Season In Review: Villanova Wildcats

Posted by mlemaire on May 6th, 2013

After an incredibly disappointing 13-19 finish to last season, coach Jay Wright was starting to hear murmurs of discontent from a Wildcats’ fan base that had watched their team slowly fade into obscurity following a 2009 run to the Final Four. Entering this season the pressure was on Wright to prove that he could get the program headed in the right direction again, and he rose to the challenge… barely. The Wildcats finished 20-14 on the season and 10-8 in conference play, which was good enough to slot them eighth, but they made the NCAA Tournament on the backs of three wins over the conference’s three best teams — Louisville, Georgetown, and Syracuse — and there was still plenty to be concerned about in Nova Nation. They will be looking to take another step forward next season, but first let’s take a trip back and review Villanova’s 2012-13 season.

Preseason Expectations

Coming off that ugly season and losing their two best offensive players — Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek — the Wildcats were not expected to make a lot of noise this year. Both the coaches in the conference and our writers here at the microsite pegged Villanova as the 12th-best team in the Big East because of question marks about where the offense would come from and how quickly the new faces would get adjusted. Most who followed college basketball knew that the Wildcats had more veteran talent than some of the other squads ranked ahead of them, but after watching them falter with much of the same talent the year before, it was tough to believe that Villanova was capable of finishing in the top half of the conference.

Freshman Guard Ryan Arcidiacono Was Instrumental In Getting Villanova Back To The NCAA Tournament (U.S. Presswire)

Freshman Guard Ryan Arcidiacono Was Instrumental In Getting Villanova Back To The NCAA Tournament (U.S. Presswire)

The Good

There were plenty of positives for both individuals on the Villanova roster and the team itself, but if we were ranking them in order of their importance, the two-game stretch where they beat Louisville and then Syracuse in late January basically saved the Wildcats’ season. They had lost three straight conference games heading into that brutal stretch, and even though they were both home wins, they were still crucial to making ‘Nova believe they could hang with anyone. The team itself had its good pieces and its bad ones. The defense ranked in the top 30 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency and the offense got a boost from the fact that the Wildcats were the very best in the country when it came to free throw to field goal ratio. Wright also knew that certain players would need to step up if the Wildcats were going to be a factor this season, and luckily some players rose to the occasion. Senior center Mouphtaou Yarou (9.9 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 47.8%FG) capped a solid career on the Main Line with a dependable senior campaign, improving his free-throw shooting by nearly 10 percentage points and crashing the boards even harder in conference play (9.7 RPG). It took sophomore JayVaughn Pinkston (13.3 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 46.6 FG%) half a season to find his footing,  but once he did, he consistently scored in double figures and became a match-up nightmare for opposing teams. Freshman point guard Ryan Arciadiacono (11.9 PPG, 3.5 APG, 34.3% FG) averaged 34 minutes per game and proved he was more than capable of being a Big East point guard.

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Tipping Off The Big East Countdown: #12 Villanova

Posted by Dan Lyons on October 17th, 2012

Once among the most consistent programs in the Big East, Villanova seems to be stuck in a rut.  After an incredibly disappointing 2011-12, which led to the first NCAA Tournament miss for the Wildcats since 2003-04 and a year without any postseason berth since Steve Lappas’ 1997-98 team.  To top things off, Jay Wright lost his two top scorers from last season, and will have to choose between a transfer and a true freshman to run the point for the Wildcats this year.  The Wildcats hope to be one of the Big East’s most surprising teams, but it will have to have everything click right if the Wildcats expect a top-half finish in the conference.

2011-12 Record: 13-19, 5-13

2011-12 Postseason: None

Villanova missed the post-season for the first time in Jay Wright’s tenure in 2011-12. How will the Wildcats rebound this season?

Schedule

After a scrimmage with Carleton University, Villanova opens the regular season with Division II District of Columbia, as a part of the 2K Sports Classic.  The Wildcats host Marshall two nights later before departing to New York for the 2K Classic’s main event.  In the semifinals, Villanova takes on Purdue, followed by the winner of Alabama and Oregon State. Later in the non-conference slate, Villanova travels down to Nashville for a tough road game against Vanderbilt before returning to Philadelphia for Big 5 games against Temple, Penn, and St. Joe’s. In the Big East, Villanova has home-and-home series with Syracuse, USF, Providence, and Pittsburgh.

