Previewing the New Big East Tournament

Posted by George Hershey on March 12th, 2014

The Big East Tournament kicks off tonight and it will be the first year without original members Syracuse and Connecticut. Taking their place are new members Creighton, Xavier, and Butler, which are expected to have plenty of fans making the trip to NYC. Listen to RTC’s Big East Tournament Edition podblast featuring Brian Otskey for a great preview.

Big East Bracket

What to Expect: Villanova and Creighton lead the group as the top two seeds, but the 3-7 seeds are looking to make a run that could secure their spot in the NCAA Tournament. Villanova could secure a #1 seed if they win, while Creighton also is fighting for a top seed. Xavier, St. John’s, Providence, and Georgetown need some wins this week to strengthen there resume, but with several of the bubble teams playing each other early, their hopes of dancing next week will wither. Fans of the Big East are probably hoping that Villanova and Creighton do not win so that the conference gets another team in the tournament, but it will not be easy for any of those bubble teams. Fox Sports 1 will televise every game with  Gus Johnson, Bill Raftery,and Erin Andrews on site to report all the action, which is sure to bring plenty of excitement and drama after a great regular season.

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Georgetown’s Revenge Tour Will Make or Break Its Season

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on February 12th, 2014

The up-and-down nature of Georgetown’s season is enough to give people vertigo. Let’s recap. The Hoyas went into Big East play at 8-3 with a good, not great, non-conference resume. A month later, Georgetown would lose five straight conference games, dropping their overall record to 11-9 (3-6 Big East), clearly listing, and headed into a seemingly unwinnable match-up agasinst Big Ten leader and Final Four contender Michigan State. John Thompson III miraculously found a way to beat the Spartans a couple of Saturdays ago, and since then has led the Hoyas to wins in their next three games. Fast forwarding to today, the Hoyas are back to .500 in conference play and hanging around the “Last Four Out” line of the NCAA Tournament according to ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi. Their latest win, an 83-72 home victory against Providence on Monday, was the first step in a crucial streak of four games where they’ll need to come away with victories in order to seal a bid on Selection Sunday.

Trawick's Return is Huge for the Hoyas

Trawick’s Return is Huge for the Hoyas

The Hoyas are coming up on a crucial stretch of games which will make or break their season. These games are at St. John’s, at Seton Hall, Xavier and at Marquette. All four teams are middle-of-the pack conference foes and, it’s also probably worth mentioning, these are three of the four same teams that already defeated Georgetown in their January five-game skid. If the Hoyas want to prove to the selection committee that they have indeed turned a corner, they are going to need to win most of these games. The road to redemption began on Monday night in DC when Georgetown’s offense went off on Providence and the defense withstood an outstanding shooting night from Bryce Cotton, who scored 31 points on 14 shots. It was only last month that Georgetown had lost to the Friars for the first time since 2005. A second half run by the Friars marked the beginning of the Hoyas’ skid – which was further compounded by Joshua Smith’s academic issues becoming permanent and Jabril Trawick’s absence for a few games due to a broken jaw. But with Trawick now back and the big win over Providence boosting the Hoyas’ confidence, Georgetown will look to exact revenge at the same time as trying to save their season.

It can’t be overstated just how important these next two weeks are for JTIII’s team. The four rivals are in similar positions and are looking to distinguish themselves from the middle tier in the Big East. Georgetown’s offense has steadily improved throughout the last four games, and they’ve managed fewer than seven turnovers in their last three games. They’ve seemed to finally figure out the offense without Smith and will need to keep this cohesion going throughout this important stretch. Next up:  a surging St. John’s team that was also left for dead in January. The Big East drama is heating up and looks to continue simmering for the remainder of the regular season.

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Big East NCAA Bracket Watch

Posted by George Hershey on February 6th, 2014

With a little over five weeks to go until Selection Sunday, most Big East teams have about eight games left before the Big East Tournament to solidify their standing for the NCAA Tournament. Eight teams have somewhat realistic hopes of making it into the 68-team field, but all but two still have plenty of work to do if they want to impress the selection committee. Here we will take a look at each of the 10 teams with a quick snapshot of what they have done, where they are, and what they need to do to hear their name called on March 16.

