Morning Five: 09.05.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on September 5th, 2013

morning5

  1. Wednesday was a day of moves — some planned, others not — as we slowly but assuredly inch our way to the start of season practice at the end of the month. The biggest news, of course, was that former Missouri guard Michael Dixon had been cleared by the NCAA to play at Memphis this upcoming season. Dixon was dismissed from Missouri last fall after a pair of unrelated sexual assault allegations (no charges were ever filed against him), leaving the former Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year something of a free agent last season. Perhaps using the Dez Wells/Xavier incident as a related precedent, the NCAA decided to allow Dixon to play without sitting out the mandated transfer year, a good call considering that would have represented a 32-month layoff for the senior. His addition to a Memphis backcourt of Joe Jackson, Chris Crawford and Geron Johnson makes Josh Pastner’s group one of the most talented in America — the key question is whether there will be enough basketballs to go around. In Dixon’s final year in Columbia, he accounted for nearly a quarter of the available shots while he was on the floor, while the returning Memphis trio also likes to chuck in the 19-22 percent range. Still, there’s plenty of reason for Memphis players and fans to be excited now, as Johnson tweeted a picture of the “4Kings” soon after the news was released yesterday — Dixon is a player who can mean the difference between a Sweet Sixteen and a Final Four.
  2. Another player on the move is former Louisville, FIU and Minnesota (albeit ever so briefly) forward, Rakeem Buckles. According to ESPN.com‘s Jeff Goodman, Buckles was back on campus at FIU last week and plans on spending his final year of eligibility playing for the school where he sat out last season. He had originally intended to transfer for a second time to Richard Pitino’s club after FIU was put in APR jail (hey, Isiah), but the NCAA rejected his waiver request leaving him with few other viable options. Buckles has been a case study in hard luck over his career, suffering two ACL injuries at Louisville that never allowed him to find much momentum there, followed by a transfer to a school where he now has no shot at sniffing the NCAA Tournament. At a minimum, we hope that he has an injury-free 2013-14 season with the dangling carrot of a possible pro career awaiting him somewhere overseas.
  3. So about those transfers… Luke Winn from Sports Illustrated has been quiet lately, but now that we can see the finish line of the offseason, expect a lot of great new stuff from him. On Tuesday he published his second annual look at the phenomenon of up-transferring, the growing tendency of good players at small programs to transfer to bigger programs to finish out their careers (especially in the case of those using the graduate transfer exception). What he finds is that the trend that appears to have taken off during the last offseason has continued on its upward trajectory. A total of 30 up-transfers are at bigger programs heading into this season (with three others awaiting NCAA decisions), a slight increase over last year, with notable new talent at national contenders such as Florida, Duke, Kansas, Arizona and several others. Oregon by itself is hoping to have as many as three up-transfers in its lineup, one year after former transfers Arsalan Kazemi (Rice) and Tony Woods (Wake Forest) led the Ducks to the Sweet Sixteen. Winn digs into some of the theories and reasoning behind why this trend continues to grow, and as always, you’ll enjoy the thoughtful analysis that he puts forth.
  4. Rivals.com released its post-summer Top 150 of prep basketball prospects yesterday, and there were few surprises as Chicago’s Jahlil Okafor remained firmly planted at the top of the list. Emmanuel Mudiay, the most heralded recruit that Larry Brown has wooed since Danny and Ed Manning came to Lawrence, Kansas, has moved into the #2 overall position. The rest of the top 10 at this point only bears one other committed player, North Carolina’s Justin Jackson at the #10 slot, but as we know that will begin to change in earnest as we head into the official visit period and look forward to the November signing day. Speaking of package deals — the Mannings were of the most epic variety — Adam Zagoria from Zagsblog.com breaks down the likelihood that any of the rumored deals in this year’s senior class will actually attend school together next season. The most likely scenario remains the longest-running one, which is that Okafor and Minneapolis’ Tyus Jones will end up in the same place next year — most likely at Duke. While getting two top five players in the same class has become de riguer at Kentucky under John Calipari, it’s still nearly unprecedented elsewhere. So if Coach K pulls off this coupling of elite hoops talent at the ripe age of 66, it will prove perhaps once again that as long as Krzyzewski is still involved in this game, Duke isn’t going anywhere.
  5. Winn’s partner at SI.com, Andy Glockner, was also active this week. The resident master at crowd-sourcing his Twitter followers to develop interesting column ideas, he sought to answer the question of which of the major conferences was most likely to produce the 2013-14 national champion? Given that this isn’t the BCS and there’s a wider variety of talent diffused throughout more leagues in college basketball, Glockner writes that there was “absolutely zero consensus” to the answers (we’d have to imagine that “SEC” would carry three-quarters or more of the vote in college football). Breaking down the component parts of each conference viewed through the “title or bust” analysis, he ultimately settles on the Big Ten, SEC and ACC as the three leagues with the strongest possibilities. We’d have to agree — each of those conferences has at least two teams with national championship talent, and although coaching, seeding, injuries and a lot of luck has to do with who ends on on the crown in April, you’d want to hedge your bets as much as possible with teams carrying the most future pros.
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Morning Five: 08.29.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on August 29th, 2013

