Season in Review: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Posted by Will Tucker on May 2nd, 2013

The Fighting Irish had an auspicious start to a season that was expected to represent a major step forward for Mike Brey’s program. But a slow start and sputtering finish to conference play, coupled with frustrations experienced against the Big East’s top teams, prevented the Irish from matching last year’s top three finish. Despite fielding one of the league’s most talented starting fives, a lack of depth hampered the Irish late in the season and contributed to yet another early exit from the NCAA Tournament.

Preseason Expectations

We ranked Notre Dame third heading into 2012-13, as did the coaches at Big East media day. Mike Brey’s roster returned its top five scorers from 2011-12 and was loaded with talented upperclassmen, namely preseason all-Big East center Jack Cooley, versatile super-senior Scott Martin and the backcourt scoring tandem of juniors Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant.

Jack Cooley,Mike Brey

Mike Brey must adjust to a life without Cooley in 2013-14 (AP Photo/Joe Raymond)

The Good

The Irish raced out to a blistering start, winning 12 in a row for the first time since 2006-07. By early January, they’d blown out #8 Kentucky at home, edged #21 Cincinnati on the road, won their first two Big East games and earned a #16 Coaches Poll ranking alongside their 14-1 record. Cooley (13.1 PPG, 10.1 RPG) lived up to his first team all-Big East billing as he shot 58% from the field and led the Big East in literally every rebounding category. Deep reserve big men Tom Knight and Garrick Sherman filled the void left by Scott Martin’s absence, and keyed huge victories over the likes of Louisville, Marquette and Villanova. The highlight of the season was, unquestionably, enduring five overtimes against the eventual National Champions after Jerian Grant scored 12 points in the last 45 seconds of regulation. Brey’s program claimed its sixth NCAA Tournament bid in seven years, and has averaged almost 13 Big East wins in each of the last three regular seasons –– a figure surpassed only by Syracuse.

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Big East NCAA Tournament Capsules: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Posted by Will Tucker on March 22nd, 2013

Notre Dame built a Tournament resume by beating top-10 ranked UK and collecting conference wins over Louisville, Marquette, Pitt, Villanova and Cincinnati. In the Big East Tournament, Mike Brey’s team bested Rutgers and Marquette, and then hung with Louisville for 25 minutes before ultimately succumbing in the semifinals for the fourth consecutive year. Despite being ranked for much of the season, the Irish were handed a seven seed due to a weak nonconference schedule and 2-5 record against the RPI top 25.

Perimeter defense is top priority for Notre Dame (credit Frank Franklin III)

Perimeter defense is top priority for Notre Dame against Iowa State (credit Frank Franklin III)

Region: West
Seed: No. 7
Record: 25-9 (11-7 Big East)
Matchup: v. Iowa State in Dayton

Key Player: First Team All-Big East big man Jack Cooley has been an offensive juggernaut for the Irish all year, shooting 57% and posting the best offensive rebounding rate in the Big East for the second consecutive season. Cooley isn’t known as a versatile defender though, and the agile shooters in Iowa State’s frontcourt will force him to guard spots on the floor outside his comfort zone. If he can defend the perimeter without posing a defensive liability, Mike Brey’s team will be able to dictate the methodical pace they prefer against the high octane Cyclones.

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Rushed Reactions: Louisville 69, Notre Dame 57

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 15th, 2013

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Brian Otskey (@botskey) filed this report from Louisville’s win over Notre Dame in the nightcap of the Big East semifinals on Friday night at Madison Square Garden.

Three key takeaways:

