Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 8th, 2011

Rob Dauster of Ballin’ is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East.

Team of the Week: Syracuse Orange: The Orange reached a critical point in their season on Wednesday. They had lost four consecutive games, there were all kinds of rumors involving turmoil within the locker room, and the team was heading to Hartford to take on then-No. 7 Connecticut. But the Orange were able to slow down Kemba Walker and knock off the Huskies, regaining some confidence along the way, before going into Tampa and whooping up on South Florida. James Southerland has seen his minutes cut, playing just two minutes in the past three games, while CJ Fair and Baye Moussa Keita — who are more active on the glass and better defenders than Southerland — have taken those minutes. Dion Waiters has also played better since he was benched at Marquette, scoring 19 points the past two games. Syracuse has a big week coming up, as they play Georgetown, Louisville, and West Virginia in the span of six days.

Player of the Week: Corey Fisher, Villanova: Villanova head coach Jay Wright switched around Villanova’s starting lineup, sliding Maalik Wayns to the bench, Corey Fisher over to the point, and moving Dominic Cheek and Isaiah Armwood into the starting lineup at different times. Wright did it for two reasons — he wanted to make Villanova a better defensive team, and he wanted a bigger team on the glass. More importantly, however, he wanted one more player on the floor willing to get the ball into the big guys inside. And believe it or not, this Villanova team is actually at their best when they run from the inside-out. How did Fisher respond? By averaging 16.5 points, 5.5 assists, and 2.5 steals per game while shooting 55% from the floor in wins over Marquette and West Virginia.

Power Rankings (overall and conference records, and last week’s ranking in parentheses)

1. Pittsburgh (21-2, 9-1) (1)
Last Week: 2/5 vs. Cincinnati 71-59, 2/7 @ West Virginia 71-66
Next Week: 2/12 @ Villanova

The Panthers win at West Virginia on Monday proved just how good the program is that Jamie Dixon runs. Pitt won at West Virginia, a rivalry game on the road, without their most dangerous offensive weapon (Ashton Gibbs is out for two weeks with a strained MCL) against a team that was tied for second in the league standings. Nothing in the Panthers’ game plan changed. They still ran their same offense and they still crashed the glass, grabbing 18 offensive rebounds. Saturday’s matchup with Villanova should be quite a bit of fun, even if Gibbs is out.

2. Villanova (19-4, 7-3) (3)
Last Week: 2/2 vs. Marquette 75-70, 2/5 vs. West Virginia 66-50
Next Week: 2/9 @ Rutgers, 2/12 vs. Pitt

See the “Player of the Week” section for a breakdown on Jay Wright’s tinkering with the starting lineup, and how Corey Fisher in particular has benefited.

3. Notre Dame (19-4, 8-3) (5)
Last Week: 2/3 @ DePaul 83-58, 2/6 vs. Rutgers 76-69
Next Week: 2/9 vs. Louisville, 2/12 @ South Florida

I’m still not sold on Notre Dame being the third-best team in the conference, but they continue to win and own the single most impressive victory in the league, a win at Pitt. Ben Hansbrough was once again sensational this week, averaging 24.5 points per game in two wins that, frankly, didn’t tell us much. The Irish blew out DePaul like they are supposed too before winning a tougher-than-expected game against Rutgers.

4. Syracuse (20-4, 7-4) (4)
Last Week: 2/2 @ UConn 66-58, 2/5 @ South Florida 72-49
Next Week: 2/9 vs. Georgetown, 2/12 @ Louisville

See the “Team of the Week section” for analysis on Syracuse getting back on the right track despite undue stress.

5. Georgetown (18-5, 7-4) (9)
Last Week: 1/31 vs. Louisville 62-59, 2/5 vs. Providence 83-81
Next Week: 1/9 @ Syracuse, 1/13 vs. Marquette

The Hoyas are arguably the hottest team in the Big East right now. With wins over Louisville and Providence, they Hoyas have won six in a row after starting off Big East play 1-4. That winning streak becomes all the more important with a trip to the Carrier Dome coming on Wednesday. Julian Vaughn has played very well of late despite having a bad ankle. He had ten points, including a number of important buckets, and four blocks against Louisville and followed that up with a 14-point, 11-rebound performance against Providence.

6. Louisville (18-5, 7-3) (6)
Last Week: 1/31 @ Georgetown 59-62, 2/5 vs. DePaul 61-57
Next Week: 2/9 @ Notre Dame, 2/12 vs. Syracuse

Right now, Louisville is simply surviving, as Rick Pitino put it after the Cardinal’s four-point win against DePaul. The issue for the Cardinals isn’t their talent level (which is low, given their ranking) or Pitino’s coaching (which has been as impressive as anyone in the country), it’s simply that they cannot get healthy. The latest injury has come to leading scorer Preston Knowles, who sat out the win over the Blue Demons with a hamstring injury.

7. Connecticut (18-4, 6-4) (2)
Last Week: 2/2 vs. Syracuse 58-66, 2/5 @ Seton Hall 61-59
Next Week: 2/10 @ Providence, 2/13 vs. St. John’s

The Kemba Walker riddle has been solved — play UConn in a zone. Syracuse did it. So did Seton Hall. It makes it easy to help onto Walker and prevent him from getting one-on-one opportunities, and with the youth and inexperience on the UConn roster, it is very easy to get this team out of an offensive rhythm. Zones are difficult to beat when you don’t have great passing big men, and if you have seen Charles Okwandu or Alex Oriakhi play this season, you know they are not exactly Greg Monroe.

8. Marquette (14-9, 5-5) (7)

Last Week: 2/2 @ Villanova 70-75
Next Week: 2/9 @ South Florida, 2/13 @ Georgetown

Once again, the Golden Eagles suffered a tough loss against a quality opponent. But that doesn’t mean that this team is in any danger whatsoever of missing the NCAA Tournament. They’ve lost five of their last eight games, although in that eight game stretch, Marquette played seven teams (seven!) currently ranked in the top 15 in the country. All five of those losses were to top 15 teams, while the Golden Eagles also boast wins over the likes of Syracuse and Notre Dame. Only two of their last eight games are against ranked teams.

9. West Virginia (15-7, 6-4) (8)
Last Week: 2/2 vs. Seton Hall 56-44, 2/5 @ Villanova 50-66, 2/7 vs. Pitt 66-71
Next Week: 2/12 vs. DePaul, 2/14 @ Syracuse

This is not a typical Bob Huggins team. There’s no toughness on this squad, mentally or physically. They are an atrocious 310th in the country on the defensive glass after Monday night’s debacle against Pitt. Kevin Jones and John Flowers are inconsistent and get pushed around inside too easily when they aren’t in foul trouble. Deniz Kilicli can score on the block, but he can’t defend anyone and doesn’t appear to know what a box out is. Cam Thoroughman is a blue-collar player that is tough and physical, but he just doesn’t have the talent to be an impact player. This team, believe it or not, is soft.

10. St. John’s (13-9, 5-5) (11)
Last Week: 2/2 vs. Rutgers 58-56, 2/5 @ UCLA 59-66
Next Week: 2/10 vs. UConn, 2/13 @ Cincinnati

Dwight Hardy went for 32 against UCLA, which was impressive, but the rest of the Red Storm decided to not make the trip to LA. It’s a shame, because the Johnnies really could have used that win. Thanks to their blowout of Duke, all this team needs to do is finish above .500 in the Big East to make the dance.

11. Cincinnati (18-5, 5-5) (10)
Last Week: 2/5 @ Pitt 59-71
Next Week: 2/8 @ DePaul, 2/13 vs. St. John’s

The bubble may be obscenely weak this season, but the Bearcats still look like they could end up being a longshot to make it. They played the 284th-best non-conference schedule, and while their win over Xavier looks better every day, they need to notch a victory over one of the top teams in the Big East. That will be tough if Yancy Gates, who didn’t make the trip to Pittsburgh on Saturday, remains suspended.

12. Seton Hall (10-14, 4-8) (14)
Last Week: 2/2 @ West Virginia 44-56, 2/5 vs. UConn 59-61
Next Week: 2/12 vs. Rutgers

Seeton Hall is playing well, but they cannot close out games. Unfortunately, after digging themselves a hole early in the season, the Pirates cannot afford losing close games.