Steve Lavin and company have lots of work to do if they want to be dancing in March. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)

Steve Lavin and company have lots of work to do if they want to be dancing in March.
(AP Photo/Al Behrman)

#6 Villanova, 20-2 (8-1)

  • Key Stats: #4 RPI, #7 Pomeroy, #7 BPI, #14 Strength of Schedule
  • Projections: Lunardi #2 seed; RTC #2 seed; Bracket Matrix #2 seed
  • Good Wins: #8 Kansas, #17 Iowa, Providence, Xavier
  • Bad Losses: None

Villanova is all but a lock at this point. The Wildcats started the season with two huge wins in the Bahamas against Kansas and Iowa and they continued their great play into conference play. Their only two losses are understandable — at Syracuse and against a Creighton team that could have beaten the Knicks that night. They have rolled through conference play and look like they will have no problem the rest of the way. The one game remaining that can help solidify a #2 seed will be at Creighton on February 16. Going 8-1 or even 7-2 with a potential loss to St. John’s or Providence should be enough to finish with no worse than a #3 seed, leaving the Wildcats in a great position for March.

#12 Creighton, 18-3, (8-1)

  • Key Stats: #8 RPI, #3 Pomeroy, #12 BPI, #27 SOS
  • Projections: Lunardi #3 seed; RTC #3 seed; Bracket Matrix #3 seed
  • Good Wins: @ #6 Villanova, California, Arizona State, Xavier
  • Bad Losses: None

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Three Up, Three Down in the Big East

Posted by George Hershey on January 27th, 2014

Every Big East team played on Saturday. Some had impressive outing, while others fell flat and disappointed. Here we highlight some of the positives and negatives from the weekend’s action with Three Up, Three Down.

Three Up

The Providence Role Players, Including Denton, Are Stepping Up

The Providence Role Players, Including Denton, Are Stepping Up

  1. Providence’s Supporting Cast. Coming into the season the emphasis was placed on senior scoring machine Bryce Cotton. In the non-conference slate, the team fared well but started with a poor 0-2 mark in conference play with a bad home loss to Seton Hall and a blowout defeat to Villanova. In those early losses, players like LaDontae Henton, Kadeem Batts, Tyler Harris and Josh Fortune had rough performances. They turned the ball over too much — 15 from the starters vs. Villanova — played poor defense, and failed to make the key plays that win games. More recently, Providence has been on a roll and these players are the primary reason for the difference. In the Friars’ win on Saturday against Xavier, four starters had at least 10 points with Henton dropping 23, Harris and Batts scoring 12 each, and Fortune hitting a key three as he was fouled to stymie a Xavier run. Carson Desrosiers was also very impressive on the defensive end, with six blocks against the Musketeers. Providence has now won five in a row to move to 5-2 in league play, good for third place in the conference standings. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East M5: 01.10.14 Edition

Posted by George Hershey on January 10th, 2014

bigeast_morning5(2)

