The Doctor Is In The House: Villanova Edition

Posted by mlemaire on January 13th, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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After the Buzzer: Opening Weekend Edition

Posted by rtmsf on November 14th, 2011

This Weekend’s Lede. All the Way Back. College basketball trickled out last week, but with a total of 232 games taking place between Friday and Sunday nights, it’s safe to say that the November fire hose of hoops has been turned on. Every Top 25 team except one (Memphis) played at least once over the weekend, and those schools went 30-2 playing mostly unranked teams that never had much of a chance. There were a couple of exceptions, of course, and we’ll be sure to get to those below. Regardless of the quality of the ball (and it mostly ranged from adequate to poor), how satisfying was it to see regular updates over the weekend bringing you scores, highlights and storylines from games that actually count? It was fantastic, and with all of the great events coming up in the next two weeks — Champions Classic, Coaches vs. Cancer, CBE, Legends, Maui, PNIT, the conference challenges — it’s a great time to be a college basketball fan.

Your Watercooler Moment.  This one is easy.

The Setting For Outdoor Basketball in San Diego Was Spectacular (credit: US Pacific Fleet)

It’s somewhat rare that a gimmicky game like the Carrier Classic could end up being so completely awesome, but you could tell when you heard the voices of the players, coaches, media and military personnel on Friday night that they all felt like they were in the midst of something special. Maybe it was the fact that it was Veterans Day, or that President Obama was there, or that the Coronado evening came through with a gorgeously orange sunset… we don’t care. What we do care about is that the setting and venue put college basketball on a pedestal (literally) for its unofficial opening night, and for a game that sometimes fails to promote itself in a manner commensurate with its passion, fanfare and excitement, the inaugural Carrier Classic was a big-time hit. Oh, and #1 North Carolina needs to work on its offensive rebounding…

Dunktastic. Is it possible that the best dunk of the entire season was on the opening weekend?  Goodness… Jeremy Lamb, who knew?

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Morning Five: 01.14.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on January 14th, 2011

  1. Villanova is ranked in the top ten and may seem like its in a similar position to what it was last season when the Wildcats roared to a 20-1 start.  But things are different this time around, says head coach Jay Wright, as his team has bought into playing better defense and sharing the ball en route to a 15-1 record so far this year.  We can buy it.  Villanova looked worn down by the end of last season, and their big men (particularly Mouph Yarou) were not quite ready for prime time.  This year’s team has yet to play a road game against a legitimate team, so we’ll reserve judgment until we see how they do in trips to Storrs and Syracuse in coming weeks.
  2. Ugh.   The father of the teenager who is accusing an unnamed Washington player of sexual assault in Seattle has come out to say that he is “outraged” that the player is still on the team and playing basketball.  He said that his daughter has not yet been back to school since the alleged incident, and it “boils his blood” that he feels the police and university are protecting the player.  This sounds like it’s only going to get worse before it gets better.  We have no idea who this player might be, but it’s interesting that the father said the player went to a liquor store prior to taking the girl back to her apartment.  Does this mean he’s at least 21 years old?
  3. Oregon opened its brand-new, Phil Knight-funded Matthew Knight Arena on Thursday night with a win over USC.  In case you missed it or forgot what their new court looks like, take a gander at this.  Yes, in HD it looks even worse than expected.
  4. We have it on great authority that Luke Winn pulled an all-nighter to get his latest Power Rankings up this week.  And here we thought all along that it was all in his head, expelled onto his laptop in a mere twenty minutes or less.  The new #1 is, not surprisingly, Ohio State, but as usual, you’ll learn more about the sport in 15 minutes reading his column that you will by spending hours in most other places the entire rest of the week.  Oh, and he also churned out a column on Duke’s loss to Florida State Wednesday night, just for good measure.
  5. One day after Memphis’ second consecutive loss at SMU, Josh Pastner indefinitely suspended junior Wesley Witherspoon for mocking an assistant coach during the bus ride home, “going as far as getting on the bus’ loudspeakers and doing an impression of the coach.”  All we can say is… wow.  Who does this after an embarrassing loss?  Who does this, period?
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Preseason NIT: Weakened Field But Still Special

Posted by rtmsf on August 17th, 2010

A couple of weeks ago we broke down what will arguably be the top holiday tournament of the 2010-11 season, the Maui Invitational.  The other Big Daddy of pre-conference tourneys, the Preseason NIT, released its brackets today, and at first blush, the field is not all that exciting this year.  Take a look at the below bracket and tell us where you get a little tingly thinking about the downstream matchup possibilities?

