Villanova: The Season Is Lost, But Hope Is On The Horizon

Posted by mlemaire on February 27th, 2012

Coaches often explain their team’s struggles by saying his group is “still learning to play together” all the time. And Villanova coach Jay Wright used the team’s furious comeback win over lowly Providence on February 7 as a chance to dust off the age-old coaching platitude once more. The only problem is that the season is almost over proving the Wildcats have had a more gradual learning curve than most.

Since that win over the Friars, the Wildcats have lost all four games they have played including games against Notre Dame and Connecticut in which they had a 20-point and 18-point lead respectively. Just three seasons removed from a Final Four appearance, the Wildcats now sit at 4-12 in the conference and have almost no shot at playing any postseason basketball, let alone games in the NCAA Tournament.

After Turning Villanova Into An Elite Program, Things Have Not Gone Well For Jay Wright This Season

Needless to say it has been a trying season for Wright, his team, and Wildcat fans who had grown accustomed to annual NCAA Tournament berths and the occasional Elite Eight appearance. The Wildcats were expected to struggle when they lost Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes, and Antonio Pena off last year’s squad, but Wright seemed to have amassed enough talent to make sure the decline wouldn’t be all that steep. Unfortunately, the Wildcats would miss that trio more than anyone could have imagined.

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Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 27th, 2012

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

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

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

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

Power Rankings

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

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 20th, 2012

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

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

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

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

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (27-1, 14-1) – I can hardly remember a year with zero change at the top of the league rankings. Syracuse is simply a cut above every other team in this league although Marquette and Georgetown have closed the gap a little bit over the last few weeks. Syracuse flirted with losses twice last week, but won gutty road games at Louisville and Rutgers. The Orange held Louisville without a point over the final 3:30 and won by a point despite shooting 1-15 from deep and Scoop Jardine going 0-8. Syracuse shot 34% for the game, but limited Louisville to 35%. Against Rutgers, Syracuse shot 50% and Jardine played much better (17 points, 7 assists). C.J. Fair had a stellar game, scoring 21 points and grabbing eight rebounds off the bench. Kris Joseph added 14 for the victors as they moved their overall record to 27-1. Rebounding remains a concern (31-26 Rutgers on the glass), but the Orange continue to roll along. Syracuse will battle Kentucky for the top overall seed in next month’s NCAA Tournament. This week: 2/22 vs. South Florida, 2/25 @ Connecticut. Read the rest of this entry »
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Set Your TiVo: 02.20.12

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 20th, 2012


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

One bubble team looks to stop the bleeding just by getting any kind of win while another is in search of the quality win that could put it in the NCAA Tournament. Rankings are subject to change with a new RTC Top 25 coming out today.

Connecticut @ Villanova – 7:00 PM EST on ESPN (***)

  • It is not a good time to be a Connecticut fan. Jim Calhoun is out, the team is average, the chemistry is bad, and the program is facing an NCAA Tournament ban next season. Plus the women’s team lost for the first time in 99 games at home on Saturday! Shabazz Napier called out his teammates after Saturday’s loss to Marquette, UConn’s seventh in nine games. This team’s chemistry is as sour as an expired milk carton and it will take a major turnaround for the Huskies to pull out of this tailspin. To beat Villanova, Connecticut must use its terrific interior defense to make the Wildcats take deep shots. Villanova is not a good three-point shooting team and is highly inefficient overall on the offensive end. Starters Maalik Wayns and James Bell have been injured and it’s not known if they will play. Wayns is listed as questionable while Bell is doubtful. If neither plays, there is no excuse for Connecticut not to win this game. As long as the Huskies can shut down JayVaughn Pinkston and contain Dominic Cheek, they shouldwin. Of course with a team in a situation such as UConn’s, nothing is assured.

    Jim Calhoun Will Not Be Walking Through That Door

  • Villanova blew a 20-point lead and lost in overtime to Notre Dame on Saturday night. The Wildcats played without Wayns and Bell and their first half performance should be a warning shot for UConn. The Wildcats dominated Notre Dame in the first half before folding late. If Wayns can’t go, it will be up to Pinkston and Cheek to do most of the scoring. Pinkston has improved nicely as the year has gone on and Jay Wright isn’t giving up on his team. The Wildcats put a scare into Marquette and Notre Dame while picking up a handful of wins along the way. If Cheek is hitting from the outside, that’ll open things up for Pinkston inside. Pinkston can also stretch the defense and could be able to pull Andre Drummond and Alex Oriakhi away from the rim where they are vulnerable. Connecticut doesn’t defend the triple well but Villanova doesn’t exactly shoot it well either. If the Wildcats are to win, they’re going to have to make threes.
  • This is about as unpredictable of a game as we have had all year. Connecticut is the better team, but it certainly isn’t playing like it in 2012. The wildcard in this game is Wayns. If he can give it a go, Villanova will have a very good chance to win. If not, Pinkston, Cheek and company will have to duplicate the effort they put forth in the first half of the Notre Dame game and sustain it for 40 minutes. Picking the winner of this game is anyone’s guess.
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Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 13th, 2012

