Conference Report Card: Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 19th, 2011

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor. We will be publishing a series of conference report cards over the next week for conferences that got multiple NCAA bids to recap the conference, grade the teams, and look at the future for the conference.

Conference Recap

  • College basketball has never witnessed a season like this year’s Big East. The conference destroyed its own record of eight NCAA bids by placing 11 clubs in the Big Dance this year and also claimed the national champion with Connecticut, which spent most of the season in the middle of the pack in the Big East. The Huskies also gave the conference its first title since the Huskies last did the trick in 2004. While there was not a truly great team in the Big East (including Connecticut), the league was better than any other from top to bottom. Of the five teams that failed to make the NCAA Tournament, only South Florida and DePaul were truly uncompetitive. Rutgers showed signs of improvement while Seton Hall managed to win seven league games and gave some good teams a major scare in the process. Even Providence, which finished 4-14, knocked off Louisville and Villanova in consecutive games back in January. Despite the lackluster NCAA showing by most Big East members, it says here the conference boasted the best player in the nation (sorry, Jimmer) and a deserving national champion. Additionally, ten Big East teams were ranked in the AP Top 25 at some point this season. Say what you want about its postseason performance (it’s certainly fair to bash the league in that regard), but this was by far the best conference in the nation this year.

Jim Calhoun (left) and Kemba Walker will be inextricably linked to UConn's memorable NCAA Tournament run. (Reuters/Lucy Nicholson)

Team-by-Team (teams are in order of finish, but grades are based on performance vs. expectations):

  1. Pittsburgh (28-6, 15-3): The regular season was terrific once again for Jamie Dixon and the Panthers but, as has become common over the years, they fell short of their goal–getting to the Final Four. Pittsburgh lost four of their final eight games after starting the season 24-2. A mid-season injury to Ashton Gibbs was thought to bring them down a peg, but Pitt responded with wins at West Virginia and Villanova without him to quiet any doubters. That turned out to be their peak. Dixon did not really test his team out of conference except for two games at Madison Square Garden against Maryland and Texas back in November as part of the 2K Sports Coaches vs. Cancer event and a “home” game (in Pittsburgh) against Tennessee, which they lost. Looking back, one theory could be that an average non-conference schedule did not adequately prepare this team for the NCAA Tournament which is all about match-ups and teams you haven’t seen before from other leagues. While Big East coaches love to use the strength of the league as a crutch when questioned about a lack of non-conference heft to their schedule, I think this is a theory that has to be taken into consideration. Big East play is obviously rough and tumble every night but that can actually be a detriment come tournament time when games are officiated tighter and you don’t have as much time to prepare for an opponent who you likely don’t know very well, if at all. Pitt will lose Gilbert Brown, Brad Wanamaker, and Gary McGhee to graduation while Gibbs tests the NBA waters. I expect Gibbs to come back to join a very good recruiting class led by five-star forward Khem Birch. Despite the loss of three senior leaders, look for Pitt to be in the thick of the Big East race yet again next season. Dixon has established a culture of winning and I have learned never to doubt him after witnessing the 2009-10 campaign, a season that certified Dixon as one of the best basketball minds in the country. While this year was a great success during the regular season, Pitt’s inability to get to the Sweet Sixteen and eventually the Final Four renders this year a disappointment. GRADE: B- Read the rest of this entry »
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Set Your Tivo: 03.02.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 2nd, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Every night is big this time of year for different reasons. Four Big East teams fight for a bye in the conference tournament while one bubble team will try to make a huge statement on the road at Duke. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

#15 Connecticut @ West Virginia – 7 pm on ESPN2 (****)

Huggins and the 'Eers End the Year With Not One, But Two Home Games, Starting With UConn

After West Virginia lost at Syracuse two weeks ago, there was some talk out there about them slipping towards the bubble. The Mountaineers have won twice since then (including a win over Notre Dame) and have locked up a bid even if they drop their final two home games. With a double-bye in the Big East Tournament out of reach for both teams, the focus now turns towards NCAA seeding and getting a single bye past the first day of the conference tournament. These teams are part of a four-way tie with Cincinnati and Marquette (also playing each other tonight) for seventh place at 9-7. They’re remarkably similar on paper; each has some shooting struggles, but they defend well, plus both dominate the offensive glass yet have a hard time clearing the defensive boards. This game will come down to offensive rebounding and whoever shows up with the most intensity on defense.

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Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 15th, 2011

 

Rob Dauster of Ballin’ Is A Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East.

A Look Back

  • Player of the Week: Dwight Hardy, St. John’s: Hardy has caught fire the past two weeks. He’s averaging 24.8 points per game over the past five games, including the 33 points he put on Connecticut on Thursday night. Then on Sunday afternoon, Hardy scored 18 big points as the Johnnies picked up a huge bubble victory at Cincinnati. We already know how good St. John’s is at home. The 17-point win over the Huskies wasn’t even one of their best two wins on their home court. What was impressive was going into Cincinnati and picking up a close win, albeit with the help of a Rashad Bishop lane violation. The Red Storm is not a lock to make the tournament just yet, but as long as they avoid a Georgetonian collapse down the stretch,Steve Lavin‘s crew will be dancing.
  • Team of the Week: Pittsburgh Panthers: The Panthers had one of the more impressive weeks that any team has put together this season. Playing without their leading scorer Ashton Gibbs, Pitt went into West Virginia and won in the Backyard Brawl rivalry game. Then on Saturday night on ESPN’s Gameday, Pitt held on against Villanova in an in-state battle. If it hasn’t been proven to you yet, the Panthers are a team that is greater than their individual parts. They are good enough that they deserve to be in the conversation not just for a No. 1 seed, but as the No. 1 team in the country.

Power Rankings (overall and conference records, and last week’s ranking in parentheses)

1. Pittsburgh (23-2, 11-1) (1)
Last Week: 2/12 @ Villanova 57-54
This Week: 2/16 vs. South Florida, 2/19 @ St. John’s

See the above “Team of the Week” portion.

2. Notre Dame (21-4, 10-3) (3)
Last Week: 2/9 vs. Louisville 89-79 OT, 2/12 @ South Florida 78-55
This Week: 2/19 @ West Virginia

With Kemba Walker‘s continuing struggles, there is a legitimate argument to be made for Ben Hansbrough as the Big East’s player of the year. Notre Dame‘s offense is based around their ball movement, but Hansbrough is the guy who has the ball in his hands at the end of a clock. He’s the best creator that Mike Brey has, their leader in scoring and assists, and the best on-ball defender on the team. He also has all the intangibles you look for in a point guard. I love kids like Austin Freeman and Marshon Brooks and Rick Jackson, but I’m not sure there is a player in the conference that I would take over Hansbrough.

