Big East NCAA Bracket Watch

Posted by George Hershey on February 6th, 2014

With a little over five weeks to go until Selection Sunday, most Big East teams have about eight games left before the Big East Tournament to solidify their standing for the NCAA Tournament. Eight teams have somewhat realistic hopes of making it into the 68-team field, but all but two still have plenty of work to do if they want to impress the selection committee. Here we will take a look at each of the 10 teams with a quick snapshot of what they have done, where they are, and what they need to do to hear their name called on March 16.

Steve Lavin and company have lots of work to do if they want to be dancing in March. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)

Steve Lavin and company have lots of work to do if they want to be dancing in March.
(AP Photo/Al Behrman)

#6 Villanova, 20-2 (8-1)

  • Key Stats: #4 RPI, #7 Pomeroy, #7 BPI, #14 Strength of Schedule
  • Projections: Lunardi #2 seed; RTC #2 seed; Bracket Matrix #2 seed
  • Good Wins: #8 Kansas, #17 Iowa, Providence, Xavier
  • Bad Losses: None

Villanova is all but a lock at this point. The Wildcats started the season with two huge wins in the Bahamas against Kansas and Iowa and they continued their great play into conference play. Their only two losses are understandable — at Syracuse and against a Creighton team that could have beaten the Knicks that night. They have rolled through conference play and look like they will have no problem the rest of the way. The one game remaining that can help solidify a #2 seed will be at Creighton on February 16. Going 8-1 or even 7-2 with a potential loss to St. John’s or Providence should be enough to finish with no worse than a #3 seed, leaving the Wildcats in a great position for March.

#12 Creighton, 18-3, (8-1)

  • Key Stats: #8 RPI, #3 Pomeroy, #12 BPI, #27 SOS
  • Projections: Lunardi #3 seed; RTC #3 seed; Bracket Matrix #3 seed
  • Good Wins: @ #6 Villanova, California, Arizona State, Xavier
  • Bad Losses: None

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Big East M5: 01.10.14 Edition

Posted by George Hershey on January 10th, 2014

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  1. Creighton let out a huge sigh of relief on Wednesday. First, Doug McDermott‘s shoulder injury turned out to be a shoulder sprain. He is expected to play on Saturday and downplayed the injury, a good sign for the stud. Later, fellow senior Grant Gibbs received good news as his scary knee injury was revealed to be a dislocated kneecap. The worst case scenario some were fearing was a torn ACL, but luckily the sixth year senior will be able to play in his final year. Gibbs is expected to be out about a month, returning in time for the final month of the Big East season and postseason tournaments. The Creighton offense has been playing spectacularly and the team will feel the loss of Gibbs, but should survive without him, as several players like Jahenns Manigat, Austin Chatman, and Devin Brooks have stepped up their games this year. Each is averaging at least seven points, three rebounds and two assists per game. 
  2. Georgetown center Joshua Smith did not travel with the team to Providence due to academic reasons. The Hoyas ended up getting run out of the gym against a Friars team that started 0-2 in the Big East. The Hoyas had their worst offensive performance of the season, shooting 39.6% from the floor while committing 15 turnovers. This situation looks similar to the suspension Greg Whittington was dealt after the first semester because of grades, and he ended up not playing the rest of the year. Hopefully Smith resolves the academic issue and returns back to the lineup because the Hoyas need his offensive presence down low to open up the floor for Markel Starks and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, who is having a breakout year. 
  3. Doug McDermott is gaining traction as a leading candidate for National Player of the Year honors. With all the early season buzz about the top freshman across the country, McDermott is earning more recognition from the press for his remarkable season. Seth Davis wrote a great piece highlighting him as the top senior and SI.com‘s Brian Hamilton wrote about the star bucking the one-and-done trend to continue to hone his game,  and his relationship with his coach, who is also his father. CBSSPORTS.com‘s Gary Parrish gave Doug a ton of attention this week by looking at whether he will win his first scoring title as well as putting him at the top of his list for NPOY, pointing out the last player to have the numbers he is putting up was Kevin Durant.
  4. The world’s most famous bracketologist, Joe Lunardi, published his latest bracketology yesterday. He has four Big East teams in the field, with Villanova leading the way with a #2 seed. Creighton improved to a six seed and Xavier moved up to an eight seed. Georgetown regressed down to the 10 line after their loss to Providence. Butler was the eighth team out before they lost to DePaul, likely setting them back farther. Creighton and Xavier have impressed and should continue rising if their recent play continues. Seth Davis thinks the league will end up receiving five bids, but the rest of the league’s teams have not been helping their case. As unlikely as it seems now, don’t be surprised if Marquette and Providence make serious runs for berths as both have seemed to turn a corner and have the talent to win big resume boosting games.
  5. Seton Hall solidified their 2014 recruiting class with the addition of Northwestern transfer Chier Ajou. The Sudan native is 7’2″, but failed to see the court often while in Evanston. Ajou has a great story, coming to the United States after being held hostage in his home country. He will be eligible after the first semester next season and joins one of the nations top recruiting classes. The one missing piece for Kevin Willard’s team was at the center position, and he now will have a player in conference play to battle in the post. He has great size and physical tools, and will have the next year to get to know Willard’s system and improve his game. Ajou has the genes as his cousin is Luol Deng, but it will take more than that for him to play big minutes next year.
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Is the Big East Really Only a Three-Bid League Right Now?

