Four Thoughts: Connecticut v. DePaul Edition

Posted by mlemaire on March 6th, 2012

Game recaps are boring. If you want to read them, search your local newspaper or the Associated Press. With the Big East Tournament upon us, we figured we would try to offer four thoughts about every game that is played… emphasis on “try.” 

Jim Calhoun Is Back On The Bench And He Has The Huskies Playing Well.

  1. Connecticut took care of business. Beating DePaul isn’t going to help the Huskies’ tournament chances very much, but losing to the Blue Demons would have almost certainly been a catastrophe. Luckily, the team — and especially Jeremy Lamb — came out firing on all cylinders, built a 13-point lead at halftime, and coasted to victory from there. Lamb was superb in the first half and finished the game with 25 points and four assists, and the offense that was non-existent in the last few weeks returned as the Huskies shot 46. 3% from the field. The victory sets up what many are calling a de facto play-in game with West Virginia tomorrow at noon.
  2. The return of Jim Calhoun has energized a team in need of a pick-me-up. With Calhoun back on the bench for the first time since his spinal surgery, UConn handled Pittsburgh in its regular season finale on Saturday. After the game, freshman point guard Ryan Boatright told reporters, “It was just a whole `nother vibe with him back on the sidelines.” Well it looked that way again this afternoon. Neither the Panthers nor the Blue Demons have been particularly competitive this season, but Calhoun’s brave comeback, his perseverance, and his leadership is exactly what the doctor ordered for a team that looked timid and uninspired as the season came to a close. They were efficient on offense and held DePaul to just 27.4% from the field. I am not ready to starting drawing comparisons to the run the Huskies made through the Big East Tournament last year because this team is still one week removed from losing to Providence, but they are definitely not the same team they were last week, and Calhoun is a major reason why. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East Wrap-Up And Postseason Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 6th, 2012

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

Conference Tournament Preview

  • Can Anyone Beat Syracuse? – Yes, but only a handful of teams are capable. Notre Dame has proven they can do it and I feel Marquette has a solid chance. Georgetown took the Orange to overtime by slowing the pace and exposing Syracuse’s rebounding issues. In my opinion, those are the only three teams who can knock off the Orange. Given the Madison Square Garden crowd is going to be highly in favor of Syracuse, this is a tall order for any team to pull off.
  • Bubble Teams With Work To Do – South Florida, Seton Hall, Connecticut and West Virginia, the pressure is officially on. I think USF and SH have the most work to do. The Bulls and Pirates won’t feel safe unless they win two games at the Garden and even that may not be enough depending what happens in other conference tournaments. Seton Hall absolutely has to beat Providence and Louisville back to back and then put up a solid showing against Marquette in a quarterfinal game. South Florida has a bye but must knock off Rutgers/Villanova before beating Notre Dame the next night. Connecticut has plenty of top 50 wins and strong computer numbers so I feel they’re safe provided they get by DePaul on Tuesday. As for West Virginia, the win at South Florida on Saturday was critical. The Mountaineers earned a first-round bye and will likely play Connecticut at noon on Wednesday. I think WVU is going to be in regardless, but beating the Huskies should lock up a bid for sure.
  • Is There A Sleeper Team? – I doubt it, but South Florida, Connecticut and even St. John’s would be my candidates. The Bulls can win an ugly game against Notre Dame in the quarterfinals, but UConn may actually have the best draw. The Huskies open up with DePaul, coincidentally the same exact matchup as last season. They’ll face a West Virginia team they’ve beat already in the second round. Should they advance to the quarters, Connecticut will go up against Syracuse. The Huskies have played fairly well against the Orange twice this season and would have a reasonable chance to pull the upset. St. John’s is a team that’s playing better basketball and drew a favorable bracket. It wouldn’t shock me if St. John’s lost its opening round game but, playing on its home floor, the Johnnies could surprise.

Regular Season Recap

You could say this was easily a down year in the Big East, but the conference does have ten teams in contention for the NCAA Tournament as the season winds down, only one fewer than last season. However, the league is clearly not as strong from top to bottom. Syracuse was dominant, but no team came close to challenging the Orange for conference supremacy all year. The Orange were projected to win the league in my preseason conference primer, but it was my second and third place teams who completely flopped. Pittsburgh and Connecticut had highly disappointing seasons, even though the Huskies are still in the NCAA picture. The Panthers finished 16-15 (5-13), good enough for 13th place. Jamie Dixon’s squad was hurt by injuries and a notable defection, but on the court, this team did not defend at a high level. Pitt finished the regular season ranked 161st nationally in defensive efficiency, a far cry from their average of #27 over Dixon’s previous eight seasons on the sidelines at the Petersen Events Center. Ashton Gibbs had a disappointing senior season and the team was never able to put it together at any point.

As for the teams that surprised, you can start with South Florida. The Bulls were nothing more than an afterthought as late as January, but a commitment to defense and the play of freshman point guard Anthony Collins has vaulted the Bulls to the brink of their first NCAA Tournament bid since 1992. Although USF has just one top 50 win, this season has been a rousing success for the men from Tampa, who played all of their home games away from the Sun Dome due to renovations. Stan Heath may have saved his job in the process.

Marquette, Notre Dame and Georgetown were also surprises. Those teams were projected to finish sixth, ninth and tenth, respectively, in our conference preview. Marquette looks like a threat to go very deep in the NCAA Tournament while Notre Dame’s style of play and Georgetown’s defense will keep them in pretty much any game they play. The Golden Eagles have two of the best player in the conference and an unquenchable will to win.

As for the teams that projected out according to form, Cincinnati went 12-6 in the league as predicted, Rutgers went 6-12 and Providence went 3-15. In addition to those three, West Virginia, Seton Hall, St. John’s and DePaul finished about where they were expected to. The Mountaineers and Pirates have a chance for the NCAA’s while St. John’s showed some late-season progress and could be a tough out on their home court at Madison Square Garden this week. Louisville finished 22-9 (10-8), three games worse than where I had projected it. The Cardinals started the year hot, but went just 10-9 after sprinting out to a 12-0 record through December 23.

Villanova was another team that disappointed. The Wildcats weren’t expected to be great, but many thought they could find their way to the NCAA Tournament. Instead, Villanova struggled all year as players who were expected to improve did not before injuries took a huge toll on the Wildcats late in the season. Villanova’s future is relatively bright, but this was definitely a lost season on the Main Line. VU’s streak of seven consecutive NCAA appearances will come to an end unless there is some divine intervention in the form of five wins in five days in New York.

Jim Boeheim And The Orange Have Locked Up A One-Seed, But Will Reports Of Unpunished Failed Drug Tests Knock Them Off Their Path? (Mark Konezny/US Presswire)

Coach of the Year

Jim Boeheim, Syracuse – This was a really tough choice. Do you go with the coach of the best team by far or pick someone like Stan Heath or Mike Brey who led teams projected in the bottom half to finishes closer to the top of the league? Guys like Buzz Williams and John Thompson III also deserve consideration. In the end I chose Boeheim because this year’s Syracuse team was historic. Sure, I picked them to win the league from the start, but in no way did I think this team would go 30-1 (17-1). The Orange are the first team in Big East history to get through the entire regular season with only a single loss. Boeheim has assembled a rotation that can go ten deep and kept the team focused through some off-court distractions. He’s a Hall of Famer for a reason and was the best coach in the league this season.

