Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by rtmsf on December 5th, 2011

Brian Otskey is the RTC correspondent for the Big East conference. You can also find him on Twitter @botskey.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

Dominating the SEC:  In the newly expanded Big East/SEC Challenge, the Big East came away with a decisive 8-4 victory over the SEC. Only two Big East teams (DePaul and Rutgers) lost on their home floor while four conference members snagged important road wins across the south. The most impressive was Georgetown, a 57-55 winner over Alabama at Coleman Coliseum, a victory that should put the Hoyas in the national rankings this week. Providence earned a nice win at South Carolina while Pittsburgh and Cincinnati took care of business against Tennessee and Georgia. While this event doesn’t have the buzz of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge for instance, I thought this was a success for both leagues. It’s good to get some quality games early in the season instead of fattening up on cupcakes. It’s a shame four Big East schools (Marquette, Villanova, Notre Dame and South Florida) had to sit out but that’s just the way it goes since the SEC only has 12 teams.

The Emergence of Georgetown and Marquette: As mentioned above, Georgetown knocked off Alabama, part of a 3-0 week bookended by two cupcakes. At 7-1 with a close loss to Kansas, the Hoyas look much better than originally advertised. Despite Georgetown’s admirable success, the most significant Big East win this past week came courtesy of Marquette. The Golden Eagles knocked off in-state rival and top ten Wisconsin in Madison on Saturday. The Badgers almost never lose at the Kohl Center so any team that comes out of there with a win deserves major props and earns my respect. I had my doubts about Buzz Williams’ team (ranked fifth here last week) but the win at Wisconsin is as impressive as it gets. Not to mention it was without starting point guard Junior Cadougan, suspended for the game by Williams for an unspecified violation of team rules, plus Jae Crowder was saddled with foul trouble most of the game. I’m officially on board the MU bandwagon.

Buzz Williams And Marquette Picked Up A Huge Win At Wisconsin

Jim Boeheim Apologizes: Syracuse’s important 72-68 victory over a quality Florida team took a back seat in the press room Friday night as Orange head coach Jim Boeheim apologized to those who accused former associate head coach Bernie Fine of sexual molestation. Saying he “misspoke very badly,” Boeheim appeared somber yet nervous as he stood in front of the large media contingent. He clearly looked like a man under a lot of pressure and he admitted as much, saying how difficult of a time this has been for him, his family, and his staff. On the surface it appears the Orange players are not distracted by all that is going on but it would be naïve to think they aren’t paying attention in some fashion. With the investigation ongoing and agencies such as the FBI and US Secret Service involved, it is highly likely that more information will come to light. The Orange players have to do their best to block out the distractions as they march deeper into a season full of high expectations. Two weeks into this, there still isn’t anyone out there who can confidently say what will happen over the next few months with regards to this investigation.

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (8-0) — Off the court issues aside, Syracuse sure is taking care of business on the court. The Orange destroyed former assistant Rob Murphy’s Eastern Michigan squad before getting by Florida on Friday at the Carrier Dome. Syracuse didn’t shoot particularly well against the Gators but managed to get to the line 21 times while out-rebounding Florida. Florida’s 20 turnovers also helped the cause. On the broadcast, Jay Bilas said Brandon Triche could become Syracuse’s best player. I can’t disagree. Triche is a solid three-point shooter who is terrific in transition and defensively on the outer flank of Jim Boeheim’s zone defense. The junior’s statistics are up pretty much across the board in five fewer minutes of game action. This week: 12/6 vs. Marshall, 12/10 vs. George Washington.
  2. Louisville (7-0) – The Cardinals had to rally to defeat Vanderbilt on Friday evening with Peyton Siva sealing the win in the final seconds. A lot of people think Louisville is overrated but I’m not one of them. While the Cardinals certainly are banged up, Rick Pitino always gets the most out of his players. If Wayne Blackshear is able to make it back onto the court, watch out. This team could do a lot of damage with its defense come Big East play and has just enough capable offensive players to be satisfactory on that end once they put it all together. It also helps when you have such an advantage like this team does at the KFC YUM! Center. This week: 12/7 vs. IUPUI, 12/10 vs. Fairleigh Dickinson. Read the rest of this entry »
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Set Your TiVo: 12.05.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 5th, 2011

Brian Otskey is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

This is a very light night of hoops but you may want to check out two games between bottom-tier Big East teams and a pair of Midwestern mid-majors.