Russ Smith and Company Handled the Lime Green Irish Friday Night

Russ Smith and Company Handled the Lime Green Irish Friday Night

  1. Louisville’s interior defense was phenomenal. The Cardinals held Notre Dame to 12-of-31 shooting inside the arc as its guards did a great job cutting off dribble penetration. Jack Cooley and Garrick Sherman were able to score some but Louisville forced the Fighting Irish into many tough, contested twos. Louisville was tops in conference play in two-point percentage against and it showed this evening. With Gorgui Dieng anchoring the back line and guards like Russ Smith and Peyton Siva cutting off penetration and creating havoc on the perimeter, it’s a lethal combination. There’s a reason Louisville’s adjusted defensive efficiency currently checks in at a superb 80.9. The Cards are ridiculously good on that end of the floor and will be a nightmare match-up for most teams who aren’t used to seeing a big time shot-blocker and relentless full court pressure.
  2. Russ Smith has quietly had himself a tournament to remember. After scoring 28 points in Thursday’s win over Villanova, Smith hung 20 on the Irish while also dropping six dimes. Smith has been an efficient shooter in New York, making 15 of his 26 field goal attempts through two days here. After the game, Rick Pitino said Smith doesn’t frustrate him all that much with his shot selection, giving his dynamic junior some latitude on the offensive end. It’s on defense where Pitino gets upset with “Russdiculous,” especially when he loses his man off the ball. Smith will have to play well tomorrow night against Syracuse because the Orange will pressure him and could force him into some bad decisions. You never know what you’re going to get out of Smith and that’s what makes him a must-see player.
  3. Although his week just ended, Pat Connaughton was fantastic. In three games at the Garden, Connaughton made 15 threes, one short of the record currently held by Syracuse’s James Southerland (this year) and Gerry McNamara (2006). After the game, head coach Mike Brey said he thought his team found something this week at MSG and that would help them going forward into the NCAA Tournament. He mentioned how it would be nice if they kept shooting the ball well, no doubt a reference to his gritty sophomore from Arlington, Massachusetts. Connaughton is a typical New England kid: smart, mature for his age, seasoned, and a great competitor. He does more than shoot, too. Connaughton averages almost five rebounds per game because he isn’t afraid of contact and uses his body well in creating position. He’ll be a huge asset next week in the tournament and over the next two years as the Irish transition to the ACC.

Star of the Game: You could go with either Peyton Siva (14 points, six assists, one turnover) or Russ Smith (20 points, six assists) so the point here is that Louisville’s backcourt is playing at the level some thought it would be all season long. If you recall, Siva carried this team to a Big East title last year in this building and parlayed that into a Final Four appearance. Louisville needs Smith to score and Siva to create in order to succeed and it is getting just that through two games in this tournament.

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Big East M5: 03.15.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on March 15th, 2013

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  1. Louisville beat Villanova 74-55 in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals last night with an uncharacteristic offensive distribution, scoring almost as many threes (10) as two-point field goals (13). But the Cardinals continued to weather inconsistency on that end of the floor by featuring the most efficient defense in the country. Rick Pitino remarked after the game that the 58 deflections the Cardinals caused against the Wildcats were the most he’d ever recorded since he started tracking the statistic with his teams. Pitino’s team was rewarded with a surprise locker room cameo from college basketball scholar Bill Clinton, who has paid the Cardinals a couple visits in the past, as well.
  2. Russ Smith finished with 28 points and hit four of six attempts from beyond the arc last night, but admitted he was distracted and upset all day after learning of the death of his high school coach, Jack Curran. Curran, 82, was a legend in New York City high school basketball, who coached future NBA point guards Kenny Anderson and Kenny Smith during his 55-year tenure at Archbishop Molloy. Smith learned of his mentor’s death yesterday morning, when he performed his ritual visit of his alma mater while back in New York for a game, and said it was “hard to take it all in” on the spot. “He was everything to me, and to my mom, my family. He treated everyone with respect,” Smith continued; “Today was definitely Coach Curran day for me, and it will be the rest of my life.”
  3. Notre Dame will appear in its fourth consecutive Big East Tournament semifinals after defeating Marquette 73-65 last night. The Irish came out flat against the Golden Eagles but responded with resurgent play for the latter 30 minutes after Mike Brey asked his team in the huddle if they were scared. Jerian Grant and his teammates responded in a big way for the rest of the game, with Pat Connaughton hitting another six three-pointers to score a team-high 18 points. The comeback led Jack Cooley to make some bold postgame predictions: “I think we’re going to come out strong and handle [Louisville’s] pressure phenomenally. I think we can get to Saturday night and that would mean a lot for me.”
  4. Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins laments the demise of the Big East Tournament in a scathing essay on the misaligned priorities of college administrators. “This isn’t collegiate competition we’re watching any more,” Jenkins contends, “It’s thinly veiled money laundering, and it’s ruining the NCAA’s chief commodity, which is our affection.” She places blame on the university presidents, athletic directors and conference officials who she says have colluded to engineer more lucrative arrangements at the expense of the athlete and the fan. Jenkins recalls a press conference in which she posed a question to former Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese about the ethics of vastly uneven revenue among power conference schools, to which he responded, “This isn’t communism.” In the columnist’s words “you live by the sword, you die by the sword.”
  5. Georgetown showed off its composure and balance in a 62-43 quarterfinal win over Cincinnati that was at times much closer than the score would indicate. “For the most part, this group doesn’t get rattled,” said John Thompson III, whose team weathered a three-point shooting barrage from the Bearcats that eroded a 15-point lead into a deficit early in the second half. Markel Starks said after the win that his team takes pride in its defensive adjustments, and that players’ enthusiasm for shutting down their assignments is not a new phenomenon: “It’s no formula. Everyone’s talking about our defense now, but we’ve been playing defense all year.” They’ll face a rematch from last weekend with Syracuse in the semifinals today, and will probably be making plenty of adjustments on defense as they try to beat the Orange for the third time this year.
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Five Thoughts on the Big East Tournament: Thursday Evening Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 14th, 2013

