Walk-on Contributions Help Louisville Exorcise Late-Game Demons Against Pittsburgh

Posted by Will Tucker on January 29th, 2013

Will Tucker is an RTC correspondent and Big East microsite writer. He filed this report after Monday night’s Louisville-Pittsburgh game.

Louisville endured a three-point shooting onslaught from Pitt down the stretch to hold on to a 64-61 victory on Monday night in the Yum! Center. The Panthers hit five of their eight threes in the final seven minutes, but the Cardinals made the necessary plays in the final possessions — demonstrating a resilience conspicuously absent in close losses to Syracuse and Georgetown. Most impressive was the fact that the Cardinals pulled out the win in spite of sudden attrition on its wings. Wayne Blackshear (sprained shoulder) and Kevin Ware (unspecified suspension) weren’t in the lineup, subtracting 38 reliable minutes per game from Rick Pitino’s rotation.

(Credit Andy Lyons)

Louisville’s Tim Henderson played 14 sound minutes off the bench (Credit: Andy Lyons)

Leading up to the game, the two teams appeared headed in vastly different directions. Louisville had lost three consecutive Big East gut-punches and was facing the possibility of a 4-4 record in conference play less than two weeks removed from a #1 ranking in the polls; Pittsburgh had won four straight, capped off by an emphatic 38-point win over DePaul. Rick Pitino’s team needed no extra motivation (nor anxiety) to get up for Pitt, but that’s exactly what they got when they learned in the past couple days that Blackshear and Ware would sit out.

The outlook was bleak on paper, with the eighth-most efficient offense in the country entering the Yum! Center. Who would defend Pitt’s Lamar Patterson and Tray Woodall, who were shooting 39% and 37% from beyond the arc, respectively? Louisville’s lineup was about to get smaller, and it had already allowed Big East foes to shoot more than 34% from outside (fourth worst in the league). Could UofL’s increasingly anemic offense survive the void left by Blackshear’s scoring, which accounts for 12% of their points in league play?

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big East M5: 01.14.13 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on January 14th, 2013

bigeast_morning5(2)

  1. The big off-the-court news in the Big East this weekend was the mysterious suspension of Syracuse forward James Southerland for an eligibility-related issue. The Orange were still able to handle Villanova without their second-leading scorer, but if Southerland is going to miss an extended period of time, Syracuse will be in trouble. Southerland is one of the team’s best outside shooters and scorers and replacing his production and athleticism will be nearly impossible, That is why it will be important for freshmen Jerami Grant and Trevor Cooney to step up and replace some of that production. As longtime Syracuse Post-Standard columnist Bud Poliquin noted, this marks yet another season marred with off-the-court controversy for Syracuse and coach Jim Boeheim and the fact that the program has announced what the eligibility issue is that Southerland is being suspended for is rather ominous. This is obviously a story that is still developing and we will have more on where Syracuse goes from here later this week.
  2. After an impressive start in non-conference play, things have gotten markedly worse for Pittsburgh. The losses are one thing but now the Panthers will be without the services of its playmaker and point guard Tray Woodall as the senior suffered a concussion thanks to a head-on collision in the team’s loss to Marquette. The good news is that freshman James Robinson is mature beyond his years and an excellent point guard already. The bad news is that now Robinson will be playing a lot more and could burn out down the stretch, and Woodall is one of the best playmakers and passers in the conference. Coach Jamie Dixon played Lamar Patterson and Trey Ziegler a bit at point guard and both are relatively versatile, so it will be interesting to see if they can adapt. How much playing time Woodall will miss is anyone’s guess at this point, but its likely he will miss a good chunk of the conference schedule, not good news for a Panthers’ team struggling to find its way.
  3. There is no question that one of the main reasons Connecticut is overachieving is because of the newfound consistency of junior point guard Shabazz Napier. The Massachusetts native was terrific in the team’s huge road upset win over Notre Dame this weekend and he has been the heart and soul of the team this year. Napier is leading the team in scoring, shooting as well as he ever has from beyond the three-point arc, and cut down on his turnovers all while leading a young and undersized team with no hope for postseason play this season. Those are all compelling reasons why some folks are outraged that Napier didn’t make the final cut for the Bob Cousy Award. The junior has better statistical numbers than most of the field and has dramatically cut down on the maddening inconsistencies and questionable shot-selection that plagued him last season so it is a little strange that the committee didn’t give Napier the nod. It doesn’t matter much to Napier but it would be nice for the Huskies to have something to look forward to.
  4. The Big East will likely boast the No. 1 team in the country when the new rankings come out as a few top-ranked teams went down over the weekend and Louisville will likely stand alone at the top when all the dust is settled. More importantly, coach Rick Pitino is in rare form already, calling his team a bunch of Michael Jacksons when they don’t talk on defense and finding new and creative ways to motivate his team, which he has done effectively. The top billing is not always a welcome place to be but if any team has the mentality to hold onto it, its Louisville. The Cardinals are deep and their defense is downright scary good. As long as they are giving full effort, there is no one better, in the conference at least.
  5. The start to conference play has been rocky for Cincinnati as well. Coach Mick Cronin felt his team needed to toughen up and they responded by playing the best defense of the season in a 10-point win over Rutgers. The Bearcats do not have a lot of interior scoring options and often struggle offensively, so playing suffocating defense like they did Saturday will be crucial if they want to have success in the Big East. Of course beating the Scarlet Knights by 10 isn’t going to impress anybody for long, it is a step in the right direction for Cincinnati and if they can carry that over into the rest of the season, there is still a chance they can finish atop the conference.
Share this story