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

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

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

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

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (25-1, 12-1) – The Orange dispatched their chief rivals in the Big East, Georgetown and Connecticut, in vastly different ways last week. Against the Hoyas, Syracuse needed overtime to put away a team that out-rebounded them 48-30 and slowed the pace to limit SU’s transition attack. Kris Joseph led Syracuse with a career-high 29 points and Fab Melo had six blocks as the Orange won by three in the extra session. Neither team played well, but Jim Boeheim picked up his 880th career win, moving ahead of Dean Smith and into sole possession of third place on the all-time list. Against Connecticut, the Orange broke open a close game in the second half with a 22-6 game-ending run. Syracuse shot much better (59%), including a scorching 63% from beyond the arc. Dion Waiters and C.J. Fair combined for 32 points and 16 rebounds off the bench while Scoop Jardine added 21 points on 8-of-9 shooting. It seems like Joseph is emerging as the go-to guy for this team, a question that had yet to be answered for the better part of the season. Syracuse faces a quick turnaround with a Big Monday game at Louisville, a team that has beaten them seven consecutive times. This week: 2/13 @ Louisville, 2/19 @ Rutgers. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East Morning Five: 02.10.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on February 10th, 2012

  1. The 2012 McDonald’s All-American Game rosters were announced yesterday. A prestigious honor for 24 four-year high school seniors, the event will take place on March 28 at 9:30 PM eastern at Chicago’s United Center and be televised on ESPN. The East roster will feature two Big East commits in center Dajuan Coleman who will attend Syracuse and point guard Kris Dunn who is headed to Providence. There are also five Mc-Donald’s All-Americans who have yet to make their pledge, including three who are being coveted by Big East schools. While Duke is rumored to be the favorite for Philadelphia forward Amile Jefferson, Villanova remains a strong contender and Connecticut is in the mix as well. The Huskies are also in the picture with Georgia forward Tony Parker, as is Georgetown who would also love to lock up Devonta Pollard, a forward from Mississippi.
  2. Perhaps even more astounding than Villanova’s comeback victory over Providence on Tuesday was that the Wildcats were able to climb back from a 19 point second-half deficit without their leading scorer Maalik Wayns, who was forced out of the game for good with a knee injury prior to the run. Wayns (17.8 PPG, 4.5 APG, 4.0 RPG) has been held out of practice since the game while awaiting results from an MRI he underwent on Wednesday.  Those results came back yesterday and revealed a sprained medial collateral ligament (MCL) in his left knee. Wayns’ playing status is day-to-day. Fortunately for Wayns and Villanova they do not play again until Wednesday, February 15 at South Florida, so it is possible Wayns will not miss any game action.
  3. After dropping a close overtime contest to #2 Syracuse, Georgetown received some good news yesterday when it learned that assistant coach Kenya Hunter was released from the hospital. Hunter was not able to make the trip to Syracuse as he was admitted to Georgetown University Hospital upon becoming ill and passing out after the Hoyas’ practice on Tuesday. While in the hospital Hunter underwent tests but no other information about the cause of his illness or current condition have been reported. Certainly Hunter’s release from the hospital was an encouraging sign however.
  4. We always knew Rick Pitino could recruit players, but what about programs? Pitino has been a vocal proponent of Big East stability since things went into flux as a result of conference realignment, and if you listen to Josh Pastner, head coach of newly minted Big East member Memphis, Pitino’s lobbying sealed the deal for his Tigers. “We play Louisville next year as part of a home-and-home series,” said Pastner, “I really believe Coach Pitino deserves a standing ovation when Louisville comes here because one of the main reason we got into the Big East was through Coach Pitino’s public politicking for us to get in.” Memphis represents a welcome addition to the Big East from a basketball standpoint, bringing with them a tremendous hardwood tradition and great backing as evidenced by their average attendance of 16,500 per game.
  5. Like any good recruiter Rick Pitino, despite landing his big fish in Memphis, does not rest on his laurels and continues to work. Yesterday in an interview with Jeff Goodman and Bruce Pearl on SiriusXM’s “Inside College Basketball” Pitino reiterated his desire to see Temple become the next member of the Big East. Pitino said he believes the Big East will add another school and that it should be Temple because, like Memphis, Temple is an inner-city school with football and strong basketball roots. The Owls have been on the Big East’s radar but reports have indicated Temple’s Philadelphia neighbor and current Big East member, Villanova, is opposed to the idea in what they might term a ‘too close for comfort’ scenario. Pitino provided an interesting retort in the interview saying, “I don’t understand because South Florida had to say, ‘Look, we don’t like it but we’ll take Central Florida. If that’s in the best interests of the conference, we’ll do it.’ And Villanova’s going to have to say, ‘If it’s in the best interests of the conference, we’ll do it.’ The Louisville coach also said he texted Big East Commissioner John Marinatto every other day asking when Memphis would be coming. Here’s hoping Mr. Marinatto has unlimited texting because something tells us the ante just got upped.
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Morning Five: 02.10.12 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on February 10th, 2012