morning5

  1. It’s not very often that a piece of random news floors us, but the revelation that former Washington State, Iowa and USC head coach George Raveling has in his possession a copy of one of Martin Luther King’s original “I Have a Dream” speeches is nothing short of astonishing. CBS News reported on Tuesday that the 76-year old coach and media personality — then an assistant coach at Villanova — was one of the volunteer security marshals standing on the Mall near King 50 years ago when he delivered his rousing speech, and that King handed him a copy of it as he stepped off the podium. One expert on genuine historical documents estimated that Raveling’s copy could be worth as much as $20-25 million on the open market, given that King’s most famous speech was given at the height of the civil rights movement. It is sometimes so beautifully strange how life intersects with itself.
  2. And on that note, we move to eligibility issues. The NCAA ruled Wednesday on the case of former Louisville and Florida International forward Rakeem Buckles, a fifth-year senior who had applied for a transfer waiver (based on FIU’s postseason ban) to play at Minnesota this season. If his appeal is denied, Buckles will be forced into a precarious situation where if he stays at Minnesota he risks gambling that the NCAA will allow him a sixth year of eligibility in 2014-15 (no slam dunk), or he will have to return to FIU this season to play in a no-win situation there. For Minnesota, a team facing a significant rebuilding project inside after losing most of its frontcourt talent, Buckles was expected to help man the interior for new head coach Richard Pitino. Now all he can do is cross his fingers and hope for the best.
  3. We mentioned the Lindy’s top 10 rankings in yesterday’s M5, and that created a bit of a firestorm on Twitter as a result. But the truth is that in today’s college basketball environment there are no teams in any year that don’t come in with weaknesses. The most experienced teams are short on talent; and the most talented teams are short on experience. As a result, your preseason top 10 might look a good bit different than ours, and even splitting the difference, there’s a better than reasonable chance that both of us will be completely wrong. The Sporting News yesterday released its 16 regional magazine covers, in the process also unveiling its preseason top 10, and needless to say, there were fewer surprises than with Lindy’s. Mike DeCourcy took time to break down each team’s glaring weakness, and as we’ve said before, even using the dreaded slideshow format, he gives great analysis that makes it worth the click-throughs. Although we’re still not sold on North Carolina, fellas, just for the record.
  4. One of the teams we do believe in next season is Duke, and it goes without saying that Mike Krzyzewski will mold his personnel into a tightly-knit unit that maximizes the talent it can put on the floor. One of K’s all-time great point guards — and there have been several — was Bobby Hurley, and as the standard by which most of the others are measured, he is about to begin his first season as a Division I head coach at the University of Buffalo. ESPN.com‘s Dana O’Neil writes that Hurley the head coach is truthfully in no hurry to get his young charges started on their first season with him at the helm — in fact, he wants as much time as possible to set goals and expectations. Of course, there’s no telling whether the superb floor game and team leadership that Hurley possessed in spades at Duke can effectively translate to players two decades later who have barely heard of him, but if there’s any of the brand-new coaches we’d be willing on betting on, it would probably be this one. The guy has always been a winner.
  5. Where is Canada? We feel like there’s a South Park reference in that question somewhere, but that didn’t stop Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker from doing an ad lib Jaywalking-style Q&A with his teammates about all things above the border. It’s more cute than clever, but we will give it up for the #goodjobgoodeffort of somehow bringing Ryan Gosling into the mix.  But that’s enough from us, enjoy your Thursday, the starting date of the college football season, and feel free to start it off with the video.

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Tipping Off The Big East Countdown: #1 Louisville

Posted by mlemaire on November 11th, 2012

It is truly a testament to the coaching ability of Rick Pitino that last season’s offensively challenged Louisville team made the Final Four after finishing the regular season seventh in the conference. The Cardinals had trouble scoring and dealt with a rash of injuries all season, and yet when most of the dust had cleared, there was Pitino and his team, scrapping with an overpowering Kentucky team in the Final Four. In the end, Kentucky was too much, but now the roles have reversed. The team in Lexington has a lot of questions to answer, while the team in Louisville returns four of its top six scorers, including the reigning conference defensive player of the year and one of the favorites for this season’s conference player of the year. Assuming some of the team’s underclassmen progress as expected and most of the team can stay healthy, there are very few squads in the country who can match the Cardinals’ combination of talent and depth. Now it will be up to Pitino and his staff to put all the pieces together. There are still plenty of questions about where the offense will come from and the roster’s one weakness may be its lack of an accomplished outside shooter. But the Cardinals’ defense was the most efficient in the country last season and it should be almost as good if not better this season. Anything less than a return trip to the Final Four will probably be viewed as a disappointment, especially if that team in Lexington makes it back instead.

2011-12 Record: 30-10, 10-8

2011-12 Postseason: NCAA Tournament Final Four, lost to Kentucky 69-61.

