Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by rtmsf on December 5th, 2011

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

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

Dominating the SEC:  In the newly expanded Big East/SEC Challenge, the Big East came away with a decisive 8-4 victory over the SEC. Only two Big East teams (DePaul and Rutgers) lost on their home floor while four conference members snagged important road wins across the south. The most impressive was Georgetown, a 57-55 winner over Alabama at Coleman Coliseum, a victory that should put the Hoyas in the national rankings this week. Providence earned a nice win at South Carolina while Pittsburgh and Cincinnati took care of business against Tennessee and Georgia. While this event doesn’t have the buzz of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge for instance, I thought this was a success for both leagues. It’s good to get some quality games early in the season instead of fattening up on cupcakes. It’s a shame four Big East schools (Marquette, Villanova, Notre Dame and South Florida) had to sit out but that’s just the way it goes since the SEC only has 12 teams.

The Emergence of Georgetown and Marquette: As mentioned above, Georgetown knocked off Alabama, part of a 3-0 week bookended by two cupcakes. At 7-1 with a close loss to Kansas, the Hoyas look much better than originally advertised. Despite Georgetown’s admirable success, the most significant Big East win this past week came courtesy of Marquette. The Golden Eagles knocked off in-state rival and top ten Wisconsin in Madison on Saturday. The Badgers almost never lose at the Kohl Center so any team that comes out of there with a win deserves major props and earns my respect. I had my doubts about Buzz Williams’ team (ranked fifth here last week) but the win at Wisconsin is as impressive as it gets. Not to mention it was without starting point guard Junior Cadougan, suspended for the game by Williams for an unspecified violation of team rules, plus Jae Crowder was saddled with foul trouble most of the game. I’m officially on board the MU bandwagon.

Buzz Williams And Marquette Picked Up A Huge Win At Wisconsin

Jim Boeheim Apologizes: Syracuse’s important 72-68 victory over a quality Florida team took a back seat in the press room Friday night as Orange head coach Jim Boeheim apologized to those who accused former associate head coach Bernie Fine of sexual molestation. Saying he “misspoke very badly,” Boeheim appeared somber yet nervous as he stood in front of the large media contingent. He clearly looked like a man under a lot of pressure and he admitted as much, saying how difficult of a time this has been for him, his family, and his staff. On the surface it appears the Orange players are not distracted by all that is going on but it would be naïve to think they aren’t paying attention in some fashion. With the investigation ongoing and agencies such as the FBI and US Secret Service involved, it is highly likely that more information will come to light. The Orange players have to do their best to block out the distractions as they march deeper into a season full of high expectations. Two weeks into this, there still isn’t anyone out there who can confidently say what will happen over the next few months with regards to this investigation.

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (8-0) — Off the court issues aside, Syracuse sure is taking care of business on the court. The Orange destroyed former assistant Rob Murphy’s Eastern Michigan squad before getting by Florida on Friday at the Carrier Dome. Syracuse didn’t shoot particularly well against the Gators but managed to get to the line 21 times while out-rebounding Florida. Florida’s 20 turnovers also helped the cause. On the broadcast, Jay Bilas said Brandon Triche could become Syracuse’s best player. I can’t disagree. Triche is a solid three-point shooter who is terrific in transition and defensively on the outer flank of Jim Boeheim’s zone defense. The junior’s statistics are up pretty much across the board in five fewer minutes of game action. This week: 12/6 vs. Marshall, 12/10 vs. George Washington.
  2. Louisville (7-0) – The Cardinals had to rally to defeat Vanderbilt on Friday evening with Peyton Siva sealing the win in the final seconds. A lot of people think Louisville is overrated but I’m not one of them. While the Cardinals certainly are banged up, Rick Pitino always gets the most out of his players. If Wayne Blackshear is able to make it back onto the court, watch out. This team could do a lot of damage with its defense come Big East play and has just enough capable offensive players to be satisfactory on that end once they put it all together. It also helps when you have such an advantage like this team does at the KFC YUM! Center. This week: 12/7 vs. IUPUI, 12/10 vs. Fairleigh Dickinson. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East Morning Five: 12.01.11 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on December 1st, 2011

