One on One: A Big East Preview with Jon Rothstein

Posted by Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) on November 3rd, 2014

RTC interviews one on one

Rush the Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you throughout the preseason with previews of each of the major conferences.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview with the Big East, RTC correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the pleasure of speaking with a Big East expert in CBS Sports Network College Basketball Insider Jon Rothstein (@jonrothstein)

Rush the Court: Villanova enters the season as the pretty clear favorite to win the league. The Wildcats return four starters from a team that went 29-5 last season. What are some reasonable expectations for Jay Wright’s squad this season?

Expectations are high for Jay Wright and Company. (Getty)

Expectations are High for Jay Wright’s Villanova Team (Getty)

Jon Rothstein: I think reasonable expectations are to win the Big East title, have a chance at winning the Big East Tournament title, and get another high seed in the NCAA Tournament. Villanova was terrific last year in close game situations. I think there is a real possibility that Villanova could be a better team this year than it was last year, but have a worse record because its non-conference schedule is that much more difficult. What makes Villanova so good this year is that it does not lose 50/50 balls. Every ball that is being contested seems to go Villanova’s way almost every time. A big reason for that is Josh Hart. Hart is a guy who can go on a tear for Villanova this year, as he will step into a more enhanced role with the departure of James Bell. I think right now if there is one person who epitomizes Villanova’s culture and brand, it is Josh Hart.

RTC: Georgetown had a below average season last year [just 18-15 overall and 8-10 in conference]. There are no two ways around that. Does John Thompson III’s team have enough firepower to ensure a more successful campaign this season?

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Morning Five: 03.10.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 10th, 2014

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  1. It has been March for a while now, but it didn’t really feel like until Friday night when teams started receiving NCAA Tournament automatic bids. The first team to do so was Harvard by virtue of winning the Ivy League regular season title. They were soon joined by MercerCoastal CarolinaWichita State, and Eastern Kentucky. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the weekend was Milwaukee beating Green Bay in the Horizon League semifinals, but we wouldn’t necessarily call them a bid thief because we doubt that Green Bay will be able to get an at-large bid.
  2. The opposite side of the end of the regular season are the coaches being shown the door. Todd Howard appears to be the first one fired after he was let go by IUPUI. Howard went 26-70 at the school including 6-26 this year (1-13 in the Summit League). On the other end of the spectrum is Oliver Purnell, who will return next season at DePaul despite the Blue Demons going 11-20 overall and 3-15 in the Big East. We understand that Purnell just finished year four of a seven-year deal, but with the city’s plans for possibly building an arena for the school to play in you would expect that they would want to provide a better on-court product to get some votes behind the project.
  3. It seems strange, but in some ways Florida–the #1 team in the country–is largely being ignored. Now some of that may have to do with Wichita State and its undefeated season. It certainly is not because these Gators–particularly the seniors–have not been in the national spotlight before. They will never be the back-to-back championship Gator teams, but they have been to three straight Elite Eights. As Andy Staples points out the growth of this group has been substantial and if they are to get over that Elite Eight hurdle that experience may be the key.
  4. We have seen a lot of strange transfer cases over the years, but the one involving Bubu Palo has to be one of the more unique ones. Palo, who has been mentioned in this space many times, missed much of this season after being suspended following a sexual assault charge that was later dropped. In January, a judge ruled that Palo should be allowed back on the team and he was, but he has not played for team since rejoining the team. Now it appears that Palo, a senior, will attempt to transfer and seek a hardship waiver. Honestly, with how strange this case has been and how easily the NCAA has been granting hardship waivers we would not be surprised to see Palo wind up at another school next year.
  5. If you are looking for an under-the-radar team to make a run in the NCAA Tournament, you could do worse than George Washington. The Colonials are currently 22-7 overall and 10-5 in the Atlantic-10 (4th in the conference), but will be getting Kethan Savage, their second-leading scorer, back in time for the conference tournament. Savage has been out since January 18 after missing the last 11 games with a broken foot. Before his injury, the Colonials were 15-3. Since the injury, they are 7-4. Obviously some of that has to do with playing a tougher conference, but it will be interesting to see how long it takes Savage and the team to get used to playing together because if they adapt quickly the could be a tough out in the NCAA Tournament.
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Big East M5: 02.18.14 Edition

