Sentimental Value: On the Notion of an ACC Regular Season Crown

Posted by Christopher Kehoe on March 14th, 2014

Since many of the ACC’s founding members sprang from what was known as the ‘Southern Conference’ in 1953, the ACC adopted many of the SoCon’s mannerisms and bylaws. The Southern Conference traditionally anointed a champion via their postseason tournament and out of that came their postseason automatic bid. Ever since the ACC formalized the wording of a similarly fateful decision in 1961, the ACC regular season title has been all but a formality. The idea behind awarding a postseason victor in a short and somewhat chaotic multi-day tournament setting was to provide a free-for-all environment that was both entertaining and unpredictable. This ACC Tournament gave lower seeded teams who had a less successful regular season a chance at making The Big Dance. And back in the day and age where these rules were first enacted, only 15 teams were awarded chances at the NCAA Tournament, making a bid all that more valuable and cherished.

Is ACC Tournament success a strong indicator of NCAA Tournament success?

Is the ACC Tournament success a strong indicator of NCAA Tournament success? Florida State parlayed a win in the tournament in 2012 into a solid showing in the Big Dance.

In a format where games are played on top of each other with little or no rest or time to prepare, less superior teams would essentially be able to pull a win out regardless of their records. But while all the other major conferences today at least recognize officially the regular season champion, why has the ACC lagged behind is perplexing to say the least. The ACC finally began paying homage to the regular season winners in 1990, and retroactively recognized the winners from 1954-1989 in that same year. But why it took them so long, and why more conferences do not go along with the Ivy League method of a regular season champion is beyond me. ESPN‘s entrance into the foray and emphasis placed on Championship Week may have something to do with it, glamorizing the end of season postseason tournaments as bubble bursting madness.

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An Early Glimpse at ACC Bracketology

Posted by Chris Kehoe on February 5th, 2014

ESPN.com’s most recent bracketology update has six ACC teams making the Big Dance, with Florida State firmly on the bubble and projected into the #8/#9 game. The division between the elite and the rest of the ACC has become clear and it now appears to be a two-team race for the ACC regular season title (although things could spice up considerably if Virginia knocks off Syracuse). With Pittsburgh’s soft strength of schedule and inability to capitalize against Duke and Virginia, look for the Panthers to obtain a gaudy win total but not much substance on their résumé. North Carolina’s up-and-down season seems to have steadied recently and the Tar Heels’ quality wins rival any team in America as they seem to be firmly entrenched barring a complete collapse (you never know with this group). Syracuse is pushing for a number one seed overall and as this week’s unanimous top team in the national polls; the Orange are well on their way to that goal. Virginia continues to trend upward thanks to its elite-level defense and corresponding ACC success, as the Cavaliers have only one ACC loss at Duke and are within striking distance of the Orange. Duke has a good number of losses (five) for a projected #2 or #3 seed, but the Devils also have some good wins and impressed many supporters in their tight loss at the Carrier Dome last weekend.

The Two Winningest All-Time Coaches are Hugging it Out For Bracketology (credit: SI.com)

The Two Winningest All-Time Coaches are Hugging it Out For Bracketology (credit: SI.com)

The final development to keep your eyes on is whether Clemson can find a way of sneaking into the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers have three difficult games on the horizon — at Syracuse and Notre Dame, vs. Virginia — but if they can make it out of that stretch at 1-2, they could win the next five in a row until their season finale versus Pitt. If the Tigers finish out their season strong they could end up with 11 or 12 ACC wins and a seat firmly on the bubble. A win or two in the ACC Tournament could then result in a dance card. With that in mind, here is a snapshot look at the six ACC teams currently projected into ESPN’s Bracketology and their respective profiles.

