Big Ten M5: Halloween Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on October 31st, 2014

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  1. It was always going to be a rough introduction into the Big Ten for Rutgers, given that last year the Scarlet Knights weren’t competitive in a mediocre American Athletic Conference. If they are going to turn things around, the effort will need to be led by one of their senior leaders, Kadeem Jack. So head coach Eddie Jordan must be more than a little concerned that last year’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer has been unable to practice due to a wrist injury. Jack is expected to be healthy by the first game of the season against George Washington, but Jordan needs to hope that’s the case as his team is going to need all the wins it can get for a shot at a postseason tournament.
  2. In East Lansing, Michigan State is also dealing with the injury bug. Tom Izzo’s team will lose freshman Javon Bess for at least a month as he will have surgery on his injured foot. Though not a heralded recruit, he seemed to have already earned some respect from his fellow teammates and coach. Izzo called him a “diamond in the rough” while Denzel Valentine said his loss is “gonna be big [to us].” His injury chips at the Spartans’ depth, something the Spartans would like to have as they make their way through another tough non-conference schedule with opponents like Duke, Georgia Tech, Kansas and Notre Dame slated.
  3. The season hasn’t even started, but Richard Pitino is already dealing with some off-the-court issues, as Minnesota dismissed junior Zach Lofton on Wednesday with no specific explanation given for his cause for dismissal. The 6’4″ wing had transferred to Minnesota from Illinois State, where he averaged 11.3 PPG and 3.0 RPG last season. His dismissal has no effect with respect to this season, as Lofton would have had to redshirt this year anyway. But it’s certainly not ideal and leaves a hole in Pitino’s lineup for the 2015-16 season that he will need to fill. Not a great start for the Golden Gophers.
  4. Earlier in the week, SBNation released its Top 100 players list. Yesterday, CBSSports.com did likewise. One big difference between the two lists was with the ranking of Sam Dekker, who came in at #5 on the latter as opposed to #33 on the former. Another huge difference in ranking was Ohio State’s freshman D’Angelo Russell, who was listed all the way up at #44 on CBS and was left off the list altogether on SBNation. They reached some consensus, however, with Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky and Michigan’s Caris Levert as top 10 players. Finally, while SBNation put 15 B1G players on its list, CBS was more bearish on the conference’s talent with only 11 players. These lists make for fun fodder, but honestly, it’ll be nice just to get through all this and focus on the games.
  5. Lastly, Indiana’s Tom Crean is trying to get his Hoosiers squad ready for game shape this week. The Hoosiers lost some key players from last year’s squad, such as Big Ten Freshman of the Year, Noah Vonleh, four-year contributor Will Sheehey, and a bunch of transfers. This lack in continuity is showing as the coach has to impress upon his squad to avoid “defensive fatigue”. While the Hoosiers lost a bunch of talent, they also brought in a quality freshmen class. Crean will need to get his star point guard, Yogi Ferrell, to whip those youngsters in shape if they’re to avoid another disappointing season.
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AAC M5: 01.30.14 Edition

Posted by Ross Schulz on January 30th, 2014

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  1. Much has been said about Louisville’s performance  since Chris Jones has been out with an oblique injury and Terry Rozier stepped in his shoes. Rozier has led the Cardinals to four straight impressive wins (Jones played in the first half against SMU before the injury). Some have even said maybe the Cardinals are better off with Jones sitting on the bench. Rick Pitino, however, reiterated the importance of Jones to the team during his weekly radio show, saying that Jones, the team’s third-leading scorer and second in assists and steals, is an explosive player who the Cards need in the lineup. Jones is expected to return to action tonight in the showdown against Cincinnati — chances are he’ll join Wayne Blackshear off the bench to provide an offensive spark for the home team.
  2. Mick Cronin is in the midst of a great coaching job this season, but a true litmus test awaits tonight in downtown Louisville. While Cincinnati has played very well during its 12-game winning streak and has a top 15 ranking to show for it, this is the kind of game that could catapult the Bearcats into the top 10 and foster expectations not seen since Bob Huggins roamed the sidelines there. Should Cincinnati come out on top, Cronin’s squad will have a stranglehold on the AAC race and the national attention it has long awaited since Cronin arrived in the Queen City eight years ago.
  3. Louisville has played no opponent more than Cincinnati in its storied history, but after this season the two schools may not play each other again for some time. Rick Pitino said yesterday that Cincinnati’s visit tonight will be the last game between the old rivals for the foreseeable future. It will be the 97th meeting in the series, which dates back to the old Metro Conference, the Great Midwest, Conference USA, the Big East and now, for one year, the AAC. Pitino said that he would have been open to continuing the series in the future, but Memphis happened to call first. Pitino called Louisville’s schedule next year “virtually impossible” with ACC opponents and non-conference foes Minnesota, Indiana and Kentucky already slated on the schedule.
  4. Memphis may have found its shooting touch from the outside after struggling for the most part from deep all season. Before Sunday’s 10 triples against USF, the Tigers ranked ninth out of 10 teams in the AAC by shooting just 30 percent from beyond the arc. The three-ball could give Memphis’ offense a much-needed boost and help draw pressure off of the Tigers’ frontcourt. USF coach Stan Heath for one is a believer, saying that even though they aren’t statistically good from three-point range, they have a number of players who can get hot in a hurry. And if they develop consistency from that range, Heath thinks that they could win the AAC. Head coach Josh Pastner said that the reason the shots fell on Sunday was that the Tigers shared the basketball. If they continue to do that, Heath’s prediction might just come to fruition.
  5. Rutgers forward Kadeem Jack had an impressive 19-point, 11-rebound game on Saturday against Connecticut. Jack hopes to build on that performance and continue his productive play for the reminder of the season. He said that game was his best performance of the season and he needs to bring the same mentality into future games. Head coach Eddie Jordan agrees. “He’s our core scorer. He’s one of our main go-guys and he’s athletic. He gets to the rim, plays in the paint, he can make an 8-foot to 12-foot jump shot. He has to make himself more available to be aggressive to score. He’s got to get his scoring opportunities.” Jack is doing it all this year, as he is currently seventh in the conference in rebounding, 10th in blocks and 11th in field goal percentage.
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AAC M5: 11.18.13 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 18th, 2013

