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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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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Voices of the Big East: Volume IV

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on December 31st, 2011

Voices of the Big East is an ongoing feature intended to capture the essence of the conference through the words of those involved and those impacted. This will come in the form of quotes, tweets, videos and anything else we feel like sticking in here. It’s perfect for you multitasking short attention-spanners. If you find something you think is a candidate for this feature send it to us and we might even give you credit!

Happy New Year!

The voices of Rush the Court would like to wish you a happy and safe New Year.  Thank you for reading.  We hope you have enjoyed what you have seen so far.  Of course there is one ball drop we will always be watching. 

We Will Forego the Crystal for This

Khem-ical Reaction

Khem Birch left Pittsburgh two weeks ago after one semester at the school.  This his has led to a variety of commentary, including from himself.

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Big East Morning Five: 12.27.11 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on December 27th, 2011

  1. We ate.  We drank.  We were merry.  We took some TUMS and are back.  Hope everyone had a happy and safe holiday weekend.
  2. While we are not necessarily looking at marquee matchups, Big East conference play kicks off tonight and that is a good thing!  There are two games on the docket this evening to get things started and despite a lack of glitter, there is intrigue.  #22 Pittsburgh (11-2) heads to South Bend, Indiana, to take on Notre Dame (8-5).  The Tim Abromaitis-less Irish would love a signature victory to get things rolling but this one may end up occurring game late as the Panthers will not be in letdown mode after getting beaten by Wagner at home last Friday.   The other contest features two squads looking to answer questions as St. John’s (6-5) hosts Providence (11-2).  The Red Storm have battled on and off the court from the sudden departure of guard Nurideen Lindsey to head coach Steve Lavin’s recovery from prostate cancer.  They are a young team and hope the second semester addition of talented freshman Amir Garrett gives them a boost in conference play.  The Friars are feeling good at 11-2 under first-year head coach Ed Cooley, but know the competition is going to increase dramatically as league action begins. Although Cooley was not around Providence the last couple of years, it is a virtual certainty he will be reminding his crew of their back-to-back four win Big East campaigns often as this year progresses. The new tag for Friar point guard Vincent Council is “underrated.”  Maybe if enough people call him underrated he will get sufficient attention so as to not be any longer.  There is no predicting the result of this game, but one thing you can bet on is that the Red Storm will not be sleeping on ‘VC’, and that the growing chip on Council’s shoulder does not bode well for opposing defenders.
  3. As noted above, Big East play begins tonight but this week also brings some notable non-conference matchups involving Big East teams.  #10 Florida heads north to battle Rutgers at the RAC in a game that features a couple of notable Big East connections.  Florida’s Mike Rosario is a 1,000 point scorer… at Rutgers.  Rosario transferred to the Gators and it was certainly understandable he would be looking forward to facing his old team, but it appears he will not be able to play due to a nagging back injury.  Florida head coach Billy Donovan has tremendous Big East memories as he led Providence to the 1987 Final Four while playing for Rick Pitino.  Cincinnati, who has taken out their aggression on soft assortment of cream pies since brawling with cross-town rival Xavier a couple of weeks ago, will face a test when they host Oklahoma.   Marquette faces an SEC rubber match when they host Vanderbilt on Friday.  The Golden Eagles beat Mississippi in the Big East – SEC challenge in November and then lost to Louisiana State last week.  Finally, in the main event, #4 Louisville will travel to Lexington to take on bitter in-state rival and #3 ranked Kentucky on Saturday.  Both teams play on Wednesday but while Kentucky fattens up against Lamar, Louisville will have to stay focused against #12 Georgetown.
  4. The Big East is back with its weekly honors and West Virginia’s Kevin Jones has earned last week’s Player of the Week award.  Jones, who now leads the Big East in scoring (21.0 PPG) and rebounding (11.9 RPG), put up beastly numbers (23.0 PPG, 14.7 RPG) in a 2-1 week for the Mountaineers including a career-high 28 points to go with 17 boards in a loss to Baylor.  Once again, Connecticut’s Andre Drummond is the Big East Rookie of the Week.  Drummond had 16 points, nine rebounds, four steals and two blocks in UConn’s lone game, a 79-71 victory over in-state foe Fairfield.  This is Drummond’s second consecutive Rookie of the Week honor, and third for the season.  Weekly Honor Roll recipients: Notre Dame forward Jack Cooley on the merits of his 19-point, eight-rebound performance in a drubbing of Sacred Heart; Providence guard Vincent Council who averaged 16 points, nine assists and seven rebounds in Friar victories over New Hampshire and in-state rival Rhode Island; Louisville forward Kyle Kuric who averaged 16.0 points and five assists in two wins, including 17 points and eight rebounds in the Cardinals’ seven-point win over the College of Charleston; Connecticut guard Shabazz Napier who netted 24 points to go with five assists and six rebounds in the Fairfield win and Seton Hall guard Jordan Theodore who averaged 20.0 points and seven assists in a 2-0 week for the Pirates, including a season-high 26 points versus Longwood. In related news, Seton Hall’s Herb Pope was not among the honorees for the first time this season.
  5. The polls are out this week and as expected Marquette and Pittsburgh slipped in the rankings due to losses suffered last week.  Marquette (11-1) dropped four spots to #14 as it lost for the first time this year, a 67-59 defeat on the road against Louisiana State.  Pittsburgh (11-2) plummeted from #15 to #22 on the heels of its 59-54 upset loss at home to Wagner.  Syracuse (13-0) kept it rolling and remained the nation’s top team.  Georgetown (10-1) showed some upward mobility as it beat Memphis for the second time this year and leaped four spots to #12.  Louisville (12-0) is still undefeated and #4 as it gets ready for the previously mentioned home showdown against Georgetown on Wednesday.  It should also be noted that the Cardinals garnered two first place votes this week. Connecticut (10-1) held off a second half surge from Fairfield that the pollsters apparently did not like as the Huskies slipped a notch to #9.
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Jumping To Conclusions: The Wheels Are Coming Off The St. John’s Rebuilding Bus

