NCAA Regional Reset: South Region

Posted by KDoyle on March 25th, 2013

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Kevin Doyle (@KLDoyle11) is the NCAA Tournament’s South Region correspondent. 

The South Regional begins Friday night in Arlington, Texas, with Kansas vs. Michigan followed by Florida vs. Florida Gulf Coast. The East Region ResetWest Region Reset and Midwest Region Reset published earlier today. Also make sure to follow RTCSouthRegion for news and analysis from Texas throughout the week.

Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Hosts the South Regional

Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Hosts the South Regional

New Favorite: #3 Florida. It hasn’t been an arduous road to the Sweet Sixteen as Florida dismantled #14 Northwestern State and #11 Minnesota to advance to Arlington. Although the Golden Gophers cut a 21-point halftime deficit down to eight midway through the second half, they never truly challenged Florida and the Gators coasted to an easy win. Did we learn anything that we already didn’t know about Florida in the process? Probably not. Billy Donovan’s team is as good as anyone at blowing out inferior competition, but it was impressive to see their resolve demonstrated against Minnesota. The common belief is that the Gators crumble down the stretch in close games — amazingly, they have not won a game by single digits this year — but there was no need for late-game drama this weekend. To reach the Elite Eight, Florida will have to next beat #15 Florida Gulf Coast. Not exactly murderer’s row to get to the South Region final by having to play against all double-digit seeds, but FGCU has already proven that it is far from a traditional #15 seed. After posting big wins over Georgetown and San Diego State, the Eagles have shown they can more than hang with any team in the NCAA Tournament. With that said, I projected Florida to win the region when the bracket was initially released and they’ve only confirmed that belief after the first weekend.

Horse of Darkness: #4 Michigan. So much for Shaka Smart’s vaunted havoc defense. Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. had little problem dealing with Virginia Commonwealth’s pressing defense en route to a convincing 25-point victory. The Rams’ 71 point swing— a 46-point win against Akron and 25-point loss to Michigan — is by far the greatest two-game switcheroo in NCAA Tournament history, as the Wolverines demonstrated that all a team needs to foil Smart’s plan is a backcourt consisting of two NBA-level players. Michigan is grossly underseeded and is probably closer to a #2 seed than #4. This is a team that was ranked in the Top 10 for virtually the entire season, but limped into the NCAA Tournament after going 6-6 in its final 12 Big Ten games. It has been evident that Michigan’s style of play has kicked up a notch against non-Big Ten teams; South Dakota State and VCU’s urge to speed up the pace of the action seemed to play right into Michigan’s hands. With Trey Burke running the show, John Beilein has the best point guard in the South Region going up against a Kansas team that clearly lacks a steady one of its own. Kansas played one good half in the first two rounds — albeit an extremely good second half against North Carolina — but is ripe for the taking.

Burke Played Like a NPOY Candidate Last Game (AnnArbor.com)

Burke Played Like a NPOY Candidate Last Game (AnnArbor.com)

Biggest Surprise (1st Weekend): #15 Florida Gulf Coast 78, #2 Georgetown 68. What, like you thought there could possibly be a surprise that trumps what Florida Gulf Coast did in Philadelphia on Friday and Sunday? Not only did the Eagles make history as the first #15 seed to advance to the Sweet Sixteen, they did so with flying colors — quite literally — in beating Georgetown and San Diego State by 10 points each. FGCU’s win over Georgetown was certainly a major surprise, as a 24-10 team that finished in second place in the Atlantic Sun and had been swept by Lipscomb soundly beat a 25-6 Big East team with a slew of wins over top teams. Yet after its resounding win over the Hoyas, was anyone that surprised with its victory over a San Diego State team that proved to be mostly average in a Mountain West Conference that went 2-5 in this year’s Dance? Neither win was a fluke for Andy Enfield’s squad; the Eagles flat out beat these two teams that spent much of the season ranked in the Top 25. From Andy Enfield’s story — a former NBA assistant with Rick Pitino, owning his own company called “Tract Manager,” and marrying a supermodel — to the fact that FGCU has been a Division I program for less than a decade, the endless stream of alley-oops and ridiculous dunks thrown down by high-flying no-name players, the swagger and jovial attitude of Sherwood Brown, and the heartwarming story of Brett Comer, among many other things… words simply cannot do justice to what Florida Gulf Coast accomplished over the weekend.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Friday Evening

Posted by KDoyle on March 22nd, 2013

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#2 Georgetown vs. #15 Florida Gulf Coast – South Region Second Round (at Philadelphia) – 6:50 PM ET on TBS

