Kevin Ollie at Home in a League of Journeymen

Posted by Will Tucker (@blrdswag) on April 15th, 2014

Kevin Ollie has come a long way since September 2012, when he was reluctantly handed the reins to a UConn program coming off a 14-loss season, a depleted roster, and an impending postseason ban. Facing high-stakes circumstances, athletic director Warde Manuel’s confidence in Jim Calhoun’s hand-picked successor was so tentative that he handed Ollie the title of interim head coach and gave him a seven-month contract worth about $385,000. Just a year-and-a-half later, he’s bested Tom Izzo, Billy Donovan and John Calipari, taken a scarred program to heights many doubted it could ever again reach without Calhoun, set himself up as the hottest young coaching prospect since Brad Stevens, and made Drake sad. He’s making appearances at the New York Stock Exchange and getting blogged about at Forbes and Vanity Fair. A few short years after concluding his itinerant pro career, the 41-year-old Ollie might even be well-positioned to return the NBA as a coach, if he so desires. And that once-skeptical AD is prepared to do everything within his budget to convince Ollie otherwise.

The Huskies' fourth title came in their first postseason with Ollie at the helm (Robert Deutsch / USA TODAY)

The Huskies’ fourth title came in their first postseason with Ollie at the helm. (Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY)

As Jeff Eisenberg recently pointed out, UConn’s unlikely, scrappy resurgence reflects Ollie’s own journeyman ethos. Thrust into such inauspicious circumstances, some coaches would have resigned themselves to fate, thrown their hands in the air and begun assigning blame, starting with the athletic department that seemed more interested in wrangling autonomy from Calhoun than sustaining the program he built. But Ollie really was – and here I’ll apologize for belaboring the narrative – the perfect man to overcome the odds. A trusted insider whose own sweat equity had helped build the program, he quickly got his players to buy in. Over two turbulent seasons, they responded with the dogged persistence of an undrafted point guard who carved a 13-year NBA career out of annual contracts. So whatever opportunities the offseason holds for Ollie, it’s in the best interest of college basketball fans that he sticks around. His presence at the top of the profession is a breath of fresh air in a guild whose upper echelon is overwhelmingly white, exceptionally well-paid, and sometimes out of touch. It’s even better for AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco, whose conference desperately needs an elite coach in its ranks after Louisville’s Rick Pitino departs this off-season.

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If a Coach Says Something Interesting at a Media Day, Does It Make a Sound?

Posted by Bennet Hayes on October 18th, 2013

There is nothing quite like media day season, is there? Well, okay there is, but amidst all the generic answers and meaningless chatter are tiny, real pieces of actually interesting information – I swear. In case you haven’t spent the week sifting through sound bites and press releases, here are a few of the more noteworthy revelations from recent media days in the AAC, ACC, and Pac-12.

No Speed Limit At USC -- If You Want To Play Slow, Andy Enfield Thinks You Should Head Across Town

No Speed Limit At USC — If You Want To Play Slow, Andy Enfield Thinks You Should Head Across Town

Let’s start out west. While some may have been disappointed by the lack of intra-LA fireworks at Pac-12 media day, we’re going to count the continued discussion of the UCLA-USC “rivalry” as a step in the right direction. Earlier in the week, Andy Enfield was quoted as saying “we [USC] play uptempo basketball here – if you want to play slow, go to UCLA.” He took a predictable shot at softening the blow of those words on Thursday, but let’s focus instead on his tacit admission that the quote is real. Sarcastic or not, those words exited his mouth. Steve Alford played nice and refused to bite in response to the comment, but you better believe that the architect of those grinding, tough New Mexico teams would love nothing more than a snail-paced 65-35 beat-down of his cross-town foes come January 5. The tempo clash will be a constant subplot to the rivalry as long as these two coaches are at the helm, and despite the niceties of yesterday’s media day, don’t expect Enfield’s declaration to disappear from memory anytime soon.

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Notes and Quotes From the Inaugural AAC Media Day

Posted by CD Bradley on October 17th, 2013

American Athletic Conference luminaries gathered in Memphis Wednesday as the league held its first men’s basketball media day, offering thoughts on the inaugural season of the still in-flux league.

