Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by jstevrtc on January 15th, 2010

Rob Dauster of Ballin Is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference.

Let me paint you a picture.

Pitt is loaded. They have the Big East player in the post, an all-conference 20 PPG scorer on the wing, and a senior leader at the point running the show. They have depth, balance, quality role players, and one of the most unappreciated coaches in the game.

That was last season.

This season its a different story.

DeJuan Blair is gone. Sam Young is gone. Levance Fields is gone.

Before the season started, the consensus seemed to be that with those three went Pitt’s hopes of an NCAA Tournament trip. Nothing the Panthers did before the start of Big East play changed that assumption. Not coming back from a 13 point second half deficit against Wofford. Not an ugly, two overtime win over Duquesne. Not the 47 points they scored against New Hampshire. Not the loss to Indiana in Madison Square Garden.

But there’s something we didn’t take into consideration.

Jamie Dixon isn’t like most coaches.

Jamie Dixon doesn’t rely on talent to win. He doesn’t need a roster full of McDonald’s all-Americans. In fact, when Dixon brought freshman Dante Taylor into the program, he was Pitt’s first McDonald’s all-american since Bobby Martin and Brian Shorter joined the Panthers in 1987.

What we ignored was the fact that Dixon develops players. He grooms the kids that are overlooked by other programs to fit his system. Like Keith Benjamin and Ronald Ramon and Tyrell Biggs and even Levance Fields and Sam Young before them, guys like Ashton Gibbs, Brad Wanamaker, and Gary McGhee bided their time last year. They played their limited minutes while practicing every day against some of the best players in the country, while learning how to defend, execute, and carry themselves like Big East champions.

Now that Jermaine Dixon and Gilbert Brown are back in the rotation, now that this Pitt team is finally complete, we are finally seeing just how good the Panthers are; just how good of a program and system that Jamie Dixon runs.

Pitt’s team is built on toughness, defense, and execution on both sides of the ball. While we pointed out in the preseason that the Panthers had flaws this year — they don’t have any sure-fire lottery picks, they don’t have a dynamic playmaker at the point, they don’t have anyone that can go out and get you 25 points on a given night — what we didn’t point out was that they have a group of kids that bought into what Dixon was selling.

Like every team in Dixon’s tenure, this year’s Panthers defend. They rebound. They get seemingly every loose ball. They run their offense until they get an open look or a lane to the rim. They hit big shots. They demonstrate the physical toughness and the mental make-up required to compete with more talented teams, and to beat them on the road.

And they have just enough natural talent to get by.


How about a 4-0 start in the Big East.

Three of those wins came on the road — in Syracuse, in Cincinnati, and in Hartford. All three are difficult places to play, and all three were NCAA tournament caliber teams.

When playing the cream of the Big East crop, there will be few games where the Panthers will be considered the more talented team on the floor even with their run the last two weeks. But rest assured, the Panthers will come away with more than their share of wins.

If the Big East was a car show, Jamie Dixon would be me and Pitt would be my 1995 Honda Accord. While the Jags breakdown, and the Lambo’s get speeding tickets, and the Corvette’s are traded in for newer models, and the Hummers guzzle gas, my Accord keeps getting the job done. The paint may be chipped on the side, the AC may be broken, there may be four blown out speakers that are useless because I don’t have a CD player and the radio antenna was ripped off, but you better believe that Accord gets me where I need to go and gets me there on time, all on 30 miles-per-gallon.

And while Pitt may not be the most aesthetically pleasing basketball team to watch, Dixon keeps steering this team right where it wants to be.

Atop the Big East standings.

Other notes from this week

  • I think it is safe to say we have the choke of the year, possibly in the country. Up 50-48 with 15 seconds left, Cinci’s Rashad Bishop took the ball out of bounds under St. John’s basket. He thought he had Deonta Vaughn open deep, but pulled a Pennington and underthrew the baseball pass. It was picked off by Dwight “Buckets” Hardy, who was fouled, making both free throws. With the game now tied and just 8.5 seconds on the clock, Lance Stephenson threw an inbounds pass away, which was stolen by Hardy who, again, knocked down two free throws. Vaughn missed a three at the buzzer that would have won it as the Bearcats snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
  • Speaking of “Buckets” Hardy, one thing I’ve noticed in watching, and attending, a lot of these games is the number of fantastic nicknames in this conference. You know about Lance “Born Ready” Stephenson, but how about Jamine “Greedy” Peterson of Providence, Stanley “Sticks” Robinson of UConn, Robert “Sticks” Mitchell of Seton Hall, or Darryl “Truck” Bryant of West Virginia. I know there are more out there, as well.
  • Pitt wasn’t the only team getting to 100% as the season progressed. Villanova has now played six games with Reggie Redding, who has been exactly what we expected – 10.7 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 3.8 APG, 1.8 SPG. Take away a two points/seven turnover debacle in Monday’s yuck-fest against Louisville, and those numbers are much more impressive. Nova also got Mouph Yarou back. Yarou had been out with Hepatitis B, but came back on Jan. 6th against DePaul. While his numbers have been less than stellar as he works his way into the rotation, what has impressed about Yarou is his conditioning (Wright is on record saying Yarou is in better-than-expected shape). If Yarou can provide some strength on the glass and on defense, he could end up being a very nice complement to Antonio Pena. All of a sudden, with these two in the line-up, Villanova got a lot more physical.
  • Samardo Samuels was a monster against Villanova. He finished with 21 points and seven boards, hitting every shot he took (4-4 from the floor, 13-13 from the line) and blocking four shots. The problem? Louisville was too concerned about shooting threes to consistently get Samuels the touches he deserved in the paint. The Cardinals will be at their best when they play inside-out, because if Samuels is scoring and defenses are helping down on him (which will more often than not be the case), it will get the Louisville guards better looks on the perimeter.

