UConn and Cincinnati: Trading Places in the Postseason

Posted by Will Tucker on April 5th, 2014

On March 8, 2014, Cincinnati and UConn looked like two teams headed in opposite directions. Having just hung 97 points on Memphis to complete a sweep of Josh Pastner’s team, the Bearcats went on the road and clinched a share of their first conference championship since 2004. That same day, Connecticut suffered an 81-48 drubbing at the hands of Louisville – the kind of humiliating end-of-season defeat that might spell doom for a team’s postseason.

AAC Men's Basketball Championship

Mick Cronin and Kevin Ollie: diverging paths (Richard Messina / Hartford Courant)

To the Huskies’ credit, they had just beaten Cincinnati a week before, capping a 6-1 stretch that followed a road loss to the Bearcats in February. But Kevin Ollie’s team exhibited red some flags even before being massacred in Louisville. They had eclipsed 70 points during regulation only once in the past seven games. DeAndre Daniels, who in January I predicted was poised for a breakout season, scored in double figures only twice during the same time frame. UConn had been outrebounded in their previous six games by an average margin of 8.3 boards per game.

Cincinnati, conversely, looked like a physically imposing, battle-tested, and veteran squad that was prepared to usher the program beyond the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 1996. Rebounding from consecutive close losses to Louisville and UConn, All-American Sean Kilpatrick was firing on all cylinders in his subsequent two games, averaging 29 points on 68 percent shooting. Fellow seniors Justin Jackson and Titus Rubles appeared up to the task of complementing Kilpatrick in the frontcourt. And after winning the number one seed in the AAC Tournament by way of a coin flip, the Bearcats seemed destined for a rematch with de facto home team Memphis, whom they had already twice beaten soundly.

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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen, Friday Night

Posted by Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) & Brian Otskey (@botskey) on March 28th, 2014

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Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest Region correspondent, and Brian Otskey (@botskey) is the NCAA Tournament’s East Region correspondent. Make sure to also follow @RTCMidwestRegion and @RTCEastRegion for news and analysis from Indianapolis and New York City throughout the weekend.

#2 Michigan vs. #11 Tennessee – Midwest Region Sweet 16 (from Indianapolis, IN) – at 7:15 PM EST on CBS

Tennessee was not supposed to be in this position. It barely found its way into the NCAA Tournament. In fact, the Volunteers had to travel to Dayton last Wednesday to take on Iowa to even advance to the round of 64. Tennessee got by the Hawkeyes in overtime and that was only the beginning of its winning ways. In Raleigh, Cuonzo Martin’s squad was able to throttle Massachusetts and take advantage of Duke’s stunning loss to Mercer by dismantling Bob Hoffman’s Bears in the round of 32 to advance to the Sweet 16. Leading the way thus far for Tennessee has been the spectacular play of forward Jarnell Stokes. The junior has been nothing short of dominant in the team’s recent run, as he is averaging 20.3 points and 15 rebounds in his last three games. The Volunteers have also received a lift from guard Josh Richardson. The junior, who averaged 10.1 points per game in the regular season, has stepped up his play in the tournament, as he is averaging 19.3 points per contest. As a team, the Volunteers’ performance on the rebounding glass has aided tremendously in taking them to the Sweet 16. Tennessee has been an excellent rebounding team all season and its rebounding prowess was never more on display than in Sunday’s victory over Mercer. The Volunteers had a sensational 41-19 rebounding advantage over the Bears in the winning effort.

Expect plenty of fireworks between these two guys Friday night. (Getty & USA TODAY Sports)

Expect plenty of fireworks between these two guys Friday night. (Getty & USA TODAY Sports)

Michigan will take the court in Indianapolis after a relatively easy first weekend in Milwaukee. The Wolverines cruised to a 17-point victory in the round of 64 over an undermanned Wofford squad before wearing down Texas in a 14-point victory. John Beilein’s team has been an outstanding perimeter shooting offense and that has carried over into the postseason. The Wolverines hit a combined 21 three-pointers in the two victories. Big Ten Player of the Year Nik Stauskas hit seven of those 21 triples an was the team’s leading scorer in each victory. Michigan’s frontcourt has been seen as a concern since sophomore big man Mitch McGary was lost to a back injury in late December, but forward Jordan Morgan showed he is a capable post presence with his performances in Milwaukee. The senior averaged 12.5 points and 10 rebounds against Wofford and Texas, while living up to his reputation as a solid interior defender. In Friday’s game, it should be expected that both teams will play to their strengths. Tennessee will try to use its size advantage to the dominate the interior and Michigan will attempt to get its perimeter shooting going early and often. Texas had a great advantage over Michigan in size too, but the Wolverines were able to wear the Longhorn bigs down through a terrific transition effort and solid offensive spacing. It would be wise to expect Michigan to do the same Friday. Tennessee will keep close throughout much of the game, but the shot-making ability of Stauskas, Caris LeVert, and Glenn Robinson III will ultimately be too much for the Volunteers to overcome. Two-seed Michigan will win the game to advance to its second straight Elite Eight.