Posted by George Hershey on February 18th, 2014

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  1. Butler freshman Rene Castro has decided to transfer from the program after being suspended twice and failing to see much time on the court. His roommate on the road, senior Erik Fromm, told Zak Keefer, “It didn’t have anything to do with who he was. Sometimes, things just don’t work out. Rene’s future is bright, and it’s not a bad thing that it’s not with Butler.” Castro was seen as someone who could come in and eventually take the starting spot from Alex Barlow, but it never materialized as he failed to see the court in 13 games this season. This will hurt going forward as Brandon Miller loses depth at the point guard position heading into the last few weeks of the regular season and the Big East Tournament.
  2. ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi published his latest NCAA Tournament projectionsand he has five Big East teams in the field. Villanova and Creighton currently sit as #3 seeds, while Xavier, a #10 seed, Providence, a #11 seed, and St. John’s, a #12 seed, are fighting for space on the positive side of the bubble. Georgetown is his first team out, while Marquette was his seventh team out. After losing its first five league games, St. John’s has experienced quite the turnaround to get to 7-6 in Big East play and are surprisingly now considered in the field. The reality is that the league is likely to get five of its 10 teams into the NCAA Tournament this season, a very good number in its first year of existence.
  3. DePaul has had another tough season and some are calling for head coach Oliver Purnell’s dismissal at the end of it. David Webber of the DePaulia argues that with Cleveland Melvin’s recent departure, it is time for a change. Webber is not happy with athletic director Jean Lenti-Ponsetto’s results in her 12th year in Chicago, as the program has gone from a respectable Conference USA team into a Big East laughingstock. Her two hires, Jerry Wainwright and Oliver Purnell, have failed to improve the program, and Purnell only has eight conference wins in four seasons. A new arena and a coach who is familiar with and can recruit the Chicago area will help invigorate a proud but hurting program.
  4.  St. John’s is rising and earning some attention from the press as it fights for inclusion in the NCAA Tournament. Zach Braziller of the New York Post takes a look at the Red Storm’s “big three” of D’Angelo Harrison, JaKarr Sampson and Rysheed Jordan. Harrison has been clutch the past month, shooting well from the outside and not forcing the action. Jordan struggled early but he has helped Harrison and Sampson play better in recent weeks. Braziller sums up Sampson’s recent play nicely, writing, “He’s developed into a more efficient offensive player. He’s thinking less and reacting more. Even more impressive has been his defense, previously considered a weakness in his game.” Sampson is athletic, but at times hasn’t played smart and forced the action all too often. Who knows what is in store next for this red-hot team.
  5. Doug McDermott is becoming quite the college basketball legend. With two more amazing performances last week, he passed Larry Bird for 13th place on the NCAA’s all-time scoring list. Instead of writing about his play on the court, Omaha.com‘s Tom Shatel followed McDermott around after the game. McDermott signed countless autographs and smiled for pictures with strangers and some old friends. McDermott said, “How do I want to be remembered? I want to be remembered as someone who treated people well. A good guy.” For a player with so many accolades already received and many more to come, it is great to see him focused on being a good person and a role model for young people. The one thing he needs, though, is a deep run in March. Luckily, his team is in great position to do just that to top off his remarkable four-year career.
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Losing Cleveland Melvin Could be a Long Term Positive for DePaul

Posted by George Hershey on February 15th, 2014

Last week DePaul announced that senior forward Cleveland Melvin was no longer enrolled in school. Melvin had not played in two weeks because of a suspension and it appears that whatever he was supposed to do to become reinstated didn’t get done. He was undoubtedly the Blue Demons’ best player, leading the squad in scoring (16.7 PPG) and rebounds (6.4 PPG) this season. After starting off with a 2-3 Big East record, DePaul has struggled mightily since Melvin’s suspension, losing seven in a row. At this point, there are six more games to play and wins will be tough to find. Still, although the loss of Melvin hurts their chances of winning games this season, it is actually a huge positive for the team going forward.

Oliver Purnell will get a great look at his young players for the remainder of the year. (Getty)

Oliver Purnell will get a great look at his young players for the remainder of the year. (Getty)

Head coach Oliver Purnell needs to be focused on the future of his program for the remainder of the season. In the next six games, it would be smart to play the underclassmen who will gain valuable experience against some of the Big East’s best teams. Freshmen Billy Garrett Jr. and Tommy Hamilton have played major roles this year, both averaging more than 25 minutes per game. They need to continue getting major minutes as they will be the face of the program going forward. There is another group of players who need to see extended time over the next few weeks as well. R.J. Curington leads that list, as the freshman has gone from the end of the bench to a solid scorer and contributor in the past five games. He has plenty of confidence and can shoot the ball well, but needs more real game experience to become comfortable and a smarter player. He is sometimes overconfident in his abilities and sets his mind on scoring, even if the opportunities aren’t there.

