Morning Five: 08.27.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on August 27th, 2012

  1. Worrisome news was released on Friday from Saint Louis University when the school announced that its head coach, Rick Majerus, will be taking a medically-related leave of absence next season, leaving top assistant coach Jim Crews in charge. According to SLU, Majerus is currently hospitalized in California “undergoing evaluation and treatment for an ongoing heart condition.” As we wrote after the news was released, this is the sort of thing that could mark  a turning point in the longtime head coach’s professional career. Majerus is well-known as a guy whom you can only keep out of the gym by padlocking its doors, so it’s no joke that he’s choosing to give up the thing he loves most in order to take care of his health. We wish him nothing but the best on this latest twist in his journey, and certainly hope that even if he never coaches another minute of college basketball, he has a number of productive and fulfilling years still ahead of him. As for his Billiken program, with the core of a Round of 32 team returning to St. Louis, Andy Glockner writes that Crews will inherit a squad with both significant expectations and the added specter of Majerus’ health hanging over the team. Crews had some success at Evansville a decade or more ago, but there is reason to question whether he’s up to the task of running what is undoubtedly a team with Top 25 talent.
  2. The other big news on Friday was the announcement from Marquette that assistant coach Scott Monarch had been dismissed and that head coach Buzz Williams will suffer a self-imposed one-game suspension for what are admittedly rather mild recruiting transgressions — Monarch gave team gear and transportation to an unnamed recruit. To be clear, there is no evidence that Williams himself knew about the illegal recruiting benefits — his suspension derives from the coach’s duty to monitor staff compliance. According to the Marquette athletic director, Larry Williams, Monarch’s mistakes became compounded when he allegedly lied about them during the school’s internal investigation — had he been truthful from the beginning, he’d probably still be employed at MU today. This shows once again that the old adage is almost always true — the cover-up is more damaging than the underlying crime. Maybe someday someone will actually find themselves in such a situation and take this sage advice — it might end up saving his job.
  3. In recent days, the conviction of Oklahoma State forward Darrell Williams for allegedly sexually assaulting two female students at a party in December two years ago has come under fire by some in the non-sports national media. In the especially tense arena of national racial politics, a case like Williams’ where a black man was accused of heinous felonies by two white women and convicted by a nearly all-white jury is bound to raise some eyebrows. On Friday, an Oklahoma judge delayed Williams’ sentencing hearing on those convictions, citing a defense motion that new and possibly exculpatory evidence has been found that could force the judge to throw out the convictions and order a new trial. There’s no way of knowing whether the claim of new evidence has any merit, but with Jesse Jackson, Jr., in town and many commentators outside the sporting realm taking a curious interest in this case, it will be very interesting to watch how this unfolds.
  4. The NCAA made its ruling on former Connecticut and current UNLV forward Roscoe Smith‘s transfer waiver request on Friday, and the decision to deny the waiver — meaning Smith will become eligible in 2013-14 — could be a blessing in disguise for both the Runnin’ Rebels and Smith himself. UNLV already boasts a loaded lineup next season and the 6’8″ big man, who has two years of eligibility remaining, would be well  situated to slide into a starting spot in the frontcourt most likely vacated after Mike Moser’s presumptive last season as a collegian. Smith, as you recall, was a frequent starter on the 2011 UConn championship team (averaging 6/5 in 25 MPG), but like many of his Husky teammates, backslid a bit in his sophomore season (5/3 in 18 MPG). Still, there’s no questioning his talent when bought in and completely focused, so Dave Rice’s team will look forward to Smith’s leadership and skill in what they hope are the immediate years following UNLV’s first Final Four run in two decades.
  5. UNLV’s Smith may not see the court for another year, but another offseason transfer, Memphis’ Charles Carmouche, has enrolled at LSU and will join the Tigers for his senior year next season. This is actually Carmouche’s third transfer — the wiry guard from New Orleans began his career at hometown University of New Orleans, but decided to transfer upriver to Memphis when it appeared that UNO would downgrade from Division I athletics. After a solid junior season at UM in 2010-11, though, Carmouche’s senior season was derailed because of problems with his knees. Still, despite receiving medical clearance in January, he chose to not suit up again, and after graduating he was then free to use the grad-transfer loophole to go anywhere who would take him. Enter LSU, where new head coach Johnny Jones will welcome the scoring punch that Carmouche brings to Baton Rouge. It’s been a wild and woolly ride for Carmouche over the past four years, but we’re guessing that he’ll need to make the most of this final season, as his eligibility is unlikely to extend to yet another transfer destination.
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RTC Summer School: Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on August 14th, 2012

Over the next couple of week’s we’ll be checking in with each of the high mid-major leagues as to their mid-summer offseason status. Up next: the Mountain West.

Drew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference. You can also find his musings on Twitter @amurawa.