  1. McDonald’s released its selections for its 24 All-Americans yesterday. If you have followed the high school recruiting rankings, the selections are about what you would expect (Shabazz Muhammad, etc) with a few names that have been up and down in the rankings missing. The most interesting omission is Nerlens Noel, who recently reclassified to the class of 2012 and may end up being the highest rated player in this year’s graduating class, but was left off the list of All-Americans. We have not heard an explanation from the selection committee as to why he was left off and we doubt that they will, but we suspect it was that he was not on the original list of nominees.
  2. North Carolina‘s Dexter Strickland, who has been sidelined since tearing his right ACL during a game on January 19, underwent surgery on his right knee yesterday. According to reports, the surgery went well although no timetable has been given on when Strickland would be able to return to the court. It will probably be at least another month before the school can realistically begin to estimate when Strickland could return. While Strickland’s numbers are modest (7.5 points, 2.1 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game), he was a very efficient player (team-leading 57% from the field) who provided solid perimeter defense (something that was missing on Tuesday night) and a capable backup for Kendall Marshall, two qualities that the Tar Heels lack now.
  3. As usual Luke Winn’s weekly power rankings are full of excellent advanced stats and amusing figures, but the most interesting thing to us in this week’s rankings is his inclusion of Notre Dame. Our initial reaction was shock, but the more we think about what the Irish have done this season the ranking sort of makes sense. We do not agree with the exact spot he has them at (#11), but they should merit some consideration as at least a top 20 team. What the Irish have accomplished this season is amazing since Tim Abromaitis was lost for the season leading some idiot to write off the Irish nearly two and a half months ago.
  4. This season has been a rough one for Villanova, but they got a little good news yesterday when they found out that Maalik Wayns has sprained his left MCL and did not suffer more serious damage from the injury that he suffered during the team’s game on Tuesday night over Providence. While Wayns did not participate in yesterday’s practice, he is listed as day-to-day and may not miss any game time as the Wildcats are idle until next Wednesday when they play at USF.
  5. Connecticut‘s attempt to convince the NCAA to allow it to play in the 2013 NCAA Tournament has been met with quite a bit of criticism from the national media. The two most notable names to come out against the Huskies proposal are Mike DeCourcy and Dana O’Neil. In his morning column yesterday, DeCourcy called the school’s attempt to be allowed to play in next year’s NCAA Tournament “obscene” and rips the NCAA for being so lenient in its prior rulings that the school felt emboldened to offer such weak penalties. O’Neil is a little less caustic than DeCourcy (shocking, right?) and essentially says that if the NCAA were to accept Connecticut’s more lenient penalties it would send a dangerous message as it has already punished well-known members of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities, who have far fewer resources to help its students than Connecticut has. While we appreciate DeCourcy’s vigor, the point that O’Neil makes would seem to indicate that the NCAA has no choice, but to allow Connecticut a pass after punishing the other schools would create a major political firestorm for a group that does not need any more bad publicity.
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Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 6th, 2012