Brian Otskey attended the Thursday evening session of the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden and filed this report. Follow him on Twitter @botskey

Russ Smith Had Himself an Evening

Russ Smith Had Himself an Evening

  1. Louisville is clearly a team that can win it all. Personally, I think Louisville is the nation’s No. 2 team right now behind Indiana. If the Cardinals keep this level of play up, however, they’ll move to the top spot in my mind. Louisville’s defensive efficiency numbers have been on a historic pace this season and it was never more evident than tonight. The Cards swarmed, trapped and turned Villanova over all night long. The Wildcats committed 25 turnovers for the game, including a stunning 18 in the first half alone. After the game, head coach Rick Pitino said his team recorded 58 deflections, a record for them. Louisville’s game plan was to guard the three-point line, keep Villanova off the free throw line and create havoc. Check, check, check. Mission accomplished. Louisville had 19 turnovers of its own but that didn’t really hurt the team because of the +6 margin. When Louisville plays defense like this, the sky is the limit, as they say.
  2. If Louisville hits threes like it did tonight, nobody is beating the Cards. The Cardinals were 10-of-24 from three point land (42%) with Peyton Siva and Russ Smith doing most of the damage. This team is already dangerous as constituted but when it adds this other dimension, it’s almost unbeatable. Louisville came into the game hitting only 31% of its threes in Big East play and ranks 246th in the country in three-point percentage. That has been a huge weak spot for Louisville all season and one of the reasons why some feel the team can’t go all the way. If this is a sign of things to come, I’m not sure anybody can beat Louisville.
  3. I actually like Notre Dame’s uniforms but that’s not the point. The idea isn’t for the Fighting Irish to make people like them (or hate them), it’s to sell jerseys and grab the attention of recruits. It’s a great marketing strategy, especially during postseason play when more people (and recruits) are watching than at any point during the regular season. While a lot of these uniforms may be ugly (Cincinnati and Louisville’s gear comes to mind), the Adidas-sponsored schools are doing what they should be doing: bringing attention to their programs. Read the rest of this entry »
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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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Celebrating Notre Dame Senior Jack Cooley

Posted by WCarey on March 6th, 2013

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. You can follow him at @walkerRcarey.

When Notre Dame celebrated its Senior Night on Tuesday, the Irish honored four players. However, of those four seniors, only one was active due to a redshirt (forward Joey Brooks) and a pair of knee injuries (to forwards Mike Broghammer and Scott Martin). That one active senior was forward Jack Cooley. Cooley, a native of Glenview, Illinois, committed to Mike Brey and the Irish in February of his junior year after also considering offers from Illinois, Southern Illinois, and Wisconsin. When he arrived in South Bend, he had to wait his turn before becoming a major contributor for the Irish. During his freshman and sophomore seasons, he fought for minutes behind former Irish standouts Luke Harangody, Tim Abromaitis, Tyrone Nash, and Carleton Scott. While he only averaged 10.3 minutes per game during his sophomore season, that was the year when it became clear that Cooley had the skills to provide the Irish with a solid interior force. He also became widely known throughout college basketball that season for his uncanny physical resemblance to his former teammate, Harangody.