Player of the Year

Jae Crowder, Marquette – This may be a controversial choice to some, but here’s why I picked Crowder over Kevin Jones. Yes, Jones had better statistics throughout the year, but Crowder has out-played Jones over the last month and plays for a team considerably better than West Virginia. Plus, what fun would it be if we just looked at the statistics and ignored intangibles? Crowder averaged 24.7 points and 9.2 rebounds per game over his last six and won the head-to-head matchup with Jones in convincing fashion on February 24. Crowder put up very similar numbers using 21.9% of his team’s possessions compared to 23.3% for Jones. Not a huge difference, but I feel it matters when one team is 25-6 (14-4) while the other is 19-12 (9-9) and has lost seven of its last 11 games heading into the postseason. Crowder, along with Darius Johnson-Odom, has put Marquette on his back and carried it to heights not seen since Dwayne Wade played at the Bradley Center. He’s played his best ball at the right time while Jones has not led his team in nearly the same manner down the stretch. Crowder is also a better defender (2.4 steals per game) and a more efficient shooter from inside as well as the perimeter. I felt that also helped to push him over the top. I don’t have a problem with either player winning the award, but I usually go for the player on the better team when it’s a close call like this is.

All-Conference First Team

  • Jae Crowder, Marquette (17.6 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 2.4 SPG, 51.2% FG) – Crowder was the do-it-all player for the Golden Eagles, leading them to their best regular season record since a 23-4 mark in 2002-03.
  • Kevin Jones, West Virginia (20.0 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 51.5% FG) – Without Jones, the Mountaineers would be in the bottom third of the league. The senior had the best season of his career, leading the conference in scoring and rebounding pretty much from start to finish.
  • Darius Johnson-Odom, Marquette (18.3 PPG, 40.1% 3FG) – Crowder and DJO form perhaps the most potent one-two punch in college basketball on a team that could be a Final Four sleeper.
  • Kris Joseph, Syracuse (14.1 PPG, 5.0 RPG) – The amazing thing about Syracuse is not one player on a 30-1 (17-1) team is in the top 18 in scoring. Joseph ranks 19th, but came up big when it mattered most, averaging 17 points for the Orange in their six games decided by five points or less.
  • Jeremy Lamb, Connecticut (17.6 PPG, 47.5% FG, 82.6% FT) – Connecticut underachieved, but the best returning player from last year’s national championship squad posted double figures in all but three games for a team that struggled to find its way on the offensive end. A career-high 32 points in a late season win at Villanova just might have saved his team’s season (at least for now).

A Late-Season Push Propelled Jae Crowder Past Kevin Jones For Player Of The Year Honors.

All-Conference Second Team

  • Vincent Council, Providence (16.2 PPG, 7.5 APG) – A lot of people may not know about Council, but that’s about to change next season when Providence welcomes in more talent to be on the receiving end of passes from the best assist man in the Big East.
  • Scoop Jardine, Syracuse (8.6 PPG, 4.9 APG, 47.7% FG) – The statistics aren’t eye-popping,  but Jardine was the point guard for a team that lost once in 31 games. He took much better care of the basketball this season and improved his shooting efficiency despite a drop in scoring from last year. On a team with ten legitimate players, he doesn’t need to score in double figures.
  • Jordan Theodore, Seton Hall (16.0 PPG, 6.7 APG, 1.9 SPG) – Not surprisingly, Seton Hall’s season went as Theodore’s did. When he was on, he looked like the best point guard in the conference (29 points, 5 assists against Georgetown). When he wasn’t (10 points, 5 turnovers against DePaul), Seton Hall looked awful. Despite the inconsistency from the senior, Theodore deserves the bulk of the credit for getting the Pirates in the NCAA Tournament conversation.
  • Jason Clark, Georgetown (14.3 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 47.8% FG) – Underappreciated for four seasons in Washington, Clark led his team in scoring and vaulted the Hoyas well into the top 25 after they were projected to be a bubble team in the preseason. Clark was a model of consistency and a great glue guy on a strong defensive team.
  • Jack Cooley, Notre Dame (12.5 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 62.1% FG) – Cooley came out of nowhere to become the anchor in the paint for a Notre Dame team that took the conference by storm. He recorded a double-double in six of his last eight games and would be my pick for most-improved player.

Honorable Mention

  • Dion Waiters, Syracuse (11.9 PPG, 1.9 SPG, 47.1% FG) – Perhaps the best sixth man in the nation, Waiters sees starter’s minutes on one of the elite teams in the nation. A spark on both ends of the floor with his dynamic transition game, Waiters’ improvement is a big factor in Syracuse’s success.
  • Henry Sims, Georgetown (11.1 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 3.4 APG, 1.4 BPG) – It’s not often you see a 6’10” player lead his team in assists, but that’s exactly what Sims did (and by a wide margin). A candidate for most improved player, Sims was a major reason why Georgetown exceeded preseason expectations.
  • Cleveland Melvin, DePaul (17.4 PPG, 7.3 RPG) – Melvin has been a solid player for two years now. It’s too bad he plays on a bad team.
  • Herb Pope, Seton Hall (15.3 PPG, 10.3 RPG) – A very early frontrunner for conference POY honors, Pope’s production really tailed off in conference play.  Still, his presence in the middle and strong rebounding is vital to the Hall’s success.
  • Maalik Wayns, Villanova (17.5 PPG, 4.6 APG, 89.3% FT) – Wayns will never be confused with efficiency, but he’s a guard who can create contact and get to the line with the best of them. One of the better free throw shooters in the nation knows how to play to his strengths.

All-Freshmen Team

  • Moe Harkless, St. John’s (15.0 PPG, 8.6 RPG) – Harkless put up some dominant numbers right away because he was able to see plenty of minutes on a thin team, but he’s a terrific piece to build around as the Johnnies move forward. A special talent.
  • Anthony Collins, South Florida (8.0 PPG, 5.3 APG, 49.3% FG) – Almost singlehandedly, Collins has willed the Bulls to the brink of the NCAA Tournament. After missing five games with an injury, Collins took over the point guard duties and led South Florida to a 12-6 conference record.
  • LaDontae Henton, Providence (14.3 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 40.2% 3FG) – Henton was a surprise on a Friars team that remained competitive despite a poor record. Henton was thrown into the fire right away, playing 37.1 minutes per game on a very thin team. He responded well and didn’t hit a wall late in the season as most freshmen do.
  • D’Angelo Harrison, St. John’s (17.0 PPG) – Harkless’ sidekick actually led St. John’s in scoring and played his best basketball in February.
  • Otto Porter, Georgetown (9.0 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 51.0% FG) – A player with a great motor who has a ton of upside, Porter has a high basketball IQ and the toughness needed to excel in Georgetown’s system. He’s as good of a rebounder as I’ve seen for a freshman.

Defensive Player of the Year

Fab Melo, Syracuse (3.1 BPG) – Melo led the conference by a wide margin in blocks in conference games (3.73), but finished behind Louisville’s Gorgui Dieng in the block totals for all games. Melo’s presence anchoring Syracuse’s zone changed so many shots and made it easier for Syracuse to defend opponents on the perimeter. When he didn’t play against Notre Dame, the Irish went wild from deep because the Orange didn’t have their big man on the back line to defend drives. A case can be made for Dieng, but Melo was a dominant force defensively for the nation’s #2 team.

