Set Your TiVo: 01.11.12

Posted by EJacoby on January 11th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist and contributor. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Will the number one team in the land survive a rivalry road test? Can Missouri bounce back from its recent beatdown to win an away game? Here’s what to expect from two Top 10 teams in tough spots tonight:

#1 Syracuse at Villanova – 7:00 PM ET on ESPN2 (***)

Can Villanova Save Its Season Tonight by Beating #1 Syracuse? (AP Photo)

  • Undefeated Syracuse comes into this game playing as well as any team in the country, but their toughest away games of the season have been at NC State and Providence, so they’re not exactly road tested. The Orange will certainly have the advantage in this one, as their 2-3 zone defense has been incredibly effective this season at forcing turnovers and limiting paint opportunities. Nova’s a team that struggles in these two areas to begin with, and also a team that fires up a lot of threes (over 20 per game) at a low conversion rate (30%, ranked in the bottom 50 nationally). If Syracuse simply executes defensively and forces the Wildcats into a three-point barrage, they’ll have a huge advantage. Jim Boeheim’s team will come at Villanova with their deep array of weapons, where Kris Joseph (14.1 PPG) and Dion Waiters (12.5 PPG) should have opportunities to score in transition and on the wings against Villanova’s poor perimeter defense.
  • Villanova is in the midst of a year to forget, but they can change the outlook of the entire season with a win tonight. The Wildcats are dying for a victory of this caliber, and fans must be fired up in Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center for this rivalry home game against the number one team in the land. If the Wildcats are going to have a chance to win, they need to stop chucking up threes, especially in this game against a zone defense that will encourage them to shoot from the outside. Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek each attempt over four three-pointers per game and both are shooting under 30% from deep! Instead, these talented guards need to play off of each other. Wayns (17.4 PPG, 4.75 APG) is one of the quickest guards in America and can penetrate the teeth of a zone defense, and from there he must make good decisions and find teammates moving amongst the trees for good shot opportunities. Jay Wright’s team also must stay out of foul trouble and defend the perimeter if they want to have a chance.
  • This seems like an uneven matchup on paper, but it could be a serious trap game for Syracuse. They haven’t yet played a good conference team on the road, and Villanova is a rival who will be fired up for this one. If Nova can find early success against the Syracuse zone, then they could have a chance in this one.
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Tracking The Four: Conference Play Begins

Posted by EJacoby on January 10th, 2012

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

Welcome to Tracking The Four! This new series reads just like it sounds, as we will be following four buzz-worthy teams across the country. Those lucky teams are Syracuse (current #1 team and a title favorite), Indiana (a feel-good contender), Murray State (undefeated dreams), and UNLV (the best of the West). With TT4, we hope to provide readers with interesting insights about each of the featured teams that helps capture the atmosphere of the programs throughout the rest of the season. Look for a full TT4 piece every Tuesday, as well as a shorter update later in the week. Each post will be loaded with highlights, lowlights, and tidbits about each team, as well as recaps from their recent play and a look ahead at their upcoming games. Conference play is well underway and there’s plenty of news to get to this week:

Kris Joseph & Syracuse are All Smiles Right Now (Getty Images/A. Lyons)

