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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Big East Morning Five: 02.28.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on February 28th, 2012

  1. It appears that Nerlens Noel, the #1 recruit in the class of 2012, has cut his list of finalists from seven to five, resulting in two Big East schools left wanting. Noel was interviewed as part of a WCVB 5 Boston segment on him and his Tilton School teammates. In the interview Noel stated he has “narrowed it down” to Kentucky, Syracuse, Florida, Georgetown, and North Carolina. Omitted from Noel’s original list of seven were Connecticut and Providence.  Noel made similar news recently in a radio interview when he seemingly cut his list only to quickly clarify via Twitter that his list had not changed. Fans of Connecticut and Providence will hold out hope of an inadvertent omission once again, but all had been quiet in the Noel camp as of late Monday evening. In a related story, Jim Calhoun and Ed Cooley have retained Ryan Braun’s lawyers because they believe the WCVB 5 news feed was tampered with in post-production.
  2. Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun underwent successful back surgery yesterday according to a statement issued by the school. Calhoun has been away from coaching since February 3 due to a painful condition called spinal stenosis. As part of the two-hour procedure conducted at New York’s Beth Israel Medical Center, doctors removed a “large extruded disk fragment” which was believed to be contributing heavily to Calhoun’s discomfort. Recovery time is not expected to be extensive and Calhoun could be back on the sideline for Connecticut’s regular season finale against Pittsburgh on March 3. George Blaney will continue to coach the team until Calhoun returns. The Huskies play a road contest versus Providence tonight.
  3. For the first time this season the Big East has a back-to-back Player of the Week as Marquette’s Jae Crowder has once again claimed the crown. Crowder, who may be the front runner for Big East Player of the Year, did it all for the Golden Eagles as usual in a 2-0 week posting averages of 26.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.0 steals and, 2.5 blocks per game. St. John’s had an impressive two-win week, including an upset of then red hot Notre Dame. Much of the Red Storm’s success had to do with the Big East Rookie of the Week, Moe Harkless. Harkless played every minute in both games and nearly averaged a double-double at 18.0 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. Last week’s Rookie of the Week, Anthony Collins begins this week’s Big East Honor Roll.  Collins made two huge free throws to give the Bulls an important win over Cincinnati, and averaged 13.0 points and 7.5 assists in a 1-1 week.  Other Honor Roll recipients were: Providence’s LaDontae Henton who put up a career-high 29 points against DePaul, with the most important two coming with 1.7 seconds left in the game to give the Friars the 73-71 win. Henton also had 15 rebounds; Connecticut’s Jeremy Lamb who also notched a career-high with 32 points in a win over Villanova and averaged 25.5 points and 6.0 rebounds in a 1-1 week; Syracuse’s Kris Joseph kept the Orange rolling, averaging 16.5 points and 9.5 rebounds in victories over South Florida and Connecticut; Seton Hall’s Jordan Theodore had a, guess what…career-high 29 points in the Pirates’ upset of Georgetown and averaged 23.0 points and 7.0 assists on the week.
  4. It’s late February which means you can either toil over who your favorite baseball team’s left-handed setup man will be or you can check out the college basketball rankings as you gear up for conference and NCAA tournament play. We actually love baseball here at RTC Big East so why not make it this week’s corny poll theme? Syracuse (29-1, 16-1) is the Big East’s version of a five-tool player and remains in the two-hole after holding off Connecticut on Saturday.  We don’t know if it was chicken and beer in the club house or not but Marquette (24-5, 13-3) weathered in-game suspensions to three key players and pulled out a road win at West Virginia as Buzz Williams and his Golden Eagles waltzed ahead two spots to #8. Georgetown (22-6, 12-5) does it the old fashioned way with pitching and defense but their setback against Seton Hall knocked the Hoyas down two notches to #11. Louisville and their Tony LaRussa-like tactician, Rick Pitino could not pull the right strings in a tough environment at Cincinnati and as a result of their loss to the Bearcats, Louisville also slipped two spots to #19.  Notre Dame (20-10, 12-5) has that ‘Moneyball’ look about them and the Irish held serve to remain at #20 this week despite a setback to St. John’s, which has now turned into a two-game losing streak on the heels of the Irish’s Monday night loss to Georgetown.
  5. The potential loss of Nerlens Noel notwithstanding, Providence head coach Ed Cooley has made plenty of noise on the recruiting trail in his brief time at Providence. While incoming players have made all the headlines, Cooley’s first recruiting coup may have been the luring of Andre LaFleur away from conference rival Connecticut to join his staff as associate head coach. When Connecticut visits Providence tonight it will be a reunion of sorts as it marks the first time the two teams meet since LaFleur’s departure. There has been speculation since LaFleur, who was an assistant coach at Connecticut, came to Providence around his reasons for leaving. One prevailing theory is the rising star that is Kevin Ollie provided more writing on the wall than LaFleur could stomach leading to somewhat of a mutual departure. Many believe Ollie is being groomed as Calhoun’s heir apparent. LaFleur dispelled that idea yesterday in an interview with the New Haven Register, saying he felt the increased responsibilities associated with the move to Providence would best help him build toward his goal of being a head coach.
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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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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 6th, 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