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DePaul Suffers Alexander Heartbreak But Shouldn’t Lose Faith

Posted by George Hershey on November 16th, 2013

Yesterday DePaul’s basketball program and its fans watched closely as consensus top five class of 2014 recruit Cliff Alexander decided to attend Kansas, turning down his hometown Blue Demons and home state Fighting Illini. The Blue Demons had been in contention as long as anybody in his final grouping and were an appealing team for Alexander because of the proximity to his family. Rumors swirling around in the days leading up to the announcement suggested that he would be deciding between Illinois, Kansas and DePaul, but with top recruits Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones reportedly set to pick Duke over Kansas, there was still plenty of room for Alexander on Bill Self’s team.

Cliff Alexander disappointed a lot of basketball fans in the state of Illinois (The News Gazette)

Cliff Alexander disappointed a lot of basketball fans in the state of Illinois (The News Gazette)

The addition of Alexander would have been the biggest win for DePaul in decades. A player of his caliber is a program-changer for a school like DePaul. The impact goes beyond what he would have brought to the court for his one season, maybe two, in college. The excitement and publicity around the program would have brought spectators and the media out in droves to see him. It also would have helped future recruiting and increased head coach Oliver Purnell’s credibility and stature on the recruiting trail.

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Big East M5: 11.04.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on November 4th, 2013

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  1. Headlined by national player of the year candidate Doug McDermott, Creighton is probably the most intriguing new member of the Big East, and with the season fast approaching, they want everyone to know that they are not afraid of the spotlight.  Fox Sports‘ Reid Hargrave went in depth on the Bluejays, and their fit within the new-look conference, coming away under the impression that Creighton should fit in just fine: “Just watch these kids play, spreading the floor and using non-stop ball screens and attacking from the perimeter with deadly shooting and always looking for the extra pass. This isn’t grind-it-out Big East basketball. This is the finesse game you’re more likely to see in Europe… But there’s nothing traditional about this new Big East, a conference still searching for its basketball identity.” Hargrave believes that the team’s offensive prowess takes credit away from what should  be a sound defensive unit, even when stacked up against a deeper lineup of conference rivals than what they are accustomed to. The story also includes this note — which should terrify the rest of the league — from head coach Greg McDermott on his superstar son: “But being with him every day, there’s no question he’s getting that shot off quicker.”
  2. A lot of the questions surrounding Creighton have to do with the schedules that they’ve faced in the past.  Doug McDermott thinks that recent history shows that the Bluejays are not afraid of playing high major competition, and the league that they’re coming from had quality teams similar to what they will face this winter. McDermott cites a stat that Creighton’s only losses in 11 recent games against power conference foes have been to the likes of Duke and North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament. Omaha.com‘s piece also brings up 2013 Final Four participant, Wichita State – a team from the Missouri Valley with high-major type talent that Creighton faced annually. The major adjustment in schedules for Creighton, Butler and Xavier will come in the consistent talent and athleticism that they will face on the floor, even from lesser Big East competition like DePaul and Seton Hall.
  3. The new Big East is quite attractive because of the basketball focus of the league. While most schools would love to have remained in a conference with the Syracuses, Louisvilles and UConns of the world, getting away from the myriad of issues surrounding college football is a good thing for the basketball-focused Big East programs, and  the league’s coaches, like Georgetown’s John Thompson III, seem to agree: “The identity is basketball is our religion. It’s a basketball conference.”  The three schools joining the “Catholic Seven” –  Butler, Creighton, and Xavier – definitely share the sentiment, as evidenced by the environments in which they play. Creighton is a regular among top-10 attendance lists, as the Bluejay faithful pack CenturyLink Center, while Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse is one of the toughest places to play in the country. The Big East may not send 11 teams to the NCAA Tournament anymore, or have a handful of top 10 teams at any given moment, but it is back to being all about the hoops.
  4. There is a lot that is new about DePaul basketball this year. The school is in a new league, the staff has added two new coaches, and the roster features eight new players this season. This isn’t a bad thing, as the Blue Demons have struggled to get the program jump-started and have gone without an NCAA Tournament bid since 2004. Oliver Purnell returns a few established players in Cleveland Melvin and Brandon Young who he hopes can guide a young roster back towards the pack in the Big East. Despite being chosen at the bottom of the conference, with two established star players returning, the Blue Demons may surprise some teams yet.
  5. Villanova blog VU Hoops took a look at recruiting in the Big East and how the 10 teams compare with one another and other power conferences across the nation. Seven of the programs have at least one four-star recruit verballed already, with schools like Georgetown, Marquette  and Seton Hall — who has arguably landed the biggest name in guard Isaiah Whitehead — controlling the coveted rankings. The article goes on to compare the Big East to the rest of the recruiting landscape: “When it all shakes out, the new conference will most likely trail the SEC, ACC and Big Ten in terms of the number of commits ranked in the top 150 but not by much. Considering the Big East has fewer teams than each of those conferences, I think the numbers are very impressive and a good sign as the conference moves into the future.”
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Big East Recruiting Superlatives

