Injury Bug Impacts Notre Dame

Posted by rtmsf on October 2nd, 2009

Every year around the few weeks prior to formal practice you start to see these types of reports of players getting injured during workouts.  You hate to see it, but at least in most of these situations, the player knows that the year is lost and can start thinking about a full year of recovery rather than trying to rush it.  Case in point:

Notre Dame Loses Scott Martin

Bad news out of South Bend today – Scott Martin, a 6-8, 219 lb. junior guard who was expected to start for the Irish in 2009-10, will miss the entire season due to a torn ACL in his left knee.  Before transferring to Notre Dame, Martin averaged 8.5 points in his freshman year at Purdue, where he played 21.9 minutes per game.  Those numbers would have been helpful for Mike Brey’s team this year, as Martin seems to be in the same build as Ryan Ayers, a 6-7, 210 lb. guard who scored 11.1 ppg in 2008-09, his senior season.  The injury occurred during preseason workouts yesterday, and an MRI earlier today confirmed the ACL tear.

It remains to be seen who will fill in now that Martin’s Fighting Irish debut will be delayed another year. Besides Luke Harangody, no one on the team grabbed five rebounds a game last year, and now Brey will be forced to fill in with a smaller player (6-3 Ben Hansbrough, also in his first year after a transfer from Mississippi St.) or someone with little to no experience. While none of the incoming freshmen at Notre Dame garnered more than three stars from Rivals.com and Scout.com, they may see the floor more than expected. The Irish were already entering the season with questions as to how they would replace Kyle McAlarney, who was second on the team in scoring (15.0 ppg) and first in offensive efficiency. Undoubtedly, Mike Brey expected Scott Martin to help answer some of those questions.

 purdue scott martin

Emmanuel Negedu Medical Update

In Wednesday’s Fast Breaks, we reported that Tennessee sophomore forward Emmanuel Negedu was being held by UT doctors for testing after he collapsed while lifting weights and the team trainers had to revive him before taking him to the hospital. While Negedu’s collapse has yet to be diagnosed, the good news is that he’s been released from the UT Medical Center now.  Before his basketball future can be decided, Negedu will be seeing specialists at the Cleveland (OH) Clinic for more tests.  Thankfully, UT trainers Chad Newman and Jason McVeigh were on hand last week when Negedu’s collapse occurred, and we wish him all the best with his health (basketball can wait).
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ATB: Notre Dame is a Little Overdone. Let’s Not Discuss Them Again.

Posted by rtmsf on March 3rd, 2009

afterbuzzer1

It’s OV-UH. Villanova 77, Notre Dame 60.  Unless Mike Brey’s Irish win four games in four days to get to the Big East finals, we don’t want to hear another word about this team’s NCAA Tournament chances.  Sorry, but when you’re playing for your postseason life in an arena when you’ve won something like 48 of your last 50 games and you get ripped a new one in the second half by a team that has much less on the line, you’ve lost your standing to make your case.  Villanova’s defense held the Irish to 39% shooting for the game, especially during a key 12-0 run in the middle of the second half that effectively salted the game away.  Although ND’s Ryan Ayers blew up for seven threes and 25 pts, Villanova shadowed and harassed Kyle McAlarney and Tory Jackson into a combined 3-15 evening, while committing a season-low five turnovers on its end of the court.  Scottie Reynolds added 23/6/5 assts on 8-12 shooting, including six threes.  Villanova has surprised us all season long, and the Wildcats are now in a position to earn a top-four double-bye at the Big East Tourney should they beat Providence on Thursday and Marquette loses its final two games at Pitt and vs. Syracuse.  How have they done it?  Nova doesn’t particularly excel at any one thing offensively or defensively, but they don’t have a huge weakness either.  The difference between this year and last has been the emergence of Dante Cunningham, who has given Villanova a legitimate post threat for the first time since Curtis Sumpter was buzzing around the Main Line.  With wins over Pitt, Marquette, Syracuse and closes losses to Louisville and UConn, the Cats have proven they can play with just about anybody.

What Happened to Baylor? Texas 73, Baylor 57.  Texas beat Baylor for the 24th consecutive time tonight behind 16 from Dexter Pittman off the bench and 14  pts each from AJ Abrams and Justin Mason.  Baylor couldn’t throw it in the ocean, shooting 32% including a miserable 3-17 performance from Curtis Jerrells.  Texas got a necessary win to move to 9-6 in the Big 12 race, with a game at Kansas this weekend to finish off the regular season.  UT looks like a one-and-done team this year, but what happened to Baylor, a preseason top 25 team that, coming into conference play, looked every bit as good as the NCAA Tournament team from last season.  While the Baylor defense is marginally worse than it was last year, we don’t think that’s the reason.  Rather, somewhere along the way, the Bears forgot how to put the ball in the hole.  In eight of their last eleven games, Baylor has shot 41% or less, and not coincidentally, they lost seven of those games.  In the two games where they managed to hit 50%+, they won.  The other factor is that the face of the Bear program, Jerrells, is slumping.  In that same 11-game period, Jerrells has had three games of single figures and shot 30% from the field – without his production, Baylor has been a middle-of-the-pack Big 12 team.

One Other Monday Game of Interest.