TheAmerican.org ESPN analyst Seth Greenberg (right) leads the discussion during a roundtable of AAC coaches at the conference's first media day Wednesday in Memphis.

TheAmerican.org ESPN analyst Seth Greenberg (right) leads the discussion during a roundtable of AAC coaches at the conference’s first media day Wednesday in Memphis.

In his opening remarks, AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco stressed the strength of the league’s teams, coaches and television deals. That gave way to a roundtable of AAC coaches mediated by ESPN analyst Seth Greenberg.

As was to be expected, little news emerged from the event. The coaches’ preseason picks for top team (Louisville) and player (Russ Smith) were released.

While there might have been little news, coaches and players made some interesting, insightful and funny comments. Among them:

  • “We will not pay players. We will not establish an employer-employee relationship. That’s not what college sports is about, and it is the road to ruin.” — AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco
  • “The only thing that’s realistic is getting another tattoo.” — Louisville coach Rick Pitino, on how he planned to follow up a season that saw his team win a national championship, a horse he co-owned run in the Kentucky Derby, his election to the Naismith Hall of Fame and his son Richard named as head coach at Minnesota.
  • “In the NBA, you don’t shake hands after games. I had 17 really difficult experiences last year.” — SMU coach Larry Brown, who returned to the college game last year after nearly 25 years in the NBA, and whose Mustangs posted a 15-17 record.
  • “With everything that was going on last year, they could have left without anybody saying anything bad about them. They stuck by me, and they stuck by their university.” — UConn coach Kevin Ollie, on Husky guards Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. UConn was barred from last season’s NCAA Tournament due its failure to meet academic requirements in past years.
  • “We didn’t think it was fair because Russ never quits, so we had to get rid of him. In a nice way.” — Pitino, on the horse he named Russdiculous after star guard Russ Smith. Pitino said the horse got out to early leads only to get passed later in the race.
  • “I just learned how to tweet or text, whatever they call it. It’s troubling to me, to be honest. I just like to coach… I’m gonna learn how to do some of that stuff someday, but not today.” — Brown, on the role social media plays in the college game.
  • “Our rule is that we get to make fun of them.” — Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin on what rules he has for players about using social media.
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Val Ackerman The Right Pick To Head The New Big East

Posted by mlemaire on June 27th, 2013

In a landscape where powerful state universities and brand-name colleges feverishly chase the big TV money pouring out of college football, the schools in the new Big East announced to the rest of the conferences that things were going to be different in their league when they hired former WNBA president Val Ackerman to be the conference’s first commissioner Wednesday. The schools in the Big East don’t really care about college football money, because their conference was built on the principle of basketball above all else. The “Catholic 7″ defected from the Big East in December 2012 primarily because they felt their football-first partners didn’t have their best interests in mind, and you shouldn’t need to review recent NCAA Tournament results to understand that strengthening the conference’s basketball profile was the driving motivation behind the additions of Creighton, Xavier, and Butler.

Ackerman Has Been Successful Everywhere

Ackerman Has Been Successful Everywhere

If the then-Big East and now-American Athletic Conference hired former CBS Sports Executive Mike Aresco to land a lucrative television deal that would help the conference keep up with the Jones’, then the new Big East hired Ackerman because they saw the Jones’ adding a guest house and decided they would rather pick up their basketball and head to the playground instead. Let’s be clear, the schools in the Big East didn’t lark out on their own for any altruistic reasons and they aren’t exactly rebelling against the establishment because they need television revenue to survive just as badly as the schools and conferences do. They just recognized that the path to enriching themselves involved becoming the biggest and baddest basketball conference in the country, and the 12-year deal from Fox Sports that followed the arrival of Creighton, Xavier, and Butler proves that in 500 million different ways.