Game of the Year

January 21 – Notre Dame 67, Syracuse 58: There is no clear-cut winner for this award, but I’m going to go with Syracuse’s only loss of the season. Notre Dame handed the Orange, playing without Fab Melo, their first and only loss of the season. The Fighting Irish shot 50% for the game and won by a score of 67-58, Notre Dame’s first win against a top-ranked opponent in 25 years. However, it was ND’s eighth win all time against a #1 team and seventh in South Bend. It was a magical night for the Irish and the first win in what would become a nine-game winning streak, a decisive run that pushed Notre Dame solidly into the NCAA Tournament field.

Other nominees: Marquette 61, West Virginia 60 (February 24). Syracuse 64, Georgetown 61 (OT, February 8). Notre Dame 67, Louisville 65 (2OT, January 7). Georgetown 73, Marquette 70 (January 4).

An Outstanding Point Guard In Anthony Collins Has USF In The Running For A Tournament Bid.

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (30-1, 17-1) – The Orange are playing with house money in New York as they are a lock for a #1 seed in next week’s NCAA Tournament. Syracuse has a tough draw with West Virginia or UConn waiting in the quarters before going up against possibly Cincinnati or Georgetown in the semifinals on Friday night. The only question could be if the Orange play the Big East Tournament on cruise control, knowing their NCAA situation is secure.
  2. Marquette (25-6, 14-4) – Marquette is playing the best basketball of any team outside of central New York. The Golden Eagles won 13 of their last 15 games and can absolutely win this tournament. A BET win could give Buzz Williams’ team a #2 seed in the big dance.
  3. Georgetown (22-7, 12-6) – This team has been solid all year, but its normally stout defense was exposed in late season losses to Seton Hall and Marquette. The Hoyas gave Syracuse all it could handle on February 8 at the Carrier Dome and another meeting at MSG isn’t out of the question. Georgetown will get a nice seed in the NCAA Tournament, but the Hoyas have to bring it defensively in order to avoid another early exit.
  4. Cincinnati (22-9, 12-6) – Despite a horrid non-conference schedule, the Bearcats have plenty of top 50 wins on their resume. I believe this team should be and will be in the NCAA Tournament no matter what happens in New York. Still, beating Georgetown/St. John’s/Pitt in the quarterfinals wouldn’t hurt. Cincinnati won five of its last six games, making a strong case to the NCAA Committee in the process.
  5. Notre Dame (21-10, 13-5) – The Irish lost two of their last three games, but it was a remarkable season for Mike Brey’s squad. Considered to be done after losing Tim Abromaitis, Notre Dame re-invented itself and locked up a tournament bid with a one month long nine-game winning streak. The Fighting Irish are a threat in the bottom part of this week’s bracket.
  6. South Florida (19-12, 12-6) – It was encouraging to see the Bulls go into Louisville and win the game they had to have. It was a wildly successful season for USF. The team completely changed its trajectory when Anthony Collins returned from injury and played at an extremely high level. The Bulls have plenty of work to do this week but pass the eye test to some. It seems crazy, but USF won 12 Big East games and has just one RPI top 50 win. That says a lot about the strength of this year’s Big East.
  7. Louisville (22-9, 10-8) – A few weeks ago, most folks were praising Louisville for getting back on track. Since February 13, it has been a different story. The Cardinals have lost four of their last six games heading into the conference tournamen,t but will still be headed to the NCAA Tournament next week. Louisville’s two wins during this stretch? Overtime at DePaul and a home squeaker over a bad Pitt team. Barring a huge effort to refocus this week, Louisville is ripe for the picking by Seton Hall or Providence in its second round game.
  8. West Virginia (19-12, 9-9) – It wasn’t pretty, but the Mountaineers took care of business at South Florida to get back to .500 in the league. West Virginia is right about where most had them at the beginning of the season despite losing seven of 11 games down the stretch. Kevin Jones had an outstanding year and this team remains a threat in New York and in the NCAA Tournament, assuming it gets there. WVU could win a game or two in the big dance.
  9. Connecticut (18-12, 8-10) – It was a rough year for the Huskies, but they have a chance to start over and turn it around this week at MSG. Connecticut will start exactly where it started a year ago when it beat DePaul, the first of 11 straight victories en route to a national championship. This team won’t do that again, but I could realistically see it winning two or three games this week. I believe the Huskies should be in the NCAA Tournament, but a loss to DePaul would significantly complicate matters.
  10. Seton Hall (19-11, 8-10) – When you have a chance to get to your first NCAA Tournament in six years, it’s not good to shoot yourself in the foot. That’s exactly what Seton Hall did with consecutive late season losses to Rutgers and DePaul. The Pirates were blown out of Chicago in absolutely embarrassing fashion and now probably have to win at least two games to keep their NCAA chances alive. The Hall has quality wins over Georgetown, Connecticut, West Virginia and VCU as well as victories over bubble squads Dayton and St. Joe’s, but those two bad losses will sting. You can put the Pirates to bed if they lose to Providence on Tuesday night, a game that won’t be easy for Seton Hall.
  11. Rutgers (14-17, 6-12) – You can’t win big in the Big East with young players and that’s the issue Rutgers faced this year. Mike Rice is building the program in solid fashion, but Rutgers still has a ways to go. Next year could be the year Rutgers starts to turn the corner and gets into contention for some kind of postseason bid. The Scarlet Knights won’t be an easy out at MSG.
  12. St. John’s (13-18, 6-12) – Mike Dunlap did an admirable job filling in for Steve Lavin this season as the Red Storm saw player defections and persevered with one of the thinnest and youngest rosters you will ever see. St. John’s was competitive and seemed to play better basketball as the season progressed. The Johnnies won three straight games late in the season but enter this week’s tournament on a two game losing streak. Still, I wouldn’t want to play SJU at the Garden.
  13. Pittsburgh (16-15, 5-13) – The departure of Khem Birch and injury to Tray Woodall derailed any hope this team had of turning the season around after early losses to Long Beach State and Wagner. The Panthers floundered in conference play, losing their first seven games. Pitt provided us with some hope when it won four straight from January 25 to February 5 but then proceeded to lose six of its final seven after that. With West Virginia going to the Big 12 next season, will Pittsburgh and Syracuse try to follow suit and settle with the Big East to get out earlier than expected?
  14. Villanova (12-18, 5-13) – What a miserable season for Jay Wright. The Wildcats have been to seven consecutive NCAA Tournaments, but didn’t come close to extending that streak this year. Villanova stumbled right out of the gate, losing four games before mid-December. The future is brighter with everyone coming back next year, but Wright has a lot of work to do in order to get this team on the same page over the summer.
  15. Providence (15-16, 4-14) – Despite losing 14 conference games, the Friars were competitive. Ed Cooley is going to get it going rather quickly in Friartown, especially with a ballyhooed recruiting class coming in next season. LaDontae Henton surprised many observers as a freshman and should be a big piece going forward along with superb point guard Vincent Council, who will lead the team as a senior in 2012-13.
  16. DePaul (12-18, 3-15) – The Blue Demons won only three times in league play but saved their best for last, blowing out Seton Hall this past Saturday in Chicago. Oliver Purnell has clearly established his style of play, now it’s up to him to get better players in the mix. Cleveland Melvin is underappreciated because he plays on this team, but he’s a nice piece to build around. You have to believe Purnell will eventually get DePaul back to respectability, but the process will be a long one.
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Big East Morning Five: 03.06.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on March 6th, 2012