Who’s In

Two new players should battle it out for the starting point guard spot, as both true freshman Ryan Arcidiacono and junior Wake Forest transfer Tony Chennault look to contribute right away.  Chennault received a hardship waiver from the NCAA and is eligible to play this year after averaging nine points and three assists as the starting point guard for the Demon Deacons. The Wildcats also add 6’10” freshman Daniel Ochefu, who should add some much needed beef inside for the oft-undersized squad, as well as Croatian guard Mislav Brzoja, who is a strong perimeter shooter.

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Big East Summer Capsules: Villanova Wildcats

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 Villanova.

1. Bidding adieu to Kennedy and saying hello to Chennault.

The Wildcats made two important changes to their roster this summer. The first was officially saying goodbye to sophomore center Markus Kennedy who announced he would transfer, then reportedly reconsidered the decision, then ended up transferring after all. The second was welcoming former Wake Forest point guard Tony Chennault into the fold – the Wildcats also added former Rice guard Dylan Ennis, but he will have to sit out a year before making his Villanova debut. Kennedy showed some promise as a freshman last season, but he expected to be buried on the depth chart and decided to transfer to SMU. The Wildcats will miss the depth, but he wasn’t expected to make much of an impact this season anyway. The more important move is the arrival of Chennault, a Philadelphia native who received an NCAA waiver because of his mother’s health issues to play right away. Chennault averaged 9.2 PPG and 2.8 APG for the Demon Deacons before transferring and his arrival will be a huge boon for the Wildcats who lost starting guards Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek to the draft. Chennault may not become the same type of scorer Wayns was, but he should get every opportunity to start and instantly becomes the most experienced guard on the roster, so there is no doubt that Jay Wright is happy to have him.

2. Are the Wildcats starting from scratch?

Jay Wright Has His Work Cut Out For Him Rebuilding The Program

That is the question that the Philadelphia Daily News posed earlier this month in a long article and interview with ‘Nova head coach Jay Wright. Last season was an unmitigated disaster, and say what you want about Wayns and Cheek, but they would have been valuable players to have this season. There is still a lot of talent on campus and more talent coming in time for this season, but this team hardly stacks up against some of the best teams Wright has assembled in the last five years. Wright acknowledges that his team has a lot of work to do before it can again achieve the success their fans have grown accustomed to recently, but he also thinks the program has built up enough credibility that a rebound can happen quickly. It will likely depend on how quickly freshmen Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu can become impact contributors and whether or not mercurial sophomore Tyrone Johnson can make the leap and become a consistent playmaker. Down the road it will depend on whether Wright can continue to land high-profile recruits, the types that helped the Wildcats make the Elite Eight and Final Four in recent years.

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Villanova: 2011-12 Post-Mortem

Posted by mlemaire on May 2nd, 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 Villanova.

What Went Wrong

Despite the fact that two teams technically finished behind the Wildcats in the conference standings, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Villanova was the Big East’s biggest disappointment this season (apologies to Pittsburgh, you will get your turn at the table of criticism later). Although they played a number of good teams close, the Wildcats routinely blew early leads, turned the ball over with regularity, didn’t shoot well from downtown, and didn’t force many turnovers either. Of course it didn’t help that key players Maalik Wayns, James Bell, and JayVaughn Pinkston all missed time due to injuries, but the team was struggling so badly on both ends of the floor that it might not have mattered either way. The team’s key trio of Wayns, Cheek, and center Mouphtaou Yarou all improved their numbers, but none of them took the step forward that would have kept Villanova in tournament contention. Also, the freshman class was so inconsistent we are surprised Jay Wright had any hair left by the end of the season.

Jay Wright Did Plenty Of Teaching During A Trying Season (AP Photo)

What Went Right

The number one bright spot for folks on the Main Line was the emergence of Pinkston in conference play. His production tapered off in the final few games of the season, but he scored double-digit points in 12 conference games and hauled in double-digit rebounds in five conference games. He is candidate no. 1 to fill the scoring void next season left behind by some of the early defectors, and he will be a consistent double-double threat assuming he stays healthy. Although they struggled mightily at times, freshmen Tyrone Johnson, Darrun Hilliard and Markus Kennedy all got valuable experience that will serve them well in their increased roles next season. Wildcats’ fans can also take solace in the fact that six of the team’s conference losses were by four points or less, something that should change once the young team learns how to win close games.