  1.  With star forward Tim Abromaitis left to “live life” and ponder whether his basketball career is over, Notre Dame is in a lot of trouble without him. His replacement, freshman Pat Connaughton (11 points), was actually one of the Fighting Irish’s best players in last night’s 20-point loss to No. 19 Gonzaga. Point guard Eric Atkins had six points on 2-8 shooting and six turnovers, and senior leader Scott Martin went 0-6 from the field and scored just one point. Without their star in the lineup, Notre Dame’s offense sputtered and don’t be surprised if that is a recurring problem in the short term. Jerian Grant and Connaughton are solid young players, but Atkins has disappeared against every decent opponent and Martin is a solid role player but not someone who can shoulder the offensive load. It might be a long season for coach Mike Brey in South Bend.
  2. I am not buying Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Gene Collier when he says the city-game between Pittsburgh and Duquesne doesn’t need to be played. Collier claims the game is never competitive and it has become little more than a “respectful little social event.” For one, it’s curious when juxtaposed with the paper’s game recap, in which the lede pretty much says it was the most competitive game in 11 years. The game hasn’t been must-see TV in the past, but this game was competitive and did nothing to assuage the doubt enveloping Pitt. The Panthers committed 23 turnovers but dominated the boards 39-15, including 16 on hte offensive end. Plus, what “respectful little social event” doesn’t sound like a good time, no matter the final score?
  3. With the scored tied at halftime, South Florida was in good shape against VCU. Then the Rams raced out to a 51-35 lead early in the second half and they never looked back. Stan Heath’s team has been snakebitten by injuries and seldom-used sophomore LaVonte Dority played just one minute tonight because of shoulder trouble.  The Bulls barely have seven healthy players on the roster and they won’t be competitive until center Augustus Gilchrist returns to the lineup. I hope Stan Heath isn’t getting too comfortable in that coaching seat, because his job is in jeopardy and these injuries aren’t going to help him save it. At this point, South Florida will have to find some sort of magic is Heath is going to be back on the bench next season.
  4. Syracuse blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician has the story that the universally hated and notorious publicity hounds of the Westboro Baptist Church will be picketing Saturday’s Syracuse-Florida basketball game. I am not going to link to the press release, as you can find that yourself, but this is the type of distraction the Orange will face all season long in light of the Bernie Fine scandal and it will be especially magnified in high-profile games between ranked teams. As for the game, it should be a good matchup and Syracuse’s first real test this season. Florida has played exactly one respectable opponent, and they lost by seven to Ohio State. It will be fun to watch Florida’s guards try to fill it up against Syracuse’s deep rotation of long and athletic defenders.
  5. Lots of interesting opinions to chew on in the ESPN post explaining Alex Oriakhi‘s displeasure with his role in the Connecticut offense. Some seem to think that one of the team’s best players during the Huskies’ run to the championship should be coming off the bench.  It is an interesting argument given the versatility of Tyler Olander and Andre Drummond but I think as the season goes on, Jim Calhoun will need Oriakhi to play major minutes, especially against conference opponents. Of course if that is going to happen, Oriakhi is going to need to grow up and act like the veteran he is. If he wants to prove his worth, he will need to play better on both ends of the floor, and change his attitude as well.
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Checking In On… the Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 29th, 2011

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

Reader’s Take

The Week That Was

  • A Rough Week for the Big East: Conference teams lost 13 times this past week to the likes of UCF, Illinois State, Northeastern, and Richmond among others. Only three undefeated teams (Syracuse, Louisville, and Marquette) remain and of the 13 teams with at least one loss, only three (DePaul, Seton Hall and Georgetown) have not yet recorded a bad loss. As we enter December, the middle of the conference doesn’t appear to be as strong as in years past. The Big East has a handful of great teams and a host of teams that appear to be very average at this point. It’s a long season, but the chances of seeing nine or ten NCAA bids from this league are certainly not promising.
  • Syracuse and Marquette Take Home Titles: The Orange defeated Virginia Tech and Stanford at their second home, Madison Square Garden, to win the NIT Season Tip-Off while Marquette took home the Paradise Jam championship, albeit against a so-so field. Both teams struggled in their respective championship games, but managed to pull it out down the stretch, the sign of a good team. Each team’s schedule ramps up this week against a pair of top ten teams as Syracuse hosts Florida on Friday and Marquette visits in-state rival Wisconsin on Saturday.
  • Tim Abromaitis Tears ACL: There was awful news out of South Bend late last week when it was announced that Notre Dame fifth year senior forward Tim Abromaitis tore the ACL in his right knee during practice on Friday. The loss of Abromaitis is a huge blow to a Notre Dame team already with two neutral court losses on its resume and a pair of road games coming up this week. The Fighting Irish rotation is pretty much only seven deep now with only three or four reliable scorers. Point guard Eric Atkins has played very well, but Scott Martin and Pat Connaughton will have to step up in a big way for Notre Dame to have any chance of making the NCAA Tournament.