Florida Gulf Coast is one of the better stories in this year’s NCAA Tournament. Only in their sixth year as a Division 1 program, the Eagles are riding their first winning season in history thanks to the hiring of former Florida State assistant Andy Enfield. In Enfield’s first year, they finished 15-17, but were a game away from the NCAA Tournament as they lost to Belmont in the Atlantic Sun finals. This year, Florida Gulf Coast has been the team to beat, and it began with an early season win over Miami (FL). FGCU’s style of play greatly differs from today’s opponent, the Georgetown Hoyas. The Hoyas are predicated on a stingy zone defense that rarely allows for clean looks at the basket, and they play at a snail’s pace. Led by Otto Porter, Georgetown has a legitimate star that can carry them deep into the NCAA Tournament. FGCU very much likes to get up and down the floor with Sherwood Brown and Bernard Thompson leading the attack. If FGCU is able to get out in the open floor and score in transition, they’ll keep it close for much of the game. Problem is that not many teams control the pace of a game quite like Georgetown—that’s what makes them such a difficult opponent as they force the opposition to play their style of game. Historically, Georgetown has struggled in the NCAA Tournament under John Thompson III as they’ve failed to reach the second weekend in four of six appearances under him, but many believe this is a different Hoya team. FGCU is playing with house money and expect them to make a game of this, but in front of a heavy Georgetown crowd in Philadelphia the Hoyas are simply too much in the end.

Andy Enfield has his FGCU squad playing great basketball. (AP)

Andy Enfield has his FGCU squad playing great basketball. (AP)

The RTC Certified Pick: Georgetown

#2 Ohio State vs. #15 Iona – West Regional Second Round (at Dayton, OH) – 7:15 p.m. ET on CBS
One of the nation’s most balanced teams, the knock on the Buckeyes for the longest time this season was that they didn’t have a secondary scorer to help out junior DeShaun Thomas. We’ll get to that in a second, but let’s just say that Iona never had such a problem. Senior guard Lamont “Momo” Jones has always been the main offensive weapon on this team, never afraid to look for his own shot, but the Gaels have always trusted guard Sean Armand and forward David Laury to chip in heavily in the scoring column. And as a result, the Gaels have one of the most efficient offenses in the mid-major ranks. The problem for Tim Cluess’ team is the complete inability to stop teams on defense; only nine times all season have they held an opponent below one point per possession in a game. Given that Ohio State is one of the best defensive teams in the nation (sixth in defensive efficiency per KenPom.com), you can expect the Buckeyes to at least slow Iona’s prolific offense. And given that Thad Matta has been getting significantly improved offensive play out of guys like Aaron Craft, Lenzelle Smith, LaQuinton Ross and Sam Thompson, you can expect the Bucks to take advantage of that buttery soft Gael defense. While Momo Jones, et al. have the ability to make some exciting plays when they’ve got the ball, their inattention to details defensively will allow the Buckeyes to have more than their share of exciting offensive plays as well.

The RTC Certified Pick: Ohio State Read the rest of this entry »

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Big East NCAA Tournament Capsules: Georgetown Hoyas

Posted by mlemaire on March 22nd, 2013

The Hoyas surpassed everyone’s expectations this season and won a share of the Big East regular season title and the No. 1 overall seed in the Big East Tournament where they lost in the semifinals to Syracuse. The Hoyas were in contention for a No. 1 seed before losing to Villanova down the stretch and not reaching the title game in the conference tournament. Instead the selection committee rewarded their excellence with a No. 2 seed in a winnable region and a first-round date with the Eagles and their rabid fan base.

It doesn't take a basketball expert to understand Otto Porter's importance to Georgetown (M. Sullivan/Reuters)

It doesn’t take a basketball expert to understand Otto Porter’s importance to Georgetown (M. Sullivan/Reuters)

Region: South
Seed: No. 2
Record: 25-6 (14-4 Big East)
Matchup: v. Florida Gulf Coast University in Philadelphia

Key Player: Let’s face it, to call anyone other than Otto Porter the key player for the Hoyas would be forcing it as the athletic sophomore is the at the center of the team’s success this season. Porter is a first-team All-American, the team’s leading scorer (16.3 PPG) and rebounder (7.4 RPG) and three-point shooter (42.7 3PT%) who just so happens to be capable of defending multiple positions well to boot. He might be the most important player in the entire tournament if you consider what type of team Georgetown would be without him. As long as he plays as well as he did during conference play, the Hoyas should make a run, and if he rises to the occasion and turns it up another notch, well the rest of the South Region and the bracket better look out. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big East M5: The Day After Edition

