Big East Morning Five: 01.25.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on January 25th, 2012

  1. Suspended Connecticut freshman Ryan Boatright’s case continues to garner a lot of attention and for good reason.  The bottom line is that the NCAA needs to make some rule changes to keep kids out of purgatory while its investigators take their sweet time trolling for violations. UConn has been forced to sit Boatright for nine games and counting over two different stretches this season while it waits for the NCAA to rule on an improper benefits issue that allegedly occurred before Boatright enrolled there.  As Joe Nocera astutely pointed out in a two-part New York Times editorial on Boatright’s plight, this case highlights three major flaws in NCAA policy.  First, the NCAA has yet to make a ruling but as a precaution Connecticut has to sit Boatright out while the decision is pending.  Otherwise they risk the possibility of forfeiting games if Boatright plays and the NCAA ultimately finds against him.  The NCAA should not be allowed to penalize retroactively unless there is a direct correlation between the school and any player involved with the offense.  Second, Boatright is being penalized for something he had no direct involvement in.  In fact, the NCAA is not investigating Boatrigh; they are investigating his mother to see if she was given money by a family friend who has no link to UConn to buy a plane ticket so she could accompany her son on an official on-campus visit.  Third, rules mandate that when schools welcome a recruit for an official visit, they can only pay the way of the player and no one else.  If someone like the player’s mother wants to accompany her child on the visit she has to foot her own expenses.  There are many problems with the recruiting process.  Perhaps if the NCAA spent its time and resources pursuing some of them, a little progress would be made.
  2. After attending the Marquette vs. Providence game on Saturday I wrote about the overall team concept the Golden Eagles portray when they play and highlighted the contributions of their senior leaders, Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder (GRATUITOUS SELF-LINK ALERT!!!) Well, it appears the veteran tandem is as effective in their roles off the court as they are on it. “Jae and D.J. have been outstanding in their leadership thus far this year,” said Marquette head coach Buzz Williams, who added, “Our leadership has come from our two seniors and the bulk of their leadership has transpired off the floor and that is evident when you watch our team on the floor. I think they have been superlative in their actions off the floor and the example they have set for the other 10 guys on our team away from [the practice gym].”
  3. All you have to do is watch an Oregon or Maryland football game to know that the gear factors in to the overall business plan of a program. These are not your father’s college athletics where teams had just one home and one away uniform.  Student-athletes are young but they all seem to be going gray these days as the new uniform color-ish of choice is looking to put Just for Men out of business.  This is happening because “alternate” uniforms represent great marketing tools. They lead to additional revenue streams as fans look to gobble up the latest and greatest merchandise that their favorite teams have to offer.  The other boon for schools in the fancy pants race is on the recruiting trail, as new unis are the equivalent of recruiting bling.  Georgetown must be ahead of the curve because they have sported various shades of gray for years.  But then again the Hoyas reside in Washington, D.C., land of the gray area.  While the overall color scheme is not yet known, it appears Syracuse and Connecticut will be getting into the act as Nike is reported to be making an announcement on what is in store (or Storrs) as early as this morning.
  4. The Big East announced yesterday that Navy will join the conference as a football playing member in 2015, confirming numerous reports that surfaced on Monday.  “When people look back, they will mark this as a truly historic day for the Big East Conference,” said Big East Commissioner John Marinatto before adding, “That Navy would give up 100 years of football independence speaks to the long-term viability of the Big East.” Navy has enjoyed success on the gridiron, making a bowl game in eight of the last nine seasons.  Upon joining the Big East, Navy will continue its traditional rivalry games with non-Big East football schools Army, Air Force and Notre Dame, as well as retain the television contracts that go along with those contests.  “Stability in the Big East was a very important aspect in our discussions with the commissioner,” said Vice Admiral Michael Miller, superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy. “What we see is a very bright future for the conference.” A notable byproduct of its membership announcement is that it kicks in a previously agreed-upon increase of the Big East exit fee to $10 million (from $5 million) should any member school depart from this point forward.
  5. It has definitely been somewhat of an upside down year in the Big East with traditional powers such as Villanova and Pittsburgh at or near the bottom of the league to this point.  Entering the season, Villanova fans knew that the Wildcats were young and that they had absolutely no momentum to latch onto from last season.  It was a season where Villanova lost its final six games, including first-round exits from both the Big East and NCAA Tournaments. That lack of a foundation certainly translated to this year as the Wildcats (10-10, 3-5 Big East) went just 7-5 in non-conference play that did, however, include losses to quality teams such as Missouri and Temple (I think I just heard ESPN’s Jimmy Dykes say Temple could be in the Final Four).  As a certain work in progress Villanova head coach Jay Wright hopes his team is turning the corner now that his team has won two straight games.  Wright understands that with teams like this, he needs potential breakout players such as 6’6” junior guard Dominic Cheek (12.4 PPG, 4.3 RPG) and 6’10 junior forward/center Mouphtaou Yarou (11.6 PPG, 8.3 RPG) to shed the potential moniker, step it up a level and join emerging star Maalik Wayns who is averaging 30.7 points per game over the last three.   Wright’s assessment is that “Mouph and Cheek are not where we thought they’d be,” but he did go on to say, “I like this group. I do think we’re getting better. It’s slow, but we’ve got to find a way to enjoy this process.”  Villanova is on the road at Louisville this evening.
Share this story