3. Georgetown (20-5, 9-4) (5)
Last Week: 2/9 @ Syracuse 64-56, 2/13 vs. Marquette 69-60
This Week: 2/16 @ UConn, 2/19 @ USF

The Hoyas won two games this week, but what was impressive was how they did it. On the road against Syracuse, the Orange took over down the stretch, keeping Syracuse from getting scoring opportunities while going on a game-ending, 15-3 run. Against Marquette, Georgetown dominated the second half on the defensive end of the floor and on the glass. They allowed the Golden Eagles to score just 25 points, held them to a 36.3% eFG, gave up just 11.1% OR, and forced Marquette into nine turnovers and 0.69 PPP. Not exactly the Georgetown team we have become accustomed to under John Thompson III.

4. Villanova (19-6, 7-5) (2)
Last Week: 2/9 @ Rutgers 76-77, 2/12 vs. Pitt 54-57
This Week: 2/15 @ Seton Hall, 2/19 vs. DePaul

The loss against Pitt is acceptable. Losing by three at home without a starter (Corey Stokes missed this game and the second half against Rutgers with turf toe) to the best team in the league and possibly the best team in the country is far from a bad loss. The Rutgers loss, on the other hand, is another story. The Wildcats blew a 13-point lead with five minutes left and an eight point lead with two minutes left. They turned the ball over, they allowed open threes, and, at the end of the game, Corey Fisher fouled Jonathan Mitchell shooting a three. He made it and made the free throw, and Rutgers picked up a huge win.

5. Louisville (19-6, 8-4) (6)
Last Week: 2/9 @ Notre Dame 79-89 OT, 2/12 vs. Syracuse 73-69
This Week: 2/16 @ Cincinnati, 2/18 vs. UConn

What got into Kyle Kuric this week? The sophomore shooting guard had 28 points against Notre Dame in an overtime loss and followed that up with 23 points in the Cardinals’ win over Syracuse on Saturday. For the week, Kuric was 9-14 from three. He’s shooting 46.9% from deep on the season while averaging 10.0 points per contest. He needs to be a consistent scoring option for the Cardinals, as does Terrence Jennings. Jennings is only averaging 9.6 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, but over his last five, he’s averaging 14.2 and 7.8.

6. Syracuse (21-6, 8-6) (4)
Last Week: 2/9 vs. Georgetown 56-64, 2/12 @ Louisville 69-73, 2/14 vs. West Virginia 63-52
This Week: 2/19 vs. Rutgers

The Orange picked up a much needed win on Monday night, knocking off West Virginia at home to snap a three-game Carrier Dome losing streak. The biggest problem Syracuse has right now is a complete inability to defend the three point line. Their other issues — poor decision-making from the backcourt, Kris Joseph‘s inconsistency, Fab Melo missing practice — are second in importance to figuring out how to keep teams from hitting 10, 11, and 12 threes against them.

7. Connecticut (19-5, 7-5) (7)
Last Week: 2/10 @ St. John’s 72-89 , 2/13 vs. Providence 75-57
This Week: 2/16 vs. Georgetown, 2/18 @ Louisville

When Kemba Walker is playing like Kemba Walker, as opposed to Super Kemba, UConn is a good team, but they aren’t much more than an upper-half Big East team. Prior to Sunday’s win against Providence, UConn had lost three out of four in league play to fall back into the middle of the pack. This is a big week for he Huskies coming up, with Georgetown and Louisville.

8. St. John’s (15-9, 7-5) (10)
Last Week: 2/10 vs. UConn 89-72, 2/13 @ Cincinnati 59-57
This Week: 2/15 @ St. John’s, 2/19 vs. Marquette

See the above “Player of the Week” portion.

9. Marquette (15-10, 6-6) (8)
Last Week: 2/9 @ South Florida 59-58, 2/13 @ Georgetown 60-69
This Week: 2/15 vs. St. John’s, 2/19 vs. Seton Hall

Sunday’s loss to Georgetown was Marquette’s worst loss of the season. By nine points. Think about that. The Golden Eagles need to start winning some of these close games down the stretch, but is there any team in the country that is more competitive than the Golden Eagles?

10. West Virginia (16-9, 7-6) (9)
Last Week: 2/12 vs. DePaul 72-61, 2/14 @ Syracuse 52-63
This Week: 2/19 vs. Notre Dame

There is something missing from this West Virginia team, but I can’t quite put my finger on what it is. Kevin Jones is inconsistent, John Flowers is foul-prone, Casey Mitchell is a head case, and no one seems willing to box out.

11. Cincinnati (19-6, 6-6) (11)
Last Week: 2/8 @ DePaul 71-68, 2/13 vs. St. John’s 57-59
This Week: 2/16 vs. Louisville, 2/19 @ Providence

Mick Cronin seems to have finally gotten fed up with Yancy Gates‘ actions and apathy towards playing. The five-star recruit who is no better as a junior than he was as a freshman played just 16 minutes against DePaul and 13 minutes against St. John’s after sitting out against Pitt.

12. Seton Hall (11-14, 5-8) (12)
Last Week: 2/12 vs. Rutgers 69-64
This Week: 2/15 vs. Villanova, 2/19 @ Marquette

Keon Lawrence and Jamel Jackson were kicked off the team on Friday after missing curfew to go to a party. Both were disappointments in their time in Jersey.

13. Rutgers (13-12, 4-9) (13)
Last Week: 2/9 vs. Villanova 77-76, 2/12 vs. Seton Hall 64-69
This Week: 2/19 @ Rutgers

The Scarlet Knights deserved that upset against Villanova. Mike Rice has his team playing so hard every night, they just have come up on the short end of the talent stick. I hope they enjoyed it.

14. Providence (14-11, 3-9) (14)
Last Week: 2/13 @ UConn 57-75
This Week: 2/17 vs. DePaul, 2/19 vs. Cincinnati
You have six more games to get the chance to see Marshon Brooks play as a collegian. It’s worth it.

15. South Florida (8-18, 2-11) (15)
Last Week: 2/9 vs. Marquette 58-59, 2/12 vs. Notre Dame 55-78
This Week: 2/16 @ Pitt, 2/19 vs. Georgetown

Why does USF struggle? Gus Gilchrist uses as many possessions as Marshon Brooks and Kemba Walker, but he has an offensive rating of 89.0.

16. DePaul (6-18, 0-12) (16)
Last Week: 2/8 vs. Cincinnati 68-71, 2/12 @ West Virginia 61-72
This Week: 2/17 @ Providence, 2/19 vs. Villanova

DePaul gets more competitive with every game they play. I think Oliver Purnell can make something out of that program.

A Look Ahead

This is a huge week for the UConn Huskies. Not only are they playing Georgetown on Wednesday, they get a rematch with Louisville on Friday night. Are the Huskies truly a contender in the Big East, or was the start of their season more of a fluke than anything?