  • Fab Melo Returns: After missing three games due to an academic issue, Fab Melo returned to the Syracuse lineup Saturday afternoon in New York. Melo scored a career-high 14 points in 21 minutes but, more importantly, changed the dynamic of Syracuse on both ends of the floor. Melo’s return adds some rebounding, opens up the middle for others to drive and score/dish and gives the Orange a defensive anchor in the middle of their zone. Melo doesn’t block every shot, but he alters a very high number. With the Brazilian big man roaming the paint, Syracuse is a legitimate national championship contender, something that was plainly evident on Saturday. Despite a backloaded schedule coming into view over the next few weeks, I’d be surprised if Syracuse loses another regular season game.
  • Pittsburgh Is Back: Oh Jamie Dixon, why did we doubt you? We should have known better. After starting the conference season 0-7, Pittsburgh has won four straight games and is actually in a position to make a run at the NCAA Tournament. The Panthers’ resurgence has been keyed by the return of Tray Woodall and better play defensively. Woodall scored a career-high 29 points against Villanova on Sunday and the Panthers held the Wildcats to 36% shooting. That’s the Pittsburgh defense we’ve grown accustomed to over the years and if it keeps up, Pittsburgh will go dancing. Pitt faces a crucial week. It must take at least one (preferably both) road game of the two at South Florida and Seton Hall between now and Sunday. If the Panthers can get both, they’ll be 6-7 with three of their final five games at home. I actually feel safe saying something that would have been considered outrageous just two weeks ago: I believe Pittsburgh will be in the NCAA Tournament.

Fab Melo's Importance To The Orange Was On Full Display Last Week

  • Order Being Restored: Pittsburgh has won four straight. Seton Hall has lost six straight. South Florida lost by 30 at Georgetown on Saturday. Louisville has turned it around. All of that tells you something, doesn’t it? The Big East is shuffling back into place as we head into the home stretch of the season. While the Pirates and Bulls were nice early-season surprises and feel-good stories, reality has set in. Seton Hall was ranked in the top 25 as recently as January 9, but hasn’t won a game since a victory over DePaul the following day. The Pirates are anemic offensively and can hardly shoot 30% against any opponent. I wrote a piece last week about what has gone wrong at the Hall, but it shows no signs of stopping this tailspin anytime soon. South Florida remains at 6-4, but four of its final seven games are on the road as the schedule stiffens. The Bulls will play Pittsburgh twice, Syracuse, Cincinnati, Louisville and West Virginia down the stretch. Expect their 6-4 record to turn into something like 8-10 rather quickly. Even if that happens, it has still been a successful season for Stan Heath and his team. Nobody expected them to win even six or seven league games.

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (23-1, 10-1) – What a difference one player makes. Syracuse played only once last week, but Fab Melo’s return sparked the Orange to dunk-filled 95-70 win over hapless St. John’s at Madison Square Garden. The win, Jim Boeheim’s 879th, pulled him into a tie with legendary North Carolina coach Dean Smith for third place on the all-time wins list. Boeheim has this team humming right along and it shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. Syracuse scored 53 bench points against the Red Storm, once again showing off its incredible depth and talent. Michael Carter-Williams electrified the Garden crowd with this dunk while C.J. Fair, Dion Waiters and Kris Joseph also played very well for the Orange. Syracuse shot 56% for the game. The schedule gets tougher in February but Syracuse should be favored in every game from here on out. This week: 2/8 vs. #15 Georgetown, 2/11 vs. Connecticut. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… The Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 30th, 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