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  1. Despite the fact that he was practicing and had played some in the preseason, Kevin Ware didn’t make his official return to the court until Friday when he played 13 minutes and scored five points in Louisville‘s romp over Cornell. Ware didn’t seem to be feeling any lingering pain from last season’s gruesome leg injury and that is good news not just for Ware’s basketball future but also the Cardinals’ prospects on the court. Assuming Ware continues to work his way back into coach Rick Pitino’s rotation, the Cardinals will boast one of the deepest and best backcourts in the entire country. Somewhat lost in the concern over whether Ware would ever play again was the fact that Ware developed into a pretty good player last season. It doesn’t seem like Chris Jones will have any trouble replacing Peyton Siva at point guard and Russ Smith is one of the best in the country at his position, but it’s still nice to have such a talented security blanket for both positions.
  2. Temple is the only team in the conference that has lost more than one game this season and that is because the Owls  haven’t figured out how to hold on to a second-half lead yet. To be fair, Temple has played the conference’s most difficult schedule to this point, but the opportunities to win all of their games have been there. They led for all but the final four minutes of the loss to Kent State, and they led for all but the final five minutes of the loss to Towson. They also very nearly kicked away a big second half lead in the season-opening win against Penn. The struggle to close out games isn’t terribly surprising considering the Owls are very young and inexperienced, but that excuse also won’t help the team’s case in March if they find themselves perched precariously on the bubble. It is pretty clear there is talent in North Philadelphia but it will be up to coach Fran Dunphy and his veteran leaders to make sure there is discipline as well.
  3. Cincinnati picked up a mostly irrelevant win Saturday over Appalachian State but we may have seen the light go on for freshman point guard Troy Caupain. The freshman was pressed into a larger role when starter Ge’Lawn Guyn left early in the game with a right knee injury and he didn’t disappoint, filling the box score with 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting, four rebounds, and four assists. The performance did come against an overmatched opponent, but if Caupain can continue to play that well it would be huge for a Bearcats team with big questions about the point guard position heading into the season. Cashmere Wright was the team’s offensive engine last season, and now that he has graduated, many wondered how Cincinnati would score points without its best playmaker. Guyn is a steady and experienced hand, but at 6’3″ and 200 pounds, Caupain has more talent and upside, meaning his development will play a big role in how well the Bearcats’ offense operates this season.
  4. South Florida thumped Bowling Green Friday night to give head coach Stan Heath his 200th career victory. It would be a more impressive milestone if Heath didn’t also have 186 career losses, but hey, a coach on the bubble will take what he can get. The game also marked the return of point guard Anthony Collins, who played 26 minutes and finished with seven points and five assists and didn’t appear to be affected by his surgically repaired left knee. The Bulls have won their first three games of the season rather easily, but we still don’t know anything about the team because the Falcons are the best team they have faced thus far and they are not very good at all. The good news is that Corey Allen has been something of a revelation albeit against vastly inferior competition and freshman big man John Egbunu has the look of a legitimate post presence already. The bad news is that the Bulls are still going to struggle to score points as their schedule gets more difficult, and it gets more difficult in a hurry as they welcome Oklahoma State to town a week from today.
  5. It wasn’t pretty. Well, it was actually pretty ugly and uninspiring, but Rutgers came away from its weekend bout with mighty Yale with a one-point win and some guts in coming from behind and getting the win when senior J.J. Moore hit a clutch three-pointer when a layup could have tied the game. Unfortunately, the struggle also exposed one of the Scarlet Knights’ major flaws — rebounding. The team outrebounded Yale but firsthand observers weren’t fooled because outrebounding Yale is a lot easier than doing the same against Cincinnati or Memphis. The Scarlet Knights have some size up front in Kadeem Jack, Wally Judge and Greg Lewis, but Judge and Lewis have yet to get going and depth is nonexistent behind that trio, so rebounding will need to be a point of emphasis for the team going forward. Eddie Jordan really only has eight players to work with, so there are going to be a lot of holes that will need patching up along the way. Still, for now, getting after it on the glass will be especially important for this team as the schedule becomes more difficult.
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AAC M5: 11.12.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on November 12th, 2013