CO-PLAYERS OF THE WEEKScottie Reynolds, Villanova, and Austin Freeman, Georgetown

Georgetown was dead in the water against UConn. The Huskies had absolutely imposed their will on this game, forcing Georgetown into turnovers and poor shot selection while making it a glorified pick-up game. In other words, they were playing Husky basketball. In Jim Calhoun’s words, it was UConn’s best half of the season. But during the break, Georgetown regrouped and came out more focused on the offensive end. They started to run their offense, to work through their sets, and as a result got much better looks at the rim. It just so happened the majority of those looks came with the ball in Austin Freeman’s hands. Freeman would go on to score 28 of his career-high 33 points in the second half (his previous career high was 21). For the week, Freeman averaged 23.0 PPG  as the Hoyas went 2-1.

Scottie Reynolds, on the other hand, solidified himself among the best player’s in the country with the most efficient display of clutch shooting I’ve ever seen. Villanova, down 17 points at one time in a first half that saw them turn the ball over 17 times, turned the tables on Louisville in the second 20 minutes, and Reynolds was the reason why. He scored 30 second half points, 36 on the game, while shooting just 9-10 from the floor, 13-17 from the line, and making all five attempts from three. For the week, the Wildcats went 3-0, and Reynolds averaged 24.0 PPG in the three games.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Clearly, the team of the week was Pitt, but seeing as I’ve already wasted the majority of this column on the Panthers, I’m giving the Irish the nod. All-in-all, the Irish are not a bad team. They have the most productive player in the conference in Luke Harangody. They have two solid shooters/scoring options on the perimeter in Tim Abromaitis and Psycho-B Ben Hansbrough. They have a veteran point guard in Tory Jackson. They have some talent coming off the bench. But what the Irish didn’t have was a win to justify their record. They got that on Saturday, as they hit their first nine shots and opened up a 25-4 lead on West Virginia before the Mountaineers decided to start playing. While Notre Dame wasted away just about all of that cushion when WVU got hot (they hit 9-19 from deep in the second half), Harangody scored a big bucket with three minutes left to answer a Dalton Pepper three and put the Irish back up, 69-66. After getting some key stops down the stretch, the Irish can now add claim a resume win.


1. Villanova: 15-1, 4-0

Last Week: 1/6 vs. DePaul 99-72, 1/9 vs. Marquette 78-76, 1/11 @ Louisville 92-84

Next Week: 1/17 vs. Georgetown

2. Pittsburgh: 14-2, 4-0

Last Week: 1/13 @ UConn 67-57

Next Week: 1/16 vs. Louisville

3. Syracuse: 16-1, 3-1

Last Week: 1/6 vs. Memphis 74-57, 1/10 vs. South Florida 82-65, 1/13 @ Rutgers 81-65

Next Week: 1/16 @ West Virginia, 1/18 @ Notre Dame

4. Georgetown: 13-2, 4-1

Last Week: 1/6 @ Marquette 59-62, 1/9 vs. UConn 72-69, 1/14 vs. Seton Hall 85-73

Next Week: 1/17 @ Villanova

5. West Virginia: 13-2, 4-1

Last Week: 1/6 vs. Rutgers 86-52, 1/9 @ Notre Dame 68-70, 1/13 @ South Florida 69-50

Next Week: 1/16 vs. Syracuse

6. Connecticut: 11-5, 2-3

Last Week: 1/6 vs. Seton Hall 71-63, 1/9 @ Georgetown 69-72, 1/13 vs. Pitt 57-67

Next Week: 1/17 @ Michigan

7. Louisville: 12-5, 3-1

Last Week: 1/6 @ Providence 92-70, 1/9 vs. St. John’s 75-68, 1/11 vs. Villanova 84-92

Next Week: 1/16 @ Pitt

8. Notre Dame: 14-3, 3-1

Last Week: 1/9 vs. West Virginia 70-68

Next Week: 1/16 @ Cincinnati, 1/18 vs. Syracuse

9. Marquette: 10-6, 1-3

Last Week: 1/6 vs. Marquette 62-59, 1/9 @ Villanova 76-78

Next Week: 1/17 vs. Providence

10. Cincinnati: 11-6, 2-3

Last Week: 1/6 vs. Cal St. Bakersfield 87-58, 1/9 @ Seton Hall 76-83, 1/13 @ St. John’s 50-52

Next Week: 1/16 vs. Notre Dame

11. Providence: 11-6, 3-2

Last Week: 1/6 vs. Louisville 70-92, 1/9 vs. Rutgers 94-81, 1/14 @ DePaul 79-62

Next Week: 1/17 @ Marquette

12. St. John’s: 11-5, 1-3

Last Week: 1/9 @ Louisville 68-75, 1/13 vs. Cincinnati 52-50

Next Week: 1/17 vs. DePaul

13. Seton Hall: 10-6, 1-4

Last Week: 1/6 @ UConn 63-71, 1/9 vs. Cincinnati 83-76, 1/14 @ Georgetown 73-85

Next Week: N/A

14. South Florida: 10-6, 0-4

Last Week: 1/10 @ Syracuse 65-82, 1/13 vs. West Virginia 50-69

Next Week: 1/16 vs. Rutgers

15. Rutgers: 9-7, 0-4

Last Week: 1/6 @ West Virginia 52-86, 1/9 @ Providence 81-94, 1/13 vs. Syracuse 65-81

Next Week: 1/16 @ South Florida

16. DePaul: 7-9, 0-4

Last Week: 1/6 @ Villanova 72-99, 1/14 vs. Providence 62-79

Next Week: 1/17 @ St. John’s

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Morning Five: 01.14.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on January 14th, 2010

  1. Ken Pomeroy does what he does and concludes that, when you break down games by minutes 1-40, it’s the first minute of the game where offenses are the least aggressive.  Somewhere, some coach will read this and try to put his energizer bunny reserve in for the first couple of minutes of the game.  Guaranteed.
  2. UCLA’s J’Mison Morgan will miss at least two weeks with a torn quad in his right leg.  Despite his pedigree, Morgan doesn’t play much (only 8 MPG), but it’s been that kind of a year for Ben Howland in Westwood.
  3. Rutgers transfer Greg Echinique will re-surface at Creighton, which was one of his finalists coming out of high school.  Big, big get for the mid-major power in Omaha.
  4. Could everyone have been completely wrong about “Born Ready” as an uncoachable cancer to a team?  This article by Paul Daugherty suggests that Lance Stephenson only needed a change of environment to “out here” aka Cincinnati to get his head straight.
  5. Several hours before UNC got smashed by Clemson, the UNC bus got smashed by a Clemson student (photo below from Larry Drew II’s tweet).  Roy must have known he was in for a tough night when this happened.