The RTC Certified Pick: Michigan

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Seven ACC Non-Conference Battles to Watch This Season

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 6th, 2013

Today we will look at some of the most interesting ACC non-conference games of 2013-14. For this feature we will not include games in early season tournaments because we earlier previewed those events in three parts – Part I, Part II, and Part III. Also, we will not look at any of the specific match-ups in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge in this feature because we’ll focus on that annual event at a later date. That still leaves a good inventory of ACC-related non-conference games to choose from, and as you will see, most of these games will be played in New York City, which is not entirely by accident. Counting tournament appearances, eight different ACC teams are scheduled to play a total of 16 games in the Big Apple — it’s obvious that the ACC is serious about taking advantage of the most recent expansion into the Northeast. A strong presence in New York is clearly part of the conference plan. By comparison, only four ACC teams played a total of five games in the New York area last season, counting a Duke-Temple game played in East Rutherford, New Jersey. In chronological order, here are the seven non-conference games that will be crucial to win for the ACC to meet its goal as the top conference in the nation this season.

Dez Wells Will Lead Maryland in Opener vs. UConn (Charlie DeBoyace/The Diamondback)

Dez Wells Will Lead Maryland in Opener vs. UConn (Charlie DeBoyace/The Diamondback)

Friday November 8 – Maryland vs. Connecticut (Barclays Center – Brooklyn) – 6:30 PM  ESPN2

Without injured point guard Seth Allen, the Terrapins will be underdogs against the Huskies on opening night. The explosive Connecticut backcourt of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatwright will be hard covers for the bigger but slower Maryland guards. Dez Wells and Nick Faust must limit their turnovers, a problem for both last season, but the Terps hope to counter with the punishing post duo of Charles Mitchell and Shaquille Cleare.  A wild card for Maryland may be 6’8″ sophomore Jake Layman, who reportedly has been a standout in preseason scrimmages.

Tuesday November 12 – Duke vs. Kansas (Champions Classic – Chicago) – 9:30 PM ESPN

The college basketball world will be focused on the Champions Classic doubleheader on this night. #1 Kentucky squares off with #2 Michigan State in the opener, but most of the buzz seems to be about the nightcap. There are plenty of storylines for this one including the match-up of the top two freshmen in the country, Andrew Wiggins of Kansas and Jabari Parker for Duke. Also, the game is in Chicago, Coach K’s hometown, and the Midwestern backyard of Bill Self. This year’s #1 high school senior Jahlil Okafor lives in Chicago and reportedly will decide soon between Duke and Kansas. Finally, it should be a great game to watch with plenty of top athletes on the floor. Kansas holds a decided edge in the paint while Duke has a more proven backcourt. The game may come down to which team’s newcomers best handle playing on the big stage for the first time.

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Morning Five: 08.08.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on August 8th, 2013