St. John’s @ Detroit – 7:00 PM EST on ESPN2 (**)

Godsgift Achiuwa and Friends Have Faced a Tough Early Schedule

  •  St. John’s has been in an early-season slide, having lost four of its last five games. The Red Storm play only seven men and the tired legs are already starting to catch up. St. John’s is one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the country at 26.2% and averages only 35 rebounds per game. This will likely be an up-tempo game because the Red Storm has athletes that like to run and Detroit loves to maximize the number of possessions in a game. One thing St. John’s does very well is to keep opponents off the foul line and it will have to do just that against a Titans team that shoots 78.4% from the charity stripe. Moe Harkless and God’s Gift Achiuwa played well at Kentucky last week and more progress against a severely depleted Detroit front court is something the Johnnies should count on tonight.
  • As mentioned, Detroit’s roster has been decimated. Head coach Ray McCallum, Sr., has only eight scholarship players available after Eli Holman’s legal troubles, Nick Minnerath’s torn ACL and a host of other issues including academics and other personnel departures. Chase Simon and Ray McCallum, Jr.,have to lead the Titans and score points in transition against the turnover-prone Nurideen Lindsey (3.9 turnovers per game) and company. Unfortunately for Detroit, Simon and McCallum are just as prone to giveaways.
  • This game will be a war of attrition with foul trouble and fatigue playing a major role. St. John’s is the better team but not by much. With Detroit playing at home against a Big East team while honoring former head coach Dick Vitale with a special ceremony, there will be some buzz in the arena. We have no idea who will win this one and the Vegas line agrees, calling this game a pick’em.

Milwaukee @ DePaul – 9:00 PM EST on SNY, Sports 32, ESPN3.com (**)

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Checking In On… the Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 29th, 2011

Brian Otskey is the RTC correspondent for the Big East conference. You can also find him on Twitter @botskey.

Reader’s Take

The Week That Was

  • A Rough Week for the Big East: Conference teams lost 13 times this past week to the likes of UCF, Illinois State, Northeastern, and Richmond among others. Only three undefeated teams (Syracuse, Louisville, and Marquette) remain and of the 13 teams with at least one loss, only three (DePaul, Seton Hall and Georgetown) have not yet recorded a bad loss. As we enter December, the middle of the conference doesn’t appear to be as strong as in years past. The Big East has a handful of great teams and a host of teams that appear to be very average at this point. It’s a long season, but the chances of seeing nine or ten NCAA bids from this league are certainly not promising.
  • Syracuse and Marquette Take Home Titles: The Orange defeated Virginia Tech and Stanford at their second home, Madison Square Garden, to win the NIT Season Tip-Off while Marquette took home the Paradise Jam championship, albeit against a so-so field. Both teams struggled in their respective championship games, but managed to pull it out down the stretch, the sign of a good team. Each team’s schedule ramps up this week against a pair of top ten teams as Syracuse hosts Florida on Friday and Marquette visits in-state rival Wisconsin on Saturday.
  • Tim Abromaitis Tears ACL: There was awful news out of South Bend late last week when it was announced that Notre Dame fifth year senior forward Tim Abromaitis tore the ACL in his right knee during practice on Friday. The loss of Abromaitis is a huge blow to a Notre Dame team already with two neutral court losses on its resume and a pair of road games coming up this week. The Fighting Irish rotation is pretty much only seven deep now with only three or four reliable scorers. Point guard Eric Atkins has played very well, but Scott Martin and Pat Connaughton will have to step up in a big way for Notre Dame to have any chance of making the NCAA Tournament.

With A Big Game Against Florida Looming Friday, How Will Jim Boeheim Keep His Team Focused Amid The Bernie Fine Scandal?

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (6-0) – After feasting on four cupcakes to begin the season, the Orange were impressive late in victories over Virginia Tech and Stanford in the NIT Season Tip-Off. They struggled for the better part of both games, but the ability of this team to flip the switch and play like the top five team it is is something that will suit them well outside of conference play. However, Syracuse had better play well for 40 minutes once the Big East season arrives or else they’ll lose more games than you think. Jim Boeheim’s team ranks in the top ten nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency, one of only four teams at the moment. Syracuse has done a great job forcing turnovers leading to easy points in transition. Dion Waiters appears to have taken his game to the next level as a sophomore with transition play being a big part of that. How this team is affected by the Bernie Fine investigation, if at all, is something to watch over the next few weeks. This week: 11/29 vs. Eastern Michigan, 12/2 vs. #6 Florida.
  2. Louisville (6-0) – Rick Pitino was successful last year by molding a team of role players into a cohesive unit with no superstars through an incredible focus on defense. Louisville looks to be following that same formula again in 2011-12. The Cardinals rank third nationally in defensive efficiency and only one opponent has scored more than 54 points. Of course, offense is Louisville’s biggest challenge. Peyton Siva is back, but Pitino’s rotation has been scaled back due to injuries to Wayne Blackshear and Mike Marra. Blackshear may be back but Marra is lost for the season with a torn ACL. Louisville struggled against Ohio and has another tricky game with Long Beach State on Monday. Freshman Chane Behanan (9/9) is stepping up in the absence of Blackshear while Gorgui Dieng has been a shot-blocking machine in the paint at three rejections per game. This is a big week for the Cardinals as their competition gets stronger. This week: 11/28 vs. Long Beach State, 12/2 vs. #20 Vanderbilt. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East Morning Five: 11.28.11 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on November 28th, 2011