Posted by mlemaire on March 22nd, 2013

  1. bigeast_morning5(2)Yesterday was the true first day of the NCAA Tournament and overall it was a good one for the four Big East teams that played. Syracuse and Louisville cruised to easy victories and Marquette won the most exciting game in the day, rallying to beat Davidson on a gorgeous left-handed drive by Vander Blue in the last five seconds. Of course Pittsburgh ruined a perfect day for the conference by making exactly one of their 17 three-pointers and turning the ball over 15 times in an 18-point loss to Wichita State. The story for Pitt is getting old at this point. No matter how many times they win 25 games in the regular season, until they actually win a worthwhile NCAA Tournament game, their gaudy records won’t mean anything. It would be one thing if the Shockers had played a clean game themselves, but Wichita State was just 2-of-20 from downtown and turned the ball over 11 times themselves. For Jamie Dixon, that job at Southern California that he shot down oh so casually shot down this week is looking real nice right now, because it seems like the Pitt fans are starting to get fed up.
  2. You want to know why Vander Blue is an NBA prospect? Watch his game-winning layup against Davidson five times, heck I could watch it all day. Too often players settle for long jumpers on last-second plays, Blue on the other hand didn’t hesitate at all, blew past Davidson’s Jake Cohen, and finished smoothly at the rim with his left hand. That was a grown man move with the game on the line. It helped that on a day when the Golden Eagles shot just 34. 5 percent from the field, they hit three improbable three-pointers in a row in the final minute of the game. They weren’t open three-pointers either, they were well-defended, and the man who hit two of them, Jamil Wilson, made just two other field goals on 11 shots up to that point. It was a game that will be hard to top today in terms of excitement, late-game heroics, excitable coaches (what’s up Buzz). But after watching Memphis suffocate and swat down Saint Mary‘s offense, the Golden Eagles will not be able to play that poorly on offense and hope to win in the third round.
  3. An unintended benefit of having so many games spread out across the country is that occasionally a good story is written that wouldn’t have a news peg if there wasn’t an NCAA Tournament game being played in that city. Such is the case with this piece about Villanova’s experience in the realignment done well by the Kansas City Star. The Wildcats play North Carolina in Kansas City tomorrow and rather than write yet another preview, the Star chose to go back and time and talk with coach Jay Wright about the uncertainty of watching the Big East crumble and the move into a basketball-centric, new Big East conference next season. Things are settled now and that’s good, because the Tar Heels present a stiff challenge.  Not unlike Pittsburgh, Villanova is back in the tournament after a disappointing season and they will be looking to prove they belong.
  4. The best part about Syracuse’s near-50-point thrashing of Montana other than the near flawless basketball the Orange played was watching CBS Sports analyst Seth Davis act a fool in full-on Syracuse gear. The outfit was Davis manning up after he picked the Grizz to pull of the upset and felt confident to make a bet with Syracuse sports radio hosts, a bet he honored by looking extra-bright on national television. Yesterday I mentioned that another data-based formula showed that Montana was a good candidate to pull of the upset and last night’s beat down was evidence that none of these formulas are bullet-proof. The zone defense and length of the Orange defenders were too much for Montana’s shooters and the game turned into a boat race midway through the first half.
  5. Georgetown has had less obvious and publicized recent struggles in the NCAA Tournament than Pittsburgh but the Hoyas and coach John Thompson III could use a deep NCAA Tournament run this season to assuage some of the concerns that have crept out of nowhere since the team’s trip to the Final Four.  For whatever reason, Florida Gulf Coast has seen a groundswell of support and most of it is seemingly coming from people who have never seen them play. They have a win over Miami and they definitely have an argument about receiving just a No.15 seed given their resume and talent. But they also haven’t seen a defense as long and athletic as Georgetown’s and just as Montana found out today against a hungry Syracuse team, the Eagles are going to quickly learn how hard it can be to score against a premier Big East defense.
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Rushed Reactions: Syracuse 58, Georgetown 55 (OT)

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 15th, 2013

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Brian Otskey (@botskey) filed this report from Syracuse’s overtime victory over rival Georgetown in Friday night’s Big East semifinal at Madison Square Garden.

Three key takeaways:

Big John and Jim Share a Moment Before the Game

Big John and Jim Share a Moment Before the Game

  1. James Southerland and Trevor Cooney opened up Syracuse’s offense. Syracuse did most of its damage in the first half of this game thanks to Southerland’s continued hot shooting and Cooney’s surprising contribution off the bench. Southerland scored all 13 of his points in the first 24 minutes of the game (more on that next), not an unexpected performance from a guy who has been on fire all week. His four triples gave him 16 for the week, tying Gerry McNamara’s record from 2006. But it was Cooney who really energized the Orange in the first half. The seldom-used sophomore out of Delaware came off the bench and poured in 10 points, all before halftime. The outside success of these two players opened up a lot inside for Syracuse, a team that doesn’t look there all too often. Baye Keita had arguably his best game of the season with a lot of his production coming via the offensive glass. With Georgetown having to respect the Orange on the perimeter, it gave Keita more space to get in position for rebounds and scores. Even though Southerland and Cooney almost didn’t score at all in the second half and overtime, their success in the first half enabled Syracuse to hang on.
  2. Jabril Trawick’s defense on Southerland allowed Georgetown to come back. Trawick, known as Georgetown’s best defender, completely locked up the hot-shooting Southerland for the final 16 minutes of regulation and the five minute overtime, holding the Syracuse senior sharpshooter to just two field goal attempts over the final 21 minutes of action. As a team, Georgetown held Syracuse to just 28% shooting in the second frame, allowing the Hoyas to slowly chip away at the lead as regulation winded down. Georgetown made some clutch shots and free throws but team defense (and Trawick specifically) was the main reason why the Hoyas were able to force overtime.
  3. It was a fitting end to a classic Big East old guard rivalry. It’s sad that this all had to come to an end. These two teams put on a show for the 20,000+ fans gathered in Madison Square Garden on this semifinal Friday night and it seemed that nobody wanted this game to end. There will be a lot written about this in the days and weeks to come but this game will be a treasured memory for everyone in attendance, one that nobody will soon forget. We were all incredibly lucky to witness one final classic between two founding members of the original Big East.