Tipping Off The Big East Countdown: #7 Pittsburgh

Posted by Will Tucker on October 31st, 2012

Despite being picked fourth in last year’s preseason Big East coaches’ poll, Jamie Dixon’s squad went 5-13 in conference play and finished at a dismal 13th place in the standings. Pitt fans expect a big rebound from the disappointment of last season: Their team returns fifth-year senior Tray Woodall, seven of its nine top scorers, and a blockbuster recruiting class featuring hulking Kiwi Steven Adams, the school’s highest-ranked basketball commitment of all-time. Big East coaches seem to agree that Pitt is on the uptick, placing Pitt sixth in last week’s preseason Big East coaches’ poll. While the writers at RTC’s Big East microsite have their reservations about Pitt’s ability to reverse course over a single offseason, there’s enough talent at Jamie Dixon’s disposal to envision a substantial improvement. But the loss of leading scorer and leader Ashton Gibbs, coupled with lingering doubts about Woodall’s health, makes it difficult to place Pitt any higher in our predicted standings.

2011-12 Record: 22-17, 4-14

2011-12 Postseason: 5-1, College Basketball Invitational Champions

Tray Woodall is the key to Pitt’s success (Photo credit Fred Beckham/AP)

Schedule

Pitt opens up the season with a fairly rigorous non-conference slate. Oakland, Detroit and crosstown rival Duquesne will test the Panthers in November, while neutral-court games in Madison Square Garden against Michigan, Virginia and Kansas State could materialize depending on how the Preseason NIT bracket unfolds. Apart from that tournament in late November, Pitt won’t leave the familiar confines of Pittsburgh until January 5, when it travels to Rutgers.

The Panthers draw a fairly advantageous Big East schedule in 2012-13, with home-and-home series against Cincinnati, Marquette, DePaul and Villanova (two of whom we predicted to finish in the bottom third of the conference). The most brutal stretch of the Big East schedule takes place between the end of January and the third week of February, when Pitt plays at Louisville, Syracuse, at Cincinnati, at Marquette, Notre Dame and at St. John’s. How the team weathers that gauntlet will likely define its season.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big East M5: 10.26.12 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on October 26th, 2012

