Night Line: Notre Dame Keeps Winning With Balanced Offensive Attack

Posted by EJacoby on February 23rd, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.

The Indiana Hoosiers have been praised throughout this season for having one of the most balanced offensive attacks in the country. But as IU has begun to sputter of late, a different team in Indiana is proving to be similarly efficient with a variety of offensive options. By thumping West Virginia on Wednesday night, 71-44, Notre Dame has now won nine straight games after yet another versatile offensive attack that was too much for the Mountaineers to handle. Mike Brey’s boys in South Bend remain tied for second in the Big East and are a dangerous matchup thanks to all the different options they can throw at opponents.

The Fighting Irish are Clicking Through Collective Offensive Play (AP Photo/J. Raymond)

The Fighting Irish began this season with much riding on their fifth-year senior star Tim Abromaitis, who was expected to make a run at Big East Player of the Year. But when the forward suffered a season-ending ACL injury on November 25, the entire dynamic of the team changed. It took plenty of bruises — the Irish were just 8-5 in the non-conference — but this team has figured out how to play as a group without Abromaitis. While only six players on the team average 20 minutes or more per game now, each one is capable of being the star on any given night. In fact, during the current nine-game winning streak, five different players have led the team in scoring. Coming into tonight, guards Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant and forward Jack Cooley were all averaging between 12 and 13 points per game on the year, while emerging swingman Pat Connaughton was averaging 12.6 per contest in his last five games. The other starter, forward Scott Martin, also averages 9.1 PPG in Big East play, giving the Irish a full lineup of capable scorers.

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Set Your TiVo: 02.22.12

Posted by EJacoby on February 22nd, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

There are a lot of good teams in action on Wednesday, but most of them are strong favorites in their games. The two best matchups of the night are taking place in the Big East and Big Ten.

Here’s the breakdown and what else to watch for:

West Virginia at #17 Notre Dame – 7:00 PM ET on ESPN2 (****)

Mike Brey's Team Has Won Eight in a Row and Looks Really Strong (AP Photo/J. Raymond)

  • It seems like every game that West Virginia plays is a toss-up, and this one is no different. The Mountaineers have lost five of their last seven but are coming off a big win at Pittsburgh where they were slight underdogs. They are once again slight underdogs in South Bend to take on the red-hot Fighting Irish. WVU usually plays strong perimeter defense, which will force the Irish guards into running more difficult offense, but will the Mountaineers’ own guards provide enough scoring punch? Truck Bryant has been a good secondary scorer at 16.6 PPG in Big East play, but no other guard averages more than eight points per night. They need someone else to step up to complement Bryant and Kevin Jones. Jones remains a stud this season and you can all but lock up 20 points and 10 rebounds from him. The Mountaineers will try to out-tough the Irish by controlling the boards with their 54.1% rebounding percentage in Big East games, tops in the conference.
  • Notre Dame hasn’t lost in over a month, winning eight straight games and all in impressive fashion. They didn’t look great in their Saturday night game at Villanova, but the Irish still came back from a 20-point deficit and closed out a road game in overtime. Five different Notre Dame players have led the team in scoring during its winning streak, and the offense has been tremendously well-rounded. They can pound the ball inside to Jack Cooley (12.2 PPG, 9.3 RPG), find surging Pat Connaughton from the outside (12.6 PPG in his last five games), or use strong guard duo Eric Atkins (13.0 PPG) and Jerian Grant (12.9 PPG) to make plays. The question will be whether Mike Brey‘s team can execute against WVU’s tough defense or grab any offensive boards against the strong defensive rebounding team.
  • West Virginia is the best rebounding team in the Big East while Notre Dame’s 49.4% rebound percentage is just 13th in the conference. The Mountaineers could control this game if they dominate the boards, but otherwise the Irish should find a much easier time scoring with their diverse offensive sets. Notre Dame is just a three-point favorite in what is expected to be a tight matchup.