Big East Morning Five: 01.24.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on January 24th, 2012

  1. Chris Herren has walked many miles in own shoes and now he is on a journey to prevent others from following the same path.  For those not familiar with Herren’s story, please do yourself a favor and read Herren’s “Basketball Junkie” (co-written with Bill Reynolds) and check your local listings for ESPN’s Unguarded. In short, Herren  is a recovering addict who was a high school basketball legend coming out of Fall River, MA’s Durfee High School and battled drug and alcohol addiction through college (Boston College and Fresno State), the NBA (Denver and Boston), several overseas stops and as a husband and father. Now the charismatic Herren takes his compelling story across the country hoping to reach whomever he can. The Rutgers basketball team was Herren’s latest audience, and it was clear his message resonated. “It makes all our problems miniscule,” said Rutgers junior Austin Johnson who added, “When you’re at college you don’t really think about what you’re doing when it comes to drinking alcohol and using drugs like that, but you’re not untouchable. You do the wrong things, you put the wrong things in your body, something like that could really happen.”
  2. Villanova won two in a row last week in attempt to revive their season, and this week’s Big East Player, and Rookie of The Week, Villanova’s Maalik Wayns and Jayvaughn Pinkston respectively, have been a big reason for the turnaround. Wayns finished what he started just before the week began when he netted 39 in a loss to Cincinnati by following up with 26.5 point-per-game to lead the Wildcats while the 6’7” Pinkston earned his first two career double-doubles, averaging 18.0 points and 11.5 rebounds for the week. The Big East Honor Roll recipients were: Georgetown’s Jason Clark, who had 31 points in a win over DePaul; Marquette forward Jae Crowder, who did it all (16.0 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 3.5 SPG, 1.5 BLK) in two Golden Eagle wins; Notre Dame’s Jack Cooley who averaged a near double-double on the week and put up 17 points and 10 rebounds as the Fighting Irish knocked Syracuse from the ranks of the unbeaten;  South Florida guard Jawanza Poland makes his first appearance, leading the surging Bulls to two wins (17.5 PPG, 4.0 RPG). Finally West Virginia’s Kevin Jones continues to tear it up, averaging 25.5 points and 10.0 rebounds as the Mountaineers tallied two more wins last week.
  3. Who needs primaries and debates when we have college basketball rankings? The absentee ballots have been counted and voters have chimed in on Syracuse’s loss to Notre Dame, pushing the Orange (21-1, 8-1 after beating Cincinnati last night) back to #3. Georgetown (16-3, 6-2) did not have to politic for it rise in the polls as the Hoyas hopped into second place in the conference after winning their last three, and jumped up one notch in the polls to #9. Marquette (16-4, 5-2) is riding a four game winning streak and vaulted the same number of spots to #17.  Connecticut (14-5, 4-3) has lost four of six, including both of their games last week and nose dived eleven spots, but remains ranked at #24.  West Virginia (15-5, 5-2) is looking to get into the race as the top non-ranked vote-getter as it received 96 votes. Louisville (15-5, 3-4) lost its endorsement and dropped out after receiving just 35 votes while Cincinnati (15-6, 5-3) grabbed 20 votes.
  4. It is expected to be announced today that Navy will officially join the Big East as a football only member in 2015 according to CBSSports.com citing “sources”. The move comes as the Big East continues its work to replace departing schools: Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and West Virginia. This was a highly-anticipated marriage as athletic director Chet Gladchuk indicated last month that Navy would relinquish its independent status and join the conference provided there was a feeling of stability within the league and existing television considerations could be worked out. Apparently both of these concerns have been addressed and it is assumed we will find out more post-announcement. Factoring in all the comings and goings, the Big East will be sitting at eleven football schools, and is expected to add at least one more. That one could come in the form of a football and basketball member such as Temple or Memphis.
  5. As noted above Connecticut has lost four of its last six games and appear to be in need of a life raft, or perhaps a boat. There is no question freshman guard Ryan Boatright, who has missed the last three games and continues to be out indefinitely while the NCAA continues to sort out the same improper benefits issue that caused him to miss the season’s first six games, has positively impacted the Huskies in his brief tenure. Carl Jackson of The UConn Blog provided an interesting analysis to show Boatright’s value using a statistical approach. An approach that draws conclusions showing numeric merit to Boatright’s presence in a three-guard set on both ends of the floor, but also one that elicits a subjective conclusion that Connecticut is simply better with Boatright than without based on what our eyes tell us.
Share this story

Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 23rd, 2012

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

Reader’s Take

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

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

Power Rankings

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

Checking In On… The Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 16th, 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

  • Syracuse A Cut Above: With wins over Villanova and Providence this week, Syracuse has moved its record to 19-0 (6-0), equaling the best start in school history (1999-2000). On Monday night, the Orange will try to move to 20-0 for the first time ever when they host Pittsburgh, a team they have lost to five straight times. With 12 games remaining, people are starting to wonder if Syracuse can run the table. It would be a surprise if Jim Boeheim’s team lost at home to anyone, despite visits by Georgetown and Connecticut to the Dome in February. On the road, possible tough trips to Cincinnati, Connecticut, and Louisville appear to be the only obstacles standing in the way of an undefeated season. Syracuse has a 13.7% chance of going 31-0, according to the Pomeroy ratings, but I would put it higher. I think the Orange have a 40% chance to go all the way and those odds are getting better each and every day.
  • Connecticut Back On Track: After consecutive losses to Seton Hall and Rutgers almost two weeks ago, some had wondered if this Connecticut team would ever live up to its preseason billing as a top-five team. While I doubt that is true, the Huskies responded in a big way this past week by defeating West Virginia and Notre Dame. UConn used a 17-3 second half run, sparked by a Jim Calhoun technical, to overcome a ten-point deficit against the Mountaineers before going on the road and snapping Notre Dame’s 29-game home court winning streak. Andre Drummond had a terrific week, but the bigger story might be Alex Oriakhi showing signs of improvement. The junior forward had been in a season-long slump but managed to score 20 points this week, including a 12/7 performance in the win against the Fighting Irish.  However, there was some bad news mixed in for UConn last week. Ryan Boatright was suspended by the NCAA on Friday night for the second time over eligibility concerns.
  • Pittsburgh and Louisville Embarrassed: Raise your hand if you predicted these scores at the beginning of the year: Providence 90, Louisville 59. Rutgers 62, Pittsburgh 39 (at Pitt). Two of the power programs in the conference were waxed by two perennial bottom-feeders, all part of what has been an unpredictable season in the Big East. Louisville has lost four of six while Pitt is in more dire straits having lost six consecutive games. That could easily be seven in a row after the Panthers return from Syracuse tomorrow night. The good news for both teams? They bounced back and played fairly well in games on Saturday with the Cardinals disposing of DePaul and the Panthers nearly stealing an impressive road win at Marquette. Pitt lost the game, but Jamie Dixon had to have picked up some encouraging vibes from that performance. Pittsburgh and Louisville will get together this Saturday in the Steel City.

