AAC M5: 10.24.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on October 24th, 2013

AAC_morning5_header

  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.

eddie jodan

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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RTC Conference Primers: #1 – Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 14th, 2011

Brian Otskey is the RTC correspondent for the Big East. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.

Reader’s Take I

 

Top Storylines

  • 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.
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Conference Report Card: Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 19th, 2011

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

Conference Recap

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

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

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

  1. Pittsburgh (28-6, 15-3): The regular season was terrific once again for Jamie Dixon and the Panthers but, as has become common over the years, they fell short of their goal–getting to the Final Four. Pittsburgh lost four of their final eight games after starting the season 24-2. A mid-season injury to Ashton Gibbs was thought to bring them down a peg, but Pitt responded with wins at West Virginia and Villanova without him to quiet any doubters. That turned out to be their peak. Dixon did not really test his team out of conference except for two games at Madison Square Garden against Maryland and Texas back in November as part of the 2K Sports Coaches vs. Cancer event and a “home” game (in Pittsburgh) against Tennessee, which they lost. Looking back, one theory could be that an average non-conference schedule did not adequately prepare this team for the NCAA Tournament which is all about match-ups and teams you haven’t seen before from other leagues. While Big East coaches love to use the strength of the league as a crutch when questioned about a lack of non-conference heft to their schedule, I think this is a theory that has to be taken into consideration. Big East play is obviously rough and tumble every night but that can actually be a detriment come tournament time when games are officiated tighter and you don’t have as much time to prepare for an opponent who you likely don’t know very well, if at all. Pitt will lose Gilbert Brown, Brad Wanamaker, and Gary McGhee to graduation while Gibbs tests the NBA waters. I expect Gibbs to come back to join a very good recruiting class led by five-star forward Khem Birch. Despite the loss of three senior leaders, look for Pitt to be in the thick of the Big East race yet again next season. Dixon has established a culture of winning and I have learned never to doubt him after witnessing the 2009-10 campaign, a season that certified Dixon as one of the best basketball minds in the country. While this year was a great success during the regular season, Pitt’s inability to get to the Sweet Sixteen and eventually the Final Four renders this year a disappointment. GRADE: B- Read the rest of this entry »
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Morning Five: 12.27.10 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on December 27th, 2010

  1. The big news of the weekend was Ricardo Ledo committing to play for Providence, which might help Keno Davis save his  job. Ledo, widely considered one of the top 10 players in next year’s class, is so highly regarded that some pundits speculated that the ability to recruit Ledo (a native of Puerto Rico who might play for the team) was the primary reason why Rick Pitino agreed to coach the Puerto Rican national basketball team. Now that Ledo has committed to Providence we have to wonder if Pitino will find other commitments that might decrease his ability to coach another team.
  2. Speaking of recruits, Kadeem Jack, who left his prep school early to enroll at Rutgers, practiced with the Scarlet Knights for the first time yesterday, but according to coach Mike Rice they will not be using any of Jack’s eligibility this season. Instead, Rice expects Jack to join the team officially in the fall of 2012 along with the rest of a heralded recruiting class. We are interested to see whether Rutgers and St. John’s, another program in the area with a hyped recruiting class, can translate these hauls into wins in the next few years.
  3. While most of the college basketball world relaxed and spent time with their friends and family there was also quality basketball being played in Hawaii, the big winner was Butler, who ran off three straight wins knocking off Utah, FSU, and Washington State in succession to win the Diamond Head Classic. After a rough start to the early season, the Bulldogs appear to be rounding into shape and should be a team to be reckoned with despite what Joe Lunardi might have thought (Insider access: Basically an absurd column questioning if Butler and Gonzaga would make the NCAA Tournament).
  4. Unfortunately that wasn’t the only noteworthy thing to happen at the Diamond Head Classic. We have already mentioned it and the Twitterverse has been buzzing about it over the holiday weekend, but in case you missed it Renardo Sidney got into a fight with his teammate Elgin Bailey and the two were suspended indefinitely. Although there was an unsubstantiated rumor about Bailey being kicked off the team (since he reportedly started the fight) we have to think if talent weren’t such a mitigating factor in determining punishment that it would be the troubled Sidney who would be getting the boot first.
  5. In our opinion it is still early to be thinking about NBA Draft prospects, but Jonathan Giovany has an excellent look at six players who were established stars or at least solid players who have done a lot to help their draft status (assuming there is a NBA Draft this summer). Some of the choices are obvious (like Kemba Walker), but others (like Jon Leuer) are a little more interesting. Either way, we have to say that we agree with all of his selections although we hope that all the players stay in college with the exception of the seniors, whom we wish we could keep anyways.
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Recruiting Rumor Mill: 11.08.10 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on November 8th, 2010