  1. Creighton let out a huge sigh of relief on Wednesday. First, Doug McDermott‘s shoulder injury turned out to be a shoulder sprain. He is expected to play on Saturday and downplayed the injury, a good sign for the stud. Later, fellow senior Grant Gibbs received good news as his scary knee injury was revealed to be a dislocated kneecap. The worst case scenario some were fearing was a torn ACL, but luckily the sixth year senior will be able to play in his final year. Gibbs is expected to be out about a month, returning in time for the final month of the Big East season and postseason tournaments. The Creighton offense has been playing spectacularly and the team will feel the loss of Gibbs, but should survive without him, as several players like Jahenns Manigat, Austin Chatman, and Devin Brooks have stepped up their games this year. Each is averaging at least seven points, three rebounds and two assists per game. 
  2. Georgetown center Joshua Smith did not travel with the team to Providence due to academic reasons. The Hoyas ended up getting run out of the gym against a Friars team that started 0-2 in the Big East. The Hoyas had their worst offensive performance of the season, shooting 39.6% from the floor while committing 15 turnovers. This situation looks similar to the suspension Greg Whittington was dealt after the first semester because of grades, and he ended up not playing the rest of the year. Hopefully Smith resolves the academic issue and returns back to the lineup because the Hoyas need his offensive presence down low to open up the floor for Markel Starks and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, who is having a breakout year. 
  3. Doug McDermott is gaining traction as a leading candidate for National Player of the Year honors. With all the early season buzz about the top freshman across the country, McDermott is earning more recognition from the press for his remarkable season. Seth Davis wrote a great piece highlighting him as the top senior and SI.com‘s Brian Hamilton wrote about the star bucking the one-and-done trend to continue to hone his game,  and his relationship with his coach, who is also his father. CBSSPORTS.com‘s Gary Parrish gave Doug a ton of attention this week by looking at whether he will win his first scoring title as well as putting him at the top of his list for NPOY, pointing out the last player to have the numbers he is putting up was Kevin Durant.
  4. The world’s most famous bracketologist, Joe Lunardi, published his latest bracketology yesterday. He has four Big East teams in the field, with Villanova leading the way with a #2 seed. Creighton improved to a six seed and Xavier moved up to an eight seed. Georgetown regressed down to the 10 line after their loss to Providence. Butler was the eighth team out before they lost to DePaul, likely setting them back farther. Creighton and Xavier have impressed and should continue rising if their recent play continues. Seth Davis thinks the league will end up receiving five bids, but the rest of the league’s teams have not been helping their case. As unlikely as it seems now, don’t be surprised if Marquette and Providence make serious runs for berths as both have seemed to turn a corner and have the talent to win big resume boosting games.
  5. Seton Hall solidified their 2014 recruiting class with the addition of Northwestern transfer Chier Ajou. The Sudan native is 7’2″, but failed to see the court often while in Evanston. Ajou has a great story, coming to the United States after being held hostage in his home country. He will be eligible after the first semester next season and joins one of the nations top recruiting classes. The one missing piece for Kevin Willard’s team was at the center position, and he now will have a player in conference play to battle in the post. He has great size and physical tools, and will have the next year to get to know Willard’s system and improve his game. Ajou has the genes as his cousin is Luol Deng, but it will take more than that for him to play big minutes next year.
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Is the Big East Really Only a Three-Bid League Right Now?

Posted by Jameson Fleming on January 9th, 2014

The Big East survived conference realignment to become the No. 3 league in terms of conference RPI and KenPom.com at this point of the season. Despite those lofty rankings, the league really only has three teams that sit comfortably on the right side of the bubble as of today. How is this possible? The short answer is that while it is true that the Big East failed to pick up a bunch of notable wins, it also avoided the awful resume-killing losses which weigh down a league’s RPI rating. As a matter of fact, the Big East has just five losses against teams outside the RPI top 100 teams. Let’s take a look at where all 10 teams stand in terms of NCAA Tournament chances with two months remaining in the regular season. From first to worst:

Jay Wright Has Lost His Magic Touch at Villanova (Photo credit: H. Rumph Jr/AP Photo).

Jay Wright and Villanova has bounced back nicely this season. (AP)

Villanova: 14-1, 3-0 Big East

  • Projected Postseason: Villanova is a lock to make the NCAA Tournament after an 11-1 non-conference run which featured wins against Kansas and Iowa on a neutral court. Right now, the Wildcats project to be a No. 2 seed.
  • Best Case Scenario: Jay Wright’s team gets through Big East play with no more than three losses and wins the Big East Tournament. A record of roughly 26-4 would put Villanova in contention for a N0. 1 seed. The Wildcats would need Syracuse to falter in order to earn the No. 1 seed in the East Regional hosted in New York City.
  • Worst Case Scenario: It turns out Villanova isn’t as good as its non-conference performance suggested. Villanova loses six to eight games in the Big East and winds up a No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