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  1. Junior forward Chane Behanan has been reinstated to the Louisville basketball team, 25 days after Rick Pitino announced his indefinite suspension. Although the decision should come as no surprise to those familiar with Pitino’s infamously exaggerated timetables, even the most ardent skeptics likely wouldn’t have predicted Behanan would dress again after missing a single game. It serves as a reminder that Pitino is perfectly happy to stoke a media firestorm – and give cynics endless ammunition once he calls off the dogs – if he thinks it will get a point across with an obstinate player. Nonetheless, RTC’s Mike Lemaire didn’t let Pitino off the hook that easily, suggesting that his lofty speech from last month about Behanan stepping back from basketball to “prosper as a person” rings hollow after the quick reversal. Less dramatic but equally important to the Cardinals’ hopes of repeating was Pitino’s announcement that senior shooter Luke Hancock has been cleared to return to the court, after missing Louisville’s first game with an Achilles injury.
  2. Following UConn’s 80-62 win over Yale last night, CBS Sports’ Jeff Borzello maintains that Shabazz Napier’s triple-double and his team’s hot outside shooting “are overshadowing some troubling trends.” Chief among them are UConn’s continued woes on the glass, as an undersized Ivy League team outrebounded the Huskies by 12 and collected approximately 45 percent of available offensive rebounds. While Napier stole the show last night with a 14-point, 11-rebound, 10-assist outing, UConn’s five-man rotation down low only tacked on a combined two defensive rebounds. Borzello also cites the lackluster performance of DeAndre Daniels through two games as a major cause for concern for Kevin Ollie, given that the talented forward seemed poised to break at out the end of his sophomore season.
  3. Last night, Rutgers and Temple earned the dubious distinction of becoming the first two teams in AAC history to lose a basketball game. The Owls suffered their first loss in a home opener since 2008, as an eight-point lead with as many minutes remaining gave way to a decisive 11-2 Kent State run and an 81-77 defeat. The Golden Flashes lit it up from outside, hitting seven first-half three pointers and finishing 11-of-22, and Temple’s own difficulties getting it going beyond the arc could continue to pose problems against hot-shooting teams. The Owls are now 11-of-43 (25.5%) through two games.
  4. Thanks to Central Time Zone scheduling in Birmingham, Rutgers’ 79-76 loss to UAB concluded after Temple collapsed at home in Philadelphia. But where the Scarlet Knights did make AAC history was earlier in the day with the release of the league’s inaugural weekly awards. Junior forward Kadeem Jack was named Player of the Week after recording 30 points (12-of-18 shooting) and 12 rebounds in Rutgers’ win against Florida A&M last week. In addition, the league named USF forward Chris Perry (14 points, seven rebounds, 70 percent shooting) its first Rookie of the Week, accompanied by an honor roll composed of Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick, UConn’s Shabazz Napier, Houston’s Daniel House, Louisville’s Russ Smith, and Dalton Pepper of Temple.
  5. Memphis head coach Josh Pastner took advantage of last Friday’s final preseason exhibition as a chance to explore the newfound depth on his roster. In preparation for their opener against Austin Peay on Thursday, 11 Tigers expected to contribute right away each played at least 15 minutes, while senior guards Joe Jackson and Chris Crawford played fewer than 18 minutes apiece. Pastner said he wanted a chance to evaluate players in a variety of combinations, adding that he considers himself a “feel guy” who has no qualms about mass substitutions: “I might be subbing five for five. Hockey line subs. It might be good for us at times. We’ll just see. Game by game, possession by possession.”
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AAC Team Previews: Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Posted by mlemaire on November 1st, 2013

Our team preview style has been heavily cribbed from the microsite writers over in the Pac-12. We love them and assume they would take our attempt at loose imitation as flattery and not plagiarism.

Rutgers

Strengths: It was a bit surprising to see the conference’s coaches pick the Scarlet Knights to finish dead last this season because the team has one of the better and more experienced backcourts in the conference. No, they won’t enjoy the fruits of Eli Carter’s labors, but Myles Mack is a fearless scorer who can pick up some slack, and Jerome Seagears has plenty of potential if he can become a more efficient offensive player. Coach Eddie Jordan will also be in charge figuring out how to fit junior college transfers D’Von Campbell and Kerwin Okoro into the backcourt rotation, but those are four high-major talents to anchor the team’s guard play, and that doesn’t count Malick Kone, who is an experienced role player and adds depth. The Scarlet Knights were a relatively efficient offensive unit last season despite playing a slowed-down style. The pace won’t be much different this year as Jordan favors a Princeton-style offense, but the coaching staff has the tools and the talent in the backcourt to make it work.

