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 SyracuseWest 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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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.
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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 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.
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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 »
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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 »
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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 IllinoisChicago. 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.

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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.
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