  1.  We will get to the Bernie Fine news and its implications for Jim Boeheim and the Syracuse basketball program in a post later this morning, but even without the news of his firing, it was a rough week for Big East teams. Perhaps no team had a worse week than St. John’s. Not only were they beaten soundly by an inferior Northeastern team, but they also were without head coach Steve Lavin for the second straight game and third this season while he recovers from prostate cancer surgery. While there is no doubt Lavin is doing the right thing by looking out for his health first and foremost, if this continues, it will be an unfortunate distraction for the team and tough to overcome on the recruiting trail.  St. John’s is a very young team, and it needs his leadership during the games, no matter what he says about the quality of his assistants. Also — although it sounds crass even to suggest it — Lavin’s long-term health will be a point of interest for recruits, and his inability to coach during the games could open the door for some negative recruiting by other teams. Everyone in college basketball wants to see the vivacious Lavin back in good health and patrolling the sidelines, but that doesn’t mean opposing programs won’t try to lure away Red Storm recruits with promises of stability.
  2. The Red Storm weren’t alone in the conference when it came to disappointing losses this weekend. Cincinnati, a team many predicted to break out this season, took another one on the chin Friday night, losing to former conference foe Marshall in overtime. To make matters worse, the Cincinnati Enquirer ran a piece this morning wondering where all the fans are. According to the paper, the Bearcats are averaging just over 5, 000 fans for home games, barely half of what the crowd looked like when Bob Huggins coached the team. Now it should be noted that the Bearcats’ opponents aren’t exactly household names, and it seems unlikely that the fans will want to sell the place out to see their team play the likes of Alabama State and Northwestern State. Even the greatest Cincinnati alumnus of them all, Oscar Robertson, is quoted criticizing the team’s soft early season schedule. Ultimately, no matter who they play, Mick Cronin‘s club will need to start winning games consistently to draw big crowds, and right now, that seems tougher than many initially expected.
  3. Even though Connecticut‘s week was hardly much better than the other teams considering they blew a big second-half lead in a stunning loss to Central Florida, the news wasn’t all bad for the Huskies. Desperately in need of someone to spell starting point guard Shabazz Napier, UConn finally got talented freshman Ryan Boatright back and not a moment too soon. Playing in his first game after serving a six-game suspension for improper benefits, Boatwright played 33 minutes in the overtime win against Florida State, scoring 14 points and hitting three clutch free-throws with seven seconds left in regulation to send the game into overtime. Coach Jim Calhoun finally sounded slightly happier with the way his team played and you can bet he is glad to have Boatright available. Napier is still one of the team’s key players and he is one of the better guards in the conference, but he is still just a sophomore and his performance against UCF showed it. Boatright will only help keep Napier fresh and healthy as the season goes on, what he adds on the offensive end will only be an added bonus.
  4. No matter what Louisville does, they cannot seem to catch a break when it comes to keep their players healthy. They already lost talented freshman Wayne Blackshear and versatile role player Mike Marra. They have also been forced to deal with an ankle injury to star point guard Peyton Siva. Now the team lost junior forward Stephan Van Treese indefinitely after he re-injured his left knee in practice Saturday. Van Treese had literally JUST returned to the team following a left patellar strain and was finally working his way into the rotation. Now Rick Pitino will have to do without him again. The Cardinals’ frontcourt is already thin, and while Van Treese was hardly a star, he was a big body and a capable role player. I guess we will just have to see how Pitino and his squad handle this dose of adversity.
  5. The Springfield News-Sun profiled DePaul coach Oliver Purnell on Saturday and the story centered around Purnell’s incredible optimism when it comes to reviving a moribund program. There are plenty of good quotes from people who know Purnell about the coach’s history and ability turning around struggling programs, but DePaul might be a completely different story. For one, they play in a ridiculously tough conference, and they also have to compete with dozens of teams for local talent. Chicago is a recruiting hotbed, but their best recruits almost always end up being recruited by not just Illinois, but Kansas, and Indiana, and Ohio State and a host of other elite programs that can promise a chance at the national championship now. Purnell was certainly an inspired choice for the gig, but it remains to be seen whether he can move enough mountains to make DePaul relevant again. Something they haven’t been since Eddy Curry spurned them for a shot to make a ton of undeserved money in the NBA.
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Bobby Cremins Serves as a Roadmap For Where Brad Brownell and Clemson Want To Go

Posted by rtmsf on November 25th, 2011

Will Rothschild is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Sun and Southern Conference, and an occasional contributor.