Wally Judge Is Going Have To Come Up Huge In Rutgers' Frontcourt This Season (Tom Ciszek/NJSportsPhoto)

Wally Judge Is Going Have To Come Up Huge In Rutgers’ Frontcourt This Season (Tom Ciszek/NJSportsPhoto)

Weaknesses: The frontcourt has talented pieces like Kadeem Jack and Wally Judge, but they don’t have any true interior presence. Jack and Judge are big bodies whose styles are better-suited on the wings than in the post, and there is no one on the roster to protect the rim and nobody averaged more than Judge’s 5.4 rebounds per game. The good news is that the conference is backcourt-heavy when it comes to talent and Jordan’s starting lineup should be pretty competitive, but depth in the frontcourt and the team’s ability to defend against opponents like Montrezl Harrell and TaShawn Thomas and all of the lightning-quick guards who like to attack the hoop mean that the offense will have to shoulder a heavy burden, which is not likely given the style of play expected.

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AAC M5: 10.24.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on October 24th, 2013

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  1. It is a bit surprising to see a list of college basketball’s Top 30 freshman and not see any of the players from Memphis‘ fabulous recruiting class make the list. In fact, only three players from the AAC made the list at all; Louisville’s Terry Rozier (#24), SMU’s Keith Frazier (#26) and Cincinnati’s Jermaine Lawrence (#27) are the conference’s only representatives. Judging the country’s best 30 freshmen before the season starts is clearly an exercise done for entertainment and debate purposes, so I will humor them and argue that it’s hard to believe that Austin NicholsKuran Iverson, or Nick King couldn’t make this list, especially given their importance to the Tigers’ frontcourt this season. Josh Pastner lost a lot of production out of his frontcourt and the trio of freshmen are going to be his best bets to replace some or all of that production. Rozier may be more talented and college-ready, but he will have to scratch and claw for minutes in a loaded backcourt. Nichols and Iverson are good candidates to begin the season in the starting lineup and they will have ample opportunities to prove themselves on the court, which is why I believe one or both of those players belong on any list of top freshmen.
  2. At this point, we shouldn’t be surprised when Louisville coach Rick Pitino shows up on a television program that has nothing to do with basketball and says something that makes headlines anyway. But it was still a bit baffling to watch Pitino call the government “totally dysfunctional” while chopping it up about politics with a couple of hosts from CNBC. It’s not that Pitino shouldn’t be allowed to talk about politics in a televised forum as he is a smart guy with plenty of smart things to say about the government. It was just a bit amusing to watch the CNBC hosts do their best to tie basketball into the political questions they were asking and it was even more amusing to watch Pitino effortlessly weave his experience as a basketball coach with what he thinks should be done in Washington, D.C. There is nothing wrong with trying to garner a little publicity by going outside of the usual channels, it was just odd to watch a man who is gearing up to repeat as National Champions explain to CNBC hosts why term limits for congressmen are important.
  3. If you were looking for reasons why the offseason scandal at Rutgers is going to affect the program less than some might think, look no further than juniors Myles Mack and Kadeem Jack. Without trying to compare the actual scandals, one of the primary reasons that Penn State football was able to rebound so quickly was because the majority of the players banded together and decided to stay with the Nittany Lions. A similar situation has unfolded in Piscataway as players were granted a free release after the school fired coach Mike Rice for verbal and physical abuse and some players understandably left for greener pastures. But players like Mack, Jack, Jerome Seagears, and Wally Judge all stuck around to, “finish what I started”, as Jack put it. Not only does the return of these four players mean that new coach Eddie Jordan won’t need to start entirely from scratch, it actually means he has a pretty good nucleus of talent to work with as the team enters a new conference. The Scarlet Knights are still probably not an NCAA Tournament team, which makes the decision of those four players to stay all the more noble. In a sport where leadership is important both on and off the court, Jordan now has a number of mature young men to point to as examples of what leadership looks like.
  4. Everyone already knows about the dynamite backcourt trio of Shabazz NapierRyan Boatright, and Omar Calhoun. They also probably know about multi-talented forward DeAndre Daniels and the expectations on his shoulders. But if the Huskies are going to return to the NCAA Tournament this season, it will be because some of the team’s newcomers stepped up and made impactful contributions. Kevin Ollie‘s first real recruiting class didn’t garner any national attention or win any accolades, but Amida BrimahKentan Facey (assuming he is eligible), and Terrence Samuel will all be expected to play a role on the team this season and their development and early success will be crucial to determining exactly how good this UConn team can be. Brimah and Facey will probably get the most chances to make an early impression because of the team’s stark lack of depth in the frontcourt, but the newcomer most ready to contribute however is George Washington transfer Lasan Kromah. The athletic 6’6″ wing was a double-digit scorer in his career in D.C. and he has all the tools to be a shutdown defender who can guard multiple positions. Ollie has a tough task ahead of him as he tries to find playing time for all of his talented backcourt and wing players without sacrificing too much size, but the added depth and talent are part of the reason why so many expect the Huskies to be back in the NCAA Tournament this season.
  5. Count me among those who aren’t fans of college basketball’s new emphasis on hand-checking. It’s not surprising as every sport is continuously making small tweaks to the rule book that benefit offense in part to make the sport more watchable and exciting, but increased foul calls don’t make college basketball more exciting, they make it more boring. Even the Big 12’s coordinator of officials admitted that players will no longer be able to “guard full-court, man-to-man, in-your-face like we’ve allowed”. Maybe a few years down the road as players get used to the rule and how officials call it, the game will be more exciting and explosive, but I would expect this type of rule to take some time to get adjusted to, which means we will be seeing a lot more ticky-tack fouls called and we will be seeing teams shoot a lot more free throws. Colorado State coach Larry Eustachy astutely pointed out that fans aren’t paying to watch their favorite players foul out of a game and he even brought up Louisville, citing their intense pressure defense as something that will longer be as effective with this new rule. Hooray for the dawn of this new era of offensive basketball…I guess.
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Season in Review: Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Posted by Will Tucker on April 26th, 2013