  • A Bad Saturday for Big East Referees:  It started in Philadelphia in the noon game between Villanova and Marquette. The referees made themselves the story of that game, calling three technical fouls and 45 total foul in a 40-minute game. That game lasted well over two hours as the officials used their whistles to take all the rhythm out of what was a very good game. James Breeding doesn’t have the best reputation across the conference for the quality of his calls, but apparently he has a short fuse as well. Breeding called all three techs and embarrassed himself on national television in the process. I realize the Big East and NCAA want better sportsmanship, but nothing Jay Wright, Buzz Williams, or Maalik Wayns did warranted a technical foul. It’s never good when officials make themselves the story of the game, but that’s exactly what James Breeding did. The bad officiating continued in the Syracuse-West Virginia game as the crew of Karl Hess, Gene Steratore and, Brian O’Connell blew a goaltending call that was obvious to the 28,740 Syracuse fans in attendance at the Carrier Dome, the ESPNU commentators, and anyone who was watching the game. While the proper call would have only resulted in a tie game and actually given Syracuse a chance to win it in regulation, it denied West Virginia a chance to force overtime. Too often, we see officials swallow their whistles in the final minute to “not affect the outcome of the game.” Once again, a crew of officials decided to do just that and that decision negatively affected the outcome. While there’s no guarantee West Virginia would have won if the game went to the extra session, the Mountaineers were denied that chance by incompetent officiating. My beef is as follows:  I’m all for player safety, but this season it has been ridiculous how many times officials have gone to the television monitor to review elbows that may or may not have been thrown during the course of a game. If they can review every elbow that was ever thrown (not needed in my opinion) as well as end-of-half scoring plays, why can’t they review a call like that? Nobody likes slow games, but the officials should be permitted to review every call they aren’t 100% sure about. All in all, Saturday was a disgrace to the officiating profession.
  • Mike Brey, Coach of the Year?: At this point, it would be hard to argue against him. The Notre Dame head coach led his team to two road wins at Seton Hall and Connecticut last week, holding the home teams to a combined 90 points. Brey’s team executed the burn offense to perfection, protected the basketball and got timely rebounds. Notre Dame, considered an afterthought after Tim Abromaitis went down with a season-ending ACL tear, is now in the thick of the NCAA Tournament conversation. Brey seems to get the most out of his teams when expectations are low, and that reputation is holding true as we head into the crucial month of February. The Irish still have work to do in order to overcome a lackluster non-conference performance but Brey has his team well on its way towards a top half conference finish.
  • Pittsburgh Wins a Pair: After starting league play 0-7, Pittsburgh has won two straight. With Tray Woodall healthy and back in the lineup, the Panthers are a team nobody wants to face down the stretch. Jamie Dixon’s NCAA dreams are almost surely extinguished, but the Panthers have an opportunity to finish the season strong and end with a respectable record. Pittsburgh’s offensive efficiency improved in a big way with Woodall’s return, but its defense was outstanding in Saturday’s win over Georgetown. The Panthers posted an 86.5 defensive efficiency rating, by far their best against a quality opponent. Their season-best was 81.0 against St. Francis (PA) on December 20, their last win before beating Providence last week. With a softer schedule in February, Pittsburgh has the potential to make some noise over the season’s final nine games.

Dante Taylor And The Panthers Are Still A Proud Bunch. (Matt Freed/Post-Gazette)

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (22-1, 9-1) – After suffering its first defeat at Notre Dame, the Orange responded well in a win at Cincinnati two days later. Kris Joseph led the victors with 17 points on eight of 11 shooting. Still without Fab Melo, the Orange big men did an admirable job in his place. Rakeem Christmas had nine rebounds as Syracuse survived an early onslaught of Bearcat three-pointers. Syracuse then beat West Virginia on Saturday in a closer-than-expected game as the Mountaineers were able to score against the zone, mostly because of rebounding. Syracuse was out-rebounded 36-20, but committed only six turnovers as it survived the blown goaltending call in the final seconds. Brandon Triche had 18 points in the win. Rebounding has been a concern all season, but it’s obvious that Syracuse is not nearly as dominant with Melo out of the lineup. Free throw shooting came and went (33% at Cincinnati, 76.5% against West Virginia) but mental toughness is one of its biggest strengths. As we head into the teeth of the season, Syracuse is more prepared to absorb and respond to every team’s best shot. This week: 2/4 @ St. John’s.
  2. Marquette (18-4, 7-2) – I’m not overly impressed every time I watch this team, but it makes the winning plays when needed most. The Golden Eagles won a pair of games last week to push their winning streak to six games. Darius Johnson-Odom, Jae Crowder, and Davante Gardner combined for 47 points in a home win over South Florida on Tuesday, equaling the total points scored by the Bulls. Marquette ventured to Villanova on Saturday and was involved in one of the more bizarre games I have seen all season across college basketball. The game lasted two and a half hours and didn’t even go to overtime. 45 fouls (three technical) were called and 57 free throws were attempted in a game that wasn’t the finest moment for the officiating crew of James Breeding, Tim Clougherty, and Pat Driscoll. Breeding in particular had a short fuse, whistling Buzz Williams for a technical when the coach simply slipped and fell down. Memo to Breeding: Get over yourself, he wasn’t showing you up. Johnson-Odom had 26 points, Crowder added 20 points and 11 boards for Marquette and Jamil Wilson added 12 points off the bench. Marquette rallied from an 18-point deficit and forced 20 Villanova turnovers to key the comeback. This is a good basketball team, but one that has a ceiling. I’m not sure the Golden Eagles have the scoring depth to make a big run in March. This week: 1/31 vs. Seton Hall, 2/4 @ Notre Dame. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… The Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 9th, 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