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Big East M5: 03.20.13 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on March 20th, 2013

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  1. The NCAA Tournament officially got under way last night with North Carolina A&T and St. Mary’s notching the first two victories of the Big Dance. Meanwhile, in the middle of Pennsylvania, Kentucky lost to might Robert Morris in the NIT, likely bringing delight to fans of their intrastate rivals, Louisville. The Cardinals are the No. 1 overall seed and the presumptive favorite to win the national championship according to plenty of pundits and bracketheads on ESPN.com. C.L. Brown of the Louisville Courier-Journal made the astute observation that the 2013 team bears plenty of resemblance, at least in terms of its resume, to the team Rick Pitino coached to a No. 1 seed in 2009. Brown breaks down the match-up between the two Cardinal teams and gives this year’s squad a slight edge for consistency reasons. What’s most interesting to us is that the player who would have the most sway on who wins that match-up will also be the most influential player in Louisville’s success this March — point guard Peyton Siva. Brown gives Siva the edge over Edgar Sosa and Andre McGee but that would assume that the good Siva shows up. It will be the same “if” in this year’s NCAA Tournament. If Siva is focused, consistent, and perhaps even dynamic, the Cardinals will likely be the best team in the field; but if he struggles to lead the offense and starts turning the ball over, it may end up as another disappointing season for Pitino’s club.
  2. At first glance, it doesn’t seem like Montana would stand much of a chance against Syracuse. The Grizzlies don’t have a real “good” win (unless you count an overtime loss to Davidson, which is still a loss, so you shouldn’t count it) and the Orange looked good (at least until the second half) of the Big East championship game. Jim Boeheim’s team also has a distinct size, length, and athleticism advantage. Yet, despite all of that, a deeper review of the numbers supports the fact that Montana has a good chance to pull of the upset. Those numbers are usually decent indicators of upset potential, but the Grizzlies’ chances of pulling it off really depends on whether Syracuse will come out motivated to play in San Jose. They have the cross-country trip and they are a team that, until the Big East Tournament began, looked listless and defeated. If that’s the team that shows up on Thursday in California, then the veteran team from Montana will have a puncher’s chance. But if the focused and intense Syracuse team that gutted out an overtime victory over Georgetown in the Big East semifinals returns, then the Grizzlies will have trouble dealing with the length of Syracuse’s zone defense and they will have even more trouble keeping them off the glass.
  3. It’s out in the open now — the secret weapon that Villanova will use to beat a hot North Carolina team that looks like a tough match-up for the Wildcats. Jay Wright will just rely on transfer point guard Tony Chennault, who knows everything there is to know about the Tar Heels because he spent two years in the ACC at Wake Forest. Er….well okay, so that’s not exactly a foolproof plan and Chennault didn’t have a whole lot of “inside” information to share with reporters and his teammates, but I guess he will know some of the players better anyway. Chennault at least understands that stopping the Tar Heels will involve some serious transition defense and a commitment to stepping out on the shooters, especially ones behind the three-point arc. In fact, the arc may be where this entire game is won and lost. The Tar Heels’ smaller lineup is built for attacking from the perimeter with P.J. Hairston at power forward, and the Wildcats have had a well-documented problem stopping the deep threat this season. If the Wildcats can slow down Hairston and use their size to their advantage, they will probably have a better shot to win.
  4. Taking a quick break from Tournament Talk, the sure-to-depress chatter of conference realignment has reared its ugly head again in the form of a story about how the Conference Formerly Known As The Big East could be in danger of losing its lucrative media rights deal. Basically, if Connecticut, Cincinnati, Houston, or Temple decide to leave the conference, the media rights deal with ESPN could be terminated. Those four schools are considered the Tier-1 schools by the television executives and if the Big East can’t hold on to them, the networks will have the option to renegotiate the deal with the league. Commissioner Mike Aresco continues to say all of the right things about the future of his league, but despite all of the maneuvering and jockeying among different teams, it seems like the conference constantly remains on the brink of dissolution, especially if schools like Connecticut and Cincinnati (both of whom are likely trying to find a new home as soon as possible) take off.
  5. Say what you want about the homer-ish tinge to this article about Cashmere Wright, but once you toss aside the paragraphs about why you should root for him, the overall point about Wright’s importance to the Bearcats is a good one. It’s no coincidence that the Bearcats’ sudden struggles during the regular season started right around the same time Wright suffered his shoulder injury. Wright has played much better down the stretch, which is good news for the Bearcats, because they will need him to score against a Creighton team that is one of the most efficient offensive teams in the country. Cincinnati will undoubtedly play tougher, more physical defense than the Bluejays are used to, but the Bearcats don’t exactly score easily and they rely heavily on Wright and backcourt mate Sean Kilpatrick to spark the offense. So yeah, I guess Cincinnati fans should be rooting for Wright.
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Big East M5: 03.11.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on March 11th, 2013