Just when you figured that the Recruiting Rumor Mill would start to slow down one teenager start makes news by changing his mind about having previously changed his mind while another does so by deciding to go to college early.

  • The biggest news of the week was of course Myck Kabongo deciding that he did want to go to Texas after all. We are going to wait until he signs on the dotted line before we go ahead and write it down in ink. Fool us once. . .
  • Rutgers commit Kadeem Jack, who has already graduated from high school, but opted to take a prep year, has decided that he wants to go to Rutgers sooner rather than later and will reportedly enroll there in January. He tried talking the coaches into letting him play this year, but they talked him out of it and he will play for Scarlet Knights in the fall of 2011 as previously anticipated.
  • Tyler Adams, who made news by backing out of his commitment to Duke, has committed to Georgetown, which shouldn’t be that surprising since Adams attended Georgetown’s Midnight Madness even when he was still committed to Duke.

    Tyler Adams: The Player Who Turned Down Coach K

  • Speaking of Duke they landed a commitment from Quinn Cook, one of the top point guards in this year’s class. Normally this would be bigger next except Duke already has a commitment from Austin Rivers, the top guard in the class. And they also have Kyrie Irving, Andre Dawkins, and Seth Curry, all of whom will have eligibility left after this season although Irving could be gone after this year.
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Recruiting Rumor Mill: 09.27.10 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on September 27th, 2010

After a prolonged absence from the summer circuit it appears like Sonny Vaccaro, who was once quiet possibly the most powerful man in AAU basketball, is making his triumphant return. As Gary Parrish notes, Vaccaro should make things more interesting.

  • It’s already almost a week old, but ESPN released its team recruiting rankings and you will be shocked to see who is #1.
  • Arizona was able to land some big names like Josiah Turner and Nick Johnson over the past few weeks, but as we pointed out last week their haul would be coming to an end soon due to the Lute Olson-era sanctions against the program. Now we see the results as Sean Miller has told super recruit LeBryan Nash that there isn’t any room for him in Tucson.
LeBryan isn’t welcome in Arizona
  • Speaking of the Wildcats, last week we mentioned the refreshing case of Norvel Pelle who was just starting to do in-house visits, but now Pelle has moved ahead to planning official visits as he recently expressed interest in St John’s, UTEP, UConn, and “the whole PAC 10 except Arizona according to a phone interview with Adam Zagoria, although Pelle has not committed to any official visits yet.
  • In yet another reaction to Arizona’s filling its scholarships already . . . Quinn Cook, who had been high on Arizona before Turner’s surprise commitment, is now considering Duke, Kansas, UCLA, Villanova, and UNC. In a rather unsurprising surprising comment, Steve Smith, his new coach at Oak Hill, says Cook is “comparable” to Rajon Rondo, Ty Lawson, Marcus Williams (hopefully leaving the laptops out of it), and Brandon Jennings who all played at Oak Hill. Cook is a talented prospect, but outside of Williams I think Smith might be stretching the truth a bit. To be fair, I can say my paycheck is comparable to John Paulson’s paycheck, but Paulson made way more than I did (at least before the RTC royalty checks get processed).
  • Last week we noted that Austin Rivers had taken Florida off his list of potential schools and now it seems like he has set dates for his official visits: UNC (October 1st), Duke (October 15th), and Kansas (October 22nd). You can guess that the basketball coaches will be especially interested in the football team’s performances those weekends against East Carolina (could be challenging for the depleted Tar Heels), Miami (this one could be ugly), and Texas A&M (depends on the week for the inconsistent Jayhawks).
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