The Big East’s Top 25 (or so) Non-Conference Games of 2012-13

Posted by Dan Lyons on November 9th, 2012

While Big East basketball is always a spectacle, this conference season has even more added juice with the impending departures of Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and (eventually) Notre Dame.  However, before we get to conference games, the Big East is involved in some really intriguing non-conference games this season. Big East teams will be playing all over the United States, Germany, and on a few aircraft carriers. Let’s take a look at the best that the Big East has to offer in the non-conference slate this season.

Syracuse and San Diego State tip off the season on the deck of the USS Midway this Sunday (AP)

25. Pittsburgh v. Oakland, November 17, 7 PM

The Panthers have a rather light non-conference slate this season, but don’t expect them to look past the Golden Grizzlies. Oakland has a history of playing tough schedules, and won’t be intimidated by the Zoo. Oakland is coming off of a bit of a down year in 2011-12 when they finished 20-16 (11-7), but made the NCAA Tournament in both 2009-10, when they were knocked out in the first round by Pittsburgh, and 2010-11.

24. DePaul @ Auburn, November 30, 9 PM

Look for DePaul to try to do the conference proud when they head down to take on the Auburn Tigers as part of the SEC-Big East Challenge. This DePaul squad should be better than it has been in years past, returning dynamic forward Cleveland Melvin and dangerous guard Brandon Young.  Auburn is coming off of a poor 15-16 season, and could be ripe for a big non-conference road win for the Blue Demons.

23. Rutgers v. Iona, Madison Square Garden, December 8, 9:30 PM

One of these New York metropolitan-area teams is coming off of a great season that ended in a heartbreaking NCAA tournament loss to BYU. The other is continually striving to build its program, and aspires to have such success.  It almost seems backwards that Iona is the more accomplished team at the moment, but isn’t that what makes college basketball so great? A big performance by the Scarlet Knights at the Garden could go a long way in setting the tone for a run at a tournament berth in the Big East.

22. St. John’s v. Detroit, November 13, 2 PM

The Johnnies tip off their season against a very dangerous Detroit squad led by superstar Ray McCallum. St. John’s has a number of impressive young players themselves, and head coach Steve Lavin will return to the sideline after battling cancer last season. While many look forward to what should be a fun match-up between McCallum and D’Angelo Harrison, the St. John’s star was recently benched in the team’s final exhibition for disciplinary reasons. If Lavin continues to have issues with his top guard, it could prove very problematic for the Red Storm next week.

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Syracuse’s Fab Melo To Miss NCAA Tournament Because of an Eligibility Issue

Posted by mlemaire on March 13th, 2012

The bad breaks just keep coming for Syracuse and its basketball program. After one of the team’s best seasons in recent history and right as they prepared for the NCAA Tournament as a #1 seed, they learned that starting center and key cog Fab Melo will miss the entire tournament due to an eligibility issue. Melo missed three games earlier this season because of academics, but it is unclear whether this eligibility issue is about academics or something else as the school would not provide any additional details. [Update: It’s apparently about academics and he is also apparently declaring for the NBA Draft]

It doesn’t take a basketball junkie to know that Melo’s absence is a potentially lethal blow to the Orange’s national title hopes. He was the best rebounder on a team that struggles to rebound the basketball and he was also the conference’s defensive player of the year this season. He is one of the main reasons why Syracuse limited opponents to an effective field-goal rate just 44 percent this season and the team’s staunch 2-3 zone relied on Melo to protect the rim — something he did very well during the regular season.

Fab Melo's Absence Could Crush Syracuse's National Title Aspirations

The onus now falls on freshman Rakeem Christmas and sophomore Baye Keita to pick up the slack and neither proved consistently capable of that during the regular season. The good news is that Keita and Christmas, while young, are athletic and energetic defenders who can block shots and rebound the basketball unless they run up against more experienced and physical post players. But the understated effect this blow might have on the Orange will be on the offensive end.

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Tracking The Four: Hitting the Home Stretch

Posted by EJacoby on February 28th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. TT4 will cover four selected teams of interest – Syracuse, Indiana, Murray State, and UNLV – by tracking their ups, downs, and exciting developments throughout the course of the season.