Posted by Jameson Fleming on January 9th, 2014

The Big East survived conference realignment to become the No. 3 league in terms of conference RPI and KenPom.com at this point of the season. Despite those lofty rankings, the league really only has three teams that sit comfortably on the right side of the bubble as of today. How is this possible? The short answer is that while it is true that the Big East failed to pick up a bunch of notable wins, it also avoided the awful resume-killing losses which weigh down a league’s RPI rating. As a matter of fact, the Big East has just five losses against teams outside the RPI top 100 teams. Let’s take a look at where all 10 teams stand in terms of NCAA Tournament chances with two months remaining in the regular season. From first to worst:

Jay Wright Has Lost His Magic Touch at Villanova (Photo credit: H. Rumph Jr/AP Photo).

Jay Wright and Villanova has bounced back nicely this season. (AP)

Villanova: 14-1, 3-0 Big East

  • Projected Postseason: Villanova is a lock to make the NCAA Tournament after an 11-1 non-conference run which featured wins against Kansas and Iowa on a neutral court. Right now, the Wildcats project to be a No. 2 seed.
  • Best Case Scenario: Jay Wright’s team gets through Big East play with no more than three losses and wins the Big East Tournament. A record of roughly 26-4 would put Villanova in contention for a N0. 1 seed. The Wildcats would need Syracuse to falter in order to earn the No. 1 seed in the East Regional hosted in New York City.
  • Worst Case Scenario: It turns out Villanova isn’t as good as its non-conference performance suggested. Villanova loses six to eight games in the Big East and winds up a No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

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Big East M5: 01.06.14 Edition

Posted by George Hershey on January 6th, 2014

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  1. It was a rough weekend for Providence. The Friars took a beating at Villanova on Sunday night after getting news on Saturday that highly-touted freshman Brandon Austin would be transferring from the school. Austin had yet to play a single minute in a Providence uniform because he was suspended before the season (along with fellow freshman Rodney Bullock) for breaking school rules. His departure hurts the Friars’ future prospects considerably, as he was poised to take on a major role next year with the personnel losses of seniors Bryce Cotton and Kadeem Batts. This is on top of the injury to Kris Dunn, which will keep him out for the rest of the season. It is unfortunate that a year that looked so promising has turned into an 0-2 start in conference play with a postseaon berth looking increasingly unlikely.
  2. Last year’s Wisconsin Mr. Basketball, Luke Fischer, a player who decided to attend Indiana over Creighton and Marquette, decided to transfer last week. He took a few days to decide and ultimately picked Marquette over Creighton and Milwaukee as his next destination. Fischer played high school an hour away from Milwaukee and will have the chance to contribute with the Golden Eagles immediately. He will have to sit out until the end of the fall semester, but he will have two -and-a-half seasons upon his return. Anonymous Eagle breaks down the transfer details as well as the scholarship situation for Marquette, which looks like one of the someone will not be making it onto campus next year unless a current player transfers. Paint Touches breaks down the impact and importance of the transfer, as Fischer is expected to fill a big void in the frontcourt with Chris Otule, Davante Gardner and Jamil Wilson graduating.
  3. Seton Hall started Big East play with an overtime win over Providence, but senior leader Eugene Teague looks like he will be out a while dealing with effects from a concussion he suffered a week ago against Lafayette. Teague was still feeling post-concussion symptoms last Thursday, with head coach Kevin Willard saying that he “is going to be out for awhile, that’s just the way it is. He took a really hard fall, and we’re going to be extra cautious and do what’s best for him. Whether its a week, two weeks, three weeks, we just don’t know and we really have to be careful with him and do what’s in his best interest.” The senior is one of the Pirates’ best players and the lack of his presence in the post hurts Seton Hall considerably. Willard has to decide quickly whether he wants to burn freshman Rashed Anthony‘s redshirt to add a big body inside, because it is going to be difficult to play without a center with a very tough stretch against Villanova, Marquette and Georgetown coming up, all in the next two weeks.
  4. Villanova played masterfully against Providence on Sunday but survived a major scare during the blowout victory. Halfway through the second half and with the win already in the bag, Wildcats’ Ryan Arcidiacono and Dylan Ennis ran into each other, leaving the former dazed requiring help to the bench. After being examined by the trainer, he was luckily able to return to action and help the Wildcats finish off the win. Jay Wright assured everyone that “Arch” is just fine. He shot the ball well and hopes to get out of a slump so far this season. After shooting 32 percent from beyond the arc last year, he has slipped to a chilly 25 percent this season. If he can get things going with his jumper, it will be hard for teams to stop the Wildcats as they have a versatile offense that can create points in a number of ways.
  5. Creighton‘s Sports Information Director, Rob Anderson, tweeted out some very interesting stats this weekend as Omaha froze over. Greg McDermott’s program has started 12-2 or 13-1 for the third straight year, and for the fifth time since 2002-03. The only other teams to do that are Syracuse, Missouri, Illinois, Gonzaga and Louisville. To have accomplished strong starts to the season so many times speaks to the consistently high level the team has performed the past decade, joining a number of schools with great basketball history and tradition. Anderson also pointed out how well the Bluejays’ offense performed against San Diego State back in November. Creighton is the only team to score more than 65 points against them this season other than top-ranked Arizona (69), and the Bluejays averaged 1.123 points per possession in that contest. Creighton has climbed the RPI ratings as well, and now sit at 22nd in America. At 2-0 in league play and looking like a team running on all cylinders, the rest of the Big East should be on notice that this team is not going to be intimidated by anything.
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Big East M5: 11.15.13 Edition