  1. Connecticut’s basketball’s academic woes have reared their ugly head once again, this time in the form of the team’s graduation success rate (GSR). The Huskies’ GSR dropped from 36% to 11% this year, representing the lowest such mark in all of Division I basketball.  The score, which reflects how many of the team’s players were able to graduate within six years of their enrollment at school, is different from the APR, the Academic Progress Rating that is currently preventing UConn from participating in the 2013 postseason. On the bright side for the Huskies, their APR is on the rise. Academic success is one of the major black marks on the end of the Jim Calhoun era at Connecticut, and as the NCAA’s APR requirements continue to increase every year, it needs to be a major focus for Kevin Ollie or whoever has control of the program in the long term.
  2. Big time non-conference series are always fun, and yesterday we learned that Georgetown and Kansas have agreed to play four games starting next season.  The series will open at Allen Fieldhouse on December 31, 2013 and continue on for three successive seasons home-and-home until 2016-17. Georgetown and Kansas have only faced each other twice, including last year in the Maui Invitational, a 67-63 Kansas victory. The all-time series is tied at one win apiece.
  3. Pitt’s J.J. Moore may be a bit rusty on the court after missing months of basketball from an April surgery to repair his fifth metatarsal, but he spent his summer wisely. After living in the weight room during his rehabiliation, Moore put on around 15 pounds of muscle, and is now a stout 6’6″ and 215 pounds. Moore was not a major part of Jamie Dixon’s rotation last season, sitting behind Lamar Patterson and Nasir Robinson at the forward slots, but with his added size and strength he should factor in at both small forward and power forward this year. Moore adds some added quickness and versatility at the four when Dixon wants to go with a smaller, more athletic line-up: “I’m definitely ready to make that transition and play power forward,” Moore said. “We’ve been practicing right now with me being the power forward. It’s looking good. I think it’s looking good for the team, as a matter of fact. With me as a power forward, the guys can get open because we can space the floor.”
  4. Marquette blog Anonymous Eagle is running a player preview series for the start of the 2012-13 season. Today featured “silky” freshman forward Steve Taylor, whom Buzz Williams has called the best freshman he’s ever signed at Marquette. While Taylor has a ton of potential, he is going to start behind Jamil Wilson and Juan Anderson in the rotation, and the AE guys don’t foresee him seeing a lot come Big East play, especially with Williams’ penchant for leaning on experienced players down the stretch.  There is also an excellent photoshop done involving Taylor, Williams, and a 1995 Chevy Chase film, so the full profile is definitely worth your time.
  5. Having spent four years in Syracuse, I can verify that there are a number of notable food spots in town. Dinosaur BBQ is the first place to roll off of most tongues, but Jim Boeheim’s favorite hot dog joint Heid’s and the nearly-90 year old Varsity on the SU hill both deserve all the recognition that they receive as well.  However, there is one particular Syracuse food item that is particularly legendary – the Mother’s Cupboard frittata.  This six-pound heap of egg, pepperoni, home fries, sausage, and vegetables has been finished by few and has conquered many, but another brave soul was able to put down the entire dish on Monday: Syracuse basketball walk-on Russ DeRemer. DeRemer utilized a strategy that allowed “Man vs. Food” host Adam Richman to overcome the mighty frittata, and he was able to put away the entire plate in 25 minutes. DeRemer was quite humble about the accomplishment, but fellow walk-on Albert Nassar was more candid about his teammate’s impressive feat: “Honestly, he didn’t even struggle,’’ Nassar said. “Until the last bowl, he didn’t pause once. He just kept going. Then on the last bottom, he paused for like a minute and then knocked it out.’’
Share this story

Big East Summer Capsules: Pittsburgh Panthers

Posted by mlemaire on July 20th, 2012

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

1. Not to be outdone, this season will be Pittsburgh’s last hurrah in the Big East too.

After Syracuse announced it had come to terms with the Big East on a departure date, you knew it wouldn’t take long for Pittsburgh to follow suit and the Panthers surprised no one when they announced they would be leaving at the same time as Syracuse. The school will have to pay the Big East $7.5 million, but that is chump change compared to what the school stands to make after the switch to the ACC. The real losers here are once again Big East basketball fans. Physical, gritty, and well-coached, the Panthers epitomized Big East basketball and also just so happened to be one of its best programs under Ben Howland and now Jamie Dixon. They don’t have the same storied history and star power that Syracuse has, but fantastic players such as Brandin Knight, Levance Fields, Carl Krauser, and DeJuan Blair all left indelible marks of the basketball memories of fans, and the league will be hard-pressed to find a team to replace Pitt.