Syracuse Orange

  • Trending UP Because… – They’re looking like national title favorites. The undefeated Orange (17-0, 4-0 Big East) remain number one in every national poll, including the RTC Top 25, with its consistently dominant play. They’ve beaten their four conference opponents by an average of 16.5 points, which includes two road games and two home games against ranked teams (Seton Hall & Marquette). Seton Hall has proven to be a solid and cohesive offensive team, yet the Pirates were blown out of the gym by Syracuse in a 75-49 thrashing. The Orange are the deepest team in the country with 10 meaningful contributors, and their patented 2-3 zone is as strong as ever. Jim Boeheim‘s team is now making bigger headlines on the court than off it (the Bernie Fine sexual harassment allegation was a big story), a refreshing trend for the sake of all its fans.
  • This Week’s Key Cog – Brandon Triche. The junior guard led the team in scoring last week, going for 16 points at Providence on Wednesday and another 16 at home against Marquette on Saturday. He hit four three-pointers in each game with an impressive line of 16/7/4 assts and two steals in the victory over Marquette.
  • Play of the Week – Point guard Scoop Jardine finds his go-to guy Kris Joseph in transition for a thunderous dunk from several feet away from the basket against Providence.
  • Talking Point – Guard Dion Waiters, who comes off the bench, had this to say after the win over Providence: “I’ve never been on a team with subs like this. It’s crazy. We continue to get better and make each other better in practice every day. We’ve got some of the best guards in the country.’’
  • Stats Central – Syracuse leads the nation with 37.5 points per game from its bench, further proving that they’re the deepest team in America. Also, their zone defense has been truly elite this season, as the Orange lead the country in steals (10.9 per game), are third in blocks (7.4 per game), and fifth in forcing turnovers (18.7 per game).
  • What’s Next? – The Orange play at Villanova on Wednesday at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia (7:00 PM ET, ESPN2) against a struggling Wildcats team, but it’s still a rivalry game in which the Villanova crowd should be fired up and looking for the upset. Then, Cuse gets its second matchup with Providence, this time at home on Saturday (6:00 PM ET) as heavy favorites.
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Checking In On… The Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 9th, 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

  • Top Tier Chaos: As you see in the poll question, it’s awfully hard to rank the top half of this league right now. Syracuse is the clear #1 by a wide margin, but the second spot is up for grabs between six teams: Seton Hall and West Virginia are playing the best basketball but Connecticut, Georgetown, Marquette, and Louisville remain threats. Big East teams always beat each other up in conference, play but that usually happens in the middle of the league. This year, it is happening at the top. One thing is for sure: the race for second place will be an up-and-down affair over the next two months.
  • UConn Hates Jersey: Before Tuesday, Connecticut had won 21 combined games in a row against Seton Hall and Rutgers. After Saturday, the Huskies headed back up the New Jersey Turnpike with two losses to Jersey’s Big East teams. Kevin Willard has his team rolling at 14-2 and absolutely crushed the Huskies on Tuesday night in Newark while Mike Rice continued to show signs of improvement in a 67-60 win Saturday night in Piscataway. As Jeff Borzello put it on Twitter, the North Jersey road trip has become a whole lot tougher. If St. John’s can get back to where it was last year and Seton Hall and Rutgers continue to improve, New York City-area basketball could be on the verge of a renaissance.
  • Seton Hall Ranked?: We will see what happens on Monday, but Seton Hall is on the verge of a top 25 ranking for the first time since January 30, 2001. That year, the Pirates were headed in the opposite direction, out of the top 25 after a preseason top ten ranking. Tommy Amaker (now at Harvard) had signed a ballyhooed freshman class highlighted by the late Eddie Griffin, Andre Barrett, and Marcus Toney-El, but it all fell apart for the Pirates as they finished 16-15 and lost in the first round of the NIT to Alabama. Seton Hall came close to a ranking in 2004, but never made it into the poll. This time around, the Pirates are 14-2 (3-1) with wins over VCU and St. Joe’s on a neutral floor and Dayton on the road, in addition to West Virginia and Connecticut at home. The Hall is in position for a terrific seed in the NCAA Tournament if it keeps up this level of play and Kevin Willard, along with John Thompson III and Jim Boeheim, has to be among the top contenders for Big East Coach of the Year. The Pirates were picked 13th in the preseason Big East coaches poll. 