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Big East M5: 01.08.14 Edition

Posted by George Hershey on January 8th, 2014

bigeast_morning5(2)

  1. Only a few days after announcing his departure from the Providence basketball team, Brandon Austin has decided to transfer to Eugene to play for Dana Altman and Oregon. The impact of his loss has already been discussed, but Brendan McGair of the Woonsocket Call takes a look at Ed Cooley‘s burden after Kris Dunn was hurt in an exhibition game and the school’s administration suspended two of his players. He points out that Cooley’s job has gotten much more difficult on his quest to transform Providence back into a basketball power. Now in his third year, Cooley has shown he can recruit at a high level but his teams have failed to win enough games to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament. As if things couldn’t get any worse after a 30-point pasting at Villanova on Sunday, Cooley’s house suffered some damage after catching fire earlier this week. Luckily he and his family were safe.
  2. Villanova picked up its second commitment in the class of 2015 with Delaware shooting guard Donte DiVincenzo choosing the Wildcats over Syracuse. DiVincenzo has good size and will probably play shooting guard for Jay Wright’s squad. He can shoot the ball very well, has great athleticism, and looks like a good passer and facilitator. He is the second highly ranked player coming to Villanova next year, and he appears to be a great fit as someone who will be able to learn from Ryan Arcidiacono as a freshman.
  3. Big East teams are finally gaining some respect from Top 25 voters. Villanova rose three spots to eighth in the latest AP poll while Creighton is now 23rd in the USA Today Coaches Poll. Xavier also received some votes for the first time this season, as the Musketeers have impressed with recent wins over Cincinnati, Butler, Alabama, Wake Forest and St. John’s. Xavier hosts Marquette on Thursday and will travel to Creighton for a big tilt on Sunday. Georgetown could also work its way into the rankings over the next two weeks with upcoming games against Butler and Xavier. Reid Forgrave of FoxSports.com thinks that the Big East will improve come March and that some teams — Creighton, Villanova — are setting themselves up nicely while others — Marquette, Seton Hall, Providence — are digging themselves holes.
  4. Creighton was able to pull out a tough win against DePaul last night, but the bigger news of the night for the Bluejays was the injuries sustained by the team’s two best players. Grant Gibbs came down awkwardly at one point and was unable to make it off the court under his own power because of what looked to be a knee injury. He did not return and the severity of the injury is still unknown, but he is expected to undergo an MRI today. Doug McDermott dealt with a shoulder problem all night after running into the Blue Demons’ Sandi Marcius; the NPOY candidate finished the game and said he was fine afterward, but he was clearly hurting throughout. Losing Gibbs for any period of time would be a huge blow to the Bluejays’ long-term success, as Gibbs as the point guard runs one of the nation’s most efficient offenses. Over the summer, Gibbs received a surprising sixth year of eligibility so losing him would be a tragedy for Greg McDermott’s team. Here’s hoping that Gibbs and McDermott both recover quickly from their respective injuries. 
  5. Seth Davis of Sports Illustrated wrote his annual Stock Report piece, taking a look at 63 teams and deciding whether to buy, sell, or hold each going forward. Davis mentions seven Big East teams in his piece. He is optimistic about all three of the league’s new members — Xavier, Butler and Creighton —  as he rates them all a buy. Davis gives Georgetown a hold as the Hoyas have a tough stretch upcoming, but they have proven capable thus far. He gives three teams a sell, with Villanova leading that group because he thinks they won’t be able to keep up their tremendous play all season. He also is selling Marquette because they have been unable to score effectively, and he thinks St. John’s has been terribly disappointing with its over-reliance on D’Angelo Harrison and several bad losses so far this season. Overall, there were some positive signs for most of the teams and this was a fun read for fans.
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Big East M5: 01.06.14 Edition

Posted by George Hershey on January 6th, 2014

bigeast_morning5(2)