13. Rutgers (12-11, 3-8) (12)
Last Week: 2/2 @ St. John’s 56-58, 2/6 @ Notre Dame 69-76
Next Week: 2/9 vs. Villanova, 2/12 vs. Seton Hall

The Scarlet Knights have now played three straight tournament teams down to the wire. Mike Rice has this team playing the right way. Once he gets some better talent into the program, Rutgers will be alright.

14. Providence (14-10, 3-8) (13)
Last Week: 2/2 vs. South Florida 68-63, 2/5 @ Georgetown 81-83
Next Week: 2/13 @ UConn

Marshon Brooks is now the leading scorer in the Big East at 24.1 points per game after dropping 43 on Georgetown in a losing effort.

15. South Florida (8-16, 2-9) (15)
Last Week: 2/2 @ Providence 63-68, 2/5 vs. Syracuse 49-72
Next Week: 2/9 vs. Marquette. 2/12 vs. Notre Dame

On Saturday, South Florida was outnumbered by Syracuse fans 3:1 in their own arena. Shameful.

16. DePaul (6-16, 0-10) (16)
Last Week: 2/3 vs. Notre 58-83, 2/5 @ Louisville 57-61
Next Week: 2/8 vs. Cincinnati, 2/12 @ WVU
The Blue Demons nearly got one against injury-depleted Louisville.

Looking Ahead
We have four terrific Big East matchups this week. On Wednesday, Georgetown heads to Syracuse in the first of their two games this season, while Louisville makes the trip to South Bend to take on Notre Dame. On Saturday, Syracuse and Louisville do battle while arguably the two best teams in the conference tip off in ESPN’s Gameday game as Pitt travels to Villanova.

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Set Your Tivo: 01.31.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 31st, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

It’s another “Big Monday” as two Big East powers collide, fresh off huge road wins on Saturday. The nightcap features two of the better teams in the Big 12 getting together for the second time this year in a good old fashioned Texas rodeo. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

Louisville @ #21 Georgetown – 7 pm on ESPN (****)

These teams are coming off very successful weeks, each capping theirs with big time road wins, with Louisville winning at Connecticut and Georgetown coming away victorious at Villanova. This game should feature a lot of target practice from deep, as the Cardinals are highly dependent on the triple while the Hoyas have three players who can get hot from long range at any time. Austin Freeman has been lately, and is the reason why Georgetown has turned their season around by winning four straight games. During their three game losing streak at the beginning of the month, Freeman was averaging only 10 PPG. Over the last four games, he’s averaged 24 PPG and it’s no coincidence that Georgetown has won all four. The senior guard had 30 points at Villanova on Saturday, and Louisville must keep him in check tonight if they hope to tack on another solid road win.

No Time To Celebrate Recent Successes For JT3 and the Hoyas

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Set Your Tivo: 01.28-01.30

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 28th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor

This weekend brings us yet another great slate of games with plenty of ranked teams heading out on the road to face unranked opponents. How many will go down this time? All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#21 Georgetown @ #6 Villanova – 12 pm Saturday on ESPN (****)

Despite their win at the Carrier Dome over Syracuse last week, Villanova has lost two of its last three games and now welcomes their rival Georgetown Hoyas to the Wells Fargo Center. The Hoyas have won three straight over the New York-area schools to climb back to 4-4 in Big East play. Georgetown has won four true road games but none of those wins were against teams the caliber of Villanova.

If Freeman and the Hoyas Plan On Finishing Strong, Tonight's a Good Night To Start

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Set Your Tivo: 01.19.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 19th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Three interesting contests headline tonight’s schedule, including NC State’s endeavor to pull a shocker of its own over now-#4 Duke. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#25 Cincinnati @ #16 Notre Dame – 7 pm on ESPN2 (****)

Abromaitis Plays the Most MPG for the Irish But Has Been Held Under His Season Average for Three Straight Games

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Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 18th, 2011

Rob Dauster of Ballin is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East.

 

A Look Back

The Big East seems like it is beginning to break into three groups at the top. You have the contenders at the top in Pitt and Syracuse, then you have a second tier of Villanova and UConn.

Beyond that, you may as well start flipping a coin.

Right now, Louisville and West Virginia look to be the best of the rest. This comes a week after Notre Dame and Georgetown looked like they were the best of the rest. Marquette is good enough to beat anyone in the league, but they haven’t been closing games. Cincinnati is still a bit of an unknown, as they have lost to Syracuse and Villanova on the road, but have taken care of everyone else they have played in conference play. St. John’s is another enigma, as seen by a 20-point loss and a 20-point win versus Notre Dame in the span of a week.

The craziest part? Every single one of those 11 teams I just mentioned has a real shot of earning an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. There is no way that happens — there is too much parity in the league and these teams are going to be beating up on each other for another month and a half — but depending on how the rest of conference play turns out, I can realistically see nine teams earning themselves a bid.

That is, of course, assuming teams like Georgetown and Notre Dame figure out how to turn their season around and Cincinnati and St. John’s turn out to be for real. If those teams end up being the worst case scenario, I can also see a situation arising where only six or seven teams earn a bid.

The only thing I am sure of?

This league is going to be a fun one to follow for the next two months.

Player of the WeekPreston Knowles, Louisville: Rick Pitino has said it time and again — this Cardinals team doesn’t have a star. They don’t have a go to player. And as easy as that is to believe, Knowles is certainly close to becoming ‘the man’ for this team. In three games since we last did a Big East check-in, Knowles averaged 17.7 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 3.3 APG, and 2.3 SPG, all while hitting 11 of 24 from three. Knowles’ best statistical performance came in Louisville’s loss at Villanova on Wednesday, but he was the catalyst for their impressive comeback against Marquette. He scored 15 points in the second half, including four threes and two assists in the final 5:45 as Louisville overcame an 18-point deficit to win. He had the game winning assist with four seconds left, finding Kyle Kuric for a layup. Knowles’ transformation from a defensive specialist to an offensive star has been an impressive one to watch.

Team of the WeekWest Virginia: All of a sudden, the Mountaineers look like a team capable of making a run at the top four in the league. Kevin Jones had a slow start to the season, but he’s come on strong of late, averaging 17.0 points and 10.0 rebounds per game — with 18 offensive boards — in the last three games. John Flowers is one of the best glue guys and arguably the best defender in the league. Casey Mitchell is always a threat to go for 25 points. If defenses key on him, Truck BryantDenis Kilicli, and Joe Mazzulla all have shown the ability to be double figure scorers. They have role players, they can defend, and when they are hustling and playing the blue collar game that Bobby Huggins loves, this team is dangerous. Ask Georgetown and Purdue, as both took a loss to WVU this week.

Power Rankings (overall and conference records, and last week’s ranking in parentheses)

1. Pittsburgh (18-1, 6-0) (2)

Last Week: 1/8 vs. Marquette 89-81, 1/12 @ Georgetown 72-57, 1/15 vs. Seton Hall 74-53, 1/17 vs. Syracuse 74-66

Next Week: 1/22 @ DePaul, 1/24 vs. Notre Dame

Efficiency is the name of the game for this Pitt team offensively. They may be the best team in the country when it comes to executing offensively. They always seem to get the shot that they want, whether it is a post touch for Gary McGhee or a three for Ashton Gibbs coming off of a screen. If they miss, 45.6% of the time they get the offensive rebound. They also don’t turn the ball over in the half court, meaning that they maximize their possessions offensively as well as anyone. They’ve been knocked on the defensive end of the floor, but the last three games have looked much better. If there is an Achilles heel, it is that they struggle against pressure. Providence nearly beat them by forcing turnovers with a press while Syracuse and Georgetown got the Panthers to turn the ball over late using a press.

2. Syracuse (18-1, 5-1) (1)

Last Week: 1/8 @ Seton Hall 61-56, 1/12 @ St. John’s 76-59, 1/15 vs. Cincinnati 67-52, 1/17 @ Pitt 66-74

Next Week: 1/22 vs. Villanova

The Orange suffered their first loss of the season Monday night, but take it with a grain of salt. The loss came at Pitt when the Orange were missing Kris Joseph, and they were nearly able to overcome a 19-0 start by the Panthers. The Orange look like the best team in the conference on the defensive end of the floor, and the numbers back it up. The question all season long has been on the offensive end, but with Joseph’s recent scoring surge and the emergence of James Southerland as a spot-up shooter at the three/four spot, that may be less of an issue. The Orange aren’t getting a lot of pub right now, but this team is for real.