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

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

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

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

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

Power Rankings

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

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 30th, 2012

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

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

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

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

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (22-1, 9-1) – After suffering its first defeat at Notre Dame, the Orange responded well in a win at Cincinnati two days later. Kris Joseph led the victors with 17 points on eight of 11 shooting. Still without Fab Melo, the Orange big men did an admirable job in his place. Rakeem Christmas had nine rebounds as Syracuse survived an early onslaught of Bearcat three-pointers. Syracuse then beat West Virginia on Saturday in a closer-than-expected game as the Mountaineers were able to score against the zone, mostly because of rebounding. Syracuse was out-rebounded 36-20, but committed only six turnovers as it survived the blown goaltending call in the final seconds. Brandon Triche had 18 points in the win. Rebounding has been a concern all season, but it’s obvious that Syracuse is not nearly as dominant with Melo out of the lineup. Free throw shooting came and went (33% at Cincinnati, 76.5% against West Virginia) but mental toughness is one of its biggest strengths. As we head into the teeth of the season, Syracuse is more prepared to absorb and respond to every team’s best shot. This week: 2/4 @ St. John’s.
  2. Marquette (18-4, 7-2) – I’m not overly impressed every time I watch this team, but it makes the winning plays when needed most. The Golden Eagles won a pair of games last week to push their winning streak to six games. Darius Johnson-Odom, Jae Crowder, and Davante Gardner combined for 47 points in a home win over South Florida on Tuesday, equaling the total points scored by the Bulls. Marquette ventured to Villanova on Saturday and was involved in one of the more bizarre games I have seen all season across college basketball. The game lasted two and a half hours and didn’t even go to overtime. 45 fouls (three technical) were called and 57 free throws were attempted in a game that wasn’t the finest moment for the officiating crew of James Breeding, Tim Clougherty, and Pat Driscoll. Breeding in particular had a short fuse, whistling Buzz Williams for a technical when the coach simply slipped and fell down. Memo to Breeding: Get over yourself, he wasn’t showing you up. Johnson-Odom had 26 points, Crowder added 20 points and 11 boards for Marquette and Jamil Wilson added 12 points off the bench. Marquette rallied from an 18-point deficit and forced 20 Villanova turnovers to key the comeback. This is a good basketball team, but one that has a ceiling. I’m not sure the Golden Eagles have the scoring depth to make a big run in March. This week: 1/31 vs. Seton Hall, 2/4 @ Notre Dame. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East Morning Five: 01.30.12 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on January 30th, 2012

  1. It’s been a harrowing couple of weeks for Connecticut freshman Ryan Boatright as he awaited the NCAA’s ruling on his eligibility, but they cleared him to play and he returned to the court in this weekend’s loss to Notre Dame. While he is trying to move on, his lawyer and mother are not happy with the NCAA’s decision to release the details of what Boatright and his mother considered a private investigation. Boatright’s mother is pondering legal action but it doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense at this point. The issue has already been drawn out for long enough, and a legal battle will keep it in the news even longer, something I doubt the Boatright family relishes.
  2. As always, plenty of exciting basketball was played this weekend, but no game received more attention than Syracuse‘s controversial win over West Virginia. The Orange got the benefit of a blown goaltending call and held on to win by two points. Coach Bob Huggins wasn’t thrilled with the result and rightfully so. The Mountaineers played well enough to win a difficult road game and it is never good when the officials are directly involved in determining the outcome, as clearly happened there.
  3. It is encouraging that Seton Hall forward Herb Pope is shouldering the blame for the Pirates’ fourth straight loss, but that won’t be enough to stop the team’s free fall in the Big East standings. Taking the blame is great, but improving his play would be better. Pope is the team’s best player and against Louisville on Saturday he was just 4-13 from the field. The Pirates aren’t good enough to consistently win when their best offensive option is struggling, so Pope will need to pick up his game quickly if Seton Hall still wants to make the Tournament.
  4. Villanova should be kicking itself Saturday after blowing an 18-point lead in a loss to Marquette. It was the Wildcats’ second-straight second-half collapse and the mistake that cost them Saturday was a silly error by the team’s veteran leader, Maalik Wayns. Wayns picked up a technical foul for arguing a blown call and Marquette took advantage of the change in momentum and never looked back. Wayns was probably right to be upset, but that doesn’t excuse his inability to curb his frustration. Maybe I am extrapolating a small incident too much, but those types of stupid mistakes are indicative of why ‘Nova has struggled so badly this season. The team has plenty of talent, just not a lot of discipline or mental toughness.
  5. Don’t look now but the Pittsburgh Panthers look poised to make a run. Considered an afterthought after seven straight conference losses over the last four weeks, the Panthers handily beat No. 10 Georgetown on Saturday and looked like a different team from the one that looked soft and disorganized earlier this season. It shouldn’t be too big a surprise that the team has some fight because they still have talent and Jamie Dixon is an excellent coach. That said, it might be too little too late and it would be a bigger story if they could win impressively away from the Peterson Center.
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State Of the Big East Address