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Virginia Has Turned the Corner

Posted by Chris Kehoe on January 29th, 2014

Since December 30’s 87-52 beatdown that Virginia suffered at the hands of Tennessee in Knoxville, the Cavaliers have won seven of their last eight games. What Virginia has essentially done is establish itself as a clear member of the upper echelon of the ACC, arguably the third- or fourth-best team in the conference behind Duke and undefeated Syracuse. The Cavaliers sit comfortably at 16-5 and 7-1 in league play, their sole blemish coming in a close loss to Duke in the confines of Cameron Indoor Stadium. Virginia’s most recent victory came at the expense of a reeling Notre Dame team on Tuesday, yet another example of Virginia’s defense and style of play frustrating its conference foes thus far.

So far, London Perrantes (left) and Joe Harris have had a lot to celebrate recently. (USA TODAY Sports)

London Perrantes (left) and Joe Harris have had a lot to celebrate recently. (USA TODAY Sports)

The most impressive thing about Virginia’s play of late has been their emphatic victories, thrashing ACC teams by wide margins. They have beaten Florida State by 12 twice, North Carolina by 13, N.C. State by 31, Wake by 23, Virginia Tech by 20, and Notre Dame by 15. Virginia has effectively put the rest of the league on notice that, regardless of its non-conference performance, the Cavaliers are returning senior leaders from a highly successful unit with postseason experience. First and foremost has been the improved play of Joe Harris, which, as noted in an earlier article here on the ACC microsite, is the key to their resurgence of late.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Syracuse 59, #22 Pittsburgh 54

Posted by mpatton on January 18th, 2014

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Three Key Takeaways:

  1. Pittsburgh is worthy of a higher ranking. With no great non-conference wins and that horribly slow loss to Cincinnati, there was good reason to question whether the Panthers deserved their advanced statistical love. But they played Syracuse even on the road, even owning a lead in the final three minutes. But even more impressive was that the Panthers took the lead after trailing by double figures in the second half. It’s not a secret at this point: Lamar Patterson is a special player and may be frontrunner for ACC Player of the Year if he keeps up the pace.

    Tyler Ennis got to the rim to seal Syracuse's victory. (credit: Dick Blume / Syracuse Post-Standard)

    Tyler Ennis got to the rim to seal Syracuse’s victory. (credit: Dick Blume / Syracuse Post-Standard)

  2. Syracuse isn’t going undefeated in the ACC. The Orange might be perfect at home when it’s all said and done, but their late game rebounding is a huge concern. Pittsburgh missed a lot of foul shots and layups, and still almost won the game at the Carrier Dome. Someone will get hot from beyond the arc and torch Syracuse on the offensive glass. Even more importantly, the Orange only played seven players, and every starter logged more than 29 minutes. Jerami Grant, CJ Fair and Tyler Ennis each played the entire 40 minutes, which could cause problems if the Orange get in foul trouble.
  3. Syracuse’s interior length bothered Pittsburgh on offense. Part of the problem is that the Panthers’ front line doesn’t have a lot of height. But multiple times Pittsburgh ended up having to force a jumper late in the shot clock because a guard was met by Rakeem Christmas or Baye Keita in the paint. That said, Talib Zanna had a couple of really good offensive possessions operating near the elbow, and finished with an efficient double-double.

Star of the Game: Tyler Ennis, Syracuse. Ennis scored six of Syracuse’s last eight points to close the game, including the big shot to retake the lead. He finished with 16 points (a team high) on eight shots with three assists and one turnover in just shy of 40 minutes. Jim Boeheim made it clear after the game that they opened the floor (keeping CJ Fair and Trevor Cooney on the wing) to let Ennis work. That’s a lot of responsibility for a freshman, but you never felt like Ennis was rattled. Even when Pittsburgh deflected his pass late in the second half, he stayed calm and got it back.

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Tuesday AAC Roundtable: On Memphis and Connecticut’s Big Wins

Posted by mlemaire on December 3rd, 2013

Every week the four AAC microsite writers will come together in an effort to make sense of and answering questions about what happened in the AAC over the course of the previous week.