Posted by mlemaire on December 9th, 2011

In 2010, after six lackluster seasons — including zero NCAA Tournament appearances — under head coach Norm Roberts, St. John’s basketball needed to make a switch. But the program didn’t just need a coach who could develop players and win games. They needed a walking, talking defibrillator. Someone who could inject some life and enthusiasm back into one of the country’s most storied programs. What they got was Steve Lavin, an affable former television personality with plenty of coaching pedigree and the desire to talk to everybody he ran into.

Steve Lavin Was Hired To Rebuild At St. John's Because Of His Infectious Personality.

It didn’t matter that Lavin hadn’t coached college basketball since he was relieved of his duties by UCLA in 2003, the buzz was back. Red Storm Athletic Director Chris Monasch said, with Lavin, “St. John’s is poised to recapture its legacy as New York’s college team.” Lavin wasted no time, hitting the recruiting trail running and accepting every interview that came his way. He assembled an experienced and energetic staff and recruits took interest.

Last season, coaching a roster that boasted nine seniors, including the team’s top six scorers, Lavin earned plenty of praise and accolades as he led the Red Storm to a 21-12 record and its first NCAA Tournament bid since 2002. Everyone knew the team would take a step back this season due to the mass graduation but most figured it was merely a bump in the road. After all, Lavin was bringing in the nation’s third-ranked recruiting class, a nine-man behemoth that had a player or two at almost every position. And thanks to Lavin’s effusive personality and charm, high-ranked recruiting classes were expected to become the status quo at St. John’s in short order. Then, rather quickly, the bus started to break down.

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Big East Morning Five: 12.02.11 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on December 2nd, 2011