The only legitimate national contender in the field is Villanova, with 105-point scorer Corey Fisher returning along with a whole cadre of talented inside players including Mouph Yarou, Antonio Pena and Isaiah Armwood.  If the expectation is that productive freshmen become superb sophomores, then the Wildcats are a team with as much upside as anyone else in America next year.  The dropoff in talent from VU to the next best squad, Tennessee, is significant, but the real precipice occurs after that point.  The Vols lost Wayne Chism, JP Prince and Bobby Maze from their Elite Eight team, but they bring back star-in-waiting Scotty Hopson and add Tobias Harris to a solid cast of role players, so UT has a chance to be very good again.  We’d expect these two teams to sleepwalk their way to the finals on Black Friday in Madison Square Garden.

The third and fourth seeds and regional hosts Wake Forest and UCLA are two of the weaker teams we’ve seen in this position in some time.  Neither is a likely NCAA Tournament team next season, and it says here that both schools will have trouble getting out of their PNIT region despite the fact that it will be played on their home courts.  Wake returns two promising sophomores in CJ Harris and Ari Stewart, but the loss of all-ACC players Al-Farouq Aminu and Ish Smith, not to mention head coach Dino Gaudio (replaced by Jeff Bzdelik), will be too much for the duo to bear so early in the season — expect the Deacs to crumble against a strong VCU team with something to prove.  UCLA returns more than Wake Forest, but if you’ve somehow been in a fugue state for the past twelve months, the Bruin program has fallen on hard times due to poor recruiting, team chemistry and injury problems.  The talented but enigmatic Malcolm Lee returns along with several other young players (Tyler Honeycutt, Reeves Nelson, Jerime Anderson), but the addition of five-star stud Josh Smith to the mix isn’t going to suddenly remind UCLA how to win games.  A second-round matchup against Pacific, with its top four players returning, or Nevada, always looking for a Pac-10 scalp as a member of the overlooked WAC, will be difficult for UCLA, even in Pauley Pavilion.

The one thing we will continue to give the PNIT folks credit for, though, is that they actually still understand the meaning of the word “Tournament.”  Yeah, yeah, we know that other entities get around it by using words like “Classic,” but a bracket is a bracket and it really only makes sense when a team advances into the later rounds by, you know, winning.  There are no guarantees — Villanova, Tennessee, Wake Forest and UCLA will actually have to beat two visiting teams to earn the privilege of a trip to New York City during Thanksgiving week to play in the World’s Most Famous Arena.  So from that perspective, we’ll still enjoy watching the Preseason NIT this November if for no other reason than they get it right.

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Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by rtmsf on January 29th, 2010

Rob Dauster of Ballin’ is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference.

With Georgetown, Pitt, West Virginia, and UConn all coming down to earth in the last few weeks, Syracuse and Villanova have established themselves unequivocally as the favorites in the Big East.

But who is better?

It depends on how you look at them.  Going strictly by the numbers, its Syracuse. They are first in the country in the RPI, and third according to KenPom. They’ve done so playing the fourth-most difficult schedule in the country. They won at West Virginia and handily beat Georgetown at home despite digging a 14-0 hole. They are 4-0 on the road, beat Cal and UNC in MSG early in the season, and also beat Florida in Tampa. Their sole loss on the season was to Pitt.

Their length has made their zone almost impenetrable. They deflect passes and force turnovers, and are able to convert those turnovers into points as well as anyone in the country. Offensively, they play an incredibly smart brand of basketball, rarely taking a bad or forced shot. Want proof?  They shoot, as a team, 53.4% from the floor, and have an effective field goal percentage of 59.3, second best in the country.  It makes sense that Syracuse’s name is being thrown around when talking about the Final Four and the national title. They’ve had a fantastic season.

But Villanova has been great this year as well.  In fact, they have a better record than Syracuse, as they are 8-0 in the league. They have five wins against the RPI top 50, and nine against the top 100. Their only loss is to Temple, which doesn’t look nearly as bad as it did when they were beaten. They’ve played more games (11) away from home than they have at home (10), and are 10-1 in those games. While their efficiency numbers are lower than you would expect from a team in the top five (KenPom has them at 13th), a big reason for that is their poor defensive efficiency, which is 71st in the country. But that number has been steadily climbing (they were 95th a month ago), and is made up for by a potent offensive attack.