1. What did we learn about Memphis based on its run to the Old Spice Classic championship and how much did the win against Oklahoma State help the perception of the AAC?

Josh Pastner Should Be All Smiles After His Team Knocked Off Oklahoma State.

Josh Pastner Should Be All Smiles After His Team Knocked Off Oklahoma State.

Will – I think where this Memphis squad most differentiated itself from recent predecessors was in terms of toughness, both emotional and physical. Last year’s Tigers would have probably rolled over after taking a 10-point deficit into halftime against a team like Oklahoma State, but seniors Joe Jackson and Chris Crawford provided the sober, steadying leadership that the Tigers lacked in 2012-13. Moreover, the frontcourt tandem of Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols proved that they could compete against physical big men. Goodwin and Nichols each ended up posting big numbers in the semifinals and finals, combining for 53 points and 23 rebounds over the two games. Considering how good the Tigers’ guard play is shaping up, “tough and effective” is all they need from their bigs in order to contend against the likes of Louisville and UConn.

Mike – We learned that these Tigers have more fight in them than the teams in previous years, and in my opinion that is a direct result of the veteran leadership in the backcourt. Yes, Shaq Goodwin is probably the team’s best player and most likely future professional, but Memphis twice had to rally from deficits in this tournament and it was the quartet of senior guards that spurred the rallies with poise and effort. As for what the win did for the perception of the AAC, if Memphis can’t hang with teams in the Top 25, then the conference has just two relevant teams, so the Tigers’ win was huge.

Ross- We learned Memphis is who we thought they were, a top 15 team with the ability to beat anyone in the AAC and compete for the conference championship. It was a much-needed win for the Tigers, but it also did quite a bit to help the perception of the AAC. Connecticut continues to win close games and Louisville is Louisville, but the AAC needs Memphis to stay right with those two nationally. With so many other AAC teams experiencing rough starts (TempleRutgersHouston), it’s imperative that the top of the conference stays strong.

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AAC M5: 11.26.13 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on November 26th, 2013