  • Top Tier Chaos: As you see in the poll question, it’s awfully hard to rank the top half of this league right now. Syracuse is the clear #1 by a wide margin, but the second spot is up for grabs between six teams: Seton Hall and West Virginia are playing the best basketball but Connecticut, Georgetown, Marquette, and Louisville remain threats. Big East teams always beat each other up in conference, play but that usually happens in the middle of the league. This year, it is happening at the top. One thing is for sure: the race for second place will be an up-and-down affair over the next two months.
  • UConn Hates Jersey: Before Tuesday, Connecticut had won 21 combined games in a row against Seton Hall and Rutgers. After Saturday, the Huskies headed back up the New Jersey Turnpike with two losses to Jersey’s Big East teams. Kevin Willard has his team rolling at 14-2 and absolutely crushed the Huskies on Tuesday night in Newark while Mike Rice continued to show signs of improvement in a 67-60 win Saturday night in Piscataway. As Jeff Borzello put it on Twitter, the North Jersey road trip has become a whole lot tougher. If St. John’s can get back to where it was last year and Seton Hall and Rutgers continue to improve, New York City-area basketball could be on the verge of a renaissance.
  • Seton Hall Ranked?: We will see what happens on Monday, but Seton Hall is on the verge of a top 25 ranking for the first time since January 30, 2001. That year, the Pirates were headed in the opposite direction, out of the top 25 after a preseason top ten ranking. Tommy Amaker (now at Harvard) had signed a ballyhooed freshman class highlighted by the late Eddie Griffin, Andre Barrett, and Marcus Toney-El, but it all fell apart for the Pirates as they finished 16-15 and lost in the first round of the NIT to Alabama. Seton Hall came close to a ranking in 2004, but never made it into the poll. This time around, the Pirates are 14-2 (3-1) with wins over VCU and St. Joe’s on a neutral floor and Dayton on the road, in addition to West Virginia and Connecticut at home. The Hall is in position for a terrific seed in the NCAA Tournament if it keeps up this level of play and Kevin Willard, along with John Thompson III and Jim Boeheim, has to be among the top contenders for Big East Coach of the Year. The Pirates were picked 13th in the preseason Big East coaches poll. 

Good Things Come In Threes For Seton Hall (Jim O'Conner/US Presswire)

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (17-0, 4-0) – Marquette put a second-half scare into the Orange at the Carrier Dome on Saturday, but Syracuse made the winning plays down the stretch to hang on. Syracuse remains a juggernaut and an easy (by Big East standards) road schedule awaits. Syracuse already went to DePaul and Providence and has trips to Villanova, Notre Dame, Cincinnati, St. John’s, and Rutgers on the schedule. Quite frankly, that sequence is a joke for a team everyone knew would be at or near the top of the league. I realize this team has a target on its back every night, but the only true road tests for the Orange could be at Louisville and Connecticut in February. Syracuse shot 61% for the game at Providence on Wednesday, placing six players in double figures. No Syracuse player took over eight shots, a testament to this team’s depth and balance. Scoop Jardine had 11 assists and only one turnover in the victory. Against Marquette, Syracuse jumped out to a huge lead but let the Golden Eagles climb back in it. Dion Waiters was the spark off the bench yet again, totaling 12 points and seven assists. The Orange shot only 39% at home against MU, but escaped with the win. This week: 1/11 @ Villanova, 1/14 vs. Providence.
  2. Georgetown (13-2, 3-1) – Let the controversy begin. Truth be told, ten different people could very well come up with ten different ways to rank the top seven teams in the Big East. Despite losing at West Virginia and struggling for the balance of the game against Marquette, I’m moving the Hoyas up to the second spot. Why? It has more to do with the performances of Louisville, Connecticut and Marquette rather than Georgetown itself. After all, the Hoyas did beat a good team (Marquette) this week, something none of the aforementioned three teams can say. The Hoyas overcame a 17-point deficit against Marquette, led by Jason Clark‘s 26 points. That 26 could have been 30+ if Clark made his free throws (6-13 from the stripe). Hollis Thompson also added 16 points on 6-7 shooting as Georgetown shot a sizzling 63% against the Golden Eagle defense. Against West Virginia, Georgetown allowed the Mountaineers to shoot 50% but the Hoyas couldn’t convert from deep (2-14 3FG). Thompson led the way with 20 points, but it wasn’t enough on the road. Regardless of what the rankings may have said coming into the game, I’m not going to hammer the Hoyas for losing at West Virginia, an extremely difficult place to play. Believe it or not, I don’t think Georgetown is as good as its resume. That may sound confusing but I’m not sure Georgetown is as good as its record. However, the Hoyas may not lose again until early February if they play to their potential. A relatively soft stretch begins this week. This week: 1/9 vs. Cincinnati, 1/15 @ St. John’s. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 3rd, 2012

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

Ed. Note – This post was written prior to Tuesday’s action, and was mistakenly removed briefly Tuesday night/Wednesday morning.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • Rick Pitino’s Interesting Announcement: I was one of the folks who questioned why Rick Pitino would announce he plans to retire five years from now when his contract with the University of Louisville runs out. You would figure this will hurt recruiting, but Pitino seemed relieved and at peace with his decision. Of course, many things can change over a five-year time frame, but I’ll take Pitino at his word. As ESPN.com’s Andy Katz writes, he will leave quite the influential mark on the college game once he exits the stage.
  • Conference Play Begins: At long last, Big East play is finally here. 13 conference games were played this past week and some storylines are already beginning to emerge. Pittsburgh is 0-2 for the first time under Jamie Dixon while Villanova is also 0-2 for the first time since the 2006-07 season. Syracuse has continued to steamroll through its schedule and is among the select few teams capable of winning a national championship. Slowly but surely, Connecticut seems to be finding its identity. Once the Huskies establish a leader on the floor, they may begin to take off. Georgetown and Seton Hall have surprised the conference this season, filling the void vacated by the Panthers and Wildcats in the top half of the league. While the conference is down a bit, this is sure to be another terrific Big East basketball season. Enjoy the ride over the next two months.