Posted by George Hershey on November 15th, 2013

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  1. Today is the biggest day in DePaul basketball in a very long time. Consensus top five recruit Cliff Alexander will be deciding where he plays possibly his only year of college basketball. Alexander will be picking between Illinois, Kansas, Memphis and the Blue Demons. There has been a lot of speculation during the past few days that he will pick between DePaul and Illinois, but Alexander’s mother has explicitly stated that all four schools are still in play even if he has already decided in his mind. DePaul has as good a shot as anyone to get the Chicago native, as he has expressed a desire to stay home near his family. Recruiting powerhouse Kansas would seem to be the most logical fit for such a talented player, but DePaul and Illinois will allow Alexander to star from the moment he sets foot on campus. If Alexander commits to DePaul, it will be a historic pickup for the program and could work wonders for the future of the team.
  2. The early signing period began Wednesday and many Big East teams reeled in some sensational talent. Leading the way was XavierESPN.com‘s fourth best 2014 class, and Seton Hall, seventh best, two teams who have not had classes like these in many years. Chris Mack brings in four four-star recruits, led by Trevon Bluiett and Edmond Summer. Isaiah Whitehead headlines Seton Hall’s class, along with Angel Delgado. Whitehead, in particular, is a lot of fun to watch. Georgetown is eighth, right behind the Pirates, while Marquette comes in at #15, and Providence rounds out the Big East teams at #20. This is a tremendous year for recruiting in the Big East as some fans around the league were worried that the losses of powerhouses like Syracuse and Louisville would hurt league-wide recruiting, but the coaches have stepped it up regardless. The future of the Big East is certainly bright with so many great players signing on with conference teams.
  3. There are several big games on the docket this weekend for Big East schools, including two of the top teams facing tough challenges. Marquette hosts Ohio State in the first game broadcast on Fox in quite a while. Buzz Williams’ squad will play the Buckeyes after last season’s scheduled game on an aircraft carrier was canceled due to moisture on the court. This year both teams are coming off of Elite Eight appearances but have also lost their best players in Vander Blue and Deshaun Thomas. The game will be a good indicator of how far along the Golden Eagles are at this point in the year. Creighton also visits St. Joseph’s on Saturday after crushing the Hawks in Omaha last year. Creighton should make sure to be ready as St. Joe’s has played very well so far and a tough road game this early in the season will really test Greg McDermott’s squad. The Bluejays will also be without a fully healthy Grant Gibbs, as he hurt his finger two weeks ago and has not been the same ever since.
  4. Marquette play-by-play announcer Steve  ”The Homer” True was rushed to a hospital on Wednesday after getting into a car accident. True was hit by a suspected drunk driver and suffered a dangerous head injury. He was upgraded from critical to stable condition yesterday as the Milwaukee area and entire Big East conference wishes him the best. Marquette head coach Buzz Williams has the utmost respect for him, saying, “Homer is one of my all-time favorite people in the world and I sincerely mean that. Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family.” There has been nothing but positive words said about True and we send our prayers and best wishes to “The Homer” as he recovers.
  5. Some Seton Hall players were upset with a couple of Kent State players after their recent game. The Pirates said that two players were yelling at them as they took free throws and were generally acting disrespectful during the game. Although there is no rule prohibiting this, it is considered a lack of sportsmanship to be yelling “Miss it!” and screaming when another team is shooting, regardless of the score and situation. This was one of many of the chaotic events from Seton Hall’s win on Wednesday night. For example, Brian Oliver received a technical for standing over a Kent State player and taunting him after blocking his shot. It was a particularly boneheaded play as the ball was still in play and could have been grabbed before it went out of bounds.
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Evaluating AAC Non-Conference Schedules: The Bad and the Ugly…