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Big East Evening Five: 03.28.12 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on March 28th, 2012

  1. We missed yesterday, so you are getting a double dose of Big East news this morning because we feel bad. We start with the scouting report on Louisville, based on the opinions of opposing coaches, and put together by the good folks at CBS Sports. The information isn’t exactly new if you have been following the Cardinals all season. Take care of the ball against their press, try to slow down their transition attack, keep Peyton Siva out of the lane, and you will have an excellent chance of winning the game. The good news for Kentucky is, that their defense is so good, Louisville should only be able to score in transition and off of turnovers. So assuming that Marquis Teague can handle the press, and assuming Kentucky’s athletes get back and set up defensively, they should be able to handle the Cardinals with relative ease.
  2. You didn’t think we were going to make it a whole week without a borderline insane story about the fervent passion of Louisville and Kentucky fans did you? In fact, we didn’t even make it through half the week before news broke that two fans got into a fight while awaiting treatment at a dialysis center. You really can’t make this stuff up. If you want to look on the bright side, this is part of what makes college sports so awesome. It may be a wild generalization, but fans of professional sports teams don’t care half as much about their teams as these folks in the Bluegrass State. And the passion for Alabama and Auburn football is on an entirely different level. I am setting the over/under on the breaking of more crazy stories like this at two, which won’t count fallout from the outcome of the game, which is sure to bring out only the best in both team’s fan bases.
  3. In predictable and also understandable fashion, the media has jumped all over the “hated rivals” storyline. Luckily, there is only one columnist angry enough to really put perspective on the whole rivalry, and that is noted flame-fanner Gregg Doyel. His column isn’t long, and it doesn’t make any profound points, but it does succinctly sum up just how insane this game will be.
  4.  The list of Big East players headed to the NBA Draft continued to swell yesterday as Georgetown forward Hollis Thompson announced he would forgo his senior season and hire an agent. Thompson tested the waters last season before withdrawing his name and from the looks of John Thompson III‘s comments, this decision is hardly surprising. The real question is whether Thompson will end up drafted. I understand the move, because his stock isn’t likely to rise dramatically even if he has an excellent senior season, but right now he looks like he will need to get lucky to stick with a team. He does have the skill set and size to be an NBA small forward, but he hardly dominated collegiate competition, so how can he be expected to make an impact at the next level?
  5. Our pal Jeff Goodman over at CBS Sports has released his initial transfer list and there are some interesting names worth noting. First, the list is what alerted me to the news that Notre Dame guard Alex Dragicevich is transferring out of South Bend, a blow to Mike Brey’s program which was going to rely more heavily on his outside shooting next season. The list also reminded me of one of the more interesting Final Four storylines and that is that Louisville forward Jared Swopshire already announced he won’t be back next season, but for now he is playing meaningful minutes on a team eyeing a national championship. Thanks to playing time and the scholarship numbers game, Swopshire will be looking for a new home. But for now, we are sure he is relishing the position he is in.
  6. Speaking of Goodman and transfers out of the Big East, soon after the list was published, Goodman tweeted that Providence sophomore Gerard Coleman was a likely candidate to transfer out of the program. Assuming Vincent Council stays in school and both highly touted freshman guards arrive on campus in time for next season, the Friars’ backcourt was looking awfully crowded. But if Coleman does indeed transfer, coach Ed Cooley loses quite the luxury. Coleman’s play tailed off in the second half of the season, but he is a quality scorer and is physical enough to give Cooley a legitimately dangerous three-guard lineup. On the other hand, his departure will open up more playing time for Ricardo Ledo and Kris Dunn, which can really only be a good thing, assuming the duo is as good as advertised.
  7. As an unabashedly biased Villanova fan, I have spent a good deal of words explaining that Wildcats’ guard Maalik Wayns would be silly to enter the NBA Draft this season, so it’s only logical that Wayns made it final recently, announcing plans to hire an agent and forgo his senior season on the Main Line. Look, players enter the draft for a litany of reasons, so saying he made a stupid decision without knowing his true reasons is rather presumptuous of me. That said, Wayns is looking like a second-round pick at best, and a great senior season probably could have given his draft stock a much-needed shot in the arm. Despite his penchant for taking terrible shots and making questionable decisions, Wayns would have been a huge help to ‘Nova’s rebuilding efforts next season, but now they will need to look elsewhere for that leadership.
  8. Not everyone in West Virginia is spitting on the Big East on their way out the door. Charleston Gazette columnist Mitch Vingle penned a letter to Big East basketball that reads like a breakup letter from a guy who is already regretting the split. He uses some personal reflections mixed with classic personalities from the conference to show plenty of awesome things about the conference and its rich basketball history. The sad thing is, the Big East will miss West Virginia too. Yes, of course they will miss their football tradition and revenue, but the Mountaineers are a quality basketball program, and no amount of SMU and Central Florida will change that. The Mountaineers made their choice, choosing money over tradition, and now so many of us will be left to cling to memories that may never happen again.
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Big East Morning Five: 03.23.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on March 23rd, 2012