Is Fab Melo College Basketball's Most Improved Player? (Dennis Nett/Syracuse Post-Standard)

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (15-0, 2-0): Simply put, this team is rolling. Syracuse blasted its two opponents this past week, obliterating Seton Hall by 26 points and winning by 19 at DePaul. Most impressive was the game against the Pirates, one in which Fab Melo recorded 12 points, seven boards, and a school record 10 blocked shots as Syracuse avenged last season’s home loss to Seton Hall. Even more amazing is that Syracuse won by 26 without Kris Joseph scoring a single point. How’s that for depth? The Orange forced 23 Pirate turnovers and held them to 31.7% shooting, including an 0-11 FG line for Fuquan Edwin. Against DePaul, Syracuse held Brandon Young to 0-8 shooting. That’s 0-19 FG against Syracuse for two guys averaging a combined 31 points. Syracuse still needs to improve its rebounding (Seton Hall was +2 on the glass) but this team is scary good and some are saying it hasn’t even reached its full potential yet. This week: 1/4 @ Providence, 1/7 vs. #13 Marquette.
  2. Connecticut (12-1, 2-0): The Huskies struggled for most of the game at South Florida, but managed to pull away late behind Jeremy Lamb’s 23 points on 8-11 FG. In the St. John’s game, the Huskies shot a scorching 60.4% and assisted on 21 of their 29 made field goals. Andre Drummond helped out in a big way, going for 16/11. Connecticut won both games without Jim Calhoun but the final one without their headman will be the toughest. UConn visits Seton Hall on Tuesday and won’t have their energetic coach to fire them up against a much stronger opponent than either USF or St. John’s. On the road and without its coach, Connecticut is somewhat vulnerable. This team lacks a true leader like Kemba Walker, but it slowly moving up the Big East power rankings. This week: 1/3 @ Seton Hall, 1/7 @ Rutgers. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 27th, 2011

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

  • A Pair of Upsets: How many of you had Wagner winning at Pittsburgh? The Seahawks won their first game against a ranked team since P.J. Carlesimo was the head coach at the school in the late 1970’s, knocking off the Panthers 59-54. Even without point guard Tray Woodall, this is not a game Pittsburgh should have lost. While Ashton Gibbs certainly has to carry more of the load, his shooting has been sub-par this entire season. Against Wagner, the senior Big East Preseason POY shot 5-16 from the floor and 1-7 from deep, dropping his field goal percentage to 37.7% on the year. Usually one of the most efficient teams in the country, Pittsburgh was held to a stunning 89.2 efficiency rating against Wagner. Previously, Pitt’s season low had been 101.7 in a win over La Salle. Last Monday, LSU surprised Marquette in Baton Rouge, downing the previously undefeated Golden Eagles by a score of 67-59. While LSU isn’t an awful team, Marquette allowed the Tigers to shoot 53.5% for the game, something that has to concern Buzz Williams given how well Marquette has played defensively. If Marquette wants to contend for a conference title, it has to defend night in and night out.
  • Non-Conference Play Winds Down: There are 152 games remaining with Big East teams involved and 144 of those (94.7%) will be conference games. Four of the eight remaining non-conference games will take place over the coming week, so you can bet we here at RTC are more than ready to transition into conference play. As we head into the new calendar year, four Big East teams seem to be contenders while another four or five are in contention for NCAA bids. The bottom of the conference is broader and weaker than usual, with at least four and possibly six teams incapable of mounting a run at a bid. As to who wins the league (my poll question above), I am sticking with my preseason pick of Syracuse. The Orange go a legitimate ten deep and, while they do not have a superstar, they are strong defensively and play with great energy. Connecticut may be more talented and Louisville may play harder, but Syracuse is the best team in my estimation. I would love to hear the readers’ take (on this or anything else) in the poll above or in the comments section below.
  • Bob Huggins Wins His 700th Game: It took a crazy Gary Browne three-pointer to force overtime, but West Virginia was able to knock off Missouri State on Thursday night for Coach Huggins’ 700th career victory. He’s now in select company with the likes of Lefty Driesell, Lute Olson, Lou Henson, Henry Iba, Phog Allen and, Norm Stewart in the 700 club. Currently 58 years old and under contract with West Virginia through the 2018-19 season, Huggins has a chance to approach 900 wins if he stays healthy. After winning #700, he joins Jim Boeheim and Jim Calhoun as the only active Big East coaches to win at least 700 games. He is fourth on the active list of all-time wins, trailing his two Big East peers as well as Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.