Jack Cooley

Jack Cooley represents what it means to be a true student-athlete. (Chicago Tribune)

It became Cooley’s time during his junior season after Harangody, Nash, and Scott had graduated and Abromaitis was lost early in the season to a serious knee injury. He responded admirably to his increased role, averaging 12.5 points per game, 8.9 rebounds per game, and recording 13 double-doubles. As a team, Notre Dame had a successful 2011-12 season, finishing at 22-12 with an impressive 13-5 mark in the Big East. At the conclusion of the conference season, Cooley was the recipient of two conference accolades, as he was named the Big East Most Improved Player and was voted Second-Team All-Big East.

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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: 02.28.13 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on February 28th, 2013

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  1. Everyone remembers the last two days when I was saying that UConn was going to come to play Wednesday right? Okay so maybe I wasn’t going out on a very big limb with that prediction, but the Huskies sure made me look good last night when they took highly ranked Georgetown to double overtime before losing a game they probably should have won in agonizing fashion. Yes, Otto Porter deserves some big-time credit for his late-game heroics and his general excellence at the game of basketball, but the Huskies’ perimeter defense for most of the second half was atrocious and their offensive possessions down the stretch were not great either. UConn deserves credit for continuing to play inspired basketball without a postseason to look forward to, and Georgetown has the look of a No. 1 seed after taking a tough conference opponent’s best shot on the road and still coming out with a win. The Hoyas are hardly a finished product and if some team can figure out how to stop or even slow down Porter, John Thompson III‘s bunch will be in big trouble. But, in case you didn’t notice, Porter is pretty difficult to stop and when the backcourt duo of D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and Markel Starks get going, opposing teams don’t have a lot of success. It is way too early to say Georgetown has the inside shot at a No. 1 seed because an early exit in the Big East Tournament can dash those hopes quickly, but they are definitely in the conversation as of right now.
  2. Notre Dame is still clinging to hope at winning the Big East regular season crown and one of the ways to improve their chances would be to get the services of senior forward Scott Martin back sometime soon. Martin has returned to practice after battling knee issues for much of the season but the Fighting Irish still have no idea when he will return to the court or if he will be able to return at all. Coach Mike Brey gave Martin’s comeback a 50-50 shot and it seems like the best the team and Martin can hope for is that the pain won’t be a major issue and Martin can play limited minutes. Even in limited minutes, Martin’s basketball IQ, floor-spacing ability, and improved long-range shooting would be a boon for a Fighting Irish team trying to find some consistency. And on a more personal note, it would be just awful for Martin if his sixth-year of eligibility and his last shot at the NCAA Tournament were wasted because of recurring knee problems. The quotes Martin gave to Jeff Goodman are, unfortunately, rather sad, and positive thinking alone won’t resurrect Martin’s career. My guess is that Brey and the team will find a way to get Martin on the court, even for a minute, on Senior Night next Tuesday but I wouldn’t expect him to make a large impact on the rest of team’s season.
  3. Until I got a chance to read this article, I had forgotten that Miami‘s star point guard Shane Larkin was at one point supposed to be playing for DePaul and coach Oliver Purnell. Even Purnell was willing to wonder what life might have been with a budding star like Larkin running the show, but alas, the Blue Demons don’t have Larkin, who has gone on to bigger and better things, while the Blue Demons have continued to slump. The story is a good one, especially because it is penned by a Virginian-Pilot reporter who was familiar with Purnell from the coach’s time at Old Dominion. The jist is that Purnell came to Chicago with the reputation of a program fixer, something DePaul was in desperate need of, and things have not gone according to plan. Aside from Cleveland Melvin and Brandon Young, the team is devoid of true Big East-caliber talent and the Blue Demons’ offense is so putrid at times that watching them play can be difficult. We have used this space before to wonder whether Purnell will get the axe at the end of this season, but I think at this point, the school is willing to let him have one more year to show some serious improvement before they kick him to the curb. Of course that extra season might have just as much to do with the fact that DePaul still owes Purnell a lot of money and they would like to try and recoup something of value from that investment. It’s hard to root against Purnell, who seems like such a nice guy, but Purnell’s coaching track record is not spotless, and unless he can turn things around out of the gate next season, the school may not even wait a full season to dump him.
  4. Hard to disagree with Cincinnati head honcho Mick Cronin‘s decision to make practice after the team’s blowout loss to Notre Dame light and fun. Nothing has been fun about the last few weeks for Cincinnati as they have watched themselves go from conference title contenders to bubble watchers in just six games and so Cronin’s decision to give the guys an “emotional break” seems like exactly what the doctor ordered for the team as they get ready to play UConn on Saturday. Of course that emotional break won’t help the Bearcats learn how to score, something they have not done a lot of in recent weeks. The game against the Huskies will be at home, and UConn is coming off their emotionally draining loss last night to Georgetown, so maybe the stars have aligned for Cincinnati to get back on track, or maybe the gritty Huskies will find a way to get up for this game as well and they will sink Cincinnati even lower. Maybe now, after their break, the team can relax, take some of the pressure off of themselves, and just play hard-nosed basketball. They better, because although they are safely in the tournament for now, the way they have played in the last six games, anything can happen before Selection Sunday.
  5. It is somewhat hard to follow Bud Poliquin‘s meandering, comma-filled article about Jim Boeheim‘s testy press conference after the team’s loss to Marquette but I think what the veteran columnist is trying to say is that people shouldn’t make a big deal of the fact that Boeheim got a bit snippy in a press conference because it happens all the time. Poliquin has a point. There are plenty of us who haven’t even been on Earth long enough to remember Boeheim’s first years at Syracuse and even we know that the legend likes to get combative and short when he doesn’t like the questions being asked. All of that said, Boeheim has been making plenty of news with his off-the-court remarks this season, and scolding a student reporter, or any reporter for that much, for asking pertinent questions about X’s and O’s and coaching decisions is a bit ridiculous. The questions that Boeheim didn’t like weren’t meant to question his coaching ability, they were questions that were being asked so they could get answers from the guy in the room with all of the coaching experience and ability. A question about why Boeheim didn’t use DaJuan Coleman against the Golden Eagles isn’t meant to criticize Boeheim’s decision-making, it is to learn more about his decision-making process. So yeah, let’s not make a big deal of the fact that Jim Boeheim got snarky in front of a microphone again, but only if Boeheim will agree to stop making innocent questions about a game such a big deal as well.
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Big East M5: 02.21.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on February 21st, 2013