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Set Your Tivo: 02.14.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 14th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

We’re now less than a month away from Selection Sunday. A couple of Big East teams try to enhance their resume while one Big 12 team is in desperation mode tonight. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

West Virginia @ #12 Syracuse – 7 pm on ESPN (***)

How Tough Is the Big East? The Orange Got Clowned In the Carrier Dome On 1/25...by Seton Hall

Given the state of the bubble, you’d have to say these two teams are solidly in the field of 68. We’re sure, however, that Jim Boeheim isn’t feeling so fine and dandy about his Orange right now. Syracuse has lost six of their last eight games and will look to snap a three game home losing streak when West Virginia visits the Carrier Dome this evening. Syracuse hasn’t won on their home floor in a month, their last victory coming over Cincinnati on January 15. In order to help the Orange continue that home losing streak, West Virginia needs to control the pace and work every possession through the middle of the Syracuse 2-3 zone. Joe Mazzulla and Truck Bryant have proven to be a solid tandem at the point and it’ll be up to them to take care of the ball, control the pace and create open shots.

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Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 8th, 2011

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

Team of the Week: Syracuse Orange: The Orange reached a critical point in their season on Wednesday. They had lost four consecutive games, there were all kinds of rumors involving turmoil within the locker room, and the team was heading to Hartford to take on then-No. 7 Connecticut. But the Orange were able to slow down Kemba Walker and knock off the Huskies, regaining some confidence along the way, before going into Tampa and whooping up on South Florida. James Southerland has seen his minutes cut, playing just two minutes in the past three games, while CJ Fair and Baye Moussa Keita — who are more active on the glass and better defenders than Southerland — have taken those minutes. Dion Waiters has also played better since he was benched at Marquette, scoring 19 points the past two games. Syracuse has a big week coming up, as they play Georgetown, Louisville, and West Virginia in the span of six days.

Player of the Week: Corey Fisher, Villanova: Villanova head coach Jay Wright switched around Villanova’s starting lineup, sliding Maalik Wayns to the bench, Corey Fisher over to the point, and moving Dominic Cheek and Isaiah Armwood into the starting lineup at different times. Wright did it for two reasons — he wanted to make Villanova a better defensive team, and he wanted a bigger team on the glass. More importantly, however, he wanted one more player on the floor willing to get the ball into the big guys inside. And believe it or not, this Villanova team is actually at their best when they run from the inside-out. How did Fisher respond? By averaging 16.5 points, 5.5 assists, and 2.5 steals per game while shooting 55% from the floor in wins over Marquette and West Virginia.

Power Rankings (overall and conference records, and last week’s ranking in parentheses)

1. Pittsburgh (21-2, 9-1) (1)
Last Week: 2/5 vs. Cincinnati 71-59, 2/7 @ West Virginia 71-66
Next Week: 2/12 @ Villanova

The Panthers win at West Virginia on Monday proved just how good the program is that Jamie Dixon runs. Pitt won at West Virginia, a rivalry game on the road, without their most dangerous offensive weapon (Ashton Gibbs is out for two weeks with a strained MCL) against a team that was tied for second in the league standings. Nothing in the Panthers’ game plan changed. They still ran their same offense and they still crashed the glass, grabbing 18 offensive rebounds. Saturday’s matchup with Villanova should be quite a bit of fun, even if Gibbs is out.

2. Villanova (19-4, 7-3) (3)
Last Week: 2/2 vs. Marquette 75-70, 2/5 vs. West Virginia 66-50
Next Week: 2/9 @ Rutgers, 2/12 vs. Pitt

See the “Player of the Week” section for a breakdown on Jay Wright’s tinkering with the starting lineup, and how Corey Fisher in particular has benefited.

3. Notre Dame (19-4, 8-3) (5)
Last Week: 2/3 @ DePaul 83-58, 2/6 vs. Rutgers 76-69
Next Week: 2/9 vs. Louisville, 2/12 @ South Florida

I’m still not sold on Notre Dame being the third-best team in the conference, but they continue to win and own the single most impressive victory in the league, a win at Pitt. Ben Hansbrough was once again sensational this week, averaging 24.5 points per game in two wins that, frankly, didn’t tell us much. The Irish blew out DePaul like they are supposed too before winning a tougher-than-expected game against Rutgers.

4. Syracuse (20-4, 7-4) (4)
Last Week: 2/2 @ UConn 66-58, 2/5 @ South Florida 72-49
Next Week: 2/9 vs. Georgetown, 2/12 @ Louisville

See the “Team of the Week section” for analysis on Syracuse getting back on the right track despite undue stress.

5. Georgetown (18-5, 7-4) (9)
Last Week: 1/31 vs. Louisville 62-59, 2/5 vs. Providence 83-81
Next Week: 1/9 @ Syracuse, 1/13 vs. Marquette

The Hoyas are arguably the hottest team in the Big East right now. With wins over Louisville and Providence, they Hoyas have won six in a row after starting off Big East play 1-4. That winning streak becomes all the more important with a trip to the Carrier Dome coming on Wednesday. Julian Vaughn has played very well of late despite having a bad ankle. He had ten points, including a number of important buckets, and four blocks against Louisville and followed that up with a 14-point, 11-rebound performance against Providence.

6. Louisville (18-5, 7-3) (6)
Last Week: 1/31 @ Georgetown 59-62, 2/5 vs. DePaul 61-57
Next Week: 2/9 @ Notre Dame, 2/12 vs. Syracuse

Right now, Louisville is simply surviving, as Rick Pitino put it after the Cardinal’s four-point win against DePaul. The issue for the Cardinals isn’t their talent level (which is low, given their ranking) or Pitino’s coaching (which has been as impressive as anyone in the country), it’s simply that they cannot get healthy. The latest injury has come to leading scorer Preston Knowles, who sat out the win over the Blue Demons with a hamstring injury.

7. Connecticut (18-4, 6-4) (2)
Last Week: 2/2 vs. Syracuse 58-66, 2/5 @ Seton Hall 61-59
Next Week: 2/10 @ Providence, 2/13 vs. St. John’s

The Kemba Walker riddle has been solved — play UConn in a zone. Syracuse did it. So did Seton Hall. It makes it easy to help onto Walker and prevent him from getting one-on-one opportunities, and with the youth and inexperience on the UConn roster, it is very easy to get this team out of an offensive rhythm. Zones are difficult to beat when you don’t have great passing big men, and if you have seen Charles Okwandu or Alex Oriakhi play this season, you know they are not exactly Greg Monroe.

8. Marquette (14-9, 5-5) (7)

Last Week: 2/2 @ Villanova 70-75
Next Week: 2/9 @ South Florida, 2/13 @ Georgetown

Once again, the Golden Eagles suffered a tough loss against a quality opponent. But that doesn’t mean that this team is in any danger whatsoever of missing the NCAA Tournament. They’ve lost five of their last eight games, although in that eight game stretch, Marquette played seven teams (seven!) currently ranked in the top 15 in the country. All five of those losses were to top 15 teams, while the Golden Eagles also boast wins over the likes of Syracuse and Notre Dame. Only two of their last eight games are against ranked teams.