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RTC Live: Cincinnati @ Seton Hall

Posted by rtmsf on January 9th, 2010

Two teams fighting for respect in the Big East, not to mention a post season bid, meet tonight at the Rock in Newark, NJ.  Cincinnati, led by freshman Lance Stephenson, sophomore Yancy Gates and senior Deonta Vaughn will face off against Bobby Gonzalez and his band of Pirates, led by junior scoring machine Jeremy Hazell and transfers Herb Pope and Keon Lawrence. In a season many predicted would overturn the old order in the Big East, the Bearcats and Pirates both had plans to move up in the conference pecking order.  Cincinnati’s plan is on track – they took care of business in their opening game, downing Connecticut at Fifth Third, then traveled to the RAC and knocked off Rutgers. But they stumbled in their last conference game when they dropped a 74-71 decision to Pittsburgh. A win tonight restores their momentum and puts them (well) ahead of Seton Hall in the New Order of Things in the Big East. Seton Hall had a plan too, but three close losses into their conference season, the plan is down to “just win”. Join us at 6:00 eastern time for the tipoff.

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Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by rtmsf on December 30th, 2009

Rob Dauster of Ballin is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference.

Here we are on the brink of Big East play. What does that mean? MID-SEASON AWARD TIME!!!

Co-Players of the Year: Da’Sean Butler, West Virginia and Wes Johnson, Syracuse

Depending on who you ask, these two are in the mix for the national player of the year. Butler (16.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 3.8 apg) has been the best player for West Virginia, even sliding over and playing some point guard in the past few games as Joe Mazzulla works his way back from a shoulder injury and Truck Bryant battles ankle and groin injuries. Butler may not be West Virginia’s best NBA prospect, but he has been the Mountaineers’ most valuable player this season. He is their best scorer in the halfcourt, and is quick becoming their best creator. He can step outside and knock down a three or run the point just as well as he can post up a smaller defender. He’s also hit two game-winners in the last two weeks.

Johnson has really lived up to the excessive hype he had in the preseason. He is averaging 17.0 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 2.3 spg, and 2.0 bpg while shooting 51.1% from three. His length, athleticism and versatility has been his biggest assets; he makes it so difficult for opposing players on the baseline in the Cuse zone; he plays like a three on the offensive end, but blocks shots and rebounds like a four on the defensive end; and most importantly, he can really score, be it in transition or in the half court set. Think the love child of T-Mac and Shawn Marion. Scary, right?

Freshman of the Year: Lance Stephenson, Cincinnati

Born Ready wasn’t quite born ready, but 11 games into the season, its pretty clear that Stephenson is going to be a player in this league. Stephenson has averaged 12.5 ppg and 2.4 apg, but more than the numbers he has put up, it has been what he hasn’t done that has been most important – this kid is not a distraction. Yes, he does have his outbursts (his reaction at the end of the Gonzaga game and his yapping at Chris Mack in the Xavier game come to mind), but what 19 year old doesn’t? Cincy has struggled a bit early in the season as they haven’t quite lived up to some of the lofty expectations, but none of that has been Lance’s fault. He makes smart plays, he makes unselfish plays, and, most importantly, he simply makes plays.

All-Conference Teams

1st team

  • Luke Harangody, Notre Dame: 24.2 ppg, 9.9 rpg
  • Jerome Dyson, UConn: 19.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4.7 apg
  • Lazar Hayward, Marquette: 19.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg
  • Dominique Jones, South Florida: 18.6 ppg, 5.8 apg, 4.8 rpg, 2.2 spg
  • Kevin Jones, West Virginia: 15.1 ppg, 7.6 rpg

2nd team

  • Jeremy Hazell, Seton Hall: 23.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.2 spg
  • Stanley Robinson, UConn: 17.0 ppg, 7.4 rpg
  • Scottie Reynolds, Villanova: 17.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 3.5 apg
  • DJ Kennedy, St. John’s: 16.6 ppg, 6.3 rpg
  • Greg Monroe, Georgetown: 15.3 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 3.0 apg

3rd team

  • Andy Rautins, Syracuse: 9.5 ppg, 5.2 apg, 2.5 spg
  • Herb Pope, Seton Hall: 13.8 ppg, 12.4 rpg, 2.4 bpg
  • Samardo Samuels, Louisville: 16.8 ppg, 7.6 rpg
  • Antonio Pena, Villanova: 13.1 ppg, 8.9 rpg
  • Gus Gilchrist, South Florida: 18.8 ppg, 7.4 rpg

Biggest Surprise – team: Syracuse

If I have to explain this to you, you should be reading Perez Hilton and not Rush the Court.

Biggest Surprises – player: Kevin Jones, West Virginia and Tim Abromaitis, Notre Dame

We knew that Jones was good. He’s long, he’s strong, he’s athletic, and he has a nose for the ball, which makes him a perfect fit for a Bob Huggins-coached team. But did anyone expect him to be West Virginia’s best low post player? He has given the Mountaineers a true low-post threat, he can knock down threes, and he attacks the offensive glass very hard. 15.1 ppg and 7.6 rpg is just the beginning for this kid.

Tim Abromaitis is a different story. He barely played as a freshman and redshirted last year, and when Scott Martin went down with an ACL injury in the preseason, a chance was given and Abro has made the most of it. He is averaging 15.8 ppg while shooting 50.7% from three, giving Notre Dame another option if defenses collapse on Harangody. If he can bulk up a bit and become a better rebounder, Abro may be an all-conference player when it is all said and done.