3. Connecticut (15-2, 4-2) (6)

Last Week: 1/8 @ Texas 82-81 OT, 1/11 vs. Rutgers 67-53, 1/15 @ DePaul 82-62, 1/17 vs. Villanova 61-59

Next Week: 1/22 vs. Tennessee

All of a sudden, UConn has a supporting cast. Alex Oriakhi has been fantastic the past four games, averaging 13.3 points and 12.5 rebounds per game while showing off some nice post moves. Jeremy Lamb has been playing very well on both ends of the floor. Shabazz Napier and Roscoe Smith both have shown the ability to be second and third scoring options this season. Kemba Walker‘s efficiency numbers have been dropping as defenses focus on him, but his teammates have shown an increasing confidence to take and make big shots when they are left open. As UConn continues to improve defensively — forcing turnovers and clearing the defensive glass — they are only going to get better as a team.

4. Villanova (16-2, 4-1) (3)

Last Week: 1/9 vs. Cincinnati 72-61, 1/12 vs. Louisville 88-74, 1/15 vs. Maryland 74-66, 1/17 @ UConn 59-61

Next Week: 1/22 @ Syracuse

Villanova’s first loss in conference play came on a Kemba Walker buzzer beater in Gampel without Dominic Cheek. It also came on a night when Corey Fisher looked like Mr. 105 while the rest of his teammates struggled to get anything going offensively. I like what his team can do defensively, but I still have concerns on the offensive end of the floor. Maalik Wayns is talented, but he is inconsistent and needs to learn how to run a team and not just be a dribbler. Fisher has been up and down, although he looked terrific against UConn. The key may be Mouphtaou Yarou. If he can get better scoring on the block, the emergence of Antonio Pena‘s jump shot will give him a lot of opportunities down low with space.

5. Louisville (14-3, 3-1) (7)

Last Week: 1/9 @ South Florida 86-77, 1/12 @ Villanova 74-88, 1/15 vs. Marquette 71-70

Next Week: 1/19 vs. St. John’s, 1/22 @ Providence

See the “Player of the Week” feature above to see why Rick Pitino has Preston Knowles and the Cardinals rolling.

6. West Virginia (12-4, 3-2) (11)

Last Week: 1/8 @ Georgetown 65-59, 1/13 vs. Providence 93-63, 1/16 vs. Purdue 68-64

Next Week: 1/19 vs. Marshall, 1/23 vs. South Florida

See the “Team of the Week” feature above for my thoughts on the Mountaineers.

7. Marquette (12-6, 3-2) (10)

Last Week: 1/8 @ Pitt 81-89, 1/10 vs. Notre Dame 79-57, 1/15 @ Louisville 70-71

Next Week: 1/18 vs. DePaul, 1/22 @ Notre Dame

Marquette still hasn’t been able to figure out how to win the close games this season. The talent is clearly there — it wasn’t a fluke that they were up by 18 in Louisville — but the ability to finish games isn’t quite there yet. The perfect example — Marquette was up 70-69 against Louisville with less than 30 seconds left when they broke the Cardinals’ press. Instead of pulling the ball out, Dwight Buycks attacked Terrence Jennings and had his shot blocked. At the other end, the Golden Eagles lost track of Kyle Kuric on a dribble handoff, and it resulted in a wide open layup for the win.

8. St. John’s (11-5, 4-2) (9)

Last Week: 1/8 @ Notre Dame 61-76, 1/12 vs. Syracuse 59-76, 1/16 vs. Notre Dame 72-54

Next Week: 1/19 @ Louisville, 1/22 vs. Cincinnati

I still can’t figure this team out. I thought I had them pegged — a fraud — after they were blown out by both Syracuse and Notre Dame, but then the Johnnies went and beat the Irish by 18 in a rematch on Sunday. They can defend, they are physical, and they have a couple of players that are dangerous when they get it going, but I’m not completely sold yet. Win at Louisville on Wednesday, and we’ll talk.

9. Notre Dame (14-4, 3-3) (4)

Last Week: 1/8 vs. St. John’s 76-61, 1/10 @ Marquette 57-79, 1/16 @ St. John’s 54-72

Next Week: 1/19 vs. Cincinnati, 1/22 vs. Marquette

There are two different Notre Dame teams — the one that plays at home and the one that plays on the road. The Irish have four losses on the season — by 14 at Kentucky, by 12 at Syracuse, by 22 at Marquette, and by 18 at St. John’s. I love the roster makeup of this group. The mental makeup is a different story.

10. Georgetown (13-5, 2-4) (5)

Last Week: 1/8 vs. West Virginia 59-65, 1/12 vs. Pitt 57-72, 1/15 @ Rutgers 74-65

Next Week: 1/18 @ Seton Hall

I’ve written off the Hoyas … for now. I’ve seen this happen too many times. It feels like a rerun of the 2009 campaign, when Georgetown jumped all the way to eighth in the country after a win at UConn to kick off Big East play before collapsing and getting bounced in the first round of the NIT. They are a small team up front and they aren’t a great defensive team, but they haven’t been good enough on the offensive end to make up for it.

11. Cincinnati (16-2, 3-2) (8)

Last Week: 1/9 @ Villanova 61-72, 1/12 vs. South Florida 74-66, 1/15 @ Syracuse 52-67

Next Week: 1/19 @ Notre Dame, 1/22 @ St. John’s

My opinion of the Bearcats hasn’t changed. I like the pieces they have, but I am not sure if they are good enough to make the tournament. Yancy Gates is inconsistent and their perimeter has had a tough time against good teams. They have two winnable road games against fellow tourney contenders this week. Win one and make a statement.

12. Seton Hall (8-10, 2-4) (13)

Last Week: 1/8 vs. Syracuse 56-61, 1/12 @ DePaul 78-67, 1/15 @ Pitt 53-74

Next Week: 1/18 vs. Georgetown, 1/22 vs. Rutgers

The best story of the week belonged to Jeremy Hazell, who made a return from a broken wrist that required surgery and a gunshot wound to score 23 points against DePaul. I’m hoping that he can be the spark that the Pirates need to salvage their season.

13. Rutgers (10-7, 1-4) (14)

Last Week: 1/8 vs. Providence 85-72, 1/11 @ UConn 53-67, 1/15 vs. Georgetown 65-74

Next Week: 1/20 vs. South Florida, 1/22 @ Seton Hall

This group plays hard, they just don’t have the talent in the program to beat the big boys yet.

14. South Florida (7-12, 1-5) (16)

Last Week: 1/9 vs. Louisville 77-86, 1/12 @ Cincinnati 66-74, 1/16 vs. Providence 79-72

Next Week: 1/20 Rutgers, 1/23 @ West Virginia

15. Providence (11-8, 0-6) (12)

Last Week: 1/8 @ Rutgers 72-85, 1/13 @ West Virginia 63-93, 1/16 @ South Florida 72-79

Next Week: 1/22 vs. Louisville

16. DePaul (6-11, 0-5) (15)

Last Week: 1/12 vs. Seton Hall 67-78, 1/15 vs. UConn 62-82

Next Week: 1/18 @ Marquette, 1/22 vs. Pitt

I’d say there is a 25% chance that none of these three teams gets a win against any of the top 13 teams in the Big East. Who else is happy that TCU is joining the mix in 2012?

A Look Ahead

The big day for the Big East this week looks to be Wednesday, when St. John’s and Cincinnati get their cracks at Louisville and Notre Dame, respectively, on the road. Both teams need a win. Not just for their resume, but to make a statement. The way to earn respect in this league is by winning on the road against good teams. On Saturday, make sure you’re up early as Syracuse and Villanova tip at noon.