Early in his second season at Georgia Tech, following a 24-point loss to Iona, Bobby Cremins didn’t look like much of a threat to the status quo in the ACC, a league that was in the full bloom of one of its most glorious eras.

Dean Smith was only a few months removed from his first national championship and had a starting five that included the names Jordan, Perkins and Daugherty. Ralph Sampson was in the middle of a third consecutive consensus national Player of the Year season for a powerful Virginia team, and a young thoroughbred named Len Bias had just arrived in College Park to play for a Maryland program that just three years prior had been the class of the league. Meanwhile, some coach with a funny name was just starting to tutor what was regarded as the nation’s best freshman class at Duke, and Jim Valvano was mere weeks away from authoring a story that was as responsible as any for turning the NCAA Tournament into the national obsession that came to be called March Madness.

Cremins, Still Teaching Lessons After All These Years...

Down in Atlanta in January of ’83, it would have been a reach to think Cremins was building something that soon would go toe-to-toe with programs that were the legacy of some of the most legendary names in the history of the sport – Case and Bubas, McGuire and Smith, Bones and Lefty. Within two years, that’s exactly what Cremins had done. After inheriting a program that had won just one of its first 18 games in the ACC, the former team captain for Frank McGuire at South Carolina steered the Yellow Jackets to the 1985 ACC tournament championship – completing a 3-0 season sweep of Smith and the Heels in the title game – and a few weeks later all the way to the Elite Eight, where they fell to Ewing’s Hoyas by six.

Cremins and Georgia Tech had arrived.

Fast forward nearly 27 years, and there was Cremins Saturday night, in the bowels of an ACC arena he had visited nearly two dozen times before as an opposing coach, celebrating his 570th career victory. For the first 30 minutes of the game at Littlejohn Coliseum, his College of Charleston Cougars had thoroughly outplayed Clemson before hanging on for a 72-69 win. In the end, it was another power conference scalp (joining North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee) that Cremins has taken since coming out of retirement in 2006 to start one of college basketball’s more interesting second coaching acts. Just moments after Cremins finished telling the media how his team had just played “as good a basketball as any team I’ve ever coached” in the first half, in came second-year Clemson coach Brad Brownell.

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RTC Conference Primers: #1 – Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 14th, 2011

Brian Otskey is the RTC correspondent for the Big East. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.

Reader’s Take I

 

Top Storylines

  • The Realignment Circus Continues: The latest blow to the Big East came just recently as West Virginia was accepted into the Big 12. That leaves the Big East with 13 basketball schools remaining and a handful of others (football schools) desperately trying to flee the sinking ship. Commissioner John Marinatto has said he is committed to holding Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia to the 27-month notice provision in the conference’s bylaws but one has to wonder if a financial settlement will be worked out in order to expedite the transition and move the conference into rebuilding mode. It’s going to be quite awkward if these three schools remain in the league until 2014. All of the current Big East members should eventually find a stable home in one form or another, but the days of Big East basketball as we know it will soon come to an end. Enjoy the 2011-12 season because it just might be the last year of this remarkable 16-team behemoth.
  • How Many Bids This Year?: After sending a record 11 teams to the NCAA Tournament last year, can the Big East reach that mark again? That seems unlikely but you never know how things will truly play out. I’d say there are ten contenders for NCAA bids and to make 11 you would need all of those teams plus one of the three New York City-area schools to have a wildly successful year and snatch a bid. The Big East is quite possibly the best conference in the land yet again but 11 NCAA teams is far-fetched. Eight or nine bids this season would seem to be much more realistic.
  • Can Connecticut Repeat?: The technical answer is yes but it will be extremely tough to do. There’s a reason only two teams have gone back-to-back in the last 20 years. College basketball is as deep as ever in terms of talent and quality teams, plus there’s someone missing from last year’s Connecticut team. Kemba Walker is now in the NBA and, despite Jim Calhoun’s impressive recruiting haul, there is a major leadership void to be filled. This team is stocked with talent but Walker was a one-of-a-kind leader who took complete control in Maui and parlayed that into a way of life for the rest of the season. Jeremy Lamb figures to take control but remember how young this group is. They’ll get better as the season progresses and may even win the Big East but when the chips are down in the NCAA Tournament, they won’t be able to call on Kemba and that’s why I feel they will not repeat.

