Fox Sports 1 kicked off its coverage of the Big East with its Tip-Off Party on Friday night. Rob Stone, Bill Raftery and Tarik Turner led viewers around the Big East as most teams have now had their season opening events/scrimmages. The Fox hosts talked with several of the league coaches as well as preseason POY Doug McDermott. Fox has invested a lot of money in the new league and is already pushing its games with plenty of commercials and a new show for Bill Raftery, whom they lured away from ESPN. Bringing in a big name like Raftery and placing him alongside everyone’s favorite play-by-play announcer, Gus Johnson, will help draw some casual viewers. The Big East/Fox Sports 1 relationship will be a crucial one for both sides this season as both entities are new ventures and will need to have some early success to gain credibility.
St. John’s center Chris Obekpa was recently suspended for the the Red Storm’s tip-off event and their two preseason scrimmages for violating university rules. Luckily for Obekpa and Steve Lavin, he will be able to practice and will be available for the team’s crucial season opener against Wisconsin on November 8. Obekpa had the second most blocks in the nation last year and is a huge presence down low. He is an irreplaceable player for the Red Storm so it is paramount that he does not have any more rules violations that could keep him out of the lineup. Lavin said, “We expect our student-athletes to conduct themselves in a responsible manner in representing St. John’s University. Chris understands this suspension can serve as a learning experience.” Hopefully he does not suffer too much from missing the exhibition games and will be 100 percent ready for the Badgers in a little more than a week.
Villanova and Marquette both had their preseason intra-squad scrimmages this weekend. Villanova split into the Blue team, led by Ryan Arcidiacono, and White team, led by JayVaughn Pinkston. The Blue team won by 15 points and was in control from the start. VUHoops.comwas impressed by Arcidiacono, who is looking to build off a very successful freshman campaign, as well as freshman Josh Hart, who was a menace defensively. In Milwaukee, Buzz Williams decided to have a “pseudo practice”, as Andrei Greska of PaintTouches.comput it. Freshman point guard John Dawson was impressive for a guy who was looked at as a project by most, but with the loss of Duane Wilson for a few months, he will be called upon to play a few minutes each night. The other two freshman, JaJuan Johnson and Deonte Burton, were impressive and had some nice plays on offense. The most impressive player of all, though, according to Greska, was Juan Anderson. The junior wing seems to be putting it all together after a summer where he decided to leave and then return to the program.
Georgetown reeled in four-star 6’8″ power forward Marcus Derricksonover the weekend. He is ranked 55th in the class of 2015 by Rivals and is the Hoyas’ first verbal commitment in the class. This weekend was huge for recruiting for several teams that held their preseason tip-offs. Seton Hall had their excellent 2014 commitments Khadeen Carrington, Isaiah Whitehead, Angel Delgado, and Ismael Sanogo in attendance as well as several local targets in the classes of 2015 and 2016. Kevin Willard is turning it around big time with the 2014 class and having all the recruits on campus will hopefully bring in some additional top talent. St. John’s also had some big recruits on campus with Isaiah Briscoe and Cheick Diallo in Carnesecca Arena. Both would be huge gets for Steve Lavin who has had great success recruiting at St. John’s.
Several of the tip-off parties had some special appearances and performances on Friday night. Providence brought in singer Nick Cannon to DJ the event and Villanova had Nicki Minaj perform. There were also some superb dunk contests. St. John’s freshman Rysheed Jordan won theirs with an amazing dunk over former Red Storm center God’s Gift Achiuwa. Another freshman, Providence’s Brandon Austin, had an incredible between-the-legs dunk to win theirs. Probably the most bizarre event from Friday around the league was at Seton Hall. Pirates coach Kevin Willard challenged competitive eater Takeru Kobayashi to a hot-dog eating contest. Willard decided to drink wine and put some mustard on his hot dog as the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest champion devoured 10 hot dogs in a minute and then chugged a gallon of milk.
The first Naismith Award watch list, comprised of 50 players, was released yesterday. While it is difficult to take a ton of stock in a list that is so long and backed by so little in terms of on-court results, it’s always interesting to see who is highlighted. Seven current Big East players have been chosen for this first watch list. Louisville has three players included, with guard Peyton Siva, center Gorgui Dieng, and forward Chane Behanan all named. Syracuse point guard Michael Carter Williams, Notre Dame center Jack Cooley, Cincinnati guard Sean Kilpatrick, and Georgetown forward Otto Porter were also included.