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  1. Anticipation of a full weekend slate games with massive Big East implications was slightly overshadowed last Friday when a statement from the league confirmed the Catholic Seven would make its exit on June 30, 2013. Realignment savant Brett McMurphy reported that the departing schools would not only inherit the Big East name and Madison Square Garden tournament, but also pocket $10 million of the $110 million in exit fees from prior defections. Most astonishingly, Mike Aresco surrendered the 29 NCAA Tournament units those schools accumulated in the past six years, which Forbes claims will distribute at least $7.25 million in 2013 alone. Conversely, the current Big East finds itself nameless, poised to lose Notre Dame a year early, and displaced from its ancestral roots. The amorphous confederation is exploring the name “America 12,” and Hartford and Memphis are early front-runners in the bid to host its refugee tournament, which would complete its metamorphosis into a Conference USA Touring Edition.
  2. UConn played its final game of the 2012-13 season last Saturday in Gampel Pavilion, overcoming Providence 63-59 in overtime to earn its 20th win of the year. More importantly, on Senior Day and perhaps Shabazz Napier’s final game as a Husky, his team won a measure of vindication after months of being told this season was meaningless. The injured guard’s overtime heroics continued as he battled an injured ankle to put up 16 points and eight rebounds in 44 minutes. If Napier does elect to return next season, his maturation as a junior will have been one of the most indispensable benefits of this year’s dress rehearsal. Speaking after Saturday’s win of his personal development, Kevin Ollie said, “Shabazz used to think he can do it by himself. Now he knows he needs his teammates. When somebody is down, he’s always, always there to pick them up.”
  3. Another Saturday rivalry matchup with Big East title implications quickly devolved into a painful juxtaposition of teams speeding in opposite directions, as Georgetown held Syracuse to its lowest point total (39) since 1962. Michael Carter-Williams was the only Syracuse player to reach double digits, but finished with two assists to five turnovers; the Orange as a team had a 4:13 assist-to-turnover ratio (31%). It was a nightmare scenario for the Orange, who will almost assuredly finish the regular season ranked outside the top 20 after reaching #3 in the polls in late January. The Hoyas wrapped up the top seed while Cuse enters the Big East Tournament seeded fifth, having lost four of their last five and seven of 12.
  4. The Big East released their regular season player honors yesterday, and Louisville (Gorgui Dieng, Russ Smith, Peyton Siva) and Syracuse (Michael Carter-Williams, C.J. Fair, Brandon Triche) led the pack with six of the 16 players on the All-Big East first, second and third teams. Dieng and Smith represented the first Cardinals to make first team since Terrence Williams in 2009, while Bryce Cotton was Providence’s second selection in three years after Marshon Brooks was honored in 2011. Georgetown’s Otto Porter was the first team’s only unanimous selection and is poised to take home Player of the Year once it’s announced.
  5. On the topic of Senior Day vindication, Rick Pitino described Louisville’s 73-57 thumping of Notre Dame as a “a storybook ending” for graduating senior Peyton Siva and junior Gorgui Dieng, who is likely to declare for the draft. The two combined for 33 points on 65% shooting, avenging last month’s five-overtime choke job in South Bend before a KFC Yum! Center record crowd of 22,815. Dieng racked up his second double-double in the past three games, and tallied five blocks as he helped stymie Jack Cooley, who finished with seven points and three defensive rebounds. Siva hit multiple threes in a single game for the first time since mid-January, showing a shooting touch and aggressiveness that had been noticeably absent in Big East play. In the process, the Cardinals claimed a share of the Big East regular season title with Georgetown and Marquette. Moreover, Kevin Ware capped off the afternoon’s euphoria by delivering this subversive number –– deemed saucy by the CBS crew –– after being called for a foul on a dramatic fast break block (h/t Card Chronicle):
Kevin Ware eschewed traditional forms of foul protest