9. West Virginia (15-7, 6-4) (8)
Last Week: 2/2 vs. Seton Hall 56-44, 2/5 @ Villanova 50-66, 2/7 vs. Pitt 66-71
Next Week: 2/12 vs. DePaul, 2/14 @ Syracuse

This is not a typical Bob Huggins team. There’s no toughness on this squad, mentally or physically. They are an atrocious 310th in the country on the defensive glass after Monday night’s debacle against Pitt. Kevin Jones and John Flowers are inconsistent and get pushed around inside too easily when they aren’t in foul trouble. Deniz Kilicli can score on the block, but he can’t defend anyone and doesn’t appear to know what a box out is. Cam Thoroughman is a blue-collar player that is tough and physical, but he just doesn’t have the talent to be an impact player. This team, believe it or not, is soft.

10. St. John’s (13-9, 5-5) (11)
Last Week: 2/2 vs. Rutgers 58-56, 2/5 @ UCLA 59-66
Next Week: 2/10 vs. UConn, 2/13 @ Cincinnati

Dwight Hardy went for 32 against UCLA, which was impressive, but the rest of the Red Storm decided to not make the trip to LA. It’s a shame, because the Johnnies really could have used that win. Thanks to their blowout of Duke, all this team needs to do is finish above .500 in the Big East to make the dance.

11. Cincinnati (18-5, 5-5) (10)
Last Week: 2/5 @ Pitt 59-71
Next Week: 2/8 @ DePaul, 2/13 vs. St. John’s

The bubble may be obscenely weak this season, but the Bearcats still look like they could end up being a longshot to make it. They played the 284th-best non-conference schedule, and while their win over Xavier looks better every day, they need to notch a victory over one of the top teams in the Big East. That will be tough if Yancy Gates, who didn’t make the trip to Pittsburgh on Saturday, remains suspended.

12. Seton Hall (10-14, 4-8) (14)
Last Week: 2/2 @ West Virginia 44-56, 2/5 vs. UConn 59-61
Next Week: 2/12 vs. Rutgers

Seeton Hall is playing well, but they cannot close out games. Unfortunately, after digging themselves a hole early in the season, the Pirates cannot afford losing close games.

13. Rutgers (12-11, 3-8) (12)
Last Week: 2/2 @ St. John’s 56-58, 2/6 @ Notre Dame 69-76
Next Week: 2/9 vs. Villanova, 2/12 vs. Seton Hall

The Scarlet Knights have now played three straight tournament teams down to the wire. Mike Rice has this team playing the right way. Once he gets some better talent into the program, Rutgers will be alright.

14. Providence (14-10, 3-8) (13)
Last Week: 2/2 vs. South Florida 68-63, 2/5 @ Georgetown 81-83
Next Week: 2/13 @ UConn

Marshon Brooks is now the leading scorer in the Big East at 24.1 points per game after dropping 43 on Georgetown in a losing effort.

15. South Florida (8-16, 2-9) (15)
Last Week: 2/2 @ Providence 63-68, 2/5 vs. Syracuse 49-72
Next Week: 2/9 vs. Marquette. 2/12 vs. Notre Dame

On Saturday, South Florida was outnumbered by Syracuse fans 3:1 in their own arena. Shameful.

16. DePaul (6-16, 0-10) (16)
Last Week: 2/3 vs. Notre 58-83, 2/5 @ Louisville 57-61
Next Week: 2/8 vs. Cincinnati, 2/12 @ WVU
The Blue Demons nearly got one against injury-depleted Louisville.

Looking Ahead
We have four terrific Big East matchups this week. On Wednesday, Georgetown heads to Syracuse in the first of their two games this season, while Louisville makes the trip to South Bend to take on Notre Dame. On Saturday, Syracuse and Louisville do battle while arguably the two best teams in the conference tip off in ESPN’s Gameday game as Pitt travels to Villanova.

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Set Your Tivo: 02.07.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 7th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Two of the top teams in the country are each without a key player tonight, plus one is on the road. How will the personnel losses affect these two deep teams? All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

#4 Pittsburgh @ West Virginia – 7 pm on ESPN (****)

The Panthers Will Have To Learn to Live Without Gibbs For a While

The Backyard Brawl, hoops edition, tips off for the 181st time tonight in Morgantown with West Virginia owning a 95-85 series edge. However, Pittsburgh has won seven of the last ten meetings with Jamie Dixon’s program reloading every year of late. This evening the Panthers will be without a key cog in their offense, itself ranked #2 in efficiency. Ashton Gibbs, Pitt’s leading scorer and best three point shooter, is out with a knee injury and will miss up to two weeks. That means Travon Woodall will start at the point guard position and the Panthers’ outstanding depth will be put to the test.

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Set Your Tivo: 02.04-02.06

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 5th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

On paper, this isn’t the best weekend of games. However, this is college basketball where anything can happen. You just never know what could happen and it may end up being a thrilling couple of days, anyway. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

West Virginia @ #12 Villanova – 12 pm Saturday on ESPN (****)

Yet another big game in the Big East features two teams tied for third place at 6-3 in league play. The winner will tie second place Notre Dame, just a game and a half behind first place Pittsburgh. West Virginia has won seven of nine games and rebounding has been a big reason why. The Mountaineers have not been out-rebounded by an opponent since a New Year’s Day game at Marquette, plus their defense has been solid. West Virginia has scored only 58 PPG over their last four games (three of them without leading scorer Casey Mitchell) but has held opponents to an average of 50 PPG over the same stretch, culminating in holding Seton Hall to 44 points on Wednesday. Bob Huggins’ team is #5 nationally in offensive rebounding percentage but will have to bring their A-game on the glass against Villanova. The Wildcats rank 20th in keeping opponents off the offensive boards and were led by the interior duo of Antonio Pena and Mouphtaou Yarou in their most recent win over Marquette. They combined for 32/15 and have been huge factors this season as Jay Wright isn’t counting exclusively on his guards to win games anymore. Although West Virginia has rebounded the ball extremely well of late, they still rank only #291 in opponent’s offensive rebounding percentage, allowing teams to grab 35.6% of their misses. Villanova will likely miss a lot of long range shots against West Virginia’s #2 ranked three point defense (allowing 27%) so offensive rebounding will be important for both teams, especially the Wildcats, in this game. Coach Huggins used 6’7 John Flowers on Seton Hall’s Jeremy Hazell in their last game and he successfully shut down the Pirates’ gunner. Might we see the same thing on Villanova’s Corey Stokes? It’s a good possibility, though Flowers may be needed inside more often to double Pena and Yarou. Flowers leads the Big East in blocked shots and needs to have another good defensive game against a Villanova team that can score in bunches. The Wildcats score 25.6% of their points from the foul line and attempted 33 free throws against Marquette. Villanova is very difficult to beat when they get to the stripe because they shoot 78% and get there so often. Dribble penetration from Corey Fisher and Maalik Wayns leads to good looks inside and plenty of free throw opportunities. West Virginia has to do a good job defending the dribble drive and Kevin Jones will be a key player in doing so. Jones is a taller player who, along with Flowers, will form the second line of defense if the Wildcat guards are able to get into the lane. Jones is also a warrior on the glass, going for 13/12 in his last game. With the status of Casey Mitchell still uncertain, West Virginia will have to stick to typical “Huggy-ball” more than ever, and that’s physical defense and great rebounding. Villanova is 16-0 when they score at least 70 points but only 2-4 when they fail to do so. With the way West Virginia is rebounding and playing defense right now, it’s very possible that this game could be in the 50’s or 60’s. We’re going to go with the upset and take the Mountaineers on the road in this game.