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  1. We mentioned in this space yesterday that Jahii Carson along with Marcus Smart were not only two of the best point guards in college basketball, but that they are also both rising sophomores who have already publicly stated that next season will be their last in the amateur ranks. Both players are likely to have All-America campaigns ahead of them, but Smart in particular is on everyone’s short list as a NPOY candidate, and with good reason. The latest published results of a poll of coaches from CBSSports.com staff shows that Smart is the most coveted player in all of the land, coming in with a bit more than one-third of the vote (34%). Next on the list was Creighton superstar Doug McDermott (24%), followed by wunderkind Andrew Wiggins at Kansas (15%). A number of other players received votes, including Ohio State’s Aaron Craft, Michigan’s Mitch McGary and Syracuse’s CJ Fair, but the naming of five other freshmen after Wiggins reveals just how strong this year’s incoming class is perceived to be. One notable omission from the list was Louisville’s Russ Smith (his teammate Montrezl Harrell actually received a vote instead), but as the article notes, the choices make clear that coaches value experience and sustained leadership over unproven (or sometimes unstable) commodities. While all this conjecture is great, it’s ultimately meaningless until we start the games in November.
  2. And what about those games, the reason we all watch these players in the first place? Wednesday was a good day for folks like us — fans of the sport who like to have concrete games on the schedule to sink our teeth into. ESPN released its Big Monday lineup for 2013-14, and the most notable thing about the 16-game set over eight weeks is that the new slot of ACC games at 7:00 PM ET considerably resembles vintage Big East offerings. The Big 12 still carries the 9:00 PM slot (Andrew Wiggins, anyone? Kansas is involved in half of the broadcasts), but half of the ACC Big Monday games will involve teams who were still Big East entities as recently as 40 days ago. One game in particular — Notre Dame vs. Syracuse on February 3 — comes straight from the old Big East rivalry playbook. Welcome to the new ACC, indeed. Now can we get a west coast flavor at Midnight ET to sweeten the deal even further, like we used to have with the Big West and UNLV slotted there once upon a time?
  3. Some other interesting scheduling news hit on Wednesday surrounding the build-up and planning for Super Bowl XLVIII in New York City, as it appears there will be a basketball extravaganza at the World’s Most Famous Arena on the Saturday before the NFL’s title bout. Madison Square Garden, in partnership with Fox Sports 1, will host a hoops triple-header to give people in town for the football game a little something to feast on beforehand. St. John’s will play an as-yet-undetermined Big East opponent in the early afternoon slot (Marquette is rumored to be that team), followed by a blockbuster Georgetown-Michigan State match-up in the late afternoon, and capped off with an NBA tilt between the Knicks and the Miami Heat in the evening. It’s an impressive lineup, for certain, and is suggestive that programmers of college basketball really need to learn to capitalize on those empty weekends starting in late January and through to mid-March… before March Madness hits in earnest and captures the attention of everyone else.
  4. Is it too early to already be looking forward to games the following season? We’re talking about 2014-15 here, but hey, it’s a light news cycle. It’s always, always, always a good thing when top 10 programs meet in non-conference match-ups during the regular season, and it appears we’re going to have a good one when regional rivals Louisville and Indiana will face off in the Jimmy V Classic on December 9, 2014. Although the two rosters are likely to look considerably different than they do even this coming season, both Tom Crean and Rick Pitino are recruiting so well that you can count on this being a fantastic game. Even if it won’t tip off until some 16 months from now.
  5. It must have been Pac-12 preview Wednesday around the interwebs yesterday, as both ESPN.com and SI.com featured the much-maligned basketball league with a summer update post. The WWL’s piece is more comprehensive in scope, but Andy Glockner’s writeup is the better read. They both have high hopes for Sean Miller’s Arizona Wildcats, while agreeing that the league as a whole is once again on the uptick after a period from 2010-12 that was as bad as many have ever seen. There’s a lot of good information in both pieces, though, so we suggest that you check it out lest you find yourself come November wondering why the league has three or maybe even four teams ranked in the preseason AP poll.
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Big East NCAA Tournament Capsules: Syracuse Orange

Posted by Dan Lyons on March 21st, 2013

After starting the season 18-1, Syracuse looked to be poised for another run at a Big East title and a top seed in March. However, the Orange struggled down the stretch of the regular season, losing seven of their last 12 contests in Big East play. With their hot early start and a few big wins — including one at then top-ranked Louisville — the NCAA Tournament was never really in question, but their seeding looked to be in real jeopardy as the losses piled up. Jim Boeheim was able to right the ship in his last Big East Tournament, and with wins over Seton Hall, Pittsburgh, and Georgetown before a tough championship game loss to Louisville, Syracuse seems to have regained a lot of momentum heading into the Big Dance.

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Has Syracuse Regained Its Midseason Momentum; Or Is This a Mirage?

Region: East
Seed: No. 4
Record: 26-9 (11-7 Big East)
Matchup: vs. Montana in San Jose

Key Player: Michael Carter-Williams is Syracuse’s most talented player, and C.J. Fair is certainly the most consistent player on the squad, but no individual may be more important to Syracuse’s Final Four aspirations than senior forward James Southerland. Southerland put on a clinic from long range in the Garden last week, hitting 19 of his 33 three-point attempts in Syracuse’s four games. When he is on, he’s as good a shooter as there is in the country, and his mere presence really spreads the floor for the Orange, opening things up for Carter-Williams to penetrate opposing defenses and Fair to get good looks on his dangerous mid-range jumpers.

