key for the Panthers this week was their two mid-season additions. Jermaine Dixon scored 21 big points against Syracuse, while Gilbert Brown had 13 of his 17 points in the second half to hep the Panthers pull away from Cincy. What this means is that Pitt now has four or five legitimate scoring threats on their perimeter. While neither Dante Taylor, Nasir Robinson or Gary McGhee will be confused with an offensive force in the paint, the three provide toughness, defense, and the ability to finish at the rim. All of a sudden, the Panthers have enough offensive firepower to allow them win games with their defense. Is this just a flash in the pan, or is Pitt for real? I’m leaning towards the latter after this week.

POWER RANKINGS

1. Syracuse: 13-1, 1-1

Last Week: 1/2 vs. Pitt 72-82

This Week: 1/6 vs. Memphis, 1/10 vs. South Florida

2. Villanova: 12-1, 1-0

Last Week: 1/2 @ Marquette 74-72

This Week: 1/6 vs. DePaul, 1/9 vs. Marquette

3. West Virginia: 11-1, 2-0

Last Week: 1/1 @ Purdue 62-77

This Week: 1/6 vs. Rutgers, 1/9 @ Notre Dame

4. Pitt: 13-2, 3-0

Last Week: 1/2 @ Syracuse 82-72, 1/4 @ Cincinnati 74-71

This Week: N/A

5. Georgetown: 11-1, 2-0

Last Week: 12/31 vs. St. John’s 66-59, 1/3 @ DePaul 67-50

This Week: 1/6 @ Marquette, 1/9 vs. UConn

6. UConn: 10-3, 1-1

Last Week: 12/30 @ Cinci 69-71, 1/2 vs. Notre Dame 82-70

This Week: 1/6 vs. Seton Hall, 1/9 @ Georgetown

7. Cincinnati: 10-4, 2-1

Last Week: 12/30 vs. UConn 71-69, 1/2 @ Rutgers 65-58, 1/4 vs. Pitt 71-74

This Week: 1/6 vs. Cal St. Bakersfield, 1/9 @ Seton Hall

8. Louisville: 10-4, 0-1

Last Week: 12/30 vs. South Florida 73-52, 1/2 @ Kentucky 62-71

This Week: 1/6 @ Providence, 1.9 vs. St. John’s

9. Marquette: 9-5, 0-2

Last Week: 1/2 vs. Villanova 72-74

This Week: 1/6 vs. Georgetown, 1/9 @ Villanova

10. Notre Dame: 13-3, 2-1

Last Week: 12/30 vs. Providence 93-78, 1/2 @ UConn 70-82, 1/5 vs. South Florida 74-73

This Week: 1/9 vs. West Virginia

11. South Florida: 10-4, 0-2

Last Week: 12/30 @ Louisville 52-73, 1/5 vs. Notre Dame 73-74

This Week: 1/10 @ Syracuse

12. St. John’s: 10-4, 0-2

Last Week: 12/31 @ Georgetown 59-66, 1/3 vs. Providence 74-59

This Week: 1/9 @ Louisville

13. Seton Hall: 9-4, 0-2

Last Week: 1/2 vs. Virginia Tech 94-103 OT

This Week: 1/6 @ UConn, 1/9 vs. Cincinnati

14. Providence: 9-5, 1-1

Last Week: 12/30 @ Notre Dame 78-93, 1/2 @ St. John’s 74-59

This Week: 1/6 vs. Louisville, 1/9 vs. Rutgers

15. Rutgers: 9-4, 0-1

Last Week: 1/2 vs. Cincinnati 58-65

This Week: 1/6 @ West Virginia, 1/9 @ Providence

16. DePaul: 7-7, 0-2

Last Week: 1/3 vs. Georgetown 50-67

This Week: 1/6 @ Villanova

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Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by rtmsf on December 30th, 2009

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

Here we are on the brink of Big East play. What does that mean? MID-SEASON AWARD TIME!!!