With A Big Game Against Florida Looming Friday, How Will Jim Boeheim Keep His Team Focused Amid The Bernie Fine Scandal?

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (6-0) – After feasting on four cupcakes to begin the season, the Orange were impressive late in victories over Virginia Tech and Stanford in the NIT Season Tip-Off. They struggled for the better part of both games, but the ability of this team to flip the switch and play like the top five team it is is something that will suit them well outside of conference play. However, Syracuse had better play well for 40 minutes once the Big East season arrives or else they’ll lose more games than you think. Jim Boeheim’s team ranks in the top ten nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency, one of only four teams at the moment. Syracuse has done a great job forcing turnovers leading to easy points in transition. Dion Waiters appears to have taken his game to the next level as a sophomore with transition play being a big part of that. How this team is affected by the Bernie Fine investigation, if at all, is something to watch over the next few weeks. This week: 11/29 vs. Eastern Michigan, 12/2 vs. #6 Florida.
  2. Louisville (6-0) – Rick Pitino was successful last year by molding a team of role players into a cohesive unit with no superstars through an incredible focus on defense. Louisville looks to be following that same formula again in 2011-12. The Cardinals rank third nationally in defensive efficiency and only one opponent has scored more than 54 points. Of course, offense is Louisville’s biggest challenge. Peyton Siva is back, but Pitino’s rotation has been scaled back due to injuries to Wayne Blackshear and Mike Marra. Blackshear may be back but Marra is lost for the season with a torn ACL. Louisville struggled against Ohio and has another tricky game with Long Beach State on Monday. Freshman Chane Behanan (9/9) is stepping up in the absence of Blackshear while Gorgui Dieng has been a shot-blocking machine in the paint at three rejections per game. This is a big week for the Cardinals as their competition gets stronger. This week: 11/28 vs. Long Beach State, 12/2 vs. #20 Vanderbilt. Read the rest of this entry »
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Morning Five: 11.28.11 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on November 28th, 2011

SPONSORED: Rush the Court is pleased to bring you a second installment of a one-day fantasy college basketball league courtesy of FanDuel.com. The league, which is completely free to enter, will play on Tuesday night (November 29) involving several high-profile teams — Duke, Ohio State, Michigan, Georgia Tech, Illinois, Maryland, Clemson — and features $150 in prizes. Even better, if you beat our trained monkey that we’ve assigned to make our picks (username: RTCmonkey), you’ll win even more money. Test your college hoops knowledge to win! Click here to enter.