Kevin Ware eschewed traditional forms of foul call protest

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Big East M5: 01.29.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on January 29th, 2013

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  1. Marquette ushered in its shiny new Top 25 ranking with a 63-50 win over USF in the Bradley Center last night. The Golden Eagles improved to 6-1 and moved into a tie with Syracuse atop the Big East standings. Vander Blue followed up his impressive dunk on LaDontae Henton with a more comprehensive performance against the Bulls, scoring a career-high 30 points on 13-of-20 shooting. Blue is the first Marquette player to eclipse 30 in a Big East game since Steve Novak did it for Tom Crean back in 2006. With Louisville finally getting off the schneid last night, Marquette’s trip to the River City on Sunday suddenly carries great consequence for the top of the league standings.
  2. Were it not for some creative environmental engineering from Marquette’s athletic department personnel, Vander’s big game would have never been possible. The Bradley Center Bat that terrorized Ed Cooley during the Providence-Marquette game over the weekend was evicted in an appropriately absurd spectacle mere hours before the USF game. Kevin McNamara of the Providence Journal reports: “Marquette officials replicated the opening light/music show that precedes every game, complete with the chords of AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” roaring. The bat responded, swooping down from the heavens and then settling in the building’s lobby. That’s where a waiting team of ‘bat experts’ caught the critter.” Bat Experts: Marquette’s new 6th man.
  3. Villanova’s 6’6″ sophomore shooting guard Darrun Hilliard was recognized as the Big East Player of the Week yesterday. Against heavily favored Louisville and Syracuse teams, Hilliard shot 64.7% from the field while averaging 18 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. While Ryan Arcidiacono and JayVaughn Pinkston received a bulk of the (sparse) hype around this team prior to last week, Hilliard has outperformed both of late and may hold the key to Villanova’s bubbling NCAA Tournament run.
  4. Speaking of Villanova, Mike Aresco told reporters yesterday that the league is negotiating a possible 2014 exit for the Catholic Seven. Aresco is recruiting a 12th school to join the remaining Big East, and it seems that group is willing to make concessions on contractual exit fees and waiting period so long as they can keep the Big East brand. Aresco also described the schism (no pun intended) as amicable, and seemed enthusiastic about the possibility of non-conference scheduling between Big East and Catholic Seven schools.
  5. Membership logistics weren’t the only item discussed after Aresco’s appearance at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast in Middletown, Connecticut (which, having lived in Middletown, sounds like something only Mike Aresco could get excited about). The Big East commissioner also dismissed any lingering hopes that UConn would appear in this year’s Big East Tournament. In December, university president Susan Herbst argued that UConn’s participation in the Big East Tournament would be good for conference solidarity. I tend to agree. When eight of the top nine teams in the current Big East standings won’t be in the Big East in two years, upholding UConn’s retroactive punishment seems like the ultimate case of the tail wagging the dog under the circumstances. But that’s for another discussion. For now, the Huskies’ season ends on March 9.
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Big East Realignment: Conference Looks to Add 12th Team and Sign a TV Contract

Posted by mlemaire on January 28th, 2013

Is everyone still interested in Big East realignment? Good, because believe it or not, everybody’s favorite conference to leave is in the headlines again as it looks to add a 12th team to the roster, keep their name despite significant re-branding efforts, and negotiate the all-important TV package with multiple networks.

Commissioner Mike Aresco dished on a number of topics following a breakfast at a chamber of commerce, and he believes that conference realignment may soon be coming to an end, which is a relief to everyone who enjoys college basketball but doesn’t enjoy watching school administrators work the back channels to wrangle more money for their programs. When Navy joins the Big East in 2015, that will give the league just 11 teams, so adding a 12th team makes plenty of sense if they can actually find a suitable program. Boise State and San Diego State have both backed out on the conference to return to the Mountain West, and it is possible that the Big East will have to compete with the Catholic Seven – which should be gone after next season assuming they work out a favorable deal – if they are looking to add some of the better programs from the Atlantic 10.