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Rushed Reactions: Louisville 78, Syracuse 61

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 17th, 2013

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Brian Otskey (@botskey) filed this report from Louisville’s second consecutive Big East championship game victory on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.

Three key takeaways:

Pitino Was All Smiles After Notching Back-to-Back Big East Titles

Pitino Was All Smiles After Notching Back-to-Back Big East Titles

  1. Two words: Pressure defense. Louisville turned a 45-29 deficit into a 78-61 victory over the last 16 minutes of the game. The 49-16 run to close the contest was one of the more impressive feats I’ve seen in my years watching college basketball. After a few turnovers, it was clear Syracuse was rattled by the relentless Louisville pressure. It’s Rick Pitino’s calling card and it came through when the Cards needed it most. Louisville was awful defensively in the first half and that continued out of halftime as Syracuse hit four of its first five shots out of the locker room. That’s when everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) changed. Syracuse made just one field goal over the next 14 minutes as Louisville ran away with the game. People talk about VCU’s havoc defense but there is no team in the country that pressures the ball as hard and as efficiently as Louisville.
  2. Syracuse got flustered. Even while playing in front of a decidedly pro-Orange crowd (75-80%), Syracuse let the suffocating pressure get to them in the worst way. Nobody was more affected that Michael Carter-Williams, who until midway through the second half had played one of the finest games of his young career. Carter-Williams’ body language went south and his play suffered, culminating in a flagrant one foul call that was likely the result of pent-up frustration. The Orange were never able to regroup despite the partisan Madison Square Garden crowd and Louisville simply took it to them over the balance of the game.
  3. Louisville adjusted its offense and Syracuse failed to do the same defensively. Pitino’s team shot a robust 53% overall in the second half, including an impressive 12-of-19 shooting mark from inside the arc. Louisville worked the ball inside all second half against a Syracuse zone that had been extended out what seemed to be a good five to eight feet away from the basket all night. Louisville probed the high post and dumped it down low successfully with Montrezl Harrell turning out to be the main beneficiary of those sets. Syracuse never adjusted its defense, never more so exemplified by Kevin Ware’s baseline cruise and dunk with 8:24 to play that put Louisville up by nine points.

Star of the Game: Freshman Montrezl Harrell scored 14 of his career-high 20 points in the second half. It was a coming-out party for one of the better freshmen in the nation, someone who will make plenty of breakout player lists in 2013-14. Harrell, a former Virginia Tech commitment, had his way operating along the baseline and attacked the rim at will as the Syracuse back line defenders were helpless to stop him. This kid has the skill, athleticism and motor needed to excel at this level and will be a star in the years to come for Louisville and likely at the next level as well.

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Rushed Reactions: Syracuse 58, Georgetown 55 (OT)

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 15th, 2013

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Brian Otskey (@botskey) filed this report from Syracuse’s overtime victory over rival Georgetown in Friday night’s Big East semifinal at Madison Square Garden.

Three key takeaways:

Big John and Jim Share a Moment Before the Game

Big John and Jim Share a Moment Before the Game

  1. James Southerland and Trevor Cooney opened up Syracuse’s offense. Syracuse did most of its damage in the first half of this game thanks to Southerland’s continued hot shooting and Cooney’s surprising contribution off the bench. Southerland scored all 13 of his points in the first 24 minutes of the game (more on that next), not an unexpected performance from a guy who has been on fire all week. His four triples gave him 16 for the week, tying Gerry McNamara’s record from 2006. But it was Cooney who really energized the Orange in the first half. The seldom-used sophomore out of Delaware came off the bench and poured in 10 points, all before halftime. The outside success of these two players opened up a lot inside for Syracuse, a team that doesn’t look there all too often. Baye Keita had arguably his best game of the season with a lot of his production coming via the offensive glass. With Georgetown having to respect the Orange on the perimeter, it gave Keita more space to get in position for rebounds and scores. Even though Southerland and Cooney almost didn’t score at all in the second half and overtime, their success in the first half enabled Syracuse to hang on.
  2. Jabril Trawick’s defense on Southerland allowed Georgetown to come back. Trawick, known as Georgetown’s best defender, completely locked up the hot-shooting Southerland for the final 16 minutes of regulation and the five minute overtime, holding the Syracuse senior sharpshooter to just two field goal attempts over the final 21 minutes of action. As a team, Georgetown held Syracuse to just 28% shooting in the second frame, allowing the Hoyas to slowly chip away at the lead as regulation winded down. Georgetown made some clutch shots and free throws but team defense (and Trawick specifically) was the main reason why the Hoyas were able to force overtime.
  3. It was a fitting end to a classic Big East old guard rivalry. It’s sad that this all had to come to an end. These two teams put on a show for the 20,000+ fans gathered in Madison Square Garden on this semifinal Friday night and it seemed that nobody wanted this game to end. There will be a lot written about this in the days and weeks to come but this game will be a treasured memory for everyone in attendance, one that nobody will soon forget. We were all incredibly lucky to witness one final classic between two founding members of the original Big East.