  • Davidson 90, Elon 78.  Stephen Curry had 25/5/4 stls tonight as he passed the 2,500 pt mark for his career.  Now it’s on to the SoCon Tourney next weekend, and Curry’s team probably needs to win it.
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RTC Live: Notre Dame at #2 UConn – Saturday 2 PM ET

Posted by nvr1983 on February 26th, 2009

rtc_live

We’re following up Tuesday Night’s RTC Live where Providence knocked off #1 Pittsburgh leading  to the first RTC Aftermath with a trip to Storrs, Connecticut, where Notre Dame will attempt to knock off UConn. While the game is significant for the Huskies (a win would mean they would go back to #1), it is enormous for the Fighting Irish. Mike Brey‘s squad remains on the bubble despite winning 4 of their last 5 games (including a 33-point annihilation of a very good Louisville team that played very poorly) after going a month without a win (7 consecutive losses), but a win over Jim Calhoun‘s Huskies would be huge for their NCAA tournament resume and would put them in position to finish 10-8 in the Big East with their remaining games against Villanova and St. John’s in South Bend.

The last time these teams met was on January 24th when UConn came into the Joyce Center and beat the Fighting Irish, 69-61, to end Notre Dame’s home winning streak at 45, which was the longest in the nation at that time. In that game, UConn held Notre Dame to 33% FG and used a 13-1 run in the 2nd half (along with a huge edge at the line–30 attempts compared to 4 for the Irish) to put the game away. Jerome Dyson, who won’t be playing on Saturday as he is out for the year with a meniscal tear, led the Huskies in scoring with 15 points to go with 9 rebounds. Jeff Adrien also had a big game with 12 points and 19 rebounds. Luke Harangody led the Irish with 24 points and 15 rebounds despite playing against Hasheem Thabeet, the likely national defensive player of the year. Notre Dame’s other big scoring threat, Kyle McAlarney, started off hot hitting his first three shots from beyond the arc before going pulling a John Starks-in-Game 7 performance by missing his last 12 shots from the field. Senior guard Ryan Ayers also struggled with his shooting going 1-for-10 from the field in the game.Since that game, which was featured on ESPN GameDay, the teams have gone in opposite directions. The Huskies went on a roll with the exception of their hiccup last Monday against Pittsburgh while the Irish, who were ranked 19th in the nation at the time, lost their next 5 games as part of their month-long 7-game losing streak.

The big match-up in this game will be in the middle where Harangody will be battling Thabeet, who called out Harangody on an ESPN cover in the pre-season (Thabeet later apologized). These two will likely end up on the first team All-Big East squad and on an All-American team. While Harangody dominated Thabeet statistically in the first match-up, Thabeet’s defense disrupted Notre Dame’s attack enough to help the Huskies escape with the win. [Please don't leave a Chamberlain-Russell comparison in the comment section. This also applies for Michael Lewis-style Shane Battier arguments.] One of the interesting aspects of this match-up outside of the obvious offense/defense contrast is whether Harangody’s outside game can draw Thabeet away from the basket opening up space for Notre Dame to clean up underneath. Unfortunately for the Irish, they don’t have another interior presence on the offensive end. Thus, barring an explosion from Harangody, which he is capable of, the interior match-up will probably end up being a draw with Stanley Robinson and Adrien making up for any statistical advantage that Harangody has over Thabeet because I’m not expecting much out of Zach Hillesland (5.4 PPG and 5.5 RPG) against the Huskies frontline.

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Checking in on the… Big East

Posted by rtmsf on February 25th, 2009

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

Until Tuesday night, it was a relatively uneventful week in the Big East. The teams that should have won got the Ws, while the teams that were supposed to lose generally lost. That is, until Providence knocked off Pitt in front of packed house at the Dunk (for the record, Friar fans had one of the best ‘rushings of the court‘ that I have seen in a long time – they absolutely swallowed up the three Friar players in the center of the court).

Back to the point, not only were there not many upsets during the week, their weren’t that many outstanding performances. Weyinmi Efejuku of  Providence had 31 in a loss to Notre Dame. Ryan Ayers scored 28 in that same game, but earlier in the week struggled as the Irish lost to West Virginia. Luke Harangody had 26 and 13 in the Irish loss, but was non-existent until the final few minutes (when the game was decided) against Providence. DeJuan Blair’s 20 and 18 against DePaul (which should technically make the performance not count … it’s DePaul) is overshadowed by his 17 and 8 (and 5 turnovers and 5 fouls) in the loss to Providence.

You get the point.

Why should I be pointing that out to you? What is the significance of it? Is it just so I don’t look like a fool making my Player and Team of the Week picks?

Not exactly. It should show you that no team or player in the Big East (save for Providence, the damn Friars ruined my whole column) is stepping up to make a run at the NCAAs. As of this moment, the league should expect seven teams. After this win, Providence may be the eighth.

But Cincinnati, Notre Dame, and Georgetown all still had a realistic chance to get in by winning. Cincy’s loss to Louisville gives them a two game losing streak. A win at South Florida is not going to be enough for the Hoyas, who have now lost 9 of 11. Even Providence had lost two straight before the upset of Pitt.

Notre Dame is the only team that looks to have a little bit of life left in them. They have now won three of four, including wins over Louisville and Providence, with the loss coming at West Virginia. If the Irish can keep up their winning ways, there is a good chance the Big East could actually end up with nine tourney teams.