Mike Aresco

Big East Commissioner Mike Aresco has his hands full with never-ending realignment manuevering. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

Aresco says that he intends to keep the Big East name and stressed the importance of the conference “remaining geographically cohesive,” which is kind of hilarious because he followed that by saying the conference would not expand past Texas. Not sure exactly what Aresco’s definition of cohesive it is, but from our end, there is nothing cohesive about having Connecticut travel to play Houston or Southern Methodist University, but then again, we aren’t conference presidents, so what do we know?

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Big East M5: 01.07.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on January 7th, 2013

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  1. So that whole thing about the ‘Catholic Seven‘ breaking away from the Big East?  That’s looking like an even better decision than we initially thought. According to ESPN.com‘s Darren Rovell, the seven schools have an offer from FOX, which is looking to launch its own sports channel next summer, for 12 years and $500 million. According to the report, the schools would look to bring in three to five additional members who would receive lesser shares, and the seven schools would each make around $5 million per year. In the current Big East, non-football members now make between $2-$3 million per season. These schools may not have powerful football programs, but Georgetown, St. John’s, Villanova, and the others still hold some weight in the basketball world, as FOX’s reported offer shows.
  2. Meanwhile, Big East commissioner Mike Aresco is having a rough go of things. In a Hartford Courant article, he compares the last six weeks to “drinking from a flood”.  That time period includes the departures of Louisville and Rutgers, the news that Boise State would remain in the Mountain West, and the announcement that the ‘Catholic Seven’ would breaking away from the Big East. Unfortunately for Aresco, it is really less of a flood and more of a drought in terms of viable programs remaining in his conference. San Diego State, which was planning to join as a football-only member, may now turn its back on the conference with Boise gone, and there seems to be real questions as to whether Navy ever ends up joining for football either. To wrap this all up, there does not seem to be many other qualified programs in the east, and schools like Cincinnati, UConn, and USF will jump ship as soon as another viable conference comes calling.
  3. CBS Sports‘ basketball guru Gary Parrish recently penned his mid-season review for the Big East, and everything seemed to line up until his pick for ‘freshman of the year favorite’. Parrish chose Pitt’s Steven Adams as his selection, a players who is having a decent year, and he mentions Villanova’s Ryan Arcidiacono as another candidate, but as Pitt blog Cardiac Hill notes, by far the best choice for this award is St. John’s forward Jakarr Sampson. Sampson is averaging 13.9 points and seven rebounds per game to Adams’ 7.3/6.2 numbers, and has definitely been the conference’s most impressive rookie so far.
  4. Speaking of the Johnnies, they got what may end up being a signature win against Cincinnati on Saturday. Sampson had a solid night, scoring 16 points and grabbing eight boards, but in crunch time Steve Lavin gave the ball to D’Angelo Harrison. Harrison was having an off night for the Red Storm, but came through in the clutch regardless, scoring the final five points in a 53-52 win over the Bearcats. Harrison was benched by Lavin earlier this season when he wasn’t living up to his potential as a team leader and role model… and it certainly seems like his disciplinary tactics are now paying off.
  5. Brandon Triche has always been somewhat of an enigma to Syracuse fans.  He is a four-year starter, and his statistical lines read like those of a consistently good-but-not-great player. However, many people, including Jim Boeheim, envisioned more from Triche, and it seems like the senior guard may be breaking out at the right time for the Orange. In the first two Big East games of the season, Triche has scored a total of 45 points on 16-of-24 shooting, and has taken some of the play-making pressure off of point guard Michael Carter-Williams. Syracuse does not have great depth at guard, especially when freshman Trevor Cooney struggles to score, so Triche’s ability to provide consistent scoring and spell MCW by running the point has proven to be invaluable this season.
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Where Do UConn, Cincinnati, USF Turn After Loss of Catholic Seven?