Good Things Come In Threes For Seton Hall (Jim O'Conner/US Presswire)

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (17-0, 4-0) – Marquette put a second-half scare into the Orange at the Carrier Dome on Saturday, but Syracuse made the winning plays down the stretch to hang on. Syracuse remains a juggernaut and an easy (by Big East standards) road schedule awaits. Syracuse already went to DePaul and Providence and has trips to Villanova, Notre Dame, Cincinnati, St. John’s, and Rutgers on the schedule. Quite frankly, that sequence is a joke for a team everyone knew would be at or near the top of the league. I realize this team has a target on its back every night, but the only true road tests for the Orange could be at Louisville and Connecticut in February. Syracuse shot 61% for the game at Providence on Wednesday, placing six players in double figures. No Syracuse player took over eight shots, a testament to this team’s depth and balance. Scoop Jardine had 11 assists and only one turnover in the victory. Against Marquette, Syracuse jumped out to a huge lead but let the Golden Eagles climb back in it. Dion Waiters was the spark off the bench yet again, totaling 12 points and seven assists. The Orange shot only 39% at home against MU, but escaped with the win. This week: 1/11 @ Villanova, 1/14 vs. Providence.
  2. Georgetown (13-2, 3-1) – Let the controversy begin. Truth be told, ten different people could very well come up with ten different ways to rank the top seven teams in the Big East. Despite losing at West Virginia and struggling for the balance of the game against Marquette, I’m moving the Hoyas up to the second spot. Why? It has more to do with the performances of Louisville, Connecticut and Marquette rather than Georgetown itself. After all, the Hoyas did beat a good team (Marquette) this week, something none of the aforementioned three teams can say. The Hoyas overcame a 17-point deficit against Marquette, led by Jason Clark‘s 26 points. That 26 could have been 30+ if Clark made his free throws (6-13 from the stripe). Hollis Thompson also added 16 points on 6-7 shooting as Georgetown shot a sizzling 63% against the Golden Eagle defense. Against West Virginia, Georgetown allowed the Mountaineers to shoot 50% but the Hoyas couldn’t convert from deep (2-14 3FG). Thompson led the way with 20 points, but it wasn’t enough on the road. Regardless of what the rankings may have said coming into the game, I’m not going to hammer the Hoyas for losing at West Virginia, an extremely difficult place to play. Believe it or not, I don’t think Georgetown is as good as its resume. That may sound confusing but I’m not sure Georgetown is as good as its record. However, the Hoyas may not lose again until early February if they play to their potential. A relatively soft stretch begins this week. This week: 1/9 vs. Cincinnati, 1/15 @ St. John’s. Read the rest of this entry »
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Cousy Award Finalists Announced: Wisconsin’s Jordan Taylor Still On the List

Posted by rtmsf on January 4th, 2012

The Bob Cousy Award list was whittled down from its original 60+ names in the preseason to a more manageable 20 on Wednesday afternoon. In case you’ve lost track of what the Cousy is specifically for, it is the award given to the nation’s top point guard/floor general in college basketball. Often that player will also be in the running for National Player of the Year honors, as in the recent cases of Jameer Nelson (2004), Ty Lawson (2009), and Kemba Walker (2011). Last year, you might recall that Wisconsin’s Jordan Taylor was somewhat infamously left off the February list of 10 finalists, causing the Naismith Hall of Fame brass to reconsider and eventually reinstating the All-America Badger onto the list where he advanced to become one of the five finalists before Walker was selected for the award. To be clear, this version represents the preliminary finalists before the super-finalists before the super-duper-finalists list. The committee will make two more cuts over the next eight weeks before awarding the prize to the winner during Final Four weekend in New Orleans.

The Cousy Award Is Prestigious Because It Is Given By the Naismith HOF

Let’s take a look at the current list, and signify using (10) or (5) the players who we expect to advance further. A few notes follow after the jump:

  • Pierre Jackson, Baylor
  • Shabazz Napier, UConn (10)
  • Ray McCallum, Detroit
  • Seth Curry, Duke (10)
  • Erving Walker, Florida (10)
  • Scott Machado, Iona (5)
  • Casper Ware, Long Beach State
  • Peyton Siva, Louisville
  • Trey Burke, Michigan (10)
  • Dee Bost, Mississippi State (10)
  • Phil Pressey, Missouri
  • Kendall Marshall, North Carolina (5)
  • Aaron Craft, Ohio State
  • D.J. Cooper, Ohio
  • Zack Rosen, Pennsylvania 
  • Ashton Gibbs, Pittsburgh
  • Scoop Jardine, Syracuse
  • Damian Lillard, Weber State (5)
  • Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin (5)
  • Tu Holloway, Xavier (5)