#5 Michigan State at Minnesota – 8:30 PM ET on Big Ten Network (***)

  • Michigan State has won five straight, seven of its last eight, and looks like a strong candidate for an NCAA #1 seed. Draymond Green is fully healthy and continues to state his case for Big Ten Player of the Year, but it’s the secondary players that have come along. Freshman Branden Dawson continues to improve and has massive upside as a swing forward, while bigs Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix continue to play better and better as the season progresses. The Spartans remain one of the strongest defensive teams in the country and seem incredibly difficult to score on during stretches. There’s no reason to expect anything different against a struggling Golden Gophers offense. Tom Izzo‘s team is peaking yet again in the late stage of the season.
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Big East Morning Five: 02.22.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on February 22nd, 2012

  1. Not many have noticed but South Florida is having a fine season at 17-10 overall and 10-4 in the Big East.  The ten conference wins are already good for a school record.  The Bulls do not play the sexiest brand of basketball (Sports Illustrated’s suimsuit issue is on newstands now however), preferring to slow the pace, use their bulk and shut opponents down with stifling defense, but head coach Stan Heath has his squad positioning itself for an NCAA tournament bid.  But there’s a problem.  Not only do most bracketologists and pundits have South Florida out of field, they have them solidly on the uphill side of the bubble, citing a lack of quality wins coupled with resume marring losses to Penn State and Old Dominion.  However, as CBSSports.com’s Jeff Goodman points out, South Florida’s body of work is not as it appears on the surface.  Injuries and suspensions to key players in the early part of the season have led to a late jelling for the Bulls.   Augustus Gilchrist (3) and Jawanza Poland (11) missed a combined 14 games.  However freshman point guard Anthony Collins has perhaps provided the greatest impact.  As Goodman notes, Collins missed the first five games of the season, including the previously mentioned losses and has played in all of his team’s conference games.  A team like South Florida who plays a half court style needs a steady point guard to run the offense and do the little things that win games.  Collins fits the bill, shooting 47.4% from the field and 84.2% percent from the line while averaging 5.3 assists per game, which is good for sixth in the league.  Even with the season winding down, South Florida will have plenty of chances to track down those elusive quality wins as they take on Syracuse, Cincinnati, Louisville, and West Virginia in their last four regular season games.
  2. Chris Obekpa, one of the most sought after class of 2012 recruits among Big East schools will resume his conference tour today when he visits Cincinnati.  Obekpa, a 6’8″ center from New York’s Our Savior New American will spend three days on campus and attend the Bearcats’ game tomorrow against Louisville.  Cincinnati will have two scholarships open for next year and has yet to fill either one.  Obekpa is viewed as the Bearcats primary target up front, but head coach Mick Cronin has his work cut out for him. Conference foes Connecticut, DePaul, Georgetown, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John’s, and West Virginia are all vying for the big man’s services as are a number of schools outside of the Big East.  Obekpa has been busy. He visited Connecticut on Saturday afternoon, taking in the Huskies’ game against Marquette then attending Providence’s home loss to Georgetown later that evening.  Providence head coach Ed Cooley and associate head coach Andre LaFleur were in attendance for Obekpa’s game last night.
  3. There has been much speculation around when Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun, who has been out on medical leave since February 3 due to a condition called spinal stenosis, will return to the Huskies’ bench.  We could learn more as early as today when Calhoun meets with his doctor to assess the situation.  “We might make a decision then,” the coach told the Hartford Courant yesterday.  Calhoun also indicated he is still experiencing “a lot” of lower back pain and season-ending surgery remains a possibility.  Coming off an emotional comeback overtime win against Villanova on Monday, the Huskies are clinging to slim NCAA tournament hopes and would love nothing more than to have their coach back for Saturday’s huge home contest versus #2 Syracuse.
  4. It is always great to have options.  While the argument can certainly be made that Notre Dame lacks depth, when it comes down to crunch time head coach Mike Brey knows he can count on a number of his players to deliver.  Notre Dame has not squandered leads late while displaying the ability to steal victory from the clutches of defeat as evidenced by their comeback overtime win over Villanova (this is a recording) on Saturday where sophomore Jerian Grant and freshman Pat Connaughton shook off tough early shooting displays to hit key threes down the stretch and in the extra period.  Brey has also praised the close-and-late play of another sophomore, Eric Atkins.  Atkins, along with Grant, gained valuable experience in practice as freshmen going up against the starters in late game situational simulations, often coming out on top.  Further, there has been the consistent play of junior forward Jack Cooley who rose to the occasion and had one of his best games of the season in Notre Dame’s upset of then undefeated and #1 Syracuse.  “I love the fact that when we’re in game situations, we’ve really been good,” Brey told the Chicago Tribune. “If you want to keep playing in March in both tournaments, it’s going to come up again. That identity, that (at) the under-4-minute media timeout it’s ‘our time’ — that’s a heck of a thing.”
  5. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, and it ain’t broke in Syracuse.  Jim Boeheim has been Syracuse’s head coach for 36 seasons. If he has not been playing zone since he started it certainly seems like it.  Further, nobody has been able to figure the zone out yet, so why change now?  For this reason alone it is curious that Sports Illustrated’s Michael Rosenberg asked Boeheim why he has not considered switching to man-to-man.  We will give Rosenberg the benefit of the doubt and assume he asked just to elicit a vintage Boeheim response.  So good job Michael because Boeheim did not disappoint. “If you’re a man-to-man coach and the other team hits three or four shots, do you take timeout and go to zone?” Boeheim mused. “Of course not. So, I’m a zone coach. Am I supposed to take timeout and go to man? Why would I do that? It doesn’t make sense. We’re a zone team.”
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Checking In On… The Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 20th, 2012