2. Get ready for the emergence of Lamar Patterson.

Lamar Patterson is poised for a huge junior season. Photo: Associated Press

Ashton Gibbs has graduated after what feels like eight years in a Panthers’ uniform and he has taken an awful lot of points with him. The Panthers are in the market for some scoring. Transfer Trey Zeigler – more on him in a minute – should help, but based on summer league reviews, the player who will be the most help in the scoring department is junior Lamar Patterson. Everyone seems to agree that Patterson’s solid but unspectacular statistics have been because he wasn’t selfish enough. Well apparently he got the message, and so he has used his improved shooting touch and aggression to basically dominate summer league competition and put himself atop the list of potential breakout candidates for next season. He has always had physicality and athleticism to become a standout performer, but now it appears he has added the necessary polish to be one of the conference’s most improved and well-rounded players.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Pittsburgh: 2011-12 Post-Mortem

Posted by mlemaire on May 18th, 2012

Our apologies for plagiarizing borrowing the ideas of our colleagues over at the Pac-12 microsite, but we liked their post-mortem team breakdowns so much that we decided to replicate them with our conference. So over the course of the next two weeks, we will break down each team’s season, starting from the bottom of the conference standings. Next up is Pittsburgh.

What Went Wrong

For a team that began the season in most pundits’ Top 10, it wouldn’t be a stretch to call Pittsburgh’s season an unmitigated disaster, especially given the consistent high level of play we have grown accustomed to from Jamie Dixon’s teams. It started with a casual loss to Long Beach State at home in the third game of the season, and after a disappointing loss to Wagner a month later, the free fall began. Shortly after the loss to The Beach, star point guard and offensive catalyst Travon Woodall got hurt and missed the next two months of the season.

The Sudden Departure Of Prized Recruit Khem Birch Early In The Season Was Only The Beginning Of The Problems For Jamie Dixon's Club.

Two weeks later, prized freshman Khem Birch left the program just as he was showing signs of putting it together and blasted his teammates on the way out. Forced to play the point position with Woodall out, star guard Ashton Gibbs suffered through the worst shooting season of his career and neither Talib Zanna nor Dante Taylor developed into the consistent post threat Dixon had hoped for. The most obvious reason for their decline was the sudden absence of defensive intensity from the Panthers. They had never finished worse than 53rd nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency under Dixon. This season they finished 151st in the category. If you are looking for what went wrong, that is a good place to start.

What Went Right

To be fair, the team did go through a mini-resurgence down the stretch, but it was too little too late. The emergence of Woodall as a multi-faceted scorer and distributor was a blessing and he should be even better next year assuming he stays healthy. Senior workhorse Nasir Robinson was his ultra-efficient self, and increased playing time for sophomores Lamar Patterson and J.J. Moore helped them become effective role players who will be counted on to play an even bigger role next season. he number one bright spot for folks on the Main Line was the emergence of Pinkston in conference play. I guess if you want to count winning the College Basketball Invitational Championship as an honor, then you can add that to the list of what went right. To be clear, we don’t count that.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big East Morning Five: 04.02.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on April 2nd, 2012