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  1. Well, just when everyone had become enchanted with the idea of Providence giving Syracuse a stiff challenge, the Orange came out and showed everyone why they hadn’t lost at home in 37 games. Boeheim’s defensive length sparked a 31-5 run to close the first half, and the Friars were run out of the gym, 84-59. CJ Fair logged his second consecutive double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds, and the Orange shot almost 57% on a Providence defense that had held Notre Dame to 39% last week. Most encouraging for Syracuse fans was the impeccable performance Michael Carter-Williams turned in after his tapering assist numbers had raised eyebrows. The sophomore ended with 12 assists and an absurd 6:1 assist to turnover ratio to go along with 15 points and five rebounds. Any doubts about Syracuse’s trajectory were erased as they moved back into a tie for first place in league play.
  2. In another Wednesday night blowout, Georgetown freshman D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera played a career game as the Hoyas pounded DePaul, 90-66, to extend their winning streak to eight. Coming off the bench, the stocky Thompsonian guard racked up 33 points on 10-of-12 (83%) shooting, hit 5-of-6 threes and 8-of-10 free throws. It was the most points scored by a Georgetown freshman since Victor Page put up 34 in the 1996 Big East Tournament. It also warrants some further research to determine the last time anyone accumulated as many points shooting 80% or higher from both the field, three-point and free throw lines. We’ll look into it.
  3. Jamie Dixon’s emphasis on rebounding is well documented, but it’s even more important this season without a reliable scorer. Despite entering last weekend’s game tied for the best rebounding margin in the Big East, Pitt emerged bloodied from its Notre Dame embarrassment with a -22 margin between two straight losses. In fact, Pitt’s lost six of the last eight games in which it hasn’t earned an advantage on the glass. Dixon stresses the need for “rebounding from every position,” but Lamar Patterson had questioned the effort from his big men after last weekend’s Marquette loss: “We’ve got big guys, too. Steve [Adams] and Talib [Zanna] are big guys. It came down to who wanted it more.” The two performed even worse on the boards against the Irish, collecting four and two rebounds, respectively. Maybe it’s not the kind of criticism you’d pose publicly, but it appears to have some merit.
  4. Notre Dame forward Scott Martin is poised to return to full participation in practice this weekend after missing eight games with chronic knee issues. Despite the leadership and production Martin brings to the table, the Irish are 6-2 in his absence, as Tom Knight has ascended from obscurity to become a reliable starter. It’s not an unfamiliar situation for Mike Brey: “Luke Harangody came back to us at time we were rolling along with a different nucleus. Scott will have to work himself in and he and I talked about that. His attitude is great… I would love to have that body available down the stretch.” Brey also revealed he’s also contemplating inserting Martin at the three spot, which would alleviate the problematic numbers game in Notre Dame’s frontcourt. It’s hard to imagine a hobbled Martin having the lateral quickness to guard many Big East threes, though.
  5. Eric Crawford at the Louisville Courier-Journal juxtaposes the patchwork understanding of basketball Gorgui Dieng brought to Louisville with the astute mind for the game he’s developed in three seasons. He’s gone from not grasping that offensive and defensive fouls count toward one’s foul total, to becoming one of the team’s best passer, whom Rick Pitino compares to former point-center David Padgett for his passing ability and intellect. “He’s our coach on the floor,” says Pitino. While Dieng demurred when asked about his coach’s comments that he may encourage the 23-year-old junior to test the draft after this season, Crawford picks up on subtleties in Dieng’s speech that suggest he might be preparing for an exit. Responding to concerns about fatigue, Dieng said, “I will do whatever to help this team. I’m not worried if I play a lot of minutes or less minutes. I don’t know if I’m going to have this chance again, ever.”
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Big East M5: 02.18.12 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on February 18th, 2013