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

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • Bubble Teams Hanging On: Four Big East squads reside in the purgatory known as Bubbleville, but all are still hanging on to their projected NCAA bids. Cincinnati, Seton Hall, West Virginia, and Connecticut are all projected to be in the NCAA Tournament field as of this writing according to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, but it’s the Pirates who are really skating on thin ice. The Hall is one of the “last four in” and has a huge opportunity this week against Georgetown. Cincinnati has a similar opportunity against Louisville while West Virginia has two excellent chances to seal the deal this week. As for Connecticut, the Huskies appear to be imploding. How UConn responds against Villanova on Monday night and Syracuse this coming Saturday will determine its fate.
  • South Florida Guaranteed a Winning Record: With its win at Pittsburgh on Sunday night, South Florida won its tenth Big East game for the first time ever and is now guaranteed at least a 10-8 Big East finish. However, the Bulls have their sights set higher. Thanks in part to a backloaded schedule, USF’s best win to this point is over bubble team Seton Hall, but upcoming games against Cincinnati and West Virginia could push the Bulls towards the field if they can win. South Florida needs to finish at least 12-6 in order to have a chance at a bid. Even with that, the Bulls will likely need to do a lot of work in New York City. A 12-6 league record is usually automatic, but not when your best non-conference win is Cleveland State. How much does Stan Heath want the close losses to Southern Miss (two points) and Connecticut (three points) back now?

Darius Johnson-Odom And The Golden Eagles Embarrassed The Huskies On Saturday.

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (27-1, 14-1) – I can hardly remember a year with zero change at the top of the league rankings. Syracuse is simply a cut above every other team in this league although Marquette and Georgetown have closed the gap a little bit over the last few weeks. Syracuse flirted with losses twice last week, but won gutty road games at Louisville and Rutgers. The Orange held Louisville without a point over the final 3:30 and won by a point despite shooting 1-15 from deep and Scoop Jardine going 0-8. Syracuse shot 34% for the game, but limited Louisville to 35%. Against Rutgers, Syracuse shot 50% and Jardine played much better (17 points, 7 assists). C.J. Fair had a stellar game, scoring 21 points and grabbing eight rebounds off the bench. Kris Joseph added 14 for the victors as they moved their overall record to 27-1. Rebounding remains a concern (31-26 Rutgers on the glass), but the Orange continue to roll along. Syracuse will battle Kentucky for the top overall seed in next month’s NCAA Tournament. This week: 2/22 vs. South Florida, 2/25 @ Connecticut. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East Morning Five: 02.20.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on February 20th, 2012