A few notes:

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

Posted by rtmsf on January 2nd, 2012

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

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

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

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

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Big East Morning Five: 12.20.11 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on December 20th, 2011

  1. It’s Big East weekly honors time and Louisville sophomore guard Russ Smith checks in as your Player of the Week.   This represents Smith’s first career Player of the Week honor as he made the most of his third career start with career highs in points (24) and steals (7) in Louisville’s 95-87 win over Memphis.  The seven thefts by Smith tied him for third all-time in Louisville history for steals in a game. Connecticut center Andre Drummond wrestled Rookie of the Week honors back from Providence’s LaDontae Henton with a career high 24 points in a win over Holy Cross to go along with eight rebounds and five blocks.  This is Drummond’s second Rookie of the Week honor of the year.    As for the Honor Roll, guess who’s back, back again? Pope is back, back again.  Seton Hall big man Herb Pope continued his weekly award streak as he overwhelmed Mercer with 24 points and 17 boards in an overtime win for the Pirates; Cincinnati junior guard Cashmere Wright (18.5 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 7.0 APG), who stepped up for a short-handed Bearcat squad to lead them to two wins on the week; Marquette freshman guard Todd Mayo picked up his first career weekly honor and is first career start this past week, netting a career-high 22 points in a win over Northern Colorado; Syracuse sophomore guard Dion Waiters who also hit for 22 points in his team’s 88-72 victory over NC State; and West Virginia senior forward Kevin Jones, who shot 11 for 16 from the floor on his way to,  you guessed it, 22 points in the Mountaineers’ 84-64 rout of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
  2. There was not a lot of movement in the polls amongst Big East teams this week, but that is more attributable to the fact that it gets crowded at the top than anything else. The conference now boasts four top ten teams as Marquette (10-1) grabbed the #10 spot, joining Syracuse (11-0) who maintained its perch atop the rankings, Louisville (10-0) who held steady at #4 and Connecticut (9-1) as the Huskies climbed a notch to #8.  Pittsburgh (10-1) and Georgetown (9-1) also held their spots at #15 and #16, respectively.  We are starting to see a clear separation in the league with six teams in the top 16 and no other squad garnering so much as a vote in the Associated Press poll, although Seton Hall (9-1) did scratch out one tally in the ESPN/USA Today rankings.
  3. Former Connecticut star Kemba Walker claimed the Bob Cousy Collegiate Point Guard of the Year Award last year among the many honors and accolades he received for his exploits in the Huskies’ National Championship run.  This year’s nominees for the Cousy Award were revealed yesterday by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and, to the surprise of no one, the Big East was well represented.  Was it represented well enough though? Conference nominees include Connecticut sophomore Shabazz Napier, Louisville junior Peyton Siva, Pittsburgh senior Ashton Gibbs, Villanova junior Maalik Wayans and a pair from Syracuse in senior Scoop Jardine and junior Brandon Triche.  Let the debate begin as notable omissions include Providence junior Vincent Council and Seton Hall senior Jordan Theodore.
  4. Marquette is still not certain if injured first string center Chris Otule will be back this season but Buzz Williams and company have been encouraged by the play of replacement starter Davante Gardner. With the #10 Golden Eagles soaring, Gardner is keeping his role in perspective, and the team’s goals in mind saying, “I’ve got to come through now since Chris might be out for the season.  When he got hurt, I got down a little bit, but I knew I had to start picking it up and do more for the team.” Gardner, a 6’8” sophomore, tipped the scales last season at 300-plus pounds en route to averages of 4.6 points and 2.2 rebounds in just nine minutes per game.  Following his freshman campaign, Gardner worked hard with strength and conditioning coach Todd Smith and dropped an estimated 10-15 pounds while shedding about half of his body fat.  While he still needs work on the defensive end, Gardner has put up solid offensive numbers in Otule’s absence over Marquette’s last two games, averaging 14 points and six rebounds while shooting 60% from the floor and 91% from the foul line.
  5. Kids say the darndest things.  And that is what Louisville’s youngster, freshman forward Chane Behanan, did after his team’s 95-87 victory over Memphis on Saturday when he declared, “we’re the number one team in the country in my eyes. We’re going undefeated. Point blank, period.”  You can bet Behanan will have a media relations course on his schedule next semester after that one.  While this will probably not amount to much in the grand scheme of things, it would have still been better left unsaid as it really can do nothing but hurt the team’s cause.  The Cardinals had themselves in an advantageous position psychologically as many have questioned their lofty ranking while they continued to win and rise in the polls. The no respect card plays well, and Behanan now has the Cardinals drawing into a new deck.
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Syracuse At #1 — Get Used to It, the Orange is Likely to be There a While…