Biggest Disappointment – team and player: Deonta Vaughn, Cincinnati

I really thought that the Bearcats were going to make a push for the Big East crown this season. With Vaughn teaming up with Stephenson and Cashmere Wright on the perimeter and Yancy Gates anchoring a big, physical front line, I thought this team had the roster to be a factor. But with Vaughn’s early season struggles, Cincy has lost three games in the non-conference, and has yet to look like a contender. For the first time in his career, Vaughn is averaging below double figures at just 9.8 ppg, but lets face it – he is just too talented to struggle for a full season. I’m not writing off the Bearcats just yet.

The runner-up for most disappointing team is Seton Hall. The Pirates have a ton of talent, but they just don’t have the team chemistry to compete with the big dogs. I’m not talking about the players getting along. They may very well be best friends. What I mean is that this team just doesn’t play well together right now. Jeremy Hazell, as good as he is, seems to be more concerned with finding his best shot of offense as opposed to the team’s best shot. Herb Pope is a load on the block, but he can’t hit free throws, turns the ball over too much, and seems lost offensively at times. Eugene Harvey, Keon Lawrence, Robert Mitchell, Jeff Robinson – these guys over-dribble and don’t consistently take good shots. Seton Hall could easily be 2-0 in the league right now, but instead they have dropped two heartbreakers early on, and in a league as balanced as the Big East is, that is going to be a tough thing to overcome.

Coach of the Year: Norm Roberts, St. John’s

The Johnnies are flirting with the bubble this season, and with a good performance in the Big East, the Red Storm could very well make it back to the tournament this season. And keep in mind that St. John’s has done this without Anthony Mason, Jr., playing a minute yet this season and with Justin Burrell missing a few weeks with an ankle injury.


  • West Virginia is currently playing with five forwards in their starting line-up – Butler, Jones, Ebanks, Wellington Smith and John Flowers – as Truck Bryant battles ankle and groin injuries and Joe Mazzulla makes his way back from a shoulder injury. This creates two problems for the Mountaineers – they are struggling against pressure defenses and creating easy shots in the halfcourt, and they give up way too much penetration. This was completely evident against Marquette, as the Golden Eagles spread the floor, attacked gaps, and got a number of wide-open looks from three. But this is a good thing for WVU, believe it or not. Mazzulla is not going to be healthy this season (he’s playing right now with the inability to raise his left arm – he’s shooting free throws right handed as a lefty), which means that once Bryant gets healthy, they will have one true point guard. If injuries our foul trouble strikes later in the season, learning to play with five forwards now is better than learning in March.
  • UConn has two major achilles heels this season – depth and free throw shooting. The addition of Ater Majok is not going to be as influential as many believe. Majok is long and plays with energy, but he has no basketball IQ and he is nothing more than length right now – he’ll block a few shots and grab a few boards, but he’s a 12-15 mpg player at best. Jamal Coombs-McDaniel has played well in the last couple of games, but he is still learning what it takes to compete in the Big East. This is still basically a five player team. But the bigger issue will be free throw shooting. Neither Stanley Robinson nor Jerome Dyson are great free throw shooters, which is a big problem when you consider how often these two are going to get to the line the way they attack the rim. UConn is going to struggle to put points on the board, and a few missed free throws are going to make a huge difference. You can argue pretty convincingly that it cost them both the Duke and Kentucky games.
  • Villanova is not going to be a great team until they play better defense. KenPom has them at 89th in the country right now in tempo-free defensive efficiency. They give up too much penetration, allow too many open threes, and don’t have the size inside to prevent post-ups and defend at the rim. This team is really going to miss Dwayne Anderson and Shane Clark, but hopefully getting Reggie Redding back will make a difference.
  • Jeremy Hazell scored 41 and 38 points in losses to West Virginia and Syracuse, respectively, but it took him 64 shots to do so. He needs to be more efficient and/or take better shots for the Pirates. Any above average guard in this league could put up those numbers with that many shots.
  • Chris Wright had 34 points in Georgetown’s win over Harvard, but lost in that was the fact that he still had 4 turnovers and just 4 assists. On the season, he is only averaging 3.5 apg and 3.0 turnovers.

Power Rankings

1. Syracuse – 13-0, 1-0

Last Week: 12/29 @ Seton Hall 80-73

Next Week: 1/2 vs. Pitt

2. West Virginia – 10-0, 2-0

Last Week: 12/26 @ Seton Hall 90-84, 12/29 vs. Marquette 63-62

Next Week: 1/1 @ Purdue

3. Villanova – 11-1

Last Week: 12/23 vs. Delaware 97-63

Next Week: 1/2 @ Marquette

4. Georgetown – 9-1

Last Week: 12/23 vs. Harvard

Next Week: 1/3 @ DePaul

5. UConn – 9-2

Last Week: 12/27 vs. Iona 93-74

Next Week: 12/30 @ Cincy 69-71, 1/2 vs. Notre Dame

6. Louisville – 9-3

Last Week: 12/23 vs. Louisiana-Lafayette 84-69, 12/27 vs. Radford 79-53

Next Week: 12/30 vs. South Florida 73-52, 1/2 @ Kentucky

7. Cincinnati – 8-3

Last Week: none

Next Week: 12/30 vs. UConn 71-69, 1/2 @ Rutgers, 1/4 vs. Pitt

8. St. John’s – 10-2

Last Week: 12/23 vs. Bryant 80-44

Next Week: 12/31 @ Georgetown, 1/3 vs. Providence

9. Marquette – 9-4, 0-1

Last Week: 12/27 vs. Presbyterian 102-62, 12/29 @ Marquette 62-63

Next Week: 1/2 vs. Villanova

10. Notre Dame – 10-2

Last Week: none

Next Week: 12/30 vs. Providence 93-78, 1/2 @ UConn, 1/6 @ South Florida

11. South Florida – 10-2

Last Week: none

Next Week: 12/30 @ Louisville 52-73, 1/5 vs. Notre Dame

12. Seton Hall – 8-3, 0-2

Last Week: 12/26 vs. West Virginia 84-90, 12/29 vs. Syracuse 73-80

Next Week: 1/2 @ Virginia Tech

13. Pitt – 11-2, 1-0

Last Week: 12/28 vs. DePaul 65-52

Next Week: 1/2 @ Syracuse, 1/4 @ Cincinnati

14. Rutgers – 9-3

Last Week: 12/28 @ UNC 67-81

Next Week: 1/2 vs. Cincinnati

15. Providence – 8-4

Last Week: none

Next Week: 12/30 @ Notre Dame 78-93, 1/3 @ St. John’s

16. DePaul – 7-6, 0-1

Last Week: 12/28 @ Pitt

Next Week: 1/3 vs. Georgetown

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Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by rtmsf on December 17th, 2009


Rob Dauster of Ballin is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference.