Co-Players of the Year: Da’Sean Butler, West Virginia and Wes Johnson, Syracuse

Depending on who you ask, these two are in the mix for the national player of the year. Butler (16.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 3.8 apg) has been the best player for West Virginia, even sliding over and playing some point guard in the past few games as Joe Mazzulla works his way back from a shoulder injury and Truck Bryant battles ankle and groin injuries. Butler may not be West Virginia’s best NBA prospect, but he has been the Mountaineers’ most valuable player this season. He is their best scorer in the halfcourt, and is quick becoming their best creator. He can step outside and knock down a three or run the point just as well as he can post up a smaller defender. He’s also hit two game-winners in the last two weeks.

Johnson has really lived up to the excessive hype he had in the preseason. He is averaging 17.0 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 2.3 spg, and 2.0 bpg while shooting 51.1% from three. His length, athleticism and versatility has been his biggest assets; he makes it so difficult for opposing players on the baseline in the Cuse zone; he plays like a three on the offensive end, but blocks shots and rebounds like a four on the defensive end; and most importantly, he can really score, be it in transition or in the half court set. Think the love child of T-Mac and Shawn Marion. Scary, right?

Freshman of the Year: Lance Stephenson, Cincinnati

Born Ready wasn’t quite born ready, but 11 games into the season, its pretty clear that Stephenson is going to be a player in this league. Stephenson has averaged 12.5 ppg and 2.4 apg, but more than the numbers he has put up, it has been what he hasn’t done that has been most important – this kid is not a distraction. Yes, he does have his outbursts (his reaction at the end of the Gonzaga game and his yapping at Chris Mack in the Xavier game come to mind), but what 19 year old doesn’t? Cincy has struggled a bit early in the season as they haven’t quite lived up to some of the lofty expectations, but none of that has been Lance’s fault. He makes smart plays, he makes unselfish plays, and, most importantly, he simply makes plays.

All-Conference Teams

1st team

  • Luke Harangody, Notre Dame: 24.2 ppg, 9.9 rpg
  • Jerome Dyson, UConn: 19.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4.7 apg
  • Lazar Hayward, Marquette: 19.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg
  • Dominique Jones, South Florida: 18.6 ppg, 5.8 apg, 4.8 rpg, 2.2 spg
  • Kevin Jones, West Virginia: 15.1 ppg, 7.6 rpg

2nd team

  • Jeremy Hazell, Seton Hall: 23.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.2 spg
  • Stanley Robinson, UConn: 17.0 ppg, 7.4 rpg
  • Scottie Reynolds, Villanova: 17.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 3.5 apg
  • DJ Kennedy, St. John’s: 16.6 ppg, 6.3 rpg
  • Greg Monroe, Georgetown: 15.3 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 3.0 apg

3rd team

  • Andy Rautins, Syracuse: 9.5 ppg, 5.2 apg, 2.5 spg
  • Herb Pope, Seton Hall: 13.8 ppg, 12.4 rpg, 2.4 bpg
  • Samardo Samuels, Louisville: 16.8 ppg, 7.6 rpg
  • Antonio Pena, Villanova: 13.1 ppg, 8.9 rpg
  • Gus Gilchrist, South Florida: 18.8 ppg, 7.4 rpg

Biggest Surprise – team: Syracuse

If I have to explain this to you, you should be reading Perez Hilton and not Rush the Court.

Biggest Surprises – player: Kevin Jones, West Virginia and Tim Abromaitis, Notre Dame

We knew that Jones was good. He’s long, he’s strong, he’s athletic, and he has a nose for the ball, which makes him a perfect fit for a Bob Huggins-coached team. But did anyone expect him to be West Virginia’s best low post player? He has given the Mountaineers a true low-post threat, he can knock down threes, and he attacks the offensive glass very hard. 15.1 ppg and 7.6 rpg is just the beginning for this kid.