  1. This Bernie Fine/Syracuse story deserves more space than what we typically include here so we will keep it simple. Yesterday morning news surfaced of an audio tape recording a conversation between Bobby Davis, Fine’s initial accuser, and Fine’s wife in 2002 in which his Fine’s wife admits to knowing that Fine molested Davis, but there was nothing to do about it, as well as an indication that Fine gave Davis money to pay for student loans that he used as leverage for sexual favors. Fine’s wife also reportedly became sexually involved with Davis when he was older. The tape was turned over to ESPN in 2002, but they did nothing with it including turning it over to authorities at the time, because they could not corroborate the information. Meanwhile, another person, a man from Maine, has come forward claiming to be the third Fine victim, although the man’s father claims that the man never even met Fine and in fact is being charged with sexually abusing a child himself. Late last night, Syracuse decided to fire Fine with a short statement. Jim Boeheim, who had initially defended Fine and accused the alleged victims of chasing money, issued a much less aggressive statement that appears to have been run through a PR agency before being released. We will have more on this subject later when we find the time and can wrap our head around what is becoming an increasingly bizarre case.
  2. Black Friday was not a good one for Notre Dame as they lost Tim Abromaitis for the season after he tore his right ACL in practice. Not only did the Irish lose their best player, but they also lost one of their two seniors on the roster (Scott Martin is the other). Abromaitis had only played in two of Notre Dame’s six games this season as the result of a suspension by the NCAA resulting from a misinterpretation of NCAA rules by Notre Dame. While the Fighting Irish lost both games that Abromaitis played it would be foolish to read too much into that. Their four games without Abromaitis (all wins) were against weak competition. Their two games with Abromaitis (both losses) were against solid competition. This injury should move Notre Dame from a potential middle-of-the-pack Big East team to one that will be hanging out near the bottom of the conference standings.
  3. Minnesota may similarly devastating news coming their way as Trevor Mbakwe injured his right knee last night during a loss to Dayton in the championship game of the Old Spice Classic. While the extent of the injury will not be known until later today when Mbakwe has an MRI, initial reports from the scene and Mbakwe’s tweet (“Lord please get me through this”) do not appear promising. Mbawke, who came into the game averaging 14.8 PPG and 10 RPG, is the key to the Gophers this season and without him they may struggle to stay out of the Big Ten cellar.
  4. Steve Lavin missed Saturday night’s loss to Northeastern for what is being reported as management of his stamina andenergy. So far this season Lavin has missed three of the team’s seven regular season games (the season-opener, which happened more than a month after his surgery, and the last two games). As we said before we are not going to get into the medical stuff that Lavin is going through (PSA test results, post-operative complications, etc), but we will get into the basketball stuff. Right now St. John’s is not a very good team. They are young and missing a lot of what they expected to have on the court this season after the NCAA ruled that many of their incoming freshmen were academically ineligible. Now they have a game at Kentucky coming up on Thursday. Unless Lavin thinks he is going to get his energy and stamina back very quickly he might want to think about taking a longer leave of absence rather than making decisions on a game-by-game basis. For a team this young the change between Lavin and interim coach Mike Dunlap along with the uncertainty of who will be coaching will adversely affect the team’s development. For Lavin’s sake and that of his team, he should make a longer term decision about how he wants this team to be run.
  5. President Obama caught his second college basketball of the season as he took some time off from a variety of pressing issues to watch his brother-in-law Craig Robinson coach Oregon State against Towson in a game that the Beavers won easily. Interestingly, the President was not the only well-known person in attendance as Bill Murray was also there rooting for his son Luke Murray, an assistant coach at Towson. We are guessing that President Obama will not get the chance to see many more college basketball games this season with all the other things that he has to attend to, but with the way the Beavers are playing he may have to schedule some time during March to catch them in the NCAA Tournament.
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The Big 12 Week Ahead: Thanksgiving Tournament Edition

Posted by dnspewak on November 21st, 2011

With all the holiday tournaments going on this week, it’s time to take a look at the tournaments involving Big 12 teams.

CBE Classic: Missouri

Opening Round Opponent: vs. Notre Dame, Monday 6:30 p.m. CT

Down the Road: vs. Cal/Georgia, Tuesday

First-year head coach Frank Haith will get his first taste of real competition at Missouri this week, as his Tigers square off against Notre Dame on Monday night. The Irish are undefeated, but their only marquee victory came against a solid Detroit team at home by six points. They’ve completed their 4-0 run without forward Tim Abromaitis, who was suspended by the NCAA for participating in an exhibition game a few years ago. Monday will mark the senior’s first game back, however, and he changes the entire dynamic of the lineup. He was preseason First Team All-Big East selection, after all. Abromaitis is one of just two returning starters for Mike Brey along with Scott Martin, while Missouri, of course, returns just about everybody from an NCAA Tournament team. The Tigers have picked up Haith’s new style of play quickly so far, but we’ll have to wait until tonight to judge this team’s true progress.

Frank Haith Faces His First Test at Missouri

Pre-Season NIT: Oklahoma State

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Set Your TiVo: 11.14.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 14th, 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.

Two games from the ESPN marathon highlight tonight’s slate but don’t sleep on a potential upset special in South Bend and a power conference battle in LA.

Detroit @ Notre Dame – 9:00 PM EST on ESPNU (***) (cross-posted on RTC Live)