Posted by rtmsf on December 19th, 2011

Matt Poindexter is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Syracuse win at NC State Saturday night.

“We’re talking about a team that could be playing on Monday night in April.”

North Carolina State head coach Mark Gottfried had just watched the top-ranked Syracuse Orange run away from his Wolfpack, winning 88-72 in Raleigh. The Orange, though, only looked like a national title contender for about twenty minutes on Saturday. Halfway through the first half, NC State — a team in the bottom half of the ACC that will struggle to make the NCAA Tournament — led by seven. By halftime, the Orange were up by fourteen, and at one point had peeled off a blistering 23-0 run in the RBC Center. The second half was a similar affair: a 17-3 Wolfpack blast in the first five minutes, and NC State within a possession with eight minutes to play. But when Gottfried’s best weapon, CJ Leslie, went to the locker room with cramps, Jim Boeheim’s deep bench overwhelmed the Wolfpack’s less-talented substitutes. The Orange won the game to keep its top ranking, but did so in an oddly uneven manner.

Syracuse's Schedule Shapes Up Very Nicely For Boeheim This Season

During Syracuse’s 23-0 run, Basketball Prospectus author John Gasaway tweeted, “If you yelled at me for saying Syracuse will be No. 1 for a while please turn on ESPN2.” When polls came out last Monday with the Orange on top, the feeling that Syracuse was first only by default was prevalent, especially given that Ohio State’s loss at Kansas came without the aid of its superstar big man, Jared Sullinger. More illuminating than a ten-minute stretch against an NIT-caliber team, though, is a look at Syracuse’s upcoming schedule. The Orange have eleven home games and nine road games left before the Big East Tournament starts, and there is a reasonable chance the Orange can make it to Madison Square Garden in March with a goose egg in the loss column.

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Pac-12 Game of the Week: Stanford vs. Syracuse

Posted by AMurawa on November 25th, 2011

When the last remaining undefeated Pac-12 team, Stanford, knocked off Oklahoma State on Wednesday night to advance to the championship game of the NIT Season-Tip Off to face the #5 team in the country, Syracuse, we had our Pac-12 game of the week all set up. Let’s preface the rest of this post by saying that we, like most of the rest of the college hoops public, have no expectation that Stanford will win this game. The Cardinal are a young team, still very much in the process of improving, and they’re facing a team that is arguably as talented as anyone in the country on a neutral-site court that will be anything but neutral. Can Stanford beat Syracuse? I point you to Exhibits A, B and C, to show that, sure, anything can happen, but the fact is Cardinal fans should temper their expectations. The goal is to win, but if they play the Orange close, that’s a success.

Josh Owens, Stanford

Josh Owens Will Play A Big Role As Stanford Tries To Attack Syracuse's 2-3 Zone

So, how does the Cardinal go about playing the Orange close? First and foremost, they need to be thankful today for their video coordinator and go to school on Jim Boeheim’s zone. Conventional wisdom says you attack the 2-3 zone by getting into the middle of it and playing inside out. Stanford has two good candidates to man the middle offensively against the zone: senior forward Josh Owens and sophomore forward Dwight Powell. Both are capable passers who can handle the ball a bit when needed, and each can turn around and hit the 15-foot jumper on the rare occasion when they are given space. Either player is also capable of flashing to the baseline when the ball is kicked back out to the guards and either hitting the baseline jumper or putting the ball on the floor and attacking the meat of that lengthy Syracuse zone. However, because of that length (the Orange feature seven-footer Fab Melo in the middle, with guys like 6’7” senior Kris Joseph, 6’9” freshman Rakeem Christmas, 6’10” sophomore Baye Moussa Keita, and 6’7” sophomore C.J. Fair elsewhere along the frontcourt), not only will the windows to get off jumpers disappear quickly, but any shots inside will be challenged.