  1. Connecticut has a lot working against them these days and things are beginning to boil over. The Huskies (16-10, 6-8)  have lost seven of nine games after falling to Marquette 79-64 at home on Saturday, head coach Jim Calhoun remains out indefinitely while dealing with spinal stenosis and the future of the program remains cloudy as the Huskies face a 2013 NCAA tournament ban due to Academic Performance Rating (APR) struggles. Connecticut co-captain Shabazz Napier showed his frustration and aired grievances after the Marquette loss by calling his teammates’ heart into question. “Sometimes we look like we’re coming over the hump and then we face a good team and we all let up,” said Napier. “One thing I hate to say is, I’ve got to question a lot of these guys’ hearts.” Napier did not like how his team failed to battle down the stretch against Marquette in a game that was within reach in the final six minutes.  “We get punched and some guys throw pillows back. You’re not supposed to throw pillows back,” summed up Napier. While Connecticut possesses enough talent to compete at the highest levels, and find themselves in a somewhat similar spot to last year before they caught fire, do not look for a repeat performance this time around.
  2. Maryland Athletic Director Kevin Anderson has taken a bold move to restore an on-court rivalry with Georgetown. Maryland will not schedule a game against the Hoyas in any sport until the two power conference basketball teams agree to tip it off once again. Despite their proximity, because of various things that some call reasons, Georgetown and Maryland have not played a scheduled regular-season men’s basketball game since 1993 although they have met twice in tournament play since 1993. In short, the hoop rivalry is so natural it has transcended the hardwood and kept the sides from actually playing. Anderson and Georgetown Athletic Director Lee Reed met last year on the matter and there appeared to be some initial momentum that has since stalled.  Reed did not comment on Anderson’s edict but Georgetown Sports Information Director, Mike Carey did…sort of. “We do not make a habit of commenting on the scheduling practices of other schools,” Carey said.  Skeptics will say Anderson is making a desperate effort to save his financially floundering athletic department. An athletic department that could see nearly a third of its varsity teams cut if not turned around soon. However by most accounts, including this one, it simply makes all the sense in the world for Maryland and Georgetown to start playing again.
  3. Notre Dame tied a school record on Saturday night when the Fighting Irish notched their eighth straight conference victory in a thrilling 74-70 overtime victory over Villanova.  Even considering the school record aspect, Morning Fives do not typically focus on a single game or a recap but we are wading into those waters today based on how Notre Dame managed the accomplishment.  They put a Villanova on Villanova. Two weeks ago Villanova charged back from a 19-point deficit to overtake Providence at home. On Saturday Notre Dame trailed by as many as 20, but rode the sharp and deep shooting of freshman Pat Connaughton who scored all 21 of his points via the three. In some ways the Villanova game represents a microcosm of Notre Dame’s season with the Irish discarding adversity and conventional wisdom in favor of a winning approach. Notre Dame will attempt to break their consecutive conference victory record on Wednesday when they host West Virginia.
  4. As noted here on Friday there is a big shot blocker not named Noel that has captured the attention of a number of Big East schools, Chris Obekpa. With Mr. Noel enjoying a visit to Kentucky this weekend, Obekpa, a 6’8” center from Our Savior New American in New York, had a busy Saturday. Obekpa blazed his own recruiting trail through the northeast. Obekpa and Our Savior assistant coach, Eric Jaklitsch, first attended Connecticut‘s noon affair with Marquette in Hartford (a 79-64 Marquette victory) as a guest of the Huskies. Obekpa and his traveling party then headed east to take in Providence‘s home contest against Georgetown on Saturday night (a 63-53 Georgetown win). While Obekpa did not bring either suitor any luck on Saturday, he certainly stands to bring whomever he chooses much more once he hits the floor for them. In addition to Connecticut and Providence, Obekpa is also being pursued by conference foes Cincinnati, DePaul, Seton Hall, St. John’s, and West Virginia with some recent buzz about Georgetown getting into the picture. Out of conference Obekpa is hearing from the likes of Florida, Georgia Tech, Memphis, Oregon, UCLA, and Washington.
  5. This has not been the senior season Pittsburgh’s Ashton Gibbs dreamed about. The pre-season Big East Player of the Year selection and his team have not lived up to expectations, and look like they will miss the NCAA tournament for the first time in Gibbs’ career. Despite the Panthers’ (15-13, 4-11) struggles, Gibbs allowed himself to feel nostalgic leading up to his final regular season home game and senior night festivities last night against South Florida. Gibbs certainly has left his mark. From an individual standpoint, he is among Pittsburgh’s top ten all-time leading scorers (1650 points through last night) and could get to seventh before it is all said and done. Gibbs is also Pittsburgh’s all time leader in three pointers made and attempted. From a team standpoint Pittsburgh won at least 25 games and reached the NCAA tournament in each of Gibbs’ first three seasons, including an Elite Eight appearance in 2008-09. Gibbs struggled last night against a stingy South Florida team, tallying just two points on 1-7 shooting in the Panthers’ 56-47 loss.
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Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 6th, 2012