#10 Kentucky @ Florida – 9 pm Saturday on ESPN (****)

With a win on Saturday night, Florida can really create some separation between themselves and Kentucky. With a win against the Wildcats, Florida will hold a two and a half game lead over UK and remain ahead of Tennessee, a team they beat on the road already. Quite simply, a win here puts Florida in a commanding position in the SEC East. Of course, that won’t be so easy against the nation’s fourth ranked team in eFG% defense. The Gators have won 9 of 11 games but Kentucky will be their toughest test since a meeting with Ohio State back in November. The Wildcats are coming off a loss at Ole Miss earlier this week, a game in which they committed 18 turnovers and didn’t defend the three point line well at all. Freshman point guard Brandon Knight had six of those turnovers and needs to do a better job tonight. Young teams can’t turn it over and expect to win on the road no matter how talented they are and Kentucky is finding out the hard way. With a 2-4 record in true road games, the Wildcats need to grow up quick if they want to play deep into March. Knight needs to create shots for himself and others, taking advantage of UK’s 40% shooting from deep. With Doron Lamb shooting the ball very well recently, Kentucky has plenty of threats to win this game. A key battle in this game will be at the forward spot as Kentucky’s freshman Terrence Jones goes up against Florida senior Chandler Parsons. Jones averages 18/9 and had 22/12 at Ole Miss while Parsons has been on an absolute tear on the glass of late. Controlling the boards will be critically important in a game that could be all about pace. The Gators would like to slow the game down and work in the half court while the Wildcats are comfortable at a quicker pace. To keep the tempo in their favor, Florida has to win the rebounding battle and make shots. The Gators are #10 in offensive rebounding percentage but the matchup between Jones and Parsons, as well as Vernon Macklin and Josh Harrellson at the center position, will likely determine who controls the glass in this game. If Harrellson can shut down Macklin (Festus Ezeli of Vanderbilt did a good job of this in the last game), the onus will be on Parsons to carry the Gators yet again. With Erving Walker hitting only 7 of his last 33 threes (21%), Florida will work the ball inside even more than they already do. The Gators get 56.8% of their points from two point range but will face the #4 interior defense in the country. Kentucky allows opponents to shoot only 41% from two point range while Florida is making 50.5% of their two point shots. This should be a physical game and whoever controls the interior will likely come out on top. Despite their road woes, we think John Calipari’s team will be ready to play tonight and hand the Gators their fourth home loss, disappointing the big crowd sure to be at the O-Dome for ESPN Game Day.

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Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 18th, 2011

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

 

A Look Back

The Big East seems like it is beginning to break into three groups at the top. You have the contenders at the top in Pitt and Syracuse, then you have a second tier of Villanova and UConn.

Beyond that, you may as well start flipping a coin.

Right now, Louisville and West Virginia look to be the best of the rest. This comes a week after Notre Dame and Georgetown looked like they were the best of the rest. Marquette is good enough to beat anyone in the league, but they haven’t been closing games. Cincinnati is still a bit of an unknown, as they have lost to Syracuse and Villanova on the road, but have taken care of everyone else they have played in conference play. St. John’s is another enigma, as seen by a 20-point loss and a 20-point win versus Notre Dame in the span of a week.

The craziest part? Every single one of those 11 teams I just mentioned has a real shot of earning an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. There is no way that happens — there is too much parity in the league and these teams are going to be beating up on each other for another month and a half — but depending on how the rest of conference play turns out, I can realistically see nine teams earning themselves a bid.

That is, of course, assuming teams like Georgetown and Notre Dame figure out how to turn their season around and Cincinnati and St. John’s turn out to be for real. If those teams end up being the worst case scenario, I can also see a situation arising where only six or seven teams earn a bid.

The only thing I am sure of?

This league is going to be a fun one to follow for the next two months.

Player of the WeekPreston Knowles, Louisville: Rick Pitino has said it time and again — this Cardinals team doesn’t have a star. They don’t have a go to player. And as easy as that is to believe, Knowles is certainly close to becoming ‘the man’ for this team. In three games since we last did a Big East check-in, Knowles averaged 17.7 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 3.3 APG, and 2.3 SPG, all while hitting 11 of 24 from three. Knowles’ best statistical performance came in Louisville’s loss at Villanova on Wednesday, but he was the catalyst for their impressive comeback against Marquette. He scored 15 points in the second half, including four threes and two assists in the final 5:45 as Louisville overcame an 18-point deficit to win. He had the game winning assist with four seconds left, finding Kyle Kuric for a layup. Knowles’ transformation from a defensive specialist to an offensive star has been an impressive one to watch.

Team of the WeekWest Virginia: All of a sudden, the Mountaineers look like a team capable of making a run at the top four in the league. Kevin Jones had a slow start to the season, but he’s come on strong of late, averaging 17.0 points and 10.0 rebounds per game — with 18 offensive boards — in the last three games. John Flowers is one of the best glue guys and arguably the best defender in the league. Casey Mitchell is always a threat to go for 25 points. If defenses key on him, Truck BryantDenis Kilicli, and Joe Mazzulla all have shown the ability to be double figure scorers. They have role players, they can defend, and when they are hustling and playing the blue collar game that Bobby Huggins loves, this team is dangerous. Ask Georgetown and Purdue, as both took a loss to WVU this week.

Power Rankings (overall and conference records, and last week’s ranking in parentheses)

1. Pittsburgh (18-1, 6-0) (2)

Last Week: 1/8 vs. Marquette 89-81, 1/12 @ Georgetown 72-57, 1/15 vs. Seton Hall 74-53, 1/17 vs. Syracuse 74-66

Next Week: 1/22 @ DePaul, 1/24 vs. Notre Dame

Efficiency is the name of the game for this Pitt team offensively. They may be the best team in the country when it comes to executing offensively. They always seem to get the shot that they want, whether it is a post touch for Gary McGhee or a three for Ashton Gibbs coming off of a screen. If they miss, 45.6% of the time they get the offensive rebound. They also don’t turn the ball over in the half court, meaning that they maximize their possessions offensively as well as anyone. They’ve been knocked on the defensive end of the floor, but the last three games have looked much better. If there is an Achilles heel, it is that they struggle against pressure. Providence nearly beat them by forcing turnovers with a press while Syracuse and Georgetown got the Panthers to turn the ball over late using a press.