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Big East M5: 03.14.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on March 14th, 2013

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  1. C.L. Brown at the Courier-Journal (KY) took a tour of Russ Smith Sr.’s barbershop in Harlem, and the short video is worth a watch. The elder Smith, known simply as “Big Russ,” has appointed his shop from wall to wall with memorabilia, photos and mementos spanning the Louisville junior’s career. He tells Brown that his favorite souvenir is a framed photograph of him with his son following Louisville’s Big East 2012 championship –– in his own high school playing days, Big Russ says, his teams always lost before they could reach a Madison Square Garden tournament. The father’s pride in that particular accomplishment; the way it resonated with a personal and cultural icon of his own youth, is a somber reminder of what made the Big East Tournament such a special institution.
  2. Speculation that Jamie Dixon is USC’s top choice to replace Kevin O’Neill ramped up on Tuesday when The Big Lead reported that Pittsburgh resident and Dixon acquaintance Jed Hughes is the consultant taking point at USC’s search firm. It seems like the kind of attenuated connection that has spawned many a premature proclamation of “done deal” during coaching searches (has Dixon bought a house in LA yet?), but it’s certainly plausible. Dixon is a California native, a Ben Howland protégé, and probably anxious that Pitt’s move to the ACC could jeopardize the recruiting pipelines Dixon has built in Big East country. As Cardiac Hill points out, the coach’s vague statement after the USC job opened up “generally amounts to a ‘no comment.’”
  3. Notre Dame outlasted a persistent challenge from Rutgers in last night’s Big East Tournament nightcap, carried by Pat Connaughton’s 21 points and six three-pointers. This ran counter to Notre Dame’s game plan, which Brian Hamilton points out had emphasized getting Jerian Grant, Eric Atkins and Jack Cooley going. But the 39 combined points from Connaughton and former reserve Tom Knight were all separated the Irish from a second-round loss, as Grant and Cooley went 4-of-16 from the field. With their first game jitters behind them and some reassurance that they can win without prolific scoring from their stars, Notre Dame can bring some newfound confidence to its third-round game with Marquette tomorrow night, as they strive to avenge an early March loss in Milwaukee.
  4. Seniors James Southerland and Brandon Triche found their offense yesterday, and lifted Syracuse in explosive spurts over Seton Hall, 75-63, to advance to face No. 4 seed Pittsburgh in today’s BET semifinals. After shooting 15-of-52 over his last five games, Triche scored 17 on an efficient 6-of-9 field goal attempts against the Pirates, while Southerland led the way with 20 points and six threes. Sophomore Michael Carter-Williams didn’t turn the ball over once and tied a Big East Tournament record with 14 assists. This comes just days after Boeheim said his seniors would have to play better if they had any chance at becoming a good NCAA Tournament team.
  5. USF blog Voodoo Five described the Bulls’ overtime loss to Seton Hall in the first round as “a horrid, unwatchable mess that would be hard to distinguish from the dozens of other horrid, unwatchable messes USF basketball presented us for most of the last eight seasons. Except that this time they wore Mello Yello uniforms.” Ouch. Yes, Tuesday night’s loss concluded a season of thorough regression. More importantly, the author questioned whether USF basketball has made any appreciable advances in their time in the Big East, or if the culture of the Big East had any positive impact on the neglected Tampa basketball program. It has struggled to capture the interest of its community even after last year’s Cinderella season and a beautiful Sun Dome renovation, which begs the question: “When are [students and locals] ever going to buy in again? When they’re playing Tulane and East Carolina and Memphis and Houston all over again?” It’s a bleak prospect right now.
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Big East M5: 03.07.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on March 7th, 2013