Posted by Will Tucker on December 24th, 2012

Last week, the Catholic Seven quashed any hopes that the Big East could reconstitute in the image of its former self. In a final stroke of tragedy, that group seems to have absconded with the lucrative television deal that evaded Mike Aresco for months. All of the sudden USF, Cincinnati and Connecticut look to be the only programs in the current Big East standings that won’t head for greener pastures in 2014-15. So how do these Big East incumbents position themselves in the new conference landscape? Do they control their own fate, or are they destined to wait patiently in the widow’s walk for their own realignment lifeboat to reach their shores?

UConn needs to set an example of stability by committing to Kevin Ollie (John Woike/Hartford Courant)

Memphis, UCF, SMU, Houston, and Temple are scheduled to fully integrate their athletic departments into the Big East next summer. Boise State and San Diego State already grace next season’s conference football schedules, but it now appears the Mountain West Conference has convinced them to steal a page from the TCU book of cold feet.

Outlook

Leadership at UConn and Cincinnati are still licking their wounds from their latest unsuccessful attempts to escape Big East entropy. Cincinnati is taking proactive measures already to make itself a more attractive candidate in the next round of conference expansion. Athletic Director Whit Babcock poached football coach Tommy Tuberbville from a decent Big 12 program and announced plans to update Nippert Stadium. Emails between administrative leaders illustrated a coordinated effort to flank Louisville and UConn for the most recent opening in the ACC, and UC had briefly flirted with the Big 12 the previous year. Cincinnati is only interested in the Big East insofar as it maintains an environment that will facilitate its exit as soon as possible: Namely, one that provides acceptable strength of schedule in basketball and football, and some enticing names on the home slate to attract a very fickle local fan base to attend games.

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Big East M5: 12.13.12 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on December 13th, 2012

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  1. Yesterday, we speculated that reconciliation between the Big East and its seven Catholic basketball schools seemed less likely after reading comments from Marquette’s AD Larry Williams in a Tuesday radio interview. Just after midnight this morning, the venerable Brett McMurphy reported that “it’s becoming ‘more likely’ the basketball schools will break away from the league’s football members,” with an announcement coming in as little as 24-48 hours. The Big East bylaws are apparently filled with byzantine procedural protocol, but it appears Temple would not have a vote in the matter of dissolution, after all. So if those seven schools can reach a consensus, there’s nothing UConn, Mike Aresco, or anyone else can do to stop them.
  2. Though Rick Pitino has explicitly prohibited sophomore Chane Behanan from speaking to the media this semester, the embattled forward has developed a surreptitious ritual during his postgame locker room exits. Always the first to leave, he repeats the same refrain as he walks past media waiting for player interviews: “I just want to say, all I want to do is win a national championship.” Though his steady play (8.8 PPG, 7.8 RPG) has at times been overshadowed by disciplinary issues and precocious freshman Montrezl Harrell, Behanan has showed maturity in competing rather than sulking. Considering ego or complacency may have been the culprits that landed him in the doghouse with Pitino, it’s hard to imagine his coach being too upset over this kind of team-oriented, ambitious statement.
  3. The Casual Hoya pegged Georgetown #5 behind Louisville, Syracuse, Cincinnati and Notre Dame in yesterday’s power rankings, and made two salient comments that put the Hoyas’ offensive woes into perspective. The team shooting percentage of 46.2% is only 0.3% lower than last year, and its shooting inside the arc has improved, but the Hoyas’ three-point and free throw shooting percentages are the lowest in John Thompson III’s tenure. Part of the problem might be at the center position: “Georgetown’s centers under III have either been future 1st round picks or seniors. [Mikael] Hopkins currently is neither.”
  4. Villanova exorcised some demons over the course of their Big 5 rivalry games over the last couple weeks. In holding on to win a heated game against St. Joe’s on Tuesday, the Wildcats earned a measure of redemption for the errors that helped La Salle erase seemingly insurmountable last-minute deficits and beat Nova last month. Correcting mistakes identified and dissected by a coach on film is always a more onerous task than simply acknowledging those mistakes and resolving to do better. “That’s part of our building process,” said Jay Wright, “You’ve got to get it done in that situation.” Nova has gone 3-1 in the two weeks since the La Salle collapse, and closed out its Big 5 series strong with wins over Penn and St. Joseph’s.
  5. Jim Boeheim is hedging his bets on losing an underclassman to the draft after this season, as evidenced by his recent recruitment of Class of 2013 5-star center Dakari Johnson. The Orange are out of available scholarships, with five guys already committed in Johnson’s recruiting class. While it’s possible Boeheim is preparing for a player to transfer –– or be told to transfer, a la Jared Swopshire at Louisville –– it’s more likely sophomore Michael Carter-Williams is planning to cash in on his skyrocketing draft stock after this season.
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Big East M5: 12.11.12 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on December 11th, 2012