2. Syracuse (18-1, 5-1) (1)

Last Week: 1/8 @ Seton Hall 61-56, 1/12 @ St. John’s 76-59, 1/15 vs. Cincinnati 67-52, 1/17 @ Pitt 66-74

Next Week: 1/22 vs. Villanova

The Orange suffered their first loss of the season Monday night, but take it with a grain of salt. The loss came at Pitt when the Orange were missing Kris Joseph, and they were nearly able to overcome a 19-0 start by the Panthers. The Orange look like the best team in the conference on the defensive end of the floor, and the numbers back it up. The question all season long has been on the offensive end, but with Joseph’s recent scoring surge and the emergence of James Southerland as a spot-up shooter at the three/four spot, that may be less of an issue. The Orange aren’t getting a lot of pub right now, but this team is for real.

3. Connecticut (15-2, 4-2) (6)

Last Week: 1/8 @ Texas 82-81 OT, 1/11 vs. Rutgers 67-53, 1/15 @ DePaul 82-62, 1/17 vs. Villanova 61-59

Next Week: 1/22 vs. Tennessee

All of a sudden, UConn has a supporting cast. Alex Oriakhi has been fantastic the past four games, averaging 13.3 points and 12.5 rebounds per game while showing off some nice post moves. Jeremy Lamb has been playing very well on both ends of the floor. Shabazz Napier and Roscoe Smith both have shown the ability to be second and third scoring options this season. Kemba Walker‘s efficiency numbers have been dropping as defenses focus on him, but his teammates have shown an increasing confidence to take and make big shots when they are left open. As UConn continues to improve defensively — forcing turnovers and clearing the defensive glass — they are only going to get better as a team.

4. Villanova (16-2, 4-1) (3)

Last Week: 1/9 vs. Cincinnati 72-61, 1/12 vs. Louisville 88-74, 1/15 vs. Maryland 74-66, 1/17 @ UConn 59-61

Next Week: 1/22 @ Syracuse

Villanova’s first loss in conference play came on a Kemba Walker buzzer beater in Gampel without Dominic Cheek. It also came on a night when Corey Fisher looked like Mr. 105 while the rest of his teammates struggled to get anything going offensively. I like what his team can do defensively, but I still have concerns on the offensive end of the floor. Maalik Wayns is talented, but he is inconsistent and needs to learn how to run a team and not just be a dribbler. Fisher has been up and down, although he looked terrific against UConn. The key may be Mouphtaou Yarou. If he can get better scoring on the block, the emergence of Antonio Pena‘s jump shot will give him a lot of opportunities down low with space.

5. Louisville (14-3, 3-1) (7)

Last Week: 1/9 @ South Florida 86-77, 1/12 @ Villanova 74-88, 1/15 vs. Marquette 71-70

Next Week: 1/19 vs. St. John’s, 1/22 @ Providence

See the “Player of the Week” feature above to see why Rick Pitino has Preston Knowles and the Cardinals rolling.

6. West Virginia (12-4, 3-2) (11)

Last Week: 1/8 @ Georgetown 65-59, 1/13 vs. Providence 93-63, 1/16 vs. Purdue 68-64

Next Week: 1/19 vs. Marshall, 1/23 vs. South Florida

See the “Team of the Week” feature above for my thoughts on the Mountaineers.

7. Marquette (12-6, 3-2) (10)

Last Week: 1/8 @ Pitt 81-89, 1/10 vs. Notre Dame 79-57, 1/15 @ Louisville 70-71

Next Week: 1/18 vs. DePaul, 1/22 @ Notre Dame

Marquette still hasn’t been able to figure out how to win the close games this season. The talent is clearly there — it wasn’t a fluke that they were up by 18 in Louisville – but the ability to finish games isn’t quite there yet. The perfect example — Marquette was up 70-69 against Louisville with less than 30 seconds left when they broke the Cardinals’ press. Instead of pulling the ball out, Dwight Buycks attacked Terrence Jennings and had his shot blocked. At the other end, the Golden Eagles lost track of Kyle Kuric on a dribble handoff, and it resulted in a wide open layup for the win.

8. St. John’s (11-5, 4-2) (9)

Last Week: 1/8 @ Notre Dame 61-76, 1/12 vs. Syracuse 59-76, 1/16 vs. Notre Dame 72-54

Next Week: 1/19 @ Louisville, 1/22 vs. Cincinnati

I still can’t figure this team out. I thought I had them pegged — a fraud — after they were blown out by both Syracuse and Notre Dame, but then the Johnnies went and beat the Irish by 18 in a rematch on Sunday. They can defend, they are physical, and they have a couple of players that are dangerous when they get it going, but I’m not completely sold yet. Win at Louisville on Wednesday, and we’ll talk.

9. Notre Dame (14-4, 3-3) (4)

Last Week: 1/8 vs. St. John’s 76-61, 1/10 @ Marquette 57-79, 1/16 @ St. John’s 54-72

Next Week: 1/19 vs. Cincinnati, 1/22 vs. Marquette

There are two different Notre Dame teams — the one that plays at home and the one that plays on the road. The Irish have four losses on the season — by 14 at Kentucky, by 12 at Syracuse, by 22 at Marquette, and by 18 at St. John’s. I love the roster makeup of this group. The mental makeup is a different story.

10. Georgetown (13-5, 2-4) (5)

Last Week: 1/8 vs. West Virginia 59-65, 1/12 vs. Pitt 57-72, 1/15 @ Rutgers 74-65

Next Week: 1/18 @ Seton Hall

I’ve written off the Hoyas … for now. I’ve seen this happen too many times. It feels like a rerun of the 2009 campaign, when Georgetown jumped all the way to eighth in the country after a win at UConn to kick off Big East play before collapsing and getting bounced in the first round of the NIT. They are a small team up front and they aren’t a great defensive team, but they haven’t been good enough on the offensive end to make up for it.

11. Cincinnati (16-2, 3-2) (8)

Last Week: 1/9 @ Villanova 61-72, 1/12 vs. South Florida 74-66, 1/15 @ Syracuse 52-67

Next Week: 1/19 @ Notre Dame, 1/22 @ St. John’s

My opinion of the Bearcats hasn’t changed. I like the pieces they have, but I am not sure if they are good enough to make the tournament. Yancy Gates is inconsistent and their perimeter has had a tough time against good teams. They have two winnable road games against fellow tourney contenders this week. Win one and make a statement.

12. Seton Hall (8-10, 2-4) (13)

Last Week: 1/8 vs. Syracuse 56-61, 1/12 @ DePaul 78-67, 1/15 @ Pitt 53-74

Next Week: 1/18 vs. Georgetown, 1/22 vs. Rutgers

The best story of the week belonged to Jeremy Hazell, who made a return from a broken wrist that required surgery and a gunshot wound to score 23 points against DePaul. I’m hoping that he can be the spark that the Pirates need to salvage their season.