Three Summer Storylines

  • Tectonic Movement Continues. For the second straight year, the landscape of the MW shifts. Last year it was BYU and Utah heading off to greener pastures with Boise State landing in their place. This year TCU is on its way out the door with Fresno State and Nevada on their way in. And next year Boise State and San Diego State will depart with San Jose State and Utah State coming in. All in all, this will still be a good basketball conference even after all these moving parts settle, but the loss of a rapidly improving Aztec program will be tough for MW fans to take. TCU and Boise State certainly aren’t major losses on the basketball side, but the strength of their football programs could have provided stability for the conference and the potential for improved programs on the hardwood. Between the four newcomers, each of Fresno State, Nevada and Utah State have had good runs over the course of a handful of years, but they’ll all need to prove their ability to compete with more established programs like UNLV and New Mexico, while SJSU figures to step directly into the basement of the conference.

  • The Mtn. Crumbles. On May 31, The Mtn., the Mountain West’s television network, went dark, ceasing all operations after six years. Now, say what you will about the network, a channel that eschewed HD programming, struggled with distribution and had issues with their on-air talent, but the shuttering of its doors leaves some questions for MW hoops fans. In the era of The Mtn., if you wanted to follow MW hoops, it was easy to do so. Now, it remains to be seen exactly how much exposure teams from this conference will get during the year. Sure, the MW still has deals in place to get games shown on NBC Sports Network and CBS Sports Network, but what about that Air Force/Boise State game on some random February Wednesday? Should you want to watch that game and you’re not in Idaho or Colorado, odds are pretty good you’re going to be out of luck.
  • Continued Success? For all the uncertainty about the membership of the conference, the last three years have been something of the golden age of Mountain West basketball. In the past three seasons, the MW has received 11 NCAA Tournament berths. Two years ago there were dual Sweet Sixteen appearances by BYU and SDSU. We’ve had Jimmer and Kawhi grab national headlines, while other guys like Dairese Gary and Darington Hobson, Billy White and Drew Gordon, D.J. Gay and Hank Thorns, Andy Ogide and Malcolm Thomas have kept us all entertained. But, even with all of those players now gone, there is still plenty to be excited about in the conference. San Diego State and UNLV lead the way again, with both expected to start the season in the preseason Top 25. New Mexico and Colorado State, who joined the Aztecs and Rebels in the Big Dance last year, both should be in the hunt for another tourney bid, while Nevada could be a sleeper in its first season in the conference. And, as always, we could be in for another surprise or two.

Reader’s Take #1

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Big East Summer Capsules: Connecticut Huskies

Posted by mlemaire on August 2nd, 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 Connecticut.

1. It’s official; there will be no postseason play for the Huskies in 2013.

There was only one truly major story that came out of Connecticut this summer but it was a doozy. The Huskies got into hot water with the NCAA because the program’s APR score wasn’t high enough to meet NCAA standards from 2008-11. The NCAA as a result dropped a postseason ban on the program because of its lackluster APR score and the university and the program have been fighting to appeal that ban ever since.  By the middle of July, they had run out of appeals and it became official that the UConn basketball program would not be participating in any postseason tournaments next season. The logic behind the ban makes sense, but it still seems unfortunate to punish the players directly, many of whom weren’t even on the team during the years in question. It also is truly unfortunate to punish the fans of the program. I am sure Storrs will still be rocking when big names roll through town,  but it is going to be tough to stay invested and motivated in your team’s success when you know no matter how well they do, there won’t be any pot of gold at the end of this proverbial rainbow.

2. A lot of pressure falls on the young shoulders of Omar Calhoun.

There Will Be No Postseason For Jim Calhoun And His Huskies Next Season

As if the postseason ban wasn’t enough of a stomach punch, the program also watched as its two most talented players – Jeremy Lamb and Andre Drummond – left for the NBA; one of its captains – Alex Oriakhi – transfer because he was unhappy; and another key contributor – Roscoe Smith – transfer out so he could play small forward. Needing to replace a lot of scoring and talent, the coaching staff brought in exactly three players. There is 6-foot-10 Philip Nolan who should provide defensive support in the post but is really raw offensively. There is Leon Tolksdorf, another German recruit who at the very least should provide much needed depth to a frontcourt sorely in need of it. And then there is 6-foot-3 combo guard and New York City native Omar Calhoun. Calhoun is strong enough psychically and multi-talented enough offensively to step into a contributing role immediately. After all, he hasn’t even been on campus for more than a few months and already has held his own against arguably the program’s best player ever in a game of one-on-one. But the Big East won’t be a one-on-one scrimmage, and Calhoun will need to learn quickly, because the Huskies need a lot of help across the board especially given the scoring exodus that took place during the offseason. Calhoun has all the tools to fill some of that scoring gap right away, so he should be ready to make the most of this opportunity.