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Set Your TiVo: 11.25.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 25th, 2011

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

Preseason tournaments continue to roll on with the NIT Season Tip-Off championship as well as semifinal action at the Old Spice and 76 Classic along with the Battle 4 Atlantis. Although we don’t know the championship matchups in those tournaments, be sure to check out the finals at Atlantis on Saturday and the Old Spice and 76 Classic on Sunday for those TBD games.

Minnesota vs. Indiana State (at Orlando, Florida) – 12:00 PM EST on ESPN (**)

Trevor Mbakwe Is a Beast Inside

  •  The Golden Gophers escaped an upset-minded DePaul team on Thursday afternoon behind another double-double from Trevor Mbakwe, his fourth in five games. Against an Indiana State team that is better than DePaul, Minnesota must assert itself inside, protect the ball and defend better. Tubby Smith’s team has a huge height advantage over the Sycamores, especially with swingman Rodney Williams standing at 6’7”. The potential is there for Williams to have a huge game given his size and athleticism. Indiana State can rotate taller players in off its bench but Minnesota has more than enough talent in the paint to play well. However, the Gophers can’t afford 17 turnovers and a 1-9 night from three point range again as they did against DePaul.
  • The major concern for Greg Lansing has to be rebounding the basketball against a team with lots of strength and size up front. Indiana State was out-rebounded and out-shot by Texas Tech but forced 18 Red Raider turnovers and got to the foul line 31 times. The Sycamores shoot 78% from the stripe and must use that to their advantage against a Minnesota team with an awful defensive free throw rate (#249). With sophomore point guard Jake Odum breaking down the defense and finding open players, that shouldn’t be a big problem given Minnesota’s propensity to foul. Indiana State shoots 37.1% from three point land as a unit with Jordan Printy taking the majority of those shots and converting 38.5% of the time. ISU must make threes because it is not going to have an easy time scoring inside against Minnesota’s size.
  • For the Sycamores to pull the upset, we feel they have to play a zone. Going to a zone is risky when your team has trouble rebounding to begin with but it may be their best bet. If Indiana State can pack its defense in the paint and limit the Gophers inside, that’ll force the Minnesota guards to jack up deep shots, something they’re not particularly good at. Playing a zone also minimizes foul trouble, a huge issue with only three major contributors over 6’8” on the Indiana State roster. It sounds simple but this game should come down to whichever team can execute its game plan better: inside scoring for Minnesota and three pointers plus solid interior defense for Indiana State.

#19 Florida State vs. Harvard (at Atlantis Paradise Island, Bahamas) – 4:30 PM EST on Versus (***)

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Morning Five: 11.25.11 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on November 25th, 2011