 

Ask The Never-Satisfied Jim Boeheim What He Thinks Of His Team's Chances At An Undefeated Season, And This Will Likely Be His Reaction. (Frank Ordoñez / The Post-Standard)

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (19-0, 6-0) – This team just keeps on chugging along and nobody has really threatened the Orange in a big way this season. There have been close calls here and there (Stanford, Florida, and Marquette), but Syracuse is a cut above every other team in this conference. As I mentioned above, I believe there is a good chance this team runs the table in conference play. Dion Waiters scored 20 points at Villanova, part of 47 bench points for the Orange, compared to 32 for the starters. Syracuse held the Wildcats to 33% shooting on their home floor at the Wells Fargo Center. Against Providence, it was all Orange from the start. Syracuse had 12 steals and forced 22 Friar turnovers. Scoop Jardine played like a quality point guard, scoring ten points but dishing out nine assists. The Orange blocked ten Providence shots and shot 73% in the second stanza. Syracuse continues to rank in the top ten in both offensive and defensive efficiency, but the Achilles heel for this team seems to be rebounding specifically on the defensive end. The Orange rank #307 in defensive rebounding percentage, but I don’t anticipate that being a major problem until tournament time. This week: 1/16 vs. Pittsburgh, 1/21 @ Notre Dame. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

The Doctor Is In The House: Villanova Edition

Posted by mlemaire on January 13th, 2012

Over the next few weeks we will be diagnosing some of the weaknesses and reasons behind the struggles of some Big East teams. First up is a look at the 8-9 Villanova Wildcats who are in the midst of one of their worst seasons since Jay Wright took over the program.

It may seem like ages ago, but in 2009 — just three short seasons ago — Jay Wright had his Villanova club playing North Carolina for a spot in the National Championship game. The Wildcats were no strangers to success in the NCAA Tournament, but it was the first time they had returned to the Final Four since they won it all in 1985 and it seemed as if Wright finally had his team poised to compete for a National Championship on a yearly basis. Then the bottom started falling out. First there was the second-round exit in 2010 after losing to a less-talented Saint Mary’s team. Then, last season, the Wildcats were bounced in the first round after being beaten soundly by a solid but not spectacular George Mason team. And now, following this week’s defeat at the hands of No. 1 Syracuse, Villanova is just 8-9 overall and is in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004. This is not exactly the type of bounceback season Jay Wright was hoping for, and here are some of the reasons it has gone so poorly.

Villanova Head Coach Jay Wright Is In The Midst Of One Of His Worst Seasons In Charge Of The Wildcats And It Isn't Getting Better Anytime Soon. (AP Photo)

1. Villanova’s offense benefits excellent three-point shooters, of which the Wildcats have none.

Wright is one of the main proponents of the 4-Out and 1-In motion offense which, as its name suggests, features four perimeter players and one post player. The offense uses a lot of ball movement, basket cuts, and pick and roll to create open outside shots and easy touches for the player in the post. Center Mouphtao Yarou gives the Wildcats one of the conference’s better post players, and point guard Maalik Wayns is very difficult to keep out of the lane and away from the basket, but Corey Stokes is gone and not coming back, and neither is Scottie Reynolds or Taylor King or Mike Nardi or Shane Clark or any of the other accurate outside shooters the Wildcats’ lineup used to boast. What’s left is James Bell — the only player on the team shooting better than 32% from downtown — and Wayns and Dominic Cheek — both of whom shoot more than four three-pointers per game — yet have the lowest percentages on the team (27% and 28.3%). Villanova still has a relatively efficient offense, but they are ranked No. 290 as a team in KenPom’s three-point percentage calculations. So let’s state the obvious, it is usually a bad thing when your primary offense set is predicated on the use of shooters you don’t really have.