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Set Your Tivo: 01.12.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 12th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

We’re going to mix it up today with this feature. With so many good games tonight (one of the best nights of the season thus far) here are some quick hitters on 10 important games you should be following this evening, including the top five teams in the land all playing on the road. Additionally, key conference battles are on tap throughout the night. Enjoy it, folks. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#2 Ohio State @ Michigan – 6:30 pm on Big Ten Network (***)

The Wolverines nearly knocked off Kansas on Sunday and they’ll get another crack at a top three team tonight when their rivals visit Ann Arbor. Michigan has to shoot the three well to win but that’ll be difficult against an Ohio State defense ranked in the top five in efficiency. Though Darius Morris (15.0 PPG, 7.0 APG) will try his best, Ohio State has too much talent and offensive firepower for Michigan to handle. Michigan needs their best defensive effort of the year combined with an off night for the Buckeyes in order to have a chance. John Beliein can rotate plenty of bodies on Jared Sullinger but that may be a futile effort against the uber-talented big man.

Sullinger, Lighty, and Co. Have Bucknuts Already Looking Forward to March (and April)

#5 Pittsburgh @ #19 Georgetown – 7 pm on ESPN (****)

The Hoyas are in serious danger of dropping to 1-4 in conference play as Pitt comes to DC. Georgetown hasn’t shot the ball well recently and has lost three of four as a result. The inconsistent play of point guard Chris Wright can certainly be blamed, but take a deeper look at the numbers. Georgetown’s defense is rated #61 in efficiency; not terrible, but it’s the lowest-rated Hoyas defense in six years (#66 in the ’04-’05 season). The Hoyas have given up 66.6 PPG, not a good number when your adjusted tempo is only 66.5 possessions and rated #228 in the country, indicating a slower pace. Georgetown’s dynamic guard trio has certainly struggled, a key reason why they’ve lost three of four, but the defense has also played a part and must get better. It’ll be put to the test against a Pitt offense rated the best in the land. The Panthers can punish you inside and out as well as on the glass. Yours truly has maintained for a while that this Pitt team is the best interior passing group in America and I see no reason to back off that statement. What Jamie Dixon has built in Pittsburgh year after year is quite remarkable but this may be his best offensive squad ever. The Panthers have played just one true road game all year (at Providence) but they’re experienced and so well-coached that it doesn’t figure to affect them all that much. Expect a desperate Georgetown team to come out ready to play, but we’ll take the Panthers here in a close one.

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Set Your Tivo: 12.31.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 31st, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

A really good schedule awaits college basketball fans today on your New Year’s Eve. The Battle of the Bluegrass gets things going right away with an early noon tip, a game tailor made for Gus Johnson. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#12 Kentucky @ Louisville — 12 pm on CBS (*****)

Louisville will be shorthanded in this game but is favored according to the Vegas odds. The Cardinals, still without Jared Swopshire, will also be missing the services of Rakeem Buckles and Mike Marra this afternoon. Still, this is a game you must watch with Gus Johnson on the call. It is a unique rivalry that doesn’t get enough press and has only heated up with the addition of John Calipari and the switch of Rick Pitino from Kentucky blue to Louisville red. It started almost 100 years ago in 1913 but the teams have only met 41 times prior to today with Kentucky holding a 27-14 edge. These teams did not meet for 24 years from 1959 until an elite eight NCAA Tournament game on March 26, 1983. They have met every year since then with UK leading 18-11 in the modern era. One interesting fact is that Kentucky has never failed to win at least two games in a row after winning one throughout the entire history of this series. With the Wildcats on a one game winning streak entering the game today, that statistic, though ultimately meaningless, would suggest a UK win. Expect this game to feature a lot of threes, a big part of each team’s offense. Kentucky actually has five guys who can knock down a triple, much more than the average team. Doron Lamb and Preston Knowles are the big shooters for their respective teams with Lamb being the better of the two so far this year. The freshman has connected on 54% of his treys including a seven for eight performance against Winthrop, a large part of Kentucky’s #13 three point percentage. Knowles is Louisville’s leading scorer and a good defender who teams with Peyton Siva to really disrupt opponents on the defensive end. That will be a big factor against Kentucky point guard Brandon Knight, averaging almost four turnovers per game. Rick Pitino loves the zone press so expect a lot of trapping and aggressive on-ball defense from the Cardinals, trying to get Knight out of a rhythm and make him turnover-prone. As a whole, Kentucky takes remarkably good care of the ball with only 11 turnovers as a team. Calipari needs a good point guard to run his dribble drive offense and Knight is often the key to their success. He had an awful game in a loss to Connecticut and fouled out after committing six turnovers in UK’s loss to North Carolina. In the front court, Kentucky has the best player on the floor in Terrence Jones. The 6’8 freshman can score from almost anywhere on the floor and uses his superior athleticism effectively to create space. Another T.J., Terrence Jennings, has to have a good game defensively for Louisville. He’s a good shot blocker and must neutralize Jones inside. Despite their reliance on the three pointer, the Cardinals get a lot of points inside as well, the seventh best two point shooting team in the country. With Buckles out however, Louisville may turn even more towards the trey in order to win. Kentucky lacks a true scoring center as Josh Harrellson rebounds well but doesn’t look to score much, attempting just four field goals per game. Expect Kyle Kuric to step up in the absence of Marra and Buckles. He’s played more minutes lately and scored 25 points against Morgan State on Monday. Quite simply, this game is going to be a war. The fans hate each other, the coaches do too and even the players got into it right away last year. Most rivalry games are close and despite Louisville’s personnel issues, we expect this one to be as well. However, depth could rear its ugly head if the Cardinals get into foul trouble. Louisville fouls a lot and Pitino has to ensure that doesn’t become an issue. Even though they’re on the road, Kentucky is the better team and has to get the edge here. Take the Wildcats and the points today.

#13 Minnesota @ #18 Michigan State – 4 pm on Big Ten Network (****)

A critical game for both teams, the loser will face some tough questions going forward. With a loss today, Minnesota faces the real possibility of starting Big Ten play at 1-3 with a game at Ohio State next Sunday and Indiana in between. Michigan State would drop to 8-5 overall with a loss today, making Monday’s game at Northwestern a huge one for the Spartans. For Tom Izzo’s team, the three point line is critical in this matchup. Minnesota doesn’t defend it well at all (#260) and the Spartans shoot 40% behind a trio of capable long range bombers. Durrell Summers leads Michigan State in scoring and is arguably their best shooter from deep while Kalin Lucas and Korie Lucious can also knock down the trifecta. Tubby Smith likes to play a zone but that may hurt the Gophers in this matchup. Unless Minnesota extends their defense beyond the line, Michigan State can easily shoot right over it. Of course when you extend a zone there will be holes inside. Minnesota’s big men must lay down the law in the paint and force MSU to beat them from the outside. A strong defensive game will really limit the Spartans offensively and turn this into a rebounding battle, one Minnesota should feel confident in their ability to win. Michigan State has not been a vintage Izzo team in terms of defense and rebounding, a bad sign against a tall and talented Minnesota team. Trevor Mbakwe could be deadly against the Spartans today with his quickness and long arms around the tin. With Mbakwe inside and Blake Hoffarber outside, the Gophers will keep Michigan State on their toes all game long. Al Nolen must play better for Minnesota. Wisconsin shut him down on Tuesday night held the Minnesota offense in check en route to a victory. Turnovers will again be the story for the Spartans, averaging 16 per game. Extra possessions only enhance the Gophers chances. Michigan State looked awful against Syracuse and the Gopher bigs are even taller than Syracuse’s. Despite the KenPom prediction and the Vegas odds, we’re going against the grain and feel this game will come right down to the very end. This is anyone’s ballgame in East Lansing this afternoon.

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Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by rtmsf on December 28th, 2010

Rob Dauster of Ballin is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference.