For the record, I’m sick of everyone talking about the Big East as the toughest conference in the country.

It isn’t.

Let it go.

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Checking in on the… Big East

Posted by rtmsf on January 28th, 2009

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

I’m not sure if anyone actually noticed, but Checking in on the… Big East was absent from RTC last week (amazing the blog could survive, right?). Long story short, I work in the restaurant industry in DC, and last week there was some big, citywide party for some guy who just won some election or something. Did anyone hear about that? Needless to say, I was a bit short on time, which meant my blogging efforts took a serious hit.

But you can sleep easy kiddies and kiddettes. Your favorite RTC correspondent is back to fill you in on the inner-workings of the biggest and baddest conference in all the land. We’re going to mix things up a bit this week, as a lot has happened in the past two weeks and, frankly, I was a little bored with the old format. So without further ado, let’s get you caught up on all the Big East action:

The way that I see it, there are ten teams that can seriously be considered for a spot in the NCAA’s. Of those ten teams, there are essentially two tiers they can be broken into – UConn, Louisville and Pitt (and maybe Marquette, but more on this in a second) in one; Syracuse, Villanova, Georgetown, Providence, West Virginia and Notre Dame in the other.

To be completely honest, the teams in that second tier all are beginning to look very average. The question I am stuck trying to answer is whether these teams are actually mediocre on a national scale, or if it just seems that way because they are getting pounded by excellent teams night in and night out in the Big East.

Take Notre Dame as an example. Once thought to be a top ten team, the Irish have dropped out of the AP Poll after four straight losses. But those losses are to Louisville, Syracuse, UConn and Marquette and the Irish also own a win over Texas and Georgetown (again, more on the Irish in a bit).

As the conference season moves on, one thing everyone needs to be keeping in mind is the way the Big East Tournament is going to work this year. All 16 teams are going to reach Madison Square Garden, but it is not going to be a typical 16 team tournament. The way it is scheduled is that teams ranked 9-16 will all play on Tuesday (9 vs. 16, etc.). On Wednesday, the winners of the Tuesday games will play the teams ranked 5-8 (8 vs. 9/16 winner). From there on, the tournament bracket is normal (1 vs. 8/9 winner, etc.).

Looking at the conference standings, it is going to be tough for anyone to crack the top four and get the double bye.

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Set Your Tivos: 01.26.09

Posted by nvr1983 on January 26th, 2009

Set Your TivosA really weak set of games tonight and only one really worth watching. To be honest, this is a surprisingly weak week of games. I would say there are only a handful of games that I would consider worth watching this week, but I’ll get to that in another post.

Game of the Night (The only one worth watching)
#10 Marquette at #19 Notre Dame at 7 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: This game might answer some of the questions I posed this weekend about the Big East. I think the conference is not as good as everyone says they are. I think there are only 3 great teams (Pittsburgh, UConn, and the reborn Louisville Cardinals) and a whole bunch of borderline teams. I am actually starting to think the ACC would match-up pretty well against the Big East if you account for the Big East having approximately 1/4th of D-1 in the conference.

While Marquette has an impressive record (17-2), they have not faced a good team all year (Villanova is questionable and that game was at home). A win at Notre Dame would certainly erase some of the doubts that many in the media have. Do I count as the media? Even though Notre Dame’s aura of invincibility in South Bend went up in smoke on Saturday against UConn, winning there will still be quite challenging. Buzz Williams, who has done a good job replacing Tom Crean, will need big games out of Wesley Matthews, Jerel McNeal, Lazar Hayward, and Dominic James if he wants to steal one in South Bend and have his Golden Eagles stake a legitimate claim as a Big East title contender.

That said, how likely is it that the Irish, who had a three-year, 45-game home winning streak snapped on Saturday night by UConn, would lose two in a row at home?  Not very.  Mike Brey’s team went stone cold in that game, shooting a miserable 33%, highlighted by Kyle McAlarney’s 12 bricks in a row (after starting 3-3) and a combined 2-15 from Zach Hillesland and Ryan Ayers.   Luke Harangody was the only scorer that showed for ND in that game (particularly in the second half when UConn’s defense was spectacular), so I expect that we’ll see a much-better Irish team tonight.  They sorta have to win this game – they’ve already lost their last three and a trip to Pittsburgh looms next.  A five-loss losing streak could crush this team’s confidence. 

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Set Your Tivos: 01.24.09 & 01.25.09

Posted by nvr1983 on January 23rd, 2009

Set Your Tivos

Check in with RTC on Saturday all day long as we piggyback the slowly burning wick of Boom Goes the Dynamite, your virtually live weekly journal of notes and observations about the day’s biggest games. 

Saturday
Game of the Day
#3 UConn at #19 Notre Dame at 7 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: The Irish will be looking to bounce back from consecutive road losses (at Louisville and at Syracuse), but that will be a tall task (insert Hasheem Thabeet joke here) against UConn–a team that many consider the best in the Big East (not just based on ranking). Reigning Big East POY Luke Harangody will have his hands full on the inside battling Thabeet and Jeff Adrien. The match-up on the outside should be even more interesting with the Irish backcourt of Kyle McAlarney, Tory Jackson, and Ryan Ayers battling A.J. Price, Jerome Dyson, and Kemba Walker. I’m not sure if the Irish have anybody to contend with slashing ability of UConn, but the key to this game will likely be the production of Price and Walker.