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Rough Offseason Has UConn Reeling, But Team Remains Hopeful in 2012-13

Posted by EJacoby on June 21st, 2012

Breaking news surfaced on Wednesday when the NCAA released its Academic Progress Report (APR) for all Division I athletic programs, and a whopping 10 men’s basketball teams are now banned from the 2012-13 NCAA Tournament after failing to reach the required APR average score of 900 over the last four years. The biggest name on the list, and the only power conference school to ever receive a postseason APR ban, is Connecticut, which recorded a four-year score of 889. But none of this was news to the Huskies, a school which had already lost an appeal this offseason for inclusion. The postseason ban is just one of many pieces of bad news that UConn has received this offseason, which has put the future of UConn basketball in serious doubt. Your 2011 National Champions have struggled on and off the court since that wild run two springs ago sparked by Kemba Walker and company. Transfers, violations, firings, underperformance, and bans have dominated the news cycle around Storrs and 70-year-old future Hall of Fame head coach Jim Calhoun remains on the fence about coaching his team for much longer. Where does UConn go from here, and what can we expect from the Huskies on the court next season?

Jim Calhoun’s future remains in doubt, but the Hall of Fame coach doesn’t want to leave the program in chaos (AP Photo)

Connecticut basketball has been nothing short of a disaster since hauling the National Championship trophy two seasons ago. While that year’s historic run of 11 straight postseason wins is forever engrained in Storrs lore and perhaps fans can accept a few years’ grace period after winning a title, it’s still hard to believe how quickly things have fallen. UConn entered 2011-12 as the Big East preseason favorites but struggled to a 20-14 finish, playing through multiple suspensions and the extended absence of Calhoun due to rules violations and health reasons. The team lost its first round NCAA Tournament game to Iowa State in convincing fashion, and things have only gotten worse since that game in March. Top talents Jeremy Lamb and Andre Drummond both declared for the NBA Draft, and forwards Roscoe Smith, Michael Bradley, and Alex Oriakhi all transferred out of the program, leaving major holes in the roster. The team is ineligible for both the 2013 Big East and NCAA Tournaments after poor academic performances in the past four years. Recruiting has been understandably difficult, as the school remains a questionable short term destination for prospects. There’s a brand new athletic director (Warde Manuel) on campus who has yet to implement his long-term strategy. And perhaps most importantly, Calhoun remains uncommitted to his future on campus. The 70-year-old has two more years left on his contract and certainly does not want to leave the program in chaos, but the future Hall of Famer will probably not stick around much longer no matter what situation the team is in.

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Morning Five: 05.28.12 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on May 28th, 2012

  1. On Friday the NCAA ruled that Central Michigan transfer Trey Zeigler would be able to play for Pittsburgh next season without having to sit out the usual one year. Citing historical precedent, Zeigler was granted a waiver because his father, Ernie, had been fired by Central Michigan. The addition of Zeigler to the Panther roster gives them one of the best backcourts in the country and makes them a potential top 25 team even if they have to work out a few things after last season’s disaster. We should note the curious decision by the NCAA to give athletes a waiver in this situation. Even though we are all for giving student-athletes the best opportunity to improve themselves it seems like the NCAA is creating some of these rules arbitrarily as your father losing a job is very different from someone in your family battling a terminal illness. In any event, it will be interesting to see how the Panthers utilize Zeigler over the next two seasons.
  2. As expected Connecticut transfer Roscoe Smith announced that he will be transferring to UNLV after leaving the Huskies program that will be forced to sit out next year’s NCAA Tournament. It is expected that Smith will be able to play for UNLV next season as his former team is ineligible for the postseason. If it is true, it could create a potential glut in the frontcourt for the Rebels. In fact, it will probably seem strange to many observers to say that a Mountain West team might be better to have a player who got regular minutes in the Big East sit out a year, but having Smith for two more years post-Mike Moser years might be of more benefit to the program. We doubt that Smith would want to do that so we might be seeing ridiculously early “buzzer-beater” shots coming to Las Vegas very soon.
  3. Another one of the 10 defendants charged in an illegal gambling ring that tried to influence the outcome of San Diego basketball games pleaded guilty in San Diego federal court. Richard Thweni became the third individual to enter a guilty plea in the case investigating the gambling operation that reportedly ran from January 2009 until April 2011. There are still seven more individuals who are waiting to be tried in court (or enter pleas), but we are unsure if all of the information surrounding reported attempts to influence those basketball games will ever come out.
  4. After a rumor was started that three teams from the ACC–Florida State, Clemson, and Miami–were looking at the possibility of moving to the Big 12. Of course that rumor was quickly refuted as a miscommunication, but it still got plenty of people talking. We did not really read too much into this as we assume that every school is constantly on the lookout for options that are better for themselves. Shawn Eichorst, Miami’s athletic director,  felt it was necessary to reiterate the Miami’s commitment to the ACC. It seems like a curious statement to make at least publicly, but to us there is only one translation–none of the better conferences want the Hurricanes right now..
  5. Remember all that talk about Kendall Marshall coming back from a scaphoid fracture to play within a week? It turns out that there was more wrong with Marshall than just that fracture as he also had a fractured elbow. In reality the injury is academic since no reputable medical staff would have cleared Marshall to play with the scaphoid fracture he sustained, but it makes all the talk about him playing again so soon in the NCAA Tournament seem even more ridiculous.
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Big East Weekly Five: 04.24.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on April 24th, 2012