The Hoyas Have Outperformed Preseason Projections Thanks To Two Wins Over Memphis And A Big Road Victory In Tuscaloosa. (Richard Lipski/AP)

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (13-0) – Among many other things, Syracuse has done a terrific job in turnover margin. The Orange lead the Big East by a wide margin in that department and rank in the top ten nationally in both offensive and defensive turnover percentage. Fueled by Dion Waiters off the bench, the Syracuse transition attack has been sensational. Big East play begins this week with a visit from upstart Seton Hall followed by a trip to DePaul. Surprisingly, Syracuse was out-rebounded by Tulane, including 15-9 on the offensive glass. This week: 12/28 vs. Seton Hall, 1/1 @ DePaul.
  2. Louisville (12-0) – It hasn’t been easy, but Louisville just keeps winning. The Cardinals trailed Charleston and Western Kentucky this week before putting those teams away late in the game. Against Charleston, Rick Pitino made a great adjustment late in the game by putting the more versatile Kyle Kuric at the free throw line to attack the Charleston zone instead of Gorgui Dieng.  Dieng still had a great week, going for 14/12 against the Cougars and 13/15 against the Hilltoppers. Louisville ranks fourth nationally in defensive efficiency, but its offense continues to be a work in progress. As I said in this spot last week, the longer the Cardinals can keep winning before getting their roster back to full strength, the better. This week offers a huge test against two teams that can really put the ball in the basket. This week: 12/28 vs. #15 Georgetown, 12/31 @ #2 Kentucky. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East Morning Five: 12.13.11 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on December 13th, 2011

  1. Cincinnati held a press conference to discuss the suspensions it issued to four players following the ugly brawl that occurred in the waning seconds of an almost equally hideous 76-53 loss to cross-city rival Xavier on Saturday. The precedings included remarks from head coach Mick Cronin, who noted the suspended players will have to earn their way back if they want to play once their suspensions end. Each of the four suspended players (Yancy Gates, Cheikh Mbodj, and Octavius Ellis received six games while Ge’Lawn Guyn will sit out one) were present to give their public apologies. Gates, who had one of the most active and high profile roles in the fracas throwing several punches, one of which bloodied Xavier’s Kenny Frease, appeared genuinely apologetic and regretful, ultimately breaking down in tears while taking questions. Particularly when noting references to his being a “thug” and a “gangster”. “I want to apologize really to the whole city of Cincinnati for my actions,” Gates said, “The actions that I displayed are not what I’m about. This is not what the University of Cincinnati is about. It’s not what my family’s about.” Gates, a senior, also said he feared his actions may have led to the end of his collegiate career.  Should all players earn their way back after six games, they would be available to play on January 4 at home versus Notre Dame, after missing just one Big East contest on New Year’s Day at #15 Pittsburgh.  The Bearcats’ first short-handed test takes place Wednesday at Wright State (4-6).
  2. A few people involved in Saturday’s Cincinnati – Xavier fight-marred game learned on Monday that they escaped further diciplinary action. That would be the game’s referees. Reggie Greenwood, the Atlantic 10 conference’s coordinator of officials confirmed that the game’s officiating crew–Mike Roberts, Tony Crisp, and Jeff Anderson–would not face punishment in connection to Saturday’s events. The trio was subject to criticism for their handling of the game, including strong commentary from Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin. “They were sent into an ambush,” Cronin said. “They had no idea they were walking into it.” Cronin indicated in a press conference on Monday that typically with heated rivalry games between Big East and Atlantic 10 teams (Cincinnati-Xavier, Providence-Rhode Island, Villanova-St. Joseph’s) at least one member of the officiating crew has experience with such games, but that was not the case on Saturday. He also said that there was conversation with the referees throughout the game about handing out technical fouls to minimize some of the outbursts and trash talking that had started prior to tip-off. Cronin indicated a referee told him to do so would include some of his players receiving techicals and that he urged the official to give technicals to anyone on his team that deserved one in order to prevent things from escalating.
  3. This week’s Big East awards are out and West Virginia’s Darryl “Truck” Bryant has earned Player of the Week honors. Bryant scored a career-high 27 points, including five threes, in a win over Miami on Saturday. He averaged 25.5 points and four rebounds in a 2-0 week for the Mountaineers. For the second consecutive time Providence forward LaDontae Henton took home Rookie of the Week accolades. Henton averaged 17.7 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks in three Friar victories, including a career-high 21 points versus Boston College and a double-double (13 points and 12 rebounds) to go with five blocked shots against Bryant University. Leading the Honor Roll recipients this week is Seton Hall’s Herb Pope who is playing as well as anyone in the conference right now, averaged a double-double for the week (25.5 PPG, 10.0 RPG) in two Pirate wins. Rounding out the Honor Roll were DePaul’s Cleveland Melvin (21.3 PPG, 6.7 RPG) who had a career-high 30 poins to go with eight boards in a win over Chicago State, Louisville center Gorgui Dieng (16.0 PPG, 12.0 RPG) also scored a career-high this past week, netting 18 in a win over IUPUI, Marquette forward Jae Crowder (16.5 PPG, 6.5 RPG) who buried a game winning three-pointer in the Golden Eagles’ 79-77 victory over Washington, and Notre Dame forward Jack Cooley who stuffed the stat sheet to the tune of 22.0 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 3.0 blocks in two badly needed Fighting Irish wins.
  4. The latest rankings are out and your Syracuse Orange (10-0) are the nation’s #1 team on the heels of Kentucky’s thrilling loss to Indiana on Saturday. This has to be especially sweet for Jim Boeheim and company given all of the non-basketball related news that has swirled around the program with the sexual misconduct against former assistant coach Bernie Fine story. Louisville (9-0) moved up one spot yet again this week to crack the top four.  Connecticut (8-1) knocked Harvard out of the polls with their victory over the Crimson last Thursday but it was not enough to improve their own raking, as they remain at #9. Marquette (9-0) and Pittsburgh (9-1) also stood pat at #11 and #15 respectively while Georgetown (8-1) jumped up two spots to #16 by virtue of taking down Howard on Saturday.  
  5. As for the latest in the Bernie Fine case, Onondaga District Attorney William Fitzpatrick participated in an online chat facilitated by a Syracuse newspaper, The Post-Standard.  Our personal favorite exchange in this chat had nothing to do with the case. A participant named “John” asked “Why are you doing this today? Isn’t enough, enough already?” To which Fitzpatrick cordially responded, “Don’t read it.” In terms of relevant content, Fitzpatrick revealed that he has not had any contact with the Fine family saying, “No, I have not attempted to interview the Fines out of respect for the federal investigation.” Fitzpatrick also clarified neither ESPN nor The Post-Standard would face charges for failing to turn over the now infamous recording of a 2002 phone call between one of the accusers, Bobby Davis, and Fine’s wife, Laurie. However, he reiterated a previous point that he would have liked to have seen Bobby Davis turn the tape over to authorities instead of any media outlet. Fitzpatrick went on to note that the length of the federal investigation should not be used to handicap the case as to whether or not they have collected or will collect enough evidence to arrest Fine.
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Providence’s Cooley Rules

