Big East M5: 03.14.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on March 14th, 2013

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  1. C.L. Brown at the Courier-Journal (KY) took a tour of Russ Smith Sr.’s barbershop in Harlem, and the short video is worth a watch. The elder Smith, known simply as “Big Russ,” has appointed his shop from wall to wall with memorabilia, photos and mementos spanning the Louisville junior’s career. He tells Brown that his favorite souvenir is a framed photograph of him with his son following Louisville’s Big East 2012 championship –– in his own high school playing days, Big Russ says, his teams always lost before they could reach a Madison Square Garden tournament. The father’s pride in that particular accomplishment; the way it resonated with a personal and cultural icon of his own youth, is a somber reminder of what made the Big East Tournament such a special institution.
  2. Speculation that Jamie Dixon is USC’s top choice to replace Kevin O’Neill ramped up on Tuesday when The Big Lead reported that Pittsburgh resident and Dixon acquaintance Jed Hughes is the consultant taking point at USC’s search firm. It seems like the kind of attenuated connection that has spawned many a premature proclamation of “done deal” during coaching searches (has Dixon bought a house in LA yet?), but it’s certainly plausible. Dixon is a California native, a Ben Howland protégé, and probably anxious that Pitt’s move to the ACC could jeopardize the recruiting pipelines Dixon has built in Big East country. As Cardiac Hill points out, the coach’s vague statement after the USC job opened up “generally amounts to a ‘no comment.’”
  3. Notre Dame outlasted a persistent challenge from Rutgers in last night’s Big East Tournament nightcap, carried by Pat Connaughton’s 21 points and six three-pointers. This ran counter to Notre Dame’s game plan, which Brian Hamilton points out had emphasized getting Jerian Grant, Eric Atkins and Jack Cooley going. But the 39 combined points from Connaughton and former reserve Tom Knight were all separated the Irish from a second-round loss, as Grant and Cooley went 4-of-16 from the field. With their first game jitters behind them and some reassurance that they can win without prolific scoring from their stars, Notre Dame can bring some newfound confidence to its third-round game with Marquette tomorrow night, as they strive to avenge an early March loss in Milwaukee.
  4. Seniors James Southerland and Brandon Triche found their offense yesterday, and lifted Syracuse in explosive spurts over Seton Hall, 75-63, to advance to face No. 4 seed Pittsburgh in today’s BET semifinals. After shooting 15-of-52 over his last five games, Triche scored 17 on an efficient 6-of-9 field goal attempts against the Pirates, while Southerland led the way with 20 points and six threes. Sophomore Michael Carter-Williams didn’t turn the ball over once and tied a Big East Tournament record with 14 assists. This comes just days after Boeheim said his seniors would have to play better if they had any chance at becoming a good NCAA Tournament team.
  5. USF blog Voodoo Five described the Bulls’ overtime loss to Seton Hall in the first round as “a horrid, unwatchable mess that would be hard to distinguish from the dozens of other horrid, unwatchable messes USF basketball presented us for most of the last eight seasons. Except that this time they wore Mello Yello uniforms.” Ouch. Yes, Tuesday night’s loss concluded a season of thorough regression. More importantly, the author questioned whether USF basketball has made any appreciable advances in their time in the Big East, or if the culture of the Big East had any positive impact on the neglected Tampa basketball program. It has struggled to capture the interest of its community even after last year’s Cinderella season and a beautiful Sun Dome renovation, which begs the question: “When are [students and locals] ever going to buy in again? When they’re playing Tulane and East Carolina and Memphis and Houston all over again?” It’s a bleak prospect right now.
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Big East M5: 02.12.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on February 12th, 2013