Tim Abromaitis is a different story. He barely played as a freshman and redshirted last year, and when Scott Martin went down with an ACL injury in the preseason, a chance was given and Abro has made the most of it. He is averaging 15.8 ppg while shooting 50.7% from three, giving Notre Dame another option if defenses collapse on Harangody. If he can bulk up a bit and become a better rebounder, Abro may be an all-conference player when it is all said and done.

Biggest Disappointment – team and player: Deonta Vaughn, Cincinnati

I really thought that the Bearcats were going to make a push for the Big East crown this season. With Vaughn teaming up with Stephenson and Cashmere Wright on the perimeter and Yancy Gates anchoring a big, physical front line, I thought this team had the roster to be a factor. But with Vaughn’s early season struggles, Cincy has lost three games in the non-conference, and has yet to look like a contender. For the first time in his career, Vaughn is averaging below double figures at just 9.8 ppg, but lets face it – he is just too talented to struggle for a full season. I’m not writing off the Bearcats just yet.

The runner-up for most disappointing team is Seton Hall. The Pirates have a ton of talent, but they just don’t have the team chemistry to compete with the big dogs. I’m not talking about the players getting along. They may very well be best friends. What I mean is that this team just doesn’t play well together right now. Jeremy Hazell, as good as he is, seems to be more concerned with finding his best shot of offense as opposed to the team’s best shot. Herb Pope is a load on the block, but he can’t hit free throws, turns the ball over too much, and seems lost offensively at times. Eugene Harvey, Keon Lawrence, Robert Mitchell, Jeff Robinson – these guys over-dribble and don’t consistently take good shots. Seton Hall could easily be 2-0 in the league right now, but instead they have dropped two heartbreakers early on, and in a league as balanced as the Big East is, that is going to be a tough thing to overcome.

Coach of the Year: Norm Roberts, St. John’s

The Johnnies are flirting with the bubble this season, and with a good performance in the Big East, the Red Storm could very well make it back to the tournament this season. And keep in mind that St. John’s has done this without Anthony Mason, Jr., playing a minute yet this season and with Justin Burrell missing a few weeks with an ankle injury.

Notes

  • West Virginia is currently playing with five forwards in their starting line-up – Butler, Jones, Ebanks, Wellington Smith and John Flowers – as Truck Bryant battles ankle and groin injuries and Joe Mazzulla makes his way back from a shoulder injury. This creates two problems for the Mountaineers – they are struggling against pressure defenses and creating easy shots in the halfcourt, and they give up way too much penetration. This was completely evident against Marquette, as the Golden Eagles spread the floor, attacked gaps, and got a number of wide-open looks from three. But this is a good thing for WVU, believe it or not. Mazzulla is not going to be healthy this season (he’s playing right now with the inability to raise his left arm – he’s shooting free throws right handed as a lefty), which means that once Bryant gets healthy, they will have one true point guard. If injuries our foul trouble strikes later in the season, learning to play with five forwards now is better than learning in March.
  • UConn has two major achilles heels this season – depth and free throw shooting. The addition of Ater Majok is not going to be as influential as many believe. Majok is long and plays with energy, but he has no basketball IQ and he is nothing more than length right now – he’ll block a few shots and grab a few boards, but he’s a 12-15 mpg player at best. Jamal Coombs-McDaniel has played well in the last couple of games, but he is still learning what it takes to compete in the Big East. This is still basically a five player team. But the bigger issue will be free throw shooting. Neither Stanley Robinson nor Jerome Dyson are great free throw shooters, which is a big problem when you consider how often these two are going to get to the line the way they attack the rim. UConn is going to struggle to put points on the board, and a few missed free throws are going to make a huge difference. You can argue pretty convincingly that it cost them both the Duke and Kentucky games.
  • Villanova is not going to be a great team until they play better defense. KenPom has them at 89th in the country right now in tempo-free defensive efficiency. They give up too much penetration, allow too many open threes, and don’t have the size inside to prevent post-ups and defend at the rim. This team is really going to miss Dwayne Anderson and Shane Clark, but hopefully getting Reggie Redding back will make a difference.
  • Jeremy Hazell scored 41 and 38 points in losses to West Virginia and Syracuse, respectively, but it took him 64 shots to do so. He needs to be more efficient and/or take better shots for the Pirates. Any above average guard in this league could put up those numbers with that many shots.
  • Chris Wright had 34 points in Georgetown’s win over Harvard, but lost in that was the fact that he still had 4 turnovers and just 4 assists. On the season, he is only averaging 3.5 apg and 3.0 turnovers.