Villanova‘s Jay Wright and Purdue’s Matt Painter each look forward to their teams’ upcoming match-up in the 2k Sports Classic at Madison Square Garden, as they believe the two programs are in a similar place early on this season. Jay Wright explains how the two teams, who are generally known for quite different approaches, mirror each other: “We’re similar to Purdue in that we have a lot of young players, and a lot of returning players who are taking on new roles… Right now, we are an inconsistent team, probably like a lot of people are early.” Villanova has started the year 2-0, but wins against the District of Columbia and Marshall aren’t enough to get people excited about Wildcats basketball again. A win over a quality Big Ten opponent surely would be.
Marquette got a big boost from an unlikely source in its 84-63 victory over Colgate Sunday: sophomore Juan Anderson. Anderson has been a bit of a forgotten man in the Golden Eagles program, at least he had been before coming one point and rebound short of a double-double in the game against the Red Raiders. Anderson missed much of last season due to surgery and an NCAA suspension, and he was supposed to miss the beginning of this season again after undergoing another surgery, a fact that makes his performance all the more impressive. Buzz Williams was impressed with Anderson’s play as well, and indicated that we’d see more of the forward in the future: “His energy level is what helps us… He had energy last year; he just didn’t have purpose to his energy. I think now he better understands how to play with that energy and have purpose in what he’s doing… I’ve been telling him the last few weeks that he needs to put me in a position where I can’t keep him off the floor, and the way he’s going to do that is by doing the things he did today.”
Many basketball pundits are high on Notre Dame due to their experience — the Irish return four players from last season’s starting line-up. The prestigious Rush the Court: Big East Microsite preseason rankings place Notre Dame in at #3 after perennial powers Louisville and Syracuse. For all of the experience that Mike Brey returns, there are lingering questions about the team’s depth. Enter: Garrick Sherman and Cameron Biedscheid. Notre Dame was very sluggish in the first few minutes against Monmouth on Monday, until Sherman and Biedschied entered the game and sparked a 12-0 run. Sherman led the Irish with 22 points, while Biedschied added nine points and five assists. If Notre Dame can count on consistent performances like that off the bench, Brey’s squad may be more dangerous than originally thought.
Many former college basketball players who aren’t lucky enough to carve out careers in the NBA are long-forgotten, but many of these athletes have long, fulfilling careers overseas. DePaul athletics highlighted former Blue Demon stars Will Walker and Krys Faber, a pair who are playing exceptionally well in Bulgaria and Uruguay, respectively. Walker plays guard for BC Beroe, while Faber has become a 20/20 machine for Atletico Welcome. While both players certainly have NBA aspirations, they’re making the best of their current situations. It is refreshing to see Walker spreading an important message to up and coming athletes: “no matter what, always remember it’s a blessing to be playing professionally. Don’t take any of it for granted because there are hundreds of guys wishing for a spot.”
Connecticut’s basketball’s academic woes have reared their ugly head once again, this time in the form of the team’s graduation success rate (GSR). The Huskies’ GSR dropped from 36% to 11% this year, representing the lowest such mark in all of Division I basketball. The score, which reflects how many of the team’s players were able to graduate within six years of their enrollment at school, is different from the APR, the Academic Progress Rating that is currently preventing UConn from participating in the 2013 postseason. On the bright side for the Huskies, their APR is on the rise. Academic success is one of the major black marks on the end of the Jim Calhoun era at Connecticut, and as the NCAA’s APR requirements continue to increase every year, it needs to be a major focus for Kevin Ollie or whoever has control of the program in the long term.
Big time non-conference series are always fun, and yesterday we learned that Georgetown and Kansas have agreed to play four games starting next season. The series will open at Allen Fieldhouse on December 31, 2013 and continue on for three successive seasons home-and-home until 2016-17. Georgetown and Kansas have only faced each other twice, including last year in the Maui Invitational, a 67-63 Kansas victory. The all-time series is tied at one win apiece.
Pitt’s J.J. Mooremay be a bit rusty on the court after missing months of basketball from an April surgery to repair his fifth metatarsal, but he spent his summer wisely. After living in the weight room during his rehabiliation, Moore put on around 15 pounds of muscle, and is now a stout 6’6″ and 215 pounds. Moore was not a major part of Jamie Dixon’s rotation last season, sitting behind Lamar Patterson and Nasir Robinsonat the forward slots, but with his added size and strength he should factor in at both small forward and power forward this year. Moore adds some added quickness and versatility at the four when Dixon wants to go with a smaller, more athletic line-up: ”I’m definitely ready to make that transition and play power forward,” Moore said. “We’ve been practicing right now with me being the power forward. It’s looking good. I think it’s looking good for the team, as a matter of fact. With me as a power forward, the guys can get open because we can space the floor.”