The final week of the regular season is upon us. One of our teams, Murray State, even begins its postseason as the Ohio Valley Conference tournament begins later in the week. This is a crucial time for teams to build confidence and polish their resumes heading into the NCAA Tournament. Let’s take a look at how all of our teams are playing right now as they head into the home stretch.

UNLV Runnin’ Rebels

Anthony Marshall and UNLV Are Locked In Again (Las Vegas Sun/S. Morris)

  • Trending UP Because… – After dropping two in a row, the Rebels recovered nicely with back-to-back double digit wins in the past seven days. More importantly, their top conference competitor lost both its games, setting up for a crazy finish to this season. UNLV (24-6, 8-4 MW) is tied with New Mexico and San Diego State atop the Mountain West with just two games to play. The Runnin’ Rebs have still lost three straight road games and will look to end that streak when they head to Colorado State on Wednesday.
  • This Week’s Key CogChace Stanback. The swingman led the team in scoring in both wins last week, averaging 20.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 2.5 steals per game. The senior shot a fantastic 9-13 from three-point range in the victories.
  • Play of the Week – After a turnover, Anthony Marshall misses the layup but Mike Moser finishes strong with a putback jam against Boise State on Wednesday.
  • Talking Point – Coach Dave Rice on getting the win over Air Force on Saturday: “It was very important to us to get our swagger back. Our swagger is our defensive intensity.”
  • Handicapping the Race - Who’s going to win the Mountain West? The Rebels have a tough draw down the stretch with bubble team Colorado State on the road, followed by Wyoming at home in the season finale, a team they lost to earlier this season. New Mexico, meanwhile, gets two home games against the bottom feeders of the conference.
  • Stats Central – UNLV’s average scoring margin of +19.4 points in home games this year ranks 11th in the country. But its road margin is just +2.0, hence the 6-6 record in true road games this season.
  • What’s Next? – As mentioned, the Rebels take a trip to Colorado State on Wednesday (10:00 PM ET, CBS Sports Network) before drawing Wyoming at home on Saturday (10:00 PM ET, The Mountain) to finish their regular season.

Murray State Racers

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Tracking The Four: Rebels Starting to Slip

Posted by EJacoby on February 21st, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. TT4 will cover four selected teams of interest – Syracuse, Indiana, Murray State, and UNLV – by tracking their ups, downs, and exciting developments throughout the course of the season.

After cruising along with a top 10-15 ranking for much of the season, UNLV is facing its first patch of serious adversity now, having lost three of its last four games (all on the road). Last week, the Rebels took a loss against a mediocre TCU team and followed that up with a blowout at the hands of New Mexico. UNLV all of a sudden finds itself a distant second in the Mountain West conference standings. Meanwhile, Indiana suffered another slip-up on the road, but Syracuse escaped in their task away from home. Murray State had the best week of all with a massive victory over St. Mary’s in the BracketBuster game, so let’s start things off with the positive trending Racers this week:

Murray State Racers

Murray State is Soaring Right Now After Taking its Only Loss (AP Photo/J. Wright)

  • Trending UP Because… – They’ve recovered well after dropping their only game of the season. Since falling to Tennessee State at home on February 9, the Racers (26-1, 13-1 OVC) have played their best ball and capped it off with a dominant win against St. Mary’s in the primetime ESPN BracketBuster matchup on Saturday. They still have two road games remaining against the best the OVC has to offer, but Murray State is undoubtedly headed to the NCAA Tournament now, and they certainly passed the national-audience eye test as a team with some weapons that can do damage offensively.
  • This Week’s Key CogDonte Poole. He led the team in scoring with an 18.0 PPG average in the past week, to go along with 5.0 rebounds and 2.0 steals as well. The senior guard carried the Racers with 25 points in their Wednesday win at Southeast Missouri State.
  • Play of the Week – This ESPN announcer has now idea how to pronounce Isaiah Canaan’s name (it’s CAN-non, like the weapon), but watch this sweet alley-oop from the star guard to Brandon Garrett for a big-time dunk.
  • Talking Point – Coach Steve Prohm talked about how the win over St. Mary’s could help his team’s postseason seed: “If we can finish the season strong, it gives us a chance to get a good seed. But, regardless of where you’re seeded – five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10 – you’re going to play somebody good.”
  • Can’t Win For Losing? - It’s starting to look like taking a loss was the best thing that could have happened to this team. By losing at home, Murray State removed the pressure off its back to run the table, and the Racers have played much better since the public doubted their legitimacy as a Tournament team. The win against St. Mary’s was their toughest opponent in over two months and the least amount of points they’ve allowed in over six weeks.
  • Stats Central – For the season the Racers are now shooting 41.3% from three and allowing opponents to shoot just 29.2% in that area. A massive gap, Murray ranks in the top 20 nationally in both statistics.
  • What’s Next? – Murray State finishes the regular season this week with two challenging road games. First is a rematch at Tennessee State on Thursday (8:00 PM ET, ESPNU) against the only team it has lost to this season. Then the Racers travel to Tennessee Tech on Saturday (8:30 PM ET) against the team ranked fourth in the OVC. Both are losable games, but Murray should win if it can play at the level it has over the past week and a half.