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  1. An ugly fight broke out at Tuesday night’s Notre Dame-St. John’s game between the Red Storm’s Sir’Dominic Pointer and Irish freshman Cam Biedscheid. After battling over a rebound, Pointer appears to take a swing at Biedscheid, who then retaliated. Despite the fact that Pointer seemed to be the aggressor in this situation, Pointer and Biedscheid will both miss their teams’ next games because both engaged in the fight.  Mike Brey tried to appeal Biedscheid’s suspension to the conference to no avail: “There’s no appeals process, which is disappointing… Once it’s deemed a fight, which it was, and he was throwing punches, it is what it is.”
  2. Mike Brey seems about ready to hop off the conference realignment carousel. With the news that the Catholic 7 will be breaking away from the Big East to become… the Big East… it is unclear whether Notre Dame next year will stick around with UConn, Cincinnati, and friends, or join the Catholic 7 for a season, or head to the ACC a season early. If the ACC will have the Irish, that solution seems to make the most sense, but then again, this is conference realignment. Sense was checked at the door years ago.
  3. James Robinson has flown a bit under the radar this season for Pitt nationally, but those in the program hold the freshman in very high esteem. Former Panthers great Brandin Knight sees great potential in the young point guard: “He’s just one of those guys that you get the feeling that there’s something special about him… He has the poise and he really understands the game. He’s very mature beyond his years.”  Robinson averages 6.1 points and 3.5 assists per game in 26.7 minutes of action for Pitt, and in the team’s last game against Villanova he scored 14 points in the overtime win.
  4. Villanova has had a number of statement wins this season, but coming into Wednesday night the Wildcats were still not a sure thing for the NCAA Tournament. Knocking off Georgetown last night should help secure Nova’s spot in the Big Dance. The game with the Hoyas was an ugly affair, with three Georgetown players fouling out and the Wildcats hitting 30 free throws while the Hoyas could only muster four there. The win keeps Villanova from entering postseason play on a multiple game slide, and sets them up well for next week’s Madison Square Garden processions.
  5. Another day, another weird story coming out of Syracuse. Moments after the Orange defeated DePaul Wednesday evening, the school’s official Twitter account published a message speculating that it could be Jim Boeheim’s last game as Orange head coach with a link to a blog post, which stated that according to “sources,” Syracuse was under investigation by the NCAA and Syracuse athletic director Daryl Gross had asked Boeheim to step down. After the game, Syracuse released the statement that the story was completely false, as most who read it had assumed, but the larger story here is that there has been a long line of social media incidents stemming from the official Syracuse University accounts. Last year, one of the student interns who runs @SyracuseU tweeted about the upcoming DaJuan Coleman decision before the center had formally made his college choice between Syracuse, Kentucky, and Ohio State — a clear violation of NCAA rules. There have been numerous other instances of similar mistaken tweets. On an individual level, these tweets seem like minor mistakes, but when taken as a group, it shows that the school needs to take their social media presence more seriously.
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Big East M5: 03.06.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on March 6th, 2013

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  1. Syracuse’s senior game tonight against DePaul features two members of the Orange making their definite final appearances at the Carrier Dome as players: Brandon Triche and James Southerland. However, few would bet that these are the only two scholarship players who will move on after this season. The best bet is that Michael Carter-Williams will join them despite his recent bouts of poor play. Some Syracuse fans argue that he could use more seasoning in college, and they’re not wrong, but many forget that despite being a true sophomore, MCW is already 21 years old now and will be 22 before next season. MCW would be the eighth Syracuse player in six seasons to leave school early, with four of those players — Donte Greene, Jonny Flynn, Wes Johnson, and Dion Waiters — picked in the first round of the NBA Draft.  Waiters, who played with Carter-Williams last season, weighed in: “Michael’s a 6’6″ point guard. You can’t teach height. If he comes here, he’ll get nothing but better.” In his Syracuse.com piece on the subject, Bud Poliquin also mentions C.J. Fair and Rakeem Christmas as possible early departures, but those seem like stretches from this observer.
  2. In the classy moves by coaches department, Rick Pitino announced that junior Gorgui Dieng will be allowed to participate in Senior Day festivities in anticipation that the center will make the jump to the NBA after this season. “He has given us more than we have asked for. It is in his best interest to come out, and I think he is ready… He has been great for us. I have enjoyed coaching him so much. It is going to be a very difficult Senior Night. I have had some difficult ones, but this may be the most difficult.” There is definitely an argument to be made for keeping senior days for those who finish out their four years of eligibility, but I have no issue with exceptions being made for people like Dieng who were both great players and, by all accounts, students in addition to players during their time in college.
  3. This is the point of the season where teams look to ramp it up and start playing their best ball as they head into postseason play. Pitt’s Talib Zanna had been in an extended slump, averaging just 5.5 points per game for an extended period after averaging 13+ PPG for the first two months of the year. Recently, however, it seems like Zanna has started to find his rhythm again, and that doesn’t bode well for teams at the Garden next week. In Pitt’s last home game against Villanova, Zanna went off for 14 points and 19 rebounds in an overtime victory. Pitt closes the season at DePaul on Saturday before preparing for their final Big East Tournament.
  4. Cincinnati basketball hasn’t been the most beautiful version of the game this season, and things have only been worse in that regard with the constant injury issues that have befallen Cashmere Wright. He popped his shoulder out of the joint for the sixth time in Monday’s loss to Louisville, according to Mick Cronin. In the last few games, it seemed like Wright had been getting closer to 100 percent, which he clearly hasn’t been since a mid-January injury against DePaul. If Wright can’t find his shot and the lion’s share of the Bearcats’ scoring falls on Sean Kilpatrick’s shoulders in the postseason, Cincinnati will continue to struggle to score in the season’s most important games.
  5. Scott Martin’s career has been plagued by injuries, so if the Notre Dame forward can’t maintain a long career overseas, he has a fallback plan in coaching. Mike Brey believes that Martin is well-suited for the sideline: “I think he’s going to be a hell of a coach.” In a Chicago Tribune article, Martin discusses how he’s begun to watch the game through an analytical lens and former Irish teammate Ben Hansbrough admitted that he and Martin discussed coaching after their careers had wrapped. Martin’s constant injuries may have derailed a promising career, but it is good to hear that he has a strong plan for after basketball…well, after playing basketball, anyway.
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Big East M5: 02.22.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on February 22nd, 2013