Rutgers went 15-16 (5-13 in conference play), earning the No. 11 seed in the Big East Tournament, where they blew out DePaul before losing to Notre Dame in the second round. Mike Rice declined an invitation to the CBI, marking the seventh consecutive year Rutgers did not appear in any postseason tournament. Subsequently, an ESPN exposé involving footage of Rice abusing players in team practices got him fired and got AD Tim Pernetti shoved out the door, disgracing his athletic department in the process. New Jersey’s governor even called Rice an “animal” and said he should have been fired in November; not exactly ideal publicity heading into the offseason.

Preseason Expectations

We had pegged Rutgers #15, dead last in our preseason Big East rankings, based on poor frontcourt depth, lack of senior leadership and uncertain expectations for transfer big man Wally Judge. Big East coaches ranked the Scarlet Knights #11 in the preseason.

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Eli Carter is not walking through that door for Eddie Jordan (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

The Good

When Eli Carter (14.9 PPG, 86.4 FT%) suffered a season-ending injury in February, his team actually developed a more cohesive offensive identity in his absence. Wally Judge (7.1 PPG, 5.4 RPG) in particular benefited from the opportunity to adopt a more assertive role; he showcased his abilities with a 20-and-10 performance (shooting 9-of-9 from the field) against DePaul in the Big East Tournament. And Mike Rice finally got fired -– does that count? Seriously, a clean slate is most obvious silver lining for Scarlet Knights fans after the former Robert Morris coach won 16 Big East games in three seasons. New head coach Eddie Jordan, who took Rutgers to its 1976 Final Four before embarking on an NBA coaching career, rekindles a nostalgic connection with the program’s heyday, and comes from a professional environment that doesn’t tolerate player mistreatment.

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Five Thoughts From the Big East Tournament: Wednesday Evening Editon

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 13th, 2013

Brian Otskey attended the evening session of the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night and filed this report. Follow him on Twitter @botskey

  1. Villanova likely clinched a bid by winning tonight. It’s not that a win against St. John’s gets the Wildcats in, it’s the fact that they didn’t lose and now have 20 wins, including victories against Louisville, Marquette, Syracuse, Georgetown and at Connecticut. Twenty wins isn’t what it used to be but Villanova, in my estimation, has done enough to get into the field of 68. The Wildcats didn’t play particularly well overall but they did what they do best: get to the free throw line and convert. Villanova went 19-of-23 from the charity stripe, making five more free throws than St. John’s even attempted. Jay Wright’s team was +10 at the line in a 13-point win, pretty much the difference in an otherwise evenly played game. Both teams committed 17 turnovers in a sloppy contest that was interesting at times but the outcome never really in doubt.

    Villanova Should Be Solidly Into the NCAAs Now

    Villanova Should Be Solidly Into the NCAAs Now

  2. St. John’s might not even make the NIT. Just six weeks ago, St. John’s was 14-7 overall and 6-3 in Big East play. The Johnnies were being talked about as a possible NCAA Tournament team as one of the surprise teams in the conference. The Red Storm has since fallen on hard times and tonight’s loss to Villanova was their fifth in a row and seventh in eight games. At just 16-15 overall, it begs the question if St. John’s will even receive an NIT invitation. An 8-10 Big East record is certainly good enough (even though five of the wins are against teams that played on Tuesday night of the league tournament) but if the NIT committee is anything like the NCAA committee, conference record supposedly does not matter. It would be a good experience for the (very) young Red Storm to continue playing this season with a chance to get to the NIT finals here at Madison Square Garden, one of their home arenas. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East Summer Capsules: Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Posted by mlemaire on August 17th, 2012

While most relish the onset of Summer, college basketball junkies do not. Most of the news surrounding the sport is recruiting rumors and commitments or injuries and transfer news. In order to help keep folks up-to-date on what their teams are doing during the summer, we put together these summer capsules for each team in the conference. Last but not least is Rutgers.