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on December 12th, 2011

When Providence hired Keno Davis as head coach in April 2008 its president, Reverend Brian Shanley, called him a “Godsend.” As they say, God works in mysterious ways. While mysterious is not the word most Friar fans would use to describe Davis’ tenure, that is just what happened. Shanley turned out to be right. Just not quite as intended. Davis was a Godsend because his hire and tenure represented the mistake Shanley, along with Athletic Director Bob Driscoll and the other decision makers at Providence College, learned from. It was a painful and public lesson, but one that led to Ed Cooley.

The Friars, albeit against a soft non-conference schedule,  at 9-2 are off to an encouraging start under Cooley. Providence was predicted to finish near the bottom of the Big East, and while wins and losses always matter, the overall record may not carry its customary weight this season. It is about progress. Player development is important but the cultivation of young men is paramount. It is about discipline. It is about defense. It is about bringing relevance and respect back to Providence College basketball and Ed Cooley is the face of the resurrection. Cooley’s compelling story will be recounted during virtually every Providence broadcast this season.  He grew up in a tough section of Providence, seemingly raised by the neighborhood. As an All-State performer for Central High School, he won a state championship in the building where the Friars still play their home games. He was a Friar fan, aspired to wear the black and white as a player, and calls the Providence head coaching position his “dream job.”

Cooley Has the Friars Headed in the Right Direction (Credit: Friarblog.com)

Although he may not have known the full extent of it, Cooley knew he was inheriting a program in shambles. In his first season, Keno Davis took a veteran team comprised of Tim Welsh recruits to an expectation-meeting 19-14 campaign that included a win over #1 Pittsburgh and was capped off by a loss to Miami in the first round of the NIT. It was the next two years that exposed Davis’ shortcomings as a coach, and more importantly. as a leader. On the court the Friars put up back-to-back 4-14 Big East records and became a defensive laughingstock, giving up 75.3 and 82.2 points per game over the last two years. They put up similarly swollen numbers on offense (75.8 and 82.4 PPG) but there often appeared to be no structure or flow on offense other than to get shots up early and often.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Big East Morning Five: 12.06.11 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on December 6th, 2011