  1. Remember that 1962 NCAA Tournament final when Cincinnati beat Ohio State for the second straight year to win it all?  That was awesome. (Late, great Chris Farley voice).  Thankfully for the Buckeyes, given the fact that they and Cincinnati are in state rivals, Ohio State has had plenty of chances since to avenge those two devastating losses, right?  Wrong.  Heading into last night’s Sweet Sixteen battle Cincinnati and Ohio State have only faced each other ONE time since, in a 2006 regular season game (won by Ohio State 72-50).  Let’s continue to break all the rules and ask yet another question…What’s up with that?  These schools should be playing on some type of regular basis in basketball, and football for that matter (or Matta if you are from New England, or just trying unsuccessfully to be funny). Fortunately it appears there is still plenty of rivalry in this non-rivalry as Cincinnati fans chafe at the idea that Ohio State will not schedule the Bearcats. Buckeye supporters have their beef too.  They blame Bob Huggins, who at the time was Cincinnati’s head coach, for leaking possible recruiting violations by the Buckeyes to the NCAA in 1993.  The kicker there is the player in question with regard to those violations, Damon Flint, wound up going to Cincinnati.
  2. If there remained any “Syracuse cannot survive in the NCAA tournament without Fab Melo” talk leading into last night’s game versus Wisconsin, it simply had to stop once the Orange survived and advanced to the Elite Eight with a 64-63 win over the Badgers.  Jim Boeheim and his team have played virtually the entire season in the face of some form of adversity and all they have done is gone 34-2 and sit three wins away from a national title.  It has been said all year that Syracuse is the deepest team in the country and this has proven true in the tournament.  Certainly Melo was a big key, especially on the defensive end, but Boeheim has so much talent that making tactical adjustments and shortening the rotation has not resulted in a meaningful decline when it comes to stopping opponents.  Small sample size notwithstanding, Syracuse is giving up just two more points per game in NCAA tournament games (62.3) versus all other games (60.4).  Ironically they are scoring 4.3 fewer points per game (74.6 versus 70.3).  However points per possession numbers are up on both ends, indicating an effort to slow the game down to accommodate for Melo’s loss.
  3. As has been widely publicized, per current NCAA Academic Progress Rate (APR) standards, Connecticut is not eligible for next year’s NCAA tournament.  The school was hoping what could be the last stage of its appeal process would be decided upon next month but it was reported yesterday they may have to wait until July.  Connecticut has already lost an NCAA appeal on the matter and has since taken its case to the NCAA’s Committee on Academic Performance. Based on rule changes instituted last year, a two-year average APR of 930 is needed to retain NCAA tournament eligibility based on APRs for the 2009-10 and 2010-11 academic years.  Connecticut has no chance of meeting the current standard based on their 2009-10 score of 826, and their final appeal is based on the argument that the starting point for the average should be the 2010-11 year so that score could be thrown out.  The CAP will meet next month but its chairman, Walter Harrison, indicated there may not be enough time to resolve the matter April so it could spill over into July when the committee next meets. In a related note, Alex Oriakhi, who decided to transfer from Connecticut because of the NCAA sanctions, would have to sit out a year should the Huskies win their appeal and become eligible for next year’s tournament.
  4. Speaking of transfers, Rutgers announced that Gilvydas Biruta will be transferring.  The 6’8” sophomore was a steady contributor for the Scarlet Knights, averaging 9.7 points and 5.5 rebounds per game over his two years in Piscataway.  He started all but one game during that time and averaged 23.5 minutes per contest.  Biruta’s motivation for transferring and his next destination are not known.  This move comes as a bit of a surprise.  Rutgers has a very young team and presumably Biruta would have continued to command significant playing time as well as presumably assume a leadership role on the team should he have desired one.
  5. Villanova announced yesterday that Maalik Wayns definitely will not return for his senior season as he will pursue an NBA career. Wayns had previously announced his intentions to test the NBA waters and although those close to the Wildcat program believed the move to be permanent, the 6’2” point guard initially left the door open for a return to school by saying he would not hire an agent. Wayns led the Wildcats in scoring and assists (17.6 PPG, 4.6 APG) and was named to the All-Big East second team this season. He is currently not projected to be a first round pick in the NBA draft.
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Morning Five: 03.22.12 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 22nd, 2012