  1. The Big East handed out a few more postseason superlatives yesterday. Syracuse center Fab Melo highlighted the selections as he was named the Defensive Player of the Year. Melo, who was likely also a candidate for Most Improved Player, had a breakout season for the Orange. The seven-foot sophomore averaged 3.9 blocks per game in Big East play to lead the league to go with 6.1 rebounds but it was Melo’s presence and activity in that vaunted Syracuse zone that set him apart. Speaking of the Most Improved Player, that honor went to Notre Dame’s Jack Cooley. After playing just 10.3 minutes and scoring 3.7 points per game as last year, the 6’9” junior nearly averaged a double-double this season (12.5 PPG, 9.2 RPG). Cooley earned a second-team All-Big East distinction on Sunday and was a fixture in this season’s Big East weekly honors, garnering Player of the Week once to go with six Honor Rolls. This year’s Sixth Man Award will come as a shock to no one. Syracuse’s Dion Waiters has been described as the team’s best player, and thrived in his off-the-bench role on the nation’s deepest team. Waiters, a sophomore guard, was the Orange’s second leading scorer at 11.9 points per game, to go with 2.4 assists per contest. Finally, the Sportsmanship Award went to Georgetown’s Jason Clark. The senior guard, who is also an All-Big East first-teamer this year, has been involved with Georgetown related community service organizations. Big East Player, Coach, Rookie and Scholar-Athlete of the Year will be announced today between the afternoon and evening sessions of the Big East Championship.
  2. With all of the Big East honors rolling out over the past couple of days, we cannot forget the final installment of the conference’s weekly distinctions. West Virginia’s Kevin Jones is your Player of the Week.  Jones looked to solidify his case for Player of the Year with typically monster efforts two Mountaineer wins, averaging 20.0 points and 13.5 rebounds per game. Providence’s LaDontae Henton took home his third Rookie of the Week award of the season, averaging 18.0 points and 9.5 rebounds in a 1-1 week for the Friars. Henton, a candidate for Big East Rookie of the Year, averaged 14.3 points and 8.6 rebounds per game for the regular season, while shooting 40.2 % from three-point range. This week’s Honor Roll recipients: Marquette’s Jae Crowder kept pace with Kevin Jones in the Player of the Year race by averaging 21.5 points, 13.0 rebounds and 3.0 steals in a 1-1 week; DePaul’s Cleveland Melvin who averaged 17.5 points and 8.5 rebounds, including 14 points and nine boards in the Blue Demons’ thrashing of Seton Hall; Rutgers’ Dane Miller who averaged 13.0 points and 9.5 rebounds including a double-double (10 points, 10 rebounds) in the Scarlet Knights’ victory over St. John’s; Cincinnati’s JaQuon Parker registered a career-high 28 points coupled with seven rebounds in the Bearcats’ huge win over Marquette. Syracuse’s Brandon Triche closes out the Honor Roll. Triche registered 18 points, four rebounds and four assists in Syracuse’s regular-season finale, a win over Louisville.
  3. The Nerlens Noel watch continues as it was reported yesterday the 6’10 center will visit Georgetown this weekend. Last month Noel announced his intention to reclassify to the class of 2012, and quickly became the number-one rated prospect in that group. In addition to the Hoyas, Noel is considering Kentucky, North Carolina, Syracuse and Connecticut. Noel is scheduled to be in attendance with Georgetown players and coaches while the NCAA tournament field is selected. Of course it is a field that will include 22-7 Hoyas and, as pointed out by CasualHoya.com, selection Sunday visits have been a successful recruiting tactic for Georgetown in the past.
  4. Fans and pundits alike will be focused this week on conference tournament performance as we rumble toward selection Sunday and rightfully so, but it never hurts to that number next to your name. Louisville no longer has one has the Cardinals, ranked 19th last week, plummeted out of the polls following back-to-back regular season ending losses to South Florida and Syracuse.  Syracuse (30-1, 17-1) continued to roll but remained stuck behind Kentucky at #2. Marquette (25-6, 14-4) had an even week, losing to Cincinnati while beating Georgetown but slipped one spot to #9. The afore mentioned Georgetown (22-7, 12-6) fell two rungs to #13 because they were distracted by the prospect of Nerlens Noel dropping by. The lone remaining ranked team in the Big East is Notre Dame (21-10, 13-5) at #23, but the Fighting Irish also trended in the wrong direction moving down three notches after being stifled by the Hoyas. Louisville (22-9, 10-8) did remain on the cusp of a ranking, gaining 84 votes and Cincinnati (22-9, 12-6), winners of five of their last six games, checked in with five votes.
  5. Look for a more comprehensive Big East tournament preview from us here later this morning but as a bit of a primer Seton Hall, a team with a lot on the line this week, may have to go to battle a bit banged up and short-handed.  Guard Aaron Cosby, who averaged 30.1 minutes per game during the regular season, has the flu per South Orange Juice and could miss this evening’s game against Providence. Further, the site also reports star big man Herb Pope, who injured his toe on Saturday in the Pirates’ loss to DePaul, was seen wearing a walking boot.  While the severity of the injury is not known, it is expected that Pope will play. Aaron Geramipoor is a player who would figure to have an increased role should Pope be limited, but is also expected to miss the game as he continues to battle a hip injury that has held him out the last two games and limited him for the past month.
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ATB: Wild Weekend Full of Tournament Tickets Punched And Regular Season Finales

Posted by EJacoby on March 5th, 2012

This Weekend’s Lede – What makes the official start of March Madness? Saturday, March 3, which included 105 total games, three conference tournament championships, and 15 ranked teams playing their regular season finales definitely felt like the appropriate start date. Sunday saw eight more ranked teams play and one more conference tournament decided. It was a wonderful start to Championship Week that included both the usual (Murray State won the OVC) and the unexpected (Wichita State, Iona, and Middle Tennessee all lost before the title game) that makes our sport so much fun to watch. All regular season games but one Ivy contest are now completed, so the power leagues start up their own conference tournaments in the next couple of days. Over the course of the next week we will find out 27 more automatic bid winners and the 37 at-large teams to fill out the NCAA Tournament bracket. Let’s start by rehashing what took place over the weekend, and who looks good to go dancing. We start in the Big Ten…

Your Watercooler Moment. Buckeyes Victory Means a Three-Way Tie for Big Ten Supremacy 

Who said that Ohio State blew its chance at a Big Ten title last week with its loss to Wisconsin? Well, we were actually guilty of thinking the same, as Michigan State had built a two-game lead with two games to play in the conference season. But after losing at Indiana, the Spartans needed to defend their home court and defeat Ohio State in Sunday’s regular season finale if they wanted the outright Big Ten championship. The Buckeyes had other ideas, as they came back from down double-digits in the second half to eventually win on a game-winner with one second remaining. William Buford’s jumper not only evened Ohio State with Michigan State at 13-5 in the conference, but it also means that Michigan’s 13-5 record holds up as a third team atop the Big Ten. These three teams all slipped up at home late in the season, but none was more costly than this Michigan State loss with the outright title and a likely NCAA Tournament #1 seed on the line. The Big Ten Tournament will be as great to watch as ever before, with so many teams jockeying for postseason inclusion or seeding position, and three teams all as co-favorites. In the tiebreaker scenarios, Michigan State comes out victorious as the regular-season champion and #1 seed, but all three split their season series and can stake a legitimate claim as league champ.