Marquette blog Anonymous Eagle is running a player preview series for the start of the 2012-13 season. Today featured “silky” freshman forward Steve Taylor, whom Buzz Williams has called the best freshman he’s ever signed at Marquette. While Taylor has a ton of potential, he is going to start behind Jamil Wilson and Juan Anderson in the rotation, and the AE guys don’t foresee him seeing a lot come Big East play, especially with Williams’ penchant for leaning on experienced players down the stretch. There is also an excellent photoshop done involving Taylor, Williams, and a 1995 Chevy Chase film, so the full profile is definitely worth your time.
Having spent four years in Syracuse, I can verify that there are a number of notable food spots in town. Dinosaur BBQ is the first place to roll off of most tongues, but Jim Boeheim’s favorite hot dog joint Heid’s and the nearly-90 year old Varsity on the SU hill both deserve all the recognition that they receive as well. However, there is one particular Syracuse food item that is particularly legendary – the Mother’s Cupboard frittata. This six-pound heap of egg, pepperoni, home fries, sausage, and vegetables has been finished by few and has conquered many, but another brave soul was able to put down the entire dish on Monday: Syracuse basketball walk-on Russ DeRemer. DeRemer utilized a strategy that allowed “Man vs. Food” host Adam Richman to overcome the mighty frittata, and he was able to put away the entire plate in 25 minutes. DeRemer was quite humble about the accomplishment, but fellow walk-on Albert Nassar was more candid about his teammate’s impressive feat: “Honestly, he didn’t even struggle,’’ Nassar said. “Until the last bowl, he didn’t pause once. He just kept going. Then on the last bottom, he paused for like a minute and then knocked it out.’’
The good news for Georgetown was with their NCAA Tournament second round victory over Belmont the Hoyas snapped a two-year NCAA one-and-done streak. The bad news? A third round loss to #11 seed North Carolina State meant another early tournament upset exit at the hands of a double-digit seed. Of course this type of thing falls right into the wheelhouse of doomsday embracing fans and nay saying media but, as this Bleacher Report piece by Bryan Toporek aptly points out, to call for John Thompson III’s head at this point would not only be premature, it would be foolish. Thompson has led the Hoyas to six twenty win seasons in the last seven, including a Final Four appearance in 2007. He has consistently brought in high level recruits and players that fit his system well and is one of three finalists for Nerlens Noel, the nation’s best high school senior and a potential game changer. Lastly, even if one could put the previous points aside and still want Thompson III to go, who do you replace him with? The grass is not always greener on the other side.
This just in. College kids party. That is why it comes as no surprise to find out that six Marquette players, who are not of drinking age, received citations for being in a nightclub back on January 29. The players: Todd Mayo, Vander Blue, Jamail Jones, Juan Anderson, Derrick Wilson, and Jake Thomas were not believed to be drinking. Head coach Buzz Williams acknowledged the issue was dealt with later the same day as January 29 was a Sunday. Reading between the lines it sounds like Williams handled it the old fashioned way with some good old intense physical fitness early on a Sunday morning. It is not known if the February partial game suspensions of Mayo, Blue as well as Junior Cadugan and Darius Johnson-Odon during Marquette’s February 24 game at West Virginia were related to the nightclub incident. This is also not expected to impact any of the players’ status for the Golden Eagles sweet sixteen contest against Florida on Thursday.
The University of Rhode Island has hired a young upstart coach in Danny Hurley away from Wagner to be its head coach and revive a struggling program that has not been heard from nationally for awhile. College basketball fans in southern New England only have to look back a year, and a short distance up route 95 north, to when Providence hired Ed Cooley with the same goals in mind. Providence and Rhode Island have a great and long standing interstate rivalry, so it is likely that the comparisons between Hurley and Cooley will be fodder for discussion in the Ocean State for some time to come as their journeys are now aligned. Further, as this article by Kevin Farrahar of friarbasketball.net outlines, Friar fans should be happy about Hurley’s hire because it gives more cachet to the rivalry, especially if both coaches have overall success, and is good for the suffering state of college basketball in Rhode Island on the whole. Further buzz will be created by the news that Danny’s brother Bobby, the former Duke star, apparently will join him in Kingston as an assistant rather than moving into the head role at Wagner as had been rumored.