Eric Atkins Looked Great in ND's First Game This Year

  • Point guard Eric Atkins carried the Fighting Irish to victory in their first game this season, one of four (including tonight) without senior forward Tim Abromaitis, currently sitting out due to a suspension. The sophomore Atkins poured in 27 points on 6-7 FG (along with six assists) in a win over Mississippi Valley State on Saturday. Against star Detroit point guard Ray McCallum, Atkins will have to protect the ball and run the offense effectively against a hungry Titans squad looking to upset a Big East squad on its home floor. As a result, Atkins’ scoring opportunities may be reduced. Without Abromaitis, Notre Dame is very thin and must turn to Scott Martin for a big offensive output.  If Martin or Atkins is held in check, the Irish could be looking at their first loss in only their second game of the season.
  • Detroit’s offense is loaded with scoring threats from McCallum to Chase Simon and Nick Minnerath, among others. While McCallum deservedly gets most of the press, Minnerath and his front court teammate, LaMarcus Lowe, could be the difference in this game. Notre Dame has a collection of 6’5” and 6’6” type guys on its roster with only Jack Cooley and Mike Broghammer providing any kind of bulk in the paint. The Titans have a chance to really take advantage of the mismatch in the lane and offset any advantages Notre Dame may have elsewhere. Detroit and Notre Dame play at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of pace. Expect the Titans to push the pace all night, attacking Atkins defensively in search of turnovers and easy basket opportunities in the open floor. With McCallum’s play-making ability and Atkins coming off a four turnover game, this matchup sets up well for Detroit.
  • Will Mike Brey counter with the burn offense? It’s possible but Brey trusted Ben Hansbrough to run that for all 40 minutes last season. He’s no longer around so we doubt Brey will use it all game with a sophomore point guard. You may see it at times, especially if Detroit picks up a lot of easy buckets early, but the Irish just need to execute their normal half court offense and avoid turnovers. Pace, rebounding and defense will be what to watch for in this game. Cooley had ten rebounds last time out and a repeat performance may be needed for the Irish to avoid a loss. Neither team has a reputation for defending well so this could be a high scoring game. With Abromaitis out, Detroit may actually have more weapons to turn to offensively. The Titans have a terrific chance to win this game on the road.

Nebraska @ USC – 10:30 PM EST on Prime Ticket (**)

  • USC returns only one starter from last year’s team, Maurice Jones. At 5’7”, Jones has trouble getting his shot off and it showed against Cal State Northridge on Friday, going 0-7 (a major part of USC’s 0-15) from deep. It won’t get easier against Doc Sadler’s defense. USC is going to have to score points inside to win this game. Dewayne Dedmon and Aaron Fuller can do that but the Cornhuskers ranked #6 in two point defense last season. Kevin O’Neill also has to find some way for his team to rebound since Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson are no longer in LA. Nebraska outrebounded South Dakota 42-24 in its Friday victory.
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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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RTC Summer Updates: Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on July 11th, 2011

With the completion of the NBA Draft and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. Our Big East update comes from frequent RTC contributor Brian Otskey, co-author of Get to the Point.

Readers’ Take

Summer Storylines

  • Connecticut Revels In National Championship Glory: Connecticut’s storybook year continued on into the offseason as the Huskies were invited to the White House for an event with President Obama on May 16. The team presented the president with a #1 UConn jersey and posed for photographs after being lauded for their remarkable accomplishment. Connecticut made one of the most improbable runs ever en route to the third national championship in school history, all coming since 1999, going 23-0 outside of Big East regular season play. Nobody could have predicted the way last season unfolded and the NCAA Tournament as a whole was a microcosm of that. Connecticut’s national title made up for a lackluster performance by many of the record 11 Big East teams participating in the tournament. Only one other Big East team (Marquette) managed to make it to the second weekend’s Sweet 16. Life without Kemba Walker has begun in Storrs and while the Huskies will be among the 2011-12 Big East favorites, it’ll be very interesting to see who steps up and how the team performs without its warrior. Jeremy Lamb appears to be ready to take over but the way Shabazz Napier and Alex Oriakhi handle their larger roles will be the difference between a team contending for a Big East title and one that finishes fourth or fifth.

Kemba & Co. Celebrated in Style (H-C/B.Hansen)