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Big East M5: 03.13.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on March 13th, 2013

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  1. The Big East named Otto Porter and John Thompson III Player of the Year and Coach of the Year, respectively, on Tuesday. Porter was the unanimous choice for POY among coaches, and had been the only unanimous selection on the All-Big East First Team roster that was released Sunday. Barry Svrluga at the Washington Post recounts how unlikely that feat would have seemed in early January, when Porter shot 7-of-19 and had nine total rebounds in consecutive losses to open Big East play. After turning the ball over seven times against Louisville, Porter notched 34 assists to just nine turnovers in the Hoyas’ final 11 games –– a staggering 3.8 A/TO ratio. The 6’8″ sophomore is the eighth Big East POY winner from Georgetown, making the it the most successful program in that category.
  2. Prized recruit Aquille Carr announced yesterday that he would forgo a college career at Seton Hall to play professionally abroad next year, prompting the Star-Ledger’ Steve Politi to question whether Kevin Willard is repeating the mistakes of his predecessors. While recruiting success offered some hopeful silver lining during Seton Hall’s miserable 3-15 Big East regular season, that optimism evaporated in the span of less than a week. Willard’s only other commitment, Illinois shooting guard Jerron Wilbut, was arrested last Thursday for robbery and will likely never step foot on campus. Now with no recruits in the fold for 2013, Politi says Willard “can’t afford an entire goose egg for a recruiting class” if he wants to avoid the fates of former Pirates coaches Bobby Gonzalez and Louis Orr.
  3. CBS New York’s Jon Rothstein maintains that Rutgers AD Tim Pernetti made the right choice in retaining coach Mike Rice, and believes the Scarlet Knights are poised to turn the corner. It takes time to try to build a program that hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1991, and Rothstein cites Jay Wright-era Villanova and Mick Cronin’s Cincinnati as examples of programs that needed four or five years to do so. Moreover, “There is a distinct jump in production when a group of sophomores become juniors,” he says, and Rutgers’ roster boasts seven rising seniors, including leading scorers Eli Carter and Myles Mack.
  4. Cincinnati’s staff hopes to have Justin Jackson back in the fold against Providence tonight, after the 6’8″ junior missed the past three games with an ankle injury. Jackson has averaged 3.9 points and 3.9 rebounds per game, but Mick Cronin insists, “We need him. He’s an energy guy.  This time of year is when you rely on your veteran players.” On the topic of Cashmere Wright, Cronin admitted that his mercurial point guard is still hobbled by a tricky knee, which is preventing him from exploiting defenders off the dribble. “He’s giving us everything he can give us,” Cronin reiterated.
  5. UConn blog A Dime Back has been conducting a tournament-style bracket of the most historic Huskies in a feature dubbed “The Ultimate UConn Challenge.” The survey’s architects have given it a thoughtful treatment, having “researched, compiled, ranked and seeded 64 of the greatest players in Husky history” over the course of this season. Descriptions of each player display a level of research uncommon to the format, and contain some history that will appeal to inquisitive college basketball fans regardless of team allegiance. Ray Allen, Kemba Walker, Donyell Marshall and Emeka Okafor are the top seeds, while Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright are the only current players to make the field.
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Award Tour: The Ballot Is In and the Best Player, Freshman and Coach are…

Posted by DCassilo on March 12th, 2013

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David Cassilo is an RTC columnist who also writes about college basketball for SLAM magazine. You can follow him at @dcassilo.

Believe it or not, when this all started guys like Mike Moser, Jamaal Franklin and Isaiah Canaan were in the top 10. But soon the top players in the country started to come into focus. Only four players (Trey Burke, Cody Zeller, Doug McDermott and Deshaun Thomas) stayed in the rankings all season, while only one freshman (Marcus Smart) could say the same. And finally, below, we have those few players that separated themselves from the pack. The best part of it all is that as fun as this regular season was, it will likely only provide a small percentage of what we remember about college basketball this year. But before we get to the best part, here’s who is taking home the hardware.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Otto Porter Jr. – Georgetown
Regular season stats: 16.4 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 2.0 SPG

Otto Porter Led the Hoyas to a Special Win (TheDaily.com)

Otto Porter Jr. has a lot to be excited about. (TheDaily.com)

In times of adversity, greatness rises, and that’s the primary reason Porter is the choice for the top spot. On January 8, the Hoyas’ second leading scorer, Greg Whittington, played his final game. It was a crossroads for Georgetown, who looked like they might be headed down the Big East standings very quickly. Instead, though, the team went 14-2 and grabbed the Big East title. Over those 16 games, Porter was unstoppable. He averaged 19.9 PPG and 7.7 RPG, while shooting at least 50 percent from the field in 10 of 16 games despite facing plenty of double-teams. And the Hoyas got the most out of their best player too. He played at least 39 minutes in each of his last five games.