  1. The biggest news of the last 24 hours came just after midnight, when it was widely reported that the Big East’s seven non-football members convened with conference commissioner Mike Aresco in New York to raise concerns over the league’s uncertain trajectory. The meeting substantiated previous rumors that the Jesuit bloc of Marquette, DePaul, St. John’s, Georgetown, Providence, Seton Hall and Villanova were considering acting as a group to dissolve the Big East and form a rogue basketball league. If those seven schools can reach a consensus in favor of dissolution before football-playing newcomers gain voting membership in July, they could avoid the exit fees, loss of branding and equity they would incur were each school to jump ship unilaterally. The new wrinkle in this convoluted web of intrigue is that Temple –– a school that was expelled from the Big East in 2004 –– might control the fate of the league. As a pending member, it’s currently unclear whether Temple is permitted to vote in basketball-related affairs yet. If it does, its leadership would likely relish the opportunity to veto that plan should it arise, and keep Tulane and SMU on Villanova’s schedule for the foreseeable future.
  2. Rivals.com writer Greg Domorski did a nice feature for Seton Hall on the return of prodigal son Sterling Gibbs, who is looking forward to the opportunity to spend his last three years of eligibility with the Pirates after a homesick freshman season at Texas. He is the first Seton Hall Prep player to join the basketball program at SHU since Jamar Nutter did so in 2003. Gibbs cites his familiarity with the community as a major factor in his decision to return home: “I will work extra hard knowing the support of my family and my friends are all around me. At Texas, they knew my name but not exactly who I was. They didn’t follow me through high school. Here that’s different.” Though he regrets his Texan sojourn, the experience wasn’t altogether unrewarding –– he credits the friendships he developed with former Longhorns D.J. Augustin and Kevin Durant as essential to his growth as a player.
  3. VU Hoops takes a look at the gaping hole in Jay Wright’s frontcourt after the transfer of Markus Kennedy and asks the question, “did it really need to be this way?” A story from Philly.com over the weekend had depicted some questionable decision-making from Wright, who apparently agreed to let Kennedy rejoin the team after a fruitless attempt to transfer out, only to renege on that decision once some of his teammates voiced their displeasure. “It begs the question of whether the inmates are running the asylum” author Brian Ewart points out. Attrition in the Cats’ frontcourt could get worse before it gets better, with Mouphtaou Yarou graduating and solutions remaining on the recruiting board rather than on the bench.
  4. Tom Noie at The South Bend Tribune points out that Notre Dame junior point guard Eric Atkins has recorded 33 assists to just one turnover in his last 143 minutes on the floor. Atkins had resolved to be more aggressive on offense this season at the risk of committing more turnovers, but counterintuitively, his assertiveness has coincided with even greater efficiency. The Irish guard leads the Big East with a 5.3 assist/turnover ratio in the process of dishing out seven assists per game.
  5. Lastly, Ray Fittipaldo at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette offers some perspective on the maturity Pittsburgh senior Dante Taylor has displayed in taking an active role in his team’s leadership despite playing behind freshman Steven Adams. The affection and respect Taylor has garnered among his teammates was on full display in the latter minutes of Pitt’s win over North Florida last Saturday, as their bench exuberantly celebrated Taylor’s team-high 16 points. “Even when I wasn’t playing well those guys were in my corner… It was a confidence-builder.” Jamie Dixon praises Taylor as a consummate teammate and leader, and stressed after the game that his contributions in other areas are more important to him that the senior’s scoring. Nonetheless, Taylor is shooting a career-best 64% from the field, and any sustained offensive production at a center position that generates a modest 11.2 points per game right now will greatly benefit his team.
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