Calhoun Won't Have His Mr. Everything Around This Season

  • Cautious Optimism at Georgetown, Villanova and West Virginia: These traditional powers lose a lot of talent and figure to be lodged in the middle of the conference. All three programs return key cogs but the departures of Austin Freeman, Chris Wright, Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes, Antonio Pena, Casey Mitchell, John Flowers and Joe Mazzulla leave more questions than answers. These teams all need someone to step up and become a deep shooting threat while maintaining a low post presence. Guards win in college basketball but you also have to be able to rebound and score inside occasionally. Hollis Thompson, Mouphtaou Yarou and Deniz Kilicli must become better all-around post men if their respective teams hope to make the NCAA Tournament. At 6’7”, 205 lbs., Thompson isn’t one to bang with the big guys but he’s going to have to score in the paint at times. Each team has a nice recruiting class coming in, but it’s up to the returning players to make the ultimate difference.
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The Disappearance of Black Coaches in the ACC

Posted by KCarpenter on October 13th, 2011

Just a few years ago, seven out of the twelve head coaches in the Atlantic Coast Conference were African-American. Today, it has one: Leonard Hamilton at Florida State. Where the ACC was once a progressive leader, it is now at the rear of the pack. Now while many may find the race of coaches in college basketball an unimportant or trivial issue, the drastic change in percentages is worth examining, particularly if there is a single driving force behind the change. Where have all the black coaches gone?

Leonard Hamilton Stands Alone

Let’s check in on the seven black head coaches in the ACC in 2008 and see where they are now: Leonard Hamilton is still at Florida State where he leads a defensive powerhouse that can reliably challenge the very best in the ACC. Hamilton stands alone, though. Frank Haith, who was the head coach of Miami, accepted a new job at Missouri, where he will get to play spoiler and rival to elite Kansas. The great rebuilding artist, Oliver Purnell,was offered a Godfather-style contract from DePaul. Offered a ridiculous sum of money that he couldn’t possibly refuse, Purnell left Clemson. A failure to meet increased expectations at Georgia Tech led to the firing of Paul Hewitt. Of course, plenty of schools were happy to take a chance on Paul Hewitt and it was less than two months before Hewitt was named the head coach of the perennial Cinderella, George Mason. Dave Leitao at Virginia and Sidney Lowe at North Carolina State were fired/bought out for repeated failures in the conference. While Lowe landed on his feet as an assistant coach for the NBA’s Utah Jazz, it took Leitao a little longer before he finally landed the gig as the head coach of the Maine Red Claws, an NBA Development League  team. Al Skinner, longtime coach at Boston College, was fired after a disappointing 2010 season, despite being the winningest coach in the program’s history and leading the Eagles to seven NCAA Tournament appearances including the Sweet Sixteen once.  Skinner isn’t currently coaching anywhere.

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RTC Summer Updates: Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on July 11th, 2011

With the completion of the NBA Draft and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. Our Big East update comes from frequent RTC contributor Brian Otskey, co-author of Get to the Point.

Readers’ Take

Summer Storylines

  • Connecticut Revels In National Championship Glory: Connecticut’s storybook year continued on into the offseason as the Huskies were invited to the White House for an event with President Obama on May 16. The team presented the president with a #1 UConn jersey and posed for photographs after being lauded for their remarkable accomplishment. Connecticut made one of the most improbable runs ever en route to the third national championship in school history, all coming since 1999, going 23-0 outside of Big East regular season play. Nobody could have predicted the way last season unfolded and the NCAA Tournament as a whole was a microcosm of that. Connecticut’s national title made up for a lackluster performance by many of the record 11 Big East teams participating in the tournament. Only one other Big East team (Marquette) managed to make it to the second weekend’s Sweet 16. Life without Kemba Walker has begun in Storrs and while the Huskies will be among the 2011-12 Big East favorites, it’ll be very interesting to see who steps up and how the team performs without its warrior. Jeremy Lamb appears to be ready to take over but the way Shabazz Napier and Alex Oriakhi handle their larger roles will be the difference between a team contending for a Big East title and one that finishes fourth or fifth.

Kemba & Co. Celebrated in Style (H-C/B.Hansen)