Posted by mlemaire on May 23rd, 2013

Sometimes it is OK to choose an arbitrary date in the college basketball recruiting process and take stock of things, using our Big East goggles of course. That said, this date really isn’t all that arbitrary. Most of the top basketball recruits in the Class of 2013 signed National Letters of Intent last week . Rather than break down and rank the Big East recruiting classes from top to bottom — which the guys at recruiting sites do much better than we would anyway — we figured to have some fun and bring you back to high school for some good old-fashioned superlatives. Again, we recognize the Big East is breaking up, but we are still looking back rather than forward.

He Didn't Have To Look Far, But Buzz Williams Reeled In Perhaps His Best Recruiting Class Ever (AP)

He Didn’t Have To Look Far, But Buzz Williams Reeled In Perhaps His Best Recruiting Class Ever (AP)

Most Likely To Earn Praise For His Recruiting Prowess: Buzz Williams, Marquette

In the always useless world of recruiting rankings, most experts have recruiting classes at Louisville and Syracuse ranked ahead of Marquette’s class, but that shouldn’t keep Williams from receiving the praise he is due. Williams hangs his hat on his program’s ability to develop talent, not in recruiting superstars, but this class could easily be his most ballyhooed yet. Of course it helps Williams look good when much of the talent is in the same city as the school, but he still had to beat out a number of high-major programs for those kids. Duane Wilson is a local point guard with size who may earn the first crack at replacing Junior Cadougan and fellow local product Deonte Burton is a physical and athletic wing who will rebound and defend. The third local product by way of junior college in Iowa is 6’8″ forward Jameel McKay who has everyone excited about his athleticism, rebounding, and motor. The real prize for the Golden Eagles is slashing guard JaJuan Johnson who Williams and his staff plucked out of Memphis’ backyard despite an offer from the Tigers. Everyone in the Southeast recruited the attacking guard who may be asked to step in immediately and replace some of Vander Blue’s now-missing production.

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Season In Review: DePaul Blue Demons

Posted by mlemaire on April 25th, 2013

DePaul coach Oliver Purnell came to the school with the reputation as a rebuilder of programs, the only problem is that in three years at the helm in Chicago, the Blue Demons haven’t gotten any better. DePaul ended up at the bottom of the conference barrel, finishing the season 11-21 overall and just 2-16 in the Big East, which gives Purnell six conferences wins in three seasons and fans not a whole lot of hope for the immediate future. The Blue Demons showed flashes at times and proved they had legitimate talent on their roster in Cleveland Melvin and Brandon Young, but their pedestrian offense, downright atrocious defense and lack of immediate depth were more than enough to torpedo any aspirations the team had about making a leap this season. Let’s go inside what exactly happened at DePaul this season:

After Just Two Conference Wins, Oliver Purnell Finds Himself On The Hot Seat.

After Just Two Conference Wins, Oliver Purnell Finds Himself On The Hot Seat.

The Good

In a program that has been full of turmoil and disappointment over the past five years, rising senior forward Cleveland Melvin continued to be a bright light in a dark place, improving his field-goal percentage, becoming a slightly more efficient offensive player, and racking up seven double-doubles en route to another successful all-conference season. Classmate Brandon Young led the team in scoring and proved himself to be a legitimate offensive star in the conference. I guess if we really wanted to stretch the definition of “good” we could count conference victories over Providence and Rutgers as part of the good and look on the bright side — at least the school hasn’t had to spend the early part of the offseason answering questions about why their coach, who isn’t winning, is verbally and physically abusing his players in practice. That is always a good thing, especially when your team stinks.