Although UConn is clearly the superior team in this match-up, they will have a tough time in South Bend as the Fighting Irish come into the game with a NCAA-best 44-game home winning streak. Mike Brey desperately needs this game if he wants to establish his team in the upper half of the league. A win for UConn would solidify their place as the Big East favorites and build on their already strong resume. It will be a hard-fought game, but I think in the end Jim Calhoun‘s squad will end the streak tonight.

Others to Watch
#11 UCLA at Washington at 4 PM on FSN: After a slow start (2-3), the Huskies have rallied to win 11 of their last 12 with their only loss coming by 3 points in OT to Cal. I’m not sure what clicked up there in Seattle, but now they are looking like a Pac-10 contender. If they want to challenge for the league title, they will have to knock off UCLA, the current kings of the Pac-10. I’m sure that Ben Howland has been all over his Bruins for their awful execution down the stretch last Saturday in their loss at home to Arizona State. It does not look like the Bruins have fully recovered from that meltdown as they nearly lost in Pullman to Washington State Thursday night and only survived thanks to a career-high 20 points from Nikola Dragovic. UCLA will need more consistent play from its perimeter players (Darren Collison, Josh Shipp, and Jrue Holldiay) or hope they find an inside game if they want to make yet another Final 4 appearance. For those of you who haven’t been following the Huskies, keep an eye on their diminutive freshman point guard Isaiah Thomas (15.8 PPG and 3.2 APG). It looks like is a future star in the Pac-10. Let’s hope that he isn’t charge of personnel moves/recruiting.

#23 Baylor at #5 Oklahoma at 4 PM on ESPNU: This is a match-up of two of the top 3 teams in the Big 12 (at least according to the polls). The Bears rely on a balanced attack with 5 players averaging double figures led by Curtis Jerrells, who averages 17.1 PPG. Scott Drew will need all 5 guys to hit their averages and hope for a little luck to steal one in Norman as Oklahoma is the clear favorite in the league. They are led by national POY candidate Blake Griffin who comes in averaging a ridiculous 22.3 PPG and 13.6 RPG. If he can get consistent support from Willie Warren and Tony Crocker this Sooner team could make deep run in March because I don’t think anybody in the country can guard Griffin.

Keep an eye on
Maryland at #2 Duke at Noon on ESPN and ESPN360.com: Even though this has traditionally been a heated rivalry I normally would not keep this game here except for the fact that if Duke wins they will be your new #1 team in the country. If they do get to #1, John Stevens is pretty sure that you will hear about it.

UW-Milwaukee at #17 Butler at Noon on Time Warner Sports 32, ESPN Full Court, and ESPN360.com: Butler is clearly the class of the Horizon League, but UW-Milwaukee may be the second best team in the conference so if anybody is going to knock Butler off in their conference tournament and create total chaos on Selection Sunday it may well be the Panthers.

#24 Memphis at Tennessee at 3:30 PM on CBS: It’s amazing that this match-up, which featured two powerhouses last year, has been reduced to this level. Memphis has the excuse of losing Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts. The Vols certainly lost some key players, but after coming into the season ranked in the top 10, this has to be a very disappointing start for Bruce Pearl. This would be a good way to start to resurrect the Vols’ season.

Wisconsin at #24 Illinois at 4 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: Bruce Weber will be looking for his Fighting Illini to continue their impressive start against a Badger team that is coming off 3 straight losses with the last 2 coming in OT.

#13 Xavier at LSU at 8 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: Normally I would hype this game as a mid-major team trying to steal one against the mighty BCS, but I can’t really do that this year with Butler ranked 13th and the SEC’s conspicuous absence from the polls (Florida is ranked in one, but will be gone with that awful loss to South Carolina). Ignoring that, this would be a great win for Xavier to add to their already strong resume for Selection Sunday, but they shouldn’t be overconfident heading into Baton Rouge as the Tigers having been playing well this season and are undefeated at home. [Yes. I realize I just warned Xavier not to be overconfident heading into a road game against a SEC team.]

Sunday
Game of the Day
#12 Louisville at #8 Syracuse at Noon on Big East Network, ESPN Full Court, and ESPN360.com: Finally we have a great game on Sunday. After several weekends with loaded Saturdays followed by a set of duds on Sunday, we get the hottest team in the Big East (Louisville) traveling to play at the team with the most to prove (Syracuse). We at RTC had been critical of Rick Pitino‘s Cardinals when they started slowly but they seem to have turned it around although it seems like the nation did not seem to take notice until they knocked off then #1 Pittsburgh. On the other sideline, Jim Boeheim‘s squad will be looking to bounce back from a difficult stretch where they lost games on the road to Georgetown and Pittsburgh with a win at home against Notre Dame sandwiched between those losses.

This game will likely come down to which team’s strength wins out. Syracuse has the edge on the outisde with Jonny Flynn, Eric Devendorf, and Andy Rautins having the upper hand in their match-up Earl Clark and Edgar Sosa. Louisville will have the edge on the inside with Samardo Samuels and Terrence Williams going against Arinze Onuaku and Paul Harris. I think these two teams are pretty evenly matched with Syracuse’s advantages being perimeter play and home court while Louisville’s advantages being inside play and momentum. I’ll go with the easy 2s and momentum and take Louisville to continue their current hot streak.