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  1. Syracuse and UConn seem to be moving in very different directions as basketball programs on a number of levels. Syracuse is looking for another top-10 finish to the season and a high seed in the Big Dance. UConn, on the other hand, is ineligible for all postseason play. Syracuse is moving on to the ACC, leaving behind the shell of the once-great Big East. UConn was left at the altar, wondering what its next move will be. And this week, like ships passing in the night, Syracuse gained back dynamic sixth-man James Southerland, while UConn will likely be without big man Enosch Wolf after an arrest this week. Wolf was charged with third-degree burglary, criminal trespass and disorderly conduct after refusing to leave a campus apartment and getting in a physical altercation with a female resident at 6:00 AM. According to Kevin Ollie, Wolf has been suspended indefinitely.
  2. When he suffered a sprained ankle in the first half of what would become an epic five-overtime game against Louisville, Pat Connaughton probably didn’t realize how crucial his presence would be. The sophomore returned to the game later and ended up playing 56 minutes and contributing 16 points and 14 rebounds in the hard-fought Irish win. Connaughton probably didn’t feel great about it on Sunday, but luckily for him Notre Dame is off until Wednesday night when the Irish will take on DePaul. Ice up, Pat.
  3. Jim Boeheim is old, you guys, and I guess it works for him. The Hall of Famer has noted on many occasions that he doesn’t own a computer, and apparently he just recently got into this whole “cell phone” business, mostly because of his young kids. However, in a shocking revelation brought on by the constant Syracuse rumor-mongering surrounding the James Southerland situation, we have now learned that Boeheim knows what a blog is! And surprise, surprise — he resents them as much as we all imagined he would!
  4. Pittsburgh had a slow start to the Big East slate this year, and a lot of that derived from a lack of production from vaunted freshman center Steven Adams.  However, in recent weeks Adams has really come along with his offensive production, allowing Pitt to go back to a more traditional inside-out Panthers attack. The post presence of Adams and power forward Talib Zanna allows Jamie Dixon’s offense to harken back to the days where Levance Fields was able to feed DeJuan Blair under the hoop. The recent emergence of Adams and Zanna’s solid production opens things up for guards like Tray Woodall, who had to shoulder much of the scoring load earlier in the year.
  5. Rutgers has probably played better than many expected this season, but its 3-8 conference record doesn’t really reflect it. The Scarlet Knights have been in many close games but have so far failed to contain the opposition’s best player down the stretch. This problem came to pass once again in Saturday’s 69-63 loss to Georgetown. Scoring has been an adventure for the Hoyas all season, but they have been able to get by on the shoulders of star forward Otto Porter, who led the way by scoring 19 points (including 10 of Georgetown’s final 12) and grabbing 14 boards. Good defensive teams can remove a singular threat like Porter, or at least slow him down in crunch time, but Rutgers isn’t quite there yet.
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Big East M5: 01.10.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on January 10th, 2013