Power Rankings

1. Syracuse – 13-0, 1-0

Last Week: 12/29 @ Seton Hall 80-73

Next Week: 1/2 vs. Pitt

2. West Virginia – 10-0, 2-0

Last Week: 12/26 @ Seton Hall 90-84, 12/29 vs. Marquette 63-62

Next Week: 1/1 @ Purdue

3. Villanova – 11-1

Last Week: 12/23 vs. Delaware 97-63

Next Week: 1/2 @ Marquette

4. Georgetown – 9-1

Last Week: 12/23 vs. Harvard

Next Week: 1/3 @ DePaul

5. UConn – 9-2

Last Week: 12/27 vs. Iona 93-74

Next Week: 12/30 @ Cincy 69-71, 1/2 vs. Notre Dame

6. Louisville – 9-3

Last Week: 12/23 vs. Louisiana-Lafayette 84-69, 12/27 vs. Radford 79-53

Next Week: 12/30 vs. South Florida 73-52, 1/2 @ Kentucky

7. Cincinnati – 8-3

Last Week: none

Next Week: 12/30 vs. UConn 71-69, 1/2 @ Rutgers, 1/4 vs. Pitt

8. St. John’s – 10-2

Last Week: 12/23 vs. Bryant 80-44

Next Week: 12/31 @ Georgetown, 1/3 vs. Providence

9. Marquette – 9-4, 0-1

Last Week: 12/27 vs. Presbyterian 102-62, 12/29 @ Marquette 62-63

Next Week: 1/2 vs. Villanova

10. Notre Dame – 10-2

Last Week: none

Next Week: 12/30 vs. Providence 93-78, 1/2 @ UConn, 1/6 @ South Florida

11. South Florida – 10-2

Last Week: none

Next Week: 12/30 @ Louisville 52-73, 1/5 vs. Notre Dame

12. Seton Hall – 8-3, 0-2

Last Week: 12/26 vs. West Virginia 84-90, 12/29 vs. Syracuse 73-80

Next Week: 1/2 @ Virginia Tech

13. Pitt – 11-2, 1-0

Last Week: 12/28 vs. DePaul 65-52

Next Week: 1/2 @ Syracuse, 1/4 @ Cincinnati

14. Rutgers – 9-3

Last Week: 12/28 @ UNC 67-81

Next Week: 1/2 vs. Cincinnati

15. Providence – 8-4

Last Week: none

Next Week: 12/30 @ Notre Dame 78-93, 1/3 @ St. John’s

16. DePaul – 7-6, 0-1

Last Week: 12/28 @ Pitt

Next Week: 1/3 vs. Georgetown

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2009-10 Conference Primers: #3 – Big East

Posted by rtmsf on November 5th, 2009

seasonpreview

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

Predicted order of finish:

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

Preseason Awards.

  • Player of the Year. Luke Harangody, Notre Dame
  • Newcomer of the Year. Lance Stephenson, Cincinnati
  • Breakout Player of the Year. Kemba Walker, UConn

big east logo

All-Conference First Team.

  • Kemba Walker, UConn
  • Scottie Reynolds, Villanova
  • Devin Ebanks, West Virginia
  • Greg Monroe, Georgetown
  • Luke Harangody, Notre Dame

All-Conference Second Team.

  • Jerome Dyson, UConn
  • Deonta Vaughn, Cincinnati
  • Da’Sean Butler, West Virginia
  • Wesley Johnson, Syracuse
  • Lazar Hayward, Marquette

All-Conference Third Team.