1. Wally Judge is ready to play, but is he ready to replace Gilvydas Biruta?

Just when it seemed like coach Mike Rice had the rebuilding train rolling, the wheels started to wobble a bit. The Scarlet Knights weren’t awful last season and they seemed poised for a winning season next year considering that it appeared they would return pretty much every worthwhile contributor. Then, right after the season ended, third leading scorer and second leading rebounder Gil Biruta announced he was transferring out of the program. Despite all of his physical gifts and ability, Biruta often displayed a poor attitude and was a frequent target of Rice’s wrath, but still, it isn’t easy replacing 9.7 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, especially when you consider Biruta added toughness and physicality to the young team. Replacing Biruta’s production now falls on the shoulders of Kansas State transfer Wally Judge. A highly touted recruit coming out of high school, Judge may actually be more talented and athletic than Biruta, but now the question is whether he can turn that talent and athleticism into production. The DC native averaged 5.5 points and  3.8 rebounds per game in 17 contests as a sophomore for the Wildcats, but as one of the Scarlet Knights’ only viable interior players, he will be asked to do a lot more than that this season. By all accounts Judge has put in the work and is impressive in team workouts and summer games, but time will tell whether he can become the immediate presence that the Scarlet Knights so desperately need in their frontcourt.

2. Rutgers has a point guard problem, except it’s the good kind of problem.

Rutgers Coach Mike Rice Has His Hands Full Deciding Which Of His Three Talented Guards Will Play

It’s probably not a reach to say that the three best players on the Scarlet Knights’ roster are sophomores Myles Mack, Jerome Seagears, and Eli Carter. The only issue is that all three of the tantalizing sophomore basically play the same position — point guard. Rice knows he will need to find a way to make sure all three players are on the floor as often as possible, which will likely mean that the head coach is going to do some rotation juggling this summer. Carter, the team’s leading scorer last season, is a high volume shooter and probably belongs off the ball where his shooting ability can be put to better use. Mack, the smallest of the trio, also has a propensity for chucking but seems like the most natural fit to assume the role of primary ball-handler. Seagears, the team’s leading assist man last season, is a smaller combo guard who will probably get plenty of opportunities to play on and off the ball. Common sense dictates that Rice should play all three of his star guards at once; after all, plenty of other Big East teams have had success employing similar lineups. The only issue is that the Scarlet Knights do not have a lot of size up front or experience for that matter, so is Rice really willing to sacrifice all that size just to get his best lineup on the floor? The best-case scenario is that this situation sorts itself out with each player becoming comfortable in his role and helping the team in a number of different ways, but Rice will need to do an incredible job of finessing this situation, otherwise someone might end up upset.

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Big East Morning Five: Rutgers v. Florida Edition