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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: 02.06.13 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on February 6th, 2013

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  1. Providence hasn’t been relevant in basketball in a long time and this season has been no exception. The popular argument seems to be that in order for Ed Cooley to turn the program around, he needs the entire team to buy in to his plan. The point is a good one as the Friars have arguably as much pure talent on their roster as any other team in the conference yet still can’t put anything together. The evidence of such issues is pretty damning actually. Transfer Sidiki Johnson took a voluntary leave of absence from the team recently and two of the program’s best players, LaDontae Henton and Vincent Council, both sat to start the Connecticut game because of issues with Cooley — and you know Ricardo Ledo doesn’t care about the long-term success of the program given his recent comments about considering the NBA. Ledo is the only one with a decent excuse since it isn’t his fault he has to sit out this season, but Johnson has set new records for using up good will wherever he goes and this is hardly the first issue Council has created because of his cavalier attitude. The article is right. Cooley can stockpile the most impressive collection of basketball talent on the Eastern Seaboard and it won’t matter unless he can get the whole team to buy in to what he is selling. Until then, Providence is going to be a program that produces a few NBA players without ever winning many college games.
  2. Yes, it is just the ranting of an angry fan, but there was already plenty of buzz around the topic of whether DePaul should fire head coach Oliver Purnell and that buzz has only grown louder after the Blue Demons were embarrassed on their home court last night by a mediocre Villanova team. The loss came on the heels of two hard-fought overtime losses last week but it was also the seventh-straight defeat for Purnell’s club, which really hasn’t shown much improvement now in his third year at the helm. The school paid Purnell handsomely to spurn Clemson in the hopes that he would come in and rebuild a once proud program. Instead, his lack of ties to Chicago have hurt him in recruiting and, never one to be mistaken for a strategy whiz, Purnell’s team consistently blows winnable games and is often obviously outplayed. No matter how the team finishes this season, Purnell probably deserves to watch his first recruiting class graduate and if the team’s best players, Cleveland Melvin and Brandon Young, don’t do something silly like enter the NBA Draft, it could be the best and deepest club Purnell has coached in Chicago. But if he can’t make it work next season with a solid recruiting class and a host of returning talent, I wouldn’t bet on him making it through another full season unscathed.
  3. With questions swirling about whether super-sub James Southerland‘s season is done, the good folks at Troy Nunes Is A Magician took a quick look at why the program’s fans hate freshman guard Trevor Cooney so much. The article does a fine job of examining the issue on its own so there is no need to rehash everything, but we will say that if Southerland is deemed ineligible for the rest of the season, ‘Cuse fans better get used to seeing Cooney because head coach Jim Boeheim doesn’t have a whole lot else to work with. Would it be nice if Cooney shot better than 29 percent from behind the three-point arc and played better perimeter defense? Of course it would. But we are talking about a redshirt freshman who is receiving inconsistent minutes and still hasn’t found his range yet. Don’t get us wrong, heading into the NCAA Tournament with Cooney as our sixth man would make us nervous too, but let’s cut him some slack and give him another year or two before ‘Cuse fans angrily try to run him out of town.
  4. We have confirmation of some “needed wake-up call” talk down in Louisville where Cardinals players speaking to the media stopped just short of calling their three-game losing streak a good thing because it let the team know that letdowns wouldn’t cut it. While there is still no supporting evidence to convince me that losing three important conference games in a row is a good thing, the argument works well with a team like Louisville. Advanced metrics and eyeballs tell you that Louisville is as complete a team as there is in the country and certainly a viable national championship contender. Seeding is important and a three-game losing streak obviously has an effect on that, but if the Cardinals actually learn from their struggles and are able to maintain intensity and focus for the rest of the season, then maybe I will start buying more of the talk  about these “moral victories” and “wake-up calls.”
  5. File this under someone should probably tell Larry Brown there is no Santa Claus either, as the famous first-year coach at SMU is still holding out hope that the Big East as it currently stands will stick together for another year or two, long enough for the Mustangs to get a taste of the conference. It is possible that the Catholic 7 will be forced to play out their contracts with the Big East, but it is more likely that after some legal wrangling, the Big East gets paid and the Catholic 7 jumps ship sooner and starts collecting checks from their supposedly impending television deal. The 72-year-old Brown seems to just now be coming to grips with all of the conference realignment and you can assume by his assertion that it is “ruining every other sport” other than football that he is not at all a fan. We don’t disagree with Brown, we just think it might be time to get with the picture and realize that the Big East that SMU enters will not look the same as the Big East that SMU thought it had signed up for.
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Who Won the Week? Illinois, DePaul and Fans Everywhere…