  • Lance Stephenson, Cincinnati
  • Corey Fisher, Villanova
  • Jeremy Hazell, Seton Hall
  • Stanley Robinson, UConn
  • Samardo Samuels, Louisville

All-Rookie Team.

  • Lance Stephenson, Cincinnati
  • Peyton Siva, Louisville
  • Maalik Wayns, Villanova
  • Dante Taylor, Pitt
  • Mouphtaou Yarou, Villanova

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RTC 2009-10 Top 65 Games: February/March (Part One)

Posted by zhayes9 on October 25th, 2009

seasonpreview

The final two-part edition of our Top 65 games delves into the exciting stretch run of the final five weeks. These highlighted games should have tremendous implications on seeding and conference standings with heated rivals doing battle in the final push towards March Madness. Here’s a preview of what’s guaranteed to be the best slate of games 2009-10 has to offer (top games of November/December and January in case you missed it):

Note: we are not including projected matchups from the preseason tournaments in these 65 games because those will be analyzed separately.

February 1- Texas @ Oklahoma State (#33 overall)- Hard to imagine you won’t see plenty of scoring in this Big 12 clash. The point guard situation is a bit dicey in Stillwater with Byron Eaton’s departure, but Travis Ford loves to run and James Anderson can score with the best. Expect this to be one of the toughest tests for Texas in their pursuit of a regular season Big 12 title.

February 6- Texas @ Oklahoma (#25 overall)- This could very well be another test. Two freshmen will have to fill major roles for Jeff Capel’s squad with Tommy Mason-Griffin helping out Willie Warren in the backcourt and Tiny Gallon bulldozing opponents in the paint with Blake Griffin in LA. It’s entirely possible defensive stud Avery Bradley could earn the job of trying to lock down the quick Warren.

95208122242_Oklahoma_v_Rice[1]

February 6- Villanova @ Georgetown (#31 overall)- A Big East clash in February between two teams that have top-three aspirations in the conference. The point guard duel is a dandy with Chris Wright of the Hoyas matched up with Scottie Reynolds of the Wildcats. This should prove a worthy test for Villanova’s thin frontline trying to contain Greg Monroe, Hollis Thompson and Henry Sims.

February 6- Michigan State @ Illinois (#37 overall)- The orange-clad students right on top of the floor will be out in full force to support their Illini in hopes of knocking off the loaded Spartans. With Chester Frazier departed, it could be the freshman guard D.J. Richardson trying to contain potential All-American Kalin Lucas. There’s some tremendous outside shooting in this one from State’s Durrell Summers to the Illini’s Demetri McCamey.

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RTC 2009-10 Top 65 Games: January

Posted by zhayes9 on October 22nd, 2009

seasonpreview

Last Monday we broke down the top games of November and December as part of our season preview here at Rush the Court. As we examine the best games of the month of January, keep in mind what games during this crucial portion of the season usually represent: separating the contenders from the pretenders. With conference play heating up, the true top-seed players emerge from the pack and leap up their conference standings, while teams that may have overachieved or floated along on a cupcake-filled slate during the first two months begin to fall apart. Here are the games of great importance to circle on your calendar for January:

Ed. Note: we are not including projected matchups from the preseason tournaments in these 65 games because those will be analyzed separately.

January 1- West Virginia at Purdue (#7 overall)- The top game in the entire month of January will be played on the first day of 2010. You won’t find a more bruising, rugged and intense contest played all year with Bob Huggins and Matt Painter’s teams battling it out in East Lafayette. West Virginia is led by the shooting ability of Da’Sean Butler, the super-athletic Devin Ebanks, the two headed point-guard combo of Joe Mazzulla and Darryl Bryant and impact JC transfer Casey Mitchell. Purdue will be entering their third full season with the core of E’Twaun Moore, Robbie Hummel, JaJuan Johnson and Keaton Grant intact.