Syracuse Orange

  • Trending EVEN Because… – The Orange avoided a bad loss by escaping Rutgers with a 10-point win on Sunday. Syracuse (27-1, 14-1 Big East) remains a lock for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament as long as it doesn’t suffer a losing streak down the stretch.
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Tracking The Four: Perception vs. Reality

Posted by EJacoby on February 10th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. TT4 will cover four selected teams of interest – Syracuse, Indiana, Murray State, and UNLV – by tracking their ups, downs, and exciting developments throughout the course of the season.

Public perception dictates a lot in all sports — suits in Las Vegas determine which teams are favored to win games. Players are often labeled as ‘clutch’ or ‘not clutch’ based on arbitrary public sentiments that take no data into account. With much of the college basketball season already completed, players and teams have already developed reputations that become a part of the season narrative; Murray State has ‘played nobody’, Indiana is ‘soft’, Syracuse is the ‘deepest team’, and UNLV ‘can’t win on the road’. But are these sentiments really accurate? This week’s TT4 Wildcard takes the court of public opinion on trial and tries to separate what’s false from what’s reality. All four of our teams remained ranked in the polls, so they’ve been plenty exposed to public chatter:

Indiana Hoosiers

Indiana is Trying to Shake the Label that They're Soft on Defense (AP Photo/T. Ding)

Biggest Misconception – This team is soft defensively

The Hoosiers have certainly had their defensive struggles during Big Ten games, and the results were ugly for a while. They still average a 109.0 dEfficiency in conference play, which is much too high. But soft? That label needs to go, as Indiana has shown much improvement and is starting to fight back when they get hit in the mouth. In their last four games against Wisconsin, Michigan, Purdue, and Illinois, they are allowing just 64.3 points per game. They’ve improved their Big Ten rebound rate to 51.9%, which is fourth in the conference. Defense is still an issue, but give them credit for making strides after beginning the Big Ten with an extremely tough schedule.

Biggest Truth – They are extremely balanced offensively

The word ‘balanced’ gets thrown around with this team, but it’s looking more and more true. Cody Zeller is their clear best player, but they don’t exactly use the freshman as a go-to guy offensively. Consider this: in their last five games, Indiana has had four different leading scorers and seven different players have scored in double-figures at least once. Not only that, but IU ranks in the top 30 nationally in three-point percentage, free-throw percentage, true shooting percentage, and points per possession during conference results. They are an effective offense that attacks in several different ways.

The Unknown – The Hoosiers are a product of their home-court advantage

IU has certainly played much better at home than on the road, which is true of many teams. But there was a feeling that their Assembly Hall home-court was the catalyst to everything this team does, and that argument is starting to fall apart. They’re coming off a 17-point win at Purdue in their latest road game, and their offensive style has translated to opposing arenas. The jury is still out, though, whether they are a strong enough team to win multiple games in a row away from home. The Big Ten Tournament should be a good indicator, as well as their final two winnable road games at Iowa and Minnesota.

Murray State Racers

Biggest Misconception – This team is headed for the bubble

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Tracking The Four: NBA Prospecting

Posted by EJacoby on February 3rd, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC correspondent & regular contributor. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. TT4 will cover four selected teams of interest – Syracuse, Indiana, Murray State, and UNLV – by tracking their ups, downs, and exciting developments throughout the course of the season.