What Porter was able to accomplish with such a thin supporting cast was remarkable. There was no Cody Zeller down low like there was for Victor Oladipo, and the Hoyas finished first in the Big East, not fifth like Trey Burke did in the Big Ten. He was the best player on Georgetown, and everybody knew it, yet they couldn’t stop him. Now he’s the best player in the country.

First Team All-Americans

  • Otto Porter Jr. – Georgetown
  • Trey Burke – Michigan
  • Victor Oladipo – Indiana
  • Mason Plumlee – Duke
  • Kelly Olynyk – Gonzaga

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Award Tour: Burke vs. Porter, McLemore vs. Smart and Larranaga vs. JTIII

Posted by DCassilo on March 8th, 2013

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David Cassilo is an RTC columnist who also writes about college basketball for SLAM magazine. You can follow him at @dcassilo.

With just one regular season game to go, nothing is decided. It’s another example of how unpredictable this season has been. For Player of the Year, it’s down to Trey Burke and Otto Porter Jr. Both players have carried their teams and made everyone around them better. Then there’s Freshman of the Year, which is down to Ben McLemore and Marcus Smart. They are a couple of players who have been impacts guys from the opening game. And Coach of the Year? It’s Jim Larranaga’s to lose, but lately, it looks like he’s trying to lose it.

The final update of this will run on Tuesday of next week, so make sure to look out for it.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR

10. Marcus Smart – Oklahoma State (Last week – NR)
2012-13 stats: 14.9 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 4.3 APG, 3 SPG

I’ve written about Smart so many times this season that I need to give myself a moment to step back and admire how well-rounded he is as a player. His 3.0 SPG are third best in the country. He’s a guy I’ll always want on my team.  This week: March 9 vs. Kansas State

9. Deshaun Thomas – Ohio State (Last week – 9)
2012-13 stats: 19.8 PPG, 6.2 RPG

A rematch of this 2012 Final Four matchup highlights the best of the remaining Big Ten non-conference games.

Thomas and Withey are in the top-10.

Oddly enough, the Buckeyes have played their best basketball when Thomas has played his worst. Still, he’s scored at least 14 points in each game of this four-game winning streak. In most other conferences, he would be the Player of the Year. This week: March 10 vs. Illinois

8. Kelly Olynyk – Gonzaga (Last week – 8)
2012-13 stats: 17.7 PPG, 7 RPG

You would be hard-pressed to find many players that are more efficient than Olynyk. The junior shot 68.8 percent from the field while attempting over 10 shots per game. It will be fun when the rest of the country figures out who he is this March. This week: Regular season over.

7. Cody Zeller – Indiana (Last Week – 7)
2012-13 stats: 16.5 PPG, 8. RPG

It will go down as a disappointing year because of the expectations, but Zeller still improved his scoring and rebounding averages in his sophomore season. The most surprising thing, though, is that there is a Hoosier ahead of him on this list. This week: March 10 at Michigan

6. Doug McDermott – Creighton (Last week – 6)
2012-13 stats: 23.4 PPG, 7.6 RPG

McDermott closed the regular season out in style with 41 points against Wichita State. Although he will probably get a few first-place votes, what ultimately held him back was the struggles of his teammates. This week: Regular season over.

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Ten Tuesday Scribbles: On Virginia, North Carolina, National COY, and More…

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 5th, 2013

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Brian Otskey is an RTC columnist. Every Tuesday during the regular season he’ll be giving his 10 thoughts on the previous week’s action. You can find him on Twitter @botskey

  1. If there is one team that personifies this rollercoaster season of unpredictability, it is probably Virginia. Last week was the Cavaliers’ season in a nutshell as they toppled Duke in Charlottesville before laying an egg at Boston College on Sunday. At 20-9 (10-6), Virginia sits squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble with two regular season games to play. In my heart of hearts, I believe this is a tournament-quality team. Virginia has impressive victories against aforementioned Duke as well as NC State, North Carolina and a huge road win at Wisconsin earlier in the season. Additionally, the Cavs sport wins over bubble buddies Tennessee and Maryland (on the road). Unfortunately for Virginia, the story doesn’t end there and turns sour rather quickly. Tony Bennett’s team has lost a stunning seven games to sub-100 RPI opponents, six of them coming on the road or at a neutral site. The loss to #315 Old Dominion is particularly puzzling. With just a 2-6 road record in conference play, an RPI in the 60s and an embarrassing non-conference strength of schedule, Virginia is not in a great spot despite its good wins. Joe Harris and the Cavs need to take care of business against Florida State and Maryland before putting together some kind of ACC Tournament run. This is one of the more bizarre NCAA resumes I’ve ever seen and one sure to create a lot of debate in the committee room.