Those numbers will only get better as Villanova continues to play at full strength. Reggie Redding, the Wildcats’ best perimeter defender, wasn’t eligible until after the Temple loss. Mouph Yarou is back from a bout of hepatitis, giving Villanova some depth in the paint.  Head-to-head, this game would be a toss-up. Villanova has shooters and penetrators in their backcourt that thrive against a zone. Syracuse has the size inside and the discipline offensively to pick apart the Wildcat defense. I don’t think I’m the only one that would say the winner of this game would be a toss-up, depending on who got hot and where the game was played.

Having said that, if I had to bet on one of these two teams to win the Big East, I would put everything I own on the Orange.  In a heartbeat.  You see, Villanova has yet to really play the meat of the Big East. In February, not only will Villanova have to play Georgetown, Syracuse, Pitt, West Virginia, and Cincinnati, they will have to play all five of them on the road.  Going 3-2 in that stretch would be quite an accomplishment.  And that’s not it. The Wildcats also have to UConn and West Virginia again at home. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone with a tougher schedule down the stretch than Villanova.

Syracuse doesn’t exactly play cupcakes the rest of the season. They get Louisville twice, UConn and Villanova at home, and travel to Georgetown and Cincinnati. But that is a far cry from what the Wildcats finish the season with. Its not crazy to predict the Orange to go 9-1 over their last 10 games, putting them at 16-2 in the conference.  Can Villanova match that?  The most intriguing part in all of this is that Villanova and Syracuse only play once this season, on Feb. 27th. Seeing as the winner will hold the tie-breaker if the two teams should finish the season with identical records, in all probability that game will be the de facto Big East championship game.

Think the Carrier Dome will be packed for that one?

Other News and Notes

  • UConn has had a weird couple of weeks. They lost at Michigan before finding out that Jim Calhoun was going to be taking an indefinite leave of absence. They then beat St. John’s and #1 Texas at home, before looking lost in a 15-point defeat at the hands of Providence. The problem for UConn at Providence was the lack of a leader. When the Friars put a late run on the Huskies, they folded. Their offense stopped moving, they settled for contested jumpers and headlong drive into the lane, and lost all aggressiveness on the defensive end and on the glass. Could that have been different if Calhoun was on the sidelines? Who knows, but unless someone on that Husky roster becomes a leader a la AJ Price, UConn now looks headed for the NIT, while the win over Texas looks like a fluke.
  • Another interesting tidbit from UConn’s last two weeks: in their loss to Michigan, the students rushed the Crisler Arena floor. When UConn beat Texas, their fans stormed the Gampel Pavilion court. But after losing to Providence, Frair fans RTC’d the Dunk. Has that ever happened before?
  • In Georgetown’s 15 wins, Chris Wright is averaging 16.8 ppg as opposed to 6.5 ppg in their four losses. Pretty standard, considering Wright is one of Georgetown’s top scorers. But where it gets interesting is that Wright is averaging 6.5 apg and just 1.3 turnovers in the Hoyas’ four losses, a 5:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. In their 15 wins, he is averaging 3.5 apg and 2.9 t/o’s. Not exactly ideal point guard numbers. But Chris Wright isn’t exactly your prototypical point guard, and Georgetown doesn’t exactly run your prototypical offense. The Hoyas’ playmaker is Greg Monroe. The offense runs through him at the high post, which means that Wright isn’t needed to be a great distributor or facilitator as much as he’s needed to be a guy that can score. And if he’s proved anything this season, its that he certainly has that ability.
  • The top five in the Big East are all, barring a collapse down the stretch, a lock to make the Dance. But after that, the question marks begin to mount.
  • UConn has a win over Texas to give their resume some credibility, but after that their best “win” is probably close losses to Kentucky and Georgetown. The only reason they are in the conversation right now is the fact they’ve played the toughest schedule in the country, bolstering what is a top 30 RPI. The Huskies have a lot of work to do if they want to ensure a bid.
  • Louisville is just 1-5 against the RPI top50, with that one coming against Cincinnati, who is 49th. Their best win out of conference? East Tennessee State, who is 128th. Louisville will have plenty of chances the rest of the season – they play six of their 11 games against teams in the RPI top 30.
  • Cincinnati is in a little better shape than Louisville. They are 3-5 against the top 50, including a win over Vanderbilt that gets more and more impressive. They don’t really have any terrible losses, either, as their worst is a loss at St. John’s (a game they absolutely pissed away). If the Bearcats can take care of business in games they should win, their season will be decided in the final week, as they go to West Virginia, get Villanova at home, and go to Georgetown.
  • Notre Dame has a lot of work to do. They lost their only top 100 nonconference matchup to Northwestern, while also losing to Loyola Marymount. Notre Dame’s biggest issue is that they don’t have the opportunities that other teams do – only two of their ten games are against the top five in the league.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK and TEAM OF THE WEEK: Dominique Jones and South Florida Bulls