Rick Pitino Has Louisville Poised To Make A Repeat Run To The Final Four

Schedule: Just a quick glance at the Cardinals’ non-conference slate should make it plainly obvious that Louisville will have little trouble with the opposition in the early part of the season. A December trip to Memphis and the home bout with Kentucky right before the New Year represent what should be the only two challenging non-conference opponents Louisville will face. As for the conference schedule, aside from a four-game stretch in the middle of January where a home date with Syracuse is sandwiched between road games at Connecticut and Villanova and then Georgetown, the rest of the conference slate should be manageable for a team as experienced, deep, and physical as the Cardinals.

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Big East Summer Capsules: Louisville Cardinals

Posted by mlemaire on August 1st, 2012

While most relish the onset of Summer, college basketball junkies do not. Most of the news surrounding the sport is recruiting rumors and commitments or injuries and transfer news. In order to help keep folks up-to-date on what their teams are doing during the summer, we put together these summer capsules for each team in the conference. Next up is Louisville.

1. The rotating door was busy this summer, and some folks don’t like it.

Is Pitino Running Lesser Players Out Of Town To Make Room For New Ones?

Cardinals coach Rick Pitino is no stranger to controversy and criticism, and this summer was no different as a multitude of injury-laden reserves left the program raising concerns about Pitino’s roster management strategy and questions about whether he is cutting ties with less important players to make room for new ones. Before the end of last season news broke that reserve forward Jared Swopshire would transfer so he could play right away in his final collegiate season. Then, just two days after highly touted recruit Montrezl Harrell signed with the Cardinals and people began to wonder where the extra scholarship would come from, backup and injury-prone big man Stephan Van Treese announced he was leaving also only to reverse course later that month. That reversal came just a week after another injury-prone reserve, Rakeem Buckles, announced he would transfer to Florida International, once again freeing up a scholarship that Van Treese happily took back.  There is absolutely no evidence that Pitino forced any of these players out and it’s entirely possible these players saw the writing on the wall and transferred to a place where they could find more playing time. But perception is also a big deal, and if recruits perceive that Pitino is jettisoning lesser talents to make room for younger players, it will certainly make them think twice before they sign on with Louisville.

2. Just how good can Louisville’s frontcourt become?

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Morning Five: 06.22.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on June 22nd, 2012

  1. Last night marked the end of another season of basketball as the NBA crowned its newest champion, the Miami Heat, and we now head into a four-month dry spell without competitive hoops (the Summer Olympics next month will provide a brief respite). While the evening definitely belonged to LeBron James’ coronation as one of the all-time greats, a pair of his role player teammates joined the short list of players to have won both a national title in college as well as a world title in the NBA. With the Heat’s victory, Kansas’ Mario Chalmers (2008) and Duke’s Shane Battier (2001) have now pulled off the twin feat, increasing the the total number of NBA champs with at least one NCAA champion in its regular rotation to an astonishing 71 percent. Battier in particular has long been considered a more valuable player than his numbers might suggest, but it’s no great secret to suggest that winning players tend to find their ways onto winning teams. Congratulations to Battier, Chalmers, James and the rest of the Miami Heat for their 2012 world championship.
  2. While on the subject of the NBA, it appears that ESPN analyst Jalen Roseis set to become the Gameday replacement for Hubert Davis next season. We’ve said this before, but the metamorphosis of Rose from Fab Five hothead to a solid ESPN analyst is nothing short of phenomenal. Unlike Davis and most of the Gameday crew, Rose isn’t afraid to mix it up a bit — Digger Phelps taking ridiculous positions for the sake of comedy notwithstanding — and could serve to enliven a group that has a tendency to act non-confrontational. From the same article, TBL suggests that former Virginia Tech head coach Seth Greenberg will become a college basketball analyst on the WWL next season as well, with an eye toward replacing Phelps when he finally decides to retire.
  3. We expect to have another post on this topic up later today, but Matt Norlander at CBSSports.com writes that the APR rule which will keep 10 programs out of the postseason in 2012-13 could have a significant deleterious effect on the future of the game if schools don’t take it seriously. The key point is that as many as 60 schools could have been kept out of next year’s postseason if the APR floor of 930 was already in effect (as it will be in 2015). Some of those schools include names like Oklahoma State, Providence, Oregon, Auburn, Arkansas and LSU, and while none of those carry the cachet of Connecticut, the reality of it suggests that a one- or two-year drop in significant academic performance could in fact knock big-time programs such as UCLA or Michigan State out of the NCAA Tournament in some future year. The NCAA has already shown through its refusal of UConn’s appeal that it has no interest in providing exceptions, so this is something everyone involved with college basketball at the ground level will have to carefully monitor.
  4. Louisville announced on Thursday that former rising star forward Rakeem Buckleswill transfer to play for Rick Pitino’s son, Richard, at FIU for his final season. The hard-luck player has suffered a conga line of injuries after a promising freshman year in 2009-10 that ended with him going for 20/9 in an NCAA Tournament loss to California. His sophomore and junior seasons were both cut short by ACL injuries, and he is expected to miss the entire 2012-13 season recovering from his latest ligament tear. Louisville appears to be loaded at his position going into the next two seasons, so we’re sure that Buckles viewed this transfer as an opportunity to head closer to home and find some playing time in a comfortable situation to finish his career.
  5. In clearly one of the great disappointments of this offseason, West Virginia’s hirsute Deniz Kiliclihas decided to shave off his trademark mountain man beard. Citing the summer heat in Morgantown as the primary reason for his shearing, we hope that he allows for plenty of time to bring it back next fall. Right around October 15 is fine with us. Only 112 days now…