Top Storyline – North Carolina Exacts Revenge on Duke. If it weren’t for Austin Rivers’ buzzer-beating three on February 8, then North Carolina would currently be on a 13-game winning streak in ACC play with a +13.6 average scoring margin in those games. The Tar Heels got revenge on Duke for that shot and made sure everyone remembers how great this team is as UNC throttled Duke from the outset of Saturday night’s regular season finale. The Tar Heels jumped out to an 18-5 lead in under four minutes, wound it all the way up to a 24-point advantage at halftime, and finished it off with an 88-70 blowout victory going away. Duke has struggled in Cameron Indoor Stadium this season, but nothing like this, in which the road team was superior in every facet of the game. The Tar Heels’ entire starting lineup finished with at least 12 points, Kendall Marshall dished out his usual 10 assists, and John Henson and Tyler Zeller each had 10 rebounds. Carolina is the ACC champion and peaking at the right time of year.

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Big East Morning Five: 03.02.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on March 2nd, 2012

  1. This evening figures to be an unusual one emotionally for injured senior star Tim Abromaitis once senior night festivities commence prior to Notre Dame’s contest with Providence.  Abromaitis has been forced to watch for the majority of this season due to an ACL tear he suffered in November, and is trying to make peace with the fact that his career at Notre Dame may very well be over. The thing that will keep Abromaitis in a state of emotional flux is the battle between the finality of senior night and the faint glimmer of hope that he may be granted a rare sixth year of eligibility and play for the Irish again next year.  As for tonight, Abromaitis will suit up for show but will not play in any fashion, including warm-ups. To Abromaitis’ credit he is keeping things in perspective and holds no delusions of grandeur when it comes to playing again.  “I’ve kind of looked at it both ways – there’s a chance I’m coming back, so do what I need to do to keep that door open,” Abromaitis told the Chicago Tribune. “But at the same time, I am pretty rational about knowing that it very well could be the last time out there and could be a little emotional for me. I’m just trying to take it in stride and be glad for the opportunities I have had.”
  2. Villanova has not enjoyed tremendous success on the court this season but they could be receiving some good news about their future very soon as top Class of 2013 recruit Allerik Freeman narrowed his choices to Villanova and Kansas according to his Olympic (NC) High School coach Ty Baumgardner.  Freeman, a 6’4” guard who is ranked 13th nationally by ESPN.com and 24th by Rivals.com had been pursued by the likes of Georgetown, Arizona, Kansas State, North Carolina State, Ohio State, and others. Freeman has visited both Villanova and Kansas unofficially, meaning he paid his way, and could decide before taking any official visits.
  3. In keeping with the high school scene, rosters for the All-American Championship were announced yesterday.  The event, which started last year, is an all-star showcase that features four teams who will play a doubleheader on April 1 in New Orleans’ Lakefront Arena.  ESPN3 will carry the games live beginning at 3 PM EST and ESPNU will replay at 9 PM EST. Two highly sought-after Big East 2012 recruits, Nerlens Noel and Chris Obekpa, will be playing in the game.  Noel recently trimmed his list but Syracuse, Georgetown and Connecticut still appear to be in the running.  Obekpa’s list includes Cincinnati, Connecticut, DePaul, St. John’s, Providence and West Virginia. Highly touted high school juniors and brothers, Andrew and Aaron Harrison, will be there as well.  Both are being recruited by Villanova while Andrew also holds an offer from Georgetown. There are also a number of committed Big East players who will appear: Omar Calhoun (Connecticut), Ricardo Ledo (Providence), Dajuan Coleman (Syracuse), Jerami Grant (Syracuse), D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera (Georgetown) and Cameron Biedscheid (Notre Dame).
  4. Perhaps Connecticut fans will be treated to a Willis Reed-like event, but it is not looking like head coach Jim Calhoun will make his return to the sideline on Saturday as hoped when the Huskies take on Pittsburgh.  Calhoun is reported to be feeling better after surgery on Monday to alleviate pain and discomfort caused by a spine-thinning condition called spinal stenosis as well as a “large disk fragment” that was found when doctors went in, but was not able to attend practice on Thursday.  Should Calhoun not be ready for Connecticut’s practice this afternoon it renders his chances of coaching on Saturday to virtually nil.  The Huskies (17-13, 7-10 Big East) somewhat remarkably remain in contention for an at-large NCAA berth despite their well-documented struggles. A loss on Saturday would certainly figure to firmly put them on the outside looking in, even in the minds of the pundits.
  5. The Naismith Men’s Basketball Player of the Year is obviously a huge honor and just to be considered is certainly something to be proud of.  To that end, the Atlanta Tipoff Club announced its somewhat oddly named ‘Midseason 30’, which is a a list of the 30 finalists for the award.  Four Big East players made the cut: Marquette’s Darius Johnson-Odom, West Virginia’s Kevin Jones, and two from Syracuse in Kris Joseph and Dion Waiters. The Naismith recipient will be announced and awarded during the Final Four, which we presume implies that the second “half” of the season will be played in the next four weeks.
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Big East Afternoon Five: Leap Day Edition

Posted by mlemaire on February 29th, 2012

  1. We got off to a late start today so let’s make it a good one. Score this one in the “You have got to be kidding me!” category, but Connecticut‘s loss to Providence last night was a debacle that perfectly sums up its season. The Huskies shot 46% from the field, led by as many as 14 in the second half, and still let the lowly Friars climb back into the game and eventually win. Most are now saying that this team doesn’t belong in the NCAA Tournament and they really don’t. You can’t lose nine of your last 13 games in the regular season and still expect the Tournament Committee to look favorably upon you, and you can’t play a must-win game against the worst team in your conference and blow a late lead to lose. Blaming this on interim coach George Blaney is a cop-out, though. Blaney may be too passive and he may not lead the team with the iron fist of Jim Calhoun, but Blaney is not responsible for letting one of the conference’s least efficient offensive teams go on a 26-5 run in the middle of the second half. UConn fans can scapegoat whomever they want, but this failure is on the players, plain and simple.
  2. The difference between UConn and West Virginia — who routed its inferior opponent, DePaul, in a must-win game at home — is leadership. UConn is a team full of talented underclassmen. West Virginia is a team that will only go as far as their two excellent seniors, Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant, who combined for 50 points last night in what was their final home game as Mountaineers, take them. Bob Huggins‘ team has also been in a bit of a tailspin down the stretch, but if they can beat South Florida in Tampa this weekend, they may still be able to play their way into the NCAA Tournament.
  3. Looking ahead to tonight, the team with the best chance to impress the Tournament Committee is Cincinnati. The Bearcats play their final home game against No. 8 Marquette, a team that has been winning but hasn’t been dominating. The Golden Eagles are not the same team on the road as they are at home, and for Mick Cronin’s bunch, a win over a Top 10 team would likely cement their place in the NCAA Tournament heading into the Big East Tournament next week. The obvious matchup to watch will be the red-hot Jae Crowder squaring off with Cincinnati’s Yancy Gates who will be playing in his final home game.
  4. Allow me to take a minute to step away from bubble implications and talk about one player who is out of the spotlight thanks to his team’s unexpected struggles, and that is Pittsburgh do-it-all senior Nasir Robinson. Reading this article about Robinson’s season, it shouldn’t take long for you to love this guy. A 6’5″ power forward, Robinson doesn’t have a future in the NBA and his senior season has been a disappointment, but still he says he won’t make any excuses and all he does is talk about how he wants to help his teammates. The Panthers have had plenty of gritty players exactly like Robinson who make the most out of their limited potential (Brad Wanamaker immediately comes to mind) and that is a testament to coach Jamie Dixon‘s talent evaluation and coaching. This is why Robinson deserves some stand-alone recognition. He will be forgotten soon enough, but for now, let’s give the guy some love for an excellent career and leadership values he should be proud of.
  5. There will be a lot of mixed emotions in South Bend Friday night when Notre Dame seniors Scott Martin and Tim Abromaitis put on their uniforms for what might be the last time. Both players have petitioned the NCAA for a rare sixth year of eligibility but it seems unlikely that either will have their request granted. Of course Abromaitis will be in uniform but won’t play as he recovers from his torn ACL. There should be plenty of cheers from the Fighting Irish faithful, especially for Abromaitis, but there will also be a lot of people looking at him in uniform and wondering what could have been.
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Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 27th, 2012