  1. We hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving and got to indulge in turkey or whatever food you prefer while spending time with friends and/or family. There was not much off-the-court news yesterday so instead of our traditional recap where we avoid discussing the games directly we are going to provide general overviews of the games that have already happened and the ones that are on tap.
  2. Praise continues to pour in for the Duke-Kansas game, which may have been the best November college basketball game in the past few years. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst (aka LeBron’s personal biographer) called it “a candidate for one of the best regular season games of the year” and we would agree with his assessment. While neither team is close to the true upper echelon of college basketball (the UNCs, UConns, and Kentuckys of the world) they are definitely Sweet Sixteen teams at least and possibly Elite Eight level teams when they work out a few kinks (of course, they could also get upset during the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament). If you missed the game because you were either at/watching another game, traveling, working, or spending time with family and you find yourself with some free time today, we highly recommend that you watch a replay of it if it is on your DVR or through ESPN3.com.
  3. The best teams playing yesterday were all playing at the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament in Nassau, Bahamas where the three best teams (ConnecticutFlorida State, and Harvard) all won their opening games relatively easily while Central Florida used a late run to beat College of Charleston. As a reward for their hard-fought win the Knights, who are without star A.J. Rompza for another month, will get to play the defending national champions who are still adjusting to the post-Kemba era and will be without the services of Ryan Boatright, who will be sitting out his sixth and final game against UCF, and perhaps Alex Oriakhi after this Twitter mishap. The other semifinal pits a very good Harvard team against the Seminoles, who feature one of the top defenses in the country. The first game should be a relatively easy victory for the Huskies, but the second game might be the best college basketball game being played tomorrow.
  4. The FSU-Harvard game might be the best game tomorrow, but we would suggest you keep an eye on the Preseason NIT finals that pits Syracuse against Stanford. The Orange come in as the heavy favorites, but we think the game could end up being a lot more competitive than many people think because we don’t think that the Orange are as good as many pundits have been saying they are (basically a better version of the Vanderbilt story) and the Cardinal are better than anybody outside of Palo Alto expected. Neither team has beaten a top-tier team yet, but Stanford has the most impressive victory this season of the two teams with its 15-point victory against Oklahoma State that was not as close as the final score indicates. Another thing to watch for in this game is what is going on with the Syracuse backcourt where a mini-controversy is brewing between Scoop Jardine, the incumbent, and Dion Waiters, the challenger who played in place of Jardine in the Orange’s last game.
  5. With no end in sight for the NBA lockout many professionals have headed to interesting locations to keep their skills sharp while waiting for the business/labor negotiations to be resolved allowing them to return to their NBA teams. Most players who have chosen to play in games are doing so in summer/very advanced recreational leagues, exhibition games for charity, or in Europe. Former Ohio State center Byron (B.J.) Mullens has taken a less traditional approach as he is working on his game in prison. We know what you are thinking and the answer is not that Mullens is incarcerated. Instead, Mullens has chosen to go to prisons to talk to the inmates about making better choices in their lives and to get in some solid games, which he has been doing this since he was in high school. We would be interested to hear if any of the inmates that Mullens has encountered or mentored are out of prison now and cite him as an influence.
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RTC Conference Primers: #1 – Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 14th, 2011

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

Reader’s Take I

 

Top Storylines

  • The Realignment Circus Continues: The latest blow to the Big East came just recently as West Virginia was accepted into the Big 12. That leaves the Big East with 13 basketball schools remaining and a handful of others (football schools) desperately trying to flee the sinking ship. Commissioner John Marinatto has said he is committed to holding Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia to the 27-month notice provision in the conference’s bylaws but one has to wonder if a financial settlement will be worked out in order to expedite the transition and move the conference into rebuilding mode. It’s going to be quite awkward if these three schools remain in the league until 2014. All of the current Big East members should eventually find a stable home in one form or another, but the days of Big East basketball as we know it will soon come to an end. Enjoy the 2011-12 season because it just might be the last year of this remarkable 16-team behemoth.
  • How Many Bids This Year?: After sending a record 11 teams to the NCAA Tournament last year, can the Big East reach that mark again? That seems unlikely but you never know how things will truly play out. I’d say there are ten contenders for NCAA bids and to make 11 you would need all of those teams plus one of the three New York City-area schools to have a wildly successful year and snatch a bid. The Big East is quite possibly the best conference in the land yet again but 11 NCAA teams is far-fetched. Eight or nine bids this season would seem to be much more realistic.
  • Can Connecticut Repeat?: The technical answer is yes but it will be extremely tough to do. There’s a reason only two teams have gone back-to-back in the last 20 years. College basketball is as deep as ever in terms of talent and quality teams, plus there’s someone missing from last year’s Connecticut team. Kemba Walker is now in the NBA and, despite Jim Calhoun’s impressive recruiting haul, there is a major leadership void to be filled. This team is stocked with talent but Walker was a one-of-a-kind leader who took complete control in Maui and parlayed that into a way of life for the rest of the season. Jeremy Lamb figures to take control but remember how young this group is. They’ll get better as the season progresses and may even win the Big East but when the chips are down in the NCAA Tournament, they won’t be able to call on Kemba and that’s why I feel they will not repeat.