A Beardless Kilicli: The Horror, The Horror…

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Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 23rd, 2012

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

Reader’s Take

The Week That Was
  • Number One Goes Down:  For the seventh time, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish took down a top-ranked team in the Joyce Center, knocking off Syracuse 67-58. Despite all of that prior success, the Irish hadn’t beaten a #1 team at home in 25 years. That didn’t matter on Saturday night. Taking advantage of Fab Melo’s absence, Notre Dame slowed the pace and worked the ball inside, scoring in the paint or kicking it out to an open shooter on the wing. Notre Dame shot 50% for the game and limited the Orange to 34%. Using a +13 edge on the glass, Notre Dame was able to control the tempo and prevent Syracuse from getting out in transition where it is so lethal. I have to say I was surprised. Looking at Syracuse’s schedule last week, I thought the Orange could run the table. They had played better than any team in the nation on a consistent basis but drove into a buzzsaw on Saturday. Even if Melo had played, I’m not sure it would have made a major difference.
  • South Florida On A Roll: It seems as if nobody has noticed, but South Florida is 5-2 in the Big East after a 2-0 week with wins over St. John’s and DePaul. USF has won on the road at improving Villanova and also took down Seton Hall at home when the Pirates were ranked. The Bulls also beat Rutgers, one game after the Scarlet Knights beat Florida. How has USF done it? Jawanza Poland has played very well since returning from a back injury and Stan Heath is getting timely contributions from guys like Victor Rudd and Ron Anderson Jr. However, the two main reasons for USF’s success are point guard play and defense. Freshman Anthony Collins has been fantastic at the point, averaging 5.3 APG in Big East play to go with a #28 national ranking in assist rate. Although he’s turning the ball over a bit too much, Collins has given the Bulls a huge boost at the most important position in college basketball after years of bad guard play in Tampa. On the defensive end, South Florida’s opponents average only 57.6 PPG, tops in the Big East. With a combination of defense, good rebounding and timely scoring, USF is starting to make some noise in the crowded middle of the Big East.

Pat Connaughton Celebrated With Fans After The Irish Stung The Top-Ranked Orange. (Matt Cashore/U.S. Presswire)

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (20-1, 7-1) – The Orange remain the best team by far in the Big East and I still think they are the best team in the nation even after losing at Notre Dame. Nothing went right for the Orange against the Fighting Irish. The Orange were out-shot 50% to 34%, out-rebounded by 13, and couldn’t string stops together when they were trying to get back in the game.  Should we have seen this coming? The cracks in the foundation appeared in a closer-than-expected win over Pittsburgh last Monday. The Panthers probed the Syracuse zone fairly well, getting to the free throw line area and making good interior passes. Fab Melo had 10 points, 10 rebounds, and six blocks in that game, but didn’t play in South Bend due to a mysterious academic issue. Pitt out-rebounded Syracuse 38-24, meaning the Orange were minus-27 on the glass for the week. Syracuse ranks #320 in defensive rebounding percentage, an issue that needs to be addressed immediately by Jim Boeheim, with or without Melo. Syracuse is struggling from three point land as well, tenth in three-point percentage in Big East games (31.9%). Scoop Jardine had 12 points and ten assists against the Panthers, but didn’t make a field goal (0-5) against Notre Dame. A tougher than expected week is ahead. Could the Orange lose again after winning 20 games in a row? This week: 1/23 @ Cincinnati, 1/28 vs. West Virginia. Read the rest of this entry »
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Morning Five: 01.18.12 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 18th, 2012