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  1. Rodney Purvis can’t play this year, but he’s still helping the Huskies get off to a hot start. The former highly-touted recruit who transferred to UConn after a year at NC State has been the star member of the scout team, helping one of the nation’s top backcourts prepare for the likes of Dez Wells and Yogi Ferrell. The full year of practice will be crucial for Purvis, who likely will have to step into the sizeable shoes of Shabazz Napier next season. Of course, it may also be playing a pretty big role in Napier’s blazing start, which will have him in consideration for a number of postseason awards if he can maintain it. Based on the early returns, luring Purvis to Storrs looks to be a pretty major win-win for both he and head coach Kevin Ollie.
  2. Sean Kilpatrick was angry when coach Mick Cronin redshirted him due to a crowded backcourt and a mechanical flaw in his jump shot four years ago. Both he and Cronin have to be pretty pleased with how it worked out, though, as Kilpatrick now ranks #13 on the school’s all-time scoring list as a fifth-year senior. If he keeps up his current pace – he’s averaging nearly 20 PPG through five games – he could end up second on the list to some guy named Oscar Robertson. And while Cronin might have had some inkling that the little-recruited guard would help more down the road than right away, he almost certainly couldn’t have understood just how much. Kilpatrick is posting a ridiculously high 155.2 offensive rating through five games, vital for a mediocre offensive squad like the Bearcats. If he can approach that number during a key three-game swing next month – at New Mexico, then neutral court games with Xavier and Pitt – both he and his team will earn some rightful attention.
  3. Kevin Ware‘s eventful year (life?) continued with a plea deal involving a $268 fine, bringing the latest kerfuffle over a speeding ticket and missed court date to a merciful end. This follows Rick Pitino’s rather pointed press conference on the topic last week after he was apparently blindsided by the news. That all followed on the heels of, shall we say, some colorful tweets from Ware’s Twitter account to Anthony Davis, quickly deleted and attributed to hacking. That followed denials from Ware and Pitino of summer “reports” that Ware had been secretly dismissed from the team. All of that, of course, follows the gruesome injury in last season’s NCAA Tournament which catapulted the quiet reserve to national prominence. That followed an indefinite suspension last spring that lasted one game. Even that followed a recruitment which included a commitment to Tennessee, later withdrawn when Bruce Pearl was fired in the face of an NCAA probe, then a commitment to UCF, later withdrawn in the face of an NCAA probe, then a commitment to Louisville, delayed by a semester due to the NCAA probes. Seems like quite a bit of drama for a junior with a career high of 11 points, no? Whew.
  4. When Louisville went way off the board for the fifth member of its signing class last week, no one knew much of anything about Matz Stockman. He wasn’t ranked by any of the major recruiting watchers, nor had his name been tied to the Cardinals publicly before his papers came through the fax machine. Not even Rick Pitino had seen him play. Now that his team has played a few games on American soil, word has started to trickle out. Jerry Meyer of 247Sports says the seven-foot Norwegian will be a three-star recruit, one who has a good scoring touch near the basket but “will likely need a couple years of development before he is ready to compete at a Louisville type level.” A year ago, Louisville’s thin backcourt ended up with a walk-on as its only reserve in the Final Four, so the recruiting class featured three guards. It’s no coincidence that this year’s Cardinal frontcourt, which got exposed by North Carolina on Sunday, has led to Pitino bringing in three recruits 6’9” and taller.
  5. Another night, another couple of blown opportunities for AAC teams to earn a much-needed yet impossible to find quality win. First, Oklahoma State continued its roll through the conference with a 93-67 win at USF. Then Houston gave Stanford a tough test before falling in Brooklyn. And now the AAC nears the end of November with UConn’s two wins over a mediocre Maryland, and a young, inconsistent Indiana, and that’s about it. This is nice for the Huskies, but less great for the other teams that hoped for a few chances for quality wins in conference play to make up for weak non-conference slates. Now those opportunities might not be there, making it tougher to build an NCAA Tournament-worthy resume.
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Reflections on ACC Media Day: Operation Basketball

Posted by Christopher Kehoe on October 20th, 2013

The Atlantic Coast Conference hosted its annual media day for college basketball last Wednesday and each school brought along its head coach and two player representatives. The event was held in Charlotte, North Carolina, in the heart of ACC country, and had it’s own television special on ESPNU, the network’s specific college sports channel. While ESPN analysts like former Duke star Jay Williams took to the blacktop to showcase special moves from the player representatives, they also had group interviews indoors with the coaches and the players. Here is a team-by-team look at some of the highlights from ACC media day:

Note: All quotations and highlights were provided by full transcripts from ACC media day from the conference website.

The 15 Coaches and Mascots Assembled at ACC Media Day Last Week (credit: ACC)

The 15 Coaches and Mascots Assembled at ACC Media Day Last Week (credit: ACC)

North Carolina head coach Roy Williams: Williams is playing it safe with his young team by not presenting outrageous expectations and seems to be standing behind his star P.J. Hairston. Interestingly, he has problems with players on very different ends of the weight spectrum, while his deep but very young and inexperienced frontcourt will be intriguing as will the drama surrounding Hairston.