For the first time in their Big East tenure, South Florida has won back-to-back games, beating Providence in overtime on Saturday before knocking off Seton Hall on Thursday night in another overtime game. I’ve been touting Dominique Jones all season long in this space, and this week he backed me up. Against Providence, Jones had the best all-around performance of the Big East season (sorry, Scottie Reynolds, but its true), as he scored 46 points (on 15-23 shooting), grabbed 10 boards, and dished out 8 assists as the Bulls overcame a 12 point deficit in the final two minutes of regulation to force the OT. Against Seton Hall, Jones scored six of his 28 points (on just 9-16 shooting) in overtime, also adding 4 boards and 3 assists. On the week, he averaged 37.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg, and 5.5 apg while shooting over 60% from the floor.

POWER RANKINGS

1. Syracuse: 20-1, 7-1

Last Week: 1/23 vs. Marquette 76-71, 1/25 vs. Georgetown 73-56

Next Week: 1/30 @ DePaul, 2/2 vs. Providence

2. Villanova: 19-1, 8-0

Last Week: 1/23 @ St. John’s 81-71, 1/27 vs. Notre Dame 90-72

Next Week: 2/2 vs. Seton Hall

3. West Virginia: 16-3, 5-2

Last Week: 1/23 vs. Ohio State 71-65, 1/26 @ DePaul 62-46

Next Week: 1/30 vs. Louisville, 2/3 vs. Pitt

4. Georgetown: 16-4, 6-3

Last Week: 1/23 vs. Rutgers 94-68, 1/25 @ Syracuse 56-73

Next Week: 1/30 vs. Duke, 2/3 vs. USF

5. Pitt: 16-4, 6-2

Last Week: 1/24 @ Seton Hall 61-64, 1/28 vs. St. John’s

Next Week: 1/31 @ USF, 2/3 @ West Virginia

6. Louisville: 13-7, 4-3

Last Week: 1/24 vs. Cincinnati 68-60

Next Week: 1/30 @ West Virginia, 2/1 vs. UConn

7. Cincinnati: 13-7, 4-4

Last Week: 1/24 @ Louisville 60-68

Next Week: 1/30 vs. Providence, 2/4 @ Notre Dame

8. Notre Dame: 15-6, 4-4

Last Week: 1/23 vs. DePaul 87-77, 1/27 @ Villanova 72-90

Next Week: 1/30 @ Rutgers, 2/4 vs. Cincinnati

9. UConn: 13-7, 3-4

Last Week: 1/23 vs. Texas 88-74, 1/27 @ Providence 66-81

Next Week: 1/30 vs. Marquette, 2/1 @ Louisville

10. Marquette: 12-8, 3-5

Last Week: 1/23 @ Syracuse 76-71, 1/26 vs. Rutgers 82-59

Next Week: 1/30 @ UConn, 2/3 vs. DePaul

11. South Florida: 13-7, 3-5

Last Week: 1/23 vs. Providence 109-105 OT, 1/28 vs. Seton Hall 76-74 OT

Next Week: 1/31 vs. Pitt, 2/3 vs. Georgetown

12. Seton Hall: 12-7, 3-5

Last Week: 1/24 vs. Pitt 64-61, 1/28 @ South Florida 74-76 OT

Next Week: 2/2 @ Villanova

13. Providence: 12-8, 4-4

Last Week: 1/23 vs. South Florida 105-109 OT, 1/27 vs. UConn 81-66

Next Week: 1/30 @ Cincinnati, 2/2 @ Syracuse

14. St. John’s: 12-8, 2-6

Last Week: 1/23 vs. Villanova 71-81, 1/28 @ Pitt 53-63

Next Week: 2/2 @ Rutgers

15. DePaul: 8-12, 1-7

Last Week: 1/23 @ Notre Dame 77-87, 1/26 vs. West Virginia 46-62

Next Week: 1/30 vs. Syracuse, 2/3 @ Marquette

16. Rutgers: 9-11, 0-8

Last Week: 1/23 @ Georgetown 63-88, 1/26 @ Marquette 59-82

Next Week: 1/30 vs. Notre Dame, 2/2 vs. St. John’s

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Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by jstevrtc on January 15th, 2010

Rob Dauster of Ballin Is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference.