Others to Watch
#7 Michigan State at Ohio State at 3:45 PM on CBS: OSU had been playing better before its trip to Illinois the other night.  Still, West Virginia is the only team to get them on their home court this season, so Michigan St. had best bring a better game than it brought Wed. night against Northwestern, or they’ll be staring at 2 Ls this week.

#4 Pittsburgh at West Virginia at 4 PM on Big East Network, ESPN Full Court, and ESPN360.com: This game suddenly became even more interesting considering how dominant the Mountaineers looked tonight in DC against Georgetown.  Pitt recovered nicely with a home win against Syracuse, and they match up very well with the undersized WVU team, but so did Georgetown.  One thing you can be sure about in this one – most players will leave this one black and blue.

Virginia Tech at Miami at 5:30 PM on FSN: Anyone want to lay odds on which Virginia Tech team shows up coming off their victory over #1 Wake Forest on Wednesday?  Will it be the Hokie team that lost to Seton Hall and Georgia, or the one who led Wake from start to finish?  We’re betting it’s the SH/Georgia version.

Georgia Tech at #9 Clemson at 7:45 PM on FSN: This is a really weak set of FSN games this weekend (frankly the entire weekend is disappointing).  Still, if you’ve got nothing else going on, you can spend a couple of hours watching Paul Hewitt try to save his job and Oliver Purnell try to convince you that the Tigers are legit.

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Dynamic Duos in Search of a Third Wheel

Posted by rtmsf on January 14th, 2009

John Stevens is featured columnist for RTC.  His columns will appear on Tuesdays throughout the season. 

Ask any college basketball coach what a team needs to succeed in March and you’ll get a variety of answers — solid point guard play, a big inside threat, conditioning, luck, a guarantee that John Stevens will NOT bet on you – all popular answers.  A “go-to” guy is also a popular response, but I think history has shown that simply one standout player will not prove sufficient.  These days you have to have a balanced squad in addition to having at least two players you can call actual “go-to” guys.  A viable third option can have you breathing rarified air, indeed.  This season has proven incredibly interesting in that we have a lot of teams that are being seemingly led — whose very identities are made — by a couple of standout players.  In addition, if these teams that are led by Dynamic Duos see a helpful third option emerge — watch out.  There’s at least one of these teams in each of the major conferences, so let’s take a look at them.


 
ACC — Miami (FL)
 
True, the Hurricanes’ schedule is a little bland, but you can’t ignore a team with tough wins both at Kentucky and at Boston College.  Jack McClinton (16.9/2.8/3.1) and Dwayne Collins (12.1/7.8/1.3) have propelled this Miami team that has eleven guys who average at least 10 minutes a game which means that they have many options in terms of developing that third option.  Cyrus McGowan is an efficient player who provides 7.2/6.1 and he does it averaging 5 minutes less than the other significant scorers on that team, but the most likely candidate here to step up as the third option is James Dews, who averages 9.2/2.7 but upped his game in those big wins above against UK and BC by contributing 18 and 12, respectively.  You gotta give props to a guy who elevates himself in the big games.


 
Big 12 — Missouri
 
On their way to a 13-3 record so far, Missouri hasn’t exactly been sleeping on the job schedule-wise, tallying wins against USC and a surprising California side and losing a tough one to Xavier.  To that end, DeMarre Carroll (16.1/6.6) and Leo Lyons (14.6/6.2) have been a true Dynamic Duo for the Tigers because after that the production falls off to Matt Lawrence (9.6/2.3), especially in terms of rebounding (note: of course, Lyons needs to get this recent traffic thing sorted out).  Along with J.T. Tiller, Lawrence represents the most likely candidate to be the next option; Tiller averages the third most minutes on the team but Lawrence is actually more productive despite playing 4 fewer minutes per game.

I bet Demarre can beat me at curls. (photo credit: kansan.com)

Big East — Notre Dame
 
I know I don’t have to tell you about Luke Harangody; despite the special player he is I personally find more excitement watching Kyle McAlarney (16.6/2.6/3.4) because the man just has locker-room range.  Seriously, he’d shoot from his dorm room if they’d let him.  And even then you better get a guy on him.  ND might not seem like a Dynamic Duo-led team because they have two other starters — Tory Jackson and Ryan Ayers — averaging over 30 minutes a game (Jackson actually plays more than Harangody, by the numbers), but the offensive dropoff is certainly evident after McAlarney and the team is defined by those top two fellows.  Jackson is the obvious third option candidate, here; he puts together a good floor game on the whole (4.6 rpg/5.9 apg/1.5 spg).  It’s not like he doesn’t do enough, but if he became even more of a third scoring option to take even just a little of the heat off of the Harangody/McAlarney exacta, Notre Dame will become an even bigger Final Four threat come March.


 
Big Ten — Michigan State
 
People still seem to be defining the Fighting Izzos by that rectal-exam-with-an-audience that UNC gave them a while back.  This is a mistake.  Raymar Morgan (15.1/7.1) and Kalin Lucas (13.9/5.9 apg) have been the Dynamic Duo for Sparty so far, as everyone knows, but these guys have reeled off nine straight since getting tuned-up by the Tar Heels and they basically have their third option back, now, in the form of Goran Suton, already averaging 9.2/6.8 in only nine games back.  This will likely continue to rise.  It makes Michigan State a team you cannot ignore as we enter the second half of the season.  They’ve obviously put the North Carolina game behind them.  Everyone else should, too.
 