Calhoun Won't Have His Mr. Everything Around This Season

  • Cautious Optimism at Georgetown, Villanova and West Virginia: These traditional powers lose a lot of talent and figure to be lodged in the middle of the conference. All three programs return key cogs but the departures of Austin Freeman, Chris Wright, Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes, Antonio Pena, Casey Mitchell, John Flowers and Joe Mazzulla leave more questions than answers. These teams all need someone to step up and become a deep shooting threat while maintaining a low post presence. Guards win in college basketball but you also have to be able to rebound and score inside occasionally. Hollis Thompson, Mouphtaou Yarou and Deniz Kilicli must become better all-around post men if their respective teams hope to make the NCAA Tournament. At 6’7”, 205 lbs., Thompson isn’t one to bang with the big guys but he’s going to have to score in the paint at times. Each team has a nice recruiting class coming in, but it’s up to the returning players to make the ultimate difference.
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Team USA Finishes Fifth at World University Games: Notes On Player Performances

Posted by rtmsf on August 22nd, 2011

Team USA came out of the World University Games in Shenzhen, China, with its pride intact after sporting a 7-1 overall record, but because of an untimely loss over the weekend in the quarterfinal round versus Lithuania, they will leave Asia without a medal.  The twelve-man roster comprised of some of the best returning players in the college game finished fifth in the tournament despite sporting a 28.2 PPG scoring margin over its eight opponents.  The Americans did not earn a chance to play the top two finishers — Serbia (gold) and Canada (silver) — although the team that knocked them out of contention, Lithuania, ultimately took home the bronze.  We’ve already established the weak predictive power of the WUG experience (e.g., 2009-10 NPOY Evan Turner hardly played in the 2009 WUG), but we still thought it would be worth a quick look to see which players rose to the top and which did not during the last two weeks of action.

Trevor Mbakwe Was USA's Best Interior Player

Some of our thoughts on player performances:

The All-American Backcourt Was Solid, If Not Spectacular.  Simply glancing at the roster going into the World University Games, the two names that immediately jumped out as the best players were in the backcourt — Pitt’s Ashton Gibbs and Vanderbilt’s John Jenkins.  Both players will be on the short list next season as NPOY types who should also land on several of the major All-American teams.  In China, they both played the most minutes and shot the ball considerably more than the rest of their teammates.  Jenkins alone attempted 57 threes, more shots than anyone but Gibbs (73) on the entire team.  They both made enough shots to keep defenses honest (Gibbs: 46.6%; Jenkins: 42.4%), and were automatic (90%+) from the line, but on a team sorely lacking in the point guard department, neither player truly stepped up and separated himself in that manner (only 28 assists between them, one for every combined 12 minutes they were on the floor).  In the loss against Lithuania, the two guards combined to shoot 4-13 from behind the arc and dished out only one assist (versus 5 TOs).  Clearly this team could have used a better floor leader.

Trevor Mbakwe Was a Monster.  If we had to pick one player who came out of the WUG experience with the most hype for the upcoming season, it has to be Minnesota forward Trevor Mbakwe.  In just under 20 minutes per contest, Mbakwe averaged a near-dub-dub of 11.4 PPG and 9.4 RPG (or, 23/19 per 40 minutes!).  What’s more impressive is that international players simply could not handle his quick feet balanced by a bulky frame, bullying his way to the foul line 61 times, or 7.6 times per game.  He only was able to convert 57.4% of those attempts, but his 60.9% field goal percentage on the interior more than made up for it.  Mbakwe averaged a double-double in the Big Ten last year, but his maturity and continued improvement may have him on target for a DeJuan Blair type of senior season in 2011-12.

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