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

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • Temple In Big East Talks: The Big East may have a new all-sport member as early as this fall if the reports are true that the Temple Owls are in discussions about joining the conference.  Adding Temple to the mix would be terrific for Big East basketball. While Syracuse is irreplaceable, you could make an argument that Temple and Memphis offset the departures of West Virginia and Pittsburgh. The enhanced stature of these two programs in the Big East will help fuel recruiting and could easily make them equal to what WVU and Pitt are right now. Temple will make its fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance next month, its 30th in a storied history. The Owls have made two Final Fours and five Elite Eights, better than both Pittsburgh and West Virginia (WVU has two Final Fours, Pitt has one). Memphis has been to more Final Fours and Elite Eights as well, although two were vacated (1985 and 2008). All in all, I’d argue that the Big East hit a grand slam with Temple and Memphis, should this all go through. The league simply couldn’t have done better given the constraints it faced.
  • Punching Your Ticket And Voiding It In The Same Week: One could argue that Seton Hall and Cincinnati punched their NCAA Tournament tickets with wins over Georgetown and Louisville, respectively, last week. However, both squads lost over the weekend (to Rutgers and South Florida), wiping out the good vibes from huge home wins earlier in the week. As of right now, the Pirates and Bearcats are likely still in the Tournament, but in much more precarious positions than before. In late-season college basketball, nothing is ever a sure thing until all the games are played. A team’s status can change at a moment’s notice.  

Syracuse Senior Scoop Jardine Helped Lead The Orange To A Title-Clinching Win Over Connecticut. (Jessica Hill/AP Photo)

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (29-1, 16-1) – The men in orange just keep moving right along, picking up two more wins this past week. Finding a way to win is so cliché, but it has been the theme with this group over the last few weeks. Syracuse has moved its record to 29-1 with seven of their nine wins since the loss to Notre Dame coming by ten points or less. In the win over South Florida, Syracuse overcame 35% shooting and a 20-7 Bulls run to start the game by going on a massive 26-0 run that started about midway through the first half and bled deep into the second. Kris Joseph struggled shooting, but Scoop Jardine picked him up by scoring 15 points. Joseph rebounded in a big way with 21 points at Connecticut while Fab Melo added 11 points and nine rebounds. This team has more weapons than any in the nation, allowing the Orange to overcome off nights by some of their key players. More importantly, Syracuse out-rebounded UConn, 39-35. That’s significant because of what the Huskies bring to the table in their front court and Syracuse’s awful rebounding numbers that have persisted throughout the season. With the win at UConn, Syracuse officially clinched the Big East regular season title, something everyone knew was going to happen as early as when the calendar flipped to January. This week: 3/3 vs. #23 Louisville.
  2. Marquette (24-5, 13-3) – There are teams more talented than Marquette out there, but you will not find one with a greater will to win than this bunch of Golden Eagles. You might as well call them their old nickname, the Warriors, because that’s exactly what they are. Jae Crowder made his case for Big East Player of the Year last week in grand fashion, totaling 53 points in two wins over Rutgers and West Virginia. Crowder dominated West Virginia’s Kevin Jones in their head-to-head matchup and may have moved in front of Jones in the POY race in the process. Crowder certainly plays for a better team and that has to enhance his case even more. Despite Buzz Williams suspending Darius Johnson-Odom, Vander Blue and Junior Cadougan for the first half against West Virginia and Todd Mayo for the second half, Marquette rallied yet again to pull out a victory. I don’t understand the half-suspensions. Sit them down for the whole game if you want to make a statement, but that’s beyond the point. The Golden Eagles shot 50% for the game and forced 19 WVU turnovers, helping to offset 16 Mountaineer offensive rebounds. In the win over Rutgers, Marquette forced 21 turnovers and Johnson-Odom added 21 points alongside Crowder’s 27 as the Golden Eagles shot 54% overall. MU can close out the Big East regular season in grand style and finish with a 15-3 record if it takes care of two tough games in the coming week. This team has a legitimate chance to win the Big East Tournament and go deep in the NCAA’s. This week: 2/29 @ Cincinnati, 3/3 vs. #9 Georgetown. Read the rest of this entry »
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Night Line: Notre Dame Keeps Winning With Balanced Offensive Attack

Posted by EJacoby on February 23rd, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.

The Indiana Hoosiers have been praised throughout this season for having one of the most balanced offensive attacks in the country. But as IU has begun to sputter of late, a different team in Indiana is proving to be similarly efficient with a variety of offensive options. By thumping West Virginia on Wednesday night, 71-44, Notre Dame has now won nine straight games after yet another versatile offensive attack that was too much for the Mountaineers to handle. Mike Brey’s boys in South Bend remain tied for second in the Big East and are a dangerous matchup thanks to all the different options they can throw at opponents.

The Fighting Irish are Clicking Through Collective Offensive Play (AP Photo/J. Raymond)

The Fighting Irish began this season with much riding on their fifth-year senior star Tim Abromaitis, who was expected to make a run at Big East Player of the Year. But when the forward suffered a season-ending ACL injury on November 25, the entire dynamic of the team changed. It took plenty of bruises — the Irish were just 8-5 in the non-conference — but this team has figured out how to play as a group without Abromaitis. While only six players on the team average 20 minutes or more per game now, each one is capable of being the star on any given night. In fact, during the current nine-game winning streak, five different players have led the team in scoring. Coming into tonight, guards Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant and forward Jack Cooley were all averaging between 12 and 13 points per game on the year, while emerging swingman Pat Connaughton was averaging 12.6 per contest in his last five games. The other starter, forward Scott Martin, also averages 9.1 PPG in Big East play, giving the Irish a full lineup of capable scorers.

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Set Your TiVo: 02.22.12

Posted by EJacoby on February 22nd, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

There are a lot of good teams in action on Wednesday, but most of them are strong favorites in their games. The two best matchups of the night are taking place in the Big East and Big Ten.