2. The ballyhooed recruiting class of 2009 hasn’t exactly worked out as planned.

Rivals pegged Villanova’s 2009 recruiting class as the No. 3 class in the entire country. Yarou, Wayns, Cheek, and Isaiah Armwood were a collection of top-100 prospects that was easily the best and deepest class Jay Wright had assembled in his time on the Main Line. Their task was to follow in the footsteps of Nardi and Randy Foye and Kyle Lowry and usher in the next great era of Villanova basketball. Instead they have been at the forefront of its regression. The gritty Armwood transferred to George Washington in August of 2011, and none of the other three has emerged into a star yet. As I said earlier, both Wayns (16.6 PPG, 4.6 APG, 3.6 RPG) and Cheek (11.8 PPG and 4.3 RPG) are talented offensive players, but their shot-selection leaves plenty to be desired and the result is inconsistent output. Yarou is the conference’s seventh-best rebounder and a effective interior scorer, but he barely protects the rim (0.6 BPG) and doesn’t get enough playing time or touches to really assert himself as a problem in the post. Assuming Wayns doesn’t turn pro, this class will have one more chance to live up to its potential or else its legacy will not be looked upon fondly by ‘Nova fans.

3. The defense hardly puts any pressure on their opponents.

Villanova has never exactly been known as the last bastion for defensive basketball, but this season the Wildcats have been more inept than ever, particularly when it comes to forcing turnovers. The Wildcats rank No. 327 in KenPom’s defensive turnover percentage, right their alongside such luminaries as Towson and Illinois-Chicago. I have been watching Jay Wright try to employ his full-court press for a half-decade and its hard to remember even one occasion where that press gave the Wildcats’ opponents any trouble. The team is undersized up front with Yarou and redshirt freshman JayVaughn Pinkston carrying the load but one would think with all that length and athleticism in ‘Nova’s that they would be able to do a better job of harassing the opposition but only Wayns averages more than one steal per game.

4. What in the world has happened to James Bell?

James Bell Has Not Had The Sophomore Season He Was Hoping For.

At 6-foot-6 and 225 pounds, Bell should be the team’s most versatile player, but instead he has practically disappeared all together. He is still the team’s most talented shooter and he obviously has the size to attack the rim, but for whatever reason, he has fallen out of favor with Wright. After starting 11 of the team’s first 13 games, Bell has came off the bench in the past four games and played eight minutes combined in back-to-back losses to Marquette and South Florida. After losing Stokes and Corey Fisher, Bell was the top candidate to receive the additional minutes and was expected to replace a portion of their scoring as well. But so far this season Bell has been content to sit on the perimeter and shoot threes, while rarely stuffing any of the other categories in the box score. To be fair, Wright hasn’t exactly been consistent with his rotation, but Bell should have made himself indispensable by now.

Share this story

Set Your TiVo: 01.11.12

Posted by EJacoby on January 11th, 2012

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

Will the number one team in the land survive a rivalry road test? Can Missouri bounce back from its recent beatdown to win an away game? Here’s what to expect from two Top 10 teams in tough spots tonight:

#1 Syracuse at Villanova – 7:00 PM ET on ESPN2 (***)

Can Villanova Save Its Season Tonight by Beating #1 Syracuse? (AP Photo)