Marquette received a verbal commitment from a hometown star yesterday as Milwaukee’s Dominican High School point guard Duane Wilson, a member of the class of 2013, pledged for the Golden Eagles. Wilson is ranked 128th nationally by Rivals.com and an ESPN.com grade of 92 (out of 100). “The main reason that made me go to Marquette was coach Buzz Williams,” Wilson told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “That was my first scholarship offer and they stayed on me. I just really liked his attitude. He gets the best out of his players all the time and they just play hard.” The highly recruited Wilson chose Williams and Marquette over the likes of Missouri and Memphis among others.
The National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) announced its All-America teams yesterday and the Big East checked in with three honorees spanning the second and third teams. West Virginia senior forward Kevin Jones (19.9 PPG, 10.9 RPG) and Syracuse senior forward Kris Joseph (13.7 PPG, 4.9 RPG) were named to the NABC’s second team. Marquette senior forward Jae Crowder (17.6 PPG, 8.4 RPG), who edged out Jones for Big East Player of the Year honors, received third team All-America honors. The first team consisted of: Anthony Davis (Kentucky), Draymond Green (Michigan State), Doug McDermott (Creighton), Thomas Robinson (Kansas), and Jared Sullinger (Ohio State).
The big game from a media perspective on what was essentially college basketball’s opening night was the Carrier Classic. From what we have seen and heard about the scene, it certainly lived up to the hype even if the game itself was a little disappointing. Of course, this game was more about honoring veterans on Veterans Day (something that honestly should be done more than once a year) as well as showcasing college basketball (also something that should be done more than once a year). We think the event did an excellent job of that and we have heard from quite a few non-college basketball fans (yes, we are forced to interact with them on occasion) who saw some of the game on television and thought that it was a really cool setting. We haven’t heard what the TV ratings were for the game, but we assume they will be outstanding for an early season college basketball game as long as they don’t include the nose-dive that certainly happened as soon as the Five for Fighting concert started.
As you may have heard, Mike Krzyzewskitied Bob Knight‘s Division I record of 902 wins on Saturday with Duke’s win over Presbyterian. If you weren’t aware, you must not have been watching ESPN, which ran this news on its scrolls for much of the past 36 hours. And the hype is just getting started as Krzyzewski will be going for the record outright tomorrow night when Duke plays Michigan State in the opening game of the Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden. While the media is ready to crown Krzyzewski with the title as #1 among the rest, we think that might be jumping the gun a little for two reasons: (1) he is coaching against Tom Izzo, who is pretty good in his own right, and (2) we will be covering the game and Krzyzewski is 0-2 in games at which this editor has been (a ridiculous loss in 2002 to FSU and last season’s blowout loss to St. John’s at Madison Square Garden).
There was some good news and some bad news on the injury front over the weekend. First, we will start with a little good medical news although it doesn’t qualify as an “injury”: Billy Kennedy, who took some time off to adjust to his new diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease, returned to the sidelines yesterday and guided Texas A&M to a 25-point victory over Southern. Arizona also got some good news as Kevin Parrom, who was shot while he was home in New York City in September and also had to deal with his mother passing away less than a month ago, played for the Wildcats for the first time since the incident. While Parrom made an impact on the stat sheet with six points, four rebounds, and two assists in 18 minutes, his presence was probably felt on more of an emotional level during Arizona’s ten-point win over Ball State. On the other hand, Louisville got even more bad news on the injury front as junior guard Mike Marra injured his left knee midway through the second half and had to be carried off the court by two people during its win over Lamar. Marra appeared to be relatively upbeat after the game, but an MRI last night revealed a torn ACL and therefore he will miss the rest of the season.
There were a pair of interesting suspensions late last week. The first comes from North Carolina State where C.J. Leslie is being forced to sit out the first three games of the team’s season due to impermissible benefits he received (using a friend’s car and receiving money from that same friend to help pay for the apartment application fees for Leslie’s half-brother). The other is at Marquette where freshman Juan Anderson was also suspended for three games for accepting a free ticket to a luxury suite at a Milwaukee Brewers playoff game. We have heard quite a few people come to Leslie’s defense saying that it is common for college students to borrow cars, but with college athletes the concept of a “friend” can get blurred very easily and we understand the NCAA’s rationale in cases like this (particularly when you consider the payment for an apartment application fee). We haven’t heard many people jump to Anderson’s defense yet because that is a pretty clear violation to most people, although Anderson could have just as easily said a “friend” had an extra ticket and invited him to the game.