  1. This time the courtship did not last long as Shaka Smart announced yesterday that he would not become the next coach at Illinois and would remain the head coach at VCU. While Smart did not rule out moving on to another job we cannot imagine another opening much better than Illinois, which frankly is an overrated position, coming open during the offseason. Now Illinois will have to move onto another candidate. Two of the more interesting candidates we have heard mentioned are Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton and Duke assistant Chris Collins.
  2. If you watched Iowa State‘s brief NCAA Tournament appearance, Royce White‘s announcement that he will be entering the NBA Draft and hiring an agent should not be a surprise. Despite dealing with well-chronicled psychiatric problems, White emerged as a potential lottery pick who more than stood his own against four likely top ten picks in the first two rounds. We assume that with the millions invested in White by a NBA team they will also spend the requisite money to ensure that he continues to get the medical attention that he needs.
  3. The exodus may have started in Storrs where Alex Oriakhi announced yesterday that he will be transferring from Connecticut. Oriakhi, who struggled through much of the season after seeing his playing time cut drastically with the late arrival of Andre Drummond, had voiced his displeasure with how things were handled in Storrs earlier in the season. Now he will be looking for a new place to complete his college career. Oriakhi, who has one year of eligibility remaining, could be available to play next year if Connecticut’s NCAA Tournament ban is upheld, but would have to sit out a year if they are eligible to participate.
  4. After a brief hiatus while preparing for the opening week of the NCAA Tournament, Luke Winn is back with his weekly power rankings. As you might expect Winn’s analysis is more focused for the Sweet Sixteen with a look at how they match up with their opponent. The one figure that might be the most noteworthy is his analysis of fouls against Cody Zeller and Anthony Davis, which is particularly relevant because Indiana‘s 74-73 win is one of the few games this year where Davis was in foul trouble.
  5. According to reports Villanova junior Maalik Wayns will sign with an agent. When Wayns declared last week without signing with an agent we barely paid attention because we assumed that Wayns would learn that he was by no means guaranteed a spot on a NBA roster. While we cannot comment fully on the situation because we do not know if Wayns has an urgent financial/family reason for turning pro, but if he does not then all we can say is that it is a really bad decision.
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Big East Morning Five: 03.20.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on March 20th, 2012