Pac-10 — Arizona State
 
We all know James Harden (23.1/5.8/4.7) and we’re getting to know Jeff Pendergraph (13.6/7.1).  After that, the offensive production and glasswork drops off a little to Richard Kuksiks (10.9/3.6), the apparent choice for presumed third option, here.  He’s up to playing even more minutes than Pendergraph on the average, and he’s shooting a pretty tasty 53% from 3-point range.  I am, however, going to anoint Derek Glasser as the best option for third-man-in; he’s only contributing 6.4 points (fifth on the team) but he’s a great distributor of the ball (5.3 apg, leads team), has shown a tendency to come up with a timely pilfer, and is darn reliable at the line (81.1%, second on team) — all important qualities during tournament time.  Even the slightest increase in his point production would make ASU even more dangerous than they already are.
 
SEC — Kentucky
 
The textbook Dynamic Duo team.  Probably not a better example in all of college basketball this season.  We’re not even going to talk about Jodie Meeks’ (24.2/3.4, 90.1% FT) legendary performance last night and Patrick Patterson (18.9/9.3) is creeping up every online NBA mock draft, a bittersweet fact for Wildcat fans.  After that, the offensive production falls all the way down to Perry Stevenson at 7.1ppg.  Heck, Patterson is actually third on the team in assists (2.6).  As far as possibilities for third-option status, with this team that’s a tough question.  They are absolutely loaded with pure, talented athletes, but UK followers have waited all year for a third player to assert himself.  Still hasn’t happened.  It has to for this team, because Meeks can’t score 54 every night and there will probably be more than one night where Meeks goes cold and Patterson is well-defended (or vice-versa).  My choice for third option for this team is DeAndre Liggins, the team’s assist leader at only 3.6 apg.  If he can cut down on freshman mistakes and provide even a small increase in his point production, Kentucky will be formidable — and that means this year, not next year.  Without a third option, Selection Sunday might get a little tense for this Kentucky team.


 
It will be especially interesting to see if Miami (FL), Missouri, and Kentucky eventually see a third player emerge for them, since they’re…well, it’s too early to use the “b-word,” but let’s just say they’re fighting for tournament entry right now.  Even if it isn’t the player I’ve predicted, if any of these squads see a third person elevate his game in hopes of providing more assistance to the Dynamic Duo already leading them, you best keep an eye out for them.  These teams are close to making the jump, even now.  Adding a good third option to their particular Dynamic Duo will improve them exponentially, and I wouldn’t want to see any of them in my sub-bracket.

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2008-09 Conference Primers: #1 – Big East

Posted by rtmsf on November 10th, 2008

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

Predicted Order of Finish (from the coach’s pre-season poll, released at Big East media day):

  1. Connecticut (9)
  2. Louisville (3)
  3. Pitt (3)
  4. Notre Dame (1)
  5. Villanova
  6. Marquette
  7. Georgetown
  8. Syracuse
  9. West Virginia
  10. Providence
  11. Cincinnati
  12. Rutgers
  13. Seton Hall
  14. St john’s
  15. DePaul
  16. South Florida

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WYN2K. You hear that? You know what that is? That’s the sound of RTC stealing my thunder.  I’m not much of a statistician myself, but just by looking at that pre-season poll I can tell you this – the Big East is loaded.  If you live outside of Big East country, then you are probably sick of hearing about how good the conference is, year in and year out. But facts are facts. Four teams are legitimate Final Four threats. Another six teams are, depending on who you ask, expected to be a part of the 65 team field. Three more teams have an outside shot at punching a ticket to the dance if they can catch a few breaks (transfers getting cleared, freshman getting eligible, etc.).  So in this day and age of college basketball, where “early entry,” “parity,” and “mid-major” have become household terms, how did one conference manage to stockpile so many good teams? Well, as you can see, the Big East is HUGE. There are sixteen teams spanning from Rhode Island to Wisconsin to Florida and everywhere in between. When you have that many teams in one conference, there are bound to be years where there are a lot of good teams, especially when so many of the schools have a rich basketball tradition.  This just happens to be one of those years where the Big East got lucky. Last season, 32 players were named to an All-Big East team (1st, 2nd, honorable mention, all-rookie), and only two of those players (WVU’s Joe Alexander and Syracuse’s Donte Greene) declared for the draft with eligibility remaining. Would Pittsburgh be as good as expected if Sam Young left? What about UConn without Hasheem Thabeet? Those two, and a number of other players, probably would be on NBA rosters right now if they left, but for whatever reason (a loaded draft class last year, smarts enough to know they weren’t ready, boosters offered them more than what they would get paid on a rookie’s salary) they decided to head back to campus.