  • The Ed Cooley Era Begins In Friartown: After Keno Davis stumbled to an 18-36 Big East record over three seasons in Providence, the Friars desperately needed someone to revive their moribund program. Providence has made only two NCAA Tournaments since its 1997 appearance and the last one was eight seasons ago in 2003-04. Enter Ed Cooley, a Providence-born 41-year-old with the fire in his belly needed to succeed in arguably the toughest job in the Big East Conference. Cooley will instill a system of discipline and fundamentals with a special attention to defense, three attributes of successful programs that were sorely lacking under Davis. Cooley’s Fairfield team ranked #22 in the nation in defensive efficiency last season and he improved the Stags’ record each and every year he was there. Providence, a small Catholic school with hardly any recruiting base along with limited facilities and resources, is an incredibly difficult job even before you have to go up against bigger schools like Syracuse, Louisville and Pittsburgh along with tradition-rich programs such as Georgetown, Villanova and Marquette. Cooley must spend his first season laying the foundation for longer term success. He won’t turn this program around overnight but more discipline on and off the court and hard work on the recruiting trail can turn Providence into a solid Big East competitor. We can’t think of many people better suited than Cooley to get the job done at Providence. While it will be a long and difficult process, brighter days are ahead for the Providence program with Ed Cooley at the helm.
  • Signs Of Life In The New York Area: New coach Steve Lavin and St. John’s brought the buzz back to the Big Apple last winter as the Red Storm earned its first NCAA bid in nine seasons. “Lavinwood” has moved east, but St. John’s now enters a year full of mixed feelings. Cautious optimism as well as uncertainty rules the day with nine new faces, part of the nation’s second-ranked recruiting class, making their way to Queens in 2011-12. Malik Stith is the only returnee of note after Dwayne Polee, II, decided to transfer closer to home at San Diego State. St. John’s may be the most unpredictable team in the Big East entering this season. The potential exists for a terrific year if Lavin can mold all this raw talent into a cohesive unit capable of playing with any team in the conference. However, issues with young players, commonly involving playing time and egos, are also very possible and it takes only one incident to destroy the locker room and wreck the season. The Johnnies have enough talent to make the NCAA Tournament again, but Lavin will have to totally adjust his approach to make that happen. With hardly any experience on the roster, he can’t simply roll the ball out and hope for the best. This season will be the biggest test of Lavin’s coaching career on the court, but he faced an even more difficult challenge last year, coaching the entire season with prostate cancer while keeping it a secret until this spring. Turning St. John’s around with that constantly in the back of his mind is an a commendable achievement and we obviously wish Coach Lavin the best of luck fighting this awful disease.
  • Across the Hudson River in New Jersey, Mike Rice and Rutgers appear to be building a program to be reckoned with down the road. The Scarlet Knights have been a dormant program for 20 years, never once enjoying a winning season in any of its 16 years as a Big East member. That may be about to change, although it appears unlikely that Rutgers will crack the .500 mark in league play this season. The fiery Rice reeled in a top 25 recruiting class and now must build on a season of close calls and what-ifs. Rutgers was competitive last year, but could only manage five Big East victories. It’ll take time for the new players to adjust to the collegiate level but bigger and better things should be expected from Rutgers in the years to come. Rutgers, a large state school, has the capability of becoming a pretty good program. All it needs is a commitment from the administration, facility upgrades and great recruiting. Rice is taking care of the latter, now it’s time for the Rutgers brass to provide him with the resources needed to build a top flight program. Rutgers needs major facility upgrades (a RAC renovation has been talked about for over a year), but fundraising has been a major problem. With New Jersey Governor Chris Christie trying to get the state’s financial house in order, there is going to be a lot of resistance to an ambitious project such as this one at the state’s flagship university.

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Conference Report Card: Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 19th, 2011

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor. We will be publishing a series of conference report cards over the next week for conferences that got multiple NCAA bids to recap the conference, grade the teams, and look at the future for the conference.

Conference Recap

  • College basketball has never witnessed a season like this year’s Big East. The conference destroyed its own record of eight NCAA bids by placing 11 clubs in the Big Dance this year and also claimed the national champion with Connecticut, which spent most of the season in the middle of the pack in the Big East. The Huskies also gave the conference its first title since the Huskies last did the trick in 2004. While there was not a truly great team in the Big East (including Connecticut), the league was better than any other from top to bottom. Of the five teams that failed to make the NCAA Tournament, only South Florida and DePaul were truly uncompetitive. Rutgers showed signs of improvement while Seton Hall managed to win seven league games and gave some good teams a major scare in the process. Even Providence, which finished 4-14, knocked off Louisville and Villanova in consecutive games back in January. Despite the lackluster NCAA showing by most Big East members, it says here the conference boasted the best player in the nation (sorry, Jimmer) and a deserving national champion. Additionally, ten Big East teams were ranked in the AP Top 25 at some point this season. Say what you want about its postseason performance (it’s certainly fair to bash the league in that regard), but this was by far the best conference in the nation this year.