  • On creating new rivalries: Syracuse and North Carolina will form a rivalry quickly, won’t ‘have to wait 10-15 years.’
  • On P.J. Hairston: “He’s done enough to come back to practice” and has been sensational so far in practice and with conditioning.
  • On replacing Reggie BullockLeslie McDonald must be a better defender and J.P. Tokoto must not turn the ball over as much.
  • On ACC supremacy (a continuing theme throughout, you’ve been warned): “I think it will be the greatest basketball conference ever.” He goes on to mention depth of the league and Tobacco Road going beyond just Duke and Carolina.
  • On rules about going pro: He would prefer a rule where players stay in school for at least two years, but acknowledges some players can go pro right away like Kevin Garnett, LeBron James, and Kobe Bryant.
  • On Marcus Paige: Can play him simultaneously with freshman Nate Britt, he is one of two leaders on the team along with James McAdoo. Has increased his weight from 154 to 170 now.
  • On Kennedy Meeks: Needs to lose weight, has already dropped from 317 to 285 pounds. Brice Johnson on the other hand needs to gain weight. Williams compares Kennedy Meeks to former UNC great Sean May.
  • On the ACC Tournament changing locations: Likes the idea of Madison Square Garden but cannot forget the North Carolina roots of the ACC, likes the idea of keeping the location moving around.

Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey: I found his comment on overcoaching very refreshing and unique from a coach, but then again Brey has a uncommon mix of talent and experience on hand with his backcourt of Eric AtkinsDemetrius Jackson and Jerian Grant. He will give the players free rein and a lot, if not all, of their season will depend on how these players handle that kind of responsibility and freedom. It will be a fun season for Notre Dame basketball fans; if nothing else they may get to see those horrifyingly bright adidas uniforms the recruits are so keen on.

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Big East M5: 04.05.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on April 5th, 2013

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  1. Pitt coach Jamie Dixon and point guard Tray Woodall made some sympathetic comments about the Panthers’ former assistant, Mike Rice. Dixon was careful not to defend Rice’s actions but became visibly emotional as he called the disgraced coach “a good friend” and “a good person.” Woodall, who said Rice was the reason he came to Pitt in the first place, defended his former coach unequivocally. “They are going at my man Mike Rice too hard,” Woodall tweeted, contending he was “not the only coach to put his hands on a player, or talk the way he did.” If Woodall’s comment was in earnest and there are other college basketball coaches behaving like Rice, we can only hope they’re exposed and swiftly purged from the coaching ranks.
  2. Saturday’s Syracuse-Michigan game represents an elite point guard match-up between Michael Carter-Williams and Trey Burke: It’s only the second meeting of two players with season averages of 12 points and six assists per game to take place in the Final Four since officials began tracking dimes in 1983. The first such meeting? UNC’s Raymond Felton versus Illinois’ Deron Williams in the 2005 National Championship game. ESPN’s stat divination personnel tells us (predictably) that Burke holds an advantage on offense –– particularly in running the pick-and-roll –– while MCW is more productive on defense. Surprisingly, advanced stats reveal that Burke is a very competent on-ball defender, holding opposing players to 36% shooting and 0.75 points per play, while his Syracuse counterpart yields 32% and 0.79 points in on-ball situations. MCW’s overall defensive efficiency of 0.87 points per possession is second only to Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart among power conference point guards.
  3. C.L. Brown points that out Russ Smith is putting together a potentially historic individual NCAA Tournament effort. His 13 steals already place him at the top of that category in his program’s history, and he’s gaining ground in a number of record book stats both at Louisville and nationally. Through four games, Smith has averaged 26 points per game, shot 54% from the field, and hit 80% of his 40 free throw attempts. Extrapolating through two more games, Smith is on pace to finish ninth all-time in NCAA Tournament history in total points (156); second in steals (19); and, fourth in free throws made (48).
  4. Jim Boeheim says Rick Pitino should have been inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame last year. The Hall will announce its 2013 inductees on Monday, and Boeheim told the press assembled in Atlanta Thursday that “[Pitino’s] got better credentials than probably 80 percent of the coaches in there.” Pitino bestowed his own sound bite upon the media when he jokingly predicted that his mentor’s thriftiness would ensure he’s coaching for quite a while longer. “He’s just a cheap guy… and he’s going to coach until he’s 90 and hoard away every penny he’s ever made.” On the topic of his own retirement, Boeheim said he’s stopped making predictions: “People really used to get excited when I said [I would retire soon] because [if] we didn’t go to the Final Four that year, they didn’t want me back. But now the majority still probably wants me back next year — right now. After Saturday, who knows?”
  5. Rob Dauster points out that Boeheim had a hand in developing the careers of both Pitino and Michigan’s John Beilein. The Boeheim-Pitino connection is well documented, but the Louisville coach yesterday noted in a more obscure anecdote that Boeheim brought him to central New York as an assistant coach in part because he wanted a man-to-man defensive mind on staff. Ironically, it was Pitino who got the most out of the experience, learning the aggressive 2-3 zone that would become a trademark of his best Louisville teams some 30 years later. Beilein also revealed that Boeheim had been a huge advocate of his while the Wolverines coach was slowly moving up the coaching ranks. “He assisted me a great deal in actually getting my first Division I job,” Beilein noted, referencing an influential call the Syracuse coach put in to Canisius in 1992 on his behalf after Beilein had been passed over by several opportunities to graduate from Division II coaching.
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Big East M5: 04.04.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on April 4th, 2013