Fans, writers, and analysts aren’t the only ones watching games these days. As the second half of the conference season heats up, more and more NBA scouts also have their eyes peeled to the college game to track how players perform in big games. During the NCAA Tournament and after the season is typically when you’ll hear NBA talks pertaining to players, but those in tune with the draft already know the relative value of many players. This week’s TT4 Wildcard breaks down which players on our four teams have a shot to play at the next level. There’s plenty of time left for guys’ stock to go up or down, as well. Let’s do some NBA prospecting:

Top Prospects:

There are no surefire lottery (Top 14) picks on any of our four teams, but there are a couple of players who will make a definite push for consideration:

Scouts are Taking Note of Cody Zeller's Productive Freshman Season (AP Photo/D. Cummings)

  • Cody Zeller, Indiana – He’s only a freshman, and it seems like a sure bet that the big man will be returning to Indiana next season to improve with an even stronger team. But if he were to declare for this year’s NBA Draft, Zeller would likely go in the top 20 picks. Looking further down the road, the big man should have a great chance at being a lottery pick in the 2013 Draft. NBADraft.net currently has Zeller rated as their 13th best overall college prospect, and they have him slotted as a top five selection in 2013. With a smooth game and rock solid fundamentals on both ends, Zeller has been perhaps the most productive freshman in the country this season, averaging 15 points, 6.3 boards, 1.5 steals, and 1.4 blocks on an outstanding 65.2% field-goal percentage. He should only continue to improve as he gets stronger and more confident.
  • Mike Moser, UNLV – Our other player with major intrigue is the Runnin’ Rebels leading man, Moser. A top 50 recruit a couple of years ago, Moser was a quick transfer out of UCLA as a freshman and has stormed onto the scene as a redshirt sophomore this season for UNLV. He’s 6’8” and a freak rebounder with tremendous athleticism — his 11.6 RPG leads the Mountain West and is third in the nation. He also has perimeter skills and range out to the three-point line, hitting 30-87 on three-pointers this season. The combination of strength and skill for an athlete his size has Moser as the #22 overall college prospect at Draft Express. They have him slotted as a top 20 pick in the 2012 Draft, though we’d expect him to come back for another season and have a chance to go even higher in 2013.

First Round Fliers:

The following group of players all have something obvious in common, besides the fact that they could be NBA first-round picks. Take a look:

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Checking In On… The Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 30th, 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

  • A Bad Saturday for Big East Referees:  It started in Philadelphia in the noon game between Villanova and Marquette. The referees made themselves the story of that game, calling three technical fouls and 45 total foul in a 40-minute game. That game lasted well over two hours as the officials used their whistles to take all the rhythm out of what was a very good game. James Breeding doesn’t have the best reputation across the conference for the quality of his calls, but apparently he has a short fuse as well. Breeding called all three techs and embarrassed himself on national television in the process. I realize the Big East and NCAA want better sportsmanship, but nothing Jay Wright, Buzz Williams, or Maalik Wayns did warranted a technical foul. It’s never good when officials make themselves the story of the game, but that’s exactly what James Breeding did. The bad officiating continued in the Syracuse-West Virginia game as the crew of Karl Hess, Gene Steratore and, Brian O’Connell blew a goaltending call that was obvious to the 28,740 Syracuse fans in attendance at the Carrier Dome, the ESPNU commentators, and anyone who was watching the game. While the proper call would have only resulted in a tie game and actually given Syracuse a chance to win it in regulation, it denied West Virginia a chance to force overtime. Too often, we see officials swallow their whistles in the final minute to “not affect the outcome of the game.” Once again, a crew of officials decided to do just that and that decision negatively affected the outcome. While there’s no guarantee West Virginia would have won if the game went to the extra session, the Mountaineers were denied that chance by incompetent officiating. My beef is as follows:  I’m all for player safety, but this season it has been ridiculous how many times officials have gone to the television monitor to review elbows that may or may not have been thrown during the course of a game. If they can review every elbow that was ever thrown (not needed in my opinion) as well as end-of-half scoring plays, why can’t they review a call like that? Nobody likes slow games, but the officials should be permitted to review every call they aren’t 100% sure about. All in all, Saturday was a disgrace to the officiating profession.
  • Mike Brey, Coach of the Year?: At this point, it would be hard to argue against him. The Notre Dame head coach led his team to two road wins at Seton Hall and Connecticut last week, holding the home teams to a combined 90 points. Brey’s team executed the burn offense to perfection, protected the basketball and got timely rebounds. Notre Dame, considered an afterthought after Tim Abromaitis went down with a season-ending ACL tear, is now in the thick of the NCAA Tournament conversation. Brey seems to get the most out of his teams when expectations are low, and that reputation is holding true as we head into the crucial month of February. The Irish still have work to do in order to overcome a lackluster non-conference performance but Brey has his team well on its way towards a top half conference finish.
  • Pittsburgh Wins a Pair: After starting league play 0-7, Pittsburgh has won two straight. With Tray Woodall healthy and back in the lineup, the Panthers are a team nobody wants to face down the stretch. Jamie Dixon’s NCAA dreams are almost surely extinguished, but the Panthers have an opportunity to finish the season strong and end with a respectable record. Pittsburgh’s offensive efficiency improved in a big way with Woodall’s return, but its defense was outstanding in Saturday’s win over Georgetown. The Panthers posted an 86.5 defensive efficiency rating, by far their best against a quality opponent. Their season-best was 81.0 against St. Francis (PA) on December 20, their last win before beating Providence last week. With a softer schedule in February, Pittsburgh has the potential to make some noise over the season’s final nine games.