Posted by Kenny Ocker on December 14th, 2012

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Who Won the Week? is a regular column that will outline and discuss three winners and losers from the previous week. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), an Oregon-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game.

WINNER: The Fans

Oregon Pit Crew student fans support Arsalan Kazemi on the night of his debut as a Duck. (Photo by Rockne Andrew Roll)

Fans, this horrible week is over. You’ve been freed, just like Arsalan Kazemi. (Also, can we please ignore the fact that a UO student misspelled “anchor”? I got my degree from there, and so did this photographer, and neither of us seemed to have any issues with that word.) (Photo by Rockne Andrew Roll)

Let’s face it – this finals week was about the worst thing on record. Save for an upset win over Wichita State by Tennessee, which magically scored more than 40 points to shockingly hand the Shockers their first loss, the week was bereft of interesting match-ups. But the good news is, it’s over. (I’ve got a little bit of bad news though: Winter break’s not much better in terms of captivating contests.) Let’s celebrate that and move on with our lives.

(Related winners: None. Related losers: Anyone who had to sit through games last week.)

LOSER: Halil Kanacevic

The 6’8” forward for St. Joseph’s thought it would be a good idea to show support for his Hawks by flipping the double bird to Villanova fans during a Big 5 game after making his only field goal of the night, a three-pointer to give St. Joe’s a 50-47 lead in the second half. Instead, Kanacevic got popped with a technical foul for the display of unsportsmanlike conduct. Late in the game, he then proceeded to miss two clutch free throws with a minute to go that would have stretched the Hawks’ one-point lead. Instead, the Wildcats came back for a 65-61 home win that helped right their ship an embarrassing 18-point defeat to Columbia and Big 5 losses to La Salle and Temple. For his trouble, Kanacevic got suspended for two games as well.

(Related winners: Villanova; Temple, the likely Big 5 favorite. Related losers: St. Joseph’s; Langston Gallaway, the Hawks guard whose six three-pointers and 22 points were lost in the shuffle.)

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Night Line: A Win over Arizona State Shows Signs Of Life From DePaul

Posted by BHayes on December 13th, 2012

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Bennet Hayes is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @HoopsTraveler on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.

The plight of long suffering Northwestern fans is no secret at this point, as the Wildcats have recently provided annual teases that, yes, this is finally the year for the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance. This epic drought should surely draw some empathy for Cats supporters, but they are not the only long-suffering Chicago college basketball fans. Across town, the DePaul Blue Demons have been slightly more frequent Tournament patrons, but have only made two appearances in the last two decades. This may make them March mainstays in the eyes of the Northwestern fan, but considering the program had made 13 of the 15 Tournaments before the drought, it must feel like anything but to the DePaul faithful. Recent years have been especially tough for the Blue Demons; their 11-79 Big East record over the past five seasons says all you need to know. An experienced nucleus, headed by juniors Cleveland Melvin and Brandon Young, provided some hope that the 2012-13 season would see Oliver Purnell’s bunch make significant steps forward, and Wednesday’s beatdown of Arizona State did nothing to dispel that notion. For a program that has been mired in some dark, dark times, it is no exaggeration to say that this was the most significant Blue Demons victory in more than half a decade.

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Is Oliver Purnell’s Bunch Ready To Make a Leap In The Big East This Season?

Back in 2010, Oliver Purnell’s decision to head to DePaul and the shores of Lake Michigan was met with a large degree of puzzlement within the college basketball community. Purnell had seemed comfortable at a Clemson program that was humming along rather nicely, having made three straight NCAA Tournaments. To leave that stability for a DePaul job that few viewed as a clear step up was a shock, and Purnell found a very bare cupboard in Chicago upon arrival. One thing that was in place for him at DePaul was the commitment of Young, and after Purnell secured a promise from the 6’8” forward Melvin in the late signing period, the cornerstones of the DePaul rebuild were in place.

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