  1. It was a rough weekend for Providence. The Friars took a beating at Villanova on Sunday night after getting news on Saturday that highly-touted freshman Brandon Austin would be transferring from the school. Austin had yet to play a single minute in a Providence uniform because he was suspended before the season (along with fellow freshman Rodney Bullock) for breaking school rules. His departure hurts the Friars’ future prospects considerably, as he was poised to take on a major role next year with the personnel losses of seniors Bryce Cotton and Kadeem Batts. This is on top of the injury to Kris Dunn, which will keep him out for the rest of the season. It is unfortunate that a year that looked so promising has turned into an 0-2 start in conference play with a postseaon berth looking increasingly unlikely.
  2. Last year’s Wisconsin Mr. Basketball, Luke Fischer, a player who decided to attend Indiana over Creighton and Marquette, decided to transfer last week. He took a few days to decide and ultimately picked Marquette over Creighton and Milwaukee as his next destination. Fischer played high school an hour away from Milwaukee and will have the chance to contribute with the Golden Eagles immediately. He will have to sit out until the end of the fall semester, but he will have two -and-a-half seasons upon his return. Anonymous Eagle breaks down the transfer details as well as the scholarship situation for Marquette, which looks like one of the someone will not be making it onto campus next year unless a current player transfers. Paint Touches breaks down the impact and importance of the transfer, as Fischer is expected to fill a big void in the frontcourt with Chris Otule, Davante Gardner and Jamil Wilson graduating.
  3. Seton Hall started Big East play with an overtime win over Providence, but senior leader Eugene Teague looks like he will be out a while dealing with effects from a concussion he suffered a week ago against Lafayette. Teague was still feeling post-concussion symptoms last Thursday, with head coach Kevin Willard saying that he “is going to be out for awhile, that’s just the way it is. He took a really hard fall, and we’re going to be extra cautious and do what’s best for him. Whether its a week, two weeks, three weeks, we just don’t know and we really have to be careful with him and do what’s in his best interest.” The senior is one of the Pirates’ best players and the lack of his presence in the post hurts Seton Hall considerably. Willard has to decide quickly whether he wants to burn freshman Rashed Anthony‘s redshirt to add a big body inside, because it is going to be difficult to play without a center with a very tough stretch against Villanova, Marquette and Georgetown coming up, all in the next two weeks.
  4. Villanova played masterfully against Providence on Sunday but survived a major scare during the blowout victory. Halfway through the second half and with the win already in the bag, Wildcats’ Ryan Arcidiacono and Dylan Ennis ran into each other, leaving the former dazed requiring help to the bench. After being examined by the trainer, he was luckily able to return to action and help the Wildcats finish off the win. Jay Wright assured everyone that “Arch” is just fine. He shot the ball well and hopes to get out of a slump so far this season. After shooting 32 percent from beyond the arc last year, he has slipped to a chilly 25 percent this season. If he can get things going with his jumper, it will be hard for teams to stop the Wildcats as they have a versatile offense that can create points in a number of ways.
  5. Creighton‘s Sports Information Director, Rob Anderson, tweeted out some very interesting stats this weekend as Omaha froze over. Greg McDermott’s program has started 12-2 or 13-1 for the third straight year, and for the fifth time since 2002-03. The only other teams to do that are Syracuse, Missouri, Illinois, Gonzaga and Louisville. To have accomplished strong starts to the season so many times speaks to the consistently high level the team has performed the past decade, joining a number of schools with great basketball history and tradition. Anderson also pointed out how well the Bluejays’ offense performed against San Diego State back in November. Creighton is the only team to score more than 65 points against them this season other than top-ranked Arizona (69), and the Bluejays averaged 1.123 points per possession in that contest. Creighton has climbed the RPI ratings as well, and now sit at 22nd in America. At 2-0 in league play and looking like a team running on all cylinders, the rest of the Big East should be on notice that this team is not going to be intimidated by anything.
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Thanksgiving Weekend Games Will Test Big East Teams

Posted by George Hershey on November 27th, 2013

The week of Thanksgiving features some of the best non-conference games of the season. Most of the Big East teams will face stiff tests over the next few days as they look to bolster their resumes and get ready for conference play. Here is a look at some of the key questions that those teams will look to answer during the second half of Feast Week.