After Pitt’s win on Monday night over UConn, I’m officially declaring the Big East a four team race between Georgetown, Pitt, Syracuse and Villanova as we prepare to kick off conference play. Here is a breakdown of why each team will and/or won’t win the conference:

Why They Will Win

  • Georgetown: Its a topic that has been beaten to death, I know, but the Hoya backcourt is just that good. Its more than just the individual talent of Austin Freeman, Chris Wright and Jason Clark. Those three play so well together. They are just so in tune with each other on the offensive end of the floor. And, more importantly, John Thompson III has allowed them to play more in transition, taking advantage of the ability of this group to play in the open floor.
  • Pitt: The thing I love about the Panthers is just how in tune they are with what Jamie Dixon wants them to do. Every player on the team understands what his role is and how to execute in that role. Their offense is a thing of beauty to watch, which is not something you often hear said about Pitt. They run their plays, they get the look they want, and they ferociously attack the offensive glass.
  • Syracuse: Rick Jackson is a new man. He’s streamlined his body and become the most dominant big man in the conference. Think DeJuan Blair plus a few inches and minus a few pounds on the bench press. He anchors a front line that is has been as good as any in the conference and still is not at full strength. With Kris Joseph starting to round into form, the Orange seem to have hit their stride this season.
  • Villanova: The Wildcats are going to be in this thing the entire season. Why? Because this team defends. I’ve said it all season long. This group reminds me so much of the team that went to the Final Four in 2009. They have a number of versatile players, they can utilize a number of different lineups, and they have frontcourt depth. That’s not something that you would have said about the Wildcats last season.

Why They Won’t Win

  • Georgetown: I’m concerned about the Hoyas winning under pressure. As I said, this team is experienced, but they haven’t exactly experienced success under pressure. In 2009, this team crumbled under lofty expectations and finished below .500 in the Big East. Last season, the Hoyas seemed to lose every time people started talking about them, including in the first round of the NCAA Tournament against Ohio. This year, there have been two games against elite competition where the Hoyas had the final possession and were losing. Both times, Hollis Thompson forced up a tough three pointer with plenty of time on the clock. The Hoyas were bailed out against Missouri when Kim English saved the ball under his own basket, but they weren’t so lucky in the loss to Temple.
  • Pitt: The Panthers are not as good defensively as they have been in year’s past. They are physical on the perimeter, they are big inside, and they rebound the ball, but they also allow a lot of open shots from the perimeter. Tennessee exploited that defensive weakness. Texas nearly did as well. Even UConn got and missed a number of good looks from the perimeter.
  • Syracuse: Are the Orange going to be able to score consistently against better defenses? Putting up 100 points on Colgate is nice. Scoring 53 against Michigan isn’t. They’ve looked better of late, but a lot of teams look good playing cupcakes at home. Which Kris Joseph and which Scoop Jardine show up during Big East play will determine how far this team goes.
  • Villanova: Corey Fisher and Maalik Wayns have not been able to fill the leadership void left by Scottie Reynolds. They’ve also not played well in his absence, shooting a combined 38% from the floor and 22% from three. If those two continue to struggle, Villanova is going to be in trouble.

1. Georgetown (11-1) (3)

Last Week: 12/18 vs. Loyola MD 99-75, 12/23 @ Memphis 86-69

Next Week: 12/29 @ Notre Dame, 1/1 vs. DePaul

2. Pitt (13-1, 1-0) (2)

Last Week: 12/18 vs. UM Eastern Shore 97-64, 12/22 vs. American 61-46, 12/27 vs. UConn 78-63

Next Week: None

3. Syracuse (10-0) (1)

Last Week: 12/18 vs. Iona 83-77, 12/20 vs. Morgan State 97-55, 12/22 vs. Drexel 93-65

Next Week: 12/28 vs. Providence, 1/1 vs. Notre Dame

4. Villanova (10-1) (5)

Last Week: 12/18 vs. Delaware 78-59, 12/22 @ Monmouth 76-36

Next Week: 12/30 @ Temple, 1/2 vs. Rutgers

5. Connecticut (10-1, 0-1) (4)

Last Week: 12/20 vs. Coppin State 76-64, 12/22 vs. Harvard 81-52, 12/27 @ Pitt 63-78

Next Week: 12/31 vs. South Florida

The loss at Pitt will end up being a good thing for the Huskies. They needed to come back to earth. UConn is not a bad basketball team, especially with Kemba Walker on the court, but they certainly were not the fourth best team in the country. UConn looked bad against Pitt, but their younger players struggled in the Big East opener on the road against an actual top ten team. For the freshmen, it was their first Big East game ever, and it was also two days after Christmas. It is not yet time to panic with this team.

6. Notre Dame (11-1) (6)

Last Week: 12/19 vs. Stony Brook 88-62, 12/22 vs. UMBC 93-53

Next Week: 12/29 vs. Georgetown, 1/1 @ Syracuse

I really like this Notre Dame team. I like the pace they play at. I like their ability to execute offensively. I like that they have multiple lineups that can be effective. I like the number of different weapons they have. The problem? This team doesn’t force any turnovers. Playing great defense, forcing tough shots, and cleaning up the defensive glass is commendable. But the Irish will be that much better if they can start getting easy baskets off of turnovers.

7. Louisville (11-1) (7)

Last Week: 12/18 vs. Gardner-Webb 78-49, 12/22 vs. Western Kentucky 114-82, 12/27 vs. Morgan State 104-74

Next Week: 12/31 @ Kentucky

Louisville slipped up against Drexel, as the Dragons were able to control the tempo and force Louisville into bad shots. So how do the Cardinals respond? By hitting 33-53 from three in routs of Western Kentucky and Morgan State, two teams expected to compete for their conference’s crown. Louisville may not have a star, but in those two games they had three guys (Peyton Siva, Kyle Kuric and Preston Knowles) go for at least 25 points.

8. Cincinnati (12-0) (8)

Last Week: 12/18 vs. Oklahoma 66-56, 12/21 vs. Miami OH 64-48, 12/23 vs. St. Francis PA 94-58

Next Week: 12/28 vs. DePaul, 12/31 vs. Seton Hall

I’m getting sick of writing this about Cincinnati. Their backcourt has been better than expected, their frontcourt is big, and they are undefeated against a Charmin-soft schedule. Come the New Year, we’ll finally start to get a grasp of how good this team is.

9. Marquette (9-3) (9)

Last Week: 12/18 vs. Centenary 81-52, 12/21 vs. Mississippi Valley State 104-77

Next Week: 12/29 @ Vanderbilt, 1/1 vs. West Virginia

I say it every year, and then I sit back and watch as people disregard my advice until it comes to fruition — don’t count out Marquette. This is a scrappy team that competes as hard as anyone in the country. Once Darius Johnson-Odom finds his stroke, the Golden Eagles are going to be a team no one wants to play.

10. West Virginia (8-2) (10)

Last Week: 12/18 vs. Cleveland State 74-63

Next Week: 12/29 vs. St. John’s, 1/1 @ West Virginia

I cannot figure out this West Virginia team yet, and I’m guessing Bobby Huggins hasn’t either. Casey Mitchell went for 20 ppg scorer to 20 mpg role player. Kevin Jones and Deniz Kilicli have had as many brain farts as post moves. Truck Bryant can’t stay out of trouble. There are a lot of pieces in Morgantown, the question is whether or not Huggins can put the puzzle together.

11. Providence (11-2) (11)

Last Week: 12/21 vs. Sacred Heart 84-76

Next Week: 12/28 @ Syracuse, 1/1 vs. St. John’s

Providence is going to be fun to watch this season. They run the floor, they shoot a lot of threes, and they score a lot of points. But will they play enough defense to win games in the Big East? Regardless, Marshon Brooks is a name you need to remember.

12. St. John’s (7-3) (14)

Last Week: 12/20 vs. Davidson 62-57, 12/21 vs. Northwestern 85-69

Next Week: 12/29 @ West Virginia, 1/1 @ Providence

The Johnnies may have had the best half of any game from any team this season when they went 16-20 from the floor in the second half against Northwestern. But can that half erase the memories of a 21 point second half lead they blew against Fordham?

13. Seton Hall (6-6) (12)

Last Week: 12/19 vs. NJIT 68-45, 12/22 vs. Dayton 65-69, 12/26 vs. Richmond 61-69

Next Week: 12/31 @ Cincinnati

The Hall’s season went from bad to worse when Jeremy Hazell was shot on Christmas Day. I just don’t think it is in the cards for the Pirates this season.