  1. With three weeks having passed since Kentucky snipped the nets in victory we here at RTC Big East are officially in withdrawal and already cannot wait until the 2012-13 season tips off.  However, we understand that things tend to slow down a bit over the summer months and will just have to cope. That said there will continue to be plenty to discuss from week-to-week so we are happy to introduce the Big East Weekly Five.  Think of it as the Morning Five’s lazy cousin. You know, that cousin who doesn’t show up as much as some of the other relatives, but always seems to grace you with his presence if there is free beer?  The Weekly Five will continue throughout the summer and its goal is to provide similar content as the Big East Morning Fives that you have come know and cherish. In keeping with the desire of many to slim down for summer, there will just be less of us to love.  Still, just because we are getting lean and mean does not mean cutting back on the Fresca!
  2. Recruiting is the name of the game in the spring and summer, especially if you are St. John’s head coach Steve Lavin who coming into the weekend had five open scholarships for next year burning a hole in his pocket. What a difference a few days makes as Lavin and St. John’s scored three solid commitments when Harvard transfer Max Hooper joined Monroe (junior) College teammates Marco Bourgault and Orlando Sanchez in pledging for the Red Storm. All three players were on the Queens campus over the weekend — Lavin just needed to seal the deal. Bourgault and Hooper are shooters who will be tasked to help St. John’s stretch the floor with their ability to hit it from deep. The 6’6” Bourgault averaged 10.9 points per game for Monroe and made 42% of his three-point attempts. Hooper, also 6’6”, appeared in just two games while at Harvard and did not make the only shot he attempted. Fittingly both shooters will have three years of eligibility, although Hooper will have to first sit out a season under NCAA transfer rules. The 6’9″ Sanchez may represent Lavin’s biggest coup of the week as he fought off Big East rival Providence and the always persistent Ed Cooley in a battle for the big man. Sanchez will have two years of eligibility remaining.
  3. Seton Hall appears to have filled the significant void vacated by graduating star point guard Jordan Theodore as Texas transfer and Seton Hall Prep alum Sterling Gibbs will be coming home to suit up for the Pirates. The addition of Gibbs solidifies Seton Hall’s lead guard position, but the real kicker for head coachKevin Willard is that he may have Gibbs at the controls this coming season. Gibbs has applied for a hardship waiver that, if granted, would allow him to avoid sitting out next season per normal NCAA transfer rules.  The basis for the hardship waiver request is reported to be a family member’s illness. In Gibbs’ freshman season in Austin, he played in 30 games averaging 2.6 points and 0.7 assists in 7.5 minutes per game for the Longhorns.
  4. While players appear to be headed to St. John’s in droves, the exit door at Connecticut is getting an intense workout. Faced with the reality of not being allowed to play in next season’s Big East and NCAA Tournaments due to his program’s failure to meet NCAA Academic Progress Rate (APR) standards, sophomore forward Roscoe Smith became the latest to leave the program when he indicated he will transfer over the weekend. Smith, who averaged 4.4 points and 3.4 rebounds in 18.2 minutes per game this past season, joins fellow transfers Alex Oriakhi, who has since committed to Missouri, and Michael Bradley, along with Andre Drummond and Jeremy Lamb who declared for the NBA Draft.  Bradley, however, may ultimately opt to remain in Storrs as his primary reason for requesting a release from his scholarship is to explore options around moving closer to his ill grandmother.  The 6’10″ forward was scheduled to meet head coachJim Calhoun yesterday to discuss his future.
  5. The NCAA defended its position on Academic Progress Rate (APR) guidelines when it responded to a letter written by six members of Connecticut’s legislature that said banning the Huskies from NCAA Tournament play next year represented too harsh a penalty. The crux of the letter echoed the university’s appeal-losing position, stating that the APR calculations are not fair because they incorporate performance dating back four years when no one on the current roster was on the team. NCAA spokesman Bob Williams countered that the standards have been in place since 2006 and Connecticut knew the standard by which they and all other schools and teams were being measured.