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  1. After a disappointing single season in Pittsburgh, Jamie Dixon says 6’5″ shooting guard Trey Ziegler is transferring again in hopes of finding “a chance to be more involved” in his final year of eligibility. Ziegler failed to replicate the production he’d demonstrated in two seasons playing for his father at Central Michigan, registering career lows in almost every major statistical category. Ziergler probably wasn’t going to thrive at Pitt next year, but with only six scholarship players returning, he would have provided much needed depth and experience in the backcourt off the bench. Cardiac Hill notes Ziegler is the sixth player to transfer from Pitt in two years.
  2. Less than two weeks after insisting he would return for his sophomore year, Pitt center Steven Adams reversed course Tuesday and announced he would declare for the NBA Draft. Adams’ draft projection fell from top five in the preseason to mid-to-late first round after his production (7.2 PPG, 6.3 RPG) failed to reflect his athletic, punishing 7’0 frame. Even before an underwhelming freshman campaign,  Jamie Dixon had evidently alluded to a “four-year plan” Adams had envisioned for himself, which included getting his master’s degree at Pitt. But Adams is one of 18 children, and Dixon implied the wish to provide for his family outweighed Adams’ ambitions in school: “It’s tough, I think he really loved it here. He loved his teammates… I know what he was saying but I also know what his family was saying at the same time.” With Dante Taylor graduating and Marcus Gilbert transferring, Talib Zanna is the only real frontcourt presence Dixon returns next year.
  3. On the topic of reversing coarse, Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti fired Mike Rice less than 24 hours after publicly defending his basketball coach on ESPN. Pernetti was contrite in a statement on Rice’s release: “Dismissal and corrective action were debated in December and I thought it was in the best interest of everyone to rehabilitate [Rice], but I was wrong.” The loose end here is confusion over the involvement of President Robert Barchi, who distanced himself from the scandal yesterday when a spokesperson reiterated that Barchi hadn’t seen the damning practice footage until Tuesday. The problem? Pernetti had initially implied to ESPN that the president was aware of the tapes’ content in December and signed off on his efforts to “rehabilitate” Rice. Don’t be surprised to see Barchi throw Pernetti under the bus and weather the storm. Meanwhile, Adam Zagoria reports that Bob Knight is a long-shot candidate to replace Rice. Which is so unconscionable that it must be a late April Fool’s joke.
  4. USA Today and Forbes have updated the usual financial stats on program revenues and coaching salaries, and Sean Keeley at TNIAAM points out that Syracuse is getting a seriously good deal with Jim Boeheim. The Orange coach ranks number 17th (on a list that omits several more highly paid coaches), raking in $1.9 million per year in base salary. That’s less than Big East peer coaches JTIII ($2.2 million), Jay Wright ($2.3 million), and Rick Pitino ($4.8 million). Looking at Forbes’ comparison of basketball program revenues in the Final Four, Keeley observes that while Boeheim and John Beilein earn about the same salary, Michigan basketball earns just over a third ($9.9 million) what Boeheim’s program makes ($26 million).
  5. Yesterday the leftovers of the Big East were finally named the American Athletic Conference. The UConn Blog is pleased with the inoffensive title, which lends itself to the edgier AmeriCon abbreviation and should, if nothing else, put a stop to the geography jokes everyone suffered through last year. “It’s fine. Frankly, I’m surprised it’s not worse, and on the scale of UConn‘s conference realignment news, that makes this a resounding victory.”
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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: 02.20.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on February 20th, 2013