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

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • Fab Melo Returns: After missing three games due to an academic issue, Fab Melo returned to the Syracuse lineup Saturday afternoon in New York. Melo scored a career-high 14 points in 21 minutes but, more importantly, changed the dynamic of Syracuse on both ends of the floor. Melo’s return adds some rebounding, opens up the middle for others to drive and score/dish and gives the Orange a defensive anchor in the middle of their zone. Melo doesn’t block every shot, but he alters a very high number. With the Brazilian big man roaming the paint, Syracuse is a legitimate national championship contender, something that was plainly evident on Saturday. Despite a backloaded schedule coming into view over the next few weeks, I’d be surprised if Syracuse loses another regular season game.
  • Pittsburgh Is Back: Oh Jamie Dixon, why did we doubt you? We should have known better. After starting the conference season 0-7, Pittsburgh has won four straight games and is actually in a position to make a run at the NCAA Tournament. The Panthers’ resurgence has been keyed by the return of Tray Woodall and better play defensively. Woodall scored a career-high 29 points against Villanova on Sunday and the Panthers held the Wildcats to 36% shooting. That’s the Pittsburgh defense we’ve grown accustomed to over the years and if it keeps up, Pittsburgh will go dancing. Pitt faces a crucial week. It must take at least one (preferably both) road game of the two at South Florida and Seton Hall between now and Sunday. If the Panthers can get both, they’ll be 6-7 with three of their final five games at home. I actually feel safe saying something that would have been considered outrageous just two weeks ago: I believe Pittsburgh will be in the NCAA Tournament.

Fab Melo's Importance To The Orange Was On Full Display Last Week

  • Order Being Restored: Pittsburgh has won four straight. Seton Hall has lost six straight. South Florida lost by 30 at Georgetown on Saturday. Louisville has turned it around. All of that tells you something, doesn’t it? The Big East is shuffling back into place as we head into the home stretch of the season. While the Pirates and Bulls were nice early-season surprises and feel-good stories, reality has set in. Seton Hall was ranked in the top 25 as recently as January 9, but hasn’t won a game since a victory over DePaul the following day. The Pirates are anemic offensively and can hardly shoot 30% against any opponent. I wrote a piece last week about what has gone wrong at the Hall, but it shows no signs of stopping this tailspin anytime soon. South Florida remains at 6-4, but four of its final seven games are on the road as the schedule stiffens. The Bulls will play Pittsburgh twice, Syracuse, Cincinnati, Louisville and West Virginia down the stretch. Expect their 6-4 record to turn into something like 8-10 rather quickly. Even if that happens, it has still been a successful season for Stan Heath and his team. Nobody expected them to win even six or seven league games.

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (23-1, 10-1) – What a difference one player makes. Syracuse played only once last week, but Fab Melo’s return sparked the Orange to dunk-filled 95-70 win over hapless St. John’s at Madison Square Garden. The win, Jim Boeheim’s 879th, pulled him into a tie with legendary North Carolina coach Dean Smith for third place on the all-time wins list. Boeheim has this team humming right along and it shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. Syracuse scored 53 bench points against the Red Storm, once again showing off its incredible depth and talent. Michael Carter-Williams electrified the Garden crowd with this dunk while C.J. Fair, Dion Waiters and Kris Joseph also played very well for the Orange. Syracuse shot 56% for the game. The schedule gets tougher in February but Syracuse should be favored in every game from here on out. This week: 2/8 vs. #15 Georgetown, 2/11 vs. Connecticut. Read the rest of this entry »
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ATB: Border War non-RTC, Is It a Duke Loss If Nobody Noticed, and Melo Returns to Syracuse…

Posted by rtmsf on February 6th, 2012

This Weekend’s Lede. Forget the Super Bowl, it’s Rivalry Week across the college basketball nation… On Saturday, it was a Border War to remember, followed by a Sunday battle for bragging rights in Michigan, and we have a whole slew of great rivalry games coming up this week. From Florida-Kentucky to Duke-Carolina to Syracuse-Georgetown to even Gonzaga-St. Mary’s and Creighton-Wichita State, center stage is now ours. For the next 35 days until Selection Sunday, games will count a little more than they did before as teams position themselves for the postseason. And for that guy who says the college basketball regular season doesn’t matter? Remind him of three of the last five Super Bowl champions — one 9-7 team and two 10-6 teams won it all, while a 16-0 and a 15-1 team ended up ringless. This is why we play the games.