You May Not Have College Hoops For Awhile, But You Can Always Have Fresca

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Big East Morning Five: 02.27.12 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on February 27th, 2012

  1.  Syracuse clinched the Big East regular season crown this weekend when C.J. Fair blocked a last-second three-pointer by Roscoe Smith and the Orange held on to a 71-69 win over Connecticut. The Huskies’ faithful wanted a foul and they certainly had a legitimate argument, but the referee swallowed his whistle and Syracuse sealed the No. 1 seed in next weekend’s Big East Tournament. Although he was probably outplayed by Andre Drummond, center Fab Melo had the go-ahead putback flush with 31 seconds left and held his own with 11 points and nine rebounds. The loss put a very serious dent in the Huskies’ at-large chances, but it also showed that the Orange aren’t invincible heading into the Big East Tournament. As history has proven many times, the tournament has always been unpredictable. But this year it really seems like any of nine teams could win this thing. Is it next weekend yet?
  2. In a game with plenty of intrigue but very little offense, South Florida edged Cincinnati, 46-45, and put themselves in excellent bubble position in the process. The two teams combined to shoot 37-of-127 from the field, including a whopping 6-of-42 from behind the three-point line. But kudos to freshman point guard Anthony Collins, who led the Bulls in scoring with 14 and drained a pair of game-winning free-throws with 3.2 seconds left. It’s been a vindicating season for South Florida coach Stan Heath for finally putting an NCAA Tournament-worthy team on the court, but this isn’t a time for patting themselves on the back. A win on Wednesday at No. 17 Louisville would go a long way to putting the Bulls on the right side of the bubble for good.
  3. It didn’t take long for Bog Huggins to say what everybody already knew, that he is tired of watching wins that seemed within grasp slowly slip away down the stretch. After letting another double-digit lead slip away against Marquette Friday night, West Virginia will need to make a run in the Big East Tournament if they hope to ensure a spot in the Big Dance. The problem is that the reason WVU has let so many leads evaporate is because they are really young, inexperienced, and incapable of stopping more experienced teams when they bear down. No one exemplifies this better than mercurial freshman Jabarie Hinds. The ultra-quick guard has shown flashes of his vast potential this season, but he has had just as many games like he had Friday when he missed all four shots he took and turned the ball over four times. He doesn’t deserve to be singled out because the problem is a team-wide issue, but that is primarily why Huggins’ streak of NCAA Tournament appearances might be over soon.
  4. If there was one loss over the weekend that really shouldn’t have happened, it was Notre Dame‘s lackluster defeat to St. John’s. Yes, it was a road game, but there is no reason why the Fighting Irish should have shot 4-of-31 from behind the three-point arc, and even then they still had a chance to win the game at the end. There is no doubt Mike Brey has done a terrific job this season and his team has transformed in the past two months right before our very eyes, but it is games like this that give critics the ammunition to discount them. Their NCAA Tournament bid is all but wrapped up, but the going doesn’t get any easier as the Irish will be heading to Washington, D.C., to square off with the Hoyas tonight on national television. They can help quiet those critics if they can rebound against a talented Georgetown team.
  5. The other team that should be kicking themselves this weekend, perhaps even more than Notre Dame, is the Seton Hall Pirates. A win on senior night over Rutgers would have allowed them to breathe a little easier on Selection Sunday, but instead they let Dane Miller run roughshod over their defense and they lost in overtime. Now, their future is murkier, and some think the Pirates will need to win at least one game in the conference tournament if they want to ensure they will be playing in the NCAA Tournament. As Brendon Prunty points out, this was really the first bad loss for Seton Hall, and they might even be headed for the First Four rather than the actual tournament. But, was anyone really surprised? The Pirates have played Jekyll and Hyde basketball all season, and this is no different. They better hope they handle DePaul in their season finale, otherwise they will be in real trouble.
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The Doctor Is In The House: Connecticut Edition

Posted by mlemaire on January 31st, 2012

Over the next few weeks we will be diagnosing some of the weaknesses and reasons behind the struggles of some Big East teams. Next up is Connecticut, losers of their last three games and five of their last seven.

When you lose someone as important to your offense and departed star Kemba Walker was to UConn’s offense, there will undoubtedly be some growing pains. But most people thought that the remaining talent on Jim Calhoun’s roster was enough to make them a viable if unlikely contender to repeat as National Champions. But now, on the heels of three straight close losses to supposedly inferior teams, some are beginning to wonder if the young Huskies have enough left in the tank to make the NCAA Tournament at all.

1. The team’s commitment to defense seems to have disappeared.

Since 2003, the Huskies have been a consistent presence among the nation’s leaders in defensive efficiency, having never ranked below #41 overall. This season they currently are ranked #80 in the country in defensive efficiency, despite having not one but two premier shot-blockers and endless amounts of length and athleticism on the wings. The team is second in the conference in field-goal percentage but dead last in the conference in three-point field goal percentage which would seem to mean that the onus is on the Huskies’ perimeter defenders to take away their opponents’ open looks. But a renewed commitment to defense will have to be a team effort. Even if Alex Oriakhi can’t get back to blocking shots at the same rate he did in the past two seasons, the Huskies will still block plenty of shots, so forcing turnovers and closing out on shooters should be two things Calhoun harps on in practice.

Traditionally Excellent, UConn's Defense Hasn't Been Up To Speed This Season.