On Thursday, we mentioned Jeff Capel‘s $1.75 million golden parachute from Oklahoma. Well, it turns out that Oklahoma also received a parting gift from the Capel era: three years of probation and $15,000 fine. The punishment is the result of an investigation into the actions of former assistant coach Orlando Taliaferro, who failed to report impermissible benefits given to Tiny Gallon and then lied to NCAA officials during their investigation. Taliaferro was hit with a two-year show cause penalty while the school was primarily hit by reductions in its ability to recruit, but is not prevented from playing in the postseason (unless you factor in the resultant quality of their team).
Brian Otskey is the RTC correspondent for the Big East. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.
Reader’s Take I
The Realignment Circus Continues: The latest blow to the Big East came just recently as West Virginia was accepted into the Big 12. That leaves the Big East with 13 basketball schools remaining and a handful of others (football schools) desperately trying to flee the sinking ship. Commissioner John Marinatto has said he is committed to holding Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia to the 27-month notice provision in the conference’s bylaws but one has to wonder if a financial settlement will be worked out in order to expedite the transition and move the conference into rebuilding mode. It’s going to be quite awkward if these three schools remain in the league until 2014. All of the current Big East members should eventually find a stable home in one form or another, but the days of Big East basketball as we know it will soon come to an end. Enjoy the 2011-12 season because it just might be the last year of this remarkable 16-team behemoth.
How Many Bids This Year?: After sending a record 11 teams to the NCAA Tournament last year, can the Big East reach that mark again? That seems unlikely but you never know how things will truly play out. I’d say there are ten contenders for NCAA bids and to make 11 you would need all of those teams plus one of the three New York City-area schools to have a wildly successful year and snatch a bid. The Big East is quite possibly the best conference in the land yet again but 11 NCAA teams is far-fetched. Eight or nine bids this season would seem to be much more realistic.
Can Connecticut Repeat?: The technical answer is yes but it will be extremely tough to do. There’s a reason only two teams have gone back-to-back in the last 20 years. College basketball is as deep as ever in terms of talent and quality teams, plus there’s someone missing from last year’s Connecticut team. Kemba Walker is now in the NBA and, despite Jim Calhoun’s impressive recruiting haul, there is a major leadership void to be filled. This team is stocked with talent but Walker was a one-of-a-kind leader who took complete control in Maui and parlayed that into a way of life for the rest of the season. Jeremy Lamb figures to take control but remember how young this group is. They’ll get better as the season progresses and may even win the Big East but when the chips are down in the NCAA Tournament, they won’t be able to call on Kemba and that’s why I feel they will not repeat.
Calhoun Won't Have His Mr. Everything Around This Season
Cautious Optimism at Georgetown, Villanova and West Virginia: These traditional powers lose a lot of talent and figure to be lodged in the middle of the conference. All three programs return key cogs but the departures of Austin Freeman, Chris Wright, Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes, Antonio Pena, Casey Mitchell, John Flowers and Joe Mazzulla leave more questions than answers. These teams all need someone to step up and become a deep shooting threat while maintaining a low post presence. Guards win in college basketball but you also have to be able to rebound and score inside occasionally. Hollis Thompson, Mouphtaou Yarou and Deniz Kilicli must become better all-around post men if their respective teams hope to make the NCAA Tournament. At 6’7”, 205 lbs., Thompson isn’t one to bang with the big guys but he’s going to have to score in the paint at times. Each team has a nice recruiting class coming in, but it’s up to the returning players to make the ultimate difference.
With the completion of the NBA Draft and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. Our Big East update comes from frequent RTC contributor Brian Otskey, co-author of Get to the Point.
Connecticut Revels In National Championship Glory: Connecticut’s storybook year continued on into the offseason as the Huskies were invited to the White House for an event with President Obama on May 16. The team presented the president with a #1 UConn jersey and posed for photographs after being lauded for their remarkable accomplishment. Connecticut made one of the most improbable runs ever en route to the third national championship in school history, all coming since 1999, going 23-0 outside of Big East regular season play. Nobody could have predicted the way last season unfolded and the NCAA Tournament as a whole was a microcosm of that. Connecticut’s national title made up for a lackluster performance by many of the record 11 Big East teams participating in the tournament. Only one other Big East team (Marquette) managed to make it to the second weekend’s Sweet 16. Life without Kemba Walker has begun in Storrs and while the Huskies will be among the 2011-12 Big East favorites, it’ll be very interesting to see who steps up and how the team performs without its warrior. Jeremy Lamb appears to be ready to take over but the way Shabazz Napier and Alex Oriakhi handle their larger roles will be the difference between a team contending for a Big East title and one that finishes fourth or fifth.