13. Rutgers (10-7, 1-4) (14)

Last Week: 1/8 vs. Providence 85-72, 1/11 @ UConn 53-67, 1/15 vs. Georgetown 65-74

Next Week: 1/20 vs. South Florida, 1/22 @ Seton Hall

This group plays hard, they just don’t have the talent in the program to beat the big boys yet.

14. South Florida (7-12, 1-5) (16)

Last Week: 1/9 vs. Louisville 77-86, 1/12 @ Cincinnati 66-74, 1/16 vs. Providence 79-72

Next Week: 1/20 Rutgers, 1/23 @ West Virginia

15. Providence (11-8, 0-6) (12)

Last Week: 1/8 @ Rutgers 72-85, 1/13 @ West Virginia 63-93, 1/16 @ South Florida 72-79

Next Week: 1/22 vs. Louisville

16. DePaul (6-11, 0-5) (15)

Last Week: 1/12 vs. Seton Hall 67-78, 1/15 vs. UConn 62-82

Next Week: 1/18 @ Marquette, 1/22 vs. Pitt

I’d say there is a 25% chance that none of these three teams gets a win against any of the top 13 teams in the Big East. Who else is happy that TCU is joining the mix in 2012?

A Look Ahead

The big day for the Big East this week looks to be Wednesday, when St. John’s and Cincinnati get their cracks at Louisville and Notre Dame, respectively, on the road. Both teams need a win. Not just for their resume, but to make a statement. The way to earn respect in this league is by winning on the road against good teams. On Saturday, make sure you’re up early as Syracuse and Villanova tip at noon.

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Set Your Tivo: 01.14-01.16

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 14th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Another action-packed weekend awaits grateful hoop fans as we’re about two months away from March Madness. Conference play is really heating up and races are beginning to take shape. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#23 Vanderbilt @ Tennessee – 12 pm Saturday on ESPN (***)

Often Overlooked, Ezeli Is A Workhorse For the Commodores.

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Set Your Tivo: 11.19.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 19th, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

All five of these games come from tournaments. Here are your brackets: Puerto Rico Tip Off, 2K Sports Classic and the Paradise Jam. Rankings as per the latest RTC Top 25. All times eastern.

Vanderbilt vs. West Virginia – 12:30 pm on ESPNU (***)

This is a really good under the radar game between two teams that were overlooked in the preseason discussion that went on in their respective conferences. Vanderbilt struggled a bit against a physical and plodding Nebraska team in a low scoring affair on Thursday. Today they’ll face another, even more physical (and talented) team in West Virginia. Vandy’s John Jenkins needs to get going in terms of shooting the three. Jenkins, one of the better shooters in the nation, has averaged 16 points in Vanderbilt’s first two games but he’s just 1-11 from three. Kevin Stallings needs a big game out of his star, as well as Jeffery Taylor and Brad Tinsley (triple-double against Presbyterian). The Commodores need to shoot it well and adjust to the pace and physicality of West Virginia in order to come out victorious. For Bob Huggins’ Mountaineers, they should take a page out of Nebraska’s playbook. If they can get Vanderbilt into a tough grind it out game, they stand a good chance of winning. WVU is obviously much more talented than Nebraska so the same type of game with better players should cause a lot of problems for Vandy. John Flowers has been a pleasant surprise so far while Kevin Jones has yet to really get his game going. Huggins is going to need production out of Deniz Kilicli, who fouled out in only six minutes of action against Davidson. These teams will likely be in the NCAA Tournament but a quality non-conference neutral court win will help whoever comes out on top today with seeding come March.

Texas vs. #5 Pittsburgh – 7:30 pm on ESPN2 (****)

Texas is loaded with talent and has played up to their potential so far this year. It seems when the pressure is off a bit, Texas and Rick Barnes excel. They won a terrific battle with Illinois on Thursday night with tough defense and big shots down the stretch. Though he only scored five points, Dogus Balbay was the story for Texas. The senior held Illinois star Demetri McCamey in check at the end of regulation and into overtime which forced the younger Illini players into very poor shot selection and eventually cost them the game. As a unit, the Longhorns limited Illinois to 38% shooting, held their own on the boards and blocked ten Illini shots. They’re going to need another superb defensive effort to knock off a physical Pittsburgh team that loves to grind games out. The Panthers killed Maryland on the boards, 43-25, to make up for a weaker than usual Pitt defense that allowed the Terps to shoot 48% from the floor. Texas will have a chance to win if Balbay can repeat his second half performance against McCamey and lock down Ashton Gibbs. Gibbs is the creator and leader for Jamie Dixon so shutting him down should significantly hamper the Pitt offense. The Panthers will counter that with excellent passing wings and big men like Gilbert Brown and Talib Zanna who are smart basketball players that always seem to be in the right place at the right time. Texas has been very efficient on defense so far this season, a nice improvement from last year’s dysfunctional group. If their defense continues to hold firm, this game could come right down to the wire. If that’s the case, players like Tristan Thompson are going to have to step up from the free throw line. Thompson had a great game everywhere else but his free throw shooting was abysmal. For Pitt, Gary McGhee and the aforementioned Brown must control Thompson and Jordan Hamilton in order to win comfortably. Pittsburgh is very good but Texas is a much better team than last year. We have a feeling this game could be another tight one at Madison Square Garden.

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Ten Opening Night Scribbles

Posted by zhayes9 on November 13th, 2010

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist at Rush the Court.

It would be foolish to draw too many sweeping conclusions after one rust-filled outing against inferior competition, but there are certain elements within a game that can provide a glimpse into what to expect during the season ahead.  After watching a handful of games last night and tracking each and every box score this morning, these ten things caught my eye:

Tinsley is now the full time point guard at Vandy

1. As is often the case in the SEC, Vanderbilt flew under the radar in the preseason. Kentucky’s ballyhooed freshmen class received the buzz, Florida was crowned the prohibitive favorite due to the return of five starters, Bruce Pearl’s recruiting indiscretions vaulted Tennessee into the spotlight for the wrong reasons and Mississippi State could certainly be dangerous when Dee Bost and Renardo Sidney return nine games into the campaign. The Commodores, coming off a 24-9 season and a #4 seed in the NCAA Tournament, didn’t receive the same publicity as their SEC brethren. But that’s just how Kevin Stallings, one of the best X’s and O’s coaches in the business, prefers it. The loss of senior point guard Jermaine Beal (and the premature departure of A.J. Ogilvy inside) was a big reason why many pegged Vanderbilt to take a step back from a season ago, even with returnees John Jenkins and Jeffrey Taylor oozing with talent and potential. The question was how junior point guard Brad Tinsley would step in for the grizzled veteran Beal and run the Commodores offense with the same aplomb, finding Jenkins off curls and screens for open threes or big man Festus Ezeli in scoring position on the block. Tinsley showed he’s up for the task in a 41-point romp of Presbyterian at Memorial Gymnasium on Friday, notching Vandy’s first triple-double in school history with 11 points and a career high 10 assists and 10 rebounds (not too shabby for a 6’3 guard). Tinsley also collected three steals and only turned the ball over twice. If Tinsley provides playmaking and stability at the point, Taylor lives up to his future lottery pick billing as an impact wing, Jenkins continues his proficiency from deep and Ezeli gives Vandy a presence inside, the Commodores will win 24 games again.