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  1. The major institutional news around the league yesterday was that ESPN had elected to match a prior offer from NBC in an attempt to retain media rights to the Big East. ESPN’s bid of $130 million over seven years would shell out $10 million for men’s basketball in 2013-14 before doubling for the latter six years to incorporate football games as well. Should Mike Aresco and the league’s school presidents agree to the deal, each school would make $1.8 million annually in a 12-team format, which is less than they make in the current ESPN contract. Annually, each member would make $1.2 million less than Catholic Seven schools will reportedly fetch from FOX; about $18 million less than members of the other five power conferences; and about $12 million less than they would have made off the ESPN offer they torpedoed in 2011.
  2. On the heels of the ESPN offer, Rumble in the Garden excerpts and interprets some substantial Catholic Seven logistical updates from the blog of writer Mark Blaudschun. The two developments that immediately jump off the page are speculations that the C7 won’t inherit the Big East name, and that it’s unlikely to secure a long-term commitment from Madison Square Garden to host its conference tournament. While the naming issue might seem trivial, RITG points out that its outcome could carry major implications on the matter of disbursing NCAA Tournament units and exit fees from schools departing to the ACC and Big Ten.
  3. With Steve Lavin back on the sideline, St. John’s has three remaining NCAA Tournament-caliber opponents on the regular season schedule, and they each present prime opportunities to help the Johnnies build their own Tournament resume. Despite taking losses on the road to Syracuse and Louisville in Lavin’s absence, St. John’s RPI actually improved from #59 to #58 before defeating USF on Wednesday night. It’s not enough to earn an at-large bid yet, but at least they’re positioned to control their own destiny. Howard Megdal at Capital New York points out that a 2-2 split of the remaining schedule would bring St. John’s to 10-8 in the league, and that only twice since 2005-06 have 10-win Big East teams failed to earn an NCAA berth.
  4. In anticipation of this weekend’s highly anticipated installment of the storied Georgetown-Syracuse rivalry, Mike Waters at the Syracuse Post-Standard breaks down his top 10 moments in the series. Some of the anecdotes recalled from the annals of this vitriolic feud put the relative civility of its recent history in perspective. Michael Graham’s punch of Andre Dawkins in 1984 (which didn’t result in ejection), followed by Patrick Ewing’s serendipitously misplaced haymaker thrown at Pearl Washington the following year highlight a more violent era in the rivalry.
  5. UConn overcame unfavorable momentum and dismal rebounding among other things to overcome a slumping Cincinnati team in overtime last night, 73-66. Shabazz Napier’s 11 points in overtime helped the Huskies match the point total of their entire second half (18) in just five minutes. Napier finished with 29 points on 6-of-9 from beyond the arc, and Kevin Ollie credited him with architecting his team’s victory down the stretch: “The last three minutes of the game, and OT, it was just put it in Shabazz’s hands and let him make a play… there weren’t a lot of X’s and O’s.” Napier didn’t glamorize his performance either, telling reporters, “In overtime, I just want to get the game over with. I get tired of playing.”
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Big East M5: 02.15.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on February 15th, 2013