  1. Congratulations to Louisville for their tremendous run through the Big East and NCAA Tournaments. A run that culminated with Saturday’s national semifinal 69-61 loss to in-state rival Kentucky. This was a team that battled injuries all year long but persevered and peaked at the right time. Losing is always tough, and we are sure this one stung Rick Pitino on some level, especially since it came to Kentucky and John Calipari. However Pitino understands what was, somewhat improbably, accomplished by his team this year and genuinely chose to reflect on the positive. “They made me really, really proud,” Pitino said. He then added, “I told the guys … `I’m celebrating a season where we worked around the clock, around injuries and everything else. If you guys don’t celebrate and have good, clean fun, you’re fools. ‘Because I think there’s only been eight (other Louisville) teams that got to the Final Four in the history of the one of the greatest traditions and they did it.”
  2. There could be an official change to the holiday calendar in one area of the country as Noel will come on April 11 this year to either Lexington, Syracuse, or Washington, D.C. Noel, as in center Nerlens Noel and the number one prospect in the class of 2012, who said yesterday that he will announce his college choice on April 11.  The three finalists in the Noel sweepstakes are Kentucky, Syracuse, and Georgetown. “It’s time to end this and make a decision,” Noel told the media in New Orleans yesterday after he played in the All-American Championship game. Kentucky, who will vie for a national title tonight, is widely believed to be the favorite but Noel said tonight’s result will not impact his decision.
  3. Providence bolstered its highly ranked recruiting class when guard Ian Baker gave head coach Ed Cooley a verbal commitment. Baker is a native of Washington, D.C. who prepped for the last two years at Jacksonville, FL powerhouse Arlington Country Day. This is an interesting turn of events for both Providence and Baker. There existed mutual interest between the two last summer, but the courtship, logically, seemed to end when highly touted point guard Kris Dunn committed to the Friars. Almost immediately after Dunn’s commitment, Baker verbally committed to South Carolina but subsequently decommitted. Baker’s change of heart means he will be the fourth guard in the class for Providence as he will join Dunn, Ricardo Ledo, and Joshua Fortune in Friartown. Arlington Country Day coach Rex Morgan calls Baker a combo guard but at 6’1”, he figures to project as more of a point guard in the Big East. The McDonald’s All-American Dunn is also a point guard, but possesses the length and skills to play off the ball as well. So while it may appear the backcourt is crowded, Ed Cooley has stressed the importance of good and deep guard play. Further with incumbent point guard Vincent Council entering his final year, the addition of Baker should help to provide longer term security and stability at the position.
  4. After the frustrating season Pittsburgh had, no one would have faulted Jamie Dixon and his crew for taking a pass, as many schools do, on the less than prestigious College Basketball Invitational (CBI). Well, kudos to Dixon and the Panthers for embracing the challenge, and for winning the tournament. Pittsburgh capped off its title run on Friday with a 71-65 triumph over Washington State to win the best-of-three series. Winning is always great, but by accepting invitations to these secondary tournaments, teams like Pittsburgh that struggled in a given year can use the experience to help get back on track. Not only do coaches get additional practice and game experience, but they may benefit from the emergence of a player or two and build momentum moving into the following year. This is exactly what happened with Pittsburgh. Certainly the momentum factor is there simply through winning the tournament, but Dixon now knows he has two bigger pieces coming back than he may have thought just a few short weeks ago. Sophomore forward Lamar Patterson leapt forward in the CBI, averaging 13.3 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 4.5 assists while taking home MVP honors. The other was 6’9” forward Talib Zanna who showed he is ready for a bigger role heading into next season. Zanna posted tournament averages of 11.6 points and 7.0 rebounds per game.
  5. Seton Hall was not expecting to see Aquille Carr in the Garden State until the fall of 2013, but the 5’7” point guard from Baltimore surprised many when he enrolled and started classes at St. Patrick, of Elizabeth, NJ, last week.  This is a strange story even in the murky world of academic qualification, but the latest twist may show the true motivation behind Carr’s move and could help to save a legendary school and program. At the time of Carr’s enrollment, the move seemed out of place because St. Patrick was believed to be closing after this academic year due to financial issues. Carr, a member of the class of 2013, indicated as such last week that he would be back in Baltimore for his senior year, meaning he would be at St. Patrick for just a few months. Initial speculation around Carr’s enrollment at St. Patrick had him there to take advantage of the school’s broader allotment of core classes that are needed for student athletes to qualify academically under NCAA standards. However St. Patrick coach Chris Chavannes and principal Joe Picaro have since confirmed that they believe the school will reclassify as a private institution and remain open. Further Chavannes said that if the school stays open, Carr will stay and play for St. Patrick as its focal point next season.
Share this story

The Blueprint: How Pittsburgh Can Make the NCAA Tournament

Posted by mlemaire on February 1st, 2012

Less than two weeks ago, Jamie Dixon and his Pittsburgh Panthers had been left for dead in the Big East. After starting the season comfortably ranked in the Top 20 nationally, the Panthers displayed chinks in the armor early in the season, but the wheels didn’t start coming off until they lost to Wagner, at home, right before Christmas. Pitt followed that disappointing loss with seven more disappointing losses in a row and looked absolutely nothing like the program that Dixon and his predecessor Ben Howland had built into a consistent winner.