Posted by CD Bradley on October 30th, 2013

We looked at the best of the AAC non-conference schedules in Part I, after explaining a bit of what makes for a good non-conference schedule. This season, there’s quite a bit more bad than good, which could drag down the collective RPIs of AAC members and ultimately lead to lower NCAA Tournament seeds come March.

Larry Brown's SMU Mustangs, a popular sleeper pick, have a lot riding on a trip to Virginia.

Larry Brown’s SMU Mustangs, a popular sleeper pick, have a lot riding on a trip to Virginia.

The Bad

  • Cincinnati: The Bearcats return the favor of a visit last season from MW favorite New Mexico with a road trip of their own to The Pit. They also will play former Big East rival and mid-level ACC squad Pitt at Madison Square Garden. Then… well, there’s the rivalry game with Xavier, which seems poised to finish in the bottom half of a newly constituted (read: relatively weaker) Big East; N.C. State, clearly headed toward the bottom of the ACC, and Conference USA also-ran MTSU. That trio might end up in the RPI top 100; it’s highly unlikely any other team on the schedule will come close.
  • Louisville: If the defending champs can escape Rupp Arena with a win, all will be forgiven by both their fans and the committee, as a road win against Kentucky is perhaps the highest quality victory available in college basketball this year. Southern Miss, which finished with an RPI of #30 last season, is favored to win Conference USA. They face a potential Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off final against North Carolina at the Mohegan Sun. They need the Tar Heels to be there, because the rest of their foes are middling teams in weak leagues, with Charleston the most likely to crack the top 100, and several – we’re looking at you, Hofstra and UMKC – seeming likely to end up north of #300.

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Breaking Down Dan Hanner’s Big East Projections

Posted by George Hershey on October 28th, 2013

Economist and college hoops writer Dan Hanner posted  his annual projections for ESPN Insider on Friday. It is a very interesting article and a recommended read for any college basketball stats junkie. He puts a unique spin on his projections by starting at the player level instead of the team level. The advantage, as he puts it, “is that not all additions have the same impact everywhere. For example, transfer Trae Golden is expected to have a huge impact on Georgia Tech because the Yellow Jackets had a big hole at PG. But if he had been added to a team like Duke, with multiple quality ball-handlers, his impact would have been much smaller. The player-level model can account for these kind of differences.” His rankings take into account player upside as well as downside and he gives a best-case and worst-case position for each team.

Grant Gibbs and Creighton need to shore up their defense to reach their full potential this season.

Grant Gibbs and Creighton need to shore up their defense to reach their full potential this season.

The Big East is well-considered by Hanner. The league’s 10-team average is 53.9, slightly behind the Big Ten at 49.2 and well ahead of the AAC at 79.9. Last year’s Big East would have scored considerably higher with Louisville in the second spot as well as Syracuse and Connecticut in the top 25. This year, the Big East does not have as many teams at the top with Marquette leading the way at #17, but there is great balance with DePaul the only team lower than #100. It does not look like any teams will be battling for #1 seeds this season, but there could be seven or eight squads fighting for spots in the NCAA Tournament come February and March.