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  1. Providence defeated its second ranked opponent in as many weeks after pasting Notre Dame 71-54 in The Dunk on Saturday. The Friars’ four-game Big East winning streak is their first since 2004, and a tangible affirmation that Ed Cooley has his program trending toward relevancy after a long series of setbacks. There was a lot for Providence fans to celebrate in Saturday’s win: Vincent Council became the school’s all-time assist leader; Bryce Cotton broke out of his shooting slump; and the Friars shut down the league’s second most efficient offense. But it was junior center Kadeem Batts who Mike Brey singled out after the game as his choice for the Big East’s Most Improved Player. Coming into the season as a question mark whose production and minutes had decreased in 2011-12, Batts has become the centerpiece of his team’s turnaround, particularly in the aftermath of Sidiki Johnson’s leave of absence.
  2. Louisville reopened its recruiting pipeline to Seattle over the weekend, as 6’7 junior guard Shaqquan Aaron committed to the Cardinals over UCLA, Syracuse and Arizona, among others. Aaron concluded Louisville was “a perfect fit” after probing current players about the rigors of playing for Rick Pitino during his official visit. “I want to play for a coach that is going to be hard on me. I like how coach P is going to push me every time.” The California native attends the same high school as former Louisville point-forward Terrence Williams, and would carry the mantle of Emerald City transplants for Pitino after Peyton Siva graduates this year. The commitment also reestablishes a presence in Seattle after the Cards’ staff struck out in the highly visible recruitment of Tony Wroten in 2010.
  3. Georgetown may be one of four nine-win teams atop the Big East bottleneck, but it’s unquestionably the hottest one after winning its seventh consecutive game on the road in Cincinnati. After Otto Porter picked up his fourth foul with more than seven minutes remaining in a three-point game, the specter of a fifth consecutive loss to the Bearcats probably loomed over many a Hoya fan’s living room. That Georgetown remained committed to its defensive game plan and rebuilt its lead on the road, against a style of opponent they’ve traditionally struggled against, quells any doubt that John Thompson III’s team is a leading Big East contender.
  4. After collecting praise and accolades in the first months of his Pittsburgh career, freshman guard James Robinson has hit a dramatic scoring slump in the past seven contests. The 6’2″ former Big East Rookie of the Week has shot 16% from the field and failed to score more than one basket in any game during that stretch, despite averaging 21 minutes per game. Moreover, Robinson has failed to score from the field at all in three of those seven contests. He continues to contribute in other ways, like hitting all eight of his combined free throws in the past two games. Nonetheless, Cardiac Hill suggests it might be time to curtail his playing time for the time-being.
  5. On the Catholic Seven front, we learned last night that the nascent league will pursue a 12-team structure by recruiting either Richmond or Siena (?) to join assured invitees Butler, Dayton, Xavier and St. Louis. More importantly, we learned that nobody wants to lead the Catholic Seven: that task fell to Georgetown President John J. DeGioia, “in large part because of a lack of interest on the part of the presidents of St. John’s, Villanova, Seton Hall, DePaul, Marquette and Providence.” The quote illuminates the kind of visionary initiative you would expect from the league that elected to cast its lot with DePaul rather than UConn and Cincinnati. Then again, they’re on the verge of stumbling into a huge payday. VU Hoops still voices some anxiety over the symbolism of allowing fairly trifling logistical concerns to dictate that the league is courting the likes of Siena and Detroit Mercy rather than Creighton.
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Big East M5: 02.11.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on February 11th, 2013