2. Two wins on Friday night may fly under the radar a bit, but are absolutely worth highlighting. The first is Minnesota’s convincing home victory over Wofford. I expected the Terriers to give Tubby Smith’s squad all kinds of trouble and possibly even win this game straight up. Wofford returns four starters, including potential SoCon POY Noah Dahlman, from a stout defensive team that gave Wisconsin a scare in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Heck, I even pegged them as my Cinderella last week. Throw in yet another Minnesota suspension on Thursday (this time off-guard Devoe Joseph) and this had all the makings of a super competitive test for the Gophers. Instead, Minnesota controlled the game throughout, leading by ten at half and winning 69-55 behind 20/13 from Ralph Sampson and 14/10 in Trevor Mbakwe’s debut in maroon and gold. The Gopher bigs also contained Dahlman to 15 points and the Wofford guards couldn’t find their stroke from deep. Don’t be surprised if this is an RPI top-100 win for Minnesota by season’s end. A second win that stood out is West Virginia’s romp of Oakland, another squad favored to win their conference behind potential first round pick Keith Benson. Benson did his thing with 22/15 but received no help as the Mountaineers utilized a balanced attack- Joe Mazzulla, Dalton Pepper, John Flowers, Deniz Kilicli, Casey Mitchell and Darryl Bryant all scored in double figures- to romp the Golden Grizzlies 95-71. Without an all-Big East perimeter threat like Da’Sean Butler at their disposal, this type of team effort is imperative if the Mountaineers want to vault themselves into the upper echelon of the Big East this season.

3. It’s painfully obvious that Georgetown is going to live and die with their backcourt this season. Their frontcourt pieces- Julian Vaughn, Nate Lubick, Jerelle Benimon and Henry Sims- are unspectacular, role players that can crash the boards, provide versatility and dish from the top of the key in the Georgetown halfcourt offense, but simply cannot be relied upon as consistent scoring threats. The Hoyas opener at reigning CAA champion and preseason favorite Old Dominion exposed this weakness inside. The Monarchs out-rebounded Georgetown by 11, blocked nine more shots and the Hoya forwards only scored eight of the team’s 62 points. Yet Georgetown eked out an enormous road victory on the heels of their experienced and savvy backcourt trio of Chris Wright, Austin Freeman and Jason Clark. The threesome led Georgetown back from a second-half deficit with clutch threes and free throws down the stretch, including one from Wright on a crosscourt Hollis Thompson feed where the 6’1 senior wasn’t even able to even land as the shot clocked expired. Given the Monarchs defensive prowess and the return of four starters from a team that advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, this is in all likelihood a top-50 RPI win for Georgetown in the first week of the campaign. If more of those marquee wins are to come, Wright, Freeman and Clark will be the reasons.

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RTC Conference Primer: #2 – Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 5th, 2010

Rob Dauster of Ballin’ is a Habit is the Big East correspondent for Rush The Court.


Predicted Order of Finish

  • 1. Villanova (15-3)
  • T2. Pittsburgh (14-4)
  • T2. Syracuse (14-4)
  • 4. Georgetown (12-6)
  • T5. West Virginia (11-7)
  • T5. Marquette (11-7)
  • 7. Seton Hall (10-8)
  • T8. Notre Dame (9-9)
  • T8. St. John’s (9-9)
  • T10. Connecticut (8-10)
  • T10. Louisville (8-10)
  • T12. South Florida (7-11)
  • T12. Cincinnati (7-11)
  • T14. Providence (3-15)
  • T14. Rutgers (3-15)
  • T14. DePaul (3-15)

All-Conference Team (key stats from last season in parentheses)

  • G: Corey Fisher, Villanova (13.3 ppg, 3.9 apg, 2.8 rpg)
  • G: Kemba Walker, UConn (14.6 ppg, 5.1 apg, 4.3 rpg, 2.1 spg)
  • F: Austin Freeman, Georgetown (16.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 44.4% 3pt)
  • F: Kris Joseph, Syracuse (10.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.4 spg)
  • F: Kevin Jones, West Virginia (13.5 ppg, 7.2 rpg)

6th Man

Tim Abromaitis, Notre Dame (16.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 42.9% 3pt)

Impact Newcomers

  • Fab Melo, Syracuse: Melo should have an immediate impact as the starting center for the Orange. Regarded as one of, if not the, best center in the class, Melo has more polish offensively than most bigs do as freshman, but his size in the middle of the Syracuse 2-3 zone may be more important.
  • Vander Blue, Marquette: Blue should step in and start immediately for the Golden Eagles. He’s everything you imagine when you think of a Marquette wing player. He’s tough, athletic, and can slash to the basket. He’ll remind some of Jerel McNeal.
  • Nate Lubick, Georgetown: With the Hoyas losing Greg Monroe to the NBA, they will have a gaping hole in the middle. Lubick has the skill set to be the high post forward of the future for John Thompson III, and he could immediately slide into the starting lineup.

Jay Wright has Villanova in the driver’s seat, with Pittsburgh nipping at the Wildcats’ heels. (AP/Michael Perez)

What You Need To Know

As much as it pains me to say it, the Big East is going to be down this season, especially near the bottom of the league. The two best players in the conference are probably Austin Freeman and Corey Fisher, and while I don’t want to take anything away from those two — I love the way that both play — they are a long way from being lottery picks. Providence, Rutgers and DePaul are as bad as any three teams at the bottom of the power conferences, which is saying a lot considering what the cellar of the Pac-10 and SEC have to offer. Now think about this: If the Big East wants to get more than six teams into the Big Dance, the teams that will likely be fighting for the last couple of at-large bids this season are Seton Hall, St. John’s, Notre Dame and UConn. And that assumes that Marquette and West Virginia are dancing. Yuck.

Predicted Champion

Villanova (NCAA #2 Seed): I like Villanova a lot more than other people do. I think Corey Fisher has a chance to become a star this season as he steps out of the shadow of Scottie Reynolds. I think Maalik Wayns has a chance to come into his own as well. Corey Stokes and Dominic Cheek should provide some size, athleticism, and versatility on the perimeter, while Jayvaughn Pinkston and Isaiah Armwood provide the same along the front line. The trio of Antonio Pena, Mouphtaou Yarou and Maurice Sutton is one of the better front lines in the conference. More than anything, however, I think that Jay Wright has answered the biggest questions his team had last season. Without a doubt, Villanova will be better inside with Yarou healthy, Pinkston on the roster, and Armwood and Sutton a year stronger. They should also be better defensively without Reynolds and Fisher sharing the floor. This team has a great mixture of size, athleticism, youth, experience, and versatility. They remind me quite a bit of the Villanova team that made the 2009 Final Four.
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