  1. We know there is only so much of the Bernie Fine scandal that people are willing to stomach, but like it or not, the story isn’t going away for awhile. For those interested in the latest developments, Syracuse Chancellor, Nancy Cantor, wrote a short but detailed open letter to USA Today explaining the university’s decision to fire Fine and why it didn’t happen sooner. The crux of the letter is that the SU claims it didn’t know about the recorded conversation between accuser Bobby Davis and Fine’s wife, Laurie. Cantor basically explained that if Syracuse had been made aware of the tape’s existence earlier, Fine would have been fired at that time. She also calls out ESPN and the Syracuse Post-Standard, saying, “those who held onto the tape for nearly 10 years owe everyone an explanation”. Both ESPN and the Post-Standard have offered their rationale for not releasing the tape earlier, but for some people, that still isn’t enough to be fully exonerated. It is hard to paint Syracuse as a university in a negative light. Cantor is justifiably trying to do everything she can to make it clear how different this case is from the Penn State scandal, and it certainly seems like the news outlets are the people who are under the microscope now, an interesting turn of events given all that has happened in the past month.
  2. Even after all of the unnecessary attention he has placed on himself in recent days thanks to his use of social media, disgruntled Connecticut center Alex Oriakhi continues to get himself in trouble using Twitter. First, it was a since-deleted tweet where he called Jim Calhoun a “mumu,” which Oriakhi said is Nigerian for boss. Pretty much everyone else disagreed and said the word means idiot. Apparently, Oriakhi isn’t even the only member of his own family to struggle with the perils of social media, as both sister and father have gone after The UConn Blog after the outlet wrote a story about the twitter controversy. Personally, while I think that the Oriakhi family only made things worse by going after a blogger, I also think this is being made out to be a bigger deal than it really is. I agree that Oriakhi is a captain and veteran leader of the Huskies and as such, should be acting far more mature than he is. But I think to say that his father’s and sister’s comments make Alex and Connecticut look bad by extension is stretching things quite a bit. Most families do not enjoy negative coverage of their children. I don’t think there was anything unfairly negative in either of the stories, but I think the real story here is that Oriakhi and Jim Calhoun need to sit down and work this out. No matter what people believe, UConn needs a happy and focused Alex Oriakhi, and if he plans on continuing his basketball career at the next level, he is going to need to drop this whole malcontent act and start earning his playing time back. This is exactly the kind of non-troversy that ends up being a bigger distraction than it should be.
  3. In what might end up being the best game of the SEC/Big East Challenge, Georgetown coach John Thompson, III, said junior forward Hollis Thompson “did what Hollis does,” which apparently is hit long, contested, game-winning three-pointers. It wasn’t a particularly well-played game by either team, but the Hoyas upset No. 12 Alabama 57-55, proved they don’t need to have a star player to be a good team, and chalked up a resume-building win that will pay dividends when Selection Sunday rolls around. Georgetown got 22 points from guard Jason Clark and survived a dunkfest from Alabama’s Tony Mitchell and now have the look of a conference contender after so many predicted a big slide this year following the departures of Chris Wright and Austin Freeman. I would still say this team’s ceiling is probably a Sweet Sixteen appearance given their youth and lack of depth, but there are some talented young players on this Hoyas team, and Clark and Thompson are legitimate offensive threats and two of the better players in the conference. On a completely unrelated note, it baffles me that Georgetown freshman Otto Porter could play 35 minutes of basketball and only score two points, grab two rebounds, and dish one assist. Are we sure he really played 35 minutes? Did his teammates forget he was on the floor?
  4. You didn’t think the Big East was going to let West Virginia have all the legal fun did you? Just one day after WVU filed to have the Big East’s countersuit dismissed because Rhode Island courts shouldn’t rule on West Virginia business, the Big East fired back and filed to have the West Virginia lawsuit dismissed on the basis that the Mountaineers haven’t provided much evidence to prove that conference bylaws are invalid. West Virginia has already paid half of the $5 million exit fee to the conference and they would like to have the lawsuit fast-tracked so a decision can be made by June 30. However, circuit judge Russell Clawges didn’t give a lot of hope that timeline could be honored, and this looks like a legal dogfight that could drag out for a very long time. It makes sense for West Virginia to want to move on as quickly as possible. Both sides have said some not-so-nice things about each other and I seriously doubt at this point the Big East even wants the Mountaineers in the conference, football revenue and all. But their hands are tied by the precedent rolling over could set. Letting West Virginia leave early could impact Syracuse and Pittsburgh, both of whom have also decided to leave the conference, and then the Big East would have a real mess on its hands. Stay tuned, because there will be plenty more of this story as it unfolds.
  5. In dire need of some good news given the uncertainty surrounding their coach’s health and the fact they were just shellacked by Kentucky on the road, St. John’s scored a little victory — at least in theory — when recruit Amir Garrett tweeted he could be suiting up for the Red Storm in just three weeks. If three weeks is in fact an accurate estimate, that means Garrett could return before the conference opener and he would be a welcome addition. This is excellent news for Steve Lavin’s club as their bench is thin and Garrett is an athletic wing player who can guard multiple positions and run the floor. Just don’t expect his arrival to drastically change St. John’s fortunes. This is still a very young team as they showed against Kentucky and at 4-4, they don’t look like a team headed towards the Tournament, especially if Lavin’s health and availability remain in limbo. The good news is that Garrett doesn’t have the look of a one-and-done player, especially considering he also has a bright future in baseball, so getting him on the floor and acclimated to college basketball will only help the Johnnies next season, when the team should be more experienced and also better.
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Big East Morning Five: 11.21.11 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on November 21st, 2011