  1. St. John’s freshman and reigning Big East Rookie of the Year Moe Harkless confirmed speculation and announced yesterday in a press conference held at Madison Square Garden that he will be leaving the Red Storm for the NBA. “It has been my lifelong dream to play in the NBA and I am excited to have that opportunity to make the jump,” said Harkless.  He also confirmed that he will hire an agent, which would prevent him from returning to school.  The 6’8” forward is currently projected as a mid-to-late first round pick.  Certainly his status can, and likely will, change as other early entrants make themselves eligible and overseas names emerge but should Harkless be selected in the first round he would be guaranteed an NBA contract.
  2. Moe Harkless’ declaration to turn pro made him the second Big East player to do so thus far, following Villanova’s Maalik Wayns who made his intentions known last week, but, unlike Harkless, he does not plan on retaining an agent. Players with early draft entry on their minds have until 11:59 pm ET on April 29 to decide and CBSSports.com has come up with a watch list of those most likely to be considering the move.  While this appears to be a link to Kentucky’s roster, if you look close enough among those cited you will see Connecticut’s Andre Drummond and Jeremy Lamb as well. While Drummond could use a bit more seasoning and Lamb’s stock has perhaps dropped some, with Connecticut currently banned from next year’s NCAA Tournament due to Academic Performance Rating (APR) issues, it feels like a foregone conclusion that they will both opt for the NBA.  However, if NCAA Tournament eligibility is a deciding factor, Drummond and Lamb may hold off on a decision until the last minute given Connecticut has an appeal in progress on which a ruling could come during April. The other apparent no-brainer on the list when it comes to Big East players is Syracuse’s Fab Melo.  On the heels of the academic ineligibility ruling that has forced Melo to sit out this year’s NCAA Tournament, it has been widely speculated that his Syracuse days are over. Melo’s Syracuse teammate Dion Waiters is the only other Big East player on the watch list.
  3. And then there were three.  Nerlens Noel, the number one prospect in the class of 2012, has narrowed his college choices to Kentucky, Syracuse and Georgetown. North Carolina and Connecticut are the latest schools to be cut.  Noel was scheduled to visit Tar Heel country this week but has since canceled. As for Noel’s interactions with the three finalists, the shot-blocking center took an official visit to Georgetown last week, was scheduled to have an in-home visit with Kentucky yesterday, and another with Syracuse tomorrow. A decision could come shortly thereafter as Noel’s official reclassification to the class of 2012, which had been pending, is now complete.
  4. They say success breeds success. Well Cincinnati is sitting pretty in the Sweet Sixteen and just picked up a commitment yesterday from junior college star Titus Rubles.  Rubles, a slashing 6’8” forward from Blinn Community College in Texas, averaged 16.0 points and 10.0 rebounds for the Buccaneers. This commitment does not come as much of a surprise to those who either follow the Bearcats closely or know how to operate Twitter, as Rubles’ Twitter handle is a somewhat revealing “@bearcatbound.” Even with Rubles in the fold, Cincinnati remains in hot pursuit of center Chris Obekpa, arguably the most sought-after recruit among Big East schools as he is also garnering significant interest from Connecticut, DePaul, Providence, Seton Hall and St. John’s.
  5. Speaking of Cincinnati, the Bearcats have certainly come quite far from what appeared to be a season on the brink following an embarrassing November loss to Presbyterian and that ugly brawl-marred loss to Xavier which led to multiple suspension.  As we wrote at the start of the season, Cincinnati carried with it perhaps the highest increase in expectations among Big East squads as the Bearcats returned their top four scorers from a 26-9 team that made it to the third round of last year’s NCAA Tournament. Playing through the suspensions seemed to unlock some individual potential and lineup combinations that may have otherwise been left untapped as head coach Mick Cronin has rallied his troops to another 26 wins and at least a round further in the Big Dance than last year to this point.
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Big East Morning Five: 03.15.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on March 15th, 2012