    Joe Harris and Virginia haven't been consistent

    Joe Harris and Virginia haven’t been consistent

  2. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s comments after his team’s loss to Virginia created a stir throughout the college basketball world over the last few days. Coach K complained about his team not being able to safely get off the floor while Virginia’s students rushed the court after their team’s big win. While the video does show the Duke team unable to enter the tunnel and head to the locker room, I feel Krzyzewski is out of line. His team was protected by multiple arena security personnel who formed a human wall between the Duke team and the Virginia students. At no time were the Duke players in any danger. I understand why things this man says get noticed, after all he is the sport’s winningest coach. But why does everything Coach K says have to be taken as gospel? Let the kids have some fun and stop with the “get off my lawn!” attitude. Unless your team is in danger of being hurt, comments like these serve as a distraction and quite honestly look like sour grapes to me.
  3. After suffering the loss to Virginia, Duke rebounded in a big way by taking down Miami and exacting a measure of revenge for the blowout loss earlier this year in Coral Gables. It was a struggle though as the Blue Devils needed a career-high 36 points from Ryan Kelly (in his first game back since January 8) just to win by three on their home floor. While Kelly clearly sparked Duke offensively in this game, he makes a bigger difference on the other side of the basketball. Kelly is an outstanding defender because he’s a tall, agile forward who can get up into a player on the perimeter and force him to shoot over or pass around Kelly, often going east-west instead of north-south. Kelly’s presence on the floor did not make a huge difference in this particular game when it comes to Miami’s offensive efficiency but he did frustrate the Hurricanes from the three point line. Miami shot just 6-21 from deep and a big reason for that was Kelly and his length. As we head into postseason play, Kelly’s return will make a huge difference on the defensive side of the ball for Duke. Anything he does offensively is gravy for this team. Duke is undefeated with Kelly in the lineup and that bodes well for the Blue Devils as they look to grab a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and make a run at the program’s 16th Final Four appearance. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East M5: 02.28.13 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on February 28th, 2013

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  1. Everyone remembers the last two days when I was saying that UConn was going to come to play Wednesday right? Okay so maybe I wasn’t going out on a very big limb with that prediction, but the Huskies sure made me look good last night when they took highly ranked Georgetown to double overtime before losing a game they probably should have won in agonizing fashion. Yes, Otto Porter deserves some big-time credit for his late-game heroics and his general excellence at the game of basketball, but the Huskies’ perimeter defense for most of the second half was atrocious and their offensive possessions down the stretch were not great either. UConn deserves credit for continuing to play inspired basketball without a postseason to look forward to, and Georgetown has the look of a No. 1 seed after taking a tough conference opponent’s best shot on the road and still coming out with a win. The Hoyas are hardly a finished product and if some team can figure out how to stop or even slow down Porter, John Thompson III‘s bunch will be in big trouble. But, in case you didn’t notice, Porter is pretty difficult to stop and when the backcourt duo of D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and Markel Starks get going, opposing teams don’t have a lot of success. It is way too early to say Georgetown has the inside shot at a No. 1 seed because an early exit in the Big East Tournament can dash those hopes quickly, but they are definitely in the conversation as of right now.
  2. Notre Dame is still clinging to hope at winning the Big East regular season crown and one of the ways to improve their chances would be to get the services of senior forward Scott Martin back sometime soon. Martin has returned to practice after battling knee issues for much of the season but the Fighting Irish still have no idea when he will return to the court or if he will be able to return at all. Coach Mike Brey gave Martin’s comeback a 50-50 shot and it seems like the best the team and Martin can hope for is that the pain won’t be a major issue and Martin can play limited minutes. Even in limited minutes, Martin’s basketball IQ, floor-spacing ability, and improved long-range shooting would be a boon for a Fighting Irish team trying to find some consistency. And on a more personal note, it would be just awful for Martin if his sixth-year of eligibility and his last shot at the NCAA Tournament were wasted because of recurring knee problems. The quotes Martin gave to Jeff Goodman are, unfortunately, rather sad, and positive thinking alone won’t resurrect Martin’s career. My guess is that Brey and the team will find a way to get Martin on the court, even for a minute, on Senior Night next Tuesday but I wouldn’t expect him to make a large impact on the rest of team’s season.
  3. Until I got a chance to read this article, I had forgotten that Miami‘s star point guard Shane Larkin was at one point supposed to be playing for DePaul and coach Oliver Purnell. Even Purnell was willing to wonder what life might have been with a budding star like Larkin running the show, but alas, the Blue Demons don’t have Larkin, who has gone on to bigger and better things, while the Blue Demons have continued to slump. The story is a good one, especially because it is penned by a Virginian-Pilot reporter who was familiar with Purnell from the coach’s time at Old Dominion. The jist is that Purnell came to Chicago with the reputation of a program fixer, something DePaul was in desperate need of, and things have not gone according to plan. Aside from Cleveland Melvin and Brandon Young, the team is devoid of true Big East-caliber talent and the Blue Demons’ offense is so putrid at times that watching them play can be difficult. We have used this space before to wonder whether Purnell will get the axe at the end of this season, but I think at this point, the school is willing to let him have one more year to show some serious improvement before they kick him to the curb. Of course that extra season might have just as much to do with the fact that DePaul still owes Purnell a lot of money and they would like to try and recoup something of value from that investment. It’s hard to root against Purnell, who seems like such a nice guy, but Purnell’s coaching track record is not spotless, and unless he can turn things around out of the gate next season, the school may not even wait a full season to dump him.
  4. Hard to disagree with Cincinnati head honcho Mick Cronin‘s decision to make practice after the team’s blowout loss to Notre Dame light and fun. Nothing has been fun about the last few weeks for Cincinnati as they have watched themselves go from conference title contenders to bubble watchers in just six games and so Cronin’s decision to give the guys an “emotional break” seems like exactly what the doctor ordered for the team as they get ready to play UConn on Saturday. Of course that emotional break won’t help the Bearcats learn how to score, something they have not done a lot of in recent weeks. The game against the Huskies will be at home, and UConn is coming off their emotionally draining loss last night to Georgetown, so maybe the stars have aligned for Cincinnati to get back on track, or maybe the gritty Huskies will find a way to get up for this game as well and they will sink Cincinnati even lower. Maybe now, after their break, the team can relax, take some of the pressure off of themselves, and just play hard-nosed basketball. They better, because although they are safely in the tournament for now, the way they have played in the last six games, anything can happen before Selection Sunday.
  5. It is somewhat hard to follow Bud Poliquin‘s meandering, comma-filled article about Jim Boeheim‘s testy press conference after the team’s loss to Marquette but I think what the veteran columnist is trying to say is that people shouldn’t make a big deal of the fact that Boeheim got a bit snippy in a press conference because it happens all the time. Poliquin has a point. There are plenty of us who haven’t even been on Earth long enough to remember Boeheim’s first years at Syracuse and even we know that the legend likes to get combative and short when he doesn’t like the questions being asked. All of that said, Boeheim has been making plenty of news with his off-the-court remarks this season, and scolding a student reporter, or any reporter for that much, for asking pertinent questions about X’s and O’s and coaching decisions is a bit ridiculous. The questions that Boeheim didn’t like weren’t meant to question his coaching ability, they were questions that were being asked so they could get answers from the guy in the room with all of the coaching experience and ability. A question about why Boeheim didn’t use DaJuan Coleman against the Golden Eagles isn’t meant to criticize Boeheim’s decision-making, it is to learn more about his decision-making process. So yeah, let’s not make a big deal of the fact that Jim Boeheim got snarky in front of a microphone again, but only if Boeheim will agree to stop making innocent questions about a game such a big deal as well.
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Big East M5: 02.27.13 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on February 27th, 2013