Wooden Legacy

This tournament features two Big East teams, Marquette and Creighton. Each was already scheduled to play in this tournament before Creighton joined the league, so they were placed on opposite sides of the bracket and will not meet each other until the championship game.

McDermott Has Been Superb So Far This Season (AP)

McDermott Has Been Superb So Far This Season (AP)

Creighton will open against Arizona State on Thursday in its first game against a ranked opponent this season. That game will be a challenge for the Bluejays as the Sun Devils will have an advantage athletically and have a superstar player in Jahii Carson who can go toe to toe against Doug McDermott. Creighton will be tested by Arizona State’s size, speed, and confidence after beating Marquette and UNLV. The key question Creighton will have to answer is whether players other than McDermott can step up against arguably more talented teams. McDermott has proven his ability to score against anybody, but the rest of the team will have to supplement his play with outside shooting and great defense. The Bluejays will then face either Charleston or, more likely, San Diego State, and if they win both games, will probably see Marquette on Sunday. A win against Arizona State and a run in this tournament would give Creighton a lot of confidence going forward.

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Big East Twitter Must Follows

Posted by George Hershey on November 11th, 2013

The college basketball season has begun and Big East teams are ready to battle it out for another exciting season. Here at the RTC Big East microsite, we attempt to get to all the news in the league, but with 10 teams and so much going on, it’s impossible to report and analyze everything. Here is a list of relevant websites and Twitter follows that will keep Big East fans up to date on all the happenings on the Big East this season.

big east conf teams

Big East

Marquette Golden Eagles

Bloggers,Beat Writers & Fan Sites

Georgetown Hoyas

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Breaking Down Dan Hanner’s Big East Projections

Posted by George Hershey on October 28th, 2013

Economist and college hoops writer Dan Hanner posted  his annual projections for ESPN Insider on Friday. It is a very interesting article and a recommended read for any college basketball stats junkie. He puts a unique spin on his projections by starting at the player level instead of the team level. The advantage, as he puts it, “is that not all additions have the same impact everywhere. For example, transfer Trae Golden is expected to have a huge impact on Georgia Tech because the Yellow Jackets had a big hole at PG. But if he had been added to a team like Duke, with multiple quality ball-handlers, his impact would have been much smaller. The player-level model can account for these kind of differences.” His rankings take into account player upside as well as downside and he gives a best-case and worst-case position for each team.

Grant Gibbs and Creighton need to shore up their defense to reach their full potential this season.

Grant Gibbs and Creighton need to shore up their defense to reach their full potential this season.

The Big East is well-considered by Hanner. The league’s 10-team average is 53.9, slightly behind the Big Ten at 49.2 and well ahead of the AAC at 79.9. Last year’s Big East would have scored considerably higher with Louisville in the second spot as well as Syracuse and Connecticut in the top 25. This year, the Big East does not have as many teams at the top with Marquette leading the way at #17, but there is great balance with DePaul the only team lower than #100. It does not look like any teams will be battling for #1 seeds this season, but there could be seven or eight squads fighting for spots in the NCAA Tournament come February and March.

The following are the 10 Big East teams in descending order:

  • POFF - Projected offense, median prediction for points scored per 100 possessions
  • PDEF - Projected defense, median prediction for points allowed per 100 possessions

1. Marquette Golden Eagles

17. POFF: 116.1 | PDEF: 92.5 Best case: 7th | Worst case: 29th

Hanner ranks the Golden Eagles in the same spot as the USA Today poll. Buzz Williams’ squad is ranked highly in both offense and defense, but neither is extraordinarily high. For Marquette to reach its best case scenario, they would need their three new starting guards to come close to last year’s production from the trio of Junior Cadougan, Vander Blue and Trent Lockett, a very difficult task. The frontcourt returns everyone, but Jamil Wilson and Davante Gardner will have to become the go-to scorers and also rebound well while Chris Otule locks down the paint defensively. With Williams’ track record, it seems unlikely that his team would drop out of the top 25 unless the guards are unable to step up and contribute at a high level.