The following are the 10 Big East teams in descending order:

  • POFF - Projected offense, median prediction for points scored per 100 possessions
  • PDEF - Projected defense, median prediction for points allowed per 100 possessions

1. Marquette Golden Eagles

17. POFF: 116.1 | PDEF: 92.5 Best case: 7th | Worst case: 29th

Hanner ranks the Golden Eagles in the same spot as the USA Today poll. Buzz Williams’ squad is ranked highly in both offense and defense, but neither is extraordinarily high. For Marquette to reach its best case scenario, they would need their three new starting guards to come close to last year’s production from the trio of Junior Cadougan, Vander Blue and Trent Lockett, a very difficult task. The frontcourt returns everyone, but Jamil Wilson and Davante Gardner will have to become the go-to scorers and also rebound well while Chris Otule locks down the paint defensively. With Williams’ track record, it seems unlikely that his team would drop out of the top 25 unless the guards are unable to step up and contribute at a high level.

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Big Ten Non-Conference Schedule Analysis: Ohio State Buckeyes

Posted by KTrahan on November 1st, 2012

The Big Ten microsite will be analyzing the non-conference schedules for some of the Big Ten teams in the coming weeks. Today, we continue with the Ohio State Buckeyes. Check out their full schedule here.

Where we left off: Ohio State sure isn’t afraid to play anyone, and the Buckeyes proved that with last year’s non-conference schedule. OSU played Florida in the second game of the season, drew Duke in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and played at Kansas. The Buckeyes won the first two but lost in Lawrence without top forward Jared Sullinger. Even the rest of the non-conference slate wasn’t a slouch, as OSU also visited South Carolina. That kind of schedule helped prepare the Buckeyes for a tough Big Ten slate, and they’ll be tested again this year before conference play begins.

Matta’s Team Will Be Challenged By the Buckeyes’ Non-Conference Schedule

Major tournaments: Ohio State will play some top-tier teams this non-conference season, so there’s little to nitpick, but the one criticism of the Buckeyes’ schedule is that they’re playing in a lackluster tournament. OSU will compete in the Basketball Hall of Fame Tipoff, matching up with Rhode Island followed by either Washington or Seton Hall. Those games will be played in Uncasville, Connecticut, and games against Albany and Missouri-Kansas City — one before and one after the Uncasville games — will be played in Columbus. Washington would be a decent opponent, but considering the other tournaments around the country, this isn’t the most exciting set of match-ups around.

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Big East Morning Five: 02.06.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on February 6th, 2012

  1. The Nerlens Noel watch is on.  After Noel reclassified to the Class of 2012 last week and disclosed a list of seven schools (Syracuse, Connecticut, Providence, Kentucky, Florida, Georgetown and North Carolina), all eyes have been on the 6’10” center who is now the number one player in his class.  CBSSports.com’s Jeff Goodman tweeted last night that Noel will visit Providence this week, Syracuse next weekend, and Kentucky on February 17. Noel made an appearance at the Dunkin Donuts Center yesterday for Providence’s overtime loss against West Virginia, sitting behind the Providence bench next to Friar signee Kris Dunn, transfer Sidiki Johnson, and Kiwi Gardner, who was slated to suit up for Providence this year but was ruled academically ineligible due to a high school transcript issue.  Noel was in town for the National Prep School Invitational which was being held about a ten minute drive away at Rhode Island College.
  2. Just a few short weeks ago Seton Hall enjoyed its first national ranking in 11 years and had its eyes on an NCAA Tournament bid.  Flash forward and the Pirates have lost six straight losses and are now reeling. To add injury to insult Seton Hall found out before Saturday’s game (ultimately a 69-46 loss) to Connecticut that they would have to take on the Huskies without star big man Herb Pope.  Pope (15.9 PPG, 10.2 RPG) suffered bruised ribs in last Tuesday’s loss to Marquette and did not travel with the team to Connecticut.  Pope had not played his best basketball of the season in the five losses leading up to the injury (10.6 PPG, 8.2 RPG during that span), but the Pirates can ill-afford to be without him for very long if they hope to get their season back on track.  Seton Hall next heads to Piscataway on Wednesday for a road battle with in-state rival Rutgers.
  3. Notre Dame jack-of-all-trades point guard Eric Atkins was at his best again Saturday in the Fighting Irish’s systematic dismantling of a talented Marquette team at home. Freshman Pat Connaughton (23 points, 11 rebounds) might have had the best statistical game, but Atkins (18 points, five assists, four rebounds in a team-leading 39 minutes) was right behind him and probably played a more important role. He is easily the team’s most consistent offensive weapon and his decision-making and ball-handling have improved as the season has progressed. He is one of the main reasons the Fighting Irish are staring directly at an NCAA Tournament berth.
  4. Another man who deserves a tip of the cap for Saturday is much-maligned Connecticut center Alex Oriakhi. First — albeit against a Seton Hall team playing without Pope — Oriakhi matched a season-high in minutes with 28 and chipped in 10 points and eight rebounds as the Huskies got off the schneid. Then, he delivered this quote, which if true, could signal that the team and player still have a lot of fight left in them. Granted the remark came after he received plenty of playing time, but Oriakhi has been disappointing this season and he can still help salvage his year and his reputation by playing well down the stretch. UConn still have plenty of time to turn things around, and Oriakhi setting a new tone (especially for as long as Jim Calhoun is off the sideline) would certainly help.
  5. You think Tray Woodall has been important to Pittsburgh this season? There is no way he is a better conference MVP candidate than Kevin Jones, but he is in the discussion. Yesterday he went off for a career-high 29 points as the Panthers won their fourth-straight game over Villanova. His team is now 10-3 when Woodall is in the lineup and they are picking up steam at just the right time. To add to the good news, his return seems like it has relieved some pressure from the shoulders of Ashton Gibbs, who looked much more comfortable Sunday and scored 25 points to prove it. The Wildcats aren’t an elite opponent, especially not this season, but at this rate, each and every win should feel good for Pitt.
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Big East Morning Five: 01.10.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on January 10th, 2012