2. There has not been any consistent offensive post play.

When the highly touted Andre Drummond reclassified and joined UConn in time for the start of this season, pundits and fans alike began salivating over the prospect of having Drummond and Oriakhi playing alongside each other in the middle of UConn’s defense. Not only would they be a two-man block party defensively, but their simultaneous presence would make it difficult for opposing defenses to double-team either of them. Unfortunately, none of that has happened. Drummond is a difference-maker defensively and he has shown flashes offensively, but he remains inconsistent and sometimes timid.

Oriakhi probably deserves his own number in this column as this season has been nothing short of an unmitigated disaster for the junior captain. He was supposed to assume a larger role offensively and blossom into one of the conference’s best big men. Instead he has seen his minutes drop and as a result he is averaging a paltry 6.5 points and 4.9 rebounds per game and has posted just one double-double all season. According to KenPom, the Huskies are the eighth-tallest team in the country, so there should be no reason why they are being outrebounded by Notre Dame‘s undersized bunch.

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Big East Afternoon Five: 01.23.12 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on January 23rd, 2012

  1. You will have to excuse the late posting as I attended the NFC Championship game last night in San Francisco and completely shirked my Morning Five duties, so instead, you folks get an afternoon five. It’s hardly news at this point but No. 1 Syracuse suffered its first loss of the season at the hands of Notre Dame on Saturday. The Orange shot the ball terribly (18-53 for the game) and the Fighting Irish couldn’t miss, especially from behind the arc, but it certainly didn’t help that ‘Cuse center Fab Melo didn’t play in the game due to an academic suspension. ESPN‘s Andy Katz reported that the school hopes to get Melo back in time for next Saturday’s game against West Virginia, which means Syracuse fans shouldn’t be unduly worried. But Jim Boeheim’s squad does play a very good Cincinnati team tonight on the road, and they will need to rebound aggressively to make up for their center’s absence.
  2. After beating Cincinnati in overtime on Saturday, we figured it was time to give Bob Huggins and his West Virginia Mountaineers they credit they deserve, and the Charleston Daily Mail agreed. The Mountaineers were considered a tournament team before the season started, but now they are just a game behind Syracuse in the loss column and angling for a top-four seed in the NCAA Tournament. The team is led by runaway favorite for Big East Player of the Year, Kevin Jones, and volume-scoring point guard Truck Bryant, but they are also getting contributions from freshmen guards Jabarie Hinds and Gary Browne as well. Last week, we argued that it was still early to call the Bearcats the conference’s second-best team; well, it’s still too early to consider the Mountaineers the conference’s second-best team, but they have inserted themselves in the discussion.
  3. Tennessee is an improving team, especially now that they added stud freshman Jarnell Stokes in the middle of the season, but losing to the Volunteers on Saturday was a bad loss for Connecticut and their hopes for a top seed come tournament time. It is never a good thing when two players (Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier) take 35 shots and its even worse when they combine to make just 14 of those shots. Andre Drummond looked like he had turned a corner last week, but Saturday was his second-straight subpar performance and Stokes thoroughly outplayed him on both ends of the floor. Perhaps the most distressing aspect of the loss was that Niels Giffey and Roscoe Smith, two of the players supposed to replace suspended freshman Ryan Boatright‘s offensive production, were basically non-factors. The Huskies desperately need one of those two guys to get going if they are going to get back to their winning ways.
  4. Not too many people expected Louisville‘s Kyle Kuric or Pittsburgh‘s Tray Woodall to suit up when the two teams met on Saturday, but both did, to drastically different results. Kuric buried five three-pointers and finished with 21 points in 33 minutes, while Woodall went 0-5 from the field and had more turnovers (three) than assists (two) in 21 minutes as the Panthers lost and fell to a shocking 0-7 in the conference. Obviously it is good news for both teams that either player even made it onto the court, but it seems clear that Woodall is still a ways off from being 100% and he is arguably more important to Pittsburgh than Kuric is to Louisville. The Cardinals still have enough athletes to fill the scoring void of Kuric, at least in part. But the Panthers need Woodall’s playmaking ability to help the offense and also allow Ashton Gibbs to return to the wing, where he is more effective and more comfortable. It will be interesting to see if Pitt coach Jamie Dixon tries to rush Woodall back in the midst of what is looking like a lost season at this point.
  5. The last of the five is reserved for observations about someone we have already mentioned — UConn freshman Andre Drummond. Physically and athletically, Drummond is a stud. There might not be another player in the country that has his combination of size, strength, athleticism, skill, and speed. You just wouldn’t know it from watching him play recently. Saturday against Tennessee, Drummond managed just six points on eight shots in 31 minutes. And the game before, a loss to Cincy, Drummond had just four points and six rebounds on nine shots. The linked observations make a good point, it is no longer a question of talent, it is a question of desire and consistency. Drummond should not be criticized for his mild-mannered attitude off the court, it is what makes him one of the more refreshing and likable stars in college basketball. But he needs to start being more assertive on the court, and once he does, the rest of the country better look out.
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Checking In On… The Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 16th, 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