  • The Ed Cooley Era Begins In Friartown: After Keno Davis stumbled to an 18-36 Big East record over three seasons in Providence, the Friars desperately needed someone to revive their moribund program. Providence has made only two NCAA Tournaments since its 1997 appearance and the last one was eight seasons ago in 2003-04. Enter Ed Cooley, a Providence-born 41-year-old with the fire in his belly needed to succeed in arguably the toughest job in the Big East Conference. Cooley will instill a system of discipline and fundamentals with a special attention to defense, three attributes of successful programs that were sorely lacking under Davis. Cooley’s Fairfield team ranked #22 in the nation in defensive efficiency last season and he improved the Stags’ record each and every year he was there. Providence, a small Catholic school with hardly any recruiting base along with limited facilities and resources, is an incredibly difficult job even before you have to go up against bigger schools like Syracuse, Louisville and Pittsburgh along with tradition-rich programs such as Georgetown, Villanova and Marquette. Cooley must spend his first season laying the foundation for longer term success. He won’t turn this program around overnight but more discipline on and off the court and hard work on the recruiting trail can turn Providence into a solid Big East competitor. We can’t think of many people better suited than Cooley to get the job done at Providence. While it will be a long and difficult process, brighter days are ahead for the Providence program with Ed Cooley at the helm.
  • Signs Of Life In The New York Area: New coach Steve Lavin and St. John’s brought the buzz back to the Big Apple last winter as the Red Storm earned its first NCAA bid in nine seasons. “Lavinwood” has moved east, but St. John’s now enters a year full of mixed feelings. Cautious optimism as well as uncertainty rules the day with nine new faces, part of the nation’s second-ranked recruiting class, making their way to Queens in 2011-12. Malik Stith is the only returnee of note after Dwayne Polee, II, decided to transfer closer to home at San Diego State. St. John’s may be the most unpredictable team in the Big East entering this season. The potential exists for a terrific year if Lavin can mold all this raw talent into a cohesive unit capable of playing with any team in the conference. However, issues with young players, commonly involving playing time and egos, are also very possible and it takes only one incident to destroy the locker room and wreck the season. The Johnnies have enough talent to make the NCAA Tournament again, but Lavin will have to totally adjust his approach to make that happen. With hardly any experience on the roster, he can’t simply roll the ball out and hope for the best. This season will be the biggest test of Lavin’s coaching career on the court, but he faced an even more difficult challenge last year, coaching the entire season with prostate cancer while keeping it a secret until this spring. Turning St. John’s around with that constantly in the back of his mind is an a commendable achievement and we obviously wish Coach Lavin the best of luck fighting this awful disease.
  • Across the Hudson River in New Jersey, Mike Rice and Rutgers appear to be building a program to be reckoned with down the road. The Scarlet Knights have been a dormant program for 20 years, never once enjoying a winning season in any of its 16 years as a Big East member. That may be about to change, although it appears unlikely that Rutgers will crack the .500 mark in league play this season. The fiery Rice reeled in a top 25 recruiting class and now must build on a season of close calls and what-ifs. Rutgers was competitive last year, but could only manage five Big East victories. It’ll take time for the new players to adjust to the collegiate level but bigger and better things should be expected from Rutgers in the years to come. Rutgers, a large state school, has the capability of becoming a pretty good program. All it needs is a commitment from the administration, facility upgrades and great recruiting. Rice is taking care of the latter, now it’s time for the Rutgers brass to provide him with the resources needed to build a top flight program. Rutgers needs major facility upgrades (a RAC renovation has been talked about for over a year), but fundraising has been a major problem. With New Jersey Governor Chris Christie trying to get the state’s financial house in order, there is going to be a lot of resistance to an ambitious project such as this one at the state’s flagship university.

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Morning Five: 06.17.11 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on June 17th, 2011

  1. Earlier this year Washington‘s Venoy Overton was involved in a salacious case where he was accused of statutory rape before local police decided not to pursue the case further. Now it appears that Overton has found himself in trouble again as he was arrested yesterday afternoon for promoting prostitution. According to police reports, an 18 year-old female was questioned for “prostitution activity” and told police that her boyfriend, Overton, brought her there and told her to engage in prostitution. According to the female, Overton gave her specific instructions on what acts to perform, what to charge, and what percentage he took. Lorenzo Romar, who took quite a bit of heat this season after letting Overton return to the Huskies after his prior run-in with law, issued the following statement: “I have been informed of the arrest of Venoy Overton and I am extremely disappointed.  My staff and I spent an extraordinary amount of time and energy attempting to mentor Venoy prior to his recent graduation, so this news is especially troubling.” Overton, who graduated on Saturday with a degree in American Ethnic studies, is expected to appear before a judge today.
  2. The guys at Lost Letterman caught up with former prep star Lenny Cooke recently. For those of you who not aware Cooke was one of the premier high school players in the country in the Class of 2002 and considered by many to be at the same level as two more well-known players in his class–Amar’e Stoudamire and Carmelo Anthony. Through a series of bad decisions and unfortunate events Cooke never played a minute in college or the NBA. Today, Cooke’s legacy will probably come from the 2001 ABCD Camp where Cooke, a rising senior, was matched up against a hyped rising junior named LeBron James in what was supposed to be a match-up for the ages. Unfortunately for Cooke, LeBron, who was already demonstrating his knack for coming up big in big moments (wait, what?), destroyed Cooke on both ends of the floor to start the LeBron hype machine going full force while Cooke began his rapid fall.
  3. It appears that Virginia coach Tony Bennett may almost be ready to turn the Cavalier program around with a solid group of recruits. Virginia, which had been one of the better programs in the ACC during the 1990s, has only made the NCAA Tournament once in the past decade. After a 7-9 record in an admittedly weak year for the ACC, Bennett could have the Cavaliers primed to be a sleeper in the conference and could challenge the second tier of teams (the ones not named Duke or UNC) in the very near future.
  4. Earlier this week we linked to a column by Dana O’Neil talking about the difficult jobs of college basketball assistant coaches. Yesterday, Ohio State‘s Brandon Miller, considered by many to be one of the top assistant coaches in college basketball, stepped down citing a need to spend more time with his family. Although it isn’t an ideal time to try to find a new assistant coach with the summer recruiting season about to heat up, the Buckeyes recruiting should not suffer too much as Thad Matta already has two experienced assistants in Jeff Boals and Dave Dickerson and could potentially promote newly hired video coordinator Greg Paulus to take Miller’s place.
  5. When Oliver Purnell took over at DePaul last year it was widely considered one of the tougher rebuilding projects in America, but had some potential with the ability to recruit local Chicago high school players. While Purnell did have some success in his first year (winning the school’s first Big East game after a 24-game losing streak and its first road conference win since 2008) it was a very difficult year again for the Blue Demons. Things may get even tougher for Purnell as he will have to replace both Devin Hill and Eric Wallace who have decided to leave the program with Hill leaving for Loyola and Wallace leaving for Ohio State.
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Examining Ed DeChellis: Why Are Some Coaches Trading Down?