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  1. Road teams won in each of the four Big East games last night, although Seton Hall and Providence gave ranked Louisville and Syracuse competitive tests, respectively. Elsewhere, Rutgers won a 58-56 nailbiter over St. John’s in Madison Square Garden. Suddenly, the Scarlet Knights –– whom we picked dead last in the league this year –– have won seven of eight games, are 2-1 in the Big East, and have added an elusive road win to a resume that already includes a victory over a ranked Pittsburgh squad. The back-to-back conference wins might not mean much in the long run, but for a program that’s often struggled to string together any momentum, it’s a big cause for celebration.
  2. The smoke has cleared from Georgetown’s worst home loss since the Nixon administration, and Rob Dauster at College Basketball Talk says the Hoyas’ offensive frustrations are seeping into their defensive effort. As if it wasn’t obvious, this team isn’t equipped to score a bunch of points: “Georgetown does not have the talent to get baskets outside of their system. Factor in that they don’t have the ideal personnel for their system, and this is the result.” But if the Hoyas let their shooting struggles sap their defensive intensity, this won’t be the last blowout they suffer in the Big East. Given the athleticism and lanky dimensions of their starting five, Dauster suggests Georgetown needs to be producing more opportunistic points off of turnovers and steals.
  3. Pete Thamel reported that representatives from the Catholic Seven and FOX met yesterday to discuss a possible television contract. Previous estimates projected a deal that could net each school $3 million annually, substantially more than the Big East was likely to fetch in its media rights negotiations. Interestingly, Thamel’s report mentions that FOX hopes to make the league’s basketball product the centerpiece of its next sports network, which it hopes to roll out this fall. If the Catholic Seven agrees in principle to a deal with the network, you can bet that their new TV partners will do everything in its power to get those schools out of the Big East before the 2013-14 season. Postscript: Weeks ago, I argued the reconstituted Big East (or, Zombie Big East as it shall henceforth be christened) should add VCU before the Catholic Seven offered. Looks like enthusiasm for the Rams within the C7 is indeed picking up steam, cultural differences notwithstanding. Oh well.
  4. Bearcats Blog broke down 10 plays Notre Dame ran against Cincinnati on Monday and sought some answers in their snapshots. What stuck out? Bad defensive rotations, missed assignments, and post-switch mismatches that Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant exploited with ease. It’s as much a tribute to Notre Dame’s flawless offensive execution as it is an indictment of Bearcats’ mistakes. But it’s a very interesting read, and you can bet Mick Cronin’s team is being shown tape of many of these plays this week.
  5. Speaking of that efficient Notre Dame offense, the Irish have three ball-handlers with assist-to-turnover ratios above 2.0, which is an impressive testament to the “culture of passing” Mike Brey has cultivated with this team. Eric Atkins (109 assists, 28 turnovers; 3.9 ratio), Pat Connaughton (42 A, 11 TO; 3.8) and Jerian Grant (79 A, 35 TO; 2.3) form a triumvirate of absurdly well-measured passers. Brey intimated to Chicago Tribune reporter Brian Hamilton that keeping his rotation small allows his players to play looser: “There is great trust, because it’s not like there are 10 guys playing. Guys know they’re going to be out there, they’re more comfortable to (share the ball) because know they’ll be out there a while.”
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Tipping Off The Big East Countdown: #3 Notre Dame

Posted by mlemaire on November 10th, 2012

Expectations; it’s something that coach Mike Brey and Notre Dame aren’t used to. Last season the Fighting Irish were pegged to finish ninth in the preseason coaches’ poll and they went on to win 13 conference games and make it to the Third Round of the NCAA Tournament. But this season, thanks to the return of nearly every meaningful contributor from last season’s team and the addition of a few precocious freshmen, expectations are high and the Fighting Irish are expected to contend with Louisville, Syracuse, and Cincinnati for the Big East crown. Brey and his squad won’t be able to play the role of underdog anymore, but they won’t have to either as they finally have the talent and the depth to compete with any team in the conference. If they can tighten up their defense, develop more interior depth, and become more efficient offensively, this team will be one of the best in the country. But if they struggle to defend and the offense becomes stagnant, we could be looking at just the latest in a long run of Notre Dame teams to flame out on the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

2011-12 Record: 22-12, 13-5

2011-12 Postseason: NCAA Tournament Round of 64, lost to Xavier 67-63.

Things Are Looking Up for Mike Brey, Who Might Have Assembled His Best Team Yet (AP Photo)

Schedule: Last season the Fighting Irish played the 236th-most difficult non-conference schedule and so this season, the program added a few challenges while also keeping most of the creampuffs as well. The biggest match-up will be against No. 3 Kentucky in the SEC/Big East Challenge at the end of November, but St. Joseph’s is their first opponent in the CvC Classic Championship and while they aren’t ranked, they favorite to win the Atlantic 10. And Purdue under Matt Painter won’t be an easy game either.