  • Syracuse A Cut Above: With wins over Villanova and Providence this week, Syracuse has moved its record to 19-0 (6-0), equaling the best start in school history (1999-2000). On Monday night, the Orange will try to move to 20-0 for the first time ever when they host Pittsburgh, a team they have lost to five straight times. With 12 games remaining, people are starting to wonder if Syracuse can run the table. It would be a surprise if Jim Boeheim’s team lost at home to anyone, despite visits by Georgetown and Connecticut to the Dome in February. On the road, possible tough trips to Cincinnati, Connecticut, and Louisville appear to be the only obstacles standing in the way of an undefeated season. Syracuse has a 13.7% chance of going 31-0, according to the Pomeroy ratings, but I would put it higher. I think the Orange have a 40% chance to go all the way and those odds are getting better each and every day.
  • Connecticut Back On Track: After consecutive losses to Seton Hall and Rutgers almost two weeks ago, some had wondered if this Connecticut team would ever live up to its preseason billing as a top-five team. While I doubt that is true, the Huskies responded in a big way this past week by defeating West Virginia and Notre Dame. UConn used a 17-3 second half run, sparked by a Jim Calhoun technical, to overcome a ten-point deficit against the Mountaineers before going on the road and snapping Notre Dame’s 29-game home court winning streak. Andre Drummond had a terrific week, but the bigger story might be Alex Oriakhi showing signs of improvement. The junior forward had been in a season-long slump but managed to score 20 points this week, including a 12/7 performance in the win against the Fighting Irish.  However, there was some bad news mixed in for UConn last week. Ryan Boatright was suspended by the NCAA on Friday night for the second time over eligibility concerns.
  • Pittsburgh and Louisville Embarrassed: Raise your hand if you predicted these scores at the beginning of the year: Providence 90, Louisville 59. Rutgers 62, Pittsburgh 39 (at Pitt). Two of the power programs in the conference were waxed by two perennial bottom-feeders, all part of what has been an unpredictable season in the Big East. Louisville has lost four of six while Pitt is in more dire straits having lost six consecutive games. That could easily be seven in a row after the Panthers return from Syracuse tomorrow night. The good news for both teams? They bounced back and played fairly well in games on Saturday with the Cardinals disposing of DePaul and the Panthers nearly stealing an impressive road win at Marquette. Pitt lost the game, but Jamie Dixon had to have picked up some encouraging vibes from that performance. Pittsburgh and Louisville will get together this Saturday in the Steel City.

 

Ask The Never-Satisfied Jim Boeheim What He Thinks Of His Team's Chances At An Undefeated Season, And This Will Likely Be His Reaction. (Frank Ordoñez / The Post-Standard)

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (19-0, 6-0) – This team just keeps on chugging along and nobody has really threatened the Orange in a big way this season. There have been close calls here and there (Stanford, Florida, and Marquette), but Syracuse is a cut above every other team in this conference. As I mentioned above, I believe there is a good chance this team runs the table in conference play. Dion Waiters scored 20 points at Villanova, part of 47 bench points for the Orange, compared to 32 for the starters. Syracuse held the Wildcats to 33% shooting on their home floor at the Wells Fargo Center. Against Providence, it was all Orange from the start. Syracuse had 12 steals and forced 22 Friar turnovers. Scoop Jardine played like a quality point guard, scoring ten points but dishing out nine assists. The Orange blocked ten Providence shots and shot 73% in the second stanza. Syracuse continues to rank in the top ten in both offensive and defensive efficiency, but the Achilles heel for this team seems to be rebounding specifically on the defensive end. The Orange rank #307 in defensive rebounding percentage, but I don’t anticipate that being a major problem until tournament time. This week: 1/16 vs. Pittsburgh, 1/21 @ Notre Dame. Read the rest of this entry »
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Four Thoughts: Connecticut v. Seton Hall Edition

Posted by mlemaire on January 4th, 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 from the night before. Enjoy!

Hopefully this game taught Connecticut freshman Andre Drummond that, even if he legitimately has no idea who the opposing team’s best player is, it’s probably better to not say that into a reporter’s recording device. Seton Hall took advantage of the Huskies’ slow start last night to stake a 13-point lead at halftime, and cruised to a 75-63 victory at the Prudential Center in Newark. Here are some of the key takeaways from the upset.