So without further ado, here is your conference breakdown:

Cellar Dwellars.  DePaul, St. John’s, South Florida, Rutgers

  • There are some talented players on these teams. Sophomore Dar Tucker of DePaul is a poster waiting to happen. South Florida’s Dominique Jones scored 17.1 ppg as a freshman. St. John’s has senior Anthony Mason Jr. and sophomore Justin Burrell to carry the load. But with the depth of the Big East this year combined with the loss of some talented seniors, none of these three teams really look like they have a shot at doing much. Rutgers might have the best shot of the group to make some noise, as Fred Hill has landed back-to-back talented freshman classes. Don’t be surprised if you hear the names Gregory Echenique and Mike Rosario (RU’s first Mickey D’s all-american) quite often during the season.

We Should Have Bribed The NCAA.  Cincinnati (NIT), Seton Hall (NIT)

  • Both the Pirates and the Bearcats are awaiting the NCAA’s word on whether or not they will have some key players in their rotation. After struggling with the remnants of the Cincy program in the wake of Bob Huggins, Mick Cronin finally has the program heading in the right direction. He brings back Deonta Vaughn, who is one of the most explosive scorers in the country, and gets former Texas forward Mike Williams back from an Achilles injury. Adding two talented freshman in Yancy Gates and Cashmere Wright only helped matters. But Wright tore up his knee in the first week of practice, meaning that Vaughn is, once again, their only real backcourt threat and that they must rely heavily on their front line, which could be bolstered by the addition of 7’2” center John Riek. The Sudanese refugee, who was considered one of the best prospects in the country two years ago but has battled knee problems, is dealing with eligibility issues but could be in uniform by December. 
  • Seton Hall’s situation is a little different. The Pirates lose leading scorer Brian Laing (18.6 ppg) but return a solid nucleus of Eugene Harvey, Jeremy Hazell and John Garcia. Bobby Gonzalez had also hoped to add transfers Herb Pope (New Mexico St.) and Keon Lawrence (Missouri) without having to wait the mandatory one year for a transfer by having each kid apply for the NCAA’s hardship waiver. Pope’s been denied, Lawrence’s application will wait until after the first semester, and freshman Melvyn Oliver is still waiting to be cleared academically, meaning the Pirates currently have only eight scholarship players.

Pretenders or Contenders?  Providence (NIT), West Virginia (NCAA #7)

  • I know what you’re thinking. Providence? Really, Rob? They haven’t been good since the days of Ryan Gomes and Donnie MacGrath (and even then, good might have been pushing it). But the Friars have the horses to sneak up on some people this year. They were as balanced as any team in the Big East last year, with six guys (five returners) that averaged at least 8.7 ppg.  PG Sharaud Curry, arguably their best player, is back from a stress fracture in his foot and they have added Keno Davis, last year’s national COY at Drake, as the head coach. Davis should have some success in his first year with the Friars if they follow the same spread floor style that was so successful at Drake. One key reason for that is big man Geoff McDermott, who is adept at playing on the perimeter and is a stat stuffer (10 ppg, 8 rpg, 5 apg, 1 spg, and 1.5 bpg). Remember, this Providence team, who battled the injury bug all year, swept UConn and beat Temple and Arkansas last seaso. The talent’s there, but consistency and healthy players will be the key to their season.
  • The Mountaineers are a different story. They really came on towards the end of the season, thanks in (very) large part to the emergence of Joe Alexander, who was probably the best player in the conference (maybe the country) for the last month-plus of the season and is now a forward with the Bucks. Left are a bunch of very good role players that fit into Huggy Bear’s system and play hard. Guys like Joe Mazzula, Alex Ruoff and Da’Sean Butler. There are two major questions for the Mountaineers – who is going to play in the post and who is going to fill to void of “go-to guy” with Alexander gone. Freshman Devin Ebanks may be able to fill Alexander’s shoes with time, but the rest of the Mountaineers front line will be small (especially for the Big East) and inexperienced.

Worst of the Rest.  Syracuse (NCAA #7), Georgetown (NCAA #7), Marquette (NCAA #6), Villanova (NCAA #5)

  • I’ll be completely honest with you. I’m a UConn fan. I hate Syracuse. Despise them. I even hate the color orange. I didn’t even rank them in my top 25. Call it being biased, call it homerism, call it what you like. But I’ve had an epiphany – this team is really talented. Jonny Flynn is one of the best point guards in the country. Eric Devendorf is a very talented combo guard. Andy Rautins can flat out stroke the three. Paul Harris is a linebacker playing basketball. Arinze Onuake is a beast on the block. And this year, they actually have a deep bench filled with role players and hustle guys. They’re not quite in the top four, but Boeheim has himself his most talented team since Melo.
  • Georgetown lost a lot of very important players to graduation (Roy Hibbert, Jonathan Wallace, Patrick Ewing Jr) and transfers (Jeremiah Rivers, Vernon Macklin). They are left with just four guys who were in their rotation last year – guards Chris Wright, Jessie Sapp, Austin Freeman and forward DaJuan Summers. They do add a great recruiting class, headlined by big men Greg Monroe and Henry Sims, but it will still be somewhat of a rebuilding year for the Hoyas. Part of the reason is that John Thompson III may have to change up his style of play from the Princeton Offense. Hibbert, Wallace, and Ewing were perfectly suited to a slowed down game, where as Sapp and Wright are quick guards that can make plays in the open floor.
  • Marquette has a new coach, but they will be the same team. By now, you must know about their three great guards – Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews – who, when combined with Maurice Acker and David Cubillan, make up one of the deepest, most explosive backcourts in the country. But, much like Villanova and West Virginia, Marquette needs someone to step up inside. It’s great when you have a bunch of guards that can score and make plays, but will Dominic James 40” vert help him against the likes of Luke Harangody or DeJuan Blair? Dwight Burke is going to have to make some big strides as a senior, or else the Golden Eagles will have to rely on a freshman and two JuCo transfers inside.
  • Remember that Villanova team from a few years back? The one with Kyle Lowry, Randy Foye, Allan Ray and Mike Nardi? Well this ‘Nova team is going to be similar to that squad. Led by scoring machine Scottie Reynolds, ‘Nova has one of the best backcourts in the conference. But the key to their success this year will be the front court. Dante Cunningham, an athletic, 6’9 PF, has proven himself as a capable frontcourt player in the Big East, but the rest of the Wildcats frontline will need to step up if Jay Wright’s club wants to crack the top four.