Posted by rtmsf on May 26th, 2011

Monday’s announcement by Penn State head coach Ed DeChellis that he was resigning from his position in order to take another job isn’t the kind of thing that normally surprises anyone.  After all, fifty or so Division-I head coaching jobs change hands in a given offseason, and DeChellis is coming off one of the best seasons of his coaching career.  His Nittany Lions finished fourth in the Big Ten last season and made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in a decade (losing by two points to Temple in the Second Round).  That he’s taking another job isn’t buzzworthy in itself; it’s that he’s not moving on to greener pastures as the new guy at Miami (FL) or Missouri, to name a couple prominent openings this year.  It’s that he’s resigning from a Big Ten school to take the head coaching position at Navy.  As in… the US Naval Academy, a Patriot League program that hasn’t been relevant since the Reagan Administration (and a gangly center named David Robinson was enrolled in Annapolis).

DeChellis Isn't the First Coach to Move Down the Ladder

It’s certainly an open secret among Penn State faithful and Big Ten watchers that DeChellis, despite PSU’s run to the NCAAs this season, was already on rather thin ice.  His eight-year career in Happy Valley resulted in more losses than wins and his relationship with the Penn State AD, Tim Curley, had reportedly deteriorated to a breaking point.  Still, by walking away from a Big Ten position — even one in the basketball wasteland known as central Pennsylvania — to take the helm at a struggling mid-major, he’s leaving at least a half-million dollars or more on the table, and essentially giving up on every coach’s dream to win and win big at the highest level of college basketball.  We’re not about to sit down and perform an analysis of the last couple of decades of coaching changes to test the theory, but in at least the last couple of offseasons, there seems to be a growing trend of coaches moving laterally or even downgrading themselves for one reason or another.  Here’s three who instantly came to mind.

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Who’s Got Next? Updated Class of 2012 Rankings…

Posted by Josh Paunil on May 3rd, 2011

Who’s Got Next? is a weekly column by Josh Paunil, the RTC recruiting guru. We encourage you to check out his website dedicated solely to college basketball recruiting, National Recruiting Spotlight, for more detailed recruiting information. Each week he will bring you an overview of what’s going on in the complex world of recruiting, from who is signing where among the seniors to who the hot prospects are in the lower levels of the sport. If you have any suggestions as to areas we’re missing, please let us know at rushthecourt@yahoo.com. 

Introduction

With another passing week, there is plenty of recruiting news including standout performances at AAU events, commitments and de-commitments, and the latest news on where high-profile prospects are likely to go to college. However, the biggest revelation by far in this past week was a recruiting scandal at a mid-major D1 school that has yet to win an NCAA Tournament game but somehow managed to land two elite prospects. Read on to see how a young man from Chicago, a head coach at a mid-major basketball program and a high-profile former felon created the biggest recruiting scandal in the past few years.

What We Learned

Kevin Ware's recruitment exposed ties between UCF head coach Donnie Jones and convicted felon Kenneth Caldwell.

Kevin Ware’s Recruitment and Central Florida’s Recruiting Scandal. After class of 2011 shooting guard Kevin Ware committed to the Knights two weeks ago, he backed out of the agreement Thursday when he learned of Kenneth Caldwell’s background, a Chicago man with a substantial criminal record and apparent ties to a prominent sports agency. Ware claims that Caldwell repeatedly called him to encourage him to attend Central Florida, traveled to meet with his family and even set up conversations between Ware, himself and head coach Donnie Jones and Jones’ staff – contact which is prohibited by the NCAA. Caldwell formally denied recruiting players for UCF and claimed he was simply impressed by UCF… a school that has never won an NCAA Tournament game.