Your Watercooler Moment. The “Last” Border War in Columbia Goes to Missouri.

Marcus Denmon Motions At Students To Stay Put (credit: The Dagger/J. Eisenberg)

The storylines coming out of the “last” Border War game in Columbia, Missouri, on Saturday night were compelling — Game of the Year type of stuff. Even beyond the hyperbole about marauding Jayhawkers, divorced families and the finality of it all (we’ll wager the two schools are playing regularly again within five years), the game itself captured the essence of college basketball rivalry better than any other we’ve seen this year. Both Kansas and Missouri are outstanding teams, filled with playmakers on each side who are, depending on the day, equal parts dominant and confounding. For parts of the game, Kansas’ favorite whipping boy, Tyshawn Taylor, appeared the best player on the floor — driving the ball with confidence for a 21-point, highly efficient 9-15 shooting game; but it was his late-game mistakes that again cost his team when it mattered most. A turnover followed by two big misses at the foul line with KU down only one point leading to an admittedly questionable charge call, again punctuate his bugaboos (inconsistency and turnovers, especially in the clutch), issues that will haunt Jayhawk fans long after he’s gone. His counterpart on the Missouri side, Marcus Denmon, had backslid considerably from his scorching nonconference start (34.3% against Big 12 competition), but for the first time in his career against Bill Self’s team, he played a focused and effective game, going for 29/9 on 10-16 shooting and singlehandedly leading the Tigers back from the brink of a crushing home defeat. The senior guard dropped a one-man 9-0 run on the Jayhawks in the span of just over a minute, first with a layup and-one, then with back-to-back dagger treys, to erase KU’s eight-point lead with two minutes to go and put the Tigers in position to win the game with just under a minute left. KU’s Thomas Robinson (25/13) was once again the best player on the floor, but it was Denmon’s leadership and poise under pressure against the Jayhawks that made all the difference. His attitude at the end of the game says it all — he and fellow senior Kim English reportedly instructed the student section to stay in its seats rather than flooding the court in a massive RTC. With age comes wisdom, and his position is correct — elite teams only rush the court under very circumscribed conditions, and the Missouri seniors did not want their accomplishment sullied by giving Kansas the pleasure. At the end of the day, the Tigers still have a couple of major flaws that they have to mask (notably, interior size and a porous defense), but with playmakers like Denmon, English, Flip Pressey and a team that believes in itself, we expect that the dream season will continue in Columbia deep into March under first-year head coach Frank Haith.

Five More Weekend Storylines.

  • Fab Melo Returns, Boeheim Ties Dean Smith For Third in Wins. Sophomore Syracuse center probably doesn’t know who Dean Smith is, but maybe with his extra tutelage over the last two weeks, he found time to learn some college basketball history as well. On Saturday, though, he helped his coach Jim Boeheim make history with his 879th win as he contributed a career-high 14 points in his first game back from suspension and again anchored the patented SU 2-3 zone as the Orange destroyed St. John’s from start to finish at Madison Square Garden. Boeheim’s squad had struggled through a road loss to Notre Dame and two close wins at Cincinnati and West Virginia while Melo was out of the lineup, but if Saturday’s performance with him back is any indication, Syracuse may be looking at a one-loss regular season (and Boeheim could catch Bob Knight’s 902 wins as soon as next December).
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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: 11.17.11 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on November 17th, 2011