Crème de la Crème.  Notre Dame (NCAA #5), Pittsburgh (NCAA #3), Louisville (NCAA #2), UConn (NCAA #1)

  • Notre Dame returns basically the entire team that finished tied for second in the Big East, including reigning Big East player of the year Luke Harangody. While I can’t help but comment on his resemblance to a pot-bellied pig, you can’t argue with his production last year (23 ppg and 11 rpg in conference). While he is built like one of Charlie Weis’ lineman, he is actually incredibly nimble and has great feet and balance, which is one of the reasons he is able to scorer against bigger, more athletic defenders. Surrounding him will be shooters Ryan Ayers and Kyle McAlarney (who was a 1st team all-conference performer), as well as Tory Jackson, who is one of the more underrated PGs in the league. Notre Dame is going to be a fun team to watch if you like games with a lot of scoring and a lot of threes.
  • Pitt is going to be a typical Pitt team, with a lot of big, strong, tough kids that are going to play rugged, in your face defense. Sam Young, who developed a deadly jumper out to around the three point line, and DeJuan Blair, a 6’7 270-lb mammoth inside, provide one of the toughest frontcourts to match up with in the country. The biggest questions for Pitt surround their backcourt. When will Levance Fields return from foot surgery, and will he be healthy? Can anyone on this team replace the three point shooting of Ronald Ramon and Keith Benjamin?
  • Louisville, along with Pitt, is probably going to be the toughest defensive team in the conference. It starts with their backcourt, where they have five guys (Edgar Sosa, Andre McGee, Jerry Smith, Preston Knowles, Reginald Delk) that will really get after you on the perimeter. Earl Clark and Terrence Williams (who is coming off a torn meniscus and should be out another month or so) are both athletic, versatile players. T-Wills is more of a perimeter player and is the Cardinals best creator offensively, averaging more than 4.5 apg last year. Clark is more of a combo forward that will get his points off of fast breaks and cutting to the basket. Louisville loses their entire front line from last year, but they bring in a solid recruiting class, the star of which is Samardo Samuels, probably the best post recruit in America this year.
  • Last, but certainly not least, is UConn. The Huskies probably won’t be at full strength until December, as AJ Price is coming off of a torn ACL and freshman Ater Majok and junior Stanley Robinson (who was last seen on a poster) are both going to be made eligible (hopefully) after the first semester ends. Regardless, UConn is loaded with talent. 7’3” junior and shot blocking machine Hasheem Thabeet returns, as does Jeff Adrien, the Huskies leading scorer and rebounder. Price will be joined in the backcourt by talented but troubled junior Jerome Dyson and Mickey D’s all-american Kemba Walker. UConn’s biggest question mark right now – can they win a big game? They were 8-8 on the road or on a neutral court last year, and are 0-3 in the Big East and NCAA tournaments the last two years.

RPI Boosters.  The Big East RPI is going to be high enough, but here are some of the must-see non-conference match-ups (ignoring the possible match-ups in pre-season tournaments):

  • Wisconsin @ Marquette  (12.06.08)
  • Villanova vs. Texas and Davidson vs. West Virginia in NYC at Jimmy V  (12.09.08)
  • Cincinnati vs. Xavier  (12.13.08)
  • Memphis @ Georgetown  (12.13.08)
  • Marquette @ Tennessee  (12.16.08)
  • Gonzaga vs. UConn in Seattle  (12.20.08)
  • Syracuse @ Memphis  (12.20.08)
  • Kentucky @ Louisville  (01.04.09)
  • Georgetown @ Duke  (01.17.09)
  • Notre Dame @ UCLA  (02.07.09)

65 Team Era.  The Big East earned its chops as a basketball conference in the 80s, and that tradition persists to this very day despite the expansion of the league to it’s current sixteen-team iteration.  Last year the league earned eight bids to the NCAAs, and it’s difficult to envision a future scenario where the conference would ever get less than six bids again.  This obviously will skew their future numbers on a whole scale, but their stats to date are nothing to sneeze at (206-126, .620, 11 F4s, 4 titles).  With the power at the top of this year’s league, we could potentially see another 1985 F4 on the horizon (3/4 of the F4 were Big East teams – Villanova, Georgetown, St. John’s). 

Final Thought.  The Big East is wide open this year. Every night is going to be a dog fight. One thing you can be sure of, however, is that any team from this league that makes it to the postseason is going to be battle-tested.

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