  1. The biggest basketball-related story in the conference is still the allegations that Syracuse assistant coach Bernie Fine molested two former ball boys, but we would prefer to cover the reactions in more depth in a post to run later this morning. That said, it is worth noting that recruiting has already been affected as highly regarded Class of 2014 prospect and New York native, Isaiah Whitehead, dropped the Orange from his list of schools. It’s worth pointing out that Whitehead won’t be matriculating anytime soon, so plans could change based on how the story develops, but in reading the quote from Whitehead’s mother, she didn’t exactly leave the door wide open. Whitehead’s high school coach later told ESPN New York that Whitehead’s mother was confused and thought the allegations were about head coach Jim Boeheim. Regardless of the truth, the rumors and accompanying misinformation are indicative of the fact that Boeheim will have his work cut out for him on the recruiting trail as these allegations continue to swirl.
  2. It was a rough weekend in their home gym for Steve Lavin and St. John’s. Hosting the 2K Sports Classic, the Johnnies held Arizona to 41% from the floor but turned the ball over 17 times in an 81-72 loss to the Wildcats in the semifinal. Then, in the third-place game against Texas A&M, Lavin’s young club went just 22-38 from the free-throw line including two missed by Nurideen Lindsey with 2.3 seconds left that made the difference in a 58-57 loss. But the low point was undoubtedly having Anna Cate Kennedy — daughter of Aggies’ new coach Billy Kennedyreceiving her fair share of credit for the win for her ear-splitting screams during St. John’s free-throw attempts. The story is old by now so not much else needs to be said, but it can never be fun when the media only half-jokingly claims you were beaten by a seven-year-old girl.
  3. While some Big East teams have struggled against lesser opponents in the early going, Marquette has not been one of them. The Golden Eagles scored their third 30-point win last night, a 96-66 win over Mississippi in the Paradise Jam semifinals, to improve to 4-0 on the season. The hometown Milwaukee Journal Sentinel quotes head coach Buzz Williams in saying “we have struggled defensively.” I am not sure what numbers he is looking at, because the Golden Eagles currently rank No. 22 in defensive efficiency, but since they are No. 6 in offensive efficiency, I guess defense is the “problem.” The real issue will be deciding on a starting point guard, where Vander Blue and Junior Cadougan are battling for the majority of the minutes.
  4. As if the country needed any more proof about the ability of Connecticut sophomore Jeremy Lamb, the All-American candidate sprained his ankle in Saturday’s practice and still scored 25 points in 37 minutes against an overmatched Coppin State team. Coppin State is not very good, but Lamb was apparently touch-and-go for the game even as he arrived at the arena. There are still some doubters who think UConn can’t repeat without star guard Kemba Walker. Those people need to start watching Lamb because as good as he was last year, he is going to be a different player this year.
  5. There was lots of high praise for the Cincinnati Bearcats heading into the season. Letting an underwhelming Presbyterian team rally for a 56-54 win after being down 15 points with less than eight minutes to play is the kind of dud to make that praise look foolish. CBS Sports columnist Gary Parrish gave the loss his “loss to hide from” this weekend and deservedly so. Mick Cronin‘s team better hope they don’t end up on the bubble when February rolls around, because that kind of embarrassing loss, even early in the season, won’t look great in the eyes of the tournament committee.
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At A Glance: Can St. John’s Beat Arizona Tonight?

Posted by mlemaire on November 17th, 2011

They may sit atop the overall Big East standings at 3-0 on the season, but anyone who watched St. John’s play in those three games knows that those wins were a little bit more difficult to come by than coach Steve Lavin probably hoped. The old adage that “a win is a win” doesn’t seem to hold water when you are talking about five-point wins over Lehigh and second-half comeback wins against William & Mary. Fortunately for Red Storm fans eager to see what their team is truly made of, tonight’s game against  No. 15 Arizona at Madison Square Garden should be an excellent barometer of just how good Lavin’s young team really is.

Steve Lavin Will Have Plenty Of Teaching Moments This Season With Such A Young Team.

In many respects, the Wildcats and Red Storm are similar teams. Both are led by hotshot recruiters trying to return the program they captain back to greatness. Both are oozing with young, inexperienced talent and potential. And both teams haven’t exactly been setting the world on fire with their play thus far this season. While St. John’s has played the 280th-strongest schedule through three games according to KenPom.com, Arizona has managed an eight-point win, a nine-point win, and a ten-point win against Duquesne, Valparaiso, and Ball State respectively — at least they’re improving, I guess.