  1. There was quite a bit of news on the injury front yesterday. Louisville‘s Rakeem Buckles may have garnered the biggest headlines nationally as he appears to have one-upped Robbie Hummel as the most injury-ridden player in high-major college basketball. Just a few months after coming back from a torn ACL in his right knee that kept him out for nine months, Buckles tore the ACL in his left knee and is expected to be out the rest of this season and next season. (Yes, next season too.) For a team that has already been decimated by injuries, the loss of Buckles again and to such a significant injury must be a crushing blow. Rick Pitino will have his work cut out for him keeping this team together and getting anywhere near preseason expectations.
  2. Coming to Memphis as a McDonald’s All-American Adonis Thomas was saddled with significant expectations some of which he brought upon himself by pulling stunts like using a national television broadcast to announce his final list of schools. Now it appears his freshman campaign will come to a premature close due to an ankle injury as he will undergo what is expected to be season-ending surgery on his left ankle. Thomas, who was one of the most athletic freshmen in the country, has been erratic at times this season, but is still the team’s third leading scorer at 9.7 points per game and provided them with a versatile all-court weapon that they may miss as the season progresses.
  3. Buckles and Thomas may be bigger names, but the season-ending injury to Jenniro Bush due to a ruptured Achilles tendon will have a bigger impact on his team than that of the other two players. Bush, who leads Jackson State in scoring at 15.5 points per game, was the SWAC preseason player of the year. While the Tigers have struggled this year (4-14 overall and 2-4 in the SWAC), Bush has still managed to put up solid numbers albeit on high-volume shooting on a team where only two other players average more than five points per game. With Bush out, the Tigers, who would have been a long shot even with him, are all but eliminated from contention for the conference’s automatic bid.
  4. The Wooden Award announced its list of 25 midseason candidates yesterday. We are assuming that the GPA requirement did not knock out any candidates and even if it did the list actually appears to be pretty solid to us. You can argue that a few other players like Michael Glover should have been included, but it would be a little bit too much to expect them to have two Iona players on the list of 25 finalists, and we would have expected Tu Holloway to be on there a few weeks ago before that little incident in Cincinnati. Other than that we have to give them credit for including four players from high-major conferences not counting UNLV and Memphis who are really high-major programs playing in weaker conferences.
  5. Yesterday we provided you with a link to the methodology behind the Value Added statistic that Basketball Prospectus was going to unveil and as promised today we have their version of a Value Added statistic. As Drew Cannon notes this year’s results look “insane”. While some of you are going to immediately dismiss this statistic (and we were too when we first saw this year’s list), it is worth remembering that it is early in the season and sometimes you might need to tweak the formula a little bit. Cannon discusses the results a little bit and tries to rationalize them, but for now we will keep an eye on this and see how the rankings evolve as the season progresses.
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Big East Morning Five: 01.17.12 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on January 17th, 2012

  1. In this week’s edition of his usual “Hoops Thoughts” column, Sports Illustrated‘s Seth Davis took a look at who hurt themselves and who helped themselves with their non-conference schedules. The Big East representatives were West Virginia, Cincinnati, and St. John’s. The Mountaineers resume will look nice thanks to non-conference wins over Kansas State, Miami, Oral Roberts, and Missouri State. The Bearcats and Red Storm haven’t done themselves any favors and rank 304th and 161st nationally in strength of schedule. Mick Cronin‘s club in particular will have their non-conference schedule scrutinized as they are the more likely bubble team at this juncture and still sport embarrassing non-conference losses to Presbyterian and Marshall…AT HOME.
  2. There is little doubt that Louisville has been dealt its fair share of adversity this season, especially when it comes to injuries. Yesterday was no exception as the Cardinals not only lost a crucial road game against Marquette without leading scorer Kyle Kuric, but they also may have lost forward Rakeem Buckles who left the game after injuring his left knee and did not return. If you recall, Buckles missed all of last season and part of this one while recovering from a torn ACL in his right knee and now CBS Sports is reporting yesterday’s injury as a hyper-extension. It is especially unfortunate because Buckles finally seemed to be contributing meaningful minutes and rebounding and now he goes back on the shelf for a yet-to-be-determined amount of time. The Cardinals better get their roster and their offense sorted out soon because their slide is starting to put them squarely on the bubble.
  3. Improper benefits are hardly an uncommon occurrence in the shady world of college basketball recruiting, but the fact that Connecticut freshman Ryan Boatright is being held out of games for the second time this season while the NCAA re-investigates claims of improper benefits is strange to behold. Things got stranger recently with rumors that the NCAA tipster is actually a jealous ex-boyfriend of Boatright’s mother, Tanesha. The NCAA isn’t about to start confirming or denying gossip surrounding an ongoing investigation, but if this is true, it is sad that Boatright’s career is on hold because of a jilted former flame that has very little to do with him or his season with the Huskies. The story is important for two reasons. One, UConn needs Boatright to continue developing and playing crucial minutes if they are going to have a chance at repeating. And two, Boatright has shown that he has a bright future playing basketball, and it would be unfortunate to see that future even temporarily derailed over petty jealousy.
  4. Nice story from Asbury Park Press reporter Josh Newman about highly touted Pittsburgh signee and New Zealand native Steven Adams. After watching Khem Birch decide to leave school before the end of his first season, Panthers’ coach Jamie Dixon desperately needs Adams to get to campus, stay on campus, and become an instant contributor in the frontcourt. Adams has been lighting it up recently, including 23 points and 13 rebounds in Saturday’s win over Nerlens Noel and the Tilton (N.H.) School at the Springfield Hoophall Classic. The one thing I did find particularly interesting was that Newman posed the question of how Adams ended up signing at Pittsburgh without mentioning the fact that Birch also went to Notre Dame Prep. Make no mistake, Adams and Birch are different recruits, but there are enough similarities to point them out in this type of article. In Dixon and the Panthers’ case, they are hoping the similarities end at the two recruits’ alma mater.
  5. One day before Syracuse advanced to 20-0, their best start in school history, the good folks at Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician penned an interesting take on why Syracuse fans are always so miffed about the lack of national respect for their team. Let’s clarify, there are plenty of pundits and knowledgable basketball folks who are still willing to poke holes in the Orange’s flawless resume, and that makes Syracuse fans ticked off. The point of the post is that this year’s team is not the same as last year’s team that started 19-0, and that just because the statistics don’t necessarily back up the Orange’s lofty ranking, that doesn’t mean they don’t belong there. The post is an in-depth and interesting read, and for the record, I agree with the point that this year’s Syracuse team deserves more credit for their showing thus far. There is no way you can leave this team out of the “Best In The Country” discussion.
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Set Your TiVo: 12.16.11 to 12.18.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 16th, 2011

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

With Dead Week mercifully over, we finally have some good games to enjoy this Saturday despite Sunday being a very slow day in the hoops world.