Dante Taylor And The Panthers Are Still A Proud Bunch. (Matt Freed/Post-Gazette)

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (22-1, 9-1) – After suffering its first defeat at Notre Dame, the Orange responded well in a win at Cincinnati two days later. Kris Joseph led the victors with 17 points on eight of 11 shooting. Still without Fab Melo, the Orange big men did an admirable job in his place. Rakeem Christmas had nine rebounds as Syracuse survived an early onslaught of Bearcat three-pointers. Syracuse then beat West Virginia on Saturday in a closer-than-expected game as the Mountaineers were able to score against the zone, mostly because of rebounding. Syracuse was out-rebounded 36-20, but committed only six turnovers as it survived the blown goaltending call in the final seconds. Brandon Triche had 18 points in the win. Rebounding has been a concern all season, but it’s obvious that Syracuse is not nearly as dominant with Melo out of the lineup. Free throw shooting came and went (33% at Cincinnati, 76.5% against West Virginia) but mental toughness is one of its biggest strengths. As we head into the teeth of the season, Syracuse is more prepared to absorb and respond to every team’s best shot. This week: 2/4 @ St. John’s.
  2. Marquette (18-4, 7-2) – I’m not overly impressed every time I watch this team, but it makes the winning plays when needed most. The Golden Eagles won a pair of games last week to push their winning streak to six games. Darius Johnson-Odom, Jae Crowder, and Davante Gardner combined for 47 points in a home win over South Florida on Tuesday, equaling the total points scored by the Bulls. Marquette ventured to Villanova on Saturday and was involved in one of the more bizarre games I have seen all season across college basketball. The game lasted two and a half hours and didn’t even go to overtime. 45 fouls (three technical) were called and 57 free throws were attempted in a game that wasn’t the finest moment for the officiating crew of James Breeding, Tim Clougherty, and Pat Driscoll. Breeding in particular had a short fuse, whistling Buzz Williams for a technical when the coach simply slipped and fell down. Memo to Breeding: Get over yourself, he wasn’t showing you up. Johnson-Odom had 26 points, Crowder added 20 points and 11 boards for Marquette and Jamil Wilson added 12 points off the bench. Marquette rallied from an 18-point deficit and forced 20 Villanova turnovers to key the comeback. This is a good basketball team, but one that has a ceiling. I’m not sure the Golden Eagles have the scoring depth to make a big run in March. This week: 1/31 vs. Seton Hall, 2/4 @ Notre Dame. Read the rest of this entry »
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Four Thoughts: Syracuse vs. Cincinnati Edition

Posted by mlemaire on January 24th, 2012

Game recaps are boring. If you want to read them, search your local newspaper or the Associated Press. Four Thoughts is our brand new, not-so creatively titled feature where, in lieu of a game recap, we give you (in this case a belated) four thoughts about key Big East action. Enjoy!

1. Syracuse showed its resiliency.

Last season the Orange got off to a blistering 18-0 start, but when they traveled to Pittsburgh and lost a hard-fought game, the wheels started to wobble. After losing to the Panthers, Syracuse then lost five of their next seven games, including a 22-point shellacking by Seton Hall at home. The team was eventually bounced in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament, much to the disappointment of ‘Cuse fans who just a few weeks earlier had been thinking National Championship.