Ashton Gibbs and Pitt Have Some Work To Do, But It's Possible...

But now, following a gutsy road win over a talented West Virginia team, the Panthers have a pulse, even if it is a faint one. Make no mistake, Pittsburgh’s NCAA Tournament prospects are still really dim, and even if they win out, they will really have only secured themselves a spot on the bubble. But the NCAA Tournament isn’t completely out of the question and that should be a good enough excuse for Pitt fans to start having the discussion anyway.

Let’s start with the obvious. If Pitt is going to make the NCAA Tournament, they will need to win most of if not the rest of their games. Their RPI and Strength of Schedule will both benefit from a grueling conference schedule, so they don’t need to worry about finding marquee wins as much as they need to avoid bad losses. With that said, they absolutely must win their next three games, because a loss to NIT-bound Villanova, bound-to-come-back-to-earth South Florida, or already-sliding Seton Hall would likely doom their Tournament hopes.

Assuming they can will win all three of those games they will at least re-enter the discussion. But there are three more games the Panthers should be circling on their schedule — a rematch with West Virginia at home, a trip to Louisville 10 days later, and a trip to Connecticut for the last home game of the season. There will be games to win in the conference tournament, but it’s hard to believe that anything short of the conference championship would boost Pitt into the NCAA Tournament if they lose once or more at the end of the regular season.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Night Line: Could Revitalized Pittsburgh Possibly Make the NCAA Tournament?

Posted by EJacoby on January 31st, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC correspondent and regular contributor. 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 slate of games.

It’s no secret that Pittsburgh has been a massive disappointment this season, beginning Big East play with a surreal 0-7 record during an overall eight-game losing streak. By failing to meet expectations or excel on the defensive end of the floor, this year’s Panthers are entirely unlike what we usually expect from Jamie Dixon’s teams. But after a 72-66 road win at West Virginia on Monday night, Pitt has now won three straight games and looks like an entirely different team with their starting point guard back from an extended abdominal injury. Pitt is averaging about 17 more points per game in conference games with Tray Woodall than without him, and the Panthers are finally starting to look like the team that was picked to finish fourth in the conference during the preseason. At 14-9 overall and 3-7 in Big East play, Pittsburgh has an incredibly steep hill to climb, but the pieces are in place to make a run for NCAA Tournament consideration.

Tray Woodall is Back and Pittsburgh Looks Like a New Team (AP Photo)

Pitt is used to qualifying for postseason play; they’ve made the Big Dance in 10 consecutive seasons, the longest current streak in the Big East. The Panthers’ 80.1% winning percentage since 2001 is the fourth best in Division I over that span, trailing only Duke, Memphis, and Gonzaga. Dixon has been the head coach for the past nine years, and the Panthers have simply been superbly consistent under his watch. So the fact that Pitt sits at 12th place in the conference right now is a complete shock that nobody saw coming. The eight-game losing streak that they suffered, which began with a home loss to Wagner on December 23 and ended also at home against Louisville on January 21, was twice as long as any during the Dixon era. Losing starting big man Khem Birch to a transfer request and Woodall to injury put the team into a massive tailspin, and they’re just now recovering from it all.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Set Your TiVo: 01.30.12

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 30th, 2012

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Pittsburgh finally won two games last week and will look to win its third in a row at the Backyard Brawl in Morgantown. In Austin, Texas looks to stun highly-ranked Missouri. Rankings are subject to change with a new RTC Top 25 coming out today.

Pittsburgh at #22 West Virginia – 7:00 PM EST on ESPN (****)

  • After getting hosed by the referees at Syracuse, West Virginia returns home on Monday night to face rival Pittsburgh. While the Panthers have won two straight games after losing eight in a row, the Mountaineers remain a strong favorite despite Tray Woodall’s return to the Pitt lineup. The Panthers look like a different team with a healthy Woodall in the fold and Bob Huggins’ team will have to come up with a strong defensive effort in order to limit the Pitt point guard from getting into a flow. West Virginia’s two-point defense is not good, ranked #239 in Division I. If Woodall and Ashton Gibbs can get inside, Deniz Kilicli and Kevin Jones will have a hard time defending Nasir Robinson (9-9 FG vs. Georgetown) and Lamar Patterson. West Virginia’s biggest defensive strength is guarding the three-point line (25.9% in Big East play). If the Mountaineers can shut down Gibbs company from deep, they will have an easier time defending the paint and keeping the Panthers off the offensive glass, where they rank #1 in the nation.

    Huggins and the Mountaineers Will Be Fired Up After Their Controversial Loss at Syracuse

  • Pittsburgh’s offense has run much smoother with Woodall back but the biggest change might be defensively. The Panthers held Georgetown to 60 points and 47.5% interior shooting (below Pitt’s 51% in Big East play), something that will be very important against Jones and a West Virginia team that struggles from deep. If Pitt can force Truck Bryant into a bad shooting night (he’s had many of those), the Panthers will be in the game for all 40 minutes. Defending Jones is a very difficult task but Jamie Dixon just might be content to let Jones get his points and focus on shutting down Bryant and West Virginia’s young supporting cast. The Mountaineers need contributions from players like Gary Browne and Jabarie Hinds in order to win consistently.
  • This is the 183rd meeting between these longtime rivals. Pittsburgh won both meetings last year and has won 16 of the last 23. We have a feeling this game will be closer than some might think. The Panthers look like a different team with Woodall back and healthy but West Virginia has the best player on the floor in Jones. Offensive rebounding is going to be the key in this game. Neither team defends the paint well but each crashes the offensive glass with authority. Pittsburgh has had problems with turnovers but that may not be the case with Woodall running the show. If West Virginia can’t create turnovers, it will have to score in the half court against a team playing with some renewed confidence. Call us crazy but we think Pitt has a legitimate chance to win this game. This one will come down to offensive rebounding and the play of Jones and Bryant.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 23rd, 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
  • Number One Goes Down:  For the seventh time, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish took down a top-ranked team in the Joyce Center, knocking off Syracuse 67-58. Despite all of that prior success, the Irish hadn’t beaten a #1 team at home in 25 years. That didn’t matter on Saturday night. Taking advantage of Fab Melo’s absence, Notre Dame slowed the pace and worked the ball inside, scoring in the paint or kicking it out to an open shooter on the wing. Notre Dame shot 50% for the game and limited the Orange to 34%. Using a +13 edge on the glass, Notre Dame was able to control the tempo and prevent Syracuse from getting out in transition where it is so lethal. I have to say I was surprised. Looking at Syracuse’s schedule last week, I thought the Orange could run the table. They had played better than any team in the nation on a consistent basis but drove into a buzzsaw on Saturday. Even if Melo had played, I’m not sure it would have made a major difference.
  • South Florida On A Roll: It seems as if nobody has noticed, but South Florida is 5-2 in the Big East after a 2-0 week with wins over St. John’s and DePaul. USF has won on the road at improving Villanova and also took down Seton Hall at home when the Pirates were ranked. The Bulls also beat Rutgers, one game after the Scarlet Knights beat Florida. How has USF done it? Jawanza Poland has played very well since returning from a back injury and Stan Heath is getting timely contributions from guys like Victor Rudd and Ron Anderson Jr. However, the two main reasons for USF’s success are point guard play and defense. Freshman Anthony Collins has been fantastic at the point, averaging 5.3 APG in Big East play to go with a #28 national ranking in assist rate. Although he’s turning the ball over a bit too much, Collins has given the Bulls a huge boost at the most important position in college basketball after years of bad guard play in Tampa. On the defensive end, South Florida’s opponents average only 57.6 PPG, tops in the Big East. With a combination of defense, good rebounding and timely scoring, USF is starting to make some noise in the crowded middle of the Big East.

Pat Connaughton Celebrated With Fans After The Irish Stung The Top-Ranked Orange. (Matt Cashore/U.S. Presswire)

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (20-1, 7-1) – The Orange remain the best team by far in the Big East and I still think they are the best team in the nation even after losing at Notre Dame. Nothing went right for the Orange against the Fighting Irish. The Orange were out-shot 50% to 34%, out-rebounded by 13, and couldn’t string stops together when they were trying to get back in the game.  Should we have seen this coming? The cracks in the foundation appeared in a closer-than-expected win over Pittsburgh last Monday. The Panthers probed the Syracuse zone fairly well, getting to the free throw line area and making good interior passes. Fab Melo had 10 points, 10 rebounds, and six blocks in that game, but didn’t play in South Bend due to a mysterious academic issue. Pitt out-rebounded Syracuse 38-24, meaning the Orange were minus-27 on the glass for the week. Syracuse ranks #320 in defensive rebounding percentage, an issue that needs to be addressed immediately by Jim Boeheim, with or without Melo. Syracuse is struggling from three point land as well, tenth in three-point percentage in Big East games (31.9%). Scoop Jardine had 12 points and ten assists against the Panthers, but didn’t make a field goal (0-5) against Notre Dame. A tougher than expected week is ahead. Could the Orange lose again after winning 20 games in a row? This week: 1/23 @ Cincinnati, 1/28 vs. West Virginia. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

RTC Conference Primers: #1 – Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 14th, 2011

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

Reader’s Take I

 

Top Storylines

  • The Realignment Circus Continues: The latest blow to the Big East came just recently as West Virginia was accepted into the Big 12. That leaves the Big East with 13 basketball schools remaining and a handful of others (football schools) desperately trying to flee the sinking ship. Commissioner John Marinatto has said he is committed to holding Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia to the 27-month notice provision in the conference’s bylaws but one has to wonder if a financial settlement will be worked out in order to expedite the transition and move the conference into rebuilding mode. It’s going to be quite awkward if these three schools remain in the league until 2014. All of the current Big East members should eventually find a stable home in one form or another, but the days of Big East basketball as we know it will soon come to an end. Enjoy the 2011-12 season because it just might be the last year of this remarkable 16-team behemoth.
  • How Many Bids This Year?: After sending a record 11 teams to the NCAA Tournament last year, can the Big East reach that mark again? That seems unlikely but you never know how things will truly play out. I’d say there are ten contenders for NCAA bids and to make 11 you would need all of those teams plus one of the three New York City-area schools to have a wildly successful year and snatch a bid. The Big East is quite possibly the best conference in the land yet again but 11 NCAA teams is far-fetched. Eight or nine bids this season would seem to be much more realistic.
  • Can Connecticut Repeat?: The technical answer is yes but it will be extremely tough to do. There’s a reason only two teams have gone back-to-back in the last 20 years. College basketball is as deep as ever in terms of talent and quality teams, plus there’s someone missing from last year’s Connecticut team. Kemba Walker is now in the NBA and, despite Jim Calhoun’s impressive recruiting haul, there is a major leadership void to be filled. This team is stocked with talent but Walker was a one-of-a-kind leader who took complete control in Maui and parlayed that into a way of life for the rest of the season. Jeremy Lamb figures to take control but remember how young this group is. They’ll get better as the season progresses and may even win the Big East but when the chips are down in the NCAA Tournament, they won’t be able to call on Kemba and that’s why I feel they will not repeat.

Calhoun Won't Have His Mr. Everything Around This Season

  • Cautious Optimism at Georgetown, Villanova and West Virginia: These traditional powers lose a lot of talent and figure to be lodged in the middle of the conference. All three programs return key cogs but the departures of Austin Freeman, Chris Wright, Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes, Antonio Pena, Casey Mitchell, John Flowers and Joe Mazzulla leave more questions than answers. These teams all need someone to step up and become a deep shooting threat while maintaining a low post presence. Guards win in college basketball but you also have to be able to rebound and score inside occasionally. Hollis Thompson, Mouphtaou Yarou and Deniz Kilicli must become better all-around post men if their respective teams hope to make the NCAA Tournament. At 6’7”, 205 lbs., Thompson isn’t one to bang with the big guys but he’s going to have to score in the paint at times. Each team has a nice recruiting class coming in, but it’s up to the returning players to make the ultimate difference.
Share this story