14. Rutgers (9-2) (13)

Last Week: 12/18 @ Monmouth 79-56, 12/23 vs. St. Peter’s 55-52

Next Week: 12/28 vs. UNC, 1/2 @ Villanova

The biggest news coming out of Piscataway this week was that the Scarlett Knights opted to redshirt Kadeem Jack. Jack is a top 50 recruit and has the potential to be a very good player down the road. No sense in wasting a year of eligibility on half of a meaningless season.

15. South Florida (6-7) (15)

Last Week: 12/18 vs. James Madison 61-66, 12/22 @ Cleveland State 62-69

Next Week: 12/28 @ Seton Hall, 12/31 @ UConn

Gus Gilchrist quit the team. Then he came back. How many people noticed?

16. DePaul (6-6) (16)

Last Week: 12/18 vs. Loyola IL 81-74, 12/22 vs. Florida Atlantic 71-62

Next Week: 12/28 @ Cincinnati, 1/1 @ Georgetown

DePaul won two games this week. With Big East play starting, it may have been the last two games they win all season.

Looking Ahead

Big East play is kicking off this week. I don’t know about you, but I am more than ready for top 25 matchups, Big Mondays, Jay Bilas and Bill Raftery, Bob Huggins’ track suit, Jay Wright’s Gucci suit, Jim Calhoun’s scowl, the claims that the Big East isn’t the best conference because it’s too big, 3 am replays of Providence-Marquette on MASN, the trash talk between Georgetown and Syracuse fans, and, most importantly, arenas packed to the gills with drunk, screaming college students cheering on their team in games that actually matter.

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ATB: Post-Holiday Blues for UConn

Posted by rtmsf on December 28th, 2010

The Lede.  We hope that everyone came out of the long holiday weekend fully intact, with perhaps an iPad, some Air Jordan XXIs or Final Four tickets under the tree.  This week certainly won’t be as glacially-paced as last week was, but we really won’t move into the heart of the season until after New Year’s day and the interminable bowl season comes to a close.  Still, tonight started off the week with what was on paper a fairly good matchup of two top ten teams, but most of us had an inkling that the UConn Huskies were due for the wheels to come off sooner or later; it was really only a matter of which Pittsburgh team might show up.

Pitt Disassembled the Huskies With Relative Ease Tonight (PPG/M. Freed)

Your Watercooler MomentAs Suspected, It’s Kemba and Friends.  There’s a reason that everyone who has a Twitter account was on the record over the last few weeks stating that UConn was nowhere near as good as their undefeated record and top five ranking might suggest.  In tonight’s highly-anticipated game between Walker’s Huskies and the Pitt Panthers, it was Jamie Dixon’s team that showed the balance, poise and defense required of an elite team with its eyes on a national championship trophy.  UConn, on the other hand, looked like an exposed team with one star player but not much else to show for its troubles.  Walker ended the game with 31 points, but it was a difficult night shooting for the all-American guard, as he had to take 27 shots to do it.  His ten made field goals accounted for more than half of UConn’s total of 19, and with that fact it is clear that Pitt’s strategy was to limit Walker’s scoring opportunities while shutting everyone else down.  They did just that.  The one player who has the talent to play with Pitt along with Walker is Alex Oriakhi, but as described below, he did his best ostrich impression by putting his head in the sand (8/1)  and drawing the ire of coach Jim Calhoun after the game.  Pitt, on the other hand, looked completely different from the team we saw wilt versus Tennessee a couple of weeks ago; rather, the Panthers looked confident and capable from everywhere on the floor, including a superb 21/7 asst outing from Ashton Gibbs in a true comeback performance for the talented junior.  So what does a late December Big East opener mean for these two teams?  What we took from the game is that Pitt, originally projected to win the Big East, is still at the top of that list along with Georgetown and Syracuse, while UConn is going to continually run into problems in trying to run its entire offense through Kemba Walker night after night.  As talented as he is, he can’t beat everyone by himself.  The teams playing him in Maui were caught somewhat off guard by his abilities, but the Big East has seen what he can do and knows how to neutralize him — other Huskies are going to have to step up if UConn wants to sniff the top ten later this season.

Tonight’s Quick Hits

  • Pitino’s Bombino’s, Part Two.  Twenty-one seasons ago Rick Pitino took a mishmash group of Kentuckians and molded them into what became one of the most beloved teams in program history, the Pitino Bombinos.  Using a full-court pressure assault and relentless three-point shooting as the two principles above all else, the Bombinos went 14-14 when many prognosticators didn’t think they had the talent to win half that many games.  Cut to this year’s Louisville team, and the similarities are there — the Cards produce turnovers on over a quarter of their opponents’ possessions and shoot threes at a very high rate (43% of all field goals attempted).  Little was expected of this U of L team but they’re dominating lesser opponents and have catapulted out of the gates with an 11-1 record heading into this weekend’s Bluegrass Battle against Kentucky.  We’re not sure we’ve ever seen a team hit 17 of 23 treys as the Cards did tonight against Morgan State, not even those very Bombinos that Pitino coached in Lexington a generation ago.  We’re excited to see whether the Cards can keep it up.
  • Louisville’s Balance.  Preston Knowles went for 31 points and Kyle Kuric 25 tonight, but already this season seven Cards have put up games of fifteen or more points in the scoring column.  It’s still early in the season and Louisville has played a lot of Hostesses, but Pitino has ten players playing double-figure minutes and eight of those guys are contributing at least five points per game.  Given how short his bench has been in recent seasons at Louisville, this is definitely a different looking Cardinal team.
  • William Buford’s Breakout Game? Because his Buckeyes have been playing so well this season, not much has been written about how presumptive star wing Buford really hasn’t had the breakthrough year that everyone expected from him.  He’s certainly played well (with season averages of 13/5/4 APG), but his numbers are generally down from last season and there’s been an adjustment for him playing off of Jared Sullinger instead of Evan Turner.  Tonight was the first time all season he showed his complete offensive package, going for a season-high 23/4/5 assts/2 stls on 9-11 shooting against UT-Martin.  If Thad Matta can get star production from his elite wing to go along with Sullinger’s nastiness inside (another 18/11 dub-dub this evening, his sixth of the year), then OSU could be the best team in America come March.

… and Misses.

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Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 15th, 2010

Rob Dauster of Ballin’ Is A Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East conference.

A Look Back

  • So the Big East came back down to earth this past week. It was bound to happen. The conference wasn’t going to boast seven undefeated teams all season long. While Syracuse, Louisville, and Notre Dame won marquee matchups, Georgetown, Pitt, Marquette, Providence, and Notre Dame (again) got knocked off this past week, and Villanova and West Virginia struggled against inferior opponents.
  • Player of the Week: Marshon Brooks, Providence: I’m willing to bet that there are a lot of people around the country that haven’t heard the name Marshon Brooks before because, you know, he plays for Providence. But it’s about time you start noticing this young man. In the past two weeks, there may not be a player in the country in more of a groove that Brooks. Since a 3-12 performance in a win over Wyoming on November 24, Brooks has been on fire, averaging 28.9 PPG and 8.2 RPG, collecting 11 steals and ten blocks, and shooting 55%/83%/46% over a six-game stretch. In the last week alone, Brooks averaged 31.3 PPG and 8.3 RPG as the Friars went 2-1, their lone loss a two-point decision on the road against Boston College.
  • Team of the Week: Syracuse Orange – The Orange’s win over Michigan State last Tuesday has been written about and discussed at length already, but it deserves mention once again. Granted, the Spartans are playing some poor basketball right now, but Syracuse still dominated them in the paint and completely flummoxed them with their zone. The Orange are just as good defensively as they were last season and may have an even better front line than last year’s team, headlined by the emergence of Rick Jackson as a double-double machine. They are still waiting on Kris Joseph to become a consistent scoring threat, and Scoop Jardine still has a tendency to make bad decisions, but the biggest issue standing between Syracuse and greatness appears to be their lack of perimeter shooting. Regardless, no team in the Big East is playing better basketball that the Orange right now.

Power Rankings (last week’s rankings in parentheses)

1. Syracuse (10-0) (5)
Last Week: 12/7 vs. Michigan State 72-58, 12/11 vs. Colgate 100-43
Next Week: 12/18 vs. Iona, 12/20 vs. Morgan State

See above.