Last night, the Orange had a chance to head down a similar path. Two days earlier they had lost their first game of the season on the road to Notre Dame and now they were headed to “The Shoe” to take on a rugged Cincinnati team still smarting from their overtime loss to West Virginia on Saturday. If Syracuse lost, most would probably be willing to forgive them and brush the loss off as part of the pitfalls of playing two road games in three days.

But they didn’t lose, and even when the Bearcats took the lead early in the second half, Jim Boeheim‘s club didn’t panic, instead calmly engineering a mini-run in the middle of the second half to take the lead for good. Good teams find ways to win ugly, and Syracuse played ugly basketball, especially at the start of both halves. But they withstood those barrages, calmed down, and overcame their shooting deficiencies to beat a strong conference foe on the road, proving they are still a national title contender in the process.

2. Hello Rakeem Christmas, it’s nice to finally meet you.

Rakeem Christmas Played His Best Game Monday, But Was It A Trend Or A Fluke?

No one expected Christmas — a four-star prospect coming out of high school — to average a double-double out of the gate, but it’s fair to say that ‘Cuse fans were hoping for more than 3.5 points per game and 3.3 rebounds per game out of the ultra-gifted forward. But, for whatever reason, Boeheim hasn’t trusted Christmas yet this season. He has started every game this season but — much like Fab Melo last year — Christmas would get yanked quickly and is still averaging less than 13 minutes per game. The quick hook led some to believe that Boeheim was messing with Christmas’ confidence.

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Blueprint To Beat Undefeated Syracuse

Posted by zhayes9 on January 19th, 2012

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.

Near the tail end of Monday’s Baylor-Kansas game, Dick Vitale, ESPN’s master of hyperbole, predicted that Syracuse would not lose once during the regular season. The odds of becoming the first team to accomplish that feat since the Jameer Nelson/Delonte West-led St. Joseph’s juggernaut of 2004 is slim. In fact, Ken Pomeroy’s projections grant the Orange only a 13.1% chance of running the table.

Still, the Big East conference doesn’t feature nearly as many elite teams as in previous seasons. Potential slip-ups at Notre Dame and Cincinnati are approaching, while visits to ranked teams Louisville and Connecticut remain. All in all, though, the road is as navigable a team can ask for in the gauntlet of conference play.

The Syracuse hype goes deeper than their unblemished record. Aside from a near upset against Stanford, their level of performance from opening night to today has been extraordinary.  In their first 20 games, Syracuse’s margin of victory is a staggering 19.7 points per contest. They lead the nation in steals and can deliver a 14-0 spurt as quickly as any team in the country with their high-flying transition game. Their depth is at the point where most believe members #6 through #10 in their rotation would be a team capable of making the NCAA Tournament.

Still, even the most menacing teams of the last few years are vulnerable to a poor 40-minute output. Illinois’ loaded 2005 squad fell in their season finale to unranked Ohio State and the Hansbrough/Lawson Tar Heels were stunned by Boston College at the Dean Dome, just to name a few. These are college kids, not robots. But how specifically can a Notre Dame or Cincinnati or Louisville knock off this seemingly unstoppable machine? Here are eight essentials to dethroning what may be Jim Boeheim’s best team in 34 years at the helm:

1. Keep the game in the halfcourt

Any hope of knocking off Syracuse begins and ends with limiting the Orange transition game. Boeheim has instructed his guards at the top of their 2-3 zone to always be active in the passing lanes in order to get deflections and race the other way. Not even North Carolina, the near-unanimous preseason number one and a team averaging 85 points per game, is as proficient in transition opportunities as this Syracuse unit. It’s no coincidence that two of their more competitive games- against Virginia Tech at MSG and the recent home victory over Pittsburgh – were two of the three lowest possession contests of the season. Pitt was able to limit the Orange to just 62 possessions despite a 13-0 run to begin the game and stayed within striking distance.

2. Make transition defense a priority

Just like the Wes Johnson/Andy Rautins-led Syracuse outfit of two years ago, the Orange run at every possible opportunity. Their triumvirate of guards – Jardine, Triche and Waiters – is absolutely lethal in full-court mode. If you make Syracuse work for open looks in the halfcourt, they’re much more vulnerable to defeat. Two possible chinks in the armor for the Orange are three-point shooting and ability to get to the free throw line. Syracuse shoots a mediocre 36% from three as a team and ranks 279th in Division-1 in free throw rate. If a future opponent can keep their guards in the halfcourt and force them into contested jump shots, the odds of an upset dramatically increase. Make or miss, Notre Dame’s guards should make it a priority to sprint back after every shot goes up on Saturday.