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  1. As expected, more details have emerged in the Jim Boeheim-Andy Katz “feud”, which came to a head last night when Boeheim called Katz an idiot and refused to answer his questions at the presser that followed Syracuse’s loss at Connecticut.  What was originally assumed by many to be an issue with Katz sharing some information about James Southerland’s academic issues now seems to be more about last year’s Bernie Fine fiasco.  Let’s hear from Boeheim: “It’s really simple. I went to New York last year to play in the (NIT Pre-Season Tip-Off) Tournament in November and he (Katz) asked if he could interview me about the tournament. And I said, ‘Yeah, but I can’t talk about the (Bernie Fine) investigation.’ We got in the room and he put me on camera — there were several witnesses there — and he asked me what I’d told him I couldn’t answer. I kept telling him, ‘I can’t answer that.’ And he asked me, like, 10 times on camera. He never took the camera off me. Two or three people in the room were so disgusted they walked out of the room. The producer came over and apologized afterward. And I told Katz right then and there, ‘Don’t talk to me. Do not try to talk to me again.'” Katz issued a response following the Syracuse.com article: “There was no deal. I don’t cut deals. He might have thought there was a deal, but I have never, ever made a deal… The reason I did that is because with guys like Jim Boeheim, John Calipari, Jim Calhoun they’ll, say there’s a certain subject they don’t want to talk about and then they’ll talk about it. If I asked it one too many times, fine, criticize me. I was just trying to see if he’d answer the question.”
  2. On the brighter side for Syracuse fans… err, maybe not so much after Wednesday night in Hartford… Michael Carter-Williams continues to grab headlines for his play.  Mike DeCourcy of  Sporting News went into depth with MCW about his high-risk, high-reward play this season, and how his scant playing time last season has helped in his maturation process.  Carter-Williams, like Dion Waiters before him, is a fiery competitor, and is has gotten the best of him in games before, including one instance last season when he snapped at Jim Boeheim after being taken out of a game: “Definitely, there were a couple of times when it got the better of me and I lashed out at Coach. Those were mistakes I made. Coach told me if I wasn’t yelling at him, he wouldn’t know what to expect from me. I was a McDonald’s All-American and I wasn’t playing … he knew I wanted to be out there.”  Carter-Williams’ play has been up and down this Big East season, but few deny his talent, and the fact that if Syracuse has a chance at making a final four run this season, it will be in large part due to MCW’s play.
  3.  College basketball is wide open this season, and the Big East is no different. It seems like half of the league is still in contention for the conference crown, and no one knows what will happen once the Big East tournament kicks off at Madison Square Garden. UConn was never supposed to be in the discussion this season.  After being handed a full post-season ban due to APR issues, and losing a number of talented players from their NCAA tournament team last season, UConn was largely an afterthought in the league.  However, with the win over Syracuse, the Huskies sit just a game out of first place in the conference, and the team may be especially dangerous, as a regular season Big East title is all that they can play for this year.
  4. Cincinnati’s offensive woes have been well-documented, especially since Cashmere Wright’s injury in January.  Sean Kilpatrick has been a one man show for the Bearcats, and that hasn’t been a winning formula.  In their recent win over Villanova, Cincinnati was able to find offense from another sourceJaQuon Parker.  Parker averages 10.9 points per game for Cincy, but had been in a bit of a scoring drought before breaking out with 19 points against the Wildcats.  The significance of his contribution was not lost on Mick Cronin: “He’s got to stay aggressive and I’ve got to help him with that. Put him in situations to where he can be aggressive and he’s thinking offense.  He’s thinking attack. For us to win, he’s got to play that way. For us to be a high-level team, he’s got to be a double-figure guy.”
  5. The ballad of Todd Mayo at Marquette has hit frequent rough notes, but he is a rare talent that could become a major asset for Buzz Williams’ squad if kept in check.  Mayo spent the early part of this season on academic suspension, and he has had his playing time cut at points since his return for what many expect is disciplinary reasons.  When Mayo does suit up, he is a dangerous offensive weapon, averaging over 17.5 points per 40 minutes played.  The trouble is, for every double digit game he tallies, he only plays five minutes in another.  There are rumblings that Mayo may not be long for Marquette, but while he is still on the team, they can certainly use him in their race for the top of the Big East.
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