Kemba & Co. Celebrated in Style (H-C/B.Hansen)
The Ed Cooley Era Begins In Friartown: After Keno Davis stumbled to an 18-36 Big East record over three seasons in Providence, the Friars desperately needed someone to revive their moribund program. Providence has made only two NCAA Tournaments since its 1997 appearance and the last one was eight seasons ago in 2003-04. Enter Ed Cooley, a Providence-born 41-year-old with the fire in his belly needed to succeed in arguably the toughest job in the Big East Conference. Cooley will instill a system of discipline and fundamentals with a special attention to defense, three attributes of successful programs that were sorely lacking under Davis. Cooley’s Fairfield team ranked #22 in the nation in defensive efficiency last season and he improved the Stags’ record each and every year he was there. Providence, a small Catholic school with hardly any recruiting base along with limited facilities and resources, is an incredibly difficult job even before you have to go up against bigger schools like Syracuse, Louisville and Pittsburgh along with tradition-rich programs such as Georgetown, Villanova and Marquette. Cooley must spend his first season laying the foundation for longer term success. He won’t turn this program around overnight but more discipline on and off the court and hard work on the recruiting trail can turn Providence into a solid Big East competitor. We can’t think of many people better suited than Cooley to get the job done at Providence. While it will be a long and difficult process, brighter days are ahead for the Providence program with Ed Cooley at the helm.
Signs Of Life In The New York Area: New coach Steve Lavin and St. John’s brought the buzz back to the Big Apple last winter as the Red Storm earned its first NCAA bid in nine seasons. “Lavinwood” has moved east, but St. John’s now enters a year full of mixed feelings. Cautious optimism as well as uncertainty rules the day with nine new faces, part of the nation’s second-ranked recruiting class, making their way to Queens in 2011-12. Malik Stith is the only returnee of note after Dwayne Polee, II, decided to transfer closer to home at San Diego State. St. John’s may be the most unpredictable team in the Big East entering this season. The potential exists for a terrific year if Lavin can mold all this raw talent into a cohesive unit capable of playing with any team in the conference. However, issues with young players, commonly involving playing time and egos, are also very possible and it takes only one incident to destroy the locker room and wreck the season. The Johnnies have enough talent to make the NCAA Tournament again, but Lavin will have to totally adjust his approach to make that happen. With hardly any experience on the roster, he can’t simply roll the ball out and hope for the best. This season will be the biggest test of Lavin’s coaching career on the court, but he faced an even more difficult challenge last year, coaching the entire season with prostate cancer while keeping it a secret until this spring. Turning St. John’s around with that constantly in the back of his mind is an a commendable achievement and we obviously wish Coach Lavin the best of luck fighting this awful disease.
Across the Hudson River in New Jersey, Mike Rice and Rutgers appear to be building a program to be reckoned with down the road. The Scarlet Knights have been a dormant program for 20 years, never once enjoying a winning season in any of its 16 years as a Big East member. That may be about to change, although it appears unlikely that Rutgers will crack the .500 mark in league play this season. The fiery Rice reeled in a top 25 recruiting class and now must build on a season of close calls and what-ifs. Rutgers was competitive last year, but could only manage five Big East victories. It’ll take time for the new players to adjust to the collegiate level but bigger and better things should be expected from Rutgers in the years to come. Rutgers, a large state school, has the capability of becoming a pretty good program. All it needs is a commitment from the administration, facility upgrades and great recruiting. Rice is taking care of the latter, now it’s time for the Rutgers brass to provide him with the resources needed to build a top flight program. Rutgers needs major facility upgrades (a RAC renovation has been talked about for over a year), but fundraising has been a major problem. With New Jersey Governor Chris Christie trying to get the state’s financial house in order, there is going to be a lot of resistance to an ambitious project such as this one at the state’s flagship university.
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.
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 DePaulwere 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):
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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Michigan’s Nik Stauskas apparently needed that shoe. He went 0-for-2 for four points in a 69-79 loss to Duke last night.