Let me paint you a picture.

Pitt is loaded. They have the Big East player in the post, an all-conference 20 PPG scorer on the wing, and a senior leader at the point running the show. They have depth, balance, quality role players, and one of the most unappreciated coaches in the game.

That was last season.

This season its a different story.

DeJuan Blair is gone. Sam Young is gone. Levance Fields is gone.

Before the season started, the consensus seemed to be that with those three went Pitt’s hopes of an NCAA Tournament trip. Nothing the Panthers did before the start of Big East play changed that assumption. Not coming back from a 13 point second half deficit against Wofford. Not an ugly, two overtime win over Duquesne. Not the 47 points they scored against New Hampshire. Not the loss to Indiana in Madison Square Garden.

But there’s something we didn’t take into consideration.

Jamie Dixon isn’t like most coaches.

Jamie Dixon doesn’t rely on talent to win. He doesn’t need a roster full of McDonald’s all-Americans. In fact, when Dixon brought freshman Dante Taylor into the program, he was Pitt’s first McDonald’s all-american since Bobby Martin and Brian Shorter joined the Panthers in 1987.

What we ignored was the fact that Dixon develops players. He grooms the kids that are overlooked by other programs to fit his system. Like Keith Benjamin and Ronald Ramon and Tyrell Biggs and even Levance Fields and Sam Young before them, guys like Ashton Gibbs, Brad Wanamaker, and Gary McGhee bided their time last year. They played their limited minutes while practicing every day against some of the best players in the country, while learning how to defend, execute, and carry themselves like Big East champions.

Now that Jermaine Dixon and Gilbert Brown are back in the rotation, now that this Pitt team is finally complete, we are finally seeing just how good the Panthers are; just how good of a program and system that Jamie Dixon runs.

Pitt’s team is built on toughness, defense, and execution on both sides of the ball. While we pointed out in the preseason that the Panthers had flaws this year — they don’t have any sure-fire lottery picks, they don’t have a dynamic playmaker at the point, they don’t have anyone that can go out and get you 25 points on a given night — what we didn’t point out was that they have a group of kids that bought into what Dixon was selling.

Like every team in Dixon’s tenure, this year’s Panthers defend. They rebound. They get seemingly every loose ball. They run their offense until they get an open look or a lane to the rim. They hit big shots. They demonstrate the physical toughness and the mental make-up required to compete with more talented teams, and to beat them on the road.

And they have just enough natural talent to get by.

Proof?

How about a 4-0 start in the Big East.

Three of those wins came on the road — in Syracuse, in Cincinnati, and in Hartford. All three are difficult places to play, and all three were NCAA tournament caliber teams.

When playing the cream of the Big East crop, there will be few games where the Panthers will be considered the more talented team on the floor even with their run the last two weeks. But rest assured, the Panthers will come away with more than their share of wins.

If the Big East was a car show, Jamie Dixon would be me and Pitt would be my 1995 Honda Accord. While the Jags breakdown, and the Lambo’s get speeding tickets, and the Corvette’s are traded in for newer models, and the Hummers guzzle gas, my Accord keeps getting the job done. The paint may be chipped on the side, the AC may be broken, there may be four blown out speakers that are useless because I don’t have a CD player and the radio antenna was ripped off, but you better believe that Accord gets me where I need to go and gets me there on time, all on 30 miles-per-gallon.

And while Pitt may not be the most aesthetically pleasing basketball team to watch, Dixon keeps steering this team right where it wants to be.

Atop the Big East standings.