#6 Baylor @ BYU – 2:00 PM EST Saturday on BYU TV (****)

Perry Jones Leads Baylor into Provo Saturday (AP)

  • The Bears have had difficulty on the road in past seasons but they already passed one important test, demolishing Northwestern in Chicago a couple weeks ago. This game, however, will be an even better measure to see where the highly-rated Bears are really at. The Marriott Center is a notoriously difficult place to play but Baylor has a clear talent edge in this game. BU welcomes Gary Franklin, now eligible after the first semester, to an already highly skilled roster. Franklin didn’t play all that well at California last season but he was a four star recruit out of high school. He should help the Bears out at the point guard position, a place where turnovers are still an issue. Baylor averages 16 turnovers a game and that will be dangerous playing on the road against a team like BYU that likes to push the pace. 5.8 of those 16 turnovers come from the point guard position so Scott Drew is hoping that Franklin can help handle the ball. How Franklin will fit in alongside Pierre Jackson and A.J. Walton remains a question mark.
  • BYU’s top six scorers are all 6’5” or taller, an important factor against the length and athleticism of Baylor’s front line. Noah Hartsock, Brandon Davies and Charles Abouo do the bulk of the damage for Dave Rose, as those three are his top scorers and rebounders. Hartsock in particular has been outstanding, scoring in double figures in every game thus far. All three will have to play well in order for BYU to pull the upset because Baylor’s front court is strong, deep and talented. With Quincy Acy blocking 3.3 shots a game, BYU’s big men should find it more difficult to score inside on Saturday. The Cougars have to get their outside game going as well. Baylor’s defense is very average against the three and BYU has three big deep threats, Abouo, Stephen Rogers and Brock Zylstra. Going up against the top-ranked interior defense in the nation, BYU needs its outside shots to fall in order to win. However, the Cougars can’t afford to settle for threes if they aren’t falling. They must get something going in the paint, even against such a strong defense, in order to balance out their offense.
  • This is an important game for both clubs. Baylor has played only two teams of note so far while BYU’s best win is over a mediocre Oregon team. Baylor shoots well (49.1% FG) but the biggest difference this season has been its defense. The Bears allow only 33.3% shooting inside the arc and their defensive efficiency has been terrific. Both teams get most of their offense from their respective front courts but Baylor may have the ultimate edge with Cory Jefferson off the bench. He adds some scoring punch and, more importantly, rebounding and depth for the Bears. For the Cougars to win, they’ll have to force turnovers to get points in transition because it’ll be awfully tough to score inside in the half court. In addition to making its threes, BYU must rebound well and get to the line while putting the Baylor big men in foul trouble. However, BYU ranks #295 in free throw rate and Baylor doesn’t foul too often. Although BYU rarely loses at home, this is a game Baylor can win. There are some who still doubt the Bears but a win here would put them on their way towards legitimate national recognition.

Texas A&M vs. #10 Florida (at Sunrise, FL) – 2:30 PM EST Saturday on FSN (***)

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Big East Morning Five: 12.07.11 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on December 7th, 2011