  1. Pittsburgh transfer Khem Birch told Alex Kline of TheRecruitScoop.com he will transfer to UNLV.  Birch visited UNLV, Florida and New Mexico State last week before making his choice. “I really like UNLV,“ he told Kline. “It was a very tough decision but UNLV is a good fit for me because of the coaches, players and facilities… I can develop under a great, young coach in Dave Rice.  He and the entire staff made me feel very comfortable in Las Vegas.”  As a transfer, Birch will have to sit out two semesters.  The timing of the decision was critical as he will be able to enroll in school for the spring semester with the intent of becoming eligible in January 2013.  UNLV has two remaining scholarships that could be used to build upon what is already a monster class of newcomers: DaQuan Cook, Katin Reinhardt, Demetris Morant as well as Bryce Jones, who is a transfer from the Southern California, are all headed to Vegas next year.   The buzz surrounding the two open spots involves three more heavyweights in forwards Anthony Bennett (ranked seventh in the class of 2012 by both Rivals.com and ESPN.com), Shabazz Muhammad (the consensus number one rated class of 2012 recruit) and St. John’s decommit Norvel Pelle.
  2. St John’s was involved in the other piece of transfer news yesterday.  Fortunately, this time they found out they were getting one rather than losing one.  Guard Jamal Branch, who left Texas A&M after one semester there, announced he will be suiting up for the Red Storm once he sits out a year under NCAA transfer rules.   Arizona, Marquette and Maryland were also reportedly in the mix.  Branch, a top 100 recruit coming out of Grace Prep in Arlington, Texas, was playing significant minutes (18.6 MPG) for the Aggies as the backup point guard, averaging 4.2 points and 2.5 assists per game.  He cited his relationship with current St. John’s guard D’Angelo Harrison as contributing to his decision. “The players there are pretty cool and with me knowing D’Angelo helped me make my decision,” Branch said. “That’s like my little brother and we always wanted to play with each other. Me and him click well and are looking forward to doing big things here at St. John’s.”
  3. It will be a banner evening in Providence tonight when Rick Pitino and his Louisville club come to town to take on the Friars.  This year marks the 25th anniversary of Providence’s Final Four run under Pitino and the milestone will be celebrated during a halftime ceremony.  With a band of pressing, three-point shooting unknowns such as current Florida head coach Billy Donovan, Delray Brooks and Ernie “Pop” Lewis, the 1986-87 Friars captivated a region and vaulted Pitino to coaching stardom.  “I have always coached every time out, no matter how much time is left in the game, feeling we could come back, no matter what the level was, or the score was, all because of that Providence College basketball team. Because they set the standard, not only for comebacks, but they set the standard for just making me believe that anything is possible,” Pitino said.  The Friars defeated Georgetown, ironically in Louisville, in the regional final before bowing to another Big East foe, Syracuse, in the national semifinals.  Current Providence head coach Ed Cooley will personally enjoy the moment as well.  A Rhode Islander who group up a fan of the Friars, Cooley was star player at Rhode Island’s Central High School at the time. A number of team members are expected to be in attendance, including Brooks and Lewis.
  4. The Big East’s weekly superlatives have been dished out and West Virginia’s Darryl “Truck” Bryant scooped up his second Player of the Week honor.  Bryant averaged 27 points per game in Mountaineer wins over Rutgers and Georgetown.  Rookie of the Week went to St. John’s guard D’Angelo Harrison who averaged 21 points and 7.5 rebounds in two games, highlighted by an 18-point, seven-rebound effort in an upset road win over Cincinnati.  Big East Honor Roll recipients this week were: DePaul guard Brandon Young, who averaged 24 points per game including 26 in a win over Pittsburgh; Notre Dame forward Jack Cooley who is starting to become a regular around here;  Rutgers guard Eli Carter, who followed up his Rookie of the Week honor with more strong play; Seton Hall guard Jordan Theodore, who averaged a double-double for the week (16.5 PPG, 10.0 APG) and Syracuse guard Brandon Triche who filled up the stat sheet (16.0 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 3.5 APG) to help keep the Orange unbeaten.
  5. Say what you want about the overall quality of the Big East this year as compared to recent seasons but one thing is for sure, nobody can ever rest on their laurels, lest they find themselves on the short end of an upset loss.  It was another turbulent week in the conference as evidenced by the latest Top 25 poll.  The only constant of course has been Syracuse (17-0), who was pushed at times on the road by Providence and back home against Marquette, but held firm to their undefeated record and #1 ranking.  The Orange have really separated from the back as they now represent the Big East’s only resident of the Top 10.  Connecticut (12-3), behind losses to Seton Hall and Rutgers, plummeted nine spots to #17.  Georgetown (13-2) lost at West Virginia and slipped two notches to #11 as a result.  Louisville’s (13-3) double overtime loss to Notre Dame cost them three spots as the Cardinals slid to #14.  Marquette (12-4) took two losses last week, and therefore did not hold their ranking, falling five spots to #25.  OK, enough of talking about teams that are struggling.  How ‘bout those Pirates!  Yes, Seton Hall (14-2) coming of a 2-0 week that featured wins over then #8 Connecticut and on the road against Providence, broke in at #24 and is ranked for the first time since 2001.
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Four Thoughts: Seton Hall vs. Providence Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on January 9th, 2012