Here’s the breakdown and what else to watch for:

West Virginia at #17 Notre Dame – 7:00 PM ET on ESPN2 (****)

Mike Brey's Team Has Won Eight in a Row and Looks Really Strong (AP Photo/J. Raymond)

  • It seems like every game that West Virginia plays is a toss-up, and this one is no different. The Mountaineers have lost five of their last seven but are coming off a big win at Pittsburgh where they were slight underdogs. They are once again slight underdogs in South Bend to take on the red-hot Fighting Irish. WVU usually plays strong perimeter defense, which will force the Irish guards into running more difficult offense, but will the Mountaineers’ own guards provide enough scoring punch? Truck Bryant has been a good secondary scorer at 16.6 PPG in Big East play, but no other guard averages more than eight points per night. They need someone else to step up to complement Bryant and Kevin Jones. Jones remains a stud this season and you can all but lock up 20 points and 10 rebounds from him. The Mountaineers will try to out-tough the Irish by controlling the boards with their 54.1% rebounding percentage in Big East games, tops in the conference.
  • Notre Dame hasn’t lost in over a month, winning eight straight games and all in impressive fashion. They didn’t look great in their Saturday night game at Villanova, but the Irish still came back from a 20-point deficit and closed out a road game in overtime. Five different Notre Dame players have led the team in scoring during its winning streak, and the offense has been tremendously well-rounded. They can pound the ball inside to Jack Cooley (12.2 PPG, 9.3 RPG), find surging Pat Connaughton from the outside (12.6 PPG in his last five games), or use strong guard duo Eric Atkins (13.0 PPG) and Jerian Grant (12.9 PPG) to make plays. The question will be whether Mike Brey‘s team can execute against WVU’s tough defense or grab any offensive boards against the strong defensive rebounding team.
  • West Virginia is the best rebounding team in the Big East while Notre Dame’s 49.4% rebound percentage is just 13th in the conference. The Mountaineers could control this game if they dominate the boards, but otherwise the Irish should find a much easier time scoring with their diverse offensive sets. Notre Dame is just a three-point favorite in what is expected to be a tight matchup.

#5 Michigan State at Minnesota – 8:30 PM ET on Big Ten Network (***)

  • Michigan State has won five straight, seven of its last eight, and looks like a strong candidate for an NCAA #1 seed. Draymond Green is fully healthy and continues to state his case for Big Ten Player of the Year, but it’s the secondary players that have come along. Freshman Branden Dawson continues to improve and has massive upside as a swing forward, while bigs Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix continue to play better and better as the season progresses. The Spartans remain one of the strongest defensive teams in the country and seem incredibly difficult to score on during stretches. There’s no reason to expect anything different against a struggling Golden Gophers offense. Tom Izzo‘s team is peaking yet again in the late stage of the season.
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Big East Morning Five: 02.21.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on February 21st, 2012

  1. The ugly brawl between Cincinnati and Xavier that forced a premature stoppage to their annual meeting last December led to plenty of speculation about the future of the rivalry.  Now that the cooling off period has spanned a couple of months it appears the ‘Crosstown Shootout’ will resume next season without pause.  While nothing has been finalized, there was indication from both schools yesterday that the game will happen.  Cincinnati president Greg Williams said, “Every indication is that we are going to play next year. We’re looking at it. [Xavier University president] Father Graham and I have talked about it a number of times.”  Xavier athletic director Mike Bobinski shared a similar sentiment, “Absolutely, we would like to see the game continue for the good of both institutions, college basketball, the city, all of the above. We all agree we’ve got work to do to put a different feel and flavor to the thing, but it’s worth doing so. Those conversations are yet to come.”  As far as the reference to ‘a different feel’ there has been talk about having the game played at a neutral site but neither school appears to be in favor of the suggestion.  A starting point might be a media gag order on the players threatening suspension if they discuss anything about the game or their opponent.  Tensions piqued a bit higher leading up to this season’s contest when Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick provided some bulletin board material in a radio interview by saying Xavier’s star guard Tu Holloway would not start for the Bearcats.
  2. Connecticut continues to hold out hope that the NCAA Committee on Academic Performance (CAP) will make changes to Academic Performance Rating (APR) standard that could restore their eligibility to compete in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. However they will now have to wait until at least April to find out their fate as the CAP met on Monday to discuss possible alterations to the regulations and did not reach any conclusions.  As things stand right now, the Huskies are not eligible for next year’s Big Dance for failing to meet the necessary APR.  Based on rule changes instituted last year, a two-year average APR of 930 is needed to retain NCAA tournament eligibility based on APRs for the 2009-10 and 2010-11 academic years.  Connecticut has no chance of meeting the current standard based on their 2009-10 score of 826, and has argued the starting point for the average should be the 2010-11 year so that score could be thrown out.  The school has already lost an appeal on the matter and has since taken its case to the CAP, who does not meet again until April.  Regardless of what comes out of that April meeting, the timing remains damaging to Connecticut on the recruiting front.  The spring (letter of intent) signing period for prospective high school class of 2012 prospects begins in mid-April so it stands to reason potential recruits who are discouraged by the prospect of not being able to play in next year’s tournament will not stand by and await a final ruling while spots on other desirable teams get filled.
  3. They say first impressions mean everything.  Well, I have been fortunate enough to experience a Marquette head coach Buzz Williams postgame press conference firsthand and when he was through all I could remember thinking was what a charismatic, consummate professional, and class act Williams was. A great piece by Howie Magner for Inside Milwaukee Magazine shows the many facets, and struggles, of Buzz Williams the coach, husband, father, patient, friend, mentor, protégé and benefactor.  Quite honestly any attempt here to encapsulate Mr. Williams or Magner’s article would not do either any justice.  Please do yourself a favor and read it.
  4. “I think that there’s too much sugar in the world and not enough salt. Kids want to be challenged. Humans want to aspire to something. You don’t win in life and you don’t win in athletics with softness or selfishness.”  -Buzz Williams on His Approach With Players

  5. Marquette’s Jae Crowder is seemingly everywhere on the court.  However, one place the jack of all trades/master of many has never been until now is atop the Big East Player of the Week list.  Crowder dropped a career-high 29 points to go along with 12 rebounds in the Golden Eagles’ 79-64 win over Connecticut on Saturday in Marquette’s only game last week.  South Florida’s Anthony Collins scored Big East Rookie of the Week honors as the freshman guard averaged 16.0 points, 6.5 assists and 2.0 steals per game for the Bulls in victories over Pittsburgh and Villanova.  Leading the Big East Honor Roll once again is last week’s Player of the Week, Jack Cooley of Notre Dame.  Cooley, who graces the Honor Roll for the fourth time this season, averaged 20.0 points and 15.5 rebounds in two Fighting Irish wins.  Joining Cooley on the Honor Roll are: Cincinnati’s Dion Dixon who littered the stat sheet to the tune of 13.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.5 blocks per game in two important Bearcats’ wins; Syracuse’s C.J. Fair who scored a season high 21 points to go with eight rebounds in a win over Rutgers and averaged 17.0 points and 6.5 rebounds per game in two games on the week; West Virginia’s Kevin Jones who went for 16 points and 13 rebounds in the Mountaineers’ victory over Pittsburgh which was good for Jones’ incredible 18th double-double of the year; and, Georgetown’s Hollis Thompson who also hit for a double-double in his only game of the week, scoring 13 points and pulling down 10 boards in a win at Providence.
  6. It the spirit of this weekend’s upcoming Daytona 500 it is time to talk about ‘poll’ positions among Big East teams.  Syracuse (27-1, 14-1) has proved slow and steady win the race as the Orange continue to meet all challenges and remain at No. 2 nationally.  The Big East now boasts three top 10 teams with Georgetown (20-5, 10-4) chugging ahead one spot to No. 9 and Marquette (22.5, 11-3), fueled by 10 wins in its last eleven games, motored up two places to No. 10.  The Hoyas and Golden Eagles will trade paint on March 3 in Milwaukee. Louisville (21-6, 9-5) can relate more to the ponies than the cars but the Cardinals have hit a new gear as well, winning seven of their last eight and taking an inside position at No. 17.  Speaking of burning rubber, who’s hotter than Notre Dame (19-8, 11-3)?  The improbable Fighting Irish have won eight straight, tying a school record, and surged ahead three spots to No. 20.
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Checking In On… The Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 20th, 2012