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Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 27th, 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

  • Temple In Big East Talks: The Big East may have a new all-sport member as early as this fall if the reports are true that the Temple Owls are in discussions about joining the conference.  Adding Temple to the mix would be terrific for Big East basketball. While Syracuse is irreplaceable, you could make an argument that Temple and Memphis offset the departures of West Virginia and Pittsburgh. The enhanced stature of these two programs in the Big East will help fuel recruiting and could easily make them equal to what WVU and Pitt are right now. Temple will make its fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance next month, its 30th in a storied history. The Owls have made two Final Fours and five Elite Eights, better than both Pittsburgh and West Virginia (WVU has two Final Fours, Pitt has one). Memphis has been to more Final Fours and Elite Eights as well, although two were vacated (1985 and 2008). All in all, I’d argue that the Big East hit a grand slam with Temple and Memphis, should this all go through. The league simply couldn’t have done better given the constraints it faced.
  • Punching Your Ticket And Voiding It In The Same Week: One could argue that Seton Hall and Cincinnati punched their NCAA Tournament tickets with wins over Georgetown and Louisville, respectively, last week. However, both squads lost over the weekend (to Rutgers and South Florida), wiping out the good vibes from huge home wins earlier in the week. As of right now, the Pirates and Bearcats are likely still in the Tournament, but in much more precarious positions than before. In late-season college basketball, nothing is ever a sure thing until all the games are played. A team’s status can change at a moment’s notice.  

Syracuse Senior Scoop Jardine Helped Lead The Orange To A Title-Clinching Win Over Connecticut. (Jessica Hill/AP Photo)

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (29-1, 16-1) – The men in orange just keep moving right along, picking up two more wins this past week. Finding a way to win is so cliché, but it has been the theme with this group over the last few weeks. Syracuse has moved its record to 29-1 with seven of their nine wins since the loss to Notre Dame coming by ten points or less. In the win over South Florida, Syracuse overcame 35% shooting and a 20-7 Bulls run to start the game by going on a massive 26-0 run that started about midway through the first half and bled deep into the second. Kris Joseph struggled shooting, but Scoop Jardine picked him up by scoring 15 points. Joseph rebounded in a big way with 21 points at Connecticut while Fab Melo added 11 points and nine rebounds. This team has more weapons than any in the nation, allowing the Orange to overcome off nights by some of their key players. More importantly, Syracuse out-rebounded UConn, 39-35. That’s significant because of what the Huskies bring to the table in their front court and Syracuse’s awful rebounding numbers that have persisted throughout the season. With the win at UConn, Syracuse officially clinched the Big East regular season title, something everyone knew was going to happen as early as when the calendar flipped to January. This week: 3/3 vs. #23 Louisville.
  2. Marquette (24-5, 13-3) – There are teams more talented than Marquette out there, but you will not find one with a greater will to win than this bunch of Golden Eagles. You might as well call them their old nickname, the Warriors, because that’s exactly what they are. Jae Crowder made his case for Big East Player of the Year last week in grand fashion, totaling 53 points in two wins over Rutgers and West Virginia. Crowder dominated West Virginia’s Kevin Jones in their head-to-head matchup and may have moved in front of Jones in the POY race in the process. Crowder certainly plays for a better team and that has to enhance his case even more. Despite Buzz Williams suspending Darius Johnson-Odom, Vander Blue and Junior Cadougan for the first half against West Virginia and Todd Mayo for the second half, Marquette rallied yet again to pull out a victory. I don’t understand the half-suspensions. Sit them down for the whole game if you want to make a statement, but that’s beyond the point. The Golden Eagles shot 50% for the game and forced 19 WVU turnovers, helping to offset 16 Mountaineer offensive rebounds. In the win over Rutgers, Marquette forced 21 turnovers and Johnson-Odom added 21 points alongside Crowder’s 27 as the Golden Eagles shot 54% overall. MU can close out the Big East regular season in grand style and finish with a 15-3 record if it takes care of two tough games in the coming week. This team has a legitimate chance to win the Big East Tournament and go deep in the NCAA’s. This week: 2/29 @ Cincinnati, 3/3 vs. #9 Georgetown. Read the rest of this entry »
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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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