1. Don’t look now, but Seton Hall is a legitimate NCAA Tournament contender.

Kevin Willard Has Seton Hall angling for a NCAA Tournament bid after last night's win over Connecticut (AP Photo/Skip Peterson)

Entering the season with a new coach and having lost three of their top four scorers, the Pirates were considered an afterthought in the Big East this season and were picked to finish 13th in the conference’s annual preseason poll. And after they were dismantled by Syracuse 75-49 in their conference opener, it seemed as if the predictions about Kevin Willard’s squad would prove true, but the Pirates had other ideas. Two nights after the Syracuse debacle, Seton Hall rolled over a solid West Virginia team 67-48 and then last night they beat the No. 8 team in the country handily. Senior forward Herb Pope has emerged as one of the conference’s best big man, senior guard Jordan Theodore has been sublime as the point guard, and sophomore forward Fuquan Edwin has been stuffing the stat sheet and is one of the more versatile forwards in the conference. It’s important not to get ahead of ourselves as it’s difficult to imagine a team with a seven-deep rotation surviving a rugged conference schedule, but after that win last night, it shouldn’t shock anyone if the Pirates finish in the top half of the conference.

2. Should we really still consider UConn’s frontcourt as one of the nation’s elite?

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Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 27th, 2011

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 Pair of Upsets: How many of you had Wagner winning at Pittsburgh? The Seahawks won their first game against a ranked team since P.J. Carlesimo was the head coach at the school in the late 1970’s, knocking off the Panthers 59-54. Even without point guard Tray Woodall, this is not a game Pittsburgh should have lost. While Ashton Gibbs certainly has to carry more of the load, his shooting has been sub-par this entire season. Against Wagner, the senior Big East Preseason POY shot 5-16 from the floor and 1-7 from deep, dropping his field goal percentage to 37.7% on the year. Usually one of the most efficient teams in the country, Pittsburgh was held to a stunning 89.2 efficiency rating against Wagner. Previously, Pitt’s season low had been 101.7 in a win over La Salle. Last Monday, LSU surprised Marquette in Baton Rouge, downing the previously undefeated Golden Eagles by a score of 67-59. While LSU isn’t an awful team, Marquette allowed the Tigers to shoot 53.5% for the game, something that has to concern Buzz Williams given how well Marquette has played defensively. If Marquette wants to contend for a conference title, it has to defend night in and night out.
  • Non-Conference Play Winds Down: There are 152 games remaining with Big East teams involved and 144 of those (94.7%) will be conference games. Four of the eight remaining non-conference games will take place over the coming week, so you can bet we here at RTC are more than ready to transition into conference play. As we head into the new calendar year, four Big East teams seem to be contenders while another four or five are in contention for NCAA bids. The bottom of the conference is broader and weaker than usual, with at least four and possibly six teams incapable of mounting a run at a bid. As to who wins the league (my poll question above), I am sticking with my preseason pick of Syracuse. The Orange go a legitimate ten deep and, while they do not have a superstar, they are strong defensively and play with great energy. Connecticut may be more talented and Louisville may play harder, but Syracuse is the best team in my estimation. I would love to hear the readers’ take (on this or anything else) in the poll above or in the comments section below.
  • Bob Huggins Wins His 700th Game: It took a crazy Gary Browne three-pointer to force overtime, but West Virginia was able to knock off Missouri State on Thursday night for Coach Huggins’ 700th career victory. He’s now in select company with the likes of Lefty Driesell, Lute Olson, Lou Henson, Henry Iba, Phog Allen and, Norm Stewart in the 700 club. Currently 58 years old and under contract with West Virginia through the 2018-19 season, Huggins has a chance to approach 900 wins if he stays healthy. After winning #700, he joins Jim Boeheim and Jim Calhoun as the only active Big East coaches to win at least 700 games. He is fourth on the active list of all-time wins, trailing his two Big East peers as well as Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.

The Hoyas Have Outperformed Preseason Projections Thanks To Two Wins Over Memphis And A Big Road Victory In Tuscaloosa. (Richard Lipski/AP)

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (13-0) – Among many other things, Syracuse has done a terrific job in turnover margin. The Orange lead the Big East by a wide margin in that department and rank in the top ten nationally in both offensive and defensive turnover percentage. Fueled by Dion Waiters off the bench, the Syracuse transition attack has been sensational. Big East play begins this week with a visit from upstart Seton Hall followed by a trip to DePaul. Surprisingly, Syracuse was out-rebounded by Tulane, including 15-9 on the offensive glass. This week: 12/28 vs. Seton Hall, 1/1 @ DePaul.
  2. Louisville (12-0) – It hasn’t been easy, but Louisville just keeps winning. The Cardinals trailed Charleston and Western Kentucky this week before putting those teams away late in the game. Against Charleston, Rick Pitino made a great adjustment late in the game by putting the more versatile Kyle Kuric at the free throw line to attack the Charleston zone instead of Gorgui Dieng.  Dieng still had a great week, going for 14/12 against the Cougars and 13/15 against the Hilltoppers. Louisville ranks fourth nationally in defensive efficiency, but its offense continues to be a work in progress. As I said in this spot last week, the longer the Cardinals can keep winning before getting their roster back to full strength, the better. This week offers a huge test against two teams that can really put the ball in the basket. This week: 12/28 vs. #15 Georgetown, 12/31 @ #2 Kentucky. Read the rest of this entry »
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