You all were waiting for it.  And it finally happened.

You may not have noticed due to the beer and football induced stupor you were in on Sunday, but the Big East had a pretty rough weekend. Louisville, Providence, DePaul, Notre Dame, Villanova, Cincinnati and Marquette all lost as the Big East went 7-7 over the course of Saturday and Sunday. That’s seven losses in two days from a league that had 20 losses over the first month of the season.  Throw in the losses that UConn and Pitt suffered in the Garden during the week, and nine different teams from the league lost this week.  The question now becomes, is this simply the Big East coming back down to earth – hey, they had to lose at some point, didn’t they – or is it a sign that the league is not quite as powerful as some of us speculated in the last few weeks?

Last season, the consensus was that the Big East was one of the strongest in the history of college basketball, but most of that strength was at the top of the league. Less than half of the teams in the Big East made the NCAA Tournament, but of the seven that did, five reached the Sweet 16, four made the Elite 8, and two reached the Final Four.  Can a league be one of the best even when 9 of the 16 teams don’t even qualify for the Big Dance?  Part of the reason there was so much hype regarding the Big East was that they started off so strong. At one point early in the year, nine teams were ranked in the top 25. Two teams that spent time in the top 10, Notre Dame and Georgetown, ended up missing the dance completely.

So, as any reasonable blogger would do, I’ll compare.  Last year on December 16th, the Big East was 116-28 as a league. This year? 119-29. That’s a one game difference in the loss column.  Crazy, right?  Now take into account the disastrous weekend the league just had, and it is pretty obvious that as of last Friday, the Big East was well beyond where they were at this same point last season, and last season the conference was considered one of the best ever.

There’s more.  Seven teams that got out to great starts last season fell way off as the year went along:

  • Seton Hall and St. John’s both started the season 8-1 before hitting a mid-year swoon and finishing 17-16 and 16-18, respectively. Both the Pirates and the Johnnies are much improved this season, and despite neither playing at full strength right now, St. John’s is 8-1 while Seton Hall is 8-0.
  • Notre Dame (7-2) and Georgetown (7-1 on Dec. 16th, 10-1 to start the season) both shot up the polls early in the season, but for a variety of reasons collapsed during the rigors of Big East play, finishing 21-15 and 16-15, respectively. Georgetown is 8-0 this season and once again approaching the top 10, while Notre Dame is 9-2.
  • Cincinnati started the year 7-2 and looked like a team that could compete for a bubble spot, but struggled during conference play as a result of their lack of balance offensively and finished 18-14. They are 6-2 this year and have much more help for Deonta Vaughn.
  • Providence looked like they could also compete for an at-large bid as they started the season 6-3. They are 7-4 this year, but don’t look like they will be a factor come March.

What does all this mean?  Could the Big East actually be better this season than it was last season?  Depends on what you mean by better.

No, they don’t have the same powerhouses at the top of the league. Sure, Syracuse, West Virginia and even Villanova and possibly Georgetown may compete for #1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament, but will three of those teams be #1 seeds? Not with Kansas, Kentucky, and Texas around.  But the Big East is deeper this season. Teams like Marquette, Louisville, Pitt and UConn, traditional Big East powers, are going to occupy the middle of the league standings. Seton Hall, South Florida, St. John’s, Cincinnati and DePaul, teams that have been consistently at the bottom of the league, also look to be middle of the pack teams.  Does that make it a better league?

Player of the Week: Greg Monroe, Georgetown. Monroe carried the Hoyas to a 2-0 week against top 25 teams. On Tuesday against Butler, he went for 24 points and grabbed 15 boards while dominating in the paint. On Saturday against Washington, Monroe was much more of a distributor, as he went for 15 points, 8 boards, and 6 assists while orchestrating the Hoya offense. The most impressive part of his week was that he was seamlessly able to move between the roles of being a dominant post presence and being a a guy that the Hoyas can run their intricate offense through. While I still believe he needs to be assertive in the post for Georgetown to reach their potential, his versatility makes you realize just how good of a basketball player he actually is.

Honor Roll

  • Jamel Jackson, Seton Hall – Jackson scored 40 points and hit 12 threes off the bench in a 134-107 win over VMI.
  • Kevin Jones, West Virginia – Keep an eye on this kid. He averaged 19 ppg and 10 rpg in a 2-0 week for the Mountaineers, grabbing 15 offensive rebounds.
  • Tim Abromaitis, Notre Dame – Fresh off of a 31 point performance, Abromaitis averaged 20.5 ppg in a 1-1 week for the Irish. His ability to shoot, score, and take prressure off of Harangody will be a huge factor in the Irish success this season. Full disclosure – I’m biased, Abro is a product of the same AAU program as me.

Team of the Week: Syracuse Orange.

Syracuse gets the nod thanks to their win over Florida in the SEC/Big East challenge in a game played in Tampa. What can I say about the Orange that hasn’t already been said too many times? Their ability to create points off of turnovers is astounding for a zone team, they can shoot, they are big, and they have a star in Wes Johnson. The Orange are arguably the best team in the East.


1. Syracuse

Last Week: 12/10 vs. Florida 85-73; 12/13 vs. St. Francis NY 75-51

Next Week: 12/19 vs. St. Bonaventure

See above.

2. West Virginia

Last Week: 12/9 vs. Duquesne 68-39; 12/12 vs. Coppin State 69-43

Next Week: 12/19 @ Cleveland State

The Mountaineers just keep rolling along, as they have been playing suffocating defense, overwhelming smaller, less physical teams. If there has been a knock on WVU this year, it is that they are not the most efficient offensive team. That could change once Devin Ebanks starts playing better. As I mentioned above, Kevin Jones might be the most pleasant surprise in the league this side of Abromaitis.