What does this all mean? Well it means that we should have a very exciting and very interesting game on our hands tonight. It will be the first marquee matchup for a Big East team this season and it will give viewers an excellent idea of the direction this team is headed this season. Of course here on the Big East microsite, Arizona and their season is not our concern. We are looking at how St. John’s will be able to win this game, and it will essentially come down to four important factors.

1. St. John’s has to get off to a quick start and stay fresh

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Big East Morning Five: Inaugural Edition

Posted by mlemaire on November 16th, 2011

  1. The 24-hour hoops marathon was not very kind to some Big East teams, especially West Virginia, which broke a 36-game non-conference home winning streak when they lost to a very good Kent State team, 70-60. Point guard Truck Bryant, who the Mountaineers are hoping will help bridge the gap until some of the young players mature, turned the ball over six times to go with just one assist and he finished just 4-13 from the field. After the game, Bryant admitted he didn’t play very well. Meanwhile coach Bob Huggins readily admitted that his team struggled, especially his freshmen, and he challenged them to step it up. The Mountaineers played all six of their freshmen with mixed results and the team turned the ball over 17 times and missed a dozen free throws. These are the growing pains a young team will inevitably face, and the pain might be sharper when West Virginia starts their conference schedule. On the bright side, we might get a number of excellent Huggins rants out of this season. The anticipation is killing me!
  2. Speaking of lack of experience, Rutgers was the second team to lose yesterday as they spotted Miami a ten-point lead at halftime and never really made it close at any point. Reserve forward Austin Carroll led the team with eleven points, but he was the only one playing with any passion, at least according to coach Mike Rice who alluded to what we can only assume are memories of third grade when he said, “Austin is the only one I would like to walk to the bus with me.” The story also quotes Rice criticizing his freshman guards such as Myles Mack and Jerome Seagears, something he will likely do a lot simply because he doesn’t have the luxury of a veteran backcourt. After barely nipping Dartmouth in RU’s first game, Mike Rice’s team has the look of a squad that will struggle a lot this year. Rice is an excellent coach, and because of that they will play tough and competitively, but there is simply not enough veteran talent on the roster to succeed in the face of such a demanding schedule.
  3. The Mikan Drill had yet another excellent in-depth post about the importance of Pittsburgh forward Nasir Robinson to his team’s zone offense. They used advanced stats to show Robinson was wildly more efficient than any of the other players Jamie Dixon tried in the middle of the zone offense, and also noted that when Robinson is not in the game the guards are more hesitant to attack the rim and prone to tossing up contested three-pointers. Ashton Gibbs may be the team’s best player, and Tray Woodall has gotten plenty of attention for his improved range and overall offensive skill set. But I am convinced Robinson is the team’s unsung hero and one of its most important players. He is versatile enough both offensively and defensively to play big or small, and he has an underrated offensive game to go with his rebounding prowess and defensive energy. Pitt is always considered one of the toughest teams in the country and this year is no exception, and that is primarily because of the presence of Robinson in the middle of that lineup.
  4. Syracuse routed Albany last night as expected, but the game’s MVP might have been just as unexpected. As The Daily Orange rightly called out junior James Southerland for his 6-9 shooting performance in the first half that helped the Orange overcome a sluggish start. It was pats on the back and glowing quotes all around for Southerland in the story, but if he can become an offensive weapon too, that would make Jim Boeheim‘s team that much more dangerous. I can’t be too sure about this because I have never done it, but it must not be easy guarding an athletic 6’8” man who can shoot from long-range and also attack the rim.
  5. Okay so this article was originally published more than two weeks ago, but its our first day so I get to call attention to it anyway. ESPN’s Jason King penned a column about the rise in junior college players playing key roles on good teams. He just so happens to use Marquette and their litany of JuCo players to illustrate his point. There was also an accompanying blog post that highlighted St. John’s Nurideen Lindsey and Cincinnati’s Cheikh Mbodj as two junior college transfers to watch in the Big East. The point is a salient one if slightly outdated. Teams like Marquette and Cincinnati and St. John’s and even South Florida and Seton Hall have been using junior college transfers to remain competitive for years, although it should be noted that this year’s crop seems to be exceptionally important to their teams’ success. Of course for all of their benefits, junior college players can still be a gamble and they also mean more recruiting because they have fewer possible years of eligibility. But if it helps a team win, I seriously doubt any Big East coach is worried about logging some extra frequent flier miles while recruiting.
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