  1. Maybe I am the only one, but I love it when Rick Pitino speaks about conference realignment and he was at it again today thanks to news that the Big East will add five new schools. Pitino didn’t hide his appreciation for Big East commisioner John Marinatto when he heard the good news. According to ESPN, the conference is set to announce the addition of Boise State and San Diego State as football-only schools. Houston,  Southern Methodist, and Central Florida will join in all sports. It was telling that even Pitino recognized that this is a move for football purposes first and foremost, but that doesn’t mean the basketball implications aren’t just as compelling. We will have lengthier pieces on each team later, so we won’t dwell on it in this space, but the conference definitely got a lot more interesting.
  2. It’s not always easy to dig up good stories for the Morning Five, as finding something beyond the game recap means scouring local newspapers and team-centric blogs, no matter how obscure. Luckily the head honchos here at RTC have got love for their microsites and now we have our own crack research team, what self-respecting college basketball blog doesn’t. Okay so our “team” is really just Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey), but Walker made a pretty big first impression, lacing us with three good stories we probably would have missed. The first is out of Cincinnati where coach Mick Cronin is making practice more competitive to make sure his team stays focused and plays for 40 minutes. The Bearcats erased a nine-point deficit entering the second half last Friday to beat Georgia, and they have not looked sharp yet this season. Cronin’s club better be ready to play 40 minutes soon, because they head to undefeated Xavier Saturday for the Crosstown Shootout and that is not a place you can start slow and expect to catch up.
  3. Perhaps my second favorite reading subject is Rick Pitino talking about injuries. Walker also dished us this story and it seems everyone at Louisville is likely holding their breath because Pitino announced today the team is supposed to get another big man back. Junior forward Rakeem Buckles hasn’t played since he tore his right ACL last February, but he is scheduled to play anywhere from “10-14″ minutes tonight against IUPUI. Buckles is a good rebounder and apparently an improved shooter who has the chance to be a big-time contributor. But let’s not get too excited just yet. Nine months is a long time away from live basketball and recently torn ligaments are fragile so his playing time will be limited early.
  4. Kudos once more to Walker for this excellent story — and an even better photo — about Connecticut guard Ryan Boatright. The story is quick to note that Florida State and Arkansas are only two games against scuffling opponents, but it is hard to argue with 23 points, five rebounds, six assists, and two steals against a Mike Anderson-coached Razorbacks’ team that loves to force turnovers. Boatright makes for good TV but he also is going to be instrumental for the Huskies the rest of the way. Not only does his presence allow Shabazz Napier not to have to shoulder the point guard duties by himself, but Boatright is going to be a contributor on both ends and a quick learner, obviously. Alex Oriakhi has stolen a lot of the UConn attention lately, but he will get that sorted out and with Boatright rising, the Huskies’ repeat chances are looking good.
  5. We finish from easily the best game involving a Big East team last night and perhaps the best one of the young season. After Villanova failed to even dent Missouri’s armor earlier at the Jimmy V Classic, No. 11 Marquette saved face with a 79-77 victory over Washington in the nightcap. Of course it was noted marksman Jae Crowder who hit his only three-pointer of the game with nine seconds left to win it. It’s true that the unranked Huskies basically coughed up there last few possessions and there is really no good reason for super-frosh Tony Wroten not to be taking all of Abdul Gaddy’s minutes, but that is not my conference. The Golden Eagles are still undefeated at 8-0 and that was a really big win coming on the heels of their upset of Wisconsin in Madison. Marquette has a new athletic director and it must be nice to be Larry Williams right now. Also, he knows how to please the crowd in Milwaukee (hint: mention Al McGuire and the national championship season.)
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Big East Morning Five: 11.30.11 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on November 30th, 2011

  1. It almost went unnoticed given how much news is being made off the court at Syracuse, but the Orange actually played a game Tuesday night, their first since longtime assistant Bernie Fine was fired amidst allegations of sexual molestation. Jim Boeheim‘s crew walloped Eastern Michigan 84-48 behind a balanced offensive attack and a smothering defense. James Southerland (19 points and five rebounds) led the way offensively, and the Orange forced the Eagles to make 17 turnovers and held them to just 34.7% from the field. But let’s be honest, the game was a mere footnote to the circumstances surrounding the program and Boeheim’s first press conference comments since the firing. ESPN obviously gave the game and the hubbub surrounding it the full-court press last night. Not only did Dana O’Neill, Andy Katz, and Tim Keown all pen opinion columns on the story, the network also sent O’Neill all over campus to interview students about the mood in the community and the student body. It was quite an impressive breadth of coverage, but I am not sure we learned anything new other than Syracuse students don’t want to be associated with Penn State and its sex abuse scandal, and that most people still don’t know what to make of the most recent evidence (i.e. tape recording and third accuser). Yahoo! also was on hand to cover the press coverage and Pat Forde justifiably ripped into Boeheim for trying to make jokes while very serious allegations are being bandied about. Boeheim may not have known anything about the alleged abuse but cracking jokes in a press conference isn’t exactly the best way to apologize for the nasty remarks you made about the alleged victims.
  2. After beginning the season inside most people’s list of the Top-10 teams in college basketball, Pittsburgh has failed to engender any confidence in their lofty ranking, losing at home to Long Beach State and struggling to put away teams like Rider, Robert Morris, and LaSalle. There has been a bright spot though and his name is Travon Woodall. Woodall was little more than a role player in his first two seasons, but as HoopSpeak points out, he has emerged as a full-fledged star and perhaps the team’s most important player. The article notes that his statistics have been inflated due to inferior competition, but 15 PPG and 8.5 APG is still worth taking note of. But, the article also points out that if there is still one piece missing from his game, its his decision-making. He is still too careless with the ball and for a guy that coach Jamie Dixon is going to lean on to play heavy minutes, that is not good. The season is long and Dixon will have plenty of time to right the ship, but how far the ship sails will depend mightily on how far Woodall continues to progress.
  3. In addition to poor foul shooting and silly fouls by freshman JayVaughn Pinkston, Villanova appears to have been bitten by some egregious score-keeping in their painful loss to Santa Clara in the 76 Classic Sunday. Apparently, up by three points with less than ten seconds to play, Villanova wanted to foul Santa Clara after letting some time run-off, so they asked the scorer how many fouls the team had, and they were told five. That information was wrong, they had six, Santa Clara made two free throws and then made two more after Pinkston missed the front end of the one-and-one and committed a stupid foul going after the rebound. To his credit, coach Jay Wright didn’t blame the scorer for the loss, which was the right move because although the official scorer clearly screwed that one up badly, the Wildcats didn’t deserve to win that game. Sure they are young, but they are also very talented and should be able to make the NCAA Tournament. First they will need to work on closing out games, something last year’s team did especially poorly down the stretch.
  4. We usually try to avoid linking to box scores in our Morning Five, but we present the Providence-Holy Cross box score from last night only to illustrate how bright Providence‘s future might be. Holy Cross is not an especially strong opponent, so the numbers can be taken with a grain of salt, but 59 points from sophomores Bryce Cotton and Gerard Coleman and freshman LaDontae Henton is pretty impressive. Throw in the fact that freshman Brice Kofane grabbed a career-high 12 rebounds and it is safe to say we are looking at the future of Providence basketball, and that doesn’t even include the pair of five-star guards (Ricardo Ledo and Kris Dunn) slated to arrive on campus next season. Unfortunately for Friar fans, the box score also shows that coach Ed Cooley really only played five guys last night, showing just how thin the team is this year. But if those aforementioned players continue to develop, and the freshmen play as advertised when they arrive, the Friars may be contenders sooner than anyone thinks.
  5. Beset by injuries, Louisville continues to take moral victories when it comes to their players’ health and this news should be considered just that. Junior forward Rakeem Buckles was cleared to return to practice last week and should be making his return to the court soon for the injury-riddled yet undefeated Cardinals. Buckles will likely be eased back in considering the last thing Rick Pitino wants is for him to re-injure himself, but Pitino desperately needs depth in the frontcourt and Buckles should provide just that. The junior averaged 6.8 PPG and 6.1 RPG in 16 games last season and if he can replicated even half of those numbers while spelling star freshman Chane Behanan, I bet Pitino will be happy. Forward Stephan Van Treese is out indefinitely after he re-injured his knee so getting Buckles back in time for conference play will be a huge boon for an inexperienced and thin frontcourt.
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Morning Five: Thanksgiving Day Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on November 24th, 2011