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  1. Ed Cooley says he hasn’t mentioned the possibility of any sort of postseason berth to his Providence team. “I’m just trying to go a game at a time and that’s not coach-speak. That’s reality,” he said, “We’re still fragile. We just have guys trying to believe right now.” While it may be poor etiquette for any coach to broach that topic when his team is below .500 in conference play, it’s fair game for fans. By late last night, all but 10% of 345 respondents in a Providence Journal poll believed the Friars would make either the NIT (72%) or NCAA Tournament (18%). Any discussion of the latter is premature unless the Friars pull off the upset at Syracuse tonight. But Kevin McNamara suggests that prolonged early injuries to Vincent Council and Kris Dunn could constitute a “special circumstance” with the selection committee, should the Friars play their way onto the bubble. We evaluated the outlook for Providence in their final five games in yesterday’s Big East Burning Question.
  2. It’s not all roses in Syracuse, as Jared E. Smith over at TNIAAM presents three alarming trends that have come to the surface since Cuse’s watershed victory at Louisville. Despite leading the Big East with 8 assists per contest overall this season, Michael Carter-Williams has only averaged 4.3 APG in the past six games, and his team is 1-3 when he fails to dish out 5 assists. Smith identifies other culprits in the poor three-point defense from the back end of Boeheim’s zone and a chronic inability to produce the prolific transition offense to which Orange fans are accustomed. Syracuse is producing half as many transition points as last year’s team, and consequently entered last Saturday’s Seton Hall game averaging 8 PPG fewer than their predecessors. Cuse plays two of the league’s hottest teams this week in Providence and Georgetown, so it’s an inopportune moment to grapple with the issues Smith highlights.
  3. Notwithstanding the Scottie Reynolds shot that knocked his team out of the 2009 Elite Eight, Jamie Dixon may have been at his “most inconsolable” as a Pitt coach after his team’s collapse to Notre Dame on Monday night. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Ron Cook predicts Pitt will achieve the modest requirements to wrap up their NCAA invite, but says they’re clearly just as “capable of blowing the bid.” The loss only confirmed the alarm raised in last week’s 10-point loss to Marquette: “[Pitt] is trending the wrong way at the worst time of the season.”
  4. Speaking of Pitt, Cardiac Hill wonders whether the infusion of blue chip talent coming out of high school next year will influence the length of Steven Adams’ career in Pittsburgh. Adam Zagoria had quoted an anonymous NBA GM who extolled the 2014 draft class and called this year’s group “historically weak” (when can we take that annual refrain out back and euthanize it, by the way?). This prompted CH to ask: “If Adams doesn’t take a huge step forward, one could wonder if he’d be better of coming out this season or waiting until 2015 if next year’s class is as stacked as the GM claims.” It’s an interesting dilemma, and from a broader perspective it’s a kind of cynical calculus necessitated by the one-and-done rule.
  5. Though Cincinnati as a team is 14th in the league in free throw shooting percentage, Mick Cronin claims it’s more an issue of the wrong players getting to the line. “If [Sean Kilpatrick] or Cash [Wright] shoots all of our free throws, I like our chances,” said Cronin, who lamented, “Your bigger guys are the ones who tend to get fouled.” Therein lies the problem, for Cincinnati, whose star guards are the only starters that shoot better than 66%. For their part, Justin Jackson and JaQuan Parker have hit 54% of 156 combined free throw attempts. Despite struggling in many other facets of his game, sixth man forward Titus Rubles’ 67% foul shooting offers a situational substitute should Jackson become a liability late in a game.
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Big East M5: 02.19.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on February 19th, 2013