January 2- Louisville at Kentucky (#23 overall)- This game has been circled for fans of Big Blue since the details emerged of Rick Pitino’s affair and subsequent extortion mess. They’ll be on Pitino relentlessly for these transgressions because they know their ultra-talented Wildcats can back up the berating on the court. Kentucky fans will also be eager for revenge after Edgar Sosa’s stunning game-winning three a season ago crushed Kentucky in Freedom Hall. Sosa will have to handle sensational freshman John Wall this time around.

781090314285_Syracuse_v_Louisville[1]

January 9- Kansas at Tennessee (#12 overall)- If Tennessee gets into an offensive rhythm, they can hang with the Jayhawks. Look for Tyler Smith and Wayne Chism to utilize their versatility to move Cole Aldrich, Marcus Morris, Thomas Robinson and other Kansas bigs away from the basket while allowing their wings — Scotty Hopson, J.P. Prince -- to penetrate inside and draw fouls while Kansas has to recover. This could be an electric, high-scoring affair that may be decided at the foul line.

January 9- West Virginia at Notre Dame (#24 overall)- How about four top-25 games to kick off the month of January? This Big East clash is one of West Virginia’s toughest road tests in their quest of a conference title. Notre Dame recently had a long home court winning streak and the West Virginia forwards Devin Ebanks, Wellington Smith and Deniz Kilici have to deal with the likely BE POY Luke Harangody. Whether the Irish can receive production from their guards is the key.

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NCAA Preview: West Virginia Mountaineers

Posted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2009

West Virginia (#6, Midwest, Minneapolis Pod)
vs. Dayton (#11)
Fri. 3/20 @ 3:00 PM
Vegas Line: West Virginia, -8.5

wvu-vegas

Thanks to Vegas Watch for providing these graphs that measure the moving average of a team’s spread (moving avg.) over time vs. the spread for each individual game (indiv).  If a team’s moving average is higher than zero, then Vegas currently has a higher opinion of them than Pomeroy, and vice versa.

General Profile
Location: Morgantown, West Virginia
Conference: Big East, at large
Coach: Bob Huggins, 47-21
08-09 Record: 24-11, 10-8
Last 12 Games: 8-4
Best Win: 74-60, Pittsburgh, 3/12/2009
Worst Loss: 65-61, Cincinnati, 2/26/2009
Off. Efficiency Rating: 115.3, 15th
Def. Efficiency Rating: 88.0, 7th

Nuts ‘n Bolts
Star Players: Da’Sean Butler – 17.3 ppg/6.0 rpg; Alex Ruoff – 15.9 ppg
Unsung Hero: Devin Ebanks – 10.4 ppg/7.7 rpg
Potential NBA Draft Pick(s): Devin Ebanks – 8th overall in 2010; Da’Sean Butler – 41st overall in 2010
Key Injuries: Joe Mazzulla – out for season (shoulder)
Depth: 25.5% (289 nationally); percentage of minutes played by reserves
Achilles Heel: Inconsistency. WVU is the most inconsistent at-large team in the tourney, and 325th out of 344 in NCAA Division I. Since the start of conference play, their longest win streak is three games.
Will Make a Deep Run if…: Freshman Devin Ebanks continues to post personal bests in points and rebounds like he did in the Big East tournament.
Will Make an Early Exit if…: The Mountaineers keep up this hot-then-cold phenomenon that plagued them during the season.

NCAA History
Last Year Invited: 2008, Sweet 16
Streak: This is WVU’s 3rd straight trip.
Best NCAA Finish: 1959 Final Four
Historical Performance vs. Seed (1985-present): Not enough data (requires 8 bids in the period).