When Ware and his family were asked about what coaches said their relationship with Caldwell was, they said the coaches claimed they had no direct affiliation with him but that they had known him for a year. This left the Ware family wondering exactly who Caldwell was and how he tied in with UCF.  On his LinkedIn page, Caldwell claimed to be a recruiter of potential NBA players for ASM Sports, which the company later confirmed. What was even more frightening about Caldwell’s background were his two felony convictions in 1991 and again in 1998. He also owes the IRS close to $250,000. After looking at his history and claims, Caldwell could fairly be labeled as a “runner,” someone who acts as a middle man to deliver players to universities and agents.

How current UCF commit Michael Chandler Ties In. Caldwell’s ties to the UCF program started a few years ago when a high school student whom he refers to as his “son” committed to the Knights. Then, two more players whom Caldwell likes to call his “nephews” also chose UCF for their collegiate careers, including one of the best class of 2011 centers in the country, Michael Chandler. Before becoming a Knight, Chandler had previously committed to Louisville and Xavier before he shocked many people by settling on Central Florida. Chandler’s high school coach said he’d never even heard of Central Florida before Chandler committed there. However, Chandler’s uncle said the prospect chose UCF on its merits. In Pat Forde’s column this week analyzing the odd recruitment, he said a source with knowledge of the situation claimed that Caldwell bragged about having inside information of where Chandler would be attending college well before he made his decision public.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Conference Report Card: Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 19th, 2011

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor. We will be publishing a series of conference report cards over the next week for conferences that got multiple NCAA bids to recap the conference, grade the teams, and look at the future for the conference.

Conference Recap

  • College basketball has never witnessed a season like this year’s Big East. The conference destroyed its own record of eight NCAA bids by placing 11 clubs in the Big Dance this year and also claimed the national champion with Connecticut, which spent most of the season in the middle of the pack in the Big East. The Huskies also gave the conference its first title since the Huskies last did the trick in 2004. While there was not a truly great team in the Big East (including Connecticut), the league was better than any other from top to bottom. Of the five teams that failed to make the NCAA Tournament, only South Florida and DePaul were truly uncompetitive. Rutgers showed signs of improvement while Seton Hall managed to win seven league games and gave some good teams a major scare in the process. Even Providence, which finished 4-14, knocked off Louisville and Villanova in consecutive games back in January. Despite the lackluster NCAA showing by most Big East members, it says here the conference boasted the best player in the nation (sorry, Jimmer) and a deserving national champion. Additionally, ten Big East teams were ranked in the AP Top 25 at some point this season. Say what you want about its postseason performance (it’s certainly fair to bash the league in that regard), but this was by far the best conference in the nation this year.

Jim Calhoun (left) and Kemba Walker will be inextricably linked to UConn's memorable NCAA Tournament run. (Reuters/Lucy Nicholson)

Team-by-Team (teams are in order of finish, but grades are based on performance vs. expectations):

  1. Pittsburgh (28-6, 15-3): The regular season was terrific once again for Jamie Dixon and the Panthers but, as has become common over the years, they fell short of their goal–getting to the Final Four. Pittsburgh lost four of their final eight games after starting the season 24-2. A mid-season injury to Ashton Gibbs was thought to bring them down a peg, but Pitt responded with wins at West Virginia and Villanova without him to quiet any doubters. That turned out to be their peak. Dixon did not really test his team out of conference except for two games at Madison Square Garden against Maryland and Texas back in November as part of the 2K Sports Coaches vs. Cancer event and a “home” game (in Pittsburgh) against Tennessee, which they lost. Looking back, one theory could be that an average non-conference schedule did not adequately prepare this team for the NCAA Tournament which is all about match-ups and teams you haven’t seen before from other leagues. While Big East coaches love to use the strength of the league as a crutch when questioned about a lack of non-conference heft to their schedule, I think this is a theory that has to be taken into consideration. Big East play is obviously rough and tumble every night but that can actually be a detriment come tournament time when games are officiated tighter and you don’t have as much time to prepare for an opponent who you likely don’t know very well, if at all. Pitt will lose Gilbert Brown, Brad Wanamaker, and Gary McGhee to graduation while Gibbs tests the NBA waters. I expect Gibbs to come back to join a very good recruiting class led by five-star forward Khem Birch. Despite the loss of three senior leaders, look for Pitt to be in the thick of the Big East race yet again next season. Dixon has established a culture of winning and I have learned never to doubt him after witnessing the 2009-10 campaign, a season that certified Dixon as one of the best basketball minds in the country. While this year was a great success during the regular season, Pitt’s inability to get to the Sweet Sixteen and eventually the Final Four renders this year a disappointment. GRADE: B- Read the rest of this entry »
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