Posted by mlemaire on January 27th, 2012

It has been nearly three full days since President Barack Obama delivered his State of the Union address to the country, and it has also been nearly three full days since our brethren covering the SEC did their State of the SEC post. Since we are both slightly behind and also not creative enough to come up with our own ideas, we decided to take a belated look at the Big East in a similar (read: exactly the same) post.

Kris Joseph & Syracuse Are The Class Of The Conference Right Now (Getty Images/A. Lyons)

We would love to report that the state of the conference is strong, but as a whole, it has not been a good season for the Big East. The 2007-08 season was the last time the conference had only one team finish in the Top 10 but it is in danger of having that happen again. Syracuse will undoubtedly finish in the Top 10 and is a worthy national title contender, but after that, things get murkier. Last season the conference had five teams finish the regular season ranked inside the Top 15. As of now, the conference only has four teams in the Top 25. The reason for the slip is that consistent winners like Villanova and Pittsburgh have been really bad, and teams like Connecticut and Louisville lost a lot of key talent. But let’s take a closer look as well.

Despite the swirling off-the-court issues, the Carrier Dome has been rocking all season and for good reason. The Orange are an excellent blend of experience, talent and depth. Star forward Kris Joseph is going to end up on the All-Big East team and sophomore combo guard Dion Waiters could find himself on the short list for that team as well. Their lone blemish is an ugly road loss to Notre Dame and that looks more like an aberration that signs of a regression.

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Set Your TiVo: 01.25.12

Posted by EJacoby on January 25th, 2012

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

There are no Top 25 matchups or truly ‘great’ games on tonight’s schedule, but it is another packed Wednesday of important conference battles so there will be plenty of action worth monitoring.

Villanova at Louisville – 7:00 PM ET on ESPN (***)

Peyton Siva Looks to Get Louisville Back on Track Tonight Against Another Top Point Guard (Getty Images/A. Lyons)

  • In what would have been billed as a big-time matchup at the beginning of the season, this game now features two unranked teams (Louisville is still #25 in one poll) with a combined 6-9 record in the Big East. But this will still be a fun game to watch, and the away team is playing its best basketball of the season. Nova has won two straight games and lost by only four points at Cincinnati in the game before, as Maalik Wayns has finally taken his game to the next level. His averages over the past three games are an insane 30.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 5.3 assists per game. He’s also gone 30-33 from the free throw line in that stretch. He’s second in the conference in scoring (18.7 PPG) and leads the Big East in free throws made. Nova needs other players to be strong with the ball against Louisville’s high-pressure defense, as the Wildcats average a terrible 17 turnovers in conference games, worst in the Big East. If Jay Wright’s team can take care of the ball and get to the rim instead of settling for outside shots, they have a chance in this game. Jayvaughn Pinkston will play a key role as an emerging threat (18 points, 11.5 rebounds in his last two) at the forward position that can attack the rim.
  • If Louisville wants to get back into consideration as a ranked team, they must win this game at home. The Cardinals continue to deal with injuries but have all of their key cogs healthy in this one, as leading-scorer Kyle Kuric (13.4 PPG) returned from an ankle injury to score 21 points against Pittsburgh in their last game. Louisville has the advantage on the wings with Kuric, Russ Smith (12.5 PPG), and Chris Smith (10.1 PPG) and they will try to swarm Villanova defensively, who only has one true ballhandler in its lineup. Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng have tough matchups with Maalik Wayns and Mouphtaou Yarou, respectively, that are worth watching to see who has the edge on the perimeter and in the paint. Overall, Louisville’s depth and defensive pressure should prove too much for the Wildcats.
  • Louisville is a nine-point favorite at home in the KFC Yum! Center and cannot lose this game if it wants to be taken seriously in the Big East. The 10-10 Wildcats come in with some confidence and will look to play the role of spoiler as Wayns tries to prove he’s the best point guard in the conference. Expect the Cardinals to wear out Villlanova in the second half and come out with the win.

#8 Duke at Maryland- 9:00 PM ET on ESPN (***)

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