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Big East Morning Five: 02.06.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on February 6th, 2012

  1. The Nerlens Noel watch is on.  After Noel reclassified to the Class of 2012 last week and disclosed a list of seven schools (Syracuse, Connecticut, Providence, Kentucky, Florida, Georgetown and North Carolina), all eyes have been on the 6’10” center who is now the number one player in his class.  CBSSports.com’s Jeff Goodman tweeted last night that Noel will visit Providence this week, Syracuse next weekend, and Kentucky on February 17. Noel made an appearance at the Dunkin Donuts Center yesterday for Providence’s overtime loss against West Virginia, sitting behind the Providence bench next to Friar signee Kris Dunn, transfer Sidiki Johnson, and Kiwi Gardner, who was slated to suit up for Providence this year but was ruled academically ineligible due to a high school transcript issue.  Noel was in town for the National Prep School Invitational which was being held about a ten minute drive away at Rhode Island College.
  2. Just a few short weeks ago Seton Hall enjoyed its first national ranking in 11 years and had its eyes on an NCAA Tournament bid.  Flash forward and the Pirates have lost six straight losses and are now reeling. To add injury to insult Seton Hall found out before Saturday’s game (ultimately a 69-46 loss) to Connecticut that they would have to take on the Huskies without star big man Herb Pope.  Pope (15.9 PPG, 10.2 RPG) suffered bruised ribs in last Tuesday’s loss to Marquette and did not travel with the team to Connecticut.  Pope had not played his best basketball of the season in the five losses leading up to the injury (10.6 PPG, 8.2 RPG during that span), but the Pirates can ill-afford to be without him for very long if they hope to get their season back on track.  Seton Hall next heads to Piscataway on Wednesday for a road battle with in-state rival Rutgers.
  3. Notre Dame jack-of-all-trades point guard Eric Atkins was at his best again Saturday in the Fighting Irish’s systematic dismantling of a talented Marquette team at home. Freshman Pat Connaughton (23 points, 11 rebounds) might have had the best statistical game, but Atkins (18 points, five assists, four rebounds in a team-leading 39 minutes) was right behind him and probably played a more important role. He is easily the team’s most consistent offensive weapon and his decision-making and ball-handling have improved as the season has progressed. He is one of the main reasons the Fighting Irish are staring directly at an NCAA Tournament berth.
  4. Another man who deserves a tip of the cap for Saturday is much-maligned Connecticut center Alex Oriakhi. First — albeit against a Seton Hall team playing without Pope — Oriakhi matched a season-high in minutes with 28 and chipped in 10 points and eight rebounds as the Huskies got off the schneid. Then, he delivered this quote, which if true, could signal that the team and player still have a lot of fight left in them. Granted the remark came after he received plenty of playing time, but Oriakhi has been disappointing this season and he can still help salvage his year and his reputation by playing well down the stretch. UConn still have plenty of time to turn things around, and Oriakhi setting a new tone (especially for as long as Jim Calhoun is off the sideline) would certainly help.
  5. You think Tray Woodall has been important to Pittsburgh this season? There is no way he is a better conference MVP candidate than Kevin Jones, but he is in the discussion. Yesterday he went off for a career-high 29 points as the Panthers won their fourth-straight game over Villanova. His team is now 10-3 when Woodall is in the lineup and they are picking up steam at just the right time. To add to the good news, his return seems like it has relieved some pressure from the shoulders of Ashton Gibbs, who looked much more comfortable Sunday and scored 25 points to prove it. The Wildcats aren’t an elite opponent, especially not this season, but at this rate, each and every win should feel good for Pitt.
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