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  1. Otto Porter was named Big East Player of the Week yesterday for the first time in his two seasons at Georgetown. In the Hoyas’ recent big wins over Marquette and Cincinnati, the sophomore forward scored 18.5 points on 43.5% shooting, in addition to averaging 7.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 2.0 steals per contest. Despite picking up his third foul four minutes into the second half at Cincinnati, Porter made several crucial plays down the stretch, like hitting both free throws to extend Georgetown’s lead to two possessions in the final 1:16. In fact, Porter was a perfect 14-of-14 last week, and hasn’t missed from the charity stripe in the past three games.
  2. As if the loss to DePaul on Saturday wasn’t distressing enough, Rutgers also lost its two-time leading scorer after tests revealed Eli Carter had fractured his fibula and is done for the year. The sophomore guard was averaging 14.9 points per game, represented 22.4% of his team’s total points this year, and is second only to Russ Smith in possession percentage among Big East players by using nearly 29% of offensive trips. Mike Rice warned that the void left by Carter extends beyond the offensive end: “Defensively he always guarded one of the best perimeter guys. He had such a toughness to him and when he was going, we were playing at our best.” The Scarlet Knights lost their first game without Carter last night at Villanova, and it’s hard to identify a likely win on their remaining schedule. Rutgers blog On The Banks put the devastating loss in perspective: “Season over. Another sad, bizarre season for Rutgers fans.”
  3. Of the Georgetown-Syracuse rivalry that will ostensibly end this weekend, John Thompson III says, “I still anticipate us playing although it hasn’t been hammered out for next year or for the immediate (future).” It’s undeniably one of the more historic and passionate rivalries in the Big East, as evidenced by the 34,000 tickets Syracuse has sold to the upcoming game, and the fact that Jim Boeheim predicts “the most emotional game for me of any game I’ve ever coached in the regular season.” As much as the continuation of the St. John’s-Syracuse intrastate rivalry is exciting for basketball preservationists, Georgetown-Syracuse is the series that both athletic departments should most urgently seek to extend in perpetuity.
  4. USF’s eight-game losing streak is its longest since Stan Heath first took over in 2007-08. Tampa Tribune’s Martin Fennelly paints a grim portrait of the Bulls’ precipitous decline after last year’s top-four Big East finish and NCAA berth: “They’re 10-15, have lost 12 of their last 13 games and in the two games against Louisville this season, they scored 79 basketball points.” Regarding Rick Pitino’s comment after Louisville’s win in the Sun Dome that Heath is “one or two guys away,” Fennelly retorts, “I think the Washington Generals are one or two guys away from beating the Globetrotters, too.” Heath built enough capital by taking his moribund program to the NCAA Tournament last year to safely withstand a season like this, Fennelly points out, but it has been an utter disappointment for a team predicted to finish in the middle of the pack.
  5. After getting taken to overtime by DePaul at home and blown out by Providence in its last two games, Notre Dame appeared dead in the water when they shot 1-of-18 to open its game at Pittsburgh last night. But Mike Brey drew a technical that seemed to make an impression on both the officials and his team, and the result was a 51-42 victory in what was the second-lowest point total of Jamie Dixon’s tenure in the Steel City. In addition to blowing a 16-point first half lead, the Panthers logged a paltry 10 assists (seven below their average) and failed to score a single three-pointer. They also suffered their worst rebounding margin of the season, as the Irish outworked them by 15 boards on the glass. For a team whose identify is shaped around rebounding, the game was a huge red flag in the final stretch of the season, just when it seemed the Panthers were coalescing into a Big East contender.
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