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  1. Jim Boeheim was saying things in front of a microphone again and, after a tough road loss to Marquette in which his team led for the better part of the game, he was entertaining as always. He was cranky with reporters and didn’t seem to like a few of the questions that were tossed his way. He had good reason for his attitude, too, as Jeff Goodman points out. The Orange have been erratic as of late and they don’t look like a team that is ready to challenge for a spot in the Final Four, so Boeheim isn’t necessarily keen on fielding questions about his team’s abilities and his coaching decisions. Of course Boeheim can get cranky with reporters all he wants but if Syracuse doesn’t find some outside shooting and consistent effort for 40 minutes, it will be the team and their chances for postseason success that will start to become the issue.
  2. Goodman clearly came correct in the last two days because his other story out of the Marquette and Syracuse tilt was also an excellent one. This one focused on how Marquette is tired of hearing about how hard they play, which struck a chord, because just yesterday I mentioned how the Golden Eagles owed much of their success to how hard they play. The fact of the matter is that Marquette doesn’t have NBA talent on its roster aside from perhaps Vander Blue, and they have wildly overachieved this season in a ruggedly competitive conference without their best two players and leading scorers from last season. They don’t have the talent to be this good, so they make up for it with heady play and excellent depth at multiple positions… oh, and how hard they play. Goodman makes sure to rightly give coach Buzz Williams much of the credit for the sustained success and the way the Golden Eagles play is really just an extension of the way Williams coaches — with intensity, competitiveness, and grit.
  3. Williams isn’t the only coach who deserves a fair amount of credit for helping his team overachieve this season. Georgetown has been another conference success story this season behind star player Otto Porter and a slew of useful role players who can step up in big moments, but a primary reason for their success has been the coaching job of John Thompson III. The Hoyas didn’t win pretty early in the season, but they won often, and when second-leading scorer Greg Whittington was suspended, the team was supposed to struggle but instead has gone 11-1. The lineup tinkering has worked, young players have developed on schedule, and the Hoyas are playing some of their best basketball of the season with a big assist from the man in charge of making all those things work.
  4. I said it yesterday and I will say it again, UConn is going to come to play tonight when they get a visit from Georgetown for what will be the biggest remaining game on their season. Huskies’ coach Kevin Ollie is yet another coach helping his team overachieve and he has done a masterful job keeping his team focused and motivated. Of course the players deserve some credit for the team’s success this season as well, and if they can’t get fired up to try and upset a Top 10 team, then they shouldn’t be playing this sport. The Hoyas will not be able to afford to come out flat, because Gampel Pavilion will be rocking and if the Huskies start fast and the Hoyas struggle to keep up, the team and the fans in the arena will quickly smell blood in the water.
  5. The best part about the Big East this season has been how evenly matched the top six teams are. At this juncture in the season, there are plenty of teams still mathematically alive in the hunt for the regular season title and one of those is Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish were a trendy pick to compete for the title this season because of their returning experience and despite some rough patches earlier in the season, they find themselves right in the thick of the race with just a couple games left. Now, their chances at winning the regular season title are quite slim, but that doesn’t mean the team isn’t committed to winning out and doing their best to keep the pressure on the teams above them.
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Big East M5: 02.26.13 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on February 26th, 2013