Other notes from this week

  • I think it is safe to say we have the choke of the year, possibly in the country. Up 50-48 with 15 seconds left, Cinci’s Rashad Bishop took the ball out of bounds under St. John’s basket. He thought he had Deonta Vaughn open deep, but pulled a Pennington and underthrew the baseball pass. It was picked off by Dwight “Buckets” Hardy, who was fouled, making both free throws. With the game now tied and just 8.5 seconds on the clock, Lance Stephenson threw an inbounds pass away, which was stolen by Hardy who, again, knocked down two free throws. Vaughn missed a three at the buzzer that would have won it as the Bearcats snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
  • Speaking of “Buckets” Hardy, one thing I’ve noticed in watching, and attending, a lot of these games is the number of fantastic nicknames in this conference. You know about Lance “Born Ready” Stephenson, but how about Jamine “Greedy” Peterson of Providence, Stanley “Sticks” Robinson of UConn, Robert “Sticks” Mitchell of Seton Hall, or Darryl “Truck” Bryant of West Virginia. I know there are more out there, as well.
  • Pitt wasn’t the only team getting to 100% as the season progressed. Villanova has now played six games with Reggie Redding, who has been exactly what we expected – 10.7 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 3.8 APG, 1.8 SPG. Take away a two points/seven turnover debacle in Monday’s yuck-fest against Louisville, and those numbers are much more impressive. Nova also got Mouph Yarou back. Yarou had been out with Hepatitis B, but came back on Jan. 6th against DePaul. While his numbers have been less than stellar as he works his way into the rotation, what has impressed about Yarou is his conditioning (Wright is on record saying Yarou is in better-than-expected shape). If Yarou can provide some strength on the glass and on defense, he could end up being a very nice complement to Antonio Pena. All of a sudden, with these two in the line-up, Villanova got a lot more physical.
  • Samardo Samuels was a monster against Villanova. He finished with 21 points and seven boards, hitting every shot he took (4-4 from the floor, 13-13 from the line) and blocking four shots. The problem? Louisville was too concerned about shooting threes to consistently get Samuels the touches he deserved in the paint. The Cardinals will be at their best when they play inside-out, because if Samuels is scoring and defenses are helping down on him (which will more often than not be the case), it will get the Louisville guards better looks on the perimeter.

CO-PLAYERS OF THE WEEKScottie Reynolds, Villanova, and Austin Freeman, Georgetown

Georgetown was dead in the water against UConn. The Huskies had absolutely imposed their will on this game, forcing Georgetown into turnovers and poor shot selection while making it a glorified pick-up game. In other words, they were playing Husky basketball. In Jim Calhoun’s words, it was UConn’s best half of the season. But during the break, Georgetown regrouped and came out more focused on the offensive end. They started to run their offense, to work through their sets, and as a result got much better looks at the rim. It just so happened the majority of those looks came with the ball in Austin Freeman’s hands. Freeman would go on to score 28 of his career-high 33 points in the second half (his previous career high was 21). For the week, Freeman averaged 23.0 PPG  as the Hoyas went 2-1.

Scottie Reynolds, on the other hand, solidified himself among the best player’s in the country with the most efficient display of clutch shooting I’ve ever seen. Villanova, down 17 points at one time in a first half that saw them turn the ball over 17 times, turned the tables on Louisville in the second 20 minutes, and Reynolds was the reason why. He scored 30 second half points, 36 on the game, while shooting just 9-10 from the floor, 13-17 from the line, and making all five attempts from three. For the week, the Wildcats went 3-0, and Reynolds averaged 24.0 PPG in the three games.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Clearly, the team of the week was Pitt, but seeing as I’ve already wasted the majority of this column on the Panthers, I’m giving the Irish the nod. All-in-all, the Irish are not a bad team. They have the most productive player in the conference in Luke Harangody. They have two solid shooters/scoring options on the perimeter in Tim Abromaitis and Psycho-B Ben Hansbrough. They have a veteran point guard in Tory Jackson. They have some talent coming off the bench. But what the Irish didn’t have was a win to justify their record. They got that on Saturday, as they hit their first nine shots and opened up a 25-4 lead on West Virginia before the Mountaineers decided to start playing. While Notre Dame wasted away just about all of that cushion when WVU got hot (they hit 9-19 from deep in the second half), Harangody scored a big bucket with three minutes left to answer a Dalton Pepper three and put the Irish back up, 69-66. After getting some key stops down the stretch, the Irish can now add claim a resume win.