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

Theodore and Council live up to the hype they don’t get.

I am not sure where Seton Hall’s Jordan Theodore and Providence’s Vincent Council currently sit on the Q Rating list but Saturday’s match-up between the Pirates and the Friars was a microcosm not only of their individual skills, but also of how their abilities translate to the composition of their respective teams.  Presumably neither player is content with his below-the-radar stature, but rather than grousing they let their play do the talking. No histrionics. No chest thumping. Just solid, focused basketball.

Theodore is a chameleon. He can score or defer depending on the need. Tasked with getting a Pirate team that tends to flirt a bit too much with defeat over the top, Theodore is a winner who plays his best in the clutch. True to form, he assisted on two three-pointers in the first minute of the second half versus Providence to open up a three-point halftime lead to nine and scored 10 of his 14 points in that decisive second stanza.

Meanwhile Council, whose game is best suited to creating, has been forced to take on more of a scorer’s role with a young team that lacks experience, and proven Big East offensive prowess. Council played all 40 minutes against Seton Hall and kept his team in the game throughout with 23 points, and nine assists. The Friars will need Council to develop a killer instinct similar to that of Theodore if they want to get out of the Big East basement.

Theodore Steps It Up In The Clutch (Credit: Stew Milne, US Presswire)

Third wheel helps keep the Pirate’s ship afloat.

In the NBA everyone talks about needing a “big three” to be successful. While that phrase is not as prominent in the college game, it certainly means a lot to have a third scoring option, and 6’6” sophomore wing Fuquan Edwin is aptly filling that role for Seton Hall. Edwin was a highly regarded recruit who had a solid freshman campaign, starting 26 games, averaging 7.9 points and 3.3 rebounds per contest. The nation’s leader in steals this season with 51, he has already made a reputation as a dogged defender as well as solid rebounder (6.4 RPG). In addition to his excellence preventing points, Edwin is in the midst of a breakout year offensively, supporting senior leaders Herb Pope (17.9 PPG) and the afore mentioned Theodore (15.9 PPG) with his 14.1 points per game. Edwin has displayed consistency with his output, hitting double-figures in 13 of Seton Hall’s 16 games this year, highlighted by a career-best 24 points (5-8 3PT) in Saturday’s win over Providence in a game where both Pope and Theodore scored below their averages.