Posted by mlemaire on December 30th, 2011

  1.  There were just three games involving Big East teams played last night but, with apologies to Vanderbilt‘s surprising shellacking of Marquette, there was one game that stood out and that was the stunning upset Rutgers pulled off last night when they beat #9 Florida in double overtime. The victory was monumental enough that we figured we should devote a full post to what we learned about Mike Rice’s young team last night and what it means. So enjoy our Morning Five…er, Six.
  2. In the case of Rutgers and former guard Mike Rosario, the Scarlet Knights got the last laugh. As we noted yesterday, Rosario left Rutgers because he wanted to put himself in a position to win games quickly, and yesterday was supposed to be his vindication. Well, he only played 14 minutes, scoring five points on six shots, and he left with some crow to eat on the trip back to Gainesville. Sure, the game seems more like an aberration than a burgeoning trend and Florida is probably still a better bet to win more games while Rosario is still in school, but it must be nice for Rutgers’ fans who called Rosario a “bum” during pre-game warmups and serenaded the local product with chants of “Jersey hates you”. Rosario was supposed to be the savior of the Scarlet Knights’ program, but it looks like the program will be just fine without him.
  3. Rutgers freshman Eli Carter might not be Bernard King, but he is going to be really good. Classmate and teammate Jerome Seagears said Carter reminded him of the Knicks’ great and despite the obvious size differences and small sample size, Carter certainly did his best impression last night, finishing with 31 points, seven assists, and seven rebounds. It did take him 24 shots to score his points, but he played a whopping 46 minutes and the 6-foot-2 combo guard could not be stopped by anyone Billy Donovan tried to put on him. Carter wasn’t the most heralded guard in Rice’s ballyhooed recruiting class, but he has now scored double-digit points in all but two games this season and he is chipping in nearly three rebounds per game to boot. He also seems to be more assertive when it comes to taking shots, and while this could backfire if the freshman gets too confident, he has the ability to take over games when he is hot — like he was last night. He is still learning, and his assist-to-turnover ratio leaves a lot to be desired, but he still doesn’t have 15 collegiate games under his belt and he just carried his team to its biggest win its years on national television against a Top-10 opponent. Not that it really needs to be said anymore, but keep an eye on this kid.
  4. On this night, the Scarlet Knights were the embodiment of their coach’s spirit. Much has been made of Mike Rice’s decision to come to Piscataway and try to rebuild a program with barely any notable basketball history. But Rice has attacked the job with seemingly limitless energy and determination and there is now reason to believe his vision is beginning to take shape on the court. His team showed a similar work ethic and never-say-die attitude last night, coming back from not one but two deficits in regulation and the first overtime, including a seven-point gap in the final 2:48 of regulation. Every coach in any sport tries to give his team an identity but Rice has molded his team in his own identity. The Scarlet Knights are still very young and still don’t look like a tournament team quite yet, but I seriously doubt anyone will overlook the team full of overachievers and scrappers again this season. Rice has practically made a past time of playing up his team’s underdog role and his team has embraced it. The Gators are a legitimate contender this season and every time it looked like they would use their superior talent to pull away, Rutgers kept the game within reach, and a lot of that has to do with the mentality their coach has instilled in them since the start of his tenure.
  5. Speaking of Rice’s rebuilding efforts, his plan appears to be ahead of schedule. Don’t look now but the Scarlet Knights have won their last four games after last night’s thriller and their young players are starting to gel together just in time for conference play. There aren’t many teams in the conference with an exciting trio of freshman guards like Carter, Seagears, and Myles Mack, all of whom played more than 30 minutes in the win. And redshirt freshman Kadeem Jack might be the most talented of all of Rice’s young players, and he is just now getting back onto the court after injury sidelined him for all of last year. If he can pick things up quickly and play at 100 percent, the Scarlet Knights have a really nice nucleus to build around, and you better bet Rice plans to keep building as fast as possible. The team doesn’t have any committed recruits for the Class of 2012 yet, but Rice doesn’t have many scholarships to hand out and he does get the services of Kansas State transfer Wally Judge next season as well. A quick look at the box score from Rutgers’ games show that the team will return every meaningful contributor from this year’s team and Rice is too good a coach to let the team rest on its laurels now. The victory over Villanova last season was nice but this win over a team as talented as Florida is a real statement victory that Rice can now hang his hat on and point to when he tells recruits that Rutgers is ready to compete on a national level.
  6. But let’s also remember not to get ahead of ourselves. If you looked when I told you not to, you will see that while Rutgers has indeed strung together four consecutive wins, opponents like Stony Brook and New Jersey Institute of Technology aren’t exactly worthwhile competition. If you kept looking, you will also see that Rutgers has losses to perennial powerhouses like Illinois State and Princeton on their resume. The win over Florida shows that the inexperienced team has plenty of potential, but this season has proven that potential isn’t always realized every game of the season. The Scarlet Knights played a rather mediocre non-conference schedule, and now they have the luxury of playing three ranked teams and West Virginia twice before the calendar even hits February, and it won’t get easier after that either. Freshmen, especially ones called upon to play as many minutes as Seagears, Mack, and Carter play, are prone to mercurial moments. One game Carter is going off for 31 points, but two games before against Stony Brook, he scored just 11 points and had five turnovers to one assist. Rutgers can play with anyone in the country because they work hard and they fight for the entire game, but they still aren’t deep enough or experienced enough to make the NCAA Tournament, no matter how watered down the Big East is this season.
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Big East Morning Five: 12.21.11 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on December 21st, 2011