POWER RANKINGS

1. Villanova: 15-1, 4-0

Last Week: 1/6 vs. DePaul 99-72, 1/9 vs. Marquette 78-76, 1/11 @ Louisville 92-84

Next Week: 1/17 vs. Georgetown

2. Pittsburgh: 14-2, 4-0

Last Week: 1/13 @ UConn 67-57

Next Week: 1/16 vs. Louisville

3. Syracuse: 16-1, 3-1

Last Week: 1/6 vs. Memphis 74-57, 1/10 vs. South Florida 82-65, 1/13 @ Rutgers 81-65

Next Week: 1/16 @ West Virginia, 1/18 @ Notre Dame

4. Georgetown: 13-2, 4-1

Last Week: 1/6 @ Marquette 59-62, 1/9 vs. UConn 72-69, 1/14 vs. Seton Hall 85-73

Next Week: 1/17 @ Villanova

5. West Virginia: 13-2, 4-1

Last Week: 1/6 vs. Rutgers 86-52, 1/9 @ Notre Dame 68-70, 1/13 @ South Florida 69-50

Next Week: 1/16 vs. Syracuse

6. Connecticut: 11-5, 2-3

Last Week: 1/6 vs. Seton Hall 71-63, 1/9 @ Georgetown 69-72, 1/13 vs. Pitt 57-67

Next Week: 1/17 @ Michigan

7. Louisville: 12-5, 3-1

Last Week: 1/6 @ Providence 92-70, 1/9 vs. St. John’s 75-68, 1/11 vs. Villanova 84-92

Next Week: 1/16 @ Pitt

8. Notre Dame: 14-3, 3-1

Last Week: 1/9 vs. West Virginia 70-68

Next Week: 1/16 @ Cincinnati, 1/18 vs. Syracuse

9. Marquette: 10-6, 1-3

Last Week: 1/6 vs. Marquette 62-59, 1/9 @ Villanova 76-78

Next Week: 1/17 vs. Providence

10. Cincinnati: 11-6, 2-3

Last Week: 1/6 vs. Cal St. Bakersfield 87-58, 1/9 @ Seton Hall 76-83, 1/13 @ St. John’s 50-52

Next Week: 1/16 vs. Notre Dame

11. Providence: 11-6, 3-2

Last Week: 1/6 vs. Louisville 70-92, 1/9 vs. Rutgers 94-81, 1/14 @ DePaul 79-62

Next Week: 1/17 @ Marquette

12. St. John’s: 11-5, 1-3

Last Week: 1/9 @ Louisville 68-75, 1/13 vs. Cincinnati 52-50

Next Week: 1/17 vs. DePaul

13. Seton Hall: 10-6, 1-4

Last Week: 1/6 @ UConn 63-71, 1/9 vs. Cincinnati 83-76, 1/14 @ Georgetown 73-85

Next Week: N/A

14. South Florida: 10-6, 0-4

Last Week: 1/10 @ Syracuse 65-82, 1/13 vs. West Virginia 50-69

Next Week: 1/16 vs. Rutgers

15. Rutgers: 9-7, 0-4

Last Week: 1/6 @ West Virginia 52-86, 1/9 @ Providence 81-94, 1/13 vs. Syracuse 65-81

Next Week: 1/16 @ South Florida

16. DePaul: 7-9, 0-4

Last Week: 1/6 @ Villanova 72-99, 1/14 vs. Providence 62-79

Next Week: 1/17 @ St. John’s

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Checking In On… The Big East

Posted by jstevrtc on December 2nd, 2009

checkinginon

Rob Dauster of Ballin’ Is A Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference.

Despite the holiday, loyal readers of RTC may have noticed something missing last week.

Where was Checking in on the Big East?  Without BIAH waxing poetic about the happenings within the nation’s biggest conference, how were you able function?

For that, I must apologize.  But, you see, it wasn’t all my fault.  For starters, the editors at RTC are ruthless.  Not only did they have me traveling up and down the eastern seaboard during the busiest travel weekend of the year, they forced me to cover the semifinals and finals of the Preseason NIT for RTC Live.

Brutal, those guys.  I guess that’s why they pay me the big bucks.

Anyway, I probably could have found the time to put together a recap for you, but apparently grandmas don’t realize that having dial-up isn’t the same as having the internet.  Old folks, you gotta love ‘em.  She made me a mean Thanksgiving leftover sandwich as a peace offering.  She’s not all bad, that one.  I forgave her, just like I hope you all will forgive me.

Back to the point, since we have a lot to go over, and seeing as the first few weeks of the college hoops season are a bit hectic, the structure of this post is going to be a bit different than future posts.  But never fear, as your trusty Big East expert is here to guide you through it.  So tuck the children in, strap on your seat belts, and, well, you tell them, B.B…

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