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Big East Morning Five: 01.04.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on January 4th, 2012

  1. Put Seton Hall (13-2, 2-1) on the short list of teams looking to crack the respect meter  and next week’s Top 25 after its relatively easy 75-63 dispensation of #8 Connecticut last night at the Prudential Center.  Fittingly Herb Pope introduced himself to UConn and Andre Drummond by scoring the first bucket of the game; however, when the Huskies answered by scoring the next 11 points, it was not looking great for the Hall.  From then on, it was no contest.  The Pirates rallied to close the half on a 33-11 run and headed to the locker room with a 13-point lead they would not relinquish.  Seton Hall point guard Jordan Theodore scored all 19 of his points in the second half and added 11 assists for the double-double.  Pope ended up with 15 points and six rebounds.  Seton Hall is battle tested, having played a solid schedule that includes non-conference wins over Virginia Commonwealth, St. Joseph’s, Auburn and Dayton.  In Big East play besides the Connecticut victory, the Pirates have throttled West Virginia (67-48) and got throttled by #1 Syracuse (75-49).  Next up for the Pirates is a road test at Providence on Saturday night.
  2. Coaches are always searching for ways to motivate their players and Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard had a softball served up to him by Connecticut’s Andre Drummond when he uttered his now infamous quote, “Who is Herb Pope? I don’t even know who that is.” The quote went vira,l but Willard, social media aficionado and conveyor of information that he is, ensured that it did not get by his Big East Player of the Year candidate or the rest of his team.  According to Jordan Theodore, the coach addressed it with the team just prior to the game, “He just really said that, ‘I’m not going to let anybody talk about my players, so we better come out here and we better take care of home court and get this victory,’ and that’s pretty much it.”  Willard’s words resonated with Pope as well, “Of course, right before jump-off, it gave me an extra little shot in the arm hearing coach repeat it.”  The Pirate faithful were all over Drummond during the game with chants of “Who is Drummond?” raining down on the freshman who had a sub-par game with just four points and five rebounds, although he did contribute four blocks to go with the bulletin board material.
  3. While Seton Hall is a team on the rise, St. John’s appears to have come back to reality.  The Red Storm opened eyes with their 91-67 blasting of Providence to open Big East play by overwhelming the Friars from the opening tap.  Since then St. John’s has dropped two straight, losing 83-69 at Connecticut and 73-58 last night to #11 Louisville at Madison Square Garden.  It’s not time to write off the Red Storm completely, as they’ve lost to two highly-ranked teams, and had no chance of catching Louisville napping after the Cardinals’ 0-2 showing last week.  Still, the Providence game may have been the anomaly.  St. John’s shot a season-high 56.5% in the game, including 37% from three. They came into the game shooting threes at a 26% clip. In contrast, against Connecticut they shot 36.2% overall and 16.7% from three-point land followed by an even worse performance last night (28.1% overall, 12.5% 3FG).  Unfortunately for the Red Storm they cannot play Providence every night.  St. John’s will have good nights as they are a talented group, but their overall youth and lack of depth will not allow them to win consistently this year in the Big East.
  4. One bit of good news for Connecticut following its tough loss to Seton Hall is that they will be getting head coach Jim Calhoun back soon.  Calhoun has been serving a three-game suspension for a series of recruiting violations dating back to 2008.  Perhaps some of UConn’s players will not view the timing of Calhoun’s reinstatement as good news, especially if he is running practice today.  The suspension was announced last February, but Calhoun will be on the bench when the Huskies next take the floor on Saturday night at Rutgers.
  5. Earlier in the season Connecticut’s Alex Oriakhi lost his starting position and it received significant attention, in part to some comments he made on Twitter at the time.  Somewhat quietly Oriakhi earned his starting position back after just three games in a reserve role and has started the last seven games, including last night’s loss to Seton Hall.   However, Oriakhi did not start the second half of last night’s game which prompted a bit of a deeper look.  In the first four games of the season (all starts) Oriakhi averaged 7.0 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in 19.8 minutes per game.  He then came off the bench in the next three games and his numbers were relatively level to the previous four especially considering the slight dip in minutes (6.0 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 2.7 BLK, 17.0 MPG).  However since being inserted back into the starting lineup on December 3 versus Arkansas, Oriakhi has trended downward.  His overall minutes are up (20.3 MPG) but the numbers have not increased in kind (6.7 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 0.7 BPG). Certainly Oriakhi’s hope of being any type of focal point has diminished with the continued improvement of Andre Drummond. Not to mention he is part a deep team with many options.  Conclusion: Oriakhi will have to continue to adjust to a supporting role.
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