Other
Six Degrees to Detroit: Before hiring current head coach Bob Huggins, the WVU basketball team was under the charge of John Beilein. Beilein now coaches at Michigan, and his star player, Manny Harris, is a Detroit native.
Distance to First Round Site: 936 miles.
School’s Claim to Fame: The man on the NBA logo, Jerry West, is WVU’s greatest basketball alum, holding the school records for points and rebounds.
School Wishes It Could Forget: When football coach Rich Rodriguez left Morgantown for the University of Michigan, many Mountaineer fans were not pleased. Rodriguez and his family were the target of hate mail, vandalism, and death threats from fans angered by his departure.
Prediction: On paper, West Virginia looks like a team that can beat Kansas and Michigan State to make it to the Midwest Regional Final. However, the wild inconsistency that characterized the regular season will show up in the tournament. WVU loses in the Sweet 16, just like 2008.
Major RTC stories: Where 2008-09 Happens: Reason #20 Why We Love College Basketball and Huggins Takes the Fall

Preview written by Matt the Intern of Rush the Court

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Mr. March Headed to the NIT

Posted by nvr1983 on March 8th, 2009

We may have just seen Stephen Curry‘s last meaningful college basketball game. That may shock those of you who don’t follow college basketball religiously, but when the rest of the nation joins us in our college basketball obsession on next Sunday at 6 PM don’t expect to see Davidson among the teams selected on the CBS Selection Show. Sure we may get a cut-in to see Bob McKillop and the Wildcats sitting in a conference room with forlorn looks on their faces, but they just lost their shot at making another miraculous run when they lost to the College of Charleston for a second time this season ending their run in the Southern Conference tournament.

Mr. March Will Have to Settle For MSG, Not Detroit

Mr. March Will Have to Settle For MSG, Not Detroit

Now you may hear some pundits (read: Joe Lunardi and Andy Katz) say that Davidson deserves a bid given their tough non-conference schedule and their run last, which should be irrelevant). I’m sure that the CBS executives are secretly hoping that Davidson gets a bid as Curry would be ratings gold to the casual college basketball fan. While I won’t argue with the fact that Davidson played an incredibly tough non-conference schedule for a Southern Conference team, the reality is that they lost almost all of those games. Their only win (on the road over West Virginia) looks great on paper, but a closer looks reveals that the Mountaineers did not have Alex Ruoff that day and his replacement Joe Mazzulla only played 6 minutes (both due to shoulder injuries). Outside of that game, Davidson doesn’t have a win against a team in the top 50 in the RPI (1-4 overall) with losses against Oklahoma, Purdue, Duke, and Butler. While the Wildcats played Oklahoma close in Norman, they lost, which at the end of the day is what matters.

As it stands today, the Wildcats were only 68th in the RPI prior to their loss tonight. They now have 3 “bad losses” (to teams outside the RPI top 100) after losing to the College of Charleston twice and the Citadel. I’m not sure how the committee will treat the Citadel loss because Curry was injured, but it probably won’t matter. When you add in the fact that their strength of schedule is only 173rd nationally you have a team that’s new goal should be making a trip to Madison Square Garden. Maybe Curry should keep his head up high. He may be auditioning for his future employer.

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Checking in on the… Big East

Posted by rtmsf on February 5th, 2009

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

Remember all that talk about the Big East getting nine, maybe ten, teams into the dance? It seems like a long time ago now, as it is a legitimate possibility the league only gets seven teams in. The three teams in danger of missing out are Georgetown, Notre Dame and Providence.

The Irish are in the worst position right now. They are currently sitting at 12-8 and 3-6 in the Big East, but they are just 2-7 against the RPI’s top 50. Their RPI is 77 and their SOS is 49, which aren’t great. But the Irish still play four teams in the RPI top 20, and three more in the top 70, which means the Irish have plenty of chances to up their RPI rating.

Providence could also be in trouble. Their RPI is 63 and their SOS is 42. Their record is a little better than the Irish (14-7, 6-3), but they have struggled against the best teams (1-5 vs. RPI top 50, but 3-2 against 51-100). They, too, will get plenty of chances to improve their resume as they have five more games against the top 20.

Georgetown looks to be the safest right now. They have an RPI of 20, have played the toughest schedule in the country (and second toughest in Big East play to West Virginia). They are just 3-5 against the RPI top 50, but they do own wins against Memphis and at UConn. All Georgetown needs to keep in mind is Arizona last year. The Wildcats finished 16-14, 8-10 in the Pac-10 (good for 7th), but got into the dance as a 10 seed based on their tough scheduling (#2 in SOS).