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  1. Criticizing Marquette for its inconsistent play — especially as they sit just a game out of the top spot in the conference following last night’s big comeback win over Syracuse in Milwaukee — seems like nitpicking but that doesn’t mean the team’s schizophrenic play shouldn’t be a concern for Golden Eagles’ fans either. Buzz Williams’ team was supposed to take a step back this season after losing players like Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder, but Williams has once again proven he is one of the best coaches in the country as his team has easily exceeded expectations and is competing for a league title without a true star. For all of the success that Marquette has had, including its impressive bounceback win over the Orange last night, they still seem to have the occasional lapse and have been shaky on the road. Williams and his club don’t have the luxury of winning games when they don’t play well because a lot of their success this season has been a result of hard work and grit. I don’t think anyone wants to play them in the NCAA Tournament, but if they can’t find better consistency and play with continued effort, I don’t think anyone would be surprised to see Marquette bounced early from the Dance either.
  2. On one hand, it doesn’t seem fair to go after Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard for his team’s abysmal performance this season considering he lost two of his best forwards to injury, but at the same time, there is definitely something to be said for the fact that the Pirates’ roster is nearly devoid of true Big East-caliber players. Convincing the best players in the greater NYC area to eschew national powerhouses for a chance to return the Pirates to glory is hardly easy, but the Hall hasn’t even had a four-star player commit to Willard until Aquille Carr did this year and almost no one expects Carr to qualify. Also, where are all the kids from New Jersey? Three of the five New Jersey natives on the roster are transfers, and one other, Fuquan Edwin, wasn’t even Willard’s recruit. Maybe the best talent in the Garden State won’t want to play in South Orange, but certainly there are more gettable players from New Jersey who could make a greater impact than the four graduates of the Canarias Basketball Academy are making for the team currently.
  3. Of course that whole paragraph was written before Villanova made me look stupid by basically standing around while Seton Hall jacked up and made a bunch of three-pointers on their way to pulling off the upset last night at home. It doesn’t change the fact that the Pirates are terrible, but I don’t know what it means that VU head coach Jay Wright basically acknowledged he expects his team to struggle defending the three-ball followed by his team proving him prophetic. Seton Hall made 13 triples, including the game-winner from Edwin after Wildcats’ forward James Bell foolishly tried to split a double-team, and the Wildcats handed back all of the good will they earned by beating Marquette over the weekend. It’s hard to know what to make of the Wildcats’ resume at that — they have a trio of excellent conference wins, but they also have a number of truly terrible losses. If they can win one of their two remaining games against Pittsburgh and Georgetown and then perform admirably in the Big East Tournament, they can probably sneak in, but games like Monday night certainly don’t help.
  4. Speaking of teams who are making it difficult for themselves, the Cincinnati Bearcats have been turning in a series of stinkers that culminated in whatever that was called Sunday against Notre Dame. As The Dagger astutely points out, plenty of UC’s struggles can be blamed on the injury to point guard Cashmere Wright, who was basically acting as half of their offense while they were winning and has been far less explosive and dangerous since coming back. Now they are in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament despite a resume full of solid wins both within and outside of the conference. They have just three conference games left, and considering winning in Louisville next Monday seems nearly impossible at this point, they need to beat Connecticut and South Florida to feel truly comfortable. But frankly, the team isn’t going to win if they can’t find some offense, and that firepower isn’t coming if Wright doesn’t magically get healthy soon.
  5. After its big Saturday road win over Syracuse, there are some willing to argue that Georgetown is good enough to be a No.1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and that the Hoyas have the resume to back it up. But if I am John Thompson III, I am doing everything in my power to make sure my team comes to play Wednesday against UConn. The Huskies have nothing to lose in this game and they will be in front of a raucous Gampel Pavilion crowd ready to greet Georgetown for maybe the last time. The Hoyas should feel really good about where they sit, though. No one thought they were going to be this good this season, especially after they lost Greg Whittington, but now they are clearly one of the best eight teams in the country.  Still, if they start feeling too good about themselves, the Huskies are going to punch them in the mouth on Wednesday night.
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