  1. After suffering a rash of injuries early in the season, Louisville finally got some good medical news when it cleared Rakeem Buckles to return to practice today. Buckles is coming back from surgery on his right knee after tearing his ACL at the end of February. We are not sure what kind of shape Buckles is in now, but we hope that he is in better health (and has better luck) after an injury-riddled sophomore season in which he had to sit out three different times due to various injuries (ACL tear, concussion, and a broken finger). If Buckles comes back in shape, he could provide the Cardinals with some much needed toughness in the paint.
  2. The investigation into allegations against Bernie Fine appears to be getting messier. While there are additional details coming out about how the case came back into spotlight, the real action is happening between the Syracuse DA’s office and police department. After initially serving the police department with a subpoena and being met by claims of wanting to present the case in whole rather than pieces, the DA is now claiming that the police department illegally leaked the reports from the alleged victims in an attempt to embarrass the DA’s office for the way it originally handled the case. The way things are going it appears like this case may not have the tawdriness and explicit details of a school orchestrated cover-up that some are speculating may have happened at Penn State, but we may have a much messier legal situation because two of the primary prosecuting entities are bickering, which may compromise whatever case there is here.
  3. Sunday was a rough day for Washington. Not only did they get blown out at Saint Louis, but sophomore C.J. Wilcox also suffered a concussion after running into a screen. He has been limited in practice this week, but is expected to play tomorrow. Prior to Sunday’s game, which he had to leave early and did not come back, Wilson had been leading the team in scoring with nearly 19 points per game. According to the report it appears to be a relatively mild concussion so they expect he will be able to return at full strength. In any event, the Huskies probably will not need Wilcox’s services that much until two weeks from now when they play Marquette and Duke.
  4. Steve Alford may have a somewhat unique recruiting situation on his hands as his son Bryce is putting up some big numbers as a junior in Albuquerque. In a win on Tuesday night, Bryce scored 44 points to break a school single-game scoring record held by former Arizona star A.J. Bramlet. While Bryce is not considered one of the truly elite recruits in his class at this time, he is highly regarded and probably would fit in well at his father’s school assuming he wants to stay in the area and be coached by his father. Steve will not only have the advantage of being in his son’s ear everyday (assuming the NCAA doesn’t have a rule against fathers talking to their sons); he will also have other advantages that nobody else can match. As USC’s legendary coach John McKay said of recruiting his own son, “I had a rather distinct advantage. I slept with his mother.”
  5. As we mentioned in a column yesterday, Kentucky’s team is fascinating on a number of levels. We choose to focus on the variability of each player’s individual performance and how they are relying on individual excellence rather than a team-based approach. Andy Glockner has an excellent piece on how John Calipari is dealing with coaching such a young team, an experience that is not that new for him. As Glockner notes, this type of young talented team is increasingly common at Kentucky and its legacy will be determined by how well it reacts to Calipari’s coaching.
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