  • Undefeated Syracuse comes into this game playing as well as any team in the country, but their toughest away games of the season have been at NC State and Providence, so they’re not exactly road tested. The Orange will certainly have the advantage in this one, as their 2-3 zone defense has been incredibly effective this season at forcing turnovers and limiting paint opportunities. Nova’s a team that struggles in these two areas to begin with, and also a team that fires up a lot of threes (over 20 per game) at a low conversion rate (30%, ranked in the bottom 50 nationally). If Syracuse simply executes defensively and forces the Wildcats into a three-point barrage, they’ll have a huge advantage. Jim Boeheim’s team will come at Villanova with their deep array of weapons, where Kris Joseph (14.1 PPG) and Dion Waiters (12.5 PPG) should have opportunities to score in transition and on the wings against Villanova’s poor perimeter defense.
  • Villanova is in the midst of a year to forget, but they can change the outlook of the entire season with a win tonight. The Wildcats are dying for a victory of this caliber, and fans must be fired up in Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center for this rivalry home game against the number one team in the land. If the Wildcats are going to have a chance to win, they need to stop chucking up threes, especially in this game against a zone defense that will encourage them to shoot from the outside. Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek each attempt over four three-pointers per game and both are shooting under 30% from deep! Instead, these talented guards need to play off of each other. Wayns (17.4 PPG, 4.75 APG) is one of the quickest guards in America and can penetrate the teeth of a zone defense, and from there he must make good decisions and find teammates moving amongst the trees for good shot opportunities. Jay Wright’s team also must stay out of foul trouble and defend the perimeter if they want to have a chance.
  • This seems like an uneven matchup on paper, but it could be a serious trap game for Syracuse. They haven’t yet played a good conference team on the road, and Villanova is a rival who will be fired up for this one. If Nova can find early success against the Syracuse zone, then they could have a chance in this one.
Share this story

Checking In On… The Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 9th, 2012

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

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

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

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

Power Rankings

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

Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 3rd, 2012

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

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

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

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

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

Power Rankings

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

Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 27th, 2011

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

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

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

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

Power Rankings

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

Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 19th, 2011

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

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • Khem Birch Leaves Pittsburgh: In what was certainly a surprising development, Pittsburgh announced that highly-touted freshman Khem Birch would be leaving the program for personal reasons. No future destination for Birch was announced. The 6’9” freshman averaged 4.4 PPG and 5.0 RPG in 15 minutes per game for Jamie Dixon, including a season-high 15 points at Pennsylvania on November 25. Birch, a Canadian, was a five-star prospect out of Notre Dame Prep. Birch’s departure will be felt by a Panthers team still trying to find its identity. Pittsburgh remains a very deep team but has to get its defense in order to be able to win consistently once conference play begins.

Khem Birch Left Pittsburgh, Which Shocked No One Familiar With The Commitment Issues Of Well-Traveled Young Phenoms

  • Cincinnati Responds In Impressive Fashion: After losing a bunch of guys to suspensions (including Yancy Gates) stemming from the brawl with Xavier, Cincinnati somehow put together its two best offensive performances of the season. The Bearcats scored 78 in a win at Wright State before throttling Radford with 101 points on Saturday. Maybe the suspensions were just what Mick Cronin needed to get his team focused. While the competition wasn’t great, Cincinnati all of a sudden looks like an improving team after this week.

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (11-0) — The Orange passed their first road test of the season, winning comfortably at NC State on Saturday. Dion Waiters led the way off the bench yet again with 22 points on 9-14 shooting while Kris Joseph added 21. Now that Syracuse has gotten by NC State without any trouble, the Orange could hold onto the top spot in the national rankings for quite some time. Jim Boeheim has some tricky games coming up against upstart Seton Hall, conference title contender Marquette and still-dangerous Villanova, but those are three games Syracuse should not lose. One area for the Orange to focus on in practice this week is defense. NC State shot 57.7% from the floor on Saturday. This week: 12/20 vs. Bucknell, 12/22 vs. Tulane.  Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

Big East Checkpoint: Buy, Sell, Hold

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on December 14th, 2011

Midway through December and it has already been an eventful college basketball season.  Teams have logged a fair sampling of games as they head into final exams and finish up the non-conference portion of their schedules, so we thought it would be a good time to assess the state of the Big East by comparing each team to… itself.  Below is the Preseason Big East Coaches’ Poll by projected order of finish.  We are going a little Jim Cramer on you (BooYah Skee-Daddy!), placing a Buy, Sell or Hold rating based on the team’s play to date versus preseason expectations.