3. Employ a threat in the middle of their 2-3 zone

One of the areas where the Syracuse zone is susceptible to a breakdown is near the free throw line. The zone can be carved up by employing a player in that soft spot who can face-up, deliver a pass to a cutter along the baseline or pose a mid-range shooting threat. Of course, only a handful of teams boast a player with that type of skill set. Perusing their schedule, look out for Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick, West Virginia’s Kevin Jones and even Connecticut’s Ryan Olander as players who can flash into the free throw line area and cause problems.

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Four Thoughts: Providence vs. Syracuse Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on January 16th, 2012

Game recaps are boring. If you want to read them, search your local newspaper or the Associated Press. Four Thoughts is our brand new, not-so creatively titled feature where, in lieu of a game recap, we give you four thoughts about key Big East action. Enjoy!

Council Overruled

It is rare that conference opponents would face each other twice by mid-January, but that was the case on Saturday when Providence and Syracuse met in the Carrier dome.  Syracuse won the first meeting by an 87-73 score that was not indicative of the overall play.  In one of the few challenges Syracuse has faced this year, Providence hung tough at home in a game where both teams played well.  Syracuse led by only two points at the half, and six with just over five minutes to go in the game before making a late run  to log the double-digit victory.  Despite that good home showing by the Friars, coupled with any momentum generated by their 31-point romp over #14 Louisville on Tuesday, Providence (justifiably) remained heavy underdogs on the road versus the #1 Orange.  Long odds became virtually impossible when it was learned publicly just an hour or so before Saturday night’s game that Providence’s best player and leading scorer, point guard Vincent Council (16.4 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 7.1 APG) would be held out of the game due unspecified coach’s decision.   Council was coming off a 15-point, 14-assist performance in the Louisville win and had 17 points and five assists in the first meeting with the Orange.  Not only is Council Providence’s leader, he is their only legitimate point guard averaging 37.7 minutes per game as a result.  In the court system that is Providence basketball, the judge, jury and probably even court stenographer is head coach Ed Cooley.  After the game, as reported in the Providence Journal, Cooley termed the reason for sitting Council an “accountability issue,” adding “it could be multiple games but it definitely is my decision.” Council’s suspension represented a bold move by first-year head coach Cooley, who is trying to change the culture of what was an undisciplined program under former coach Keno Davis.

Syracuse's Pressure was Too Much for the Council-less Friars (Photo by Frank Ordonez, The Post-Standard)

Under Pressure – The Turning Point

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Quiet Yet Effective: Syracuse’s Offense Continues to Hum Along Without a Star…

Posted by rtmsf on January 2nd, 2012

Bill Hupp is an RTC correspondent. You can follow him on Twitter (@Bill_Hupp). He filed this report after Syracuse’s win over DePaul on Sunday afternoon.

Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim smirked at the reporter’s question and, with a slight shake of his head, replied, ““I’ve been here for 36 years and I’ve only had one of those guys.” That one guy was Carmelo Anthony, and though the Orange don’t have anyone with Anthony’s level of individual star power on this year’s team, they seem to have the right mix of savvy veterans and talented youngsters to make this season a memorable one for Syracuse basketball. Playing on the road near Chicago in front of a crowd half full of Syracuse orange on New Year’s Day, SU blocked 11 shots and swiped 10 steals as they overwhelmed DePaul, 87-68.

Joseph and the Rest of His Orange Continue to Roll (AP)

Defensively, the ‘Cuse are possibly as good as they’ve ever been. Their length and athleticism comes at you in waves.  The quickness and active hands of Brandon Triche and Scoop Jardine at the top of the vaunted 2-3 matchup zone means you can’t just rotate the ball from side to side at will. You want to try to split the zone and get into the lane? Fine, 7’0’’ Fab Melo, 6’10’’ Baye Keita or 6’9’’ Rakeem Christmas will be waiting to swat (or at least) alter your shot. There’s a reason Syracuse leads the country in steals per game (11.5) and is third in blocks (7.8).

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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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