2. Pitt (10-1) (1)
Last Week: 12/8 vs. Delaware State 70-42, 12/11 vs. Tennessee 76-83
Next Week: 12/18 vs. UM Eastern Shore

The Panthers took a pretty solid whooping at the hands of Tennessee last Saturday. Ashton Gibbs was completely taken out of the game by Melvin Goins, Pitt had no answer to Scotty Hopson defensively, and the Panthers were ineffective in finishing their second chance opportunities. To make matters worse, the game was in Pittsburgh. The tendency is to overreact to a beatdown like this, but I caution fans against doing that. I was able to watch the entirety of that game, and trust me, it had much more to do with how well Tennessee played than what Pitt was unable to do.

3. Georgetown (9-1) (2)
Last Week: 12/9 @ Temple 65-68, 12/12 vs. Appalachian State 89-60
Next Week: 12/18 vs. Loyola MD

Like Pitt’s loss to Tennessee, I caution Hoya fans against getting too worried about Georgetown’s first loss of the season. For starters, it came on the road against a Temple team that is top-25 material, played as well as they have all season on the defensive end, and got a career performance out of Ramone Moore, who went for 30. Georgetown still has a terrific backcourt and still has one of the most impressive non-conference resumes in the country. With the schedule they are playing, they were bound to be tripped up. If anything, that game proved that even Georgetown is susceptible to being taken out of their game by Temple’s defense.

4. Connecticut (8-0) (3)
Last Week: 12/8 vs. FDU 78-54
Next Week: 12/20 vs. Coppin State

The Huskies have slowly dropped in the Power Rankings, as they were second two weeks ago. This may look even more ridiculous considering that UConn has risen to #4 in both of the polls. My defense? Well, it’s the same thing that has been written every time someone has written anything about UConn this season — do they have enough outside of Kemba WalkerRoscoe Smith and Jeremy Lamb have been better the last two games, while Shabazz Napier and Alex Oriakhi have come back to earth a little bit. The addition of 7’1 German import Enosch Wolf may help shore up UConn’s woes on the defensive glass, but I’m still not sold on this team.

5. Villanova (8-1) (4)
Last Week: 12/8 @ Penn 65-53, 12/12 @ La Salle 84-81
Next Week: 12/18 vs. Delaware

It’s a good thing that Corey Stokes decided to show up this week, as he was the Wildcats’ best player in both games this week, scoring 34 of Nova’s 65 against Penn before dropping 16 against La Salle. Corey Fisher seems like he is struggling with the pressure of replacing Scottie Reynolds. The skills are still there, as he’s still finding assists and getting to the foul line. His shots just aren’t dropping. He’s too good for that not to change.

7. Notre Dame 9-1 (6)
Last Week: 12/8 vs. Kentucky 58-72, 12/11 vs. Gonzaga 83-79
Next Week: 12/19 vs. Stony Brook

Notre Dame’s past week has me confused. Ben Hansbrough carried the Irish to a 38-27 lead late in the first half against Kentucky, but he had just two of his 21 points the rest of the way and the Irish looked completely lost on the offensive end of the floor, going for 13 minutes of game time without a field goal. They did, however, look solid on the defensive end until Terrence Jones took over in the final five minutes. Against Gonzaga, the Irish led by double digits for much of the second half, but allowed the Zags to score 14 points in the final minute and cut a ten-point lead to just two.

7. Louisville (8-1) (7)
Last Week: 12/8 vs. San Francisco 61-35, 12/11 vs. UNLV 77-69, 12/14 vs. Drexel 46-52
Next Week: 12/18 vs. Gardner-Webb

While finals generally signal a slowdown in college basketball, there was plenty going on in Louisville. All in the span of a week, the Cardinals received a verbal commitment from Rodney Purvis, the nation’s #1 point guard in the class of 2012, scored a big win over UNLV, and lost to Drexel amongst reports that Rick Pitino will coach the Puerto Rican  national team. As for the Cardinals as they stand right now, nothing has changed about my opinion of Louisville since they beat Butler to open the season. When this team gets it going — when they are knocking down threes and forcing turnovers defensively — they can play with just about anyone in the country. When they don’t hit shots, as shown against Drexel, they will struggle. The biggest issue for Louisville right now? Their three-point shooters just aren’t all that good. As a team, they shoot 32.1% from deep (219th in the country) but 42.8% of their field goals are three balls (17th most in the country). Their top three in terms of attempts — Mike Marra (27.3%), Preston Knowles (34.7%), Peyton Siva (25%) — don’t shoot it well. Their best three point shooter, Kyle Kuric (42.1%), only takes a little over two per game. Think about this stat — in beating San Francisco, Louisville took more threes (36) than USF had points (35). They missed the same number of threes (26) as points they won by (26). I don’t know what that means, but it is kind of insane. (Note: The shooting stats were taken from KenPom before the Cardinals’ December 14 game against Drexel.)

8. Cincinnati (9-0) (8)
Last Week: 12/11 vs. Utah Valley 92-72, 12/14 vs. Georgia Southern 99-54
Next Week: 12/18 vs. Oklahoma

Will the Bearcats play somebody already? They are 9-0 on the season, but they haven’t beaten anyone in the top 100 according to KenPom, and their only wins against teams rated better than 199th are against Dayton and Wright State. I’m reserving judgment on this team until they get a real test, and that may not be for another month.

9. Marquette 7-3 (9)
Last Week: 12/7 vs. Texas A&M-CC 86-50, 12/11 vs. Wisconsin 64-69
Next Week: 12/18 vs. Centenary

Typical Marquette. Their three losses are by a combined 13 points. The same thing happened last season. The Golden Eagles played every good opponent tough, and once they figured out how to win and execute down the stretch, they started knocking off those tough opponents. I’m not worried about this team just yet.

10. West Virginia 7-2 (6)
Last Week: 12/7 vs. Robert Morris 82-49, 12/12 @ Duquesne 64-61
Next Week: 12/18 vs. Cleveland State

Did something happen between Bob Huggins and Casey Mitchell? It appears so, because the Mountaineers’ leading scorer managed just 35 minutes combined the past two games. He played only one second in the second half against Duquesne.

11. Providence 10-2 (12)
Last Week: 12/8 @ Boston College 86-88, 12/11 vs. Alabama 82-70
Next Week: None

It’s too early to say that PC is a potential NCAA Tournament team, not with their lack of quality wins. But with Marshon Brooks playing the way he has and Vincent Council and Bilal Dixon looking like they can be impact players in the Big East, this team has to be considered a sleeper to make a run in league play. The Friars open conference play at Syracuse and then with home dates against St. John’s and Pitt. I’ll reserve judgment on them until after those three games.

12. Seton Hall 5-4 (13)
Last Week: 12/11 @ UMass 78-51
Next Week: 12/19 vs. NJIT

Have the Pirates finally figured out how to play without Jeremy Hazell? The last two games, they have won by a combined 52 points and scored an average of 91.0 PPG. This team is playing defense this season. If the offense comes around, they’ll be climbing these power rankings. Seton Hall has talent.

13. Rutgers 7-2 (15)
Last Week: 12/8 vs. Marist 64-48, 12/11 vs. Auburn 63-54, 12/14 v. FDU 79-65
Next Week: 12/18 vs. Monmouth

The Scarlet Knights aren’t terrible this season, or at least is appears that way early on. They have a win over Miami FL and knocked off Auburn in a game that wasn’t nearly as close that the 63-54 final would indicate.

14. St. John’s 5-3 (11)
Last Week: 12/7 vs. St. Bonaventure 66-67, 12/11 @ Fordham 81-84
Next Week: 12/20 vs. Davidson

15. South Florida 5-5 (14)
Last Week: 12/12 @ Kent State 51-56
Next Week: 12/15 vs. Auburn, 12/18 vs. James Madison

16. DePaul 4-6 (16)
Last Week: 12/8 @ Indiana State 51-73, 12/11 vs. Ball State 77-79 OT, 12/14 vs. Milwaukee 61-47
Next Week: 12/18 vs. Loyola IL

The bottom of the Big East was awful this past week. St. John’s completely destroyed any kind of hope for this season by losing at home to St. Bonaventure and dropping a game on the road against Fordham (who won two games last season) after holding a 21-point lead. South Florida followed up a loss to Florida Atlantic where they scored 42 points with a loss to Kent State where they scored 51 points. DePaul was drubbed by Indiana State by 22 points (and had just 18 points at the under 16 timeout of the second half) and lost to Ball State. Yuck.