  1. The St. John’s recruiting exodus continues.  Norvel Pelle is the latest player to de-commit from Steve Lavin’s program.  The news was initially reported by Johnny Jungle.com on Wednesday morning and confirmed by Pelle via Twitter later in the day.  The 6’10” Pelle originally signed with St. John’s as a class of 2011 recruit but was declared academically ineligible in September along with fellow highly regarded signees, small forwards JaKarr Sampson and Amir Garrett.  Garrett remains committed and is currently enrolled at Bridgton Academy (ME).  However, Sampson re-opened his recruitment shortly after being declared ineligible and re-enrolled at Brewster Academy (NH), the same prep school he attended last year.  St. John’s remains in the mix with Sampson but there is plenty of competition for his services, including Big East foes Providence and Pittsburgh.  St. John’s also recently lost a verbal committment from Ricardo Gathers, a top 2012 recruit. The loss of these players is an obvious blow to a team trying to build on a young core.  No reason behind Pelle’s decision has been confirmed but speculation exists that continued qualification issues played a role.  With regard to the multiple departures, there have been theories bandied about that Lavin’s battle with prostate cancer coupled with the instability of the Big East have played a role, but this can only be considered conjecture at the present time.
  2. Providence star guard Vincent Council was seen around campus on Wednesday sporting crutches.  Council injured his left ankle at the 9:20 mark of the first half of Providence’s last game, an 82-70 win at Fairfield on Monday.  With time running out on the shot clock, Council hoisted a deep three from the top of the key and appeared to roll the ankle when he landed on the foot of Fairfield defender Derek Needham.  At first the injury looked to be serious as Council writhed in pain on the floor for several minutes.  However, he was then able to leave the floor under his own power and checked back into the game at the 8:31 mark after a brief trip to the locker room.  The 49-second departure would ultimately represent the only game action Council would miss as he logged 39 minutes, tallying game highs in scoring (26 points) and assists (seven).  The 2-0 Friars next take the floor on Saturday afternoon when they host Florida A&M at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center as part of the South Padre Island Invitational.  While the crutches appear to be a precautionary measure, there were rumblings Wednesday evening that Council’s status for Saturday is questionable. Currently playing with just eight scholarship players, Providence can ill afford to lose Council for any period of time.
  3. Louisville, a team seeking reinforcements following injuries to Wayne Blackshear, expected to miss six-to-eight weeks while recovering from surgery to repair a torn labrum, and Mike Marra, out for the season after tearing his ACL in Sunday’s win over Lamar, got news that they will be receiving help, although perhaps not soon enough but more on that in the next item.  As reported by ZagsBlog.com, 6’4″ guard Kevin Ware has been cleared to play with Louisville by the NCAA and can begin practicing on December 14.  It is anticipated Ware will suit up for Louisville’s December 17 home contest against Memphis at the KFC Yum! Center.  Ware’s recruitment has been fluid.  He originally signed with Tennessee a year ago but was released from that commitment when former Volunteers coach Bruce Pearl was fired.  Then Ware committed to Central Florida but got out of dodge last spring when the school came under NCAA investigation for a series of violations that ultimately led to the resignation of Athletic Director Keith Tribble and assistant football coach David Kelly, as well as a three-game suspension for men’s head basketball coach Donnie Jones.
  4. In related ankle and Louisville news (how’s that for a tie in of the last two items!), Louisville coach Rick Pitino has declared junior guard Peyton Siva (10.5 PPG, 6 APG) doubtful with a sprained ankle suffered in Monday’s practice when he landed on Elisha Justice’s foot.  The 2-0 Cardinals hit the road to face 1-1 Butler on Saturday and, if Siva cannot go, Pitino will have to mix and match at the point, citing a difficult match-up with Butler senior guard Ronald Nored, “the best defensive point guard in the country.”  Sophomore Russ Smith and junior Chris Smith have limited experience at the point but will also likely be called upon.  6’9″ junior forward Stephan Van Treese, a player who has been out with a knee injury, has returned to practice and is expected to play on Saturday.
  5. Notre Dame leading scorer Eric Atkins (20.0 PPG) was forced to miss last night’s game versus Sam Houston State due to illness.  This left the Fighting Irish down two starters as Tim Abromaitis continues to serve a four-game suspension for playing in exhibition games prior to his redshirt year in 2008-09.  It was also reported that starting guard Joey Brooks was battling a bug that appears to be making its way through the team.  Brooks started the game but left in the first half and did not return, although he did remain on the bench for the second half.  Fortunately the Irish were playing the Bearkats and not the Bearcats as they managed to squeak out a 74-41 victory despite being shorthanded in a game that was over by halftime. Freshman Pat Connaughton led the onslaught, scoring 17 first half points en route to a game high 24 (6-10 3FGs). Sophomore Alex Dragicevich started in Atkins’ place and contributed seven points, three rebounds, three assists and a block.  If this rash of illness continues, it could have a short-term impact as Notre Dame has two games over the next five days, including a match-up with #24 Missouri on Monday.  Irish Fans, your friends at RTC Big East are here to help!
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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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