  1. With the sudden and surprising departure of star freshman Khem Birch, Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon is looking for answers up front and one of the players he will need to step up is sophomore forward Talib Zanna. Luckily, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review at least, Zanna is showing improvement and playing efficiently offensively. Physically, at 6’9″ and 230 pounds, Zanna is much bigger than Birch, but he doesn’t possess the same skill-set or athleticism which means his offensive game won’t come as naturally. Frankly, the Panthers don’t need Zanna to make an impact offensively — although he is shooting 67.6% from the field. They need him to be an intimidating defensive player or at the very least a big body who knows where he is supposed to be on the floor. He also shed some light about Birch’s departure earlier in the week, so read away our like-minded friends.
  2. I must admit, when Marquette center Chris Otule went down early in December with a knee injury, I didn’t expect to see him back on the floor until the new year at the earliest, but it looks like the big man could be ready to play as soon as next Monday according to coach Buzz Williams. Okay, maybe the quote says next Monday they will gauge his progress, but still, that’s impressive given the usual severity of knee injuries. It seems silly to rush Otule back, especially since the conference slate will be a grind, but the faster the Golden Eagles can get the big man back, the better their defense and their rebounding will be because of it.
  3. Everybody is getting good news on the injury front these days (knock on wood) as a Rutgers source told Adam Zagoria that talented redshirt freshman Kadeem Jack is making great progress and could be ready to play in time for the Big East opener at the beginning of the new year. Also in the report, true freshman Malick Kone is making strides in his return from an issue with knee fluid. Kone gives the team depth but if Jack is healthy and can contribute, he instantly becomes a key member of the frontcourt that basically features only Gilvydas Biruta and Austin Johnson. Now, Jack still hasn’t played a single collegiate minute, but he is a skilled power forward who coach Mike Rice is counting on to become a centerpiece for this team in the near future. Rice won’t want to rush him back too quickly, but everyone in Piscataway should be excited he is close to getting on the court.
  4. It’s a story only tenuously tied to Big East basketball, but Big East fans who were hoping to see talented center Michael Chandler when Central Florida moved to the conference in 2013 will be disappointed to hear that the Golden Knights have backed off the 6’10” center because of potential contact with agents and runners. Chandler still hopes he can attend UCF, but given the Golden Knights’ recent issues surrounding the recruitment of Kevin Ware, coach Donnie Jones will probably want to avoid the big man no matter how talented he is. While there is no concrete evidence that agents and runners are influencing his decision, it is interesting that a center from Indiana with power conference schools hot on his tail would choose a mid-level program in Orlando. But that’s just pure speculation, so we will save our breath.
  5. Tip of the cap to our researcher Walker Carey for digging up this interesting story about the insane dichotomy of Syracuse‘s season. In the midst of one of the best starts in the program’s recent history and sitting atop the college basketball polls, the Orange are riding high on the court. Off the court, the Bernie Fine scandal continues to infect the news surrounding the team and that isn’t going to stop for the rest of the season or at least until the offseason comes around. As much as I hate reading stories about Fine and his scandal, the Orange’s pursuit of a National Championship while weathering this scandal is easily the most compelling storyline of the season this far. Coach Jim Boeheim has done an excellent job of keeping his players focused, and of course it helps when you can trot out any of 10 guys and still beat most teams easily. Still, conference play hasn’t yet started and there might still be some twists and turns in the Fine saga left. Stay tuned… as if you weren’t already.
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Big East Morning Five: 12.08.11 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on December 8th, 2011

  1. Georgetown basketball players are making news off the court this week, but settle down Hoyas fans, it’s actually light-hearted news and not some sort of suspension or legal issue. Ballin Is A Habit unearthed a video in which a bunch of Georgetown students sing Handel’s Messiah. Yes, those three rather tall men in the back row are in fact senior captain Jason Clark, sophomore Nate Lubick, and walk-on John Caprio, and kudos to them for being involved in something so potentially embarrassing. John Thompson, III‘s team certainly has plenty to celebrate this holiday season as the Hoyas are exceeding expectations and look like a legitimate contender in the conference.
  2. It’s no secret that Rutgers coach Mike Rice has his work cut out for him turning the Scarlet Knights into a conference contender, but injuries to some key freshmen like Kadeem Jack and the slow development of freshmen big men like Derrick Randall has meant that Rice is playing a good deal of rotation roulette as he tries to fill in holes. Even if some of the freshman get healthy and mature quickly, the Scarlet Knights still can’t really be considered contenders this season. But it would certainly improve their chances for next season if their freshmen could get some additional seasoning and experience.
  3. After yet another nailbiting win, it is only right we give some love to Marquette‘s best player, guard Darius Johnson-Odom. The Milwaukee-Journal Sentinel alerted us to the ESPN Sports Science segment featuring the Golden Eagles’ star and its focus was on his quickness. Long story short, they established that Johnson-Odom is really quick.  Like, NBA-caliber quick. It certainly isn’t shocking news to anyone who has watched the team play this year, but it is fun to see how far Johnson-Odom has come in his time in Milwaukee. There must be something in the water up there, because not many teams develop lightly regarded combo guards quite like Marquette.
  4. It was good to see a reader call out Sports Illustrated‘s Seth Davis for his critique of Syracuse freshmen Michael Carter-Williams and Rakeem Christmas and it was just as good to see Davis acknowledge he might have jumped the gun on saying the players are developing too slowly. As I noted on this blog earlier, the Orange are unbelievably deep, and they really don’t need Carter-Williams or Christmas to be impact players right away, a luxury few teams have when it comes to talented freshmen. In one sense, it could hurt their growth in that Boeheim has given them spotty playing time, but their talent is evident, and I wouldn’t worry about these two just yet. Neither player has one-and-done potential and they will undoubtedly get their chance to prove themselves on the court. My guess is it happens before the end of this season.
  5. It is a good thing Louisville is so good defensively, because, as Rick Bozich of the Louisville Courier-Journal points out, the Cardinals are going to struggle to score points. Rick Pitino was not at all happy despite the fact that his team scored 90 points in a win over IUPUI last night, and his team seemed to understand his frustration. Some of the struggles can be attributed to the fact that the rotation has fluctuated because of injuries and early-season development issues, but this team’s biggest weakness is that it doesn’t have a go-to scorer. Peyton Siva is the closest thing, but he also needs to handle the point guard duties and Kyle Kuric is more of a shooter than a scorer. The Cardinals might be the best team in the conference, but if they want to make a Final Four run, they will need to find some more consistent scoring options.
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