1 (tie). Connecticut (8-1): I am no stock market expert but when I see a team as loaded as UConn sitting at No. 9 in the most recent poll, buying stock in the Huskies is a no-brainer. Jim Calhoun has feuded with center Alex Oriakhi and questioned his team’s drive early in the season, but this team is too deep and too talented to be ranked that low in national polls. And when you consider how much freshmen Ryan Boatright and Andre Drummond will improve over the next few months, I am already starting to look for a new luxury sedan to buy with the money from my winning. Rating: BUY

Boatright Has Given the Huskies a Lift (John Wolke, Hartford Courant)

1 (tie). Syracuse (10-0): There is no way we can buy right now and that is good news for Syracuse fans, because the ‘Cuse is on top and can rise no higher at the moment. If this were a quick trade we’d sell and look to buy back after their first loss because it is hard to envision the #1 ranked team in the country staying there all year, but we are in this for the long haul and so are the Orange. Rating: HOLD

3. Louisville (9-0): It’s impossible not to be impressed with the job Rick Pitino has done at Louisville this season given the team’s rash of injuries and lack of top-flight scorers, but I am still selling the Cardinals. For starters, their early season schedule has been very soft and their only difficult opponent was Vanderbilt, whom they needed overtime to outlast. There is no doubt that their defense and depth makes them a top-10 team, but it’s hard to put them ahead of teams like UConn and North Carolina because  they just don’t have the scoring punch or the go-to player in crunch-time.  If you are determined to hold Louisville stock, you probably won’t lose much, but now is the time to sell high. Rating: SELL

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big East Morning Five: 12.14.11 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on December 14th, 2011

  1. News from the Bernie Fine saga has slowed to a trickle in recent weeks but that doesn’t mean it is done causing Syracuse headaches. Today brought word that accusers Mike Lang and Bobby Davis have retained noted publicity hound Gloria Allred to sue the university and Jim Boeheim for defamation. It is difficult to feel for Boeheim in this situation because he brought it upon himself with his strong comments in the wake of the initial news. If you thought Boeheim and his team were going to face distractions before, things are probably going to get a lot worse now that Allred will have microphones in front of her face. The most intriguing dynamic in all of this is that the Orange are good enough and deep enough to overcome these serious obstacles, but we will have to wait to see how they handle the microscope.
  2. Seton Hall is off to a great start at 8-1 this season and they should be getting more help in the frontcourt when talented freshman Brandon Mobley returnsafter he was cleared to play Sunday against Mercer. Mobley is a skilled offensive player but Pirates’ fans should temper their expectations as it will take time for him to adjust to live game-action. At the same time, Kevin Willard’s team is thin at the forward position and adding a player like Mobley will give him some flexibility.
  3. After Temple students taunted Villanova with eight roll-out signs and beat the Wildcats in their latest annual matchup, maybe Villanova should start letting its students bring signs into the games from now on. It can’t hurt. The Wildcats are off to a lackluster start and even needed to come back from a halftime deficit to beat Boston University last night. It certainly doesn’t look like much has changed for Jay Wright and his team after last season’s late meltdown. Mouphtao Yarou is quickly becoming a solid two-way big man but Maalik Wayns reminds many of Corey Fisher, and it is because of his shot selection and penchant for turnovers rather than his star qualities. The team can still make the NCAA Tournament but they are young and it may be another year or two before they are true contenders again.
  4. I love Andy Glockner from Sports Illustrated and there is nothing wrong with his latest article, but I was hoping for a theme less obvious than  “Connecticut is getting really good again.” As always, Glockner excellently analyzes UConn’s first nine games and highlights the emergence of Ryan Boatright and Andre Drummond as big reasons for the team’s recent success. But I am not buying the take that this team isn’t generating a lot of buzz, especially considering they had a preseason first-team All-American, another preseason Freshman of the Year favorite, and a preseason Top 5 ranking. They haven’t really surprised anybody, as they remain a very good team and a national title contender.
  5. The DePaul Blue Demons don’t spend much time in the focus of Big East basketball fans, but Oliver Purnell is starting to get the resurrection of the program going, beginning with recruiting. Freshman Jamee Crockett is an excellent example of Purnell’s early work. Now a starter, Crockett is becoming a consistent scorer for the Blue Demons and his athleticism is a welcome spark for a team trying to compete in one of the nation’s most difficult conferences. He probably won’t make a big difference this season, but it is still a good sign for Purnell and his ongoing rebuilding effort.
Share this story