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

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • Bubble Teams Hanging On: Four Big East squads reside in the purgatory known as Bubbleville, but all are still hanging on to their projected NCAA bids. Cincinnati, Seton Hall, West Virginia, and Connecticut are all projected to be in the NCAA Tournament field as of this writing according to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, but it’s the Pirates who are really skating on thin ice. The Hall is one of the “last four in” and has a huge opportunity this week against Georgetown. Cincinnati has a similar opportunity against Louisville while West Virginia has two excellent chances to seal the deal this week. As for Connecticut, the Huskies appear to be imploding. How UConn responds against Villanova on Monday night and Syracuse this coming Saturday will determine its fate.
  • South Florida Guaranteed a Winning Record: With its win at Pittsburgh on Sunday night, South Florida won its tenth Big East game for the first time ever and is now guaranteed at least a 10-8 Big East finish. However, the Bulls have their sights set higher. Thanks in part to a backloaded schedule, USF’s best win to this point is over bubble team Seton Hall, but upcoming games against Cincinnati and West Virginia could push the Bulls towards the field if they can win. South Florida needs to finish at least 12-6 in order to have a chance at a bid. Even with that, the Bulls will likely need to do a lot of work in New York City. A 12-6 league record is usually automatic, but not when your best non-conference win is Cleveland State. How much does Stan Heath want the close losses to Southern Miss (two points) and Connecticut (three points) back now?

Darius Johnson-Odom And The Golden Eagles Embarrassed The Huskies On Saturday.

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (27-1, 14-1) – I can hardly remember a year with zero change at the top of the league rankings. Syracuse is simply a cut above every other team in this league although Marquette and Georgetown have closed the gap a little bit over the last few weeks. Syracuse flirted with losses twice last week, but won gutty road games at Louisville and Rutgers. The Orange held Louisville without a point over the final 3:30 and won by a point despite shooting 1-15 from deep and Scoop Jardine going 0-8. Syracuse shot 34% for the game, but limited Louisville to 35%. Against Rutgers, Syracuse shot 50% and Jardine played much better (17 points, 7 assists). C.J. Fair had a stellar game, scoring 21 points and grabbing eight rebounds off the bench. Kris Joseph added 14 for the victors as they moved their overall record to 27-1. Rebounding remains a concern (31-26 Rutgers on the glass), but the Orange continue to roll along. Syracuse will battle Kentucky for the top overall seed in next month’s NCAA Tournament. This week: 2/22 vs. South Florida, 2/25 @ Connecticut. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 13th, 2012

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

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • Big East Adds Memphis: While conference realignment is unfortunately all about football, the addition of Memphis to the Big East Conference is a boon for basketball. With the league losing Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia, it needed a strong basketball program to limit the damage of three venerable programs departing. Memphis is perhaps the best the Big East could do from a basketball perspective and the Tigers will begin competing in the conference in the 2013-14 academic year. While the Big East cannot replace a program with the stature of Syracuse, Memphis is arguably at least as good, if not better, than Pittsburgh and West Virginia. Temple would be the next logical choice from a basketball perspective but Villanova has long been rumored to be firmly in opposition to the Owls joining the league. Conference realignment is a new reality and won’t end any time soon. Expect some more dominoes to fall over the coming months and years.
  • West Virginia Reportedly Settles: Just 36 hours after Memphis joined the Big East, West Virginia reportedly settled with the Big East on an exit agreement, although no official announcement was made. If the Charleston Daily Mail report is correct, West Virginia will leave the Big East on July 1 of this year in order to join the Big 12 Conference. The reported agreement says that WVU will pay the Big East $11 million, with the Big 12 contributing $9 million. Big East bylaws require all member institutions to give 27 months notice before leaving the conference. If the Mountaineers do leave the conference, the Big East will have 15 basketball members for next season (2012-13) before expanding again in the summer of 2013. Of course, West Virginia’s early exit could pave the way for agreements with Syracuse and Pittsburgh, allowing those schools to leave early for the ACC. In a worst-case scenario, the Big East will have 13 basketball teams in 2012-13. One thing is for sure, this story is far from over. Stay tuned.
  • NCAA Denies Connecticut’s Waiver Request: In what was another good move by the increasingly tough NCAA, the governing body denied a request by Connecticut to retain eligibility for the 2013 NCAA Tournament in exchange for self-imposed penalties. Those penalties included forfeiting revenue and playing a shorter schedule. The Huskies would not quality for next year’s tournament because of their low APR rating, below the four-year minimum requirement of 900 or two-year average of 930. UConn will appeal the decision, one that, if denied, could have a huge effect on the basketball program in Storrs. Will Jim Calhoun stick around? Will recruits want to come there and knowingly sit out a year? Many questions still need to be answered as the Connecticut basketball program enters a period of uncertainty.
  • Win Number 880 for Jim Boeheim: The Syracuse legend now stands alone in third place on the all-time Division I wins list behind Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and Bob Knight after Syracuse beat Georgetown last week. Number 880 is one better than Dean Smith, a legend in his own right at North Carolina. While it is unlikely that Boeheim can catch Krzyzewski since both will keep winning, the Orange coach can pass Knight early next season, especially if Syracuse goes on a deep NCAA Tournament run. It’s so rare to see an athlete or a coach stay at one school for his entire career in sports these days but that’s exactly what Boeheim has done. The Hall of Famer has been at Syracuse as a coach since 1969 and played for the Orange from 1962-66. What a truly remarkable career spanning 50 years (and still going strong).

Josh Pastner Looks Forward To Embracing A More Challenging Change of Scenery In The Big East

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (25-1, 12-1) – The Orange dispatched their chief rivals in the Big East, Georgetown and Connecticut, in vastly different ways last week. Against the Hoyas, Syracuse needed overtime to put away a team that out-rebounded them 48-30 and slowed the pace to limit SU’s transition attack. Kris Joseph led Syracuse with a career-high 29 points and Fab Melo had six blocks as the Orange won by three in the extra session. Neither team played well, but Jim Boeheim picked up his 880th career win, moving ahead of Dean Smith and into sole possession of third place on the all-time list. Against Connecticut, the Orange broke open a close game in the second half with a 22-6 game-ending run. Syracuse shot much better (59%), including a scorching 63% from beyond the arc. Dion Waiters and C.J. Fair combined for 32 points and 16 rebounds off the bench while Scoop Jardine added 21 points on 8-of-9 shooting. It seems like Joseph is emerging as the go-to guy for this team, a question that had yet to be answered for the better part of the season. Syracuse faces a quick turnaround with a Big Monday game at Louisville, a team that has beaten them seven consecutive times. This week: 2/13 @ Louisville, 2/19 @ Rutgers. Read the rest of this entry »
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