Jim Calhoun (left) and Kemba Walker will be inextricably linked to UConn's memorable NCAA Tournament run. (Reuters/Lucy Nicholson)

Team-by-Team (teams are in order of finish, but grades are based on performance vs. expectations):

  1. Pittsburgh (28-6, 15-3): The regular season was terrific once again for Jamie Dixon and the Panthers but, as has become common over the years, they fell short of their goal–getting to the Final Four. Pittsburgh lost four of their final eight games after starting the season 24-2. A mid-season injury to Ashton Gibbs was thought to bring them down a peg, but Pitt responded with wins at West Virginia and Villanova without him to quiet any doubters. That turned out to be their peak. Dixon did not really test his team out of conference except for two games at Madison Square Garden against Maryland and Texas back in November as part of the 2K Sports Coaches vs. Cancer event and a “home” game (in Pittsburgh) against Tennessee, which they lost. Looking back, one theory could be that an average non-conference schedule did not adequately prepare this team for the NCAA Tournament which is all about match-ups and teams you haven’t seen before from other leagues. While Big East coaches love to use the strength of the league as a crutch when questioned about a lack of non-conference heft to their schedule, I think this is a theory that has to be taken into consideration. Big East play is obviously rough and tumble every night but that can actually be a detriment come tournament time when games are officiated tighter and you don’t have as much time to prepare for an opponent who you likely don’t know very well, if at all. Pitt will lose Gilbert Brown, Brad Wanamaker, and Gary McGhee to graduation while Gibbs tests the NBA waters. I expect Gibbs to come back to join a very good recruiting class led by five-star forward Khem Birch. Despite the loss of three senior leaders, look for Pitt to be in the thick of the Big East race yet again next season. Dixon has established a culture of winning and I have learned never to doubt him after witnessing the 2009-10 campaign, a season that certified Dixon as one of the best basketball minds in the country. While this year was a great success during the regular season, Pitt’s inability to get to the Sweet Sixteen and eventually the Final Four renders this year a disappointment. GRADE: B- Read the rest of this entry »
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Set Your Tivo: 02.09.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 9th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Rivalry week kicks into high gear tonight with a clash of Big East titans and the greatest rivalry of them all on Tobacco Road. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

#13 Georgetown @ #12 Syracuse – 7 pm on ESPN (****)

JT3 Has the Hoyas Back On Track and Peaking At the Right Time

Syracuse has stabilized itself after losing four straight but will run into a streaking Georgetown club tonight at the Carrier Dome. The Hoyas have won six straight games and look to be back in the thick of things with a chance for a double-bye at the Big East Tournament. Syracuse leads this classic Big East rivalry 46-38 and will have to keep up their defensive effort if they want to win for the 47th time against the Hoyas.

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Luck Of The Irish? Hardly.

Posted by jstevrtc on February 9th, 2011

Walker Carey is an RTC contributor.

Just before the start of this season, not much was known about this year’s edition of Mike Brey’s Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Over the course of the last four seasons, Notre Dame’s roster has had three consistent standout performers in forward Luke Harangody, combo guard Kyle McAlarney, and point guard Tory Jackson. Even with the services of Harangody and Jackson last season, the Irish posted a campaign that was widely viewed as a disappointment. ND finished last season with a 23-12 record, and their season ended when Old Dominion upset them on the first day of the NCAA Tournament. Needless to say, there were many questions about a team that underperformed last season and graduated their two best players.

Hansbrough Has Led By Both Word And Example

One thing the Irish did have on their side entering the season was an experienced starting lineup. Ben Hansbrough, Scott Martin, Tim Abromaitis, Carleton Scott, and Tyrone Nash are all either fourth or fifth year players. Martin entered the season, however, having not played the past two — he sat out the 2008-‘09 season after transferring from Purdue and the ‘09-‘10 season after tearing his ACL last preseason. Scott also entered the season without much experience, as prior to this season he was not a regular in Mike Brey’s rotation. Even though Hansbrough, Abromaitis, and Nash had varying levels of experience, questions still remained regarding all three of them. Hansbrough and Abromaitis had battled inconsistency throughout their Irish careers, while throughout his time as an Irishman, Nash had played second fiddle to Harangody in the frontcourt.

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Set Your Tivo: 01.19.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 19th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Three interesting contests headline tonight’s schedule, including NC State’s endeavor to pull a shocker of its own over now-#4 Duke. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#25 Cincinnati @ #16 Notre Dame – 7 pm on ESPN2 (****)

Abromaitis Plays the Most MPG for the Irish But Has Been Held Under His Season Average for Three Straight Games

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