  1. Villanova junior point guard Maalik Wayns will test the professional waters and declare himself eligible for the 2012 NBA Draft. Wayns will not hire an agent and therefore could pull his name out of the draft and return for his final collegiate season. That decision would need to take place by April 10. Sources told the Philadelphia Inquirer that while Wayns not projected to be a first round NBA pick, and therefore not in line for guaranteed money, there is a strong chance he will remain draft eligible, even if it means not getting drafted and playing professionally overseas next year. Wayns led the Wildcats in scoring and assists (17.6 PPG, 4.6 APG) and was named to the All-Big East second team this season.
  2. This was reported earlier in the week, but not widely so we thought it was worthy of a mention here. Another star junior point guard, Providence’s Vincent Council is considering entering the NBA Draft. Council, a third team All-Big East selection this year, has led the conference in assists the past two seasons. Academic issues are rumored to be the main driver behind Council’s potential departure as he currently does not project as an NBA draftee and figures prominently in Ed Cooley’s plans for next season should it return. Perhaps also playing a part in the decision is the pending arrival of Friar signee, and McDonald’s All-America point guard Kris Dunn. However conventional wisdom says Council would relish the opportunity to play with Dunn as they both possess off-the-ball skills and could excel in a backcourt that would also include another star recruit in Ricardo Ledo to go with veterans Bryce Cotton and Gerard Coleman.
  3. Even with the NCAA tournament upon us, all things Nerlens Noel remain a major topic of discussion. Noel’s process continues with a visit to North Carolina next week but many are wondering if the possible departure of Syracuse center Fab Melo for the NBA is moving the Orange up in Noel’s pecking order. When ESPN anchor, and Syracuse alum, Ryan Burr sent a Tweet on Monday encouraging Noel to fill the Melo void it raised questions around improper contact with a recruit. If Burr, who has since deleted the Tweet, is defined as a Syracuse booster his Twitter overture could be viewed by the NCAA as impermissible contact, and could result in the university being penalized.  Should the NCAA venture into social media it may be biting off more than it can chew given the daunting task of trying to set parameters around regulation of that environment.  While Burr’s tweet likely does not represent a recruiting violation, it certainly showed a lack of judgment and professionalism that warrants the consideration of disciplinary action by ESPN. It should also be noted that Syracuse already has a highly touted class of 2012 center lined up for next year in Dajuan Coleman so the Orange appear to be in good shape if Melo leaves regardless of Noel’s decision.
  4. Speaking of social media,  Twitter was not the friend of Connecticut’s Alex Oriakhi earlier this season when he appeared to direct some cyber venting at head coach Jim Calhoun upon being removed from the starting lineup.  There is no question it has been a difficult year on the court for Oriakhi.  Aside from opposing centers, no one has felt the impact of Andre Drummond’s presence more than he. The junior’s minutes slipped from 29.1 a year ago to 21.4 this season and his productivity has followed suit, averaging 6.8 points and 4.8 rebounds per game this year versus 9.6 and 8.7 respectively last year. However, as this New Haven Register piece by David Borges points out, Oriakhi and Calhoun have maintained a strong relationship and Oriakhi has maintained a team-first attitude throughout. “One thing’s for sure: (Alex) loves coach Calhoun to death,” Oriakhi’s mother, Angela, told the New Haven Register. “Nobody can complain about coach Calhoun in front of him.” Further, any frustration Oriakhi has experienced as a basketball player has not translated into the classroom, nor hurt the Huskies’ much publicized Academic Performance Rating (APR). Oriakhi notched a team-high (for scholarship players) 3.6 grade-point average in the fall semester.
  5. St. John’s and head coach Steve Lavin did not qualify for post season play but they remain in action on the recruiting front.  Lavin, scored a local commitment when Our Savior New American’s (OSNA) Felix Balamou announced via Facebook he is heading to St. John’s.  Balamou, a 6’3” wing and OSNA’s leading scorer this past season on a 25-5 team, was also considering Connecticut, Oregon, Virginia Tech and West Virginia. Prior to Balamou’s commitment, Lavin stated he wanted to sign four or five more players for next season and that number could increase should star forward Moe Harkless head to the NBA after one season in Queens. Highly regarded center Chris Obekpa is high on Lavin’s wish list. Obekpa happens to be Balamou’s teammate which has led to speculation that a package deal is in the works.  However, OSNA assistant coach Eric Jaklitsch confirmed that Balamou’s and Obekpa’s decisions are independent of one another. Then to finish the night strong, Lavin landed Jakarr Sampson, who had decommitted from the school after not becoming eligible this past season.
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Morning Five: The National Holiday Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 15th, 2012

  1. We have tried to go easy on the NCAA Tournament links in our Morning Five this week, but we cannot contain ourselves any more because it is here. It is finally here. We all love every game of college basketball, but now we are literally at the win or go home stage. Obviously some people can argue that a large part of Conference Championship Week is similar particularly for smaller conferences and there was the “First Four”, which we still have a tough time acknowledging being the Internet traditionalists that we are. For those of you who are still struggling to picking through the regions, you should take a look at Pat Forde’s best case/worst case scenarios for the different regions: East, South, Midwest, and West.
  2. If you are looking for something a little more graphical, check out the work that John Ezekowitz and Luke Winn put together doing a “Survival Analysis” that looks at the results from head-to-head matchups this season and attempts to predict a champion. If you are looking for more detail on how this was created, check out John’s explanation, and if you are looking for his straightforward #1-68 ranking that is also available. Just a fair warning the latter two links are a little heavy on the statistical analysis so if you are not into that type of thing you may mind up with a headache trying to figure out what he is saying.
  3. On the surface, the decision by Western Michigan to fire Ernie Zeigler may not appear to be a big one, but it could have significant consequences for a major Division I team. As Ryan Greene points out, Ernie’s son Trey will probably choose to transfer, which could trigger a heated recruiting battle. Coming out of high school, Trey was one of the most coveted recruits in the country, but much like the McCallums he decided on a father-son pairing rather than going to a big-name program. Now with the former no longer directly available Trey has a difficult decision to make. He could stay at the school, which seems unlikely based on the tweets he has sent out (like this one, which could be interpreted several different ways). One of the more interesting possibilities is a father-son package deal. Based on Ernie’s record, 75-111 in six seasons, he probably will not get a good head coaching job right away. One thing he could get is an assistant coaching job. Perhaps one from his former boss (at both Pittsburgh and UCLA) and current UCLA coach Ben Howland, who could use some more talent in the near future. Just something to keep an eye on.
  4. We have our first significant early entry of the season as Maalik Wayns has decided put his name in the NBA Draft. Under the new rules, the Villanova junior, who did not hire an agent, has until April 10 to remove his name from consideration, which is significantly earlier than in previous year. Wayns is a nice player, but we would be shocked if he stayed in the Draft since he is at best a late second round pick and Jay Wright would be able to put him in touch with people who can give Wayns a realistic appraisal. For now, Wayns can get evaluation and feedback from NBA teams and hopefully learn things that will make him a better player as a senior. Of course, if he decides to stay in the NBA Draft…
  5. Based on a ruling yesterday by the NCAA, Durand Scott‘s season is over, but his career at Miami may not be. The junior guard, who was suspended right before the team’s ACC Tournament game against FSU, had his eligibility reinstated by the NCAA, but will have to sit out an additional five gamesm. The six-game suspension would be carried over to next season based on how many games Scott misses from Miami’s NIT appearance this season. In addition to the games he will miss, the NCAA is requiring Scott to pay back the value of the benefits he received to a charity.
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ATB: Big East Tourney Begins and Four More Teams Punch NCAA Tickets…