The bottom line is that it is tough to rule out anyone near the bubble in the Big East. With so many quality teams in the league, all it would take for a Cincinnati or a St. John’s is a great finish to the season, and a run to the quarters or the semis of the Big East Tourney.

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Checking in on the… Big East

Posted by rtmsf on December 31st, 2008

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

Big East play has officially begun! For each and every team in this conference, you can essentially throw out their non-conference games because they are guaranteed at least seven games against top 25 teams (or eight, can someone please explain to me how West Virginia is not one of the top 25 teams in the country?). Get hot at the right time, reel off five or six straight wins during the right part of your schedule, and you can thrust yourself directly onto the bubble.

Granted, that is MUCH more easily said than done. As you will see, every team in this conference has a run where they will play four or five top 25 teams in the span of two weeks. Because it was a slow week (thanks Santa, but you did get me Fifa ’09 so you’re not all bad) and more than a few teams didn’t play, I am going to be giving you what I like to call “Running the Gauntlet” (patent pending), which is the string of three or four or five (or sometimes even nine) games which you will only see in happening in the Big East.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Darryl “Truck” Bryant, West Virginia

Statistically speaking, Truck had far from the best week in the conference, even on his own team. In the Mountaineers’ only game (a blowout of Ohio State) Truck finished with 11 points and 2 dimes. But it is more than his performance, it is the importance of his play to this West Virginia team. It looks like there is a real possibility that Joe Mazzulla will be out for the season, meaning that Truck is basically the only PG Bob Huggins has on his roster right now. West Virginia does not need Truck to carry this team. In fact, they are probably better when he is blending in more than standing out, so to speak. What they need from him is tough defense, ball control, and the ability to make a big shot or big play when WVU needs it. He did that perfectly against Ohio State. The Mountaineers did not play all that well against the Buckeyes, but in the second half when they were pulling away, Truck was in the middle of everything. He had a couple tough finishes on drives to the basket, he scored a few times on a fast break, and on a team that struggles to move the ball at times, he orchestrated a beautifully run offense (especially in the second half) against a pretty good OSU zone. You want a good comparison for this kid? Think Levance Fields as a freshman.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Georgetown

The Hoyas played just one game this week. It just so happened that game was a win over UConn, the #2 team in the country. The Hoyas thoroughly dominated the Huskies throughout. If there was a word that defined the Hoyas performance, it was execution. JT3 had the perfect game plan against UConn. His Hoyas controlled the pace of the game by running through their offensive sets, then exploiting any UConn break down defensively. And when they attacked, they scored just about every time, especially down the stretch. UConn just couldn’t get any stops. If it wasn’t a back door cut, it was an open jump shot or a drive to the rim, which resulted in either a lay-up or a trip to the foul line (the Hoyas hit their last 18 free throws in the second half). Last week I told you I was finally coming to terms with the fact that Greg Monroe was not going to be a star just yet. Well, against UConn, Monroe proved why he had so much hype coming out of high school. He knocked down two threes, but was able to put the ball on the floor and go by Hasheem Thabeet when the big fella came out to guard him. He made three gorgeous back door passes, two of which came off the dribble. He blocked shots, and even ripped AJ Price at half court, which led to an and-1 lay-up. The most impressive part about Monroe right now is that he does all of this within the Georgetown system. The Hoyas still have some depth problems (the only starter that didn’t play 35 minutes against the Huskies was Monroe, and he was in foul trouble during the second half), but if guys like Jason Clark, Omar Wattad (side note: I think the best sign I have seen this year came at the Georgetown-Memphis game when some fan held up “Let’s Get Wattaded”), Julian Vaughn, and Henry Sims can provide anywhere between 8-15 minutes a game each, the Hoyas should be ok because of the pace they play at.

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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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