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  1. So, Mike Brey might be a bit prescient. Before Notre Dame’s epic five-overtime win over Louisville this weekend, the Irish coach showed his team film from great boxing matches as motivation, and made comments comparing the upcoming game to a 15-round bout. Brey may have intended his analogy to allude to Louisville’s frantic, fast-paced style of play that often wears out opponents, but as fate would have it, the game played out in a much more literal fashion. I expect that Brey will discuss first-round knockouts before this Wednesday’s game against DePaul.
  2. Steve Lavin missed St. John’s Sunday loss to Syracuse due to the passing of his father Albert “Cap” Lavin. Lavin and his father were reportedly very close, and Cap had played a part in this St. John’s season earlier this year, when the Red Storm traveled west to take on his alma mater, San Francisco. According to St. John’s assistant Rico Hines, who stepped in for Lavin during his absence in Syracuse, the players took the loss hard, as they had been able to spend time with the elder Lavin this season: “They were sad. They were really sad… Cap was one of those guys that watched every game or listened to it on the radio, and those guys knew that. … They all said they’d say a prayer for him, and we’ll try to play as hard as we can.”
  3. Syracuse’s long national nightmare is (probably) over. Shortly before tip-off against St. John’s Sunday, word leaked out that James Southerland had won his Friday appeal to a university academic panel, and that he’d be ready to play in the game. The re-introduction of Southerland to the team gives the Syracuse offense more potency from three-point range and vastly improves the Orange’s spacing on the floor, allowing guards Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche more room to operate.  Southerland played 26 minutes off the bench against the Red Storm, scoring 13 points on 4-of-10 shooting from the field.
  4. The adjustment to Division I basketball for Pitt’s Steven Adams has been a tough one, and it has apparently had a negative impact on the seven-footer’s NBA Draft stock. Adams’ play has been improving of late, and with his newfound ability, Pitt has been playing inspired basketball. The Panthers have won four of their last five contests, and during that stretch the freshman has averaged a very solid nine points, nine rebounds, and two blocks per game.
  5. Cincinnati hasn’t been a pretty offensive team at all this year – without a significant low post threat like former Bearcat Yancy Gates manning the middle, it is almost entirely up to guards Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright to score in bunches from the outside.  Unfortunately for UC, that two-guard punch has been significantly hampered by a sprain to Wright’s right knee, which he sustained in a January 15 game against DePaul. Since returning from the injury, Wright has only scored in double-figures once, and as a team Cincinnati has averaged under 60 points per game during that stretch.  For a squad without many reliable offensive options, Wright needs to return to form as soon as possible or the Bearcats risk falling further down the Big East standings.
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