A Look Ahead

Aside from Drexel’s major upset to give Louisville its first loss at home, there are no interesting games played by Big East teams this week. None. The only game that comes close is when West Virginia hosts undefeated Cleveland State, and that is in very large part due to the finish those two had last year. Good luck on your finals, and enjoy your Christmas break, fellas.

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Boom Goes The Dynamite: Early Games – 12.11.2010

Posted by nvr1983 on December 11th, 2010

We are back with our world famous BGTD. However, this year we are changing things a bit. Instead of our traditional format that utilized stream-of-consciousness analysis we are doing most thorough and hopefully thoughtful analysis of the day’s action. We will be posting intermittently throughout the day so check back often. Also, let us know what you think about the new format. Like it? Love it? Hate it? Let us know in the comments along with your thoughts on our thoughts.

  • Questions about Michigan State again? It seems to happen every year. Michigan State comes in ranked highly and struggles in the early season. Fans and analysts question the Spartans and point to holes in their game. Lack of a reliable scoring presence. Not enough depth. The inside play isn’t good enough. You name a potential reason as to what is wrong with Michigan State and it has been used in the past few years. That is every reason except for coaching. With Tom Izzo manning the sideline for the Spartans there is always a sense that things will be ok for the Spartans. That doesn’t mean that the Spartans don’t have some major issues to work out, but they are not as vulnerable as some people might say. Their losses thus far? To UConn, Duke, and Syracuse (a tough set of opponents by any measure). Even today’s game, a 1-point win over Oakland, isn’t as bad as some might make it out to be as the Golden Grizzlies gave Illinois a very good game earlier this week despite playing on the road. So before you write off the Spartans for their lackluster early season play just remember that the Spartans have been in this position many times before under Izzo and things tend to work out.
  • Duke rolls, but all is not well in Durham. Don’t be fooled by Duke’s easy victory against St. Louis today. The Blue Devils aren’t even close to being the same team without Kyrie Irving in the line-up. Losing Irving means that they simply don’t have the player who can drive to the basket and create for others. This isn’t a knock on Smith, but players are built differently. Nolan Smith is a fantastic player who can get to the basket, but most of that results in offense for himself. Irving gets to the basket and creates for both himself and his teammates. Nobody on Duke’s roster has been affected by Irving’s absence as much as Mason Plumlee has as his production has dropped off significantly following after Irving left the Duke line-up. Duke can still repeat this year, but until they get Irving back they are just one of about five contenders instead the prohibitive favorites that they appeared to be before Irving’s injury.
  • Louisville and Rick Pitino are back. It might be time to put those “15 seconds” jokes on hold because it looks like Rick Pitino has a very good team in Louisville again. Ok, we know you are still going to use those jokes in Lexington. After a sluggish start where UNLV looked like it might run away with this game in the first half despite being the “West Coast team playing the early game on the East Coast”. Early on it looked like Peyton Siva was the only player on the Louisville roster who decided to show up. The Cardinals regrouped and showed their depth and prevailed thanks to great games from Preston Knowles (all 20 of his points coming in the 2nd half before fouling out), Kyle Kuric (17 points equaling his total for the rest of the season), and Chris Smith (a career-high 17 points). If the Cardinals can continue to play like they did after an rough start, they could contend in the Big East.
  • Having said that. . . Before we buy into Louisville we are going to need to see them do something on the road. Winning games at the YUM Center is nice, but unless they can play all their games in the YUM Center (they can’t due to NCAA rules) they will need to prove that they can win in a hostile environment. So far the Cardinals most impressive wins (all of which have been at home) are against a Butler team that is still struggling to find its identity and a UNLV team that was playing in a game that started at 9 AM on their West Coast clocks. Unfortunately we might not get our answer about how good Louisville is until January 12th when the Cardinals travel to Villanova in what could be a huge game if the Cardinals can knock off Kentucky on New Year’s Eve.

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Set Your Tivo: 11.16.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 16th, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Tonight’s slate is loaded with quality games, mostly from the ESPN Tip-Off Marathon. Rankings as per the latest RTC Top 25. All times eastern.

#21 Virginia Tech @ #3 Kansas State – 4 pm on ESPN (*****)

Seth Greenberg decided to beef up his non-conference schedule this year after being left out of the last few NCAA Tournaments and this may be his team’s toughest test. The Hokies enter the Octagon of Doom looking to make a statement and ease any NCAA bubble worries, at least temporarily. Most prognosticators say Virginia Tech will be a lot better than the bubble but that thought has to creep into the back of some fans’ minds at times. Led by Malcolm Delaney, four seniors return and all are starters. Kansas State has had some problems early on as coach Frank Martin benched senior Curtis Kelly against James Madison on Friday for not practicing with energy and needing to be a better teammate. His status for today’s game is unknown. Point guard is also a question for the Wildcats as Denis Clemente has moved on. All-American candidate Jacob Pullen can play the point but is better off the ball. K-State seemed to play point guard by committee in their first game as Pullen, Nick Russell, Rodney McGruder and Martavious Irving combined for all 14 of the team’s assists. Kansas State shot only 53% from the free throw line, a problem that plagued them all of last season. Both teams like to play fast but also can get after it defensively as each finished in the top 20 in defensive efficiency last season. Virginia Tech is not a particularly good shooting team so that could play right into the hands of an active Wildcat defense encouraged by their energized crowd. The Hokies may have an issue with depth, especially early in the season when they’re trying to establish a rotation. With J.T. Thompson lost for the season and Cadarian Raines still out with a foot injury, Greenberg is down to seven major contributors. He’ll need freshman Jarell Eddie and Erick Green to step up and become threats off the bench. Kansas State needs to protect the ball and defend well in order to win. Va Tech was fifth nationally in steals and 36th in turnover percentage last year so they’ll be ready to exploit the uncertain K-State point guard situation. Virginia Tech may not have enough shooting to win this one but if Kelly is out, the door will be open for the Hokies to grab an important road victory.

#3 Ohio State @ #8 Florida – 6 pm on ESPN (*****)

ESPN wants to open Louisville’s new arena in prime time but this is really the marquee game of the Tip-Off Marathon. It features a Florida team that returns all five starters and is the trendy pick to win the SEC East and possibly make the final four. Ohio State, a final four favorite, returns four starters of its own and adds super impact freshman Jared Sullinger in the paint. Thad Matta’s Buckeyes have a good blend of youth and experience and are incredibly deep as a result of their terrific recruiting class. If you like three pointers then this is your game. Florida loves to shoot the three and so does the Ohio State backcourt led by Jon Diebler. The Gators struggled a bit in their opening win over UNC-Wilmington as they allowed the Seahawks to shoot 48% from the floor. Florida only shot 32% from behind the arc and they’ll need to do better than that if they hope to beat Ohio State. They’re also going to need players to contribute off the bench because as good as their starters are, you can’t rely on five players to carry your team. Erik Murphy should be the best bet, though a talented group of freshman should see their minutes increase as they settle into their roles in Billy Donovan’s system. Donovan, a Rick Pitino disciple, plays an up-tempo system that emphasizes pressing and three point shooting. For Florida to execute the press properly, they need a fresh stream of bodies coming in and out of the game. While that’s not as important in a single game, depth issues will take their toll as the season moves along. Ohio State is absolutely loaded with a powerful backcourt, frontcourt and bench. Diebler can flat out stroke it from deep and guys like Dallas Lauderdale and David Lighty add toughness and experience to their rotation. Florida needs a good game from senior leader Chandler Parsons and they just can’t afford to have Kenny Boynton go without a three again as he did against UNCW. The Buckeyes throttled North Carolina A&T in their opener behind 24/8 from freshman DeShaun Thomas. Another solid game from him or another OSU freshman could push them to an impressive road victory in the hostile O-Dome. This will be an unbelievably competitive and hard fought game but Ohio State’s depth and talent advantage gives them a great shot to earn a road win that will help build their resume for a possible #1 seed.

#12 Butler @ Louisville – 8pm on ESPN (****)

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