Posted by rtmsf on March 7th, 2012

[Ed. note: Technical difficulties last night led to late publication of this post. For that, we apologize.]

Last Night’s Lede. For some in the Northeast, the Big East Tournament is the most spectacular event in the college basketball season. The classic six overtime Connecticut-Syracuse game from the 2009 tourney was replayed last night on ESPNU and brought us all on a trip down (recent) memory lane to one of the best games of the past decade. The conference’s powerhouses will hopefully bring us some more classic moments in Madison Square Garden this week, though Tuesday night’s first round didn’t include a single close game. Elsewhere, three more NCAA Tournament bids were earned in small conference tournaments, and the Ivy League’s champion was also determined a bit earlier than expected. Let’s get into the rundown of another fun Championship Week night…

Your Watercooler Moment.  South Dakota State Finally Dances.

SDSU Celebrates Its First Ever Trip to the Dance (Summit League)

It was a shocker when top-seeded Oral Roberts fell in the semifinals of the Summit League Tournament last night to Western Illinois, and last night’s heavily favored Jackrabbits nearly suffered the same fate. WIU led for much of the night on Tuesday and had a chance to win this game in regulation but could not convert. The Leathernecks (great team name, by the way) had another chance to tie or win it in overtime down by two but again fell short, giving South Dakota State its first ever Summit League championship and NCAA Tournament berth. The Jackrabbits have a mid-major star in Nate Wolters, who averages 21.5 points, 6.1 assists, and 5.1 rebounds per game, and will look to lead SDSU to an upset victory in next week’s Big Dance. South Dakota State has a fine RPI of #55 and could actually end up as a #14 or even #13 seed, giving it a realistic chance to bust open a bracket with an upset or two. Wolters scored just 14 points on 5-22 shooting in Tuesday’s low-scoring, 52-50 affair, but the guard is capable of going for 30 in any game.

Last night’s Quick Hits…

  • Western Kentucky the Most Unlikely Bid Winner Thus Far. In early January, Western Kentucky was a 5-14 team that had just fired its head coach after one of the strangest finishes you’ll ever see to a game, in which WKU’s opponent used six players on the final possession to win the game. Interim coach/permanent coach Ray Harper is now two months later leading the Hilltoppers to the NCAA Tournament after their 74-70 win over North Texas on Tuesday night. This Sun Belt champion was the #7-seed in the tournament and will enter the NCAA’s as the sixth team in the past decade to have a record below .500, at 15-18. This resilient Western Kentucky team has gone through a wild ride and now will surely be playing early next week as part of the tournament’s ‘First Four’ games, looking to advance to take on a #1 seed. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East Wrap-Up And Postseason Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 6th, 2012

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

Conference Tournament Preview

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

Regular Season Recap

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coach of the Year

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

Player of the Year

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

All-Conference First Team

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

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

All-Conference Second Team

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

Honorable Mention

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

All-Freshmen Team

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

Defensive Player of the Year

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

Game of the Year

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

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

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

Power Rankings

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