  1. This week’s Big East accolades are out and Georgetown forward Hollis Thompson has earned Player of the Week Honors after averaging 17.7 points and 6.3 rebounds per game in a 3-0 week for the Hoyas.  Thompson’s week was highlighted by his game-winning three to give his team a win over then #12 Alabama in the Big East/SEC Challenge.  Providence freshman forward LaDontae Henton took home Rookie of the Week honors, scoring 17.5 points and grabbing 8.5 rebounds per game in two Friar victories.  Henton backed the honor up on Monday with a career high 19 points versus Brown.  Other Honor Roll recipients include Henton’s teammate, sophomore guard Gerard Coleman, Marquette’s Darius Johnson-Odom, Pittsburgh’s Ashton Gibbs, West Virginia’s Kevin Jones and Seton Hall’s Herb Pope.
  2. The latest installment of Top 25 rankings are out and the Big East welcomed a new guest to the party as Georgetown (7-1), fresh off a 3-0 week including the above mentioned road victory over Alabama (the Hoyas’ second victory over a ranked foe this year (Memphis)), debuts at #18.  On the strength of a good effort in the Big East/SEC Challenge, all of the conference’s previously ranked squads not only remained so, but four of five moved up.  Connecticut (7-1), despite not losing, slid a spot to #9 and looks forward to an intriguing matchup with #24 Harvard on Thursday.  Syracuse (8-0) hopped up a spot to #3 after taking down #12 Florida and faces a test tonight against 5-1 Marshall.   Louisville (7-0) continued its steady climb, again moving up one position to #5 after beating Vanderbilt and knocking the Commodores out of the rankings. Marquette (7-0) shot up five notches to #11, beating Wisconsin and sending them back seven spots to #14.  Lastly, Pittsburgh elevated two steps to #15 with wins over Duquesne and Tennessee.  No other Big East team received votes in this week’s Associated Press poll.
  3. Providence freshman point guard Kiwi Gardner has been ruled academically ineligible to play this season due to an issue with a core course taken at Westwind Prep (AZ), where Gardner studied last year.  Gardner had been ruled ineligible prior to the start of the season but Providence appealed the matter with the NCAA and had been optimistic about a positive outcome.  The news was announced by Providence head coach Ed Cooley in his postgame press conference following the Friars’ 80-49 victory over Brown on Monday night, adding, “my heart goes out to him.”  Gardner was recruited by Cooley and his staff last year while at Fairfield, as well as by former Providence head coach Keno Davis. Shortly after the news broke, Gardner indicated via Twitter that he would remain at Providence despite not being able to suit up this season.  The Friars have been playing with just eight scholarship players, as sophomore forward Kadeem Batts has also been serving a suspension for a violation of team rules.  As noted here yesterday, it was reported over the weekend that Batts will return for Providence’s December 20 game versus New Hampshire.
  4. Villanova will be without 6’11” junior Maurice Sutton for a month with a dislocated thumb.  Sutton, who injured the thumb in practice,  did not play in Saturday’s win over Penn but appeared in all six of Villanova’s previous games, averaging 9.2 minutes, 1.5 points and 2.7 rebounds per contest for the 5-2 Wildcats.  Head coach Jay Wright commented on the injury, “our staff and team is disappointed for Mo. He’s been making a contribution to our team on a daily basis and we’ll miss his presence, especially defensively. But the positive in this is that Mo can still maintain his conditioning while the thumb heals and we look forward to getting him back out there, possibly in time to start the Big East season.”  Sutton can only observe as his team takes on #10 Missouri tonight as part of the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden.
  5. Seth Davis of Sports Illustrated came out with his annual column highlighting sophomores to watch, and there was a significant Big East presence.  The premise of Davis’ analysis is to highlight sophomore breakout candidates. Davis provides sound analysis in that the freshman year often involves a maturation process where prep stars are learning to adjust to many differences both on and off the court.  Not to mention the fact that many rookies simply do not play much as freshmen while they wait their turn, and inevitably see an increase in production based on a more significant role in year two.  The headliner of the list was Syracuse’s 7’0” center Fab Melo.  Melo was the target of significant orange-tinted venom a year ago, which Davis argues was unjustified, as the much-hyped big guy struggled both on the floor in limited duty (2.3 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 0.8 BPG, 9.9 MPG) and with his weight.  Melo came in this year much lighter and seemingly more focused, and this has paid dividends for the as-yet-unbeaten Orange.  His playing time has increased (22 MPG) as has his productivity (6.3 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 2.4 BPG). Other Big East’ers on the list include:

Marquette guard Vander Blue, who struggled with his shot last year but has put up solid numbers there so far this year (51.2% FG, 37.5% 3FG) for the surging Golden Eagles.

Villanova guard James Bell, who clearly is one of those guys who had to wait his turn.  His playing time has tripled to 27 minutes per game, and although a bit inconsistent at times, he has responded with 9.9 points and 3.4 rebounds per game overall.

Connecticut forward Tyler Olander has earned minutes in the face of some pretty stiff competition.  As Davis notes, Olander came back stronger this year and perhaps has benefited some from the inconsistency and grousing of Alex Oriakhi.

Finally, Georgetown guard Markel Starks, who took a year to develop behind the now departed Chris Wright and is averaging 8.7 points in 25.1 minutes per game.

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