3. Georgetown

Last Week: 12/8 vs. Butler 73-65; 12/12 vs. Washington 74-66

Next Week: 12/19 vs. Old Dominion

I’m not completely sold on the Hoyas yet, but you can’t argue with their performance thus far. In depth analysis here.

4. Villanova

Last Week: 12/9 @ St. Joe’s 97-89; 12/13 @ Temple 65-75

Next Week: 12/19 @ Fordham

While you never want to lose a game, dropping a game on the road against a Big 5 rival is not the worst loss in the world. As you should know, you can throw the records out when rivals play, and it also serves to note that Temple is not a terrible team this season. They were a Greg Monroe layup away from winning at Georgetown. Two things to be concerned about: Nova allowed 53 combined points from Juan Fernandez and Ryan Brooks, and Antonio Pena was out played (especially on the glass) by Lavoy Allen, who had 17 rebounds.

5. UConn

Last Week: 12/9 vs. Kentucky 61-64

Next Week: 12/20 vs. Central Florida; 12/22 vs. Maine

Tough to knock the Huskies after their loss to Kentucky. UConn is going to be up and down all season. Their success is going to be a result of their effort. When this team is hustling defensively, crashing the boards, and attacking in transition, they are going to be able to compete with anyone in the league. But when they get pushed around inside like they did against Duke, UConn will look like a NIT team.

6. Cincinnati

Last Week: 12/10 vs. Miami OH 63-59; 12/13 @ Xavier 79-83; 12/16 vs. UAB 64-47

Next Week: 12/19 vs. Lipscomb; 12/22 vs. Winthrop

Like Villanova, take the loss at Xavier with a grain of salt. Losing a double overtime dogfight on the road against your rival isn’t a bad loss. The bigger worry should be the Bearcats offensively. Cincy can bang inside with anyone in the country, and they really have embodied their coach by playing intense defense, but until they become a more efficient offensive team and figure out how to utilize talents like Lance Stephenson, Deonta Vaughn and Yancy Gates, they are going to suffer some losses like this.

7. Seton Hall

Last Week: 12/12 vs. VMI 134-107

Next Week: 12/19 vs. Temple; 12/22 vs. Navy

Its pretty obvious that the Pirates are going to be able to score with just about anyone, but how well they defend this year is going to be the determining factor in where they end up this season. This team has so much talent. You should know about guys like Eugene Harvey and Jeremy Hazell and Herb Pope, but how many teams in the country have a guy like Jamel Jackson on the bench, capable of scoring 40 in a game? Seton Hall will finally play at full strength when Keon Lawrence returns Dec. 19th.

8. St. John’s

Last Week: 12/9 vs. Georgia 66-56; 12/13 vs. Fordham 73-56

Next Week: 12/20 vs. Hofstra

DJ Kennedy is one of the most underrated players in the league, and have quite a few talented role players. When SJU finally gets Anthony Mason back (and that could be a few more weeks), this may be a team that can make the tournament.

9. Louisville

Last Week: 12/12 vs. Western Carolina 83-91; 12/16 vs. Oral Roberts 94-57

Next Week: 12/19 vs. Western Kentucky

Simply put, Louisville just isn’t playing well. Jerry Smith isn’t hitting threes, Terrence Jennings isn’t playing defense, and Samardo Samuels isn’t rebounding. Typical early season swoon for Louisville?

10. Pitt

Last Week: 12/12 vs. Kent State 71-59

Next Week: 12/19 vs. Mt. St. Mary’s

This isn’t your typical Pitt team, but getting Jermaine Dixon healthy and Gilbert Brown eligible will help this team get better offensively.

11. Marquette

Last Week: 12/12 @ Wisconsin 63-72

Next Week: 12/19 vs. North Florida

Marquette has now lost three of four before losing Jeronne Maymon, who left the team. Could that cost them Vander Blue as well? I’m not sure that the mismatches on the offensive end for Lazar Hayward and Jimmy Butler outweigh their ovewhelming lack of interior size.

12. Notre Dame

Last Week: 12/9 vs. IUPUI 93-70; 12/12 vs. Loyola D 85-87

Next Week: 12/19 vs. UCLA, 12/22 vs. Bucknell

Tim Abromaitis and Ben Hansbrough have been nice complimentary players for the Irish, but this group still needs to get better defensively on in the paint.

13. South Florida

Last Week: 12/12 vs. Central Michigan 56-59; 12/16 vs. Central Florida 69-65

Next Week: 12/19 vs. San Francisco; 12/20 vs. San Diego

I wonder how much the NCAA investigation (if there actually is one) will effect this team, that could get a boost from the return of PG Anthony Crater.

14. DePaul

Last Week: 12/10 vs. Mississippi State 45-76; 12/13 vs. Illinois Chicago 77-56; 12/16 vs. American 57-62

Next Week: 12/19 vs. Texas State

DePaul came back to earth when they played MSU. They really need to get Mac Kowshal back.

15. Rutgers

Last Week: 12/9 vs. Monmouth 66-52; 12/15 vs. Rider 80-70 OT

Next Week: 12/19 vs. NJIT; 12/22 vs. St. Peter’s

The Scarlet Knights may end up dropping down these rankings in the coming weeks as second leading scorer Gregory Echinique is out for eight weeks with an eye injury.

16. Providence

Last Week: 12/9 @ George Washington 110-97; 12/12 vs. Iona 73-82

Next Week: 12/21 vs. Yale

With guys like Greedy Peterson, Marshon Brooks and Sharaud Curry, the Friars can put up points. But defense and depth is going to be an issue all season long.

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A Shootout To Remember

Posted by jstevrtc on December 14th, 2009

This fall I’ve had the pleasure to travel around a little and attend several college basketball games as a media member, but as I walked by the loading docks and into the back of the Cintas Center on Sunday night, I felt it as soon as I got inside.  I’ve attended Xavier basketball games on a media credential in the past, but this time, the buzz, the sounds, the aura…

This was different.

I had expected a different experience, because this was my first Crosstown Shootout.  But this was beyond expectation.  I made a quick detour through the media room and, without being asked, one of the very helpful Xavier Sports Info workers showed me to my seat.  I was positioned just around the corner from the Cincinnati bench, a short bounce pass away from UC head coach Mick Cronin, himself.  If you’re familiar with the Cintas Center setup, you’ve probably already realized — I was right in front of the Xavier student section. 

Total.  Freaking.  Mayhem.

Now, that period-after-every-word emphasis thing you see above is an overused tool by everyone ranging from amateur tweeters (myself included) to professional sportswriters (myself not included), and it’s losing a little luster.  I use it here because…well, if I had to use it once in my life to get a point across, this is when I would choose to use it.  As I said, I’ve been to a number of games in this part of the country this season.  The only way I can think to describe this particular student section on this night is…”beautifully ridiculous.”  I turned around, saw their painted faces and myriad noise-producing implements, heard the unbelievable roar that flowed from them, and I honestly thought I’d see Mel Gibson as William Wallace riding around in front of them on a horse.  They were both exhilarating and horrifying.  And I mean that in the best way possible.  I didn’t grow up in Cincinnati, I didn’t go to either one of these schools, and I brought no allegiance with me for either program to this game.  I was there as an observer.  But they numbered in the hundreds and sounded like thousands.  They were already putting in a legendary performance — and the game hadn’t even tipped off.

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ATB: The A-10 Rises. . .

Posted by nvr1983 on December 13th, 2009

In our first college football-free weekend of the season (except for Mark Ingram’s Heisman and ESPN’s phenomenal documentary on “The U”) we had quite a few interesting story lines from the weekend, but one stood out on Sunday — the pair of upset victories by Atlantic 10 teams over highly ranked Big East teams in crosstown rivalry games (Temple against Villanova and Xavier against Cincinnati). Not only does it give those individual programs some bragging rights and a much needed boost on the recruiting trail, but it also gives a huge lift to the national perception of the Atlantic 10 and might cause some consternation amongst the Big East fans who like to promote their conference as the best in the nation for college basketball.

A great night for Xavier and the A-10 (Credit: AP/David Kohl)

A great night for Xavier and the A-10 (Credit: AP/David Kohl)

The A-10 Rising

  • Xavier 78, #19 Cincinnati 75 (2 OT). This might not be as shocking to the rest of the nation, but it might go down as the game of the year so far. It had a little bit of everything you could ask for in a game at this point of the season. Bitter rivalry? Check. Physical play? Check. Biting fan chants? Check (Brian Kelly). Big comeback? Check. Buzzer beater? Check (later waved off). National TV audience? Not so much thanks to ESPNU’s sparse national penetration, but RTC Live was there. In the end it was Terrell Holloway‘s 26 points and Jason Love‘s 19 rebounds that were the difference as the Musketeers overcame 22 points from Lance Stephenson in a game where neither team led by more than 4 points during the last 19 minutes of the game and that was only after the Bearcats fouled Xavier in an attempt to get the ball back when Dion Dixon missed a 3-point attempt that could have tied the game with 21 seconds left in the second overtime.  To get a really good feel as to how intense this game was, definitely read our accounting from RTC Live above and check the highlight package below.
  • Temple 75, #3 Villanova 65: The Owls used an 11-0 run to start the 2nd half to overcome a 6-point deficit at halftime to knock off the Wildcats. The story of the game was Juan Fernandez who scored 33 points including 7 of 9 from 3-point range to knock off the highest ranked Big East team coming into the weekend. While the casual basketball fan will consider this a huge upset, those of us who follow college basketball closely knew that this would be a tough game for Jay Wright‘s crew against a team that had only lost by one to Georgetown (still undefeated) and St. John’s (only one loss by nine against Duke). The Wildcats managed to keep it relatively close with 23 from Scottie Reynolds, 16 from Antonio Pena, and 14 from Corey Fisher, but in the end it wasn’t enough to overcome Fernandez, 20 points from Ryan Brooks, and 10 points and 17 rebounds from Lavoy Allen. The loss was just the 2nd loss for Villanova in their last 23 games against one of their Big 5 rivals. After the victory, the fans began chanting, “We want Kansas!” in reference to their upcoming game on January 2nd. We love what the Owls have done so far this season, but the student body might want to be careful what they wish for because they might just get it. One bright spot for Villanova fans: Reggie Redding (think he might have been helpful against Allen today?) will return to action against Fordham on Saturday in his first action since he was suspended ten games for his arrest for possession of marijuana and other drug paraphernalia.

In other action…

Saturday’s Games.

  • #1 Kansas 90, La Salle 65: The Jayhawks were able to overcame an off-night from Sherron Collins (1/12 FG) thanks to a season-high 31 points from Xavier Henry (the last KU freshman to score 30 points in a game was some guy named Paul Pierce) and a 12-point, 12-rebound effort from Markieff Morris. Cole Aldrich added 19 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 blocks while Tyshawn Taylor had 10 points and 6 assists with no turnovers. The Jayhawks’ next two games should be a bit more competitive as they face a pair of teams—Michigan (12/19) and California (12/22)—that have failed to live up to preseason expectations, but both have a lot of talent.

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RTC Live: Cincinnati @ Xavier

Posted by rtmsf on December 13th, 2009


For just about any college basketball fan, It’s one of those games that you find on the schedule and immediately circle.  If you’re from the Cincinnati area and you’ve got a dog in this fight, then it’s even more important.  Since the 1927-28 season, these two teams have come together every year in a tradition known as — say it with me — the Crosstown Shootout.  Cincinnati owns a 47-29 lead but Xavier has won seven of the last ten.  Jordan Crawford and Jason Love battle in the hopes of getting Xavier into the Top 25 and increase their role on the national stage, while Lance Stephenson, Yancy Gates, and Cashmere Wright try to move the Bearcats up the polls now that they’re back on the scene.  There’s no love lost between these two programs and this is certainly a game both of these teams would love to have on the tournament resume.  We’ll be there starting at 6:45 pm ET, so tune in the game and join us as well!

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Checking In On… The Big East

Posted by jstevrtc on December 2nd, 2009


Rob Dauster of Ballin’ Is A Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference.

Despite the holiday, loyal readers of RTC may have noticed something missing last week.

Where was Checking in on the Big East?  Without BIAH waxing poetic about the happenings within the nation’s biggest conference, how were you able function?

For that, I must apologize.  But, you see, it wasn’t all my fault.  For starters, the editors at RTC are ruthless.  Not only did they have me traveling up and down the eastern seaboard during the busiest travel weekend of the year, they forced me to cover the semifinals and finals of the Preseason NIT for RTC Live.

Brutal, those guys.  I guess that’s why they pay me the big bucks.

Anyway, I probably could have found the time to put together a recap for you, but apparently grandmas don’t realize that having dial-up isn’t the same as having the internet.  Old folks, you gotta love ’em.  She made me a mean Thanksgiving leftover sandwich as a peace offering.  She’s not all bad, that one.  I forgave her, just like I hope you all will forgive me.

Back to the point, since we have a lot to go over, and seeing as the first few weeks of the college hoops season are a bit hectic, the structure of this post is going to be a bit different than future posts.  But never fear, as your trusty Big East expert is here to guide you through it.  So tuck the children in, strap on your seat belts, and, well, you tell them, B.B…

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ATB: Karl Hess Isn’t Invited to Our Thanksgiving Dinner Either

Posted by rtmsf on November 26th, 2009


Sean McDonough Rips Karl Hess.  Rarely will you hear an announcer publically call out an NCAA basketball official by name for a terrible call, but during the second half of the Vanderbilt-Arizona game tonight in the Maui Invitational, ESPN play-by-play man Sean McDonough ripped Karl Hess a new one for calling a bizarre quick-trigger technical foul on Arizona coach Sean Miller for protesting a cheapie on one of his players.  Another blog gives a much more detailed take than we will here, and we’re not really buying the gambling angle they suggest, but McDonough’s comments were without question incendiary and had us thinking that he might even face some sort of internal administrative censure for going after Hess so vigorously.  McDonough’s specific comments were that:

Karl Hess, he was involved in the 54-foul game the other night, and he’s one of these officials, unfortunately, who always finds a way, it seems, to be at the center of the action.  You don’t come here to watch him officiate, but more often than not, he finds himself at the center of attention.  And here he goes again over the scorer’s table to try to sort something out…

We found a video of the situation and posted it below — the relevant parts begin after the 2:00 mark, but there are comments throughout leading up to it.

OT Exotica.  We head into the Thanksgiving holiday weekend with a couple of nice overtime battles in exotic locations for tournament titles.  Both were unexpected for completely different reasons.

  • #5 Kentucky 73, Stanford 65 (OT).  Even with Kentucky’s apparent growing pains in terms of defense and turnovers, nobody could have predicted that a team picked tenth in the Pac-10 that already has losses to San Diego and Oral Roberts would be able to hang with John Calipari’s stable of Wildcat stars  in the finals of the Cancun Challenge — even for a half.  Yet there was Johnny Dawkins’ Cardinal with a chance to seal the game away at the line as Jarrett Mann stepped to shoot two with under fifteen seconds remaining.  Problem is… and we see this with struggling teams all the time, Mann missed both.  That gave Kentucky wunderkind John Wall (23/4/5 assts) just enough of an opportunity to slice through the Stanford pressure to get into the lane for a foul and two free throws (which he nailed) with 2.4 seconds left.  This clutch performance came on the heels of another Kobe-style icewater jumper from the right side with thirty seconds left that had tied the game at 61-all.  In the overtime period, Stanford predictably fell apart and Kentucky’s other star freshman guard Eric Bledsoe hit a dagger three to salt the game away with 33 seconds to go.  The Cardinal should be proud of its performance, especially Landry Fields (23/13/3 assts/4 stls), who often appeared to be the best player on the court in this game (yes, just a mirage), but it’s now exceptionally clear that all the squawking Calipari has been doing about how far his team has to go is truth-speak.  The talent for this team to become something special is there, but it’s also painfully obvious that his Cats often rely on God-given abilities (especially on offense) rather than an actual understanding of strategy or the sets.  Decisionmaking by some players, especially DeMarcus Cousins, is also troubling in their naivete and youthful indiscretion.  For example, back to back horrendous decisions by Cousins late in the game to shoot a three (not his shot) and later to purposefully miss a FT attempt in a misguided attempt to get his own rebound only to foul Stanford in the process, exhibits these characteristics.  Kentucky has a chance to be very, very good, and when you have a release valve player like John Wall to cover up mistakes, that can go a long way, but there’s no doubt that UK has a lot of work ahead of it to reach its goals this season.
  • Gonzaga 61, Cincinnati 59 (OT).  The other really good game tonight was in the Maui Invitational finals, where those plucky little Zags from Spokane once again proved to the world that we should never take them lightly regardless of who they lose from year to year.  Mark Few’s team won its first Maui Invitational title behind a balanced scoring effort among its starters — Robert Sacre (14/5), Elias Harris (13/7), Steven Gray (13/7/4 assts), and Demetri Goodson (12/2).  The Zags’ supposed best player, Matt Bouldin, contributed the least offensively (6/11 on 1-7 FGs), yet the others stepped up and held off a very athletic and gritty Cincinnati team that looks nothing like the disaster that Mick Cronin inherited there a few years ago.  The Bearcats’ starting five is extremely athletic and talented, and nobody is going to want to face this team as it continues to develop together (remember, Lance Stephenson is brand new and Cashmere Wright is essentially so).  We were already high on Cincy but now we’re even moreso.  One tiny complaint, though.  When Cashmere Wright decides to take the game into his own hands as he did on the final drive in regulation, Born Ready needs to be ready to get to the rim for the putback and not stand